Jiang Cheng answered the phone, “Too late, I already got rid of her.”
Author: Wu Zhe, Translated by Ami <3
The phone vibrated in his pocket, the fifth time in the span of three minutes. Jiang Cheng opened his eyes.
He’d been on this train for almost three hours. The sky outside the windows remained gloomy, and the girl sitting next to him remained asleep, her head resting solidly on his right shoulder, which was already numb.
He shrugged his shoulders in irritation, but the girl only shifted her head. With one finger, he nudged the girl’s head away from him, but not even a few seconds later her head was back on his shoulder.
He had already repeated this sequence of actions many times. He felt as though she wasn’t really sleeping, but actually comatose.
He didn’t know how much longer it would be until his stop. He didn’t think to check when he got the ticket, only knew that he was going to a city that he hadn’t even heard of before he embarked on this trip.
Life, was nothing if not absurd.
The sixth time his phone vibrated, Jiang Cheng sighed and took it out.
– What’s going on?
– How come you never mentioned anything about leaving before?
– Why did you leave so suddenly?
– Why didn’t you say anything?
What what how how why why why blahblahblahblah……
The messages were from Yu Xin, who was probably in holiday classes so she couldn’t call him. At a glance it was all question marks.
He was about to put the phone back in his pocket when he got the seventh message.
– If you continue not replying I’ll consider us separated!
Finally it wasn’t a question mark. He let out a breath of relief, turned his phone off, and put it back in his pocket.
Breaking up didn’t mean very much to him. Two months long high school romances like theirs was nothing more than talking to each other a little more than to other people, having someone bring you breakfast, and having a dedicated cheerleader by the court… They didn’t even have time to progress to the having-done-something stage.
As he watched the ever-changing but somehow constant scenery outside the window, the announcement finally called out Jiang Cheng’s stop. Next to him, the girl’s head shifted slightly, as if she was about to wake up. He quickly pulled out a red marker from his backpack, took the lid off, and twirled it between his fingers.
The girl woke up and lifted her face. There was a huge imprint on her forehead where it pressed against his shoulder. She looked as if she had been practicing some divine power.
Upon meeting his gaze, the girl wiped the corner of her mouth before taking out her phone, then tapped around the screen and said with her head down, “Sorry about that.”
Surprisingly, he couldn’t make out any hint of actual regret. Jiang Cheng gave her a meaningful smile. The girl paused, then her gaze fell on the marker twirling in his hand.
Jiang Cheng popped the lid back on the pen with a loud snap.
Two seconds later the girl suddenly covered her face, then got up and rushed to the washroom.
Jiang Cheng stood up as well and looked out the train window. The sky had been gloomy for the whole ride here, but now it was finally snowing. He took down his suitcase from the luggage rack, put on his jacket and walked to the door, then took out his phone and turned it on.
His phone was quiet. There weren’t any more messages from Yu Xin, nor were there any missed calls.
He felt that Yu Xin had never been this agreeable since they got together. A feat indeed.
Though other than Yu Xin, nobody else had tried to contact him either.
The person he thought would come pick him up, for instance.
Following the crowd out of the station, Jiang Cheng zipped his puffer all the way up to his chin, and looked out at the city that looked bleakly grey in the chilly winter.
His first impression of the city was the decay and disarray that surrounded the train station.
Actually, that was his second impression. His first impression was the stunned confusion in his mind when his mom said “why don’t you go back there, that’s your real home”.
He dragged his suitcase to the southern most edge of the station square, there were less people there. Nearby was a side street filled with all sorts of little inns that one probably entered and never came out of, and eateries that likely gave you food poisoning.
He sat on the suitcase and checked his phone periodically. Still nobody tried to contact him.
Jiang Cheng had the phone number and address, he was just reluctant to move. He didn’t feel like talking or moving at the moment. He pulled out a cigarette from his pocket and put it in his mouth. Regarding how he all of a sudden came be in this place, he was filled with a deep, inexplicable, confused, and hopeless anger.
Staring at the ice on the ground and fuming while fumbling in his pocket for a lighter, he finally lit the cigarette with his back hunched against the icy wind. He watched the smoke disperse before his eyes and sighed.
If only his old head teacher could see him now.
But that didn’t matter anymore, he was already here, a million miles away. If even the people who’d lived under the same roof as him for more than ten years might never see him again, what significance was a mere head teacher?
In the run-down school of this run-down city, there probably wouldn’t be anybody who gave a crap whether or not he smoked.
Jiang Cheng was only halfway done with the cigarette before he could no longer stand the cold. He stood up with the intention of hailing a cab to go get some food first, but only managed to take one step with the suitcase. He felt something bump hard against his ankle, and felt a surge of pain.
He frowned and turned his head, there was a skateboard on the ground behind him.
Before he even had a chance to see where this skateboard came from, somebody fell down next to his feet.
“Are you…” Out of reflex he reached out to help, but his hand paused in mid-air.
A mess of hair was scattered on a head, the edges was uneven in length as if it had been chewed on by a dog, the clothes were dirty too… A beggar? Homeless person? Scam artist? Thief?
Only when this person raised their head did he clearly see that it was a little girl, probably 11 or 12 years of age. Even though her face was streaked with mud, he could still see that she had rather fair complexion and very large eyes.
But before he had a chance to reach out a helping hand again, the girl was dragged away roughly by four or five other little girls that followed her. One of them even landed a foot on her back, making her stumble forward and almost fall down again.
Jiang Cheng understood immediately what was happening. He hesitated for only a moment, then turned to continue on his way.
A wave of laughter behind him made him pause in his steps again.
He didn’t like to interfere in other people’s business when he was in a bad mood. It just so happens that at this very moment he was in an especially extremely extraordinarily exceptionally terrible mood. But that large-eyed little girl’s dark and clear pupils ultimately caused him to turn around.
“Ayy!” He called out.
The girls all stopped. One that looked like she might have been their leader narrowed her eyes at him, “What?!”
Jiang Cheng walked over, dragging his suitcase behind him slowly, all the while staring at the girl that still had Big-Eyes’ clothes in her grasp. After two more seconds of staring, the girl loosened her grip.
He pulled Big-Eyes to his side and looked at the other girls, “Nothing, go on then.”
“Who the hell are you?” Their leader was a little scared, but still blurted out in obvious displeasure.
“I’m a big bro with a knife,” Jiang Cheng glanced at her. “I can give you the same haircut as her in just thirty seconds.”
“I’m gonna get my brother to come for you!” The leader was clearly not used to this kind of confrontation. She was a little cowed from his words, but didn’t want to give in so easily.
“Then tell him to hurry up,” Jiang Cheng yanked on his suitcase with one hand and Big-Eyes with the other. “I’m scared to death, so I’ll probably run really fast.”
The other girls walked away, and Big-Eyes shook off his hand.
“Are you alright?” Jiang Cheng asked.
Big-Eyes shook her head, and turned to walk back to the skateboard. She stepped on it with one foot and looked back at him.
“Yours?” Jiang Cheng asked again.
Big-Eyes nodded. She pushed off lightly with one foot and rolled to his side, then came to a steady stop, still looking at him.
“Then… you should go home.” Jiang Cheng nodded as well. He pulled out his phone and walked away with the intention of calling a cab.
A few steps later he heard a noise behind him, and turned around to see that Big-Eyes was still slowly following behind on her skateboard.
“What’s wrong?” Jiang Cheng looked at her.
Big-Eyes didn’t say anything.
“Afraid that they’ll come back?” Jiang Cheng asked again, resigned.
Big-Eyes shook her head.
“What, are you mute?” Jiang Cheng was starting to feel irritated.
Big-Eyes continued to shake her head.
“Let me tell you. Me,” Jiang Cheng pointed at himself. “I’m in a very bad mood right now, very grumpy. I’m not gonna go easy on you just because you’re a little girl, you understand?”
Big-Eyes didn’t move.
Jiang Cheng stared at her for a while and saw that she had no intention of speaking, so he suppressed his anger and continued on.
The signal was poor around here, no matter how he tried he couldn’t open the interface of the ride-hailing app. He sat down on a stone stump by the bus stop and lit another cigarette.
Big-Eyes was still standing on her skateboard next to him.
“Is there something else?” Jiang Cheng asked impatiently. He was a little sorry now that he interfered and brought this strange trouble onto himself.
Big-Eyes still didn’t talk, only pushed lightly on the ground and rolled up to the nearby bus stop sign. She raised her head and stared at it for a long time.
When she rolled back to Jiang Cheng’s side, he found the cause in her confused expression, and sighed, “Are you lost? Don’t know how to get back?”
“Do you live locally?” Jiang Cheng asked.
“Call and tell your family to come get you.” Jiang Cheng handed his phone to her.
She accepted the phone but hesitated, tapped on the screen with her head down, then gave back the phone.
“What do you mean?” Jiang Cheng looked at the number displayed on the screen. “You want me to call for you?”
“Shit.” Jiang Cheng pressed call with his brows furrowed and listened to the dialing tone in the receiver. He asked, “Which family member does this number belong to?”
Someone picked up on the other end before Big-Eyes answered.
Of course, she probably wouldn’t have answered. Jiang Cheng “hello”ed at the phone.
“Who’s this?” It was a male voice on the other end.
“A passer-by.” Jiang Cheng was a little uncertain now as to how to explain. “I have a little girl here…”
“Not interested” Said the voice on the other end.
Before Jiang Cheng had a chance to react, the line was already dead.
“Who the hell was that?” Jiang Cheng spat out the spent cigarette and pointed at Big-Eyes. “If you’re not gonna talk then get lost, I’m running out of patience.”
Big-Eyes crouched down beside his legs, picked up a rock, and wrote a crooked ‘哥’ [older brother] on the ground, then raised her head to look at him.
“Ok, got it.” Jiang Cheng figured this little girl might really be mute.
He called the number again, this time it didn’t ring for very long before it was picked up, “Who’s this.”
Jiang Cheng glanced at Big-Eyes, “I have your little sister here…”
“Go ahead and get rid of her.” Was the answer on the other end. The line went dead again.
“Fuck me!” Jiang Cheng had a sudden urge to smash his phone. He pointed at Big-Eyes, “Your name!”
Big-Eyes lowered her head and scribbled out her name with the rock.
Jiang Cheng didn’t call the number again. Instead he sent a text along with a photo of Big-Eyes.
– Gu Miao, mute, skateboard.
Thirty seconds later he got a call back from that number.
Jiang Cheng answered the phone, “Too late, I already got rid of her.”
“Sorry about that,” The same voice said. “Can you please tell me where you are? I want to see if I can still piece her back together.”
“…… East Station, the really run-down one.” Jiang Cheng was frowning. “She was lost. Hurry up, I have to go.”
“Thank you, thank you so much.” The voice answered. “I’ll be there right away. If you’re in a hurry to go you can leave first, just tell her to wait there for me.”
Jiang Cheng picked up the cigarette he tossed earlier and flicked it into a nearby garbage can, then lit a new one.
He was going to just call a cab and go, but then thought nobody cared either way whether he came or went, whether he was there or not. He supposed he wasn’t in any particular rush.
Gu Miao sat on the skateboard for a while, then stood back up and started to zip back and forth on the sidewalk with her skateboard.
After watching for a while, Jiang Cheng was a little surprised. He thought the little girl was just fooling around, but didn’t expect to see her handle all the various uphill, downhill, accelerations, braking, and turns with such ease.
Though the head of weed-like hair and the dirty face and clothes kept breaking his illusion.
After some time, Gu Miao rolled to a stop beside him, kicked the skateboard up with her toes, and caught the board in her hands. She raised her hand and pointed behind Jiang Cheng.
“Real cool.” Jiang Cheng gave her a thumbs up then turned around. There was a black motorcycle parked behind him.
The rider was wearing a helmet that covered the face, but the legs that rested against the curb had on form-fitting grey pants and boots. It was very eye-catching.
They were long, and very straight legs.
“Your brother?” Jiang Cheng asked Gu Miao.
Gu Miao nodded.
“What’s wrong with your head?” The rider removed his helmet and got off the bike. He walked over and stared at Gu Miao’s hair. “And your face and clothes… Did you fall into a crapper?”
Gu Miao shook her head.
“More like got bullied by classmates.” Jiang Cheng said.
“Thank you.” Only now did this person direct his gaze toward Jiang Cheng and extended a hand. “Gu Fei, I’m her brother.”
Jiang Cheng stood up and shook his hand, “You’re welcome.”
Gu Fei appeared to be around the same age as himself, though it was difficult to tell that he was Gu Miao’s brother going by his eyes alone. The shape of their eyes were similar, but his wasn’t as large as Gu Miao’s…… though his skin was pretty fair too.
Jiang Cheng’s mood up until that moment was rather like a big bowl of rotten tomatoes. However, Gu Fei’s hairstyle was as eye-catching as his legs, so he spared a couple extra glances through a slit in the rotten tomatoes.
Gu Fei had a very short buzz cut with lines of music and notes carved into the shorter fuzz on the sides of his head. There was a bass clef on one side and a quarter rest on the other, Jiang Cheng couldn’t see how many dots it had.
“You just got off the train?” Gu Fei glanced at the suitcase.
“Yeah.” Jiang Cheng picked up his phone to open the ride-hailing app again.
“Where are you headed? I can give you a ride.” Gu Fei said.
“That’s OK.” Jiang Cheng glanced at his bike. However large it was, a motorcycle was still a motorcycle.
“She doesn’t take up any space.” Gu Fei said again.
“It’s alright, thanks.” Jiang Cheng said.
“Say thank you to big brother,” Gu Fei pointed at him and said to Gu Miao. “Ball of poop.”
Jiang Cheng turned to face the “ball of poop”, wanting to hear how she was going to speak. But Gu Miao only clutched her skateboard and gave him a full 90-degree bow.
Gu Fei straddled the bike and put on his helmet. Gu Miao climbed deftly onto the back seat and held on to his waist.
“Thanks again.” Gu Fei looked at him, then turned and rode away.
Jiang Cheng sat back down on the stump. The signal was sufficiently good now, but still no one accepted his fare for a long time. The passing taxis didn’t stop either when he hailed them.
What kind of shitty place is this?
Though he had been in a rotten mood lately, he hadn’t had a chance to savor it properly. He felt he had been living in chaos in the days past, wrapped up in all sorts of shock and confusion, without a chance to catch his breath. He hadn’t even considered why he had accepted the whole arrangement, until he found himself already here.
Was it rebellion?
Just like mom said, “We never had someone as rebellious as you in our family, you’re covered in thorns.”
Of course, they were never a family. Not to mention in these last few years they’ve became almost like enemies. When they looked at each other, all they saw was fire.
Jiang Cheng furrowed his brows, he hadn’t had a chance to ponder all that.
Until now, until this very moment.
It was only in this strange, cold, and snowy city, that he suddenly regained his senses.
The hopelessness and pain, along with the defiance against all that was unknown made his nose twinge.
When he lowered his head, the tears left furious streaks on his face.
Jiang Cheng was sitting in a KFC in an unspecified location when his phone rang. He glanced at the unknown number and picked up the phone, “Hello?”
“Is this Jiang Cheng?” A middle-aged male voice sounded on the other end.
The voice was a little too loud, Jiang Cheng held the phone slightly away from his ears. “Yes.”
“I’m your dad.” The man said.
“…… Oh.” Jiang Cheng answered. He found the conversation kind of amusing, he couldn’t help but laugh.
The man laughed along with him for a second, “My name is Li Baoguo, you know that right?”
“Yeah.” Jiang Cheng took a sip of coke.
“Has your train arrived yet?” Li Baoguo asked.
“Yeah.” Jiang Cheng glanced down at his watch, it had been two hours since his train arrived.
“Do you have the address? I don’t have a car to pick you up, just take a cab over, I’ll meet you out by the street.” Li Baoguo said.
“Ok.” Jiang Cheng hung up the phone.
His luck wasn’t bad this time, he was able got a cab right away. The heat was turned on full in the car, enough to make one feel feverish.
The driver wanted to chat, but the whole time Jiang Cheng leaned against the car window silently and stared outside. After a few false starts, the driver finally gave up and turned on the radio.
Jiang Cheng was trying his best to see what this city really looked like, but it was already dark outside, and the street lamps weren’t very bright. Watching the snowflakes swirling around in the halo of the street lamps, he felt a little dizzy.
He shut his eyes.
Then quickly opened them again.
He wondered what was wrong with him. He was acting like a girl. How lame.
The taxi arrived at its destination. Jiang Cheng got off with his suitcase and stood on the side of the street.
There was nobody there.
Not even a shadow of “your dad” Li Baoguo, who said he would meet him out by the street.
Jiang Cheng suppressed the frustration in his heart and the pain on his wind-blown face, and took out his phone to call Li Baoguo’s number.
“Ayyy this hand sucks…” It was a long time before Li Baoguo picked up the phone. “Yeah?”
“I’m here on the street.” Listening to the sounds from the other end, Jiang Cheng had the sudden urge to hang up and look for a hotel instead.
“AH? You’re here already?” Li Baoguo shouted in surprise. “I’m here I’m here, I’ll be out right away.”
This so called “right away”, was right about five minutes. Just as Jiang Cheng was pulling his suitcase with one hand and reaching out to hail a cab with the other, a man wearing an ushanka ran over and pressed down on his arm. He shouted in a loud voice, “Jiang Cheng, right?”
Jiang Cheng didn’t make a sound. He saw that Li Baoguo ran out from the apartment building right next to them.
Then when he noticed the heads poking out from a second floor window looking in their direction, he felt like he didn’t want to open his mouth ever again.
“I was over at a friend’s place, let’s go,” Li Baoguo patted his shoulder. “Let’s go let’s go home… You look taller than in the photos huh.”
Jiang Cheng looked down at the muddy road and followed him.
“Ayy,” Li Baoguo slapped his back a couple of times too for good measure. “How many years has it been now, gotta be more than ten huh? I finally get to see my son! I should take a good look.”
Li Baoguo reached his head around the front of Jiang Cheng’s face and stared at him.
Jiang Cheng pulled up the face mask he’d left scrunched up on his chin and put it on properly.
All of a sudden, he felt completely hollow inside. Even the air around him was filled with a sense of wandering aimlessness.
- Raw character count: 5550
- TL word count: 3756
- TL time: 4:46:16
- Edit: 1:39:09
- Curse words: 2 fucks, 1 shit
Second edit: 02/14/21
Apparently there’s some confusion about the girl on the train (heh), Jiang Cheng did NOT draw on a random stranger’s face with a sharpie. If you read that part again, you’ll see that he only pulled the pen out when she started to wake, and started twirling it right after he popped the cap off. He couldn’t have drawn on her face without her noticing, he only made her think he did.
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