The bigshot who bought a bottle of water just to throw away half was currently lying face down on the sidewalk outside the store.


  The shiny head between the store shelves belonged to Gu Miao, though it was now difficult to tell that this was a little girl. She had on a blue-grey puffer in boys’ style, if it wasn’t for her eyes, Jiang Cheng wouldn’t have realized that this was Gu Miao.

  Behind her stood Gu Fei with a cigarette in his mouth, his hand holding an electric hair trimmer paused in mid-air. He must’ve been surprised to see Jiang Cheng here.

  Though Gu Fei looked different today, in a sweater and joggers, he looked relaxed and comfortable.

  The way he looked and carried himself was drastically different from his four friends by the door. He was very eye catching, the kind you’d spot straight away in a crowd.

  Emanating from every pore of his body was the message: I’m their leader.

   

  Jiang Cheng never thought he looked like a bad guy, even though at times when his temper flared, he would scare even himself. He assumed perhaps he just never got over the rebellious streak and turned it into a chronic condition. But all he wanted to do today was purchase a bottle of water in peace, he was pretty sure he looked non-threatening. 

  So when all eyes in the convenience-store-that-was-pretending-to-be-a-grocery-store were simultaneously converging on him with a silent ‘you’re looking for trouble’ expression, needless to say, he was more than a little perplexed.

  While this was going on some of the ash dropped from Gu Fei’s cigarette directly onto Gu Miao’s newly shiny scalp. She lowered her head and wiped at it roughly.

  Jiang Cheng decided to disregard these gazes. Growing up, he had never shied away from trouble, and was not intimidated by any ‘what are you looking at’ stares. Especially when both his mind and body were not feeling well.

  He walked to the shelf and grabbed himself a bottle of water.

  When he glanced up, he saw that Gu Fei was standing on the other side of the row of shelves. After a brief exchange of silent eye contact in between two bags of chips, Gu Fei finally said, “Welcome.”

  “Your family’s?” Jiang Cheng asked.

  “Yeah.” Gu Fei nodded.

  “What a coincidence.” Jiang Cheng said.

  Gu Fei said nothing, and Jiang Cheng didn’t feel much like talking anyways. He tossed the bottle gently in his hand and turned to the checkout.

  “Two bucks.” A young man had walked behind the cash register. He propped his hands on the counter and leaned forward to stare at Jiang Cheng.

  Jiang Cheng looked up at him. The quartet of ‘Not A Good Bird’ hadn’t moved from their spots. This guy was the one standing next to Gu Fei when he came in.

  He hadn’t noticed before in the dim lighting, but now under the fluorescent ceiling light he was able to see that this person had a rather pretty face, almost feminine like. Other than the long and narrow eyes, his other facial features actually made him seem more like Gu Miao’s older sister… no brother. Mores so than Gu Fei anyway.

  Jiang Cheng handed over a ten yuan bill from his pocket. The young man looked down and punched it into the cash, then gave him another look, “Da-Fei’s friend? I haven’t seen you around.”

  “No.” Jiang Cheng popped out a couple pills from the pack of cold medicine he just bought and washed it down with some water.

  “No?” The guy’s gaze traveled over his shoulder and landed somewhere behind him. He placed the change on the counter. “Ah.”

  Jiang Cheng threw the half finished bottle of water into the trash by the door, then lifted the curtains to go outside.

  “Hey, you should’ve gotten a smaller size,” The guy’s voice sounded from behind. “What a waste.”

  “…I forgot.” Jiang Cheng said.

  The guy was right of course. Why didn’t he get the smaller sized bottle, he wasn’t gonna finish it anyway.

  Must be because the feeling of soreness all over his body had intensified, making his brain a little short circuited.

  He stood on the steps outside, having trouble remembering where he was heading before he turned into the store… Back? Back where? Li Baoguo’s… no, his new home?

  At the mere thought of the disgusting state of the apartment and Li Baoguo’s thunderous snores, he felt a tightness in his chest. He suddenly found it difficult to get air into his lungs. No air at all.

  A darkness dotted with stars spread across his vision. 

  Jiang Cheng lost control of his body, which pitched downwards like a rotating flour sack. He sighed and thought to himself, this should be good.

 

  Gu Miao rubbed her newly smooth head and walked towards the door, skateboard in hand.

  “Your hat.” Gu Fei picked up his jacket from a chair and pulled out a green knitted cap decorated with little flowers from the pockets where it was bunched, and threw it on her head.

  Gu Miao yanked it onto her head roughly.

  They watched her go out the door, then immediately come back in and knock on the counter.

  “What is it?” Li Yan leaned over the cash and tugged on her hat, then raised his eyes at Gu Fei. “How could you knit her a green hat for real?” [1]

  “She picked the colour herself.” Gu Fei put the hair trimmer away and directed his attention at Gu Miao. “What is it?”

  Gu Miao pointed at the front door.

  “Is there a dog?” Gu Fei kicked his chair to one side and walked to the door. He lifted the curtain.

  The big shot who bought a bottle of water just to throw away half was currently lying face down on the sidewalk outside the store.

  Hugging the ground with his face.

 

  “Hey,” Gu Fei walked outside and lightly kicked his leg. He didn’t even know the guy’s name. “Are you ok?”

  The big shot didn’t move. Gu Fei bent down and studied the face of the big shot currently pressed against the ground and saw that the tip of his nose had been flattened. He reached out a hand to lift the big shot’s head and tilted it slightly so he could breathe, then turned and shouted into the store, “Hey! We got a man down!”

  Li Yan was the first one out the door. He froze at the scene in front of him, “Got stabbed?”

  “If that was the case then it must be you.” Gu Fei touched the big shot’s face and sensed the high temperature. “He’s burning up.”

  “You can pass out from a fever?” Li Yan was clearly a little flabberghasted. He turned to look at the others that had followed him out. “What do we do? Call 120?”

  “I say don’t bother.” Liu Fan looked around. “If any vigilant auntie sees and calls the cops, they’ll blamed it on us for sure. I just got out yesterday…”

  “Drag him inside.” Gu Fei said.

  “Drag him… You know him right?” Liu Fan asked.

  “Just do as you’re told, even if he didn’t know him, Da-Fei touched him just now.” Li Yan said. “If an auntie calls the cops do you think the cops won’t know to ask you about it?”

  “He’s passed out from a fever is all. It’s too bad for your parents that you guys didn’t make a career out of screenwriting.” Gu Fei flipped the big shot over. “Hurry it up.”

  Together, the bunch of them carried the unconscious body into the store and left him in the spare room Gu Fei usually used for naps.

 

  “I didn’t even get to properly sleep in this bed,” Once everyone else was out, Li Yan tsked and said. “Yet this weakling who popped out of nowhere get to enjoy it first.”

  “You go out there and do a faceplant, and I’ll put you on this bed right away.” Gu Fei said.

  “No shame.” Li Yan said.

  “You’ve got the most shame ok,” Gu Fei gave him a shove. “Now get out.”

  “Hey,” Li Yan resisted and stayed where he was, he turned and lowered his voice. “The guy said you’re not friends?”

  “Mhm.” Gu Fei pushed a little harder and Li Yan stumbled out. Gu Fei closed the door behind them. “He’s the one who found Er-Miao yesterday.”

  “He found Er-Miao?” Li Yan was a little surprised. “How serendipitous.”

  Gu Fei ignored him. He sat down behind the cash and started playing a mobile game.

  “He’s pretty handsome.” Li Yan leaned over the counter and said in a low voice.

  Gu Fei gave him a look. Li Yan turned away and didn’t say anything more.

  Gu Miao came over, stuck her hand out in front of Gu Fei’s face with her palms spread open, and wiggled her fingers.

  “Go ahead and eat. Look how much weight you gained in these last couple of months, nobody’s gonna play with you anymore.” Gu Fei took out a ten yuan bill and pressed it into her hand. “Your face is like a full circle now.”

  Gu Miao ignored him. She put the money in her pockets, and even patted it for good measure, then walked out skateboard in hand.

  “With a bald head like that, no other kid is gonna play with her whether she’s fat or not.” Li Yan sighed.

  “Nobody plays with her anyways, even if she’s not bald.” Gu Fei continued his game. “She’s never had any friends, who would play with a mute?”

  “Don’t say that,” Liu Fan said beside them. “It’s not like she’s actually mute. She just doesn’t talk, what’s the big deal?”

  “Ay… What’s gonna happen if she goes on like this,” Li Yan sighed again. “School’s one thing, if she doesn’t wanna go then don’t go. But this thing where she’s only willing to talk to Da-Fei…”

  “There’s a high probability the world’s gonna end if not for you worrying about it.” Gu Fei interrupted him. “You should submit an application for the Nobel Peace Prize.”

  “Fuck you.” Li Yan slapped the counter and went to sit down in a chair next to Liu Fan.

 

  The store slipped into silence. Liu Fan and the others who sat by the radiator were slowly nodding off to sleep with a glazed look in their eyes. It was a rather scary scene, with their facial muscles all drooping from relaxation. There were three customers in a row who lifted the curtains to come in, but at the sight of them immediately turned around and left.

  “You guys,” Gu Fei rapped his knuckles on the counter. “Get.”

  “Where to?” Li Yan asked.

  “Go wild.” Gu Fei said.

  “Don’t feel like going outside though.” Liu Fan stretched lazily. “Damn cold and nowhere to go.”

  “I got customers who already walked in but were scared off by you guys.” Gu Fei put a lit cigarette in his mouth.

  “I promise, the next person to come in, we’ll hold them here for you.” Liu Fan laughed and clapped his hands together. “We won’t let a single one escape.”

  “Hurry up and get out,” Gu Fei said. “Annoying shits.”

  “Go go go go.” Liu Fan tsked and stood up. He gave the other chairs each a kick. “Your Uncle Gu is throwing a fit again, another minute and he’ll come at us with a knife.”

  None of the others wanted to move, but stood up anyways. They put their jackets on and left reluctantly, all the while cursing under their breath.

  Li Yan was the last one out the door, but at the last second he turned around and said, “There’s another one in there, you’re not gonna get rid of him?”

  Gu Fei just looked at him without a word.

  So Li Yan didn’t say anything more, only lifted the curtain and walked out.

 

  Gu Fei looked at the clock, he estimated that about twenty minutes had passed in the time it took him to finish one cigarette. According to standard fainting procedure, the guy should’ve been awake in a matter of minutes. 

  He pushed open the door to the spare room and peered inside. Mr. Big Shot was still unconscious, lying there with his eyes closed in the exact same position as before.

  “Hey,” Gu Fei walked over and gave him a nudge. “Don’t die here at my place.”

  Still, Mr. Big Shot didn’t move.

  For a while Gu Fei just stood there and stared at him.

  Mr. Big Shot’s face was a little dirty, but it didn’t take away from the attractiveness of his face. The very slightly downturned eyes made him look a little smug.

  According to his standards, which disliked pretty much everybody he met, the guy was handsome enough. It was only the first meeting yesterday that left him unimpressed with the prickly air about this guy, even though he was only low-key prickly, Gu Fei felt it just the same.

  After a few minutes of staring, he lifted the covers, rummaged around Mr. Big Shot’s pockets, and found his wallet. His ID was slotted together with a number of what looked like membership cards.

  Jiang Cheng.

  He put the wallet back, leaned down and shouted into Mr. Big Shot’s ears, “HEY!”

  ”Mmm…” Mr. Big Shot finally stirred and murmured quietly. He sounded extremely displeased.

  Gu Fei gave the edge of the bed another kick and turned to leave.

 

  Jiang Cheng was confused.

  The moment he opened his eyes it felt as though he got amnesia: Who am I, where is this?

  It took a good while for him to recall that the last thing he could remember was the not very clean ground coming towards him, bringing with it some snow that had been trampled to sludge.

  He actually passed out? Must be once in a lifetime.

  He sat up and lifted the blanket covering him. When he saw the mud all over his clothes, he immediately grabbed the blanket and checked, there were a few spots of mud it. He gave it a few pats in an attempt to get it off, to no avail.

  Just as he was considering finding some water to see if he could rub the stain out, his brain suddenly decided to work again.

  Who am I? Jiang Cheng.

  Where am I? No idea.

  It was a small but well-kept room. Much cleaner than the one Li Baoguo gave him. He threw the covers off and went to open the door.

  He finally recalled when he saw the three rows of store shelves outside, he was still in Gu Fei’s store.

  

  “You’re finally awake.” Gu Fei leaned against a recliner by the cash register and glanced up at him, then continued to play with his phone.

  “Yeah.” Jiang Cheng patted the dried mud on his clothing. “Thanks.”

  “Don’t mention it.” Gu Fei kept his eyes on his phone. “It’s mostly because it’s more trouble to leave you out there.”

  “Ah.” Jiang Cheng turned and looked back at the small room. “That blanket… got dirty.”

  “There’s a sink at the back.” Gu Fei said. “Go ahead and wash it.”

  “What?” Jiang Cheng was stunned, and a little mad, but couldn’t find an appropriate way to express his emotions. After all, there was nothing logically wrong with Gu Fei’s words.。

  “Why mention it if you didn’t plan to wash it.” Gu Fei finally lifted his gaze from the phone screen and trained it on his face.

  Jiang Cheng didn’t say anything, so they stared at each other in silence.

  He was rather grateful to Gu Fei at first for getting him inside, but Gu Fei’s attitude at the moment made it hard for him to express that gratitude. He only refrained from lashing out because he hadn’t entirely recovered from fainting.

  After a few more minutes of the staring contest, Gu Fei directed his eyes and attention back to his mobile game.

  Jiang Cheng turned and walked out.

  It was nice and sunny outside, the sun was the only source of warmth in the north wind. Though it wasn’t much help, it was still freezing cold.

  His head was killing him. Jiang Cheng pulled a ski cap out of his pockets and pulled it over his head, along with the hood of his jacket. He checked the time and was glad to see that he only passed out for about half an hour. Not bad, didn’t waste too much time.

  Even though he didn’t know what else there was to do.

  Standing at the edge of the road and looking out to either side of him, he finally decided to continue strolling forward, and circle back once he found the connecting lane between the two streets.

  He didn’t much like the idea of going back to listen to Li Baoguo’s snores, but he had to change his clothes.

  While trudging through the muddy snow, he suddenly felt a pang of loneliness.

  There were many days like this in his past, where he spent hours leisurely wandering around outside, sometimes not going home for days at a time. But never had he felt loneliness the way he did now.

  Wonder why.

  Perhaps it was the powerful sense of loss from being abandoned and exiled, perhaps it was this strange and decrepit environment, perhaps it was the lack of friends around him, or… simply because he was sick.

  

  His phone made a sound, Jiang Cheng pulled it out. It was a message from Yu Xin.

    - I changed my mind.

  He sighed and texted back.

    - Heroes generally stick to their words.

  Yu Xin didn’t send another reply. She could be mad that he didn’t give her any face, or maybe just preserving her anger for another more suitable moment, to go off on him again.

  He put the phone back in his pocket and pinched the bridge of his nose.

  He hadn’t noticed before, it was only now that he realized his nose hurt like hell. It must’ve smashed into the ground when he face planted earlier.

  Tsk.

  He carefully pinched his nose from bridge to tip, and made sure that nothing was broken.

  After a few more steps forward he saw a small intersection up ahead. That should be the connecting lane he was looking for.

  Suddenly, a green coloured head poked out from the intersection up ahead and rolled over like a whirlwind.

  

  By the time Jiang Cheng made out the green head to be Gu Miao with her skateboard, she had already zoomed past him, with such speed that he didn’t even see her face clearly.

  Ah, skateboard girl.

  He turned for another look. What a cool little girl, too bad all her hair was gone.

  Was Gu Fei really her brother? Even if she got a bad haircut, was it that hard to find a salon and fix it into a shorter style? He just had to shave the whole thing off, especially on chilly days like these… Wait, was that a green hat??

  When Jiang Cheng once again turned his head around to see if there was a problem with his eyes, all that was left of Gu Miao was a distant black dot.

  Before he turned back to continue on his way, three bicycles came charging out of the intersection up ahead.

  They were rather rickety and made clanging sounds as they went, but were nonetheless very quick.

  ”Shit, she’s fast!” Shouted one of the people on the rickety bike.

  Jiang Cheng was dumbfounded. Does this mean… Gu Miao was being chased and bullied again?

  He didn’t have the spoons to even feel sympathy this time around, only an abstract surge of annoyance.

  What the fuck kind of shitty place is this?!

  

  Li Baoguo was still asleep when he got back to his new ‘home’. Though he had let up somewhat on the snoring, he had been coughing from the moment that Jiang Cheng stepped through the door, the severity of which made Jiang Cheng think he was going to cough his lungs out.

  He couldn’t help but check on him a couple times, but Li Baoguo’s eyes were closed and appeared to be sound asleep.

  That was a skill Jiang Cheng did not possess, if he coughed while sleeping, that would wake him up for sure. This must be a Li Baoguo specialty.

  After he changed, Jiang Cheng wet a towel he got out of his suitcase and wiped his jacket clean.

  Then sat on the bed and stared off into space.

  He didn’t know what he could possibly do.

  Li Baoguo stopped coughing next door, but his snores had started up again.

  Jiang Cheng found it hard to pin down his feelings at this moment. This man was his biological father, his blood flowed in him.

  To think that he was actually born in a home like this. Despite not having met the rest of the family members yet, Li Baoguo alone was the perfect embodiment of ‘excitement ahead’ in capital warning font.

  Recently he had been careful to avoid thinking about this, but sitting here now, looking at the decay within and without, it was no longer possible to avoid the topic.

  A long time ago, he even discussed the subject of adoption with his parents.

  It was a pointless exercise. Some things were simply carved into your bones, no amount of nurture could overcome it. 

  He didn’t remember what they had to say on the matter, only his own words. Those words were now like sharp slaps on his own face.

  He should’ve known… His younger brother’s personality really was just like their parents: he was prudent with few words, preferred the quiet, and was an avid reader. But Jiang Cheng was the opposite, though it wasn’t like he was a chatterbox either… 

  Even their neighbour said at one point, that he didn’t seem like part of the same family.

  Right… the incompatibility was built into him. 

  There was suddenly a torrent of coughs from Li Baoguo, as if he had choked on something. It went on for a long time without pause, Jiang Cheng thought he must be awake this time, then immediately heard the sound of cursing.

  Not long after that the snores started up again.

  Jiang Cheng suddenly felt a rush of fear. 

  It was a sense of horror that also brought with it an intense feeling of suffocation.

  He stood up and grabbed the keys in the living room, wanting to go and make a copy for himself. Perhaps look for a hospital while he was out, to get himself looked at. He really wasn’t feeling too well, perhaps he had a fever.

  Gu Fei was crouching beside a flower pot outside the store, watching Gu Miao streak past him for the third time, as if showing off. The cold made her face almost bright red. 

  When she passed him for the fourth time, Gu Fei waved at her. Gu Miao made a sudden turn and slowly rolled to a stop in front of him.。

  “It’s time to go home for lunch,” Gu Fei stood up. “Go put your stuff away.”

  Gu Miao walked into the store, skateboard in tow.

  He lit up a cigarette and pondered what to make for lunch.。

  A minute later the sound of Gu Miao’s scream rang out from inside the store.

  In a flash he threw out the cigarette, shot up and dashed inside.

  The screaming was coming from the washroom at the back. He went out the back and pushed open the washroom door, Gu Miao was standing there screaming at the sink with her hands over her eyes.

  Gu Fei reached out a hand to turn off the water and carried her out of the washroom, all the while gently patting her back, “Shh… quiet now, there’s no more water, no water…”

  Gu Miao eventually stopped screaming, and said quietly with her hands around his neck, “Hungry.”

  “I’m hungry too.” Gu Fei held her in one arm and picked up the skateboard with his free hand. “Let’s have a feast.”


Footnote

[1] a green hat is widely known as the symbol for being a cuckold, mostly used on men. Obviously this does not apply to Gu Miao in any way, but people just shirk away from green hats out of reflex.

Some Stats

  • Raw character count: 5582
  • TL word count: 4064
  • TL time: 6:69:53
  • Edit: 1:41:27
  • Curse words: 2x fucks, 3x shits