Jiang Cheng felt like he almost dislocated his jaw from the shock.


         When Pan Zhi’s call came in, Jiang Cheng was still sleeping as though he was in hibernation. His cell phone sang for a long time before he finally picked it up groggily, “……Hmm?”

         “Fuck, I knew it.” Pan Zhi said. “Open your dog eyes and look at what time it is.”

         “Is it four o’clock?” Jiang Cheng regained consciousness, and held the phone in front of his face to look at the time, but his eyes were not yet awake, everything was a blur.

         “It’s already three-thirty!” Pan Zhi said. “I knew you’d be like this, so I’m calling you early.”

         “There’s time still,” Jiang Cheng sat up. “I’ll be waiting for you outside the exit gates.”

         “Which exit gate?” Pan Zhi asked.

         “There’s only one exit in total.” Jiang Cheng looked out the window. Through the window that was so dirty it was practically frosted glass, he could see that the weather was pretty good today, everything was swathed in glittering gold. “Talk later.”

         After he put on clothes and got out of bed, he felt that he was in much better shape today. Other than not getting quite enough sleep, the all-over terrible feeling he had yesterday and the accompanying annoyance that made him want to beat up anyone he laid eyes on was gone. 

         He checked the time again, he had slept from yesterday afternoon all the way until now, it had been a whole day. He felt a little light on his feet.

         Li Baoguo wasn’t home, who knew where he’d gone off to.

         Jiang Cheng found this ‘home’ a little perplexing. At the time when his mom wanted to reverse his adoption, Li Baoguo eagerly made several trips there, even though Jiang Cheng hadn’t wanted to see him.

         But now that he was here, Li Baoguo was not showing any of the keenness of wanting this son back here.

         And ass for the rumoured older brother and sister, he’d already been here for two days, and they were still nowhere to be found.

         Jiang Cheng was not at all interested in this new ‘home’, nor did he have any kind of expectations. However, it was still not a great feeling to wake up at any given time, every day, and find oneself alone in a totally lifeless dwelling..

         If this place wasn’t in an apartment building, he would’ve thought it was a hundred-year old ancient hut. A sense of unsustainable decay permeated within and without.

         This was also the reason why he didn’t want Pan Zhi to stay here. Compared to his clean and immaculate old room with a piano, Pan Zhi would have to bawl for two to three days at the disparity.

         Though to be honest, even if he didn’t bring Pan Zhi back here, the state of the East Station alone would be enough to make Pan Zhi howl for a long while.

         “Oh fuck,” Pan Zhi was dragging a large suitcase and carrying a large backpack. He started lamenting at the first sight of Jiang Cheng. “Ah this place is kind of a little unbearable!”

         “You should head back then,” Jiang Cheng pointed at the ticket booth. “Hurry up, go buy a ticket.”

         “Where is our brotherly bond!” Pan Zhi said. “I came all this way dragging all these things just to see you! Shouldn’t you be touched!”

         “Touché.” Jiang Cheng said.

         Pan Zhi glared at him, then after a long pause opened his arms, “I really am starting to miss you.”

         Jiang Cheng went over and gave him a hug, “I haven’t had a chance to.”

         “Do you know why I’m your only friend?” Pan Zhi let go of him.

         “Yes,” Jiang Cheng nodded. “Because you’re a dork.”

         He had quite a few friends, but they were all of the non-essential kind. They hung out together, trudged around together, if they ran into small trouble they swarmed like bees, and if they ran into big trouble they dispersed like birds.

         Only Pan Zhi, even though they only met in grade 9, and only got sorted into the same class in the first year of high school. It hadn’t even been three years, but they were solid.

         After coming to this shitty little city, the only person he had missed was Pan Zhi.

         “Hey boss, you know where this is right?” Pan Zhi asked when they got in the cab.

         “How could I not,” The driver chuckled and said. “It’s the best hotel around here.”

         “You sure know how to pick them.” Jiang Cheng threw him a glance.

         “Do I even need to pick, their rooms are the most expensive.” Pan Zhi rummaged in his pocket for a long time, then finally pulled out a lighter and placed it in Jiang Cheng’s hand. “See if you like it?”

         Jiang Cheng looked at the lighter, it was a style he liked. All sleek and bare with no decorations, there were only two letters engraved at the very bottom. He leaned in close and squinted, “What’s this you carved here? Police?” [1]

         “J, C, the initials of your name,” Pan Zhi said. “Cool, huh.”

         “……Real cool,” Jiang Cheng put the lighter in his pocket. “How long are you staying for?”

         “Two days,” Pan Zhi sighed. “School’s starting soon.”

         “What’s there to sigh about.” Jiang Cheng said.

         “It’s just annoying, going to class, writing tests, homework, question banks,” Pan Zhi frowned. “If I absorbed everything without even trying like you, ranking in top ten without even going to class, I wouldn’t sigh either.”

         “Who said I don’t try,” Jiang Cheng gave him a side-eye. “It’s not like you didn’t know all the times I stayed up all night studying for tests.”

         “But the point is, it doesn’t make a difference even if I stayed up for 10 nights in a row.” Pan Zhi dragged his voice, then sighed again. “Oh fuck, I know why I missed you so much. Now that you’re gone, I have no one to show me the answers during tests!”

         “Drop out then.” Jiang Cheng said.

         “Where’s your humanity?” Pan Zhi glared at him.

         Jiang Cheng smiled and didn’t answer.

         Pan Zhi might not be happy with this little city, but he was satisfied with the hotel. After they arrived at his room, he inspected one by one the bed, the shower, and the toilet, then concluded, “Not bad.”

         “Let’s go eat something,” Jiang Cheng checked the time. “Barbecue?”

         “Mhm,” Pan Zhi opened his suitcase. “I have another present for you.”

         “Hm?” Jiang Cheng replied, sitting down at the edge of the bed.

         “Why don’t you take a guess?” Pan Zhi reached inside the suitcase and rummaged around.

         Jiang Cheng swept his gaze over the suitcase. It was filled with small and large packages of various snacks and food, it didn’t seem capable of holding anything else.

         “A tin whistle.” He said.

         “Shit,” Pan Zhi laughed, and pulled out a long black leather pouch from the very bottom. “Was that too easy or are we just too in sync?”

         “It’s way too easy.” Jiang Cheng accepted the pouch and pulled out a black tin whistle, turning it over in his hands. “It’s nice.”

         “Susato, in D.” Pan Zhi said. “I bought the right one, right? Isn’t it exactly the same as your old one?”

         “Yes,” Jiang Cheng gave it a try. “Thanks.”

         “Don’t smash it again, this one’s a gift from me.” Pan Zhi said.

         “Mmn.” Jiang Cheng put the tin whistle back in its pouch.

         He actually didn’t have a habit of smashing things when he got angry, after all, he was someone who had been trained for almost two decades on the virtue of restraint. Therefore, he would get into fights and beat people up, but he very rarely smashed things.

         The only reason he broke his tin whistle before was because there was no other outlet to vent his rage, it wasn’t like he could go and have it out with his pops.

         Since he wasn’t going back tonight, he hesitated for a moment about whether to text Li Baoguo or give him a call. At last he settled on calling, it took a long time before Li Baoguo picked up the phone, “HELLO!”

         He could tell from the noise that he was playing cards again. Jiang Cheng didn’t know what to think. He wondered if his mom knew about this habit of Li Baoguo’s, however…… compared to the family dynamic ruined by his own very existence, perhaps this wasn’t a big deal to her at all.

         “I have a classmate who’s here to visit me, I’m not going back tonight, I’ll be staying at the hotel.” Jiang Cheng said.

         “Ah a visiting classmate?” Li Baoguo coughed a few times. “Then go play with your friend, why are you calling me, I thought something’s happened.”

         “…… Bye then.” Jiang Cheng said.

         Li Baoguo didn’t make another sound, he simply hung up.

         “This dad of yours,” Pan Zhi looked at him. “What kind of person is he?”

         “Dunno, he smokes, coughs, snores, and gambles.” Jiang Cheng summarized.

         “But you smoke too, coughing…… who hasn’t coughed before……” Pan Zhi attempted to analyze it. “Snor……”

         “Are you done.” Jiang Cheng cut him off.

         “Barbecue!” Pan Zhi waved his hand.

         The barbecue wasn’t anything special, but Pan Zhi enjoyed it immensely. Jiang Cheng didn’t eat as much as he did yesterday, after all, he was a delicate flower freshly recovered from illness.

         Though coming out of the barbecue restaurant, he still felt like he was bloated from eating too much.

         “You really are in a bad mood,” Pan Zhi said. “The pork belly today was pretty good, but you ate only a little……”

         “Good eye.” Jiang Cheng nodded. His mood wasn’t so low that he couldn’t get anything in, but he didn’t want Pan Zhi to know he threw up the day before, on top of running a fever.

         “Let’s walk for a bit,” Pan Zhi patted his stomach. “Is there anything fun around here?”

         “No,” Jiang Cheng said, then added after a pause. “Dunno.”

         “Hey, where’s your new school at?” Pan Zhi said suddenly. “Let’s go check it out?”

         “Now?” Jiang Cheng tugged at his collar. “Nope.”

         “Tomorrow then, it’s Winter break anyway, it’s not like there’s gonna be anyone there. Let’s go see what the school is like,” Pan Zhi put an arm around his shoulder. “Didn’t you go take a look when you did the paperwork?”

         “It’s not like you don’t know if I’ve been there or not.” Jiang Cheng was a little irritable.

         “Oh right, you just got here.” Pan Zhi chuckled.

         Both the new life and the new environment made him exasperated and unsettled, but Pan Zhi did bring him a little solace. Amidst the strange and the unknown, there was finally a familiar person by his side.

         Jiang Cheng stayed up for almost the whole night chatting with Pan Zhi, though he couldn’t remember what exactly they talked about. It was just like when they sat chatting on the edge of the school field, talking about nothing and everything. The topic of conversation wasn’t important, the important thing was having someone around he could talk to in this way.

         They finally dozed off for a while just before sunrise, then got woken up by the lorry horns downstairs at just past 8. 

         “What the, aren’t we in the city?” Pan Zhi held on tightly to the duvet. “Since when could lorries drive directly up to the entrance of a hotel?”

         “Dunno.” Jiang Cheng kept his eyes shut.

         “There’s breakfast, should I get them to send it now?” Pan Zhi asked him.

         “Whatever,” Jiang Cheng said. “Did you fall asleep?”

         “I might have,” Pan Zhi said while laughing. “What’s the plan for today?”

         “Let’s go check out the school together,” Jiang Cheng said. “Then we can see if there’s anything fun to do around here, though probably not in the dead of Winter.”

         “It’s alright, I’m a person who’s very focused on the pleasure of the mind.” Pan Zhi said. “I came here to see you, so I’m good as long as I’ve seen you.”

         “How about I take a nap later, and you can pull up a stool and keep watching me.” Jiang Cheng said.

         “Hey,” Pan Zhi leaned in and stared at him for a while. “Have you not been talking very much the last couple of days?”

         “Why?” Jiang Cheng yawned.

         “You’re talking more than you used to, have you been bottling it up?” Pan Zhi asked.

         “…… Perhaps.” Jiang Cheng considered it. It might just be the case. He had nothing to say, and nobody to say it to.

         Looking at the new school on the map, it wasn’t very far from Li Baoguo’s place. And as to what kind of school it was, Jiang Cheng hadn’t looked it up, and wasn’t especially keen to find out.

         The paperwork involved in the process of transferring high schools was a lot of hassle. From the minute his parents started to tirelessly go through the administrative process, he had lost interest in practically everything. He couldn’t even get his spirit up for a fight.

         It was as though something had been wrenched out of his body, he was like a pile of mud, looking for an appropriate hollow in the ground to fill and stay there.

         After looking up the route, Pan Zhi dragged him to the bus stop.

         “Did you know, the view from a bus shows you the most authentic side of the city.” Pan Zhi said.

         “Mhm.” Jiang Cheng gave him a look.

         “Don’t you think this is very profound.” Pan Zhi asked, rather proud of himself.

         “Mhm.” Jiang Cheng continued to look at him.

         Pan Zhi stared back at him for a while, “Oh. You’re the one who said this.”

         Jiang Cheng shook his hand.

         There weren’t that many people on the bus. The commute in a small city was clearly much more relaxed, there were no scenes of people squished up against each other, no someone else’s hair plastered all over your face, no instances when the bus was so crowded that you couldn’t get on, and no instances where you might be physically squeezed off of a crowded bus.

         “This is much more comfortable than where we were.” Pan Zhi expressed his pleasure upon getting off the bus, and checked the map on his phone. “Fourth High, go straight for 500 m then make a turn.”

         “They probably won’t let people enter.” Jiang Cheng tugged on his collar.

         “Then we’ll just look around outside, and take a turn around the area. This is gonna be your main domain of activity in the future.” Pan Zhi held his phone up to Jiang Cheng’s face and tapped.

         “What.” Jiang Cheng looked at him.

         “Just a photo,” Pan Zhi said. “Yu Xin heard that I’m coming here, and cried, yelled, and kneeled down to beg me to take a photo of you for her. Thing is, I find it really hard to turn a girl down……”

         “She gave you money didn’t she.” Jiang Cheng said.

         “Yes.” Pan Zhi nodded solemnly.

         Jiang Cheng looked at him and failed to hold in his laugh, “Shameless.”

         “Are the two of you really done? I thought she was pretty alright.” Pan Zhi snapped another couple of photos of him with the phone.

         “There’s not much point.” Jiang Cheng said.

         “Is it because she’s a girl, that’s why there’s no point?” Pan Zhi continued to point the camera at him like it was an interview.

         Jiang Cheng gave him a look and didn’t answer.

         “I thiiink, if you can, then it’s still better to go with a girl. It’s too difficult to find a guy, and the overall environment is still not the best for it.” Pan Zhi put away his phone. “Don’t be fooled by the flocks of fujoshis on the internet, these people hardly count for anything when you toss them into the masses in the real world.”

         “You must’ve also been bottling up your words for a while huh.” Jiang Cheng said.

         “Ever since Winter break started and you disappeared from my view, I haven’t really talked since.” Pan Zhi grabbed at his chest. “I’ve been so repressed I’ve bloated from an A to a B.”

         “I can give you a bra set as a gift before you go home.” Jiang Cheng said.

         “We’re here,” Pan Zhi pointed in front of them. “Fourth High…… The outside looks pretty big, bigger than our school.”

         The front gates were open. When they walked through the gates, the guard glanced at the two of them but didn’t say anything.

         “He doesn’t care?” Pan Zhi said.

         “You’re unhappy that he doesn’t care?” Jiang Cheng gave him a side-eye. “Are you a masochist or what.”

         “Let’s take a stroll around.” Pan Zhi lifted his arms up and stretched.

         “It’s……” Jiang Cheng took a look around. “Pretty big.”

         “Has to be, it’s just our school that’s smack-dab in the heart of the city, where every inch is worth its weight in gold, they can’t expand even if they want to.” Pan Zhi said. “How great do you have it here, you probably have a large field too…… Let’s go check out the gymnasium?”

         “Mhm.” Jiang Cheng answered.

         The basketball courts were probably the thing he and Pan Zhi cared about the most. His old school only had a couple of indoor basketball courts, even the soccer field got plowed over to make space for the new lecture buildings. Neither of them played soccer, but still felt annoyed by the decision.

         In comparison, the fields at Fourth High were much more comfortable.

         There was a soccer field where a bunch of people were playing a game, even though the weather was freezing.

         Beside it were two indoor basketball courts, and even a court for volleyball.

         “It’s indoor, let’s go in and take a look?” Pan Zhi nudged him with his arm.

         Jiang Cheng’s wretched mood over the last few days was very obviously soothed by the state of the Fourth High campus. Compared to Li Baoguo’s home, and Li Baoguo’s street, these wide open spaces gave him a sense of ease, as though he was finally able to catch a proper breath again.

         He closed his eyes and took a deep breath in, then let it out, before patting Pan Zhi’s shoulder, “Let’s go.”

         The indoor courts weren’t very large, but there was space for volleyball, badminton, and basketball. They just had to be repurposed at times.

         There were people on both courts. Seeing the newcomers come in, they all turned to look this way.

         Pan Zhi stopped walking, but Jiang Cheng ignored the gazes. He stuffed his hands in his pockets, sauntered leisurely over to the benches by the courts, and sat down. 

         It had been a long time before he played ball, he wanted to scratch the itch by watching others play.

         The people on the court looked at them for a while, then went back to playing.

         “Could this be their school team holding practice?” Pan Zhi asked as he sat down beside him.

         “Can’t be,” Jiang Cheng said. “It’s amateur level.”

         “Wanna go play a few rounds?” Pan Zhi smiled and said. “We can duo.”

         Jiang Cheng stuck his foot in front of Pan Zhi and wiggled it. He was wearing casual shoes today.

         “Ayy,” Pan Zhi leaned back with his arms behind his head. “Who knows when we can play together again.”

         “Don’t change your style, it doesn’t suit you.” Jiang Cheng said. Somebody on the court scored an impressive 3-pointer, he called out not very loudly. “Nice shot.”

         The person glanced at him, then smiled as he clamped his fist at him.

         Even though he wasn’t playing, just sitting by the court with Pan Zhi watching people play gave him a brief feeling of respite, it cut away all the little snippets of irritation from his mind.

         As long as he didn’t pause to think about going back to his bleak life after Pan Zhi leaves tomorrow.

         He was rather engrossed in the game on the court, that he didn’t even notice when more people entered the gymnasium. It wasn’t until the guys on the court stopped and looked collectively at the door with incomprehensible expressions, that he finally snapped out of it.

         “Why do I feel like there’s going to be some action?” Pan Zhi whispered excitedly beside him.

         “What……” Jiang Cheng turned to look, and froze. “Action?”

         One two three four five six, a total of six people had walked in.

         Jiang Cheng felt like he almost dislocated his jaw from the shock.

         Not, A, Good, Bird, were four. Behind them was the one who cashed him out when he bought water the other day, followed by Gu Fei wearing a baseball cap bringing up the rear. The hat covered the snazzy music symbols on his head.

         Jiang Cheng was a little impressed with his own ability to remember faces, that he could remember the faces of all these people when he was almost delirious with fever.

         In a strange city, and a strange school, to simultaneously run into six strangers he had met once before; it was a real miracle.

         Jiang Cheng thought he must’ve been infected by Pan Zhi. He watched these guys approach with the mentality of expecting some great drama to unfold

         It looked like they’d come here to play. Gu Fei was wearing track pants and sneakers, and one of the other guys even had a ball in his hand.

         “Da-Fei?” Someone spoke up on the court.

         “Ah.” Gu Fei answered.

         “What are you here for?” The guy asked.

         “To play ball of course.” Gu Fei said, his voice even and calm, without even a hint of hostility.

         “……Are all of you coming on?” The guy hesitated for a beat, then asked.

         “The sick, weak, injured, and elderly are staying off.” Gu Fei said, then took off his jacket. Just as he turned and was about to toss it onto the bench, he spotted Jiang Cheng sitting there, and suddenly choked on his own saliva. He coughed for a long time, while still staring at Jiang Cheng.

         Jiang Cheng contained his expression of “wanting to see some action but so disappointed that the action ended before it even started”, “What a coincidence.”

         “Good morning.” Gu Fei said.

         “Are they with you?” Someone on the court asked.

         “No.” Jiang Cheng replied.

         Out of Gu Fei’s group, three of them decided to play, while the remaining three came over to sit beside Jiang Cheng and Pan Zhi.

         The one who cashed him out sat down next to Jiang Cheng, and reached out a hand to him, “My name is Li Yan.”

         “Jiang Cheng,” Jiang Cheng lightly slapped his hand, then pointed to Pan Zhi. “My bro, Pan Zhi.”

         “Are you both from Fourth High?” Li Yan looked the two of them over. “Haven’t seen you guys before.”

         “I will be.” Jiang Cheng didn’t want to go into too much detail. “You’re all from Fourth High?”

         The two guys behind them started laughing. Perhaps it wasn’t intentional, but their voices were tinged with a habitual mockery. Li Yan turned and glanced at them, “Do we look like students?”

         “Who knows,” Jiang Cheng was a little annoyed. “I don’t make a habit of staring at every single person I come across.”

         Li Yan’s face suddenly dropped. He turned back to watch the people on the court, and no longer paid him any heed.

         The guys behind must not have perceived the atmosphere between them, as one of them piped up, “Da-Fei is in second year.”

         “Oh.” Jiang Cheng replied.

         What a coincidence indeed.


Footnotes:

[1] JC: Same initials as jing cha [警察], which is police.

Some Stats

  • Raw character count: 5670
  • TL word count: 3952
  • TL time: 5:43:47
  • Edit: 1:17:12
  • Curse words: 3x fucks, 2x shits

TL’s Notes

They meet again! Jiang Cheng is still a grumpy thorny boy, Li Yan is turned off by his attitude, and Pan Zhi is the best friend of the century!