Everyone lived like this, but not everyone died like that.

See here for content warnings for this chapter, pls proceed at your own comfort level

Author: Wu Zhe, Translated by Ami <3

         Jiang Cheng’s voice was very low, like he didn’t want people around them to hear. Gu Fei nodded and made a sound of acknowledgement. However, if he were to piggyback carry Jiang Cheng down, the commotion of which would be enough that Li Baoguo would see them from across the roof, not to mention the nearby aunties and police officers. 

         Besides…… The tattoo on Jiang Cheng’s inner thigh was freshly engraved, and was at the moment still red and swollen. Gu Fei couldn’t possibly carry him on his back. He hesitated for a beat, then said also in a quiet voice, “Carrying you on my back might rub against the tattoo, how about I…… carry you down in my arms?”

         “No roundaboutfucking way.” Jiang Cheng’s voice was still quiet, but his refusal was firm.

         “Alright then.” Gu Fei sighed, then grabbed Jiang Cheng’s arms and slung them around his own shoulders, reached around to hold his waist in place, and pushed off sideways with some effort; Jiang Cheng’s feet were just barely lifted off the ground. He half-dragged Jiang Cheng and started making his way down the stairs.

         It wouldn’t be too big of a problem going down normal stairs this way, but the stairs that led to the rooftop on this old building was a metal framed one. It wouldn’t be an issue to properly carry someone down piggyback style, but with only one arm around Jiang Cheng like this, it was more than a little difficult.

         He could feel that Jiang Cheng’s whole body had gone slack. It was probably not due entirely to the height, he figured some portion of it was from an overwhelming disappointment in Li Baoguo.

         Gu Fei had to keep one hand clutching the railing, and one hand on Jiang Cheng, which meant he basically got them down this flight of stairs using only the strength of one arm and one leg. His arm was starting to ache from the strain when they reached the last step, and he almost threw Jiang Cheng down on the landing.

         After he let go, Jiang Cheng leaned himself against a wall, and slowly lowered himself into a crouch.

         Li Baoguo was still cursing away on the roof, his tirade was interspersed with sounds of Li Qian’s crying, and the pacifying attempts of the police officers. Gu Fei couldn’t hear the specific words, but he could make out hints of annoyance and efforts at suppressing it.

         “Shall we go down?” Gu Fei bent down with his hands braced on his knees, and studied Jiang Cheng.

         “Mhm.” Jiang Cheng took in a couple of deep breaths with his brows furrowed, then stood up, pressing a hand against his abdomen. “Fuck, I want to vomit.”

         “Go ahead.” Gu Fei said.

         “Try to be civil, Steel Works is my home,” Jiang Cheng gave him a look. “Responsibility is my own.” [1]

         Gu Fei laughed and squeezed his shoulder, “Then let’s go down and find a trash can for you.”

         Jiang Cheng didn’t answer. He kept his eyes closed and took a little longer to focus his mind, but the chaos on the rooftop wouldn’t allow him to succeed. He sighed, and started walking down the stairs while holding on to the railing.

         Gu Fei followed behind him, and the noise from the roof slowly faded.

         They only made it down two floors, when a furious roar boomed from the street outside, “IF YOU WANT TO DIE THEN DIE! WHO ARE YOU TRYING TO SCARE, CROUCHING THERE LIKE THAT! YOU’RE FUCKING SICK!”

         Jiang Cheng stopped. One of the units on the fifth floor had their door open, and everyone inside were crowded around the window watching the drama unfold. As soon as they heard those words, this family immediately started getting excited, “Their oldest kid is here, this is gonna be good!”

         Gu Fei pushed him gently from behind, “Let’s go.”

         Jiang Cheng turned and continued his way down. He walked slowly, perhaps from the knowledge that once downstairs, he would run into Li Hui. The people he didn’t wish to see were taking turns appearing in front of him.

         “Let’s go get something to eat.” Behind him, Gu Fei tried to distract him with food. “How about we go to Jiuri’s place for their meat pies? It’s been a while.”

         “Mhm.” Jiang Cheng answered. “But they’re probably out of donkey meat at this hour, I quite liked that filling.”

         “You can have…… the tenderloin one,” Gu Fei looked at Jiang Cheng’s back. “Didn’t you say last time the tenderloin filling is pretty good too? Why don’t you have that.”

         “Alright.” Jiang Cheng nodded.

         The closer they got to ground level, the louder Li Hui’s voice became. Gu Fei felt that in all the years he’d known Li Hui, his voice had never been so full of life. The energy with which he faced off with Li Baoguo was like yelling at a sworn enemy of many years. Even Li Baoguo had become re-energized: he stopped coughing, stopped wheezing, and was yelling with an especially loud voice that reverberated back and forth inside the stairwell; it was tough to make out the content of his tirade.

         The officers and people of the neighbourhood committee must’ve regretted calling him here, but wanting to see Li Hui was Li Baoguo’s own request. Without him here, Li Baoguo hurled abuse and refused to come down. Now that he had seen Li Hui, he was still hurling abuse, and who knew when he would finally come down. Either way it was a dilemma.

         The only ones in a good mood were probably the gathered onlookers.

         The people of this place, their lives were limited to the few lines of a Go board that endlessly intersected with each other, where like a pool of stagnant water, every intersection would eventually lead them back where they started. Year after year, generation after generation might’ve all been repeating the same paths. They could follow these repeating paths all the way to its natural end, without even needing to lift their heads up to look forward.

         The people downstairs with their heads tilted back to look up, the people upstairs with their heads stuck out of their windows looking down, and the ones who had their doors closed but were listening with ears perked. For most of them, the word “hope” had long been absent from their hearts, or perhaps had never been there in the first place, nor was it a necessary thing to think about. The only joy in their lives was probably watching the mess and pain that existed around them. 

         Seeing someone else whose life was even more of a mess than their own, seeing someone else in even more pain than themselves, that was their greatest source of joy.

         Gu Fei wondered how this mess was going to end, Li Hui had taken a tougher stance than ever before. Last time when Li Baoguo went at people with a knife, Li Hui had run up and snatched the knife away, all the while cursing at Li Baoguo, and even hit him. However, Li Hui was showing no sign of holding back today. Their argument across a distance of several floors was still going as strong as ever, like a spectacular poetry recital.

         Perhaps it was because this time, Li Baoguo’s tantrum had to do with his illness, which meant it had to do with money. And to these native products of the Steel Works, that was a life and death issue.

         Well worth having an epic fight over.

         “I truly don’t understand.” Jiang Cheng said quietly. “How they can live in this manner for decades, for their whole lives.”

         “You don’t need to understand.” Gu Fei said. “You don’t have to live like this, just live your own life. There are so many people on this earth, gotta maintain variance within the species somehow.”

         Jiang Cheng turned around and gave him a look, “You illiterate.”

         “Mhm.” Gu Fei smiled. “I am one of the variations too, and so are you.”

         “I rather like someone like you.” Jiang Cheng said. 

         “I rather like someone like you too.” Gu Fei said. “Plus, to me, you’re like a rare species that I never thought I’d find.”

         Jiang Cheng laughed, and his footsteps seemed to become a little lighter.

         However, when Jiang Cheng reached the door to Li Baoguo’s place on the first floor, he still paused, because Li Hui was standing right in the doorway of the building entrance. His curses rang throughout the stairwell, the sound of it reverberating inside the building made even Gu Fei’s eardrums hurt.

         “‘ELDERY YET DISRESPECTED’ IS A PHRASE MADE JUST FOR YOU! AND DON’T CALL ME IMPERTINENT EITHER, IT’S NOT YOUR FUCKING PLACE!” Li Hui pointed a finger upstairs and roared. “AND DON’T FUCKING TALK ABOUT HOW I TREAT YOU! HOWEVER I TREAT YOU, IS EXACTLY WHAT YOU DESERVE!”

         Jiang Cheng didn’t continue forward, so Gu Fei also stopped behind him and leaned against the railing, listening to Li Hui’s angry diatribe outside. The people around Li Hui were also trying to pacify him halfheartedly, but their words were like air to him, of which one or two sentences might even further incite his rage. 

         The crowd that originally gathered to watch the show were now slowly starting to break out of the immersion. Both Li Hui and Li Baoguo’s emotions were getting a little too over the top, the situation appeared to be quickly spiralling out of control.

         “Li Hui, give it a rest won’t you,” An auntie tugged on Li Hui’s arm. “This sounds bad but how much longer is your father going to live, even if he wants to yell at you it won’t be for much longer, why bother……”

         “He better die right now!” Li Hui flung his arm out and pointed up at the roof. “MY WHOLE LIFE I’VE WATCHED YOU EMBARRASS YOURSELF, RUN YOUR MOUTH AND HIT PEOPLE! WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO FUCKING LIVE FOR!”

         “STOP IT—— DON’T SAY ANY MORE! Enough already!” Li Qian’s hoarse screams sounded from the roof, shrill and desperate. “What exactly do you guys want!”

         “HE WANTS ME TO DIE!” Li Baoguo’s voice boomed, like a sudden clap of thunder.

         Before Li Hui and Li Qian got another word out, a sudden burst of horrified screams erupted from above and below at the same time.

         Immediately after that, Gu Fei heard a “thud” outside the corridor that sounded like a bag of cement dropping to the ground, dull but loud. It made whoever heard it feel like their breathing and heartbeat had stopped for a moment.

         At the same time as this shocking sound, a small dark shape flew past the ground floor entrance. Only when it landed on the ground, did Gu Fei realize that it was a single shoe.

         Nonstop screams and disordered yelling were all around them, on top of which were the cries of extreme horror from women and children. In a span of mere seconds, these sounds seemed to have filled all the spaces around them, leaving one with nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide.

         After a brief moment of blanking out, Gu Fei made a dash forward and put his arms around Jiang Cheng, covering Jiang Cheng’s eyes with his hand.

         Jiang Cheng’s whole body had stiffened, but he was surprisingly compliant, like a robot with its power cut off. As Gu Fei half pushed and half carried Jiang Cheng out of the corridor, Jiang Cheng went along with the motions, without a sound or struggle.

         The situation outside had descended into chaos. Gu Fei didn’t look in the direction of Li Baoguo’s last jump. He had watched in silence as the people here lived their suffocating lives, but did not wish to witness another life come to its end.

         It was enough to have experienced it once, he never wanted to witness it a second time.

         In the ensuing chaos, nobody noticed him taking Jiang Cheng away from the scene. Outside, Li Hui had gone quiet, but Li Qian’s howling cries, filled with an unspeakable intensity, could still be heard from the rooftop, bursting out one after another.

         As though it was a song dedicated to the bravest moment of Li Baoguo’s life.

         Gu Fei didn’t know where he should take Jiang Cheng. Everywhere they could possibly go belonged to ‘here’, and everywhere was filled with a Li Baoguo-like aura.

         He wasn’t sure of Jiang Cheng’s state of mind at this moment, and couldn’t predict how Jiang Cheng would react in a few minutes when he snapped out of it. At the end, all he could do was pull Jiang Cheng into the convenience store.

         Along the way, they saw quite a few people running toward Li Baoguo’s place, throwing them curious and excitement-filled looks as they ran past, the whole time not breaking from their long and fast strides. After all, a living person was not as entertaining as the dead.

         Everyone lived like this, but not everyone died like that.

         Gu Fei pushed Jiang Cheng into the inner room inside the store, then went back and closed the shop door. His mom was supposed to be watching the store today, but at the moment it was empty. She might’ve also gone to watch the show, or was simply out on a date with her new lover.

         Gu Fei turned around after closing the door, just as Jiang Cheng dashed out of the small room and toward the back courtyard.

         By the time Gu Fei followed him out, Jiang Cheng was already in the bathroom with his hand braced on the wall, puking his guts out. Even two meters away, Gu Fei could see Jiang Cheng’s hand shaking on the wall.

         Gu Fei went inside to grab two bottles of water. When he came back to the bathroom, Jiang Cheng was still vomiting, but nothing was coming out, at this point he was just dry heaving.

         He stood silently behind Jiang Cheng, until Jiang Cheng stopped going through the heaving motions, before finally speaking up, “Want some water?”

         Jiang Cheng didn’t answer, only reached back with his hand.

         Gu Fei twisted open the cap and handed the bottle to him.

         “Wait for me outside,” Jiang Cheng tilted his head back and gargled two mouthfuls of water, then spit it out. “I’m fine.”

         “I’ll leave the other bottle here.” Gu Fei loosened the cap of the second bottle and placed it next to the sink.

         “Mhm.” Jiang Cheng continued to pour water into his mouth.

         Gu Fei went back out to the courtyard, stood there blankly for a minute, then lit up a cigarette to keep in his mouth.

         Halfway through the cigarette, he finally started to feel a little calmer. Regardless of the kind of person Li Baoguo was, or what he had done, ending his life in this manner was ultimately a hard to digest blow to everyone, including the onlookers who were simply there for a show.

         It was only then that Gu Fei started to feel the stinging pain on his collarbone again.

         He wondered whether the pain on Jiang Cheng’s inner thigh had come back yet. Just now when Jiang Cheng was vomiting, he was standing with his legs apart…… Of course, people didn’t normally stand with their legs clamped together when vomiting……

         Incredulously, Gu Fei felt like laughing. With the cigarette still in his mouth, he threw his head back and laughed soundlessly for a good while.

         After his cigarette was done, Jiang Cheng walked out of the bathroom. His gait was a little wobbly, but the look on his face was calm.

         “Feeling a little better?” Gu Fei asked.

         “I’m even throwing up stomach acid,” Jiang Cheng frowned, bent a little, and clutched his abdomen. “I don’t feel good.”

         “Go inside and lie down for a bit?” Gu Fei asked.

         “Can’t lie down,” Jiang Cheng straightened up and walked into the store, hooked a little plank stool over with his foot and sat down. “Right now I just want to sit balled up like this.”

         “Then let’s do that.” Gu Fei also pulled up a little plank stool and sat down facing him.

         With his arms resting on his knees, Jiang Cheng stared blankly into space for a while, “Li Baoguo jumped off a building, didn’t he?”

         “…… Yes.” Gu Fei hesitated for two seconds before answering.

         Jiang Cheng didn’t say anything, just reached a hand out to Gu Fei.

         “You want water?” Gu Fei looked at his hand. Still, after asking, he reached out and stroked Jiang Cheng’s palm. “Or something to eat?”

         “Smoke.” Jiang Cheng gave him a look. “Where’s our tacit understanding?”

         “It got lost from the fright.” Gu Fei got out the pack from his pocket, pulled one out, and placed it in Jiang Cheng’s hand, along with a lighter.

         “So Li Baoguo jumped off a building.” Jiang Cheng lit a cigarette and took in a couple of hard drags, then stared at the glowing tip.

         “Yes.” Gu Fei looked at him.

         “I…… don’t feel so good.” Jiang Cheng furrowed his brows and bit his lip.

         “It’s not only you,” Gu Fei sighed. “I don’t feel too great myself.”

         “Do you think,” Jiang Cheng lifted his eyes and looked at him. “He saw it, when I left?”

         Gu Fei didn’t answer. Faced with this abnormally calm Jiang Cheng, he was suddenly a little afraid of saying the wrong thing.

         “I said I don’t want to hear anything about him ever again.” Jiang Cheng said. “Could he have heard me?”

         “Cheng-ge,” Gu Fei shifted his stool forward. “This has nothing to do with you.”

         “Mhm, I know.” Jiang Cheng nodded. “I know, but these are still my first reactions. Was it something I did, something I said……”

         “No, not at all.” Gu Fei cut him off.

         “You know,” Jiang Cheng paused for a bit, his brows in a knot. “That’s just how people are. I only asked you all this so I can have someone tell me, this outcome was not of my making. Just to pick myself out from this disaster situation.”

         “It’s not the same.” Gu Fei held his gaze. “You know well enough, there’s no need for other people to tell you. You know that it’s not because of you.”

         Jiang Cheng stared at him, then after a long time, let out a little smile, “Yeah.”

         “Eat something,” Gu Fei said. “Or go to sleep, pick one?”

         “Eat something first, then sleep.” Jiang Cheng said. “You have instant noodles here right? Can you make a bowl for me.”

         “Alright, want eggs in it?” Gu Fei asked.

         “One egg then.” Jiang Cheng said.

         Gu Fei stood up, got the noodles, and went into the kitchen. Normally when he ate instant noodles, he would just steep them in boiling water and be done with it. Sometimes if he got lazy, he’d just nibble at the dry noodles.

         But right now, even if Jiang Cheng wanted him to go buy meat pies from Wang Xu’s place, he would do it.

         Boil water, add noodles, add egg. After a few seconds he started to feel uncertain, so he walked to the door and asked, “Do you want the egg fully cooked, soft yolk, or scrambled?”

         Jiang Cheng was still sitting in the same position on the little stool as before. He didn’t answer, and seemed to not hear what Gu Fei said.

         Only when Gu Fei turned to go back to the kitchen, did Jiang Cheng’s voice slowly carry over, “Soft.”

         Gu Fei sprinted back to the kitchen and poked the egg with chopsticks. It wasn’t fully cooked, but the yolk was definitely not soft anymore. He had no choice but to crack another egg in, watching it carefully, and made a soft poached egg.

         If Jiang Cheng didn’t want to eat the fully cooked one, he could.

         He went back in, set up the little table, and placed the bowl of noodles in front of Jiang Cheng. Just as he was about to go get another set of chopsticks to eat the fully cooked egg, Jiang Cheng picked up his chopsticks and split the fully cooked egg in half, studied it, then put half of it in his mouth.

         “…… Didn’t you say you wanted soft yolk?” Gu Fei blinked.

         “Did I?” Jiang Cheng gave him a look as he chewed. “I never eat soft yolk, it’s like runny shit.”

         Gu Fei was just thinking that he would eat the soft poached one himself, but hearing this, immediately gave up and sat down at the table.

         “Aren’t you going to eat something?” Jiang Cheng said.

         “I’m not hungry.” Gu Fei said.

         “Oh.” Jiang Cheng said as he ate slowly. First he ate the other half of the fully cooked egg, then not touching the noodles, he ate the other soft poached egg as well.

         “…… Didn’t you say it’s like runny shit?” Gu Fei was astonished.

         “Did I?” Jiang Cheng pushed the bowl to Gu Fei. “I might have said that. I ate the shit for you, you can have the noodles.”

         “Fuck,” Gu Fei laughed. “You done eating?”

         “I didn’t really want to eat anyway,” Jiang Cheng pinched the area between his brows. “I just wanted to listen to you being busy doing something, it makes me feel a little more grounded.”

         “Then will watching me eat noodles make you feel even more grounded?” Gu Fei asked.

         Jiang Cheng nodded.

         Gu Fei put his head down and dug into the noodles. It tasted pretty good.


Footnotes:

[1]: A made up slogan XD China always has a lot of slogans hung around cities, towns, and even villages. Their messages range anything from protecting the environment and conserving energy, to political propaganda.

Some Stats

  • Raw character count: 5085
  • TL word count: 3606
  • TL time: 5:59:10
  • Edit: 0:40:26
  • Curse words: 7 x fucks, 3 x shits

TL’s Notes

RIP