“Walnuts eggs milk red dates sesame banana beans…… Which one do you like?”

Author: Wu Zhe, Translated by Ami <3

         Jiang Cheng spent the whole morning battling the urge to doze off while the lectures droned on in his ears. The teachers at Fourth High all taught class like old monks chanting the scriptures, with the exception of Lao-Lu, who would sometimes interject with an insulting rebuke or two to wake them up. The other teachers, including Lao-Xu, all trudged straight ahead with their monotone voices that lacked any sort of rise and fall, losing students to sleep along the way.

         In this season where the temperature was getting just cool enough that you could feel it, and the weather was very soothing, the only ones who could manage to stay awake during lecture without the help of conversation were probably limited to Jiang Cheng and Yi Jing.

         Oh wait, Jiang Cheng glanced at Gu Fei, whose head was bowed as he copied notes, and Gu Fei.

         And yes……Wang Xu, who could probably identify Yi Jing’s silhouette amid the backs of ten thousand other students.

         When class let out for the morning, Jiang Cheng instantly collapsed on the desk and closed his eyes, “Wake me in twenty minutes.”

         “Mhm.” Gu Fei answered and closed the notebook.

         “Hey, Da-Fei, Da-fei.” Zhou Jing collected his things and turned around. “Da……”

         Gu Fei looked at him.

         “That’s Jiang Cheng’s shirt you’re wearing, right?” Zhou Jing asked.

         Jiang Cheng lifted his head. The feeling that “there’s no time to lose, this person has to be shut up permanently” came over him.

         “No.” Gu Fei said.

         “Isn’t it?” Zhou Jing was a little skeptical. “I thought I saw him wearing this last week.”

         “It’s just the same style.” Gu Fei said.

         “……Oh,” Zhou Jing hesitated. “But it doesn’t look new, and I’ve never seen you wear……”

         “Go away.” Gu Fei cut him off curtly.

         Zhou Jing sighed and stood up, “Can’t even continue a normal conversation, geez.”

         During class, Jiang Cheng had felt so sleepy it was as if the whole world had disappeared, as if the teacher’s voice was drifting to him from outside the realm of reality. Now that class was over and he was able to catch a snooze in peace, Jiang Cheng couldn’t fall asleep.

         Still, he stubbornly kept his eyes closed, and didn’t open them until Gu Fei said beside him that twenty minutes was up. He wiped away the tears that was practically rolling down his face from being so painfully sleepy yet not able to fall asleep.

         “You didn’t sleep, did you?” Gu Fei asked.

         “Ah,” Jiang Cheng sighed. “I’m going blind from sleepiness.”

         “Yet you stayed down the whole time, you’re blinking so much that your eyelids are turning into wings.” Gu Fei smiled and pushed the notebook to him. “Check if this is okay? If not, you should hurry up and clarify with the teacher.”

         Jiang Cheng opened the notebook, and was enlightened by the stream of refreshing notes.

         He had started keeping notes when he first started middle school. Several years had passed since then, but it was the first time he saw such clean and neat handwriting in his own notebook.

         As a slacker, Gu Fei could not tell the important information from the rest. If it was on the blackboard, and repeated by the teacher, he would copy it down. Jiang Cheng would have to pick out the important points himself when reading over it.

         There was, however, one thing that impressed him very much. Gu Fei’s handwriting not only looked good, he also wrote quickly. The way he had copied everything down without sparing any details, it wasn’t a small feat.

         “Damn impressive,” Jiang Cheng said. “I have to use abbreviations and symbols when I take notes, otherwise I won’t be able to keep up.”

         “No shit,” Gu Fei said. “I only had to copy, and not analyse anything.”

         “Slacky-slacker, you probably never paid so much attention in class in all your life huh.” Jiang Cheng stood up and stretched.

         “Mhm,” Gu Fei stood up as well, and the two of them walked out together. “Indeed, many fantastical experiences await me when being with an overachiever.”

         “Then……” Jiang Cheng glanced at him. “Is it tiring? Is it annoying, to take notes?”

         “It’s alright.” Gu Fei said.

         Jiang Cheng didn’t continue on the subject of class and studying, but he could feel that Gu Fei was unlike other academic slackers in this regard. The typical slacker would certainly find it annoying to take notes for a whole morning, even if they weren’t actually listening to the content, and only copied things down. Take Pan Zhi for example, the most classic archetype of a slacker:

         Pan Zhi would fall asleep with his head propped on the pencil if he had to take notes for even one period, let alone for a whole morning like Gu Fei had done. 

         At the thought of this, Jiang Cheng felt on behalf of Gu Fei, a surge of heartache and a yearning for more.

         To witness with his own eyes, helpless as he watched Gu Fei bury his own hope and walk along the path of the Steel Works, it was upsetting.

         Every time he got a taste of Gu Fei’s own resignation, his mood would slide all the way to rock bottom.

         “What do you want to eat for lunch?” Gu Fei asked.

         Jiang Cheng reined back his wandering thoughts and pondered for a few minutes, before answering, “I don’t know.”

         “What a conundrum.” Gu Fei sighed.

         “I’m just hungry, but not really craving anything specific.” Jiang Cheng rubbed his stomach. “How about we go eat something a little more refined?”

         “The pizza across the street?” Gu Fei started laughing.

         “Definitely not,” Jiang Cheng tsked audibly. “Wang-er Meat Pies are way better.”

         After a long discussion, they ended up going to the place across from Gu Miao’s old elementary school for a bowl of lamb vermicelli.

         Even though it was only lamb vermicelli, at least from appearance and price, it matched the standards Jiang Cheng had voiced of ‘refinement’.

         Jiang Cheng had passed this restaurant many times before, but he had assumed it was a bar. He even thought it was mighty brave of this little shitty city to allow a bar to be opened right outside of an elementary school. Not to mention that it was a bar with an unconventional name like Big Bad Wolf……

         “It’s probably the first and only time we’re gonna come here,” Jiang Cheng exclaimed as they walked out after eating. “It’s way too expensive, twenty bucks! Did you not feel me tugging on you to leave just now?”

         “I didn’t, I thought you were just straightening my hem.” Gu Fei laughed. “I thought the price was alright, they gave plenty of meat. I was gonna ask for another portion of meat for you as a supplement for all your mental exertion recently, but seeing as the portion was big enough, I didn’t fork out for anymore.”

         “Right! It was so expensive that you didn’t even want to add more meat. How can you say the price was alright?” Jiang Cheng laughed for a while, then released a drawn out sigh. “Ayyy…… When I start working in the future, I’ll take you to eat vermicelli worth eight hundred bucks a bowl, and add on two hundred bucks worth of meat.”

         “Alright,” Gu Fei nodded seriously. “If you don’t add meat you’re not my countrymen.”

         At that, they both devolved into another fit of laughter.

         When they arrived at the convenience store, Gu Fei’s mom was sitting by the front counter, looking a little low. Usually when they met, she would call out “ah Jiang Cheng, you’re here!” in her not-so-quiet voice, but today she only glanced at the two of them before continuing to stare blankly into space.

         “Have you eaten?” Gu Fei asked her.

         “Yeah,” She replied in a weak voice. “Took Er-Miao to get some rice rolls. She was insistent on eating those things, they’re so cold, my stomach is hurting even now.”

         “You should go home,” Gu Fei put a hand to her forehead and felt for warmth. “Why does it feel like you have a bit of a fever?”

         “I don’t,” She stood up, grabbed her purse under the counter, and walked toward the door. “You don’t need to worry about me. I feel tired on your behalf even if you don’t.”

         “Bye auntie.” Jiang Cheng watched her figure recede, then turned to Gu Fei. “What’s up with your mom?”

         “She acts out on occasion,” Gu Fei sat down, opened the register, and checked the cash. “Yesterday her new boyfriend hit her, so she’s probably in a bad mood.”

         “……Is it the one with the motorcycle from last time?” Jiang Cheng asked.

         “Dunno,” Gu Fei’s eyebrows were knitted. “If it happens again I’m going to go take care of the guy myself.”

         Jiang Cheng didn’t say anything, and sat down beside him.

         “You can’t get through to her with just words, I’ve tried talking to her at least eight hundred times, if not a thousand.” Gu Fei pulled his phone out and started swiping at random. “I think she should go see a therapist, but she would refuse for sure. Not to mention here……it’s not like we have any reliable psychologists.”

         Jiang Cheng took the phone from him and grabbed his hand, squeezing it gently and rhythmically.

         Yes, even in this whole run-down city, if one were to visit a psychologist, they would become a crazy person in the eyes of the people around them, let alone doing so in the Steel Works neighbourhood. Gu Fei’s mom probably had the same thought. To see a psychologist was to admit that she was crazy.

         “She asked me yesterday, if it wasn’t for Gu Miao, would I have stopped caring about her a long time ago.” Gu Fei said. 

         “Would you have?” Jiang Cheng turned to him.

         “Yes.” Gu Fei said. “She’s a grown person. We can all walk our own paths.”

         Jiang Cheng didn’t say any more, he only felt lost.

         “You should go take a nap,” Gu Fei said. “Otherwise you won’t make it through the afternoon.”

         “And you?” Jiang Cheng asked.

         “Are we supposed to squeeze together on that little cot?” Gu Fei chuckled. “I don’t need to nap, I’m not sleepy.”

         Gu Fei must’ve recently changed the beddings on the little cot in the small room. The duvet and pillow cover, as well as the sheets, all smell fresh and full of sunlight. Jiang Cheng collapsed on the cot and, clutching the cover, was asleep in less than two minutes.

         When Gu Fei woke him, he was reluctant to get up, and wouldn’t let go of the covers in his arms, “Ahhhh sleepy……”

         “You skipping class then?” Gu Fei asked.

         “No.” Jiang Cheng buried his face in the covers.

         “Then, up?” Gu Fei asked again.

         “Sleepy.” Jiang Cheng said.

         “Then skip class?” Gu Fei continued asking.

         “No.” Jiang Cheng continued recycling his answer.

         “Then let’s do it?” Gu Fei asked.

         “……Do what?” Jiang Cheng blinked.

         “Me, do you.” Gu Fei leaned over the head of the cot and tugged on Jiang Cheng’s pants. “As long as we don’t have anywhere to be, and you don’t wanna get up.”

         Jiang Cheng turned and stared at him, “Holy shit.”

         Gu Fei didn’t say anything, with a single movement he lifted his shirt halfway off his body.

         “Hey! Hey hey hey……” Suddenly Jiang Cheng was fully awake, he bolted up and jumped off the bed. “Collect yourself, we have to go to school.”

         “Not sleepy anymore?” Gu Fei pulled his shirt back down.

         “Not sleepy anymore, I’ll go wash my face!” Jiang Cheng ran out to the courtyard.

         The afternoon self-study periods were cancelled. Lao-Xu stood at the front of the class and gave a very earnest ten minute speech that encouraged everyone to rise above the harsh blow of having their self-study period replaced by various main subjects, to little effect.

         Lao-Lu, whose class took over the first self-study period, could not help himself from interrupting Lao-Xu’s speech, “Mr. Xu, it’s no use saying all this! Look at these people! Why don’t you take a rest, I have to start class now! You’ve taken up half my class time already!”

         Lao-Xu gave up his spot at the lectern reluctantly, “There’s less than a year left! Students! You’ve already played away two and a half years! You must summon up the energy to fight for this last stretch!”

         “WAKE UP!” Lao-Lu walked up with a hard slap on the lectern. “Commencing class!” [1]

         Jiang Cheng, whose mind hadn’t been wandering, was startled by the sudden slam, while Gu Fei, who had been spacing off beside him, dropped his phone from the fright.

         “Please at least think of your Xu-zong!” Lao-Lu said. “Day after day like this, he’s wearing out his own lips nagging you! Everyone else will lose ten pounds or more while preparing for the exams, but just look at yourselves! Nice and plump, every one of you! I’ll need to find a pork scale from the market just to hold you!”

         Jiang Cheng shot a glance at Gu Fei.

         “Don’t look at me,” Gu Fei told him quietly. “I stay in very good shape.”

         Jiang Cheng kept his laughter in.

         “You lost weight though,” Gu Fei continued. “It’s already visible to the eyes. We should weigh you this evening, I can see at least a 10 pounds difference.”

         “Mhm.” Jiang Cheng gave him a smile.

         After school that day they went to the pharmacy. Gu Fei stepped onto the scale and said, “I’ve been the same weight for the last three years.”

         “Do you come here every time to weigh yourself?” Jiang Cheng asked.

         “Mhm.” Gu Fei nodded.

         Jiang Cheng hesitated for a beat, then turned and asked the pharmacy staff, “Big sis, is your scale working properly?”

         “It is, it’s new!” The woman said. “We replaced it only a couple months ago, it’s pretty accurate.”

         “Oh,” Jiang Cheng stepped onto the scale, then blinked in shock. “Holy, what the shit…… I haven’t lost any weight?”

         Gu Fei took away the backpack in Jiang Cheng’s hands, as he said, “You might as well carry me along with it.”

         “I won’t be able to.” Jiang Cheng cracked up, then checked the number on the scale. “I’m lighter than you now, we were probably about the same before?”

         “Probably,” Gu Fei squeezed Jiang Cheng’s waist. “You probably need more proper nutrition in your diet.”

         “That’s exaggerating,” Jiang Cheng stepped off. “I never needed to supplement my diet ahead of tests before. I used to also toil every day when I was preparing for my high school entrance exam, and my mom……never made any additions to my diet. Told you, I’m not that delicate.”

         “High school entrance exams aren’t as stressful.” Gu Fei pulled out his phone and looked down at it as he walked. “Besides, you’ve been too careless with what you’re eating these days. Let’s not eat out for dinner for now on.”

         “Will we eat in the store then?” Jiang Cheng asked.

         “Mhm,” Gu Fei nodded solemnly. “No eating breakfast outside either, fried dough fritters and fried pancakes aren’t exactly full of nutrients.”

         “You gonna make me breakfast then?” Jiang Cheng laughed.

         “Mhm.” Gu Fei continued to nod.

         “Whatcha lookin’ at?” Jiang Cheng leaned in from the side.

         “Healthy recipes. Look at this, ‘A Different Nutritional Breakfast Every Day’.” Gu Fei pointed at the screen.

         “What, you’re gonna make it?” Jiang Cheng looked at him. “You don’t even cook as well as Li Yan.”

         “Then let Li Yan cook for you.” Gu Fei said.

         “Fuck off,” Jiang Cheng gave him a side-eye. “I’m really not that delicate.”

         “I refuse to fuck off.” Gu Fei grinned and put his phone away.

         Pan Zhi was one of those people Lao-Lu talked about, who gained weight whenever there were exams. His family still would not accept the reality that he was an academic slacker, which meant that every time Pan Zhi posed in front of his desk before an exam while secretly swiping away on his phone, his mother would think that he was an overachiever held back by a lack of nutrition. Therefore, even for midterm tests, Pan Zhi would gain anywhere from three to five pounds……

         ……Then lose it all again amidst the verbal and physical disciplines that followed the test results.

         Jiang Cheng had never received the special treatment of extra nutritional meals. Shen Yiqing had strict standards when it came to diet. In her mind, as grueling as studying was, the meals they had at home contained more than enough nutrients to keep up. Any sort of addition served only as a placebo effect.

         Perhaps because of that, Jiang Cheng never thought he lacked extra nourishment when he studied, he only felt lethargic easily. Although, with his capabilities, it was nothing a cup of instant milk tea couldn’t……

         “Lethargy is a product of mental overexertion,” Gu Fei was holding his phone in one hand and a spatula in the other, as he stirred the chicken wings in the pot. “Which means you need additional nourishment.”

         “And eating chicken wings will nourish my brain?” Jiang Cheng asked.

         “Walnuts eggs milk red dates sesame banana beans……” Gu Fei rattled off a whole list of foods. “Which one do you like?”

         “……None of them.” Jiang Cheng answered.

         “Well there you go. You don’t like fish either,” Gu Fei said as he looked at his phone. “You only like meat, right? Oh great pork belly.”

         “Wings are great too.” Jiang Cheng gulped as he watched.

         “That’s why I figured, as long as it tastes good it should be fine. Better than having a bunch of weird stuff that you don’t even want to eat, and I don’t know how to make.” Gu Fei kept stirring for a long time, then pointed with his spatula to one side. “Go, get the cola and pour it in.”

         “Mhm,” Jiang Cheng went and opened a can of cola. “All of it?”

         “All of it.” Gu Fei looked down at his phone again.

         “Do you not have any Coke? Pepsi isn’t as carbonated……” Jiang Cheng said.

         “Cheng-ge, I get the feeling that your brain really is starting to max out,” Gu Fei glanced at him. “You’re asking for fizz in your Cola Wings?”

         “……Can I have a bottle to drink?” Jiang Cheng smiled.

         “It’s in the fridge.” Gu Fei said.

         The pot of wings was very substantial, since Gu Fei also had to factor in Gu Miao, who didn’t need extra brain nourishment, but who had an enormous appetite. He had slogged in the kitchen for a whole hour, such that Jiang Cheng had already memorized several pages of a political textbook, when he finally yelled, “Gu Er-miao, come set the table!”

         Gu Miao ran into the kitchen and came out with bowls and chopsticks.

         “Er-miao, let’s go wash our hands together?” Jiang Cheng asked.

         Gu Miao looked at him, nodded, then walked with Jiang Cheng to the sink.

         “I’ll go first?” Jiang Cheng said, made sure that Gu Miao was still calm, then twisted open the tap and washed his hands with a very small stream of water.

         Gu Miao followed suit, reaching her hands under the tap, and scrubbed them.

         “She’s fine.” Jiang Cheng glanced at Gu Fei.

         “Mhm,” Gu Fei nodded. “It’s been almost a year since she last freaked out about water.”

         This is progress, right? This counts as progress? Jiang Cheng didn’t ask Gu Fei this, he knew that Gu Fei must’ve experienced countless instances of similarly raised hopes, only to be let down.

         Cola Wings was probably one of the easiest ‘impressive’ dishes to make, there was next to no technical skills required. Gu Fei had made it while checking the recipe on his phone step by step, yet it still tasted pretty good.

         “How’s the salt?” Gu Fei looked at Jiang Cheng.

         “Just right.” Jiang Cheng gave him a thumbs up as he munched on the wings.

         Gu Miao immediately followed suit, and also gave Gu Fei a thumbs up.

         “Seriously, maybe you can set up a wok in the store and sell some wings on the side.” Jiang Cheng quickly finished a chicken wing, and picked up another one.

         “No time for that,” Gu Fei smiled. “Not to mention even if I did, it probably won’t even be enough to feed you.”

         Jiang Cheng laughed as he shoveled some rice into his mouth.

         It was true that Gu Fei didn’t have time. The store was only just getting by, since no one was around to run it properly. It wasn’t feasible to have Li Yan come by to guard it every day whenever Gu Fei went off on his photography gigs. Gu Fei’s mom would often watch the store for a while, then when it came time to go out, she would simply shut the doors and close down shop.

         Jiang Cheng glanced over at Gu Miao. If Gu Miao’s condition improved, she could help out sometimes and watch the store, which would take a lot of weight off of Gu Fei. Although, if she really did get better, she should probably be going to school.

         He gnawed on the bones of the chicken wings as he brooded. A lot of problems were actually closed loops, intersecting circles that tightly locked everything together.

         After dinner Jiang Cheng left first to his apartment, he had to do his homework and continue studying.

         Gu Fei wrapped things up in the store, took Gu Miao home, spent some time playing with her, then finally after she was asleep, came over with a thermos in his hands.

         “What’s this?” Jiang Cheng glanced at the time. Gu Fei was an hour later than usual, it was already past ten o’clock.

         “……Cola Wings,” Gu Fei twisted open the lid of the thermos. “I just made it at home, your night snack to…… nourish your brain.”

         “Oh.” Jiang Cheng felt all warm and fuzzy inside, but after a second of warmth, he also felt like laughing, and accidentally let it spill out.

         “Be serious,” Gu Fei screwed the lid back on. “Didn’t you like eating this?”

         “Mhm.” Jiang Cheng nodded with a forced straight face, but couldn’t help cracking up again a second later.

         Gu Fei glared at him for a while, then also started laughing. He sat down at the edge of the bed and said, “Anyways, at this stage, this is the only dish I know how to make, so bear with me.”

         “Alright.” Jiang Cheng stopped laughing, then reached out and touched Gu Fei’s lips. “Gu Fei, thank you.”

         “No problem, just call me good samaritan.” Gu Fei touched his chest. “Forgot to wear my neckerchief of honour.” [2]

         “Sure thing, good samaritan,” Jiang Cheng laughed as he picked up his book from the desk. “Are you tired?”

         “Nope, why?” Gu Fei asked.

         Jiang Cheng handed the book to Gu Fei, “Quiz me……” [3]

         He already realized the second he saw Gu Fei’s mouth quirk up, but still he couldn’t dodge it in time, as Gu Fei landed a smack on his arm.

         “What the hell!” Jiang Cheng rubbed his arm vigorously.

         “I just smacked you,” Gu Fei took the book. “What else?”

         “Now massage it.” Jiang Cheng stuck his arm out in front of Gu Fei.

         “Alrighty!” Gu Fei took Jiang Cheng’s arm and gently kneaded it, then looked down. “I didn’t use force, why is it red?”

         “I’m malnourished, remember,” Jiang Cheng said. “Gimme a wing.”

         Gu Fei went into the kitchen, found a bowl and washed it, then put two chicken wings inside and brought it back to the desk, “So did you want me to quiz you on random points?”

         “Mhm,” Jiang Cheng started munching on a wing. “Pick any random thing you want, just flip to a page and go.”

         Gu Fei picked up the book and read out loud, “The geographical border of division of our nation’s population……”

         “Generally divided by a straight line drawn from the Heihe city in Heilongjiang to the Tengchong city in Yunnan,” Jiang Cheng gnawed noisily on the bone. “A large portion of the population sits to the south-east of that line, whereas a smaller portion of the population sits to the north-west of it.”

         Gu Fei also picked up a chicken wing, “The population migrating out of Sichuan had a proactive……”

         “Benefit in easing the conflict between the people and land of this region, playing a role in strengthening the economic, technological, philosophical, and cultural connection between Sichuan and the society at large……” Jiang Cheng was interrupted halfway by the ringing of his phone he had thrown on the bed. “Who can it be at this hour?”

         “Pan Zhi?” Gu Fei grabbed the phone for him, then paused blankly as he saw the caller ID on the screen. “Shen Yiqing?”

         Jiang Cheng’s hand froze in midair on its way to the thermos.

         “Your…… adoptive mom?” Gu Fei hesitated, then seeing as Jiang Cheng still hadn’t moved, asked again. “Will you not pick up?”

         Jiang Cheng stared at the phone, then after a long time finally said softly, “I don’t want to pick up.”

         Gu Fei didn’t say anything as he turned the phone on silent, and put it back on the bed. Then he put two more chicken wings into Jiang Cheng’s bowl.

         “As well as increasing income and facilitating economic development; the impact of an increasing mobile population on urban development……” Jiang Cheng said.

         “Huh?” Gu Fei blinked in confusion, then suddenly realized Jiang Cheng was continuing his interrupted train of thought from before.

         Jiang Cheng didn’t speak again, he stared at the silent yet glowing cell phone screen and frowned.

[1]: Bolded words were spoken in English XD
[2]: The red neckerchief [红领巾] is something worn by elementary (and sometimes middle school) students who are in the “Young Pioneers”, as part of their school uniform. There’s a whole history, it’s a CCP thing, but also so normalized that it’s not really seen as political and mostly regarded as, hey, that’s a young student.
[3]: Jiang Cheng said 抽, which in context, means “quiz” the verb, but in most other settings, means smack/beat. Gu Fei purposely misunderstood it as “smack me”

Some Stats

  • Raw character count: 6088
  • TL word count: 4298
  • TL time: ???
  • Edit time: ???
  • Curse words: 2x fucks, 4x shit

TL’s Notes:
Hope everyone is staying safe and cool in this heat wave <3
Cola Wings recipe.

If you haven’t yet, this is a good time to buy the novel on jjwxc; 撒野 is the title to search for if you’re using the app, and here is a step-by-step tutorial from Cuchallain to guide you through it! If you run into any problems, feel free to dm me on twitter @amidstwoods :3

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