Ah, it’s already been one year.
Author: Wu Zhe, Translated by Ami <3
After that night, Jiang Cheng found that all of a sudden, his heart had become still like water.
He did not try to find out what happened to Li Hui, but in a place like the Steel Works, news of anything tended to permeate efficiently and thoroughly.
Whether it was Gu Fei’s family’s store, or the community clinic next to it, they were all transfer hubs of information.
Initially, the rumour was that the eldest Li son, as well as his whole family, had been beaten to death. This was later debunked by another source that said, no, their child did not die. Later still, someone corrected that claim and said that it was only Li Hui who had died.
The causes of death were varied and illustrious, the two most popular of which were that he either owed money to loan sharks and got beaten to death by the debt collectors, or that he was murdered by the man whom his wife cheated on him with.
However, not even a week later, another truth came to light:
Li Hui was not dead, but he had been beaten to a vegetative state, and the perpetrators were still at large.
Jiang Cheng did not know the full extent of these debates, nor would Gu Fei bother to tell him, usually he only got fed an earful whenever he was at the store. Not to mention, the sources of these tales would take care to avoid him whenever they saw him.
In Jiang Cheng’s mind, whatever kind of news there was no longer mattered to him. This person who happened to be of utmost proximity to him in blood would never cross his path again in the future.
He changed the phone number that he had been using for years, and with that change, Li Hui was not the only person who disappeared from his life.
As the temperature dropped day after day, and the leaves on the trees grew sparse, in these days when the dry chilly air made one’s nose itch and become uncontrollably drowsy, the seniors at Fourth High were finally experiencing the proper pre-exam atmosphere.
The walls of the corridors and classrooms were plastered with all sorts of motivating slogans, black writing on red backdrops, black writing on white backdrops, accompanied by giant exclamation marks. Jiang Cheng couldn’t help but chant along in his mind every time he saw them. Aside from these, there were also various reminders highlighting the fact that time was running out.
We’re running out of time everyone!
The uni entrance exam is almost here!
Ah! It’s right up ahead!
……Pretty scary stuff.
Time, as a whole, actually passed quite slowly. It’s only when looking back, that one realizes with a start that “it’s already been so long”.
Jiang Cheng was half-slumped over his desk with a pen twirling between his fingers, looking at the math teacher through the gap beside the ear of Zhou Jing, who for some reason was sitting ramrod straight today.
To everyone in the classroom, time must’ve been passing extremely slowly at that moment. Perhaps this time next year, they would realize when they look back, that the senior year of high school actually flew by in a flash, so quickly that it barely left behind any memories at all.
Jiang Cheng at this point did not feel like time was passing by slowly. He felt that time was flying by too fast, that there was not enough of it.
Not enough time to memorize the texts.
Not enough time to go through the question banks.
Not enough time to listen to lectures.
Not enough time to go for a walk with the boyfriend.
Not enough time to look at the new photos that said boyfriend had taken.
Not enough time to see……little sister-in-law’s new hairstyle.
This time next year when he looked back, no, whenever, whether it was next year, or the year after that, or five years, even ten years later, when he looks back, the memories of this year will always be rich and fulfilling.
“Did Gu Miao make a fuss when you changed your chat icon from that furry green bunny avatar?” Jiang Cheng asked between class periods as he organized the notes he took from the previous lecture.
Gu Fei had changed his icon from the green bunny to a photo of Gu Miao.
It was the little girlie’s new haircut. After her hair had grown long enough, Li Yan gave her a short bob, one where the bottom edge of her fringe was a hundred miles away from her eyebrows. In the photo, she had one of her brows arched as though in a rather good mood, appearing extremely singular and smug.
“All good, she’s the one who changed it for me.” Gu Fei said. “Do you need to go pee?”
“Ah, I……” Jiang Cheng paused.
“You don’t know, right?” Gu Fei sighed and stood up. “Let’s go take a piss.”
“I was gonna say I don’t think I feel the need,” Jiang Cheng tsked once and stood up as well. “Why not just say you want me to accompany you to the washroom.”
“I don’t need you to accompany me,” Gu Fei said immediately. “Really, it’s not necessary, you can go back to the classroom.”
Jiang Cheng narrowed his eyes.
“Go back, I beg you,” Gu Fei said. “Please allow me to go to the washroom by myself, allow me to bravely trudge on all by my lonesome, toward the washroom.”
“Weirdo.” Jiang Cheng walked along with him down the stairs. “I’m a little hungry, should we go to the concession stand later to get something to eat? Zhou Jing said they’ve started to sell oden now.”
“Alright.” Gu Fei nodded.
“This is one of the nice things about Fourth High,” Jiang Cheng gulped and said. “In my old school, the concession stand was only open for half a semester before it got scrapped. The cafeteria doesn’t sell food outside of regular meal times, so if you don’t carry some food of your own, you’d die of starvation before mealtime starts.”
“This little concession stand at Fourth High rakes in quite a lot of revenue every month,” Gu Fei chuckled as he said. “Much more profitable than our store.”
“Your family’s store is just lacking a person with the time to manage it, otherwise it wouldn’t be like that.” Jiang Cheng sighed. “I only went in the first time because it looked cleaner than the other places.”
“If you hadn’t gone to my place that day, you would’ve passed out on the ground for at least an hour.” Gu Fei said.
“Bullshit.” Jiang Cheng replied simply.
“Really, even when I wanted to bring you inside, Liu Fan and the others were against it.” Gu Fei smiled. “This is not a peaceful place, a lot of people are afraid of drawing trouble to themselves.”
“Then why did you have to take me in?” Jiang Cheng asked.
“You helped Gu Miao,” Gu Fei said. “Besides, I can’t let her witness her own big brother stand by while someone dies before her eyes.”
“I only passed out for a while, I wasn’t dying!” Jiang Cheng corrected him.
“So mainly, it was because you’re attractive,” Gu Fei gave him a thumbs up. “Very handsome.”
Jiang Cheng clucked his tongue.
The oden at the school concession stand was pretty good, it was only unfortunate that by the time they brought it from the concession stand back to the classroom, it had just about cooled down.
By this point, Jiang Cheng was already able to follow the local customs, so he put his head down and ate as he listened to the lecture. He was even a little envious of one of the students of the Class-7 next door, who had brought an electric thermos to school so that he could cook food in class…… Of course, the guy who had done that was already made to do a self-condemnation in front of the whole school, apparently reported by a classmate who didn’t have anything warm to eat in class.
“Jiang Cheng!” Lao-Lu shouted from the lectern.
Jiang Cheng had just skewered the last fishball, and was about to deliver it into his mouth. On the impact of Lao-Lu’s roar, his hand shook, and the fishball fell to the ground along with the skewer.
“Ah……” He cried quietly in pain. It was bad enough to see that he only had one fishball left when he was nowhere near full or satisfied, but he couldn’t even get the last one into his mouth.
He almost wanted to pick it up while no one was watching and rinse it in the broth, then eat it.
“I’m just saying! I get that you all are tired from studying, so I won’t lecture you about sneaking some food during class!” Lao-Lu pointed at him. “But aren’t you eating a little too slowly! Did you think this was a cuisine appreciation class? I would’ve thought you’d bought a full Han-Manchurian feast by the way you were eating! Come on up and translate this passage here!”
Jiang Cheng carefully put the paper bowl into his desk drawer, there was still a little bit of broth left, he could chug it later to sate his craving.
He walked up to the front of the room, but just as he picked up a chalk, Lao-Lu was already handing him the short piece in his own hand, “Use this one! You don’t need to expend energy to snap a new one! I already sharpened this for you!”
“……Oh.” Jiang Cheng took the chalk and started writing without pause on the blackboard.
Usually around this time, no other teacher would call students up to solve a question. They had to hang onto every precious minute to hammer in the key points, or grill them with mock exams, which were then dissected at length, all the while repeating the same key points over and over.
Here is an important point, that there is also an important point, these are all important points, those have all been tested in previous years! After a whole round of this, one would think that there was not a thing that was unimportant in the entire textbook.
There was only Lao-Lu, who persevered to call someone up in every single class. Jiang Cheng thought it must be why the students were relatively more focused in his class, since who knew when they would suddenly get picked out, and if one couldn’t answer or recite correctly, they faced a round of harsh rebukes.
“Your handwriting has improved,” Lao-Lu looked at Jiang Cheng’s answer on the blackboard. “It has improved. Not bad, not bad. If I were the one marking the exams, I will not deduct you marks for aesthetics.”
“Thank you teacher Lu.” Jiang Cheng said.
It was true that his handwriting had improved, he knew it himself. Every day when he memorized passages, he would jot out key points on a scrap paper to increase its retention, and as a way to train his handwriting as well.
As Gu Fei put it, it was finally legible.
“Da-Fei!” When class ended for the morning, Wang Xu squeezed aside Zhou Jing and plopped himself down on their desk. “Jiang Cheng!”
“Hm?” Jiang Cheng answered with his head down, he was finishing up a set of questions he didn’t get to complete in the last period.
“You guys aren’t busy later, right?” Wang Xu said. “Let’s go eat meat pie, my dad made a new filling, come try it out?”
“What new filling?” Gu Fei asked.
“Corn!” Wang Xu said. “To be honest it’s not that unique, but it does taste pretty good. Really, come eat?”
Gu Fei threw a glance at Jiang Cheng.
“Ugh I’m so done with you guys.” Wang Xu waved his hand. “Shouldn’t have asked you in the first place…… Jiang Cheng?”
“Alright.” Jiang Cheng smiled and nodded his head.
Sooner or later both Wang Xu and Zhou Jing would have to be taken out. They could keep Wang Xu for a little longer, since after all, he was the provider of delicious meat pies.
“Shall we call up Er-Miao too?” Wang Xu said.
“Nah,” Gu Fei said. “My mom’s making wontons for her today.”
“Alrighty then,” Wang Xu stood up. “Let’s go go go go.”
Jiang Cheng’s schedule was tightly packed from day to day. After school he usually went straight home, and rarely even dropped by the convenience store. Since he was not efficient during the time when he was waiting on the side for food, it was easy to get distracted, so Gu Fei made him go back to the apartment directly after school, where he would bring the food over once it was done.
And after eating, that was basically it for the day, there was nothing else to do for the night aside from review, memorize, and question banks.
Of course, he still had time for relaxing leisurely activities. Exercise on the bed might be physically taxing, but it was very mentally stimulating……
Going to Wang Xu’s place to have meat pies today was probably the first ‘fun’ group outing in the last couple of months.
“I used to think that Yi Jing was enough of an overachiever,” Wang Xu lamented as he pedaled his bike. “But after seeing Jiang Cheng, I finally realized I was too shortsighted.”
“Isn’t Yi Jing grinding pretty hard.” Gu Fei said.
“It’s not the same,” Wang Xu glanced at Jiang Cheng. “I noticed recently, Jiang Cheng lost more weight than Yi Jing did.”
“…… Shut up.” Jiang Cheng said.
Best stop saying that he lost weight. Whether it were the ingredients or the quantity, the meals Gu Fei made every day were definitely heading in the direction of raising high quality hogs. Just from Wang Xu saying that Jiang Cheng had lost weight, Gu Fei would probably pull his mouth open and start shoveling food in through a feeding tube.
“Hey,” Wang Xu rode beside Jiang Cheng. “Honour Student Jiang, have you decided what school you want to apply to? Have you decided on a major?”
“No.” Jiang Cheng said.
“The fuck?” Wang Xu was baffled. “Don’t people say you overachievers all have your sights dead set on some university or another ever since you were little, and then when you finally get in, it’s a hella inspiring tale? How can you still not know at this point?”
“I,” Jiang Cheng turned to look at him. “Can go anywhere I want to. I don’t need to set my sights on anything from since I was young.”
“…… Goddamnit.” Wang Xu glared at him. “I hate you overachievers and your pointless showing offs!”
“I’m not pointlessly showing-off,” Jiang Cheng grinned. “I’m only showing off.”
“Die mad about it.” Gu Fei said from beside them.
“What the hell!” Wang Xu yelped. “Can the two of you adjust your attitudes, you’re going to my home to eat! Can you please treat the meal provider with a little bit of gentleness?”
Wang Xu’s dad Wang Er……or, maybe his name wasn’t Wang Er, though Jiang Cheng never did ask what his name really was. Either way, daddy Wang’s meat pies really were the best he had ever had.
Even the ones with corn filling and only a few specks of meat were surprisingly delicious.
Of course, after finishing a heap of corn filling pies, he topped it off with three more that had pork belly filling.
“Oh my,” Wang Xu’s mom glanced at the empty baskets on the table when she came in to bring them snacks. “How did you guys eat so fast?”
“He’s trying to fatten up for the winter.” Wang Xu pointed at Jiang Cheng. “Overachievers are not like us, that’s the way overachievers eat, and he still gets skinnier every day.”
“You have the face to say that,” Wang Xu’s mom smacked the back of Wang Xu’s head. “Whatever you ate all stuck to your body, none of it went to your brain!”
“Hey!” Wang Xu peered at his mom in embarrassment. “Don’t do that in front of my classmates.”
“Do what! So what if I do!” She smacked his head a couple more times.
“It’ll make him dumb.” Gu Fei said.
“Oyo, well it’s too late for that, been whacking him like that since he was little, he might be dumb already.” She set the two plates of beef jerky down on the table. “Try this, it’s delicious, spicy, and not tough.”
Jiang Cheng picked up a strip and stuffed it into his mouth.
“Looks like Jiang Cheng quite likes our meat pies huh?” Wang Xu’s mom smiled at him and asked.
“Yes,” Jiang Cheng nodded. “It’s amazing.”
“We’ll have new versions coming out around New Years,” She said. “If you think the food at home is getting too heavy around the holiday time, feel free to come over and have some meat pies!”
Jiang Cheng had to ponder for a moment, then nodded, “Alright.”
“You talk so much,” Wang Xu gave his mom a push. “Go back to work, let us talk by ourselves.”
After Wang Xu’s mom went out, he went to close the door to the dining room, “Sorry about that Jiang Cheng, my mom didn’t know……”
“It’s fine,” Jiang Cheng gave a smile. “Really.”
It’s almost New Year’s.
If Wang Xu’s mom hadn’t mentioned it, he never would’ve noticed that it’s almost the end of the year.
He knew only that it was almost winter break, and he had to spend it in cram school, and that everyone in class expressed the unwillingness to accept this harsh reality.
And yet, Jiang Cheng never did make the connection between winter break and New Year’s.
Perhaps he never dared to think about it.
To have a heart that was still as water didn’t mean that it would be still even over the holiday season.
After all, it was the time of year when families reunited, full of laughter and cheer.
Chinese people’s insistence on celebrating New Year’s and their unrelenting sorrow about not being able to go home for New Year’s was something carved deep into their bones. Whether one cared or not, during this period of time, it was inevitable that one’s mood would change along with the surrounding environment that grew redder and redder.
The children who wore red woolen coats, running about with firecrackers in their hands; the pedestrians on the street hurrying to go home; the people crowding against each other in markets, striving to make their holiday purchases; all sorts of reporting on the ‘Spring transport’ in the news on TV; the handful of holiday songs that resounded through the streets and alleyways that never seemed to change…… All of which came together in a symphony that screamed: it’s New Year’s time!
And it was only then, that Jiang Cheng finally realized, ah, it’s New Year’s time.
He didn’t have any special memories of the past New Years, which were mostly spent eating, drinking, and visiting relatives, as well as going out every day with friends. He only remembered that there never seemed to be enough time to play to his heart’s content before school started again, and why couldn’t summer break lend some of its days to the winter break.
But now he felt a little lost.
It’s New Year’s.
How to celebrate?
Where should he go?
…… Should he celebrate?
“Usually we spend New Year’s at the store,” Gu Fei said when they had finished the meat pies and were on their way back. “Er-Miao liked to celebrate it in the store, it’s more convenient for her to run in and out with the firecrackers.”
“Is she not scared of the noise?” Jiang Cheng asked.
“Nope, she really likes it. Whichever house was setting off firecrackers, she would zoom over on her skateboard right away.” Gu Fei smiled. “Last year, a tuft of her hair even got singed.”
Jiang Cheng cracked up laughing.
“Come spend it with me this year,” Gu Fei said. “You can come by once dinner’s ready, and we’ll set off firecrackers together, then you can go back and study after that.”
“Mhm.” Jiang Cheng nodded.
“And if you think that’s not lively enough, we can get Li Yan, Liu Fan, and the others there too.” Gu Fei said. “Those guys can’t bear to stay still at home after dinner anyways.”
“Do you like it to be more lively?” Jiang Cheng asked.
“Doesn’t matter to me either way,” Gu Fei said. “In the past for New Year’s we……it’s just me and Er-Miao. My mom usually went out as soon as we were done eating.”
“Oh.” Jiang Cheng thought about it. “Then call them up too, if we come together and make some noise, Er-Miao will probably like it?”
“Then I’ll say this first,” Gu Fei looked at him with a smile. “If they’re coming by, you have to go back and study on your own that night, I’ll definitely be dragged off to play for a whole night.”
“No problem.” Jiang Cheng steered his bike closer to Gu Fei, and clapped him on the shoulder.
Gu Fei hardly went out with Li Yan and the guys at all this semester, since he spent all his time circling around Jiang Cheng all day. Jiang Cheng felt like if one day Pan Zhi got a girlfriend and suddenly disappeared from his view, he’d definitely be unhappy about it.
As for the New Year’s, Jiang Cheng only brooded over it for one night, after which he returned to the usual routine of studying. Without realizing it, the beginning of the winter break cram school arrived, and connected seamlessly with the tail end of the semester. He was impressed at what a good studious youth he had been.
Gu Fei was spending four or five days out of a week at his apartment. Usually he went to sleep first after he accompanied Jiang Cheng through his readings and nighttime snack. However, for the last two days, he would stay sitting up at the head of the bed, playing with his phone.
“Playing the idiotic game?” Jiang Cheng asked.
“Nah, who has time for that, Li Yan is already more than twenty levels ahead of me now, been throwing it in my face every day, sending me screenshots all the time.” Gu Fei said.
“Ooh sounds like you’re quite busy?” Jiang Cheng shot him a glance.
“Yeah,” Gu Fei nodded seriously. “I have to keep my boyfriend company every day while he studies. I shot up more than 50 spots in the final exams this time, Lao-Xu even pulled me aside the other day with tears in his eyes.”
“You can actually……” Jiang Cheng put his head down and continued doing questions without finishing his sentence.
You can actually get pretty good grades if you put in a little effort. But if he said this out loud, Gu Fei might think too much into it. He forcefully swallowed his words.
“You can actually sleep first, no need to wait for me.” Jiang Cheng said.
“I wasn’t waiting for you,” Gu Fei stuck the phone in front of Jiang Cheng’s face. “I was looking up recipes.”
“For New Year’s Eve dinner?” Jiang Cheng looked at it.
“Mhm.” Gu Fei continued to look at his phone. “In the past during New Year’s, my mom just threw together a pot of whatever we had, then wrapped some dumplings and called it a day. Sometimes when we were lazy, we would simply take some frozen dumplings from the store. This year let’s make it more formal, since it’s the first New Year’s we’re spending together.
Jiang Cheng smiled, “Will you be heading the kitchen?”
“You don’t have faith in me?” Gu Fei asked.
“Ah,” Jiang Cheng glanced at the empty bowl of nighttime snack that was still on the desk. Tonight they had Four-Delights Meatballs, five of them each the size of a fist. “It’s alright, only……can you look at some vegetarian recipes too?”
“What good are vegetarian dishes, I thought you liked eating meat?” Gu Fei said.
“Classmate Xiao-Gu,” Jiang Cheng sighed. “I’ve recently grown to appreciate vegetables a little more, leafy greens, also fine if they’re not green, cabbages are fine too.”
Alright,” Gu Fei said. “I’ll braise some cabbages for tomorrow’s nighttime snack.”
“……I wouldn’t mind if you drop some meat in either.” Jiang Cheng sighed.
“Didn’t you say you wanted to eat vegetables?” Gu Fei said.
“Are you only offering all meat or vegetarian as options?” Jiang Cheng said in exasperation. “Fine, I want to eat meat-veggie combo dishes!”
“It’s called an omnivorous pairing.” Gu Fei corrected him.
Jiang Cheng pointed at him, and couldn’t get a word out, so he put his head down and continued to study.
The winter break cram school lasted all the way until the 28th day of the last month, leaving everyone with only one day off. According to Lao-Xu, it was to give them time to go home, clean up their room, and go shopping for holiday stock with their parents.
Gu Fei woke Jiang Cheng up early in the morning.
“Where are we going?” Jiang Cheng asked blearily.
“Grocery shopping.” Gu Fei flung the covers off the bed as he put on his own clothes.
“What,” Jiang Cheng pulled the covers back over himself. “Weren’t you running to the supermarket every free minute you had in the past few days? I was afraid you’d clean the place out. Are you still missing stuff?”
“That’s different,” Gu Fei smiled as he leaned over the headboard. “Don’t you want the joyful experience of going New Year shopping with your boyfriend?”
“……Weirdo.” Jiang Cheng started laughing. “Alrighty then, I’m up.”
Two days before New Year’s Day, the holiday spirit filled the air. When Jiang Cheng was washing up, he could hear the sounds of talking and laughter outside as well as……sounds of arguments, louder than usual, and livelier too.
He walked over to the window and looked down as he brushed his teeth.
There were several extremely ugly snowmen on the ground outside, with rusty buckets over their heads; a bunch of little brats were running about wildly, one kid was howling while spewing insults at some unknown person; meanwhile there were two people standing by the side of the road, shouting at each other with hands on their hips were a grandpa and a granny.
Ah, it’s already been one year.
Jiang Cheng suddenly felt a little sentimental. Watching the messy scenes unfolding downstairs, for the first time, he did not feel annoyed at the disorder.
It was also the first time that the holidays actually felt different from normal. To his own surprise, he was really looking forward to the tiresome activities of crowding at the supermarket, fighting people for loot, then standing shoulder to shoulder with others in line for the check out.
General footnote just to say that “New Year” here is referring specifically to the lunar new year, and all mentions of “the last month of the year”, and “28th day” etc, are all pertaining to the lunar calendar. Modern Chinese people use the Gregorian calendar in day to day life, but when it comes to traditional (aka non-western) holidays, it’s always the lunar calendar.
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