But no matter what the answer was, it all seemed insufficient next to ∞.


Author: Wu Zhe, Translated by Ami <3

         The two of them “AHHHH”ed for a long time with their heads thrown back. It was rather satisfying, but Jiang Cheng soon felt a little lacking in oxygen after a while of yelling in this position.

         He quickly took out his phone, “Here, hold this position and don’t move.”

         “You’re taking a picture?” Gu Fei turned and asked.

         “Mhm, don’t move, look at the camera,” Jiang Cheng held his phone above their heads, and they both looked up at their faces on the screen. “Now yell, AHHH——”

         Gu Fei laughed and started yelling again with him. Jiang Cheng pressed on the shutter, “Very good, my neck is getting sore.”

         “Let’s do the fireworks.” Gu Fei kicked the plastic bag.

         “Does Er-Miao dare to set them off?” Jiang Cheng asked.

         “She doesn’t know how,” Gu Fei said. “You have to hold her hands and light it.”

         “Alright,” Jiang Cheng pulled out his pack of cigarettes. “I’ll do it with her.”

         “Hey hey hey,” Gu Fei handed Jiang Cheng the lighter in his hand. “You’re gonna let her light it with a cigarette?”

         “…… I forgot.” Jiang Cheng took the lighter from Gu Fei, it was a long stemmed one he got from the store. “Come on Er-Miao, shall we light the fireworks?”

         Gu Miao sat down beside him holding her skateboard, and Jiang Cheng placed the lighter in her hand, “Press down here.”

         Holding down Gu Miao’s finger, they lit the lighter together, then he took her hand and reached over to ignite the fuse.

         “Okay okay it caught!” Jiang Cheng pulled her back a couple of steps.

         The one they set off was a bundle of eight sticks, and though it wasn’t that impressive to see in the light of day, still Gu Miao let out an excited whistle the moment the sparks shot out.

         The bag of fireworks Gu Fei brought out didn’t contain very much, but Gu Miao wasn’t like the other kids when it came to setting off fireworks. Other kids liked to watch it go off one after another, but Gu Miao got so excited after each one that she would roll out on her skateboard and take a couple of laps around the area before coming back. And if someone was lighting firecrackers nearby, she just had to go zoom through the smoke.

         And that was why it took almost an hour for them to finish setting off all of their fireworks.

         “Alright, we’re out,” Gu Fei said. “And the rest we’ll set off tonight when it’s dark, it’ll look better.”

         Jiang Cheng was about to speak, when across the smoke-filled street, from what felt as distant as the other side of the world, came a call.

         Loud and clear.

         “Feifei Miaomiao and classmate—— it’s time to eat——”

         “The fuck?” Jiang Cheng turned to stare at Gu Fei in shock. “Who’s that calling us?”

         “Who else.” Gu Fei wore a complicated expression on his face.

         “Ponytail boi?” Jiang Cheng asked. 

         “…… Your nicknaming speed is kind of somewhat a little impressive huh?” Gu Fei sighed. “Come on, let’s go check out the boy’s cooking.” [1]

         “It’s boi, not boy.” Jiang Cheng corrected his pronunciation.

         “Boi.” Gu Fei repeated as he walked back.

         “But he’s a boiii, why did that sound so much like a female opera singer just now,” Jiang Cheng was still having a hard time recovering from the voice. “I thought it was your mom calling you, Feifei.”

         “You wanna bet I’ll smack you.” Gu Fei gave him a sideways glare.

         “Come on, do it or you’re not my countryman.” Jiang Cheng was suddenly in a great mood. In this smoke-filled air, though he couldn’t see what was in front of him, having the person he cared about most by his side, walking down the street like this, buying things together, setting off fireworks together, eating a New Year’s Eve meal together…… He couldn’t help but be in a great mood.

         He bounced a little, took a big stride forward with his left foot and landed in a lunge, then put his hands on his hips and started to shake his shoulders, speaking to some kind of beat as he did, “Do it, or you’re, not, my country, man.”

         Gu Fei looked at him without any expression on his face, and after a few seconds, turned and started running away, “Run Er-Miao! There’s a monster!”

         Next he let out a whistle, and at that, Gu Miao immediately kicked off on her skateboard and rolled out.

         The ponytail guy made pretty quick work of the cooking. By the time they returned to the store, there were already six dishes and one soup laid out on the table, and all of them ‘big’ dishes too.

         He really was living up to his job description.

         Judging by the dishes, said cook probably did not work at a very fancy place, but still the whole spread smelled delicious, and made one salivate at the smell.

         “You’ve worked hard.” Jiang Cheng said when he sat down.

         “Naww, it’s my field of expertise.” Ponytail waved his hand. “This is nothing.”

         “I’ll go get some alcohol.” Gu Fei’s mom ran to the shelves where they kept the alcohol, then picked a bottle of Jin Liu Fu. “This one looks jovial, let’s have this.” [2]

         “Er-Miao, go get a bottle of something for yourself.” Gu Fei said to Gu Miao.

         Gu Miao ran to the fridge and took out a can of beer, then turned to look at Gu Fei.

         “…… Alright.” Gu Fei said.

         “Come, Miaomiao,” Ponytail pulled out a red envelope from his pocket. “Take this.”

         Gu Miao didn’t look at him as she focused on pulling the tab off of the can of beer.

         “Er-Miao?” Their mom called to her. “The uncle is giving you lucky money.”

         Still Gu Miao did not lift her head. After yanking off the tab, she threw her head back and took a few gulps of beer, then wiped her mouth and sat down, staring at the food on the table.

         “Er-Miao.” Gu Fei spoke up.

         Gu Miao lifted her head.

         “The uncle’s giving you lucky money, take it, and thank him.” Gu Fei said, looking at her.

         Gu Miao finally turned around and looked at Ponytail. She stood up and first bowed, then took the red envelope and put it into her own pocket.

         “Come on,” Ponytail stuck his hand into his pocket again. “Feifei……”

         “That’s okay,” Gu Fei froze, and waved his hand in extreme awkwardness. “It’s really not necessary.”

         “You don’t need to give it to him,” Gu Fei’s mom stopped Ponytail. “He’s an adult now, not a child.”

         After a few rounds of extremely awkward back and forth, Ponytail eventually put the red envelope away. Gu Fei’s mom picked up her cup and said, “Come come, let’s first drink to my son’s prosperity, my girlie’s health, and Jiang Cheng getting into an elite university……”

         “What about me?” Ponytail asked.

         Jiang Cheng was shocked to hear the whining tone in his voice, and shot a glance in Gu Fei’s direction.

         Gu Fei was holding his cup, his expression a swiftly changing enigma.

         “Oh you,” Gu Fei’s mom giggled as she leaned a little against Ponytail. “Here’s to everything going your way.”

         Her tone was also intentionally cute, and holding his cup, the sweat on Jiang Cheng’s face was practically dripping down. Meanwhile, Gu Fei had already turned his face away in embarrassment.

         Only Gu Miao was still acting completely normal, as she stared blankly at the table full of food in front of them.

         After this exchange, Gu Fei’s mom and Ponytail suddenly activated a mode of clingy romantic behaviour, as if there was no one else there but them, and still holding their cups, they’d begun to blatantly flirt with each other while forgetting where they were.

         Gu Fei gently knocked his cup against Jiang Cheng’s, “May Cheng-ge be ever triumphant this year.”

         “May you succeed in all that you do,” Jiang Cheng noticed out of the corner of his eyes that the other pair was still off in their own world, so he added in a low voice, “Boyfriend.”

         Gu Fei chuckled and took a drink, then reached over and knocked his cup against Gu Miao’s beer can, “May Er-Miao quickly grow up.”

         “May Er-Miao make progress every day.” Jiang Cheng also knocked against her beer can. [3]

         It wasn’t until they had started eating, that Gu Fei’s mom and Ponytail finally came back to earth. However, they had already forgotten about the toast, and simply joined them and dug in on the food.

         Gu Fei and Jiang Cheng didn’t talk very much during the whole meal, but it wasn’t awkward either, because there was a very sweet couple flirting with each other the whole time while they ate.

         When they weren’t flirting, Gu Fei’s mom was resting her chin in her hand, listening to Ponytail boast about his feats.

         At least his boasting was more or less constrained to the subject of wanting to take over his boss’s business this year. Jiang Cheng kept wanting to remind him, whether he had asked his boss if he even wanted to sell the business…… However, the pair was so engrossed in their conversation that no one else could manage to get a word in edgewise.

         Ponytail’s cooking was not bad; it smelled good, and tasted pretty good too. Gu Miao had a great time eating everything, and never taking a break in reaching out with her chopsticks, she took a sip of beer for every bite of meat. It was very satisfying.

         The lovers across from them were probably not full, Jiang Cheng hardly saw them touch the food.

         “We’re gonna go out for a spin,” As the meal wound down to a close, Gu Fei’s mom stood up. “And get a good taste of the New Year atmosphere.”

         “Mhm.” Gu Fei answered.

         “Have fun.” Jiang Cheng said.

         “Thank you.” Gu Fei’s mom said as she dragged Ponytail out. Soon after, they heard the sound of a motorcycle receding into the distance.

         Jiang Cheng leaned back in the chair and, stretching his legs out in front of him, looked at Gu Miao who was still busy working away at the food.

         Beside him, Gu Fei lit up a cigarette, “Want one?”

         “In a bit,” Jiang Cheng said. “I’m just gonna have a couple more bites.”

         “These dishes aren’t too bad.” Gu Fei said.

         “Mhm,” Jiang Cheng ladled a bowl of soup for himself. “How does this guy…… compare with the other ones from before?”

         “Dunno,” Gu Fei frowned. “There were guys who looked even more reliable than this one, but it all ended the same way.”

         “Then……” Jiang Cheng looked at him.

         “As long as he doesn’t touch the money in the store,” Gu Fei leaned back a little. “I can’t be bothered to interfere. We’re all adults here.”

         “Mhm,” Jiang Cheng picked up the bottle and swung it lightly, and thought aloud as he filled up Gu Fei’s cup. “He’s drinking and driving, isn’t he?”

         “Ayy,” Gu Fei laughed. “Honestly Cheng-ge you…… He probably had a shot at most.”

         “When Li Yan and the others get here this afternoon, and you guys drink, you should probably just ride bikes if you’re going out.” Jiang Cheng said. “You’ve definitely had more than a shot.”

         “We’re not going out, there’s nowhere to go,” Gu Fei said. “We just stick around here, watching TV and talking nonsense, and occasionally play some cards.”

         “Old people life.” Jiang Cheng said.

         “Mhm,” Gu Fei nodded. “I’ve already lived out my young life in bed with you.”

         Jiang Cheng shot a glance at him, “Watch your words.”

         “In bed in bed in bed in bed,” Gu Fei said. “Bed him bed him bed him bed him.”

         “Go to sleep.” Jiang Cheng said.

         After Gu Miao finished gnawing on the last piece of short rib, the two of them tidied up the table.

         Washing dishes was the most annoying chore, but this was the first time Jiang Cheng felt in a pretty good mood while doing the dishes. Gu Fei played music out of his phone, which he had set to the side, and Jiang Cheng happily finished washing the dishes to the beat of the music.

         About this time, every family was inside eating together, so the sound of firecrackers outside had diminished somewhat. Jiang Cheng walked out of the kitchen and stood in the courtyard, listening to the distant booming noises.

         He never felt very sentimental during New Year’s in the past. Whenever he heard the raucous noises, he would feel annoyed, the racket was ear-splitting and disturbing. This was the first time in his life he could listen to the sounds with such calm composure, he could even feel that beneath the dilapidated exterior of the Steel Works, there were signs of life emerging because of the New Year.

         “It’s snowing! Good thing we were fast!” Liu Fan’s voice carried out from inside the store.

         Jiang Cheng looked up, the snowflakes drifting down from the sky were still very small, circling around in the wind. When they landed on his face, he first felt a tiny bit of cold that quickly disappeared soon after.

         He turned to go back into the store. Liu Fan, Li Yan, and Luo Yu had just come through the door, and were taking off their jackets.

         “Jiang Cheng! Happy New Year!” Luo Yu greeted him.

         “Happy New Year.” Jiang Cheng smiled.

         “I thought you’d be studying today too,” Li Yan said. “Da-Fei said you were studying from morning to night every single day.”

         “I’m going back later to continue studying.” Jiang Cheng said.

         “…… Why don’t you hang out for a while and then go back,” Li Yan said. “We brought a whole bunch of holiday food, wanna have a taste?”

         “I really can’t taste anything right now,” Jiang Cheng patted his belly. “I’m stuffed.”

         “Jiang Cheng, gege has something to give you.” Liu Fan picked up a large plastic bag and walked over. “We had Chen Jie put this together, he has a friend interning at First High, who got the study materials from their senior class.”

         “Holy shit,” Gu Fei laughed. “You guys didn’t have to.”

         “As a bunch of people who’ve never gone to college, we respect and envy the top of the grade.” Li Yan smiled and sat down, then pulled out a bulging red envelope and stuck it inside Gu Miao’s pocket. “This is lucky money from all your big brothers, you keep it for yourself, don’t give it to your brother.”

         Jiang Cheng felt an unspeakable emotion as he accepted the heavy bag into his hands. It took a long time before he managed to say, “Thank you.”

         “You’re welcome.” Liu Fan answered.

         Everyone laughed after that. Luo Yu sighed, “Don’t be so formal, I can’t even continue this conversation.”

         They spread out, flopped down on the chairs, and started to chat.

         Jiang Cheng pulled out a few of the study materials and flipped through them. These were the mock tests handed out at First High in the past weeks, as well as other materials gathered by the teachers there. Some of them overlapped with the ones from the Fourth High, but most of them he’d never seen before.

         That Li Yan and the guys would obtain study materials for him was something Jiang Cheng had never expected. It was also quite bewildering that him preparing for an exam had somehow alerted the guys who were up to nothing all day long.

         But it was also because of this, that he suddenly felt an immense pressure.

         Taking a glance at Gu Fei, who was sitting across from him and listening to the others ramble on, he thought: and what expectations did Gu Fei have for him?

         When Li Yan suggested that they play cards, Jiang Cheng decided to head back and study.

         “I’ll call you over to eat when the dumplings are ready.” Gu Fei walked out the door with him. “Do you want me to take you back? And pick you up later tonight?”

         “I bet even Gu Miao doesn’t need you to take her back and forth.” Jiang Cheng chuckled.

         “It’s an excuse anyways,” Gu Fei stretched. “I just wanted to get a few more looks at you.”

         These words made him want to take Gu Fei in his arms right there in the middle of the street, and shower him with kisses.

         Wanted to get a few more looks at you.

         Jiang Cheng was the same. When he studied, his peripheral vision was always taken up by Gu Fei. Even when he entered a state where he no longer existed in this realm, one word from Gu Fei was all it took to pull him back.

         Want to look at you, want to listen to you speak.

         But the most unbearable thing was that these days of spending every waking moment together was steadily running out, along with the countdown to the exam. The feeling of panic that arose whenever he thought about it, was overpowering even the panic at the upcoming exams.

         Jiang Cheng strolled back to his apartment on his own; he didn’t let Gu Fei walk him back. The way they clung to each other like this, if he didn’t cut it off in time, they might end up walking each other half a dozen times to and fro between his apartment and the store.

         The ground outside his building was also littered with leftover bits of red paper, and the corridors looked like they were covered in a red carpet. Jiang Cheng walked up the stairs, taking in the scent of remnant firecrackers the entire way.

         The building might be old, but the heating was miraculously abundant. Jiang Cheng felt a wave of warmth as soon as he walked through the door.

         He changed into comfortable clothing, then sat down at his desk and began to study.

         First he worked on the mock tests from Fourth High, followed by the various contents that Pan Zhi had sent him, and then the materials from First High.

         In the eyes of others, he probably seemed like a machine incapable of feeling tired. After all, he was an overachiever. He had strong self-discipline, and was a good learner with a strong memory, who tackled studying with a plan.

         Even so, it was still very tiring. His pencil would halt every so often as he wrote, and his brain would stop working from time to time as he memorized texts.

         Ever since he was young he had strived on a held breath: he must do it, and he must do it well. It was purely an effort to be acknowledged. Whereas now, the reason he toiled and worked himself to the bones had become more complicated.

         He no longer had any other option.

         And neither did Gu Fei.

         Come dinner time, Gu Fei called to tell him to come have some dumplings. If it wasn’t because of the fact that Gu Fei’s custom ringtone was itself a stimulus for him, he probably wouldn’t have reacted at all.

         Li Yan and the other guys had wrapped the dumplings. Apparently ten of them contained money, and whoever got one would have their wishes come true.

         They couldn’t fit all the dumplings on one plate, so Gu Fei divided the dumplings directly into each person’s bowl. The result was that each person got one yuan from their dumplings — Gu Miao even stared blankly for a good while because she bit into a coin — while all five dumplings in Jiang Cheng’s bowl contained coins.

         “Ah!” Jiang Cheng shot a glance at Gu Fei as he bit into a coin for the fifth time.

         “Da-Fei,” Li Yan couldn’t help but crack up. “Did you cheat.”

         “He must’ve,” Liu Fan tossed the coin in his hand, and said as he laughed. “He’s already taking our friendship into consideration by not giving all ten to Jiang Cheng.”

         “It’s not like you guys have to take the exam.” Gu Fei said.

         “Then you could at least leave a couple for yourself,” Luo Yu said. “We’re not taking the exam, but you are.”

         Gu Fei smiled but didn’t say anything.

         In Jiang Cheng’s mind, the main events of the New Year’s were over after the dumplings had been eaten, and for the next few days of the break he kept himself inside and hardly went out at all.

         Every couple of days, Gu Fei would drag him out to take a walk and breathe some fresh air, and along the way would quiz him sporadically on some key points.

         Jiang Cheng was surprised to find that, even though Gu Fei hadn’t specifically tried to memorize anything, for the questions he quizzed more than once, he knew whether Jiang Cheng’s answers were right or wrong without even checking.

         “Nice,” Jiang Cheng said. “You remember it all?”

         “Nah,” Gu Fei smiled. “No way, I only have a vague recollection, you can’t make me give a whole answer, though I can tell if your answer is right or wrong.”

         “Oh.” Jiang Cheng gave him a look.

         Even though he didn’t know how much it would help, he gradually increased the times he asked Gu Fei to quiz him. One reason was that the closer they got to exam day, the more he needed to continue refreshing his memory of the knowledge. While the other reason was that secretly, he still didn’t want to give up.

         He would not say anything out loud, but he thought this method of mutual benefit was good. And Gu Fei would not notice.

         Just like that, the winter break passed by in measured rhythm and flowed into the early start of a new semester. Compared to the tragic fate of Pan Zhi and his peers, who had to start classes only four days into the New Year, Fourth High at least gave its students the week off.

         “Students! It’s February! If you don’t work hard in February, if you don’t work hard in March, if you don’t work hard in April, if you don’t……” Lao-Xu ranted from his spot at the lectern. He probably didn’t realize there would be so many months to say before he started talking, but after listing all of them, he was starting to stumble over his words. He cleared his throat a couple times before he continued. “Work hard in May, then only sadness awaits you in June! From this moment on, you will not have any breaks, and you must not loosen your grip……” [4]

         The day after next was Valentine’s Day. Jiang Cheng was reminded of it with a start only when Wang Xu came in the morning to ask him what he should give to Yi Jing for Valentine’s Day.

         It was true that Jiang Cheng had practically wrung his brain dry from all the studying. There was no time to make something for Gu Fei, still he wanted to give Gu Fei something, but what?

         “Stop thinking about Valentine’s Day!” Lao-Xu raised his voice. “Don’t think that I don’t know what all of you are thinking!”

         Jiang Cheng’s heart jumped, and arching his brows, he gave Lao-Xu a look out of reflex.

         Gu Fei started laughing beside him, “Was Lao-Xu right about you?”

         Jiang Cheng smiled, and didn’t say anything.

         “We can just set off a couple of fireworks while we’re out for a walk.” Gu Fei said quietly. “It’s extreme times, stop mulling over it.”

         “There’s still fireworks? I thought Er-Miao went through all of it?” Jiang Cheng asked.

         “Where’s your brain?” Gu Fei said. “You can buy it everywhere these days, I bought some.”

         “Oh,” Jiang Cheng laughed, then sighed. “Alright then, what’s one year in the grand scheme of things, we’ll celebrate it properly next year.”

         “Mhm.” Gu Fei nodded.

         “Next month is the first prep exam,” Lao-Xu was still rambling on sincerely in front of the classroom. “You must muster up the energy, and let me see your real capabilities!”

         There was not the usual background buzzing of conversations in the classroom. Probably everyone had played a little too hard during the break, and most people were slumped over their desks, catching up on snooze.

         Ah, the first prep exam is next month……

         “Look at this! It’s the countdown! Do you see this!” Lao-Xu continued to raise his voice as he pointed at the countdown paper plastered at the top of the blackboard. “Come on people!”

         Jiang Cheng leaned back in his chair. There were 114 days until the university entrance exams.

         He knew that there wasn’t much time, but three months sounded much longer than 114 days. Upon suddenly seeing these three meagre digits, he chest couldn’t help but tighten.

         114 days.

         The time he had left to stick by Gu Fei’s side in every waking moment was only 114 days plus another…… His mind was suddenly reeling a little, he wasn’t even able to do such a simple calculation.

         But no matter what the answer was, it all seemed insufficient next to ∞.


Footnotes
[1]

Explaining a pun makes it even less funny but here we go:
马尾男子 = ma wei nan zi = ponytail guy (correct, normal)
马尾蓝纸 = ma wei lan zhi (a Jiang Cheng special) = ponytail blue paper (literal) = ponytail boi (localization)
马尾篮子 = ma wei lan zi (Gu Fei said it wrong) = ponytail basket (literal) = ponytail boy (localization)
[2] 金六福: a baijiu, a 500ml bottle of 52% alcohol costs around 118 RMB, and that’s the four-star grade.
[3] No need to read too much into their toasts to Gu Miao, it’s not targeted, the words are very typical of what one would say to a child. Yes, even “quickly grow up”, there’s no hidden meaning lol
[4] A reference to a line in a poem, 少壮不努力,老大徒伤悲, or if you don’t work hard while you are young and strong, you will be left with only sadness and regret when you are old

Some Stats

  • Raw character count: 5740
  • TL word count: 4196
  • TL time: ??????
  • Edit time: 0:39:41
  • Curse words: 1x fuck, 1x shit

TL’s Notes:
The dumpling tradition is more of a northern China thing, when I get time at some point I’ll write a little thing about the Steel Works and how it and its neighbourhood is so typical of a small post-industrial city in the North-East OTL

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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