“What are you looking at?” He raised his chin.



Lin Wuyu didn’t spend the night at home. After eating braised noodles, he left, forcefully shutting the sound of his mother’s complaints in the room.

His sole relief was that he had only heard “your brother blah blah blah” once today.

When it came to a sense of existence, no one in the family could compare to “your brother.”

Even though your brother wasn’t personally in the house, your brother’s legends still made him have a supreme jianghu [1] status in the family.



On this ordinary night, with fine weather and bright stars, ablaze with lights, on this night in which high school third years with dreams all had their heads painfully buried in books, Lin Wuyu pinched babies’ cheeks for half an hour and listened to a street singer perform for half an hour, even requesting a song. Finally, he walked into the barbecue place he always went to.

“The old rules!” shouted the boss, standing behind the meat skewers.

“Yes.” Lin Wuyu nodded.

The old rules entailed getting two shares of each type of skewer. He brought one share back to his own dorm and gave the other to the neighboring dorm. Even though it looked like his actions were trying to conceal some kind of hidden purpose, he actually really liked barbecue himself. Without the neighboring dorm, he could finish two shares. He would leisurely eat one share at night and devour one share for breakfast.



He hadn’t replied to the message on his phone, as usual—he wouldn’t deliberately reply to every single message.

As he returned to the dorms with the barbecue, he lifted the bag and sped up, whooshing past the residence manager’s door, as usual.

Finally, he opened the door to the neighboring dorm, as usual. 

All four people were there and they turned their heads together to look at him, glasses flashing in a patch of light.

Lin Wuyu pushed his glasses up as a form of greeting and placed the bag on the table by the door: “Newly-grilled.”

When he turned to leave the dorm, Xu Tianbo followed him out: “Hey.”

Lin Wuyu turned his head.

“Has anyone…” Xu Tianbo closed the door to the dorm, his voice very low as he asked, “been impolite to you? Or said anything bad, stuff like that.”

“There are a few messages that I haven’t read yet.” Lin Wuyu thought for a moment. His phone had chimed quite a few times today, but he hadn’t been in the mood to look at them. “What’s wrong, were they all from you? I’ll file a discrimination complaint to the school about you.”

“Bull.” Xu Tianbo cracked up, but his smile quickly faded and he furrowed his brows. “Don’t be affected by those people.”

“No one can affect me.” Lin Wuyu patted his shoulder. “Thanks.”



After Xu Tianbo closed the door, Lin Wuyu went back to his own dorm.

The energy between the two of them had suddenly experienced a subtle change, making him feel a little dispirited.

His roommates had already returned from their evening study sessions in the classroom and were sitting at their tables opening up new battlefields.

When Chen Mang came over to take the barbecue bag in his hand, he felt like the atmosphere in the dorm had some indistinct awkwardness, but no one mentioned the roof-shouting incident.

Their dorm usually didn’t discuss personal matters.

Of course, such a fine dorm style was only formed after a few chaotic, confused battles among each other.

So now, even if it was something like publicly coming out on the roof, as long as Lin Wuyu didn’t bring it up himself, the other three were absolutely not going to open their mouths and ask.

“My all-nighter energy has arrived.” Chen Mang opened the bag, took out a chicken gizzard skewer and started gnawing on it.

“Is it from that place again?” Liu Ziyi got up and walked over too, asking a very obvious piece of drivel that he choked out in order to ease the awkward mood.

“Mm,” Lin Wuyu confirmed. He didn’t necessarily feel uncomfortable, but with his roommates acting so cautiously, he was a little apologetic.



Usually, when he brought barbecue back to the dorm, Chen Mang and the others had to scramble for it. Otherwise, no one could out-eat Lin Wuyu.

This person could finish half of it, one against three.

But today, it was obvious that Lin Wuyu didn’t have much of an appetite. He only ate one third of a bag of barbecue before he washed up and laid down on his bed.

He didn’t intend to conceal his mood. If he was dejected, he was dejected. There was no point in trying to keep up an act for the people in the dorm. They had spent three years in the same room and everyone understood each other.

Chen Mang and the others didn’t bother him, seizing this rare opportunity to clean out the barbecue.

Afterwards, the dorm quickly became tranquil. Other than Lin Wuyu, they all sat back in front of their desks. High school third years didn’t turn out the lights. They could usually stay up till the middle of the night. Sometimes, when Lin Wuyu got up at three or four to go to the bathroom, he could still see Liu Ziyi’s light shining.



In the middle of a quiet, studious atmosphere, Lin Wuyu’s phone chimed.

He rolled over and felt for his phone, first putting it on vibrate and then opening the notification.

It was a friend request. The icon was pretty ordinary. After all, among the diverse and varied crowds, more than half had all kinds of anime icons.

Although the contents of the friend request were not ordinary.

— Garbage pervert

Two words. Lin Wuyu took two or three seconds to realize what was going on.

This was harassing him.

He knit his brows and didn’t pay it any more attention, sweeping his eyes over a few friend requests below it. Today’s friend requests were very concentrated. There was a whole string of them below.

Apart from three regular requests that had left their grade and name, there were still four or five more.

— Never thought you’d be this disgusting

— Wanna make an appointment

— Damn trash, watch out

… 



Lin Wuyu didn’t look at the others carefully. He had gotten a lot of notifications today, and it turned out they were all these.

It was a little unexpected.

The way that some youths these days expressed their likes and dislikes was unexpectedly this blunt.

When Xu Tianbo had asked him, he had thought that Xu Tianbo was worrying too much. But looking at it now, he must have heard something unsavory.

Lin Wuyu tossed his phone aside and grabbed a problem set from the table next to him while he was at it, resting his head on his arms and starting to read.

Chen Mang reached a hand out and turned on the desk lamp on his behalf: “Do you think it’s impressive that your prescription strength is the lightest in our dorm?”

“Yeah,” Lin Wuyu said. “Isn’t it?”

“It’s not,” Chen Mang said. “You don’t even read books and you’re nearsighted. It’s a tragedy.”

Lin Wuyu cracked up: “I read them, how could I not read them?”



“Read books, my ass.” Ding Ji grabbed the large glass cup at his side and drank a sip of the honeysuckle water that his grandmother had boiled. He heard the chair make a creaking sound as he reached out to place a chess piece on the board in front of him.

“I really have never seen a student like you. Even when I was in school, I wasn’t as careless as you are.” Liu Jinpeng frowned as he stared at the chessboard. “How did you get into high school?”

Ding Ji smiled: “Back then…”

“Check!” Liu Jinpeng suddenly waved his hand, abruptly raising his voice as he shouted. He slammed a chess piece onto the board. Smack!

The cup of divine honeysuckle tea in Ding Ji’s hand almost smashed to the ground in his surprise.

“Do you have to get so into a game of five-in-a-row?” [2] He eyed Liu Jinpeng and put the bottle down, picking up a white piece and gently placing it on the chessboard. “I won.”

Liu Jinpeng stared at the three straight lines that had simultaneously appeared on the board, stunned for quite a while: “You can do this, too?”

“I can do anything.” Ding Ji clapped his hands. “Still wanna play?”



“No more!” Uncle Chen cut in, who had been crouching to the side smoking the whole time. “You two have played five-in-a-row for an entire afternoon, aren’t you done? That’s enough. If you want to play, go draw it on a piece of paper. I’m still waiting to play Go! [3] Lao Li is almost here.”

“Uncle Chen.” Ding Ji gestured for Liu Jinpeng to move over, then turned his head to look at Uncle Chen. “Uncle Li hasn’t arrived yet. How about we play a round first?”

Uncle Chen frowned at once, hesitating and not answering.

Liu Jinpeng let out a chuckle from the side.

Uncle Chen used to be the chess champion in the neighboring hutongs, [4] filling the empty spaces in the street where amateurs gathered in their spare time and playing chess until he won dozens of championships in Go tournaments.

Up until Ding Ji showed up.

Back then, classmate Ding Ji, a middle schooler who had only watched them play chess for a month in his spare time, ended Uncle Chen’s chess champion career.

As long as Ding Ji was sitting across from him, Uncle Chen had never won again.

When Ding Ji went back to the world of five-in-a-row, he was incredibly relieved and elated, almost to the point of gifting him a brocade banner.



“Hey, Lao Li! You’re finally here! Quick!” Uncle Chen suddenly waved at the other side of the street. “Quickly!”

Ding Ji looked back. Uncle Li really had arrived. Smiling, he drank a sip of tea and stood up, holding the large glass: “Pengpeng, are you coming to dinner at my house?”

“Which house?” Liu Jinpeng asked.

“My grandma’s,” Ding Ji said.

“Let’s go.” Liu Jinpeng clapped his hands.

“Go, quickly.” Uncle Li walked over. “If you stay here, you’ll affect your Uncle Chen’s performance.”

“Not at all, not at all,” Uncle Chen said.

“Then I’ll…” Ding Ji stopped at once, turning his head.

“Go,” Uncle Chen said.



The open “chess place” on the street didn’t just have Go. There were six sets of stone tables and chairs, and there were at least two overlapping chessboards drawn on every table. The neighborhood committee had even rather considerately placed quite a few land battle chess, Chinese checkers, and airplane chess games in the nearby grocery story. But there were usually more uncles playing Chinese chess, Go coming in second. Even though it was often shockingly time-consuming, it could still create an illusion of elegance, so a lot of people played it.

His grandmother’s house wasn’t far from here. Combined with the blooming mini-park nearby, featuring green areas and a small plaza, it was a spot where skaters, freerunners, bikers, and street dancers could get together and show off. Since elementary school, Ding Ji had liked hanging around here. When he was on break, when he was cutting classes, and when he left his house, he would basically come here first.

“Didn’t you go back to your parents’ house last week?” Liu Jinpeng asked as he walked. “Why did you come back? You couldn’t even last ten days this time?”

“Mm.” Ding Ji nodded. “I couldn’t get used to it.”

“What do you mean you couldn’t get used to it?” Liu Jinpeng asked. “It’s always this line. You just couldn’t get used to them looking after you, right?”

“It’s always this line and yet you always ask.” Ding Ji eyed him. “It’s not that I couldn’t get used to them looking after me. My grandpa looks after me. If I’m not well-behaved he’ll clobber me, too.”

“Right.” Liu Jinpeng looked into the distance and rapidly started to recall the past, but withdrew from his memories just as rapidly. He had probably remembered the painful experience of how Grandpa Ding’s hand would slip while he was hitting Ding Ji and sort both of them out together. He nodded emphatically. “Right, he clobbers you pretty hard.”



“Is your cold better?” Ding Ji asked. “If it’s not, I happened to bring nasal spray over from there. You can take a bottle.”

“Sure,” Liu Jinpeng said. After speaking, he froze. “Did I tell you about my cold?”

“You didn’t need to,” Ding Ji answered.

Liu Jinpeng looked at him for a while before asking: “Then how did you predict…ah, no, you said you didn’t predict it, so how did you guess it?”

Ding Ji looked at him too, taciturn.

“Oh.” When all was said and done, Liu Jinpeng had grown up with him and he reacted quickly, wiping his nose. “Is it because my nose is raw from blowing it and it hasn’t healed yet…eh? It’s healed!”

Ding Ji lifted the corner of his mouth and didn’t pay him any more attention, spreading his arms and stretching: “Go go go. My grandma made dumplings today.”

“Explain it to me! Explain it to me, won’t you!” Liu Jinpeng wouldn’t give up. Even after Ding Ji persisted in not answering him, he still kept harping on, trying to analyze it himself. “How did you tell? I didn’t bring any napkins today, either, and my voice isn’t nasally…what other clues are there…”



Ding Ji’s decent mood was wrecked by his father’s car parked downstairs.

Although it wasn’t completely wrecked, it still had a pretty big effect. It was probably because he was approaching his college entrance exam, and his father hadn’t even given him three days this time before he came after him.

“You’re back—” his grandmother shouted from the kitchen when he pushed the door open.

“I’m back—” Ding Ji answered.

“Pengpeng came too?” his grandmother shouted again.

“Hi Grandma—” Liu Jinpeng answered.

“Dad.” Ding Ji saw his father currently flipping through a book on the sofa.

“Mm.” His dad glanced at him and lifted the book in his hand, shaking it. “Are you reading this?”

“No,” Ding Ji subconsciously denied.

His father was holding a palmistry book in his hand. He had bought it for three yuan at a second-hand book stand in first grade to make up for a deficiency in his grandmother’s scams, since she couldn’t read palms. He had kept it all these years and would flip through it in his spare time.

“I brought it over yesterday,” Liu Jinpeng took over quickly, saving Ding Ji from a disaster. “I wanted Grandma to clear up some confusion for me.”

“Grandma doesn’t read people’s palms.” His father looked at him: “You’re interested in these things?”

“You’re never too old to learn,” Liu Jinpeng said.

His father chuckled rather expressionlessly and didn’t speak again. Ding Ji couldn’t find any words to say, either, so he went into the kitchen.

His grandfather hadn’t gotten back from his stroll. His aunt was watering his grandmother’s flowers on the balcony, and his grandmother was in the kitchen. The living room was practically an awkward prison.



“If you’d told me your dad was here,” Liu Jinpeng whispered, squeezing into the kitchen with him, “I wouldn’t have come.”

“I didn’t know he came.” Ding Ji helped his grandmother scoop up the rinsed vegetables and place them in a basket, asking, “When did he arrive? What’s he here for?”

“To take you back,” his grandmother said. “You didn’t tell me you snuck out, either.”

“I’m already this old,” Ding Ji said. “They didn’t care when I was in elementary school, but now that I can almost get married, they suddenly started caring.”

“That’s a little unfair,” Liu Jinpeng said. “They started caring when you still had a few years before you could get married. It’s just that they never really succeeded.”

Ding Ji didn’t answer, leaning against the wall behind him: “Cut the crap and start helping. Can you care a little about your work?”

“Fuck.” Liu Jinpeng eyed him.

“Chop up the filling.” Holding a kitchen knife, his grandmother stuck it into the cutting board, the blade buried half an inch deep.

Liu Jinpeng pried the knife out and started busying himself.

“I’m definitely not going back with him tonight.” Ding Ji didn’t know if he was talking to himself, his grandmother, or Liu Jinpeng. “Don’t try to persuade me, I’m going to live here no matter what. I need a breath of fresh air.”

“Mm.” Liu Jinpeng nodded.

“When we’re done eating, I’m going to leave,” Ding Ji said. “Pengpeng, be quick and keep up.”

“Will do.” Liu Jinpeng raised a hand and made an OK sign behind him.



Lin Wuyu didn’t tell anyone about being harassed in his friend requests, but his roommates still found out.

It was just that they held it in for two days before speaking up.

“Should we figure out what to do?” Chen Mang asked. “If you didn’t mention it, we shouldn’t have asked, but it’s been two or three days, right? It hasn’t stopped, either. They’re probably getting a kick out of finding a new way to harass people.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Lin Wuyu kept eating.

“You should tell Lao Lin,” Liu Ziyi said. “He’ll definitely be able to take care of it. This is too detrimental to your state of mind. How are you going to study?”

“It’s not detrimental.” Lin Wuyu drank some soup. The dining hall food was a little salty today.

“Then are you just going to tolerate it?” Luo Chuan knit his brows.

“This isn’t tolerating it.” Lin Wuyu thought for a moment. “Let’s put it this way. These people aren’t worth me spending a single brain cell over. I don’t have any time to waste on them.”

Chen Mang looked at him: “That makes sense. They only want to disgust you.”

“I’ll just give them an appearance and let them think I lost.” Lin Wuyu put his chopsticks down, wiped his mouth, grabbed his plate and stood up.

“Eating so quickly is bad for your stomach,” Liu Ziyi couldn’t help but lecture him. “Where are you going?”

“Taking a walk,” Chen Mang and Lin Wuyu answered together.



Lin Wuyu didn’t really like sitting properly in front of a desk to study. It put too much pressure on him. He liked wandering around everywhere, strolling here and there, finding a random place to stare into space next to a sports field, street, or fountain square, mind reviewing content.

Relatively unknown environments without any familiar faces gave him more peace of mind, like the whole world belonged to him alone.

I remember things at a glance. I am a wise leader. [5] I am the most powerful mountain bandit in the world.



Today he had walked pretty far. He had come to this little plaza two times before. It was very busy at night and actually wasn’t too suited for studying, but he didn’t really want to study today anyway.

He just wanted to see what life was like at the bottom of the mountain.

The teens in the distance were skateboarding on the railings. When they crashed down they would glide for another two meters. There were people making basketball trick shots under the backboard below the light, the iron chains hanging on the hoop clanking as they were smashed into. Twenty meters away, there were a few girls holding guitars and singing…

How lively.

There was even a jianghu scammer behind him.



“Help me take a look, just say a few lines or whatever. Left is for males and right is for females, right? Then you’ll be reading my left hand?”

As well as an idiot begging to be scammed.

“Just,” the jianghu scammer was probably even unwilling to scam this kind of person, “can you stop saying that line whenever you see me?”

“You’ve never given me a reading before,” the idiot said. “The two of us have known each other for four or five years, even though we’re not that close…”

“Forget about today, he’s not in a good mood.” The other voice was presumably the scammer’s assistant. “Later.”

Of course not. It was too sudden. The scam master probably wouldn’t be able to look up facts about the idiot, so of course today wouldn’t work.

However.

“Okay.” The scammer tsked: “Go buy me a bottle of water.”

Lin Wuyu’s interest rose at once, concentrating on the movements behind him.



The idiot quickly returned with the water he’d bought: “How do you predict it?”

“Hands,” the scammer said.

A few minutes later, he said, “You have an older brother or sister, right?”

“Right.” The idiot was pleasantly surprised. “Accurate.”

“In late elementary school or middle school, you came down with a serious illness or something else big happened, right?” the scammer asked again.

“Holy…fuck!” The idiot’s voice raised at once. “I got into a car accident in seventh grade! I’ve definitely never told anyone about this before! You can tell these things? How did you tell?”

“I guessed,” the scammer said.

Lin Wuyu couldn’t help but turn his head and glance behind him.

If this was real, it would indeed be very mystical.



There were three people sitting on the steps behind him. The one in the middle was probably the scammer. The one on the right currently had his left hand stretched out in front of him.

The scammer was pretty young, around his age.

But when he raised his head and looked over, Lin Wuyu raised an eyebrow.

…This wasn’t Xu Tianbo’s long-lost brother, right.



The scammer was sucking on a lollipop. After staring at each other for a few seconds and finding that Lin Wuyu had no intentions of turning back, his tongue wrapped around the lollipop stick and aimed it at Lin Wuyu.

“What are you looking at?” He raised his chin.


Footnotes:

[1] Jianghu (江湖) literally means “rivers and lakes,” but it more closely means the world in which wuxia tales play out, a section of society with cultivators, martial artists, merchants etc. operating independently of mainstream society, out of reach of the law.

[2] Five-in-a-row, also known as gomoku, is a strategy board game. You win by being the first to get five stones in a row. 

[3] Go is another strategy board game, in which the goal is to surround more territory than the opponent.

[4] A hutong (胡同) is a type of narrow street or alley commonly associated with northern Chinese cities, often with rich cultural histories.  

[5] The term used here is 尧舜禹汤, referring to Emperor Yao, Emperor Shun, Yu the Great and Tang of Shang, four renowned leaders in Ancient China.