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In the car, Zhou Luoyang shifted in his seat and rummaged behind the sun shield, as well as everywhere else within his line of sight. The inside of Du Jing’s car was spartan—he didn’t even have a little plush hanging in it. It didn’t seem to be Du Jing’s own car. Or perhaps Yu Jianqiang had provided it to him?
Yu Jianqiang was gay. Had he taken a bit of a liking to Du Jing? But going off of that blind date, he surmised that Du Jing probably wasn’t that real estate executive’s type.
How had he gotten this job? Zhou Luoyang genuinely couldn’t imagine Du Jing as an assistant. Zhou Luoyang had always had the impression that he might have a different job. But what? He couldn’t quite say, either. Du Jing was someone who couldn’t be tied down, and Zhou Luoyang always had the feeling that there would come a day when he would leave his reinforced concrete prison and return to his own world.
As for what that world was like, Zhou Luoyang wasn’t quite sure himself.
He could still remember that it had taken a very, very long time for him and Du Jing to grow close. Maybe it was because the medicine that Du Jing took had piqued his interest, or maybe he’d thought his roommate seemed very lonely—whatever the case, he’d more or less ended up with a sort of savior complex and the desire to worm his way into his heart.
One autumn five years ago, military training came to an end, and they returned to their dorm, where Zhou Luoyang, shirtless, suggested to Du Jing that maybe it was time to give their dorm a deep clean.
Du Jing had no objections. He simply nodded and stood up, headphones in. Zhou Luoyang said, “Why don’t you go get a bucket of water?”
Du Jing went off to fetch water. Zhou Luoyang had been very torn since returning to the dorm. On one hand, he wanted to become friends with Du Jing, to chat with him, otherwise the lifeless atmosphere in their room would feel kind of awkward. On the other hand, he kept telling himself that, rationally, everyone needed to respect each other, and he couldn’t just force being friends with someone.
Du Jing was tall. Whatever Zhou Luoyang asked him to do, he would do, and so he stood there and began to wipe down the fan. Zhou Luoyang took the opportunity to take a look at what Du Jing had brought with him to school—there were very few items: an e-reader, a Macbook, and three pairs of pricy basketball shoes.
“Want me to help hang up the clothes?” Zhou Luoyang asked, looking up.
Du Jing glanced at Zhou Luoyang and nodded.
So Zhou Luoyang, in an upstanding and honorable manner, opened Du Jing’s wardrobe. Inside were two sets of casual wear, as well as several sets of sportswear in a messy heap.
“I have this one too,” Zhou Luoyang said, looking at one of the T-shirts.
When Du Jing heard that, he nodded, still silent.
Zhou Luoyang fished out a bluetooth speaker and asked, “What are you listening to? Wanna listen together?”
“Pick whatever you listen to normally,” Du Jing finally spoke.
“I wanna listen to yours.” Zhou Luoyang held onto the bluetooth speaker and went over to connect it to Du Jing’s computer. He was a bit surprised upon hearing the first couple seconds of the song.
“Stan,” Zhou Luoyang said.
“You like it too?” Du Jing was surprised as well.
“I like the chorus,” Zhou Luoyang said, smiling. He had a feeling that perhaps he’d found an opportunity for conversation.
Du Jing finished wiping the fan and hopped off his chair. He said, “The first time I heard one of his songs, I was sitting in my mother and step-father’s wedding car. It was hot that day, and the master of ceremonies was this fat man. They were playing a vinyl record to test the onsite sound system. I went to ask whose song it was and they told me it was Eminem.”
Zhou Luoyang was at a loss for words.
Zhou Luoyang never imagined that a singer could make Du Jing so talkative, and he could only nod.
Du Jing watched him in the reflection in the window and said, “The flowers bloomed beautifully that day, bouquets of red roses. But the heat was sweltering. I was six that year and my mother forced me to wear a suit; I hated it. The dress shirt collar was too tight and I thought that I was suffocating…”
“Yes…yes.” Zhou Luoyang suddenly felt as if he couldn’t keep up with the pace of his thoughts. “It was probably custom made.”
“You’re right,” Du Jing said. “After she broke it off with my father, my mother married a very rich Spanish man who worked in the wine industry in Madrid. He had two sort of stupid sons—I think it’s because both their parents did too much marijuana. Although they always looked at me like I was the one who was mentally impaired.”
“Do I seem mentally impaired to you?” Du Jing asked.
Zhou Luoyang chuckled and Du Jing started rambling on again. “How is your English?”
“It’s…alright.” Zhou Luoyang wasn’t sure what he was trying to get at.
“Do you speak Spanish?” Du Jing asked.
“Spanish is easy to learn, much easier than French. While I was living in their home, I picked it up very quickly, but I pretended not to understand. It was pretty amusing to listen to them talk about me at dinner.”
Zhou Luoyang finally found an opportunity to speak. “So that’s why you decided to come study back home?”
“Not entirely. There was also something else.” Du Jing thought for a second. “I wanted to study math and science, but they wanted me to do law, finance, or politics. It didn’t suit my personality.”
Zhou Luoyang said, “You…Shouldn’t you rinse out the rag?”
Du Jing had been using the same side of the cloth for a while, and by now the surface was dark and grimy. It was quite obvious that he never did any chores. Du Jing paused to think and then nodded. Zhou Luoyang began to laugh but Du Jing didn’t join him, only watching Zhou Luoyang in the reflection in the glass.
“Can I borrow a book?” Du Jing eyed Zhou Luoyang’s bookshelf.
“Of course,” Zhou Luoyang agreed without hesitation. “Which one?”
He took out a copy of Duras’s The Lover and passed it to him. Du Jing took it from his hands, flipping through the pages.
“Let’s go eat.” Zhou Luoyang surveyed the newly cleaned room with satisfaction. “Do you want to go out for a bit? We’ll be on holiday soon anyway. I think we should go and buy a new washer.”
After military training ended, independence day was right around the corner and they would have a long time to get to know each other.
“Are you heading home?” Zhou Luoyang asked.
“No. Aren’t you forgetting something?”
Zhou Luoyang was stumped for a second and scanned the room. “Really? What?”
The cold expression from before seemed to reappear on Du Jing’s face. He opened the dresser, changed, and then motioned for them to leave.
Zhou Luoyang asked, “Did I forget something?”
“No,” Du Jing said. “Where to? Let’s go.”
Suddenly, Zhou Luoyang became conscious of something—did Du Jing have some kind of mental disorder? After he asked him if he was forgetting something, he suddenly turned quiet.
It didn’t seem right to say that he had become shy from coming outside and being in a crowd. The change had happened while they were still inside, before they’d even decided where they were going.
Nonetheless, Du Jing became quiet. He barely spoke a word the entire evening. Zhou Luoyang tried to start a conversation while they were eating. “Should we go outside the schoolyard?”
Du Jing only nodded numbly and spent the rest of the time detached, staring out the tall windows of the restaurant.
Outside of the schoolyard was a botanical garden, and after one passed through the botanical gardens, one would arrive in front of the expansive West Lake. Since it was nearing independence day, tourists had already started to congregate.
Zhou Luoyang said, “Is this your first time in Hangzhou?”
Zhou Luoyang said, “It’s my first time as well. I…”
Initially, Zhou Luoyang wanted to inquire about his hometown. But it was evident that he didn’t want to talk, and so he didn’t ask anything else. The two shared the silence.
After the meal ended, Du Jing took out his credit card to pay and finally spoke. “I’ll get it.”
Zhou Luoyang wasn’t short on money, but he was beginning to understand Du Jing’s temper, so he didn’t fight over the bill.
“Sure,” he agreed plainly.
After Du Jing paid for their meal, Zhou Luoyang continued shopping, the two walking one behind the other, occasionally stopping to look at a window display. They continued until Zhou Luoyang walked into the Apple store and Du Jing finally said, “You want to buy something?”
“Didn’t I say that we would go buy you a new phone?” Zhou Luoyang said. “Yours is too far beyond repair.”
In that instant, he felt the tension in Du Jing’s breath suddenly dissipate.
“You remembered,” Du Jing said.
Zhou Luoyang felt quite strange. Not knowing whether he wanted to cry or laugh, he said, “Of course. Isn’t it awful living without a phone? What do you think about the newest model?”
Zhou Luoyang’s phone was new, while Du Jing’s was from about a year ago. He stood in front of the table and let Du Jing hold the phone as his finger glided back and forth on the screen. “Your hand is large enough for the Max to fit perfectly. How about this one?”
Du Jing’s fingers were long and slender, knuckles clearly defined. His hands were quite pretty.
Du Jing nodded without hesitation and bought it.
“I want to get a new phone card,” Du Jing spoke again. “Are there any mobile plans that don’t require an ID?”
Zhou Luoyang laughed. “Are you a foreign spy?”
As Du Jing stepped out of the store, his chattiness returned, and he said, “I don’t want my step-father to have my phone number. He’s too annoying.”
Zhou Luoyang thought for a moment and said, “You can register for a new number with my ID.”
And so that night, Du Jing used Zhou Luoyang’s ID card to set up a phone number no one knew. He saved the first person to his contacts: Luoyang.
But after returning to their dorm, Du Jing sat at his desk and looked at his phone, deep in thought. His brows were furrowed slightly, as if he was bothered by something.
“What’s wrong?” Zhou Luoyang asked.
“I want to register for a new Apple ID,” Du Jing said, “but I need to get a VPN first in order to create a new email.”
“You can use mine for now,” Zhou Luoyang said. He wrote down his own Apple ID on a slip of paper and handed it to Du Jing.
And so Du Jing registered for a new WeChat ID.
Back then, Zhou Luoyang hadn’t yet known what that action signified. A very long time later, when he thought back on the past, he would finally realize that that night must have marked the start of a new life for Du Jing.
In the parking lot, Du Jing opened the car door and got inside. Zhou Luoyang was huddled in the passenger seat in a sports jacket. He turned to look at him. The corner of Du Jing’s mouth was still a little swollen from Zhou Luoyang’s punch earlier.
Du Jing handed Zhou Luoyang a cup of coffee.
“You’d better explain. Clearly,” Zhou Luoyang said coldly.
Du Jing loosened his shirt collar. “Too tight. It’s almost hard to breathe.”
As he spoke, he pulled out his pill box and dumped out a couple white and a couple red tablets. Without even looking, he tossed them in his mouth and washed them down with the coffee.
“How much sleep did you get last night?” Zhou Luoyang asked.
“None,” Du Jing replied.
“And you’re still drinking coffee?!” Zhou Luoyang exclaimed. “Are you trying to die?”
“It’s just one sip.”
Zhou Luoyang asked, “Is this Yu Jianqiang’s company?”
Du Jing typed a message on his phone and showed it to Zhou Luoyang: We’re being monitored in here.
Zhou Luoyang could only quit his questioning. Instead, he said, “Find somewhere to sleep for a little bit. Has the insomnia gotten any better these past few years?”
“No,” Du Jing said. “It’s worse than before.”
“You’re taking more pills than before, too.”
Du Jing glanced at his phone. He knew Zhou Luoyang didn’t look through his stuff; he never looked through his stuff when he wasn’t there. He was the same now as he was before—when he wanted to look through his stuff, he would do it in front of him.
Likewise, Du Jing was very open and didn’t really have anything to hide—at least, not from Zhou Luoyang, given their relationship.
“Your family didn’t leave you any cash?” Du Jing asked.
“No,” Zhou Luoyang responded. “They were pretty heavily in debt. Grandpa left everything behind to me, and so I inherited the debts too. Everything of value was split between my aunt and uncle long before he passed. There’s only junk left in the storehouse we’re going to.”
Du Jing asked, “What about your dad? Not in the picture?”
“He died,” Zhou Luoyang answered. “He got into a car accident on the way to Haneda Airport at the end of the year before last. Leyao’s partial paralysis was a result of the accident.”
“Sorry,” Du Jing said, “I initially wanted to say you’ve changed quite a bit.”
“It’s okay. You’re bound to change at least a little bit after going through so much,” Zhou Luoyang said easily. “Regardless of what happens, you’ve still got to keep going. People come and go. Of all the living things of this world, not a single one ever pauses. All living things move forward, like a continuously flowing stream.”
“Heraclitus,” said Du Jing.
The car came to a stop at Drum Tower Street. They were in Wan City’s historic district. It was incredibly difficult to make a U-turn in the Audi outside the narrow alley of bungalows—the car was like a shark that had swam into a large cluster of tangled kelp. And to the side of the road, people kept ringing the bells of their old-fashioned bikes. Ring, ring, they went, and peered into the car, curious about Du Jing and the scar on his face.
By now, Du Jing no longer really minded other people’s staring. Whenever people looked at the scar on his face, he would candidly let them look. There was an arrogance to the indifferent expression on his handsome face.
Zhou Luoyang took out his keys and pushed at a dilapidated wooden door. It swung open with a creak.
This tiny bungalow was all that his grandpa had had to his name and was said to have been passed down from their ancestors. It sat at 73 Drum Tower Street and had been unoccupied for forty years now. Ten years ago, it started being used to store the junk items from the antique store that could neither be repaired nor sold off.
The bungalow was about sixty square meters big. From the ceiling hung an electric light. Zhou Luoyang closed the door and pulled the string attached to the light. Dim light washed over the room, and they could see cabinets and trunks covering the floor. Countless old books and papers—and several moth-eaten paintings—were piled up on a shelf leaning against the wall. In one corner, there was a spring bed, which was covered in a thin blanket. A dust-covered thangka hung on the wall.
Du Jing walked to the back door. It was sealed with cement. The windows were boarded up, and the autumn sunlight spilled through the tiny gaps between the wooden boards. The floating dust was like beams of light shining in from an ancient society through rifts in time.
“This is it.” Zhou Luoyang stood in the middle of the house. He thought for a moment, then said, “It’s not worth anything.”
“You’ve had it appraised?” Du Jing walked up to an old-fashioned desk and pulled open the drawer. Inside were several strapless watch faces sitting on top of a twenty-year-old issue of Reference News.
Zhou Luoyang said, “I appraised it myself. I’ve handled antiques since I was little, so I have a good grasp on it. The only thing worth money is this building. Probably five, six million. But I’d have to wait to be compensated for its demolition, and the chances of demolition are very low…”
As a historical site, Drum Tower Street was a protected area. Behind it was a large lake, and the street to the side of the lake had already been transformed into a business street packed full of shops that sold milk tea or local specialties and handiwork. It was just like all the other historic towns across the country. But if you walked three or four hundred meters in, you would run into alleys of decrepit homes that no one was interested in. They couldn’t be rented out, nor did the government dare tear them down.
“…Plus, this belonged to my ancestors,” Zhou Luoyang said, “so I don’t want to sell it, either.”
Du Jing picked up one of the watch faces and studied it carefully under the sunlight that trickled in.
This watch was very peculiar. It didn’t have an hour, minute, or second hand. The round watch face had only three metal squares stacked on top of each other, each rotated thirty degrees more than the last. When they overlapped, they formed a thin, twelve-pointed shape. The inner ring was marked with the twelve hours of the day. The middle ring was marked with the days corresponding to the lunar cycle.
The outermost ring was marked according to the ten-thousand-year calendar.
Du Jing raised up the watch face and studied it for a while. He was undoubtedly drawn to its complex mechanisms.
“How do you tell the time?” Du Jing asked.
“On the corner of one of the squares, there’s a teardrop-shaped sapphire,” Zhou Luoyang said. “You can only see it under the light. The sapphire points to the time marking. It’s Swiss craftsmanship. I tried to fix it, but it doesn’t really work.”
Du Jing said, “This is my first time seeing a watch like this. Beautiful.”
Zhou Luoyang said, “There’s no name or batch number, so it’s probably limited edition. It’s quite old now. Take it if you like it. Or would you like a different one? There’s a Daytona, want it?”
Zhou Luoyang opened up a small safe in the corner, which contained two watches. He tossed one to Du Jing for him to try on.
Du Jing slipped it on his wrist. He shook his head and gave it back to Zhou Luoyang.
“Would you know how to repair a safe?” Du Jing suddenly asked as he sat on the bed, trying to adjust the strange watch.
Zhou Luoyang was puzzled, and after a moment, he said, “I would need the model diagram.”
Du Jing took another look at Zhou Luoyang’s security safe—it reminded him of the one in Yu Jianqiang’s office, and he offhandedly pointed at it. Zhou Luoyang got up to poke through some things and Du Jing said, “It’s an old-fashioned Kubny, made in 1973.”
Zhou Luoyang’s safe was also manufactured by Kubny and had a wheel combination lock, but the safe was from a different batch and had a slightly modified design.
“From 1973?” Zhou Luoyang said. “Maybe if I saw it in person. What do you want to do?”
Zhou Luoyang looked at Du Jing uncertainly, his mind full of suspicions.
Du Jing shook his head. “It’s nothing.”
Zhou Luoyang said, “I think I might still have the instruction manual.”
A few decades ago, Russian-made safes had been in high demand. The manual contained directions for how to reset the safe in case of a forgotten password, only the process was quite complicated. Zhou Luoyang found a yellowing manual, and although the batch number was different, the principle was similar.
“What in the world are you trying to do?” Zhou Luoyang asked doubtfully.
“I’m tired,” Du Jing suddenly said.
“Sleep for a bit.” Zhou Luoyang guided Du Jing towards the mattress. Without taking off his loafers, Du Jing laid down and then scooted over a bit, leaving an empty space. Zhou Luoyang laid down next to him on the bed and began flipping through the pages of the instruction manual.
Du Jing was still looking at the watch in his hand. “What time is it?”
“Ten.” Zhou Luoyang flipped through the manual, glancing at Du Jing. “Don’t waste your time; it’s totally broken beyond repair. Just keep it as a souvenir.”
Du Jing adjusted the watch face and it clicked softly, but the gears caught when he tried to set the date. The watch felt brittle, and he was afraid it would break if he used too much force.
The date on the watch face was set to yesterday: September seventh.
It was the day they finally met again, three years after their separation.
There was a faint mechanical click. Du Jing wasn’t sure what he had unwittingly changed, but the watch began ticking again for the first time in several years.
“I fixed it.” Du Jing showed it to Zhou Luoyang. “What’s my prize?
Zhou Luoyang: “……”
“All you did was take out the needle and then put it back in place—again and again!” Zhou Luoyang cried, flabbergasted.
Zhou Luoyang glanced at Du Jing and thought that he looked almost childlike as he stubbornly fiddled with the watch. He took it from his hands and said, “Stop messing around and get some rest.”
“Wake me up in two hours,” Du Jing said. “Let’s grab lunch together.”
Du Jing shifted onto his side slightly and closed his eyes, a tired expression washing over his features.
Zhou Luoyang covered both of them with a blanket and continued studying the safe’s instruction manual. Some of it was printed in Russian and his head started to pound from reading, so he tossed the book beneath the bed and succumbed to sleep.
Du Jing opened his eyes and felt for the vibrating phone in the pocket of his trousers. He picked up the call and held the phone up against his ear.
“Jing ge,” the voice of a young man said from the other end, “where are you?”
Du Jing got up carefully, slightly irritated and groggy from being woken up.
“Talk,” he said in a deep voice.
The other person lowered his voice. “Yu Jianqiang is dead. In the middle of the night yesterday, he jumped off a building at the construction site! Didn’t you see the news? The story came out half an hour ago!”
Du Jing’s expression instantly changed, and he grabbed his blazer and left.
Meanwhile, Zhou Luoyang was still in deep sleep.
Once Du Jing had circled into a narrow alley, he switched to bluetooth headphones. The young man continued through the headphones, “Where were you last night? Do you have an alibi?”
Du Jing didn’t answer. The voice inside the headphones quickly added, “The police are looking everywhere right now; all of Yu’s assistants are being taken in to help with the investigation. Find a place to hide out for a bit. Don’t get…”
As Du Jing neared the end of the alley, towards the place his car was parked, he discovered two officers were there, snapping pictures of his license plate. He stopped abruptly and veered back.
Just as Du Jing was about to turn into the business district, three officers approached him, one from the front and two from behind.
“Sir, please come along with us.” Their leader flashed his badge in front of him.
Du Jing raised his arms up, his blazer still in hand. The officers removed his earbuds and briefly patted him down. They didn’t handcuff him and brought him into the patrol car.
Back inside the storehouse, the watch that Du Jing had fixed lay next to Zhou Luoyang’s pillow. The blue teardrop pointed toward the Roman numeral twelve.
The three metal plates rotated, tracing a twelve hour path, and returned to their original positions. The hour hand, minute hand, and second hand were lined up perfectly on top of each other, and the watch made a very, very soft noise. Like the gentle ticking of smooth clockwork, or the quiet flow of a steady stream.
The sapphire stopped at noon.
An alarm sounded from Zhou Luoyang’s phone, flashing the reminder: 6:00PM, business dinner with Yu Jianqiang.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Cat.