In five-year-old Yaoyuan’s memory, the first time he met seven-year-old Tan Ruikang was at Grandma’s house in the countryside.
That child was like a dark, skinny monkey, filthy with two dusty marks on his face. He was looking down at Yaoyuan from where he clung to a wall, as if he wanted to say something but didn’t know what.
It was the first time in Yaoyuan’s life he’d seen somebody this dark and dirty and skinny, just looking at his sleeve alone there was god-knows-what sticking to it.
“Are you Yaoyuan?” The dirty little monkey scratched his neck, and said, “I’m your second cousin, come on, I’ll take you to play.”
Yaoyuan took half a step back, not knowing what kind of relative a “second cousin” was. He’d been at Grandma’s house for three days, seen a huge gaggle of relatives, and everyone seemed to be related. First, second, third cousins once, twice, three times removed… everyone was enthusiastic to a point where he was afraid.
There was movement from within the house, and the dirty little monkey hurried off the wall and took off in a scamper.
“Tan Ruikang!” Grandpa shouted like a clap of thunder, shooting off after him into the yard with big steps. The skinny monkey escaped neatly, looked to dart into an alley, was seized by Grandpa in one big stride, and got dragged back by the ear.
Like a comical clown, Tan Ruikang continued to struggle in Grandpa’s plier-like grip the whole way back. Grandpa hit him a couple times with his walking stick and said, “Where’s your dad?”
Tan Ruikang said, “He went to the work site.”
Grandpa said, “What about your homework?!”
Tan Ruikang patted his school bag, and Grandpa replied: “Go do your homework inside! After you finish, go play with your brother!”
Yaoyuan was cleaned up extremely well, with delicate features and pale skin like a porcelain doll. Even after going inside, Tan Ruikang would steal glances at him from time to time.
Tan Ruikang was looking at Yaoyuan, but Yaoyuan was looking at his school bag—he’d seen that school bag just last year, it used to belong to him. When he first started kindergarten his mom had bought him a school bag, and after two months they had gotten a new one and the old bag had disappeared. How did it get here?
Grandpa used to be in the army and was tall and built with a righteous air. Sitting in the living room with his presbyopic glasses, he read the mail while Tan Ruikang did his homework under his watch. Yaoyuan walked a few circles in the yard before running in and diving into Grandpa’s arms.
“Okay, okay, okay.” Grandpa reached out to put his arms around Yaoyuan. All the grandchildren were scared of him, only Yaoyuan received special attention. Grandpa always said, Yaoyuan looked like his mother when she was younger.
Yaoyuan said, “Grandpa, I want to go home…”
Grandpa said, “In a couple days your dad will come and take you home. Wait for your second cousin to finish his homework, let him take you out to play.”
Grandpa had an old person smell, the smell of smoke mixed with soap. His large hands were cool and his palms dry, comfortable to the touch. He bounced Yaoyuan on his knee. Sitting on his thigh with his arms around his neck, Yaoyuan fell asleep in Grandpa’s arms.
After he woke up Grandma took out some chocolate for him to eat and brought some hot water to wipe his face. Tan Ruikang stared at the chocolate. Yaoyuan never ate this chocolate at home, he disliked the alcoholic flavour in the heart of the chocolate. But Grandpa really liked sweets, especially liquor chocolates.
Yaoyuan nibbled off the chocolate on the outside, then figured he was about to reach the liquor centre and passed it off to Tan Ruikang.
“Your didi gave it to you so eat it.” Grandpa got up and said, “Take didi to go play. Don’t pick on him, hear that?!”
Tan Ruikang nodded his head immediately. Grandpa used a towel to wipe off the just-awakened Yaoyuan’s hands and face, the force slightly painful.
Tan Ruikang put away his homework booklet and came to take his hand. Thinking he was dirty, Yaoyuan refused, so Tan Ruikang just said: “Oh, let’s go, let’s go pick some fruit to eat.”
So a large figure and a small figure went out the yard one behind the other.
Yaoyuan spent three months in the countryside, and due to his young age at the time he could no longer remember a lot of it. Although once he was older these memory fragments would flash by in his dreams, they all tended to be blurry.
The melons in the ground, the tea under the parasol tree, the river snails in the gutter, the frog croaks during the rice harvest; he didn’t know what that period of time he spent with Tan Ruikang by his side signified. And what a child older than himself by two years heard about him from the adults.
Of these childhood memories that have gradually turned to fragments, the only thing Yaoyuan couldn’t help but think about from time to time was that scene of Tan Ruikang clinging to the wall like a dark little monkey, looking at him.
The author has something to say:
This story isn’t a fairytale, it’s a little angsty in the middle. There are forks in the road of life, there’s hurt, and there’s melodrama.
The story starts as a fresh and clean schoolyard story. Grassroots gong, Chuunibyou shou.
Writing the decade of mutual reliance and growth of the gong and shou, from 1998 to 2008.
From the Reforms and Openness to the financial recession, entering the WTO, winning the Olympic bid, 9/11, SARS, Stock Market 6000, rise of the housing market, changes in views of marriage and values… those young and inexperienced days! Drifting in the wind.
Eh, it got literary. There’s a happy ending.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Kapsoura.