“Xiao Yuan, your gege really likes you.”
That day Yaoyuan ordered takeout after they got home, and Tan Ruikang let him eat while he went to buy medication. He brought over a little stool and Yaoyuan rushed to say: “Let my dad do it.”
Tan Ruikang smiled: “No worries, sit down.”
“No!” Yaoyuan said: “Let my dad do it.”
“Be good!” Tan Ruikang said.
Yaoyuan refused to yield, he felt that it was embarrassing for Tan Ruikang to apply ointment to his foot for him. But Tan Ruikang was even more stubborn, and said in a raised voice: “If you don’t apply medicine now it’ll become more serious! Do you want to walk tomorrow or not!”
Yaoyuan could only give in obediently. Tan Ruikang sat on the little stool, massaging Huang Dao Yi wood lock oil into Yaoyuan’s foot while he sat on the couch. Yaoyuan felt uneasy all over, and pressed down on the remote to turn on the TV.
“It’s good,” Yaoyuan said.
Tan Ruikang didn’t reply, he had his head lowered as he gently massaged Yaoyuan’s ankle. Yaoyuan could smell the sharp scent of the medicinal oil, the area around his ankle had become warm. Tan Ruikang’s movements were very careful, he said: “Just watch TV, ignore me.”
Yaoyuan turned off the TV, and picked up a book to randomly flip through. He said: “It’s good.”
When Tan Ruikang got up, Yaoyuan felt a little sheepish. Tan Ruikang had his head down examining Yaoyuan’s foot, and said: “It might not be enough, the pharmacy recommended this, but this oil still isn’t as effective as tincture.”
Tan Ruikang was about to sit down again, but Yaoyuan immediately said: “Don’t! This is fine.”
Tan Ruikang said: “We’ll do it again at night, we have to keep massaging it, it’ll be okay as long as we massage it enough.”
Tan Ruikang went to wash his hands. Yaoyuan thought for a bit, and said: “Ge, thank you.”
That “ge” sounded extremely stiff, and the “thank you” was also rather unnatural. Tan Ruikang was washing his hands in the bathroom, and didn’t respond. He probably didn’t hear it.
Yaoyuan fell asleep on the couch, and Tan Ruikang went to eat by himself, not bothering him. Midway, he pulled the picture book out from Yaoyuan’s arms and draped a blanket over him as well. Yaoyuan dazedly slept for a long time. When he heard that Zhao Guogang had come home, Tan Ruikang told him about what happened with Yaoyuan in a quiet voice.
Zhao Guogang took a look, then came over to pick up the sleeping Yaoyuan and carried him to his bedroom—Yaoyuan subconsciously leant into the crook of Zhao Guogang’s arm like a cat, just like when he was little and would fall asleep waiting for his dad to come home while watching TV.
The next day was Sunday so there was no class, and Yaoyuan, looking wan, sat and yawned on the couch. Zhao Guogang went out to get some tincture, then came back to apply it for Yaoyuan himself.
Zhao Guogang’s tincture was very strong and so was the force he used. As soon as he started rubbing it in Yaoyuan started wailing like a ghost, crying: “Ah—”
Zhao Guogang furrowed his brows and looked at Yaoyuan impatiently.
Yaoyuan smiled in embarrassment, Zhao Guogang began rubbing it in again, and Yaoyuan wailed: “Oh my god—”
He could’ve yelled out anything else and it would’ve been fine, but Zhao Guogang couldn’t take it when he yelled out the word “mom”, and said in anger: “Don’t yell!”
Yaoyuan said: “It hurts! It didn’t hurt this much yesterday! You’re so much rougher than Tan Ruikang, be more gentle!”
Tan Ruikang came over to examine Yaoyuan’s foot with Zhao Guogang, it seemed to be even worse than it was yesterday. Tan Ruikang said: “I thought the oil would work, the people from the pharmacy said it was good…”
“It does work.” Zhao Guogang said: “If you didn’t apply the oil yesterday, it would be even more swollen today.”
Yaoyuan said: “You don’t have anything to do with this, go back, go back.”
Zhao Guogang’s expression darkened, and he said: “How can you speak like that to gege?”
Tan Ruikang smiled and said it was nothing, then went to his room to study. Zhao Guogang took Tan Ruikang’s spot and continued to apply the tincture for Yaoyuan. He was much more forceful than Tan Ruikang, Yaoyuan almost died from the pain.
“Xiao Yuan, your gege really likes you.” Zhao Guogang said: “You need to respect him, don’t be unable to differentiate between good and bad.”
“Oh,” Yaoyuan said with a blank expression.
Zhao Guogang knew that whether it was within their home or outsiders, there were just too many people who were good to Yaoyuan. When the sincerity from the people around you was filled to the brim, those that spilled over could only get thrown to the dogs. He also knew that his son probably wouldn’t listen, he could only wait for him to wake up on his own.
“Dad,” Yaoyuan said.
Zhao Guogang: “What?”
“You have a strand of gray hair.” Yaoyuan said: “I’ll help you pull it out.”
Zhao Guogang grunted in agreement without looking up, Yaoyuan plucked the strand of gray hair out, and muttered: “Only thirty-five and you already have gray hairs, I told you to drink less…”
“Dad is almost thirty-nine.” Zhao Guogang said: “I’m pushing forty.”
Yaoyuan said: “Is that right?”
His impression of Zhao Guogang’s age was still stuck in elementary school, he kept thinking that he was only in his early thirties. Unexpectedly, he’d blinked and Zhao Guogang was almost forty.
Yaoyuan was a little upset on the inside, Zhao Guogang finished applying the tincture and said: “No playing ball or exercising for these couple of days, when it comes to bathing…”
“I can do it myself!” Yaoyuan was afraid that Zhao Guogang was going to make Tan Ruikang shower with him again, what kind of joke is that!
Zhao Guogang didn’t insist either, and so the pair of father and son stayed at home and watched TV.
The weather gradually got colder, Yaoyuan’s ankle got better, and the end of the semester was also here. Tan Ruikang got a hundred yuan as his prize money from the Sports Festival, and bought Jimmy Liao’s A Garden in My Heart for Yaoyuan on New Year’s. This time he was finally able to gain Yaoyuan’s favour, he really liked this picture book.
After the end of term exams, Tan Ruikang was ranked fifth in the grade while Yaoyuan was ranked tenth. He’d dropped another three places, but it was still acceptable.
However, Zhao Guogang had been very pleased, neither Tan Ruikang nor Yaoyuan had disappointed him.
Life during the winter break was marked by studying and more studying. As long as Yaoyuan continued to maintain this, he should easily get a direct recommendation to his home high school. Zhao Guogang’s business wasn’t very busy, so he stayed at home to watch TV with the two children over the Lunar New Year.
On New Year’s Eve Zhao Guogang bought a huge porcelain vase, put some peach blossoms in it, and then taped some red pockets on the branches. Now, they had some New Year’s spirit.
This year was livelier than the years before, now there was an extra Tan Ruikang rushing about and helping out, putting up New Year's couplets, their apartment decorated to look the part. Zhao Guogang took the two children out for New Year’s dinner, they had shark fins, sea cucumbers, and all kinds of impressive seafood. Tan Ruikang was enthusiastically eating the shark fin coconut soup, and said: “You guys’ Cantonese food tastes really good, even your cellophane noodles are steamed in coconut, it has a lot of flavour.”
Yaoyuan laughed so hard he almost got whiplash, Tan Ruikang was utterly confused. Zhao Guogang couldn’t help but also laugh, and said: “Don’t listen to Xiao Yuan, this is shark fin. Although it tastes pretty similar, it’s more nutritious than cellophane noodles. When Xiao Yuan first had it he also thought they were cellophane noodles, and kept ordering more.”
Yaoyuan said: “One bowl costs 688 yuan. My dad paid the bill that time so I didn’t know and also thought they were cellophane noodles, and ended up eating five whole bowls.”
Tan Ruikang almost spat out his wine.
They returned home to watch the Spring Festival Gala, and Zhao Guogang began checking his phone from time to time. Yaoyuan started to realize that something was up.
Ni Ping spoke tearfully on the screen, “The Song of the Seven Sons” sang of the Macau handover, and Ren Xianqi was singing “Hey Girl, Look Over Here.”
Tan Ruikang liked this song a lot, and even hummed along to it. Yaoyuan got goosebumps from listening to it, and then noticed that Zhao Guogang was checking his phone again. He finally couldn’t take it anymore and asked: “Is something up?”
Zhao Guogang said: “No, what’s wrong?”
Yaoyuan’s radar was even more advanced than a woman’s, and looked at his dad’s phone suspiciously. He then took it to play some games on it; Zhao Guogang let him do as he pleased while Tan Ruikang looked through Yaoyuan’s picture book on the side.
Twelve o’clock arrived, and immediately the pair of father and son’s cell phones began beeping with texts. At the same time the home phone began ringing nonstop, and Yaoyuan said: “It’s mine!”
Zhao Guogang picked up the phone and handed it to Yaoyuan.
Yaoyuan won, it was Qi Huiyu’s voice on the other side, saying: “Happy New Year—”
Yaoyuan said: “Happy New Year!”
Qi Huiyu: “What are you up to! Let’s go shopping with our red pocket money on the third!”
Yaoyuan automatically overlooked Tan Ruikang’s existence, and said: “Watching TV with my dad…”
After saying this he suddenly realized something, Zhao Guogang was on the phone and smoking on the balcony outside the living room?!
Yaoyuan leaned forward and looked around, and at the same time said absentmindedly: “Uh-huh, yeah, are you coming over tomorrow? Tell the others to come over with their red pocket money, don’t bring Zhang Zhen’s wife, mn… there’s red pockets hanging from the peach blossoms in my house, you can pick one when you come over, there are ones with a hundred and ones with fifty…”
Zhao Guogang was leaning against the railing on the balcony, he shook off the cigarette ashes, and looked down as he talked on the phone. He had an absentminded smile on his face full of the charisma of a mature man.
Yaoyuan’s heart thumped loudly once, and said quietly: “We’ll talk when you come over tomorrow.” And then hung up.
Right after he hung up the phone rang again, Yaoyuan picked up and said: “Happy New Year.” And then hung up the phone with a clack.
The phone kept ranging, Tan Ruikang came over to pick it up, smiled and said: “Hello.”
The call was from one of Yaoyuan’s classmates, everyone knew that his dad was generous, so they all wanted to come and pay a New Year’s call on the first and ask for a red pocket of a hundred or fifty yuan while they’re at it. The other person also knew Tan Ruikang, so they began chatting casually.
Yaoyuan opened the French doors on the balcony with a whoosh, and cold air began pouring in.
Zhao Guogang said: “Okay, that’ll do. Goodbye, Happy New Year.”
“Who is it?” Yaoyuan asked.
Zhao Guogang said: “An old classmate, what’s wrong?”
Yaoyuan was skeptical, and said: “Let me borrow your phone.”
Zhao Guogang handed over his phone, ruffled Yaoyuan’s hair, and said: “Another year older, you need to be more mature, okay?”
The Spring Festival Gala had finished the countdown, Zhao Guogang went back to his room, and Yaoyuan flicked through Zhao Guogang’s texts on his phone. He saw a lot of names that he recognized, with one unfamiliar phone number starting with 136 mixed in them. The content was “Guogang, I miss you, Happy New Year.”
Yaoyuan’s expression became very ugly, there were several moments where he wanted to dial this number. His thumb hovered over the call button, then Tan Ruikang came out and said: “Xiao Yuan? Zhang Zhen is looking for you.”
Yaoyuan half-heartedly picked up the phone, and using the other ear he was able to hear Zhao Guogang say: “A reward for your end of term exams, a red pocket for each of you…”
Tan Ruikang said in alarm: “Uncle! This is too much! I can’t…”
Yaoyuan didn’t spare Zhao Guogang a glance as he took the cell phone box and the red pocket. There was a thousand yuan in the red pocket and a beautiful Panasonic GD series cell phone in the box. Meanwhile, he said into the phone: “Yeah, let’s go shopping for shoes on the third…”
He casually tore open the packaging as he talked on the phone, in the meantime Zhao Guogang was insisting that Tan Ruikang accept the gift, saying: “Take it, it’ll be easier to contact you, remember to mute it during class…”
Yaoyuan’s focus wasn’t on the cell phone at all, he offhandedly put in the SIM card and was about to hand his old phone to Zhao Guogang. But after thinking, he asked: “Can I keep the old one?”
Zhao Guogang nodded, and so Yaoyuan kept the retired Nokia, he wanted to give it to Qi Huiyu to use.
Tan Ruikang liked it so much it was like he couldn’t bear to part with it, but he didn’t have a SIM card, and so could only turn it on and look at it.
Zhao Guogang handed him a SIM card and said: “I bought you a number.”
Tan Ruikang’s eyes were red, repeatedly wiping at his face, and stared at his cell phone.
Do you need to be so dramatic… the corner of Yaoyuan’s mouth twitched, his previous mood immediately disappeared, and Zhao Guogang laughed loudly: “Don’t be so emotional, it’s the holidays. Uncle is telling you now, don’t let the cell phone affect your studies. Xiao Yuan is very smart, he won’t abandon his studies over material temptations. Humans need to enrich themselves with knowledge, money and materialism are just the packaging…”
Tan Ruikang nodded again and again. Yaoyuan hung up the phone, sighed, and went back to his room.
For the rest of the night, Tan Ruikang and his cell phone kept flashing about in front of him. One second he’d come over to ask Yaoyuan how to use this feature, then another second he’d ask him for his number to put in his contacts, then another second he’d come to just sit near him.
Yaoyuan was extremely troubled by the matter with his old man, but he can’t yell at him about it over the New Year’s. Finally, he couldn’t take it anymore and went to lock his bedroom door. Then after a while he went out again to eavesdrop outside Zhao Guogang’s room, trying to see if he’s calling a woman.
He couldn’t help but try to call Zhao Guogang’s phone. A blue light blinked on the coffee table outside, he hadn’t brought it to his room with him.
Yaoyuan went over to take a look, the caller ID read “Baobao.” He continued searching through his dad’s phone, and began fully utilizing his speculative talents—Zhao Guogang had changed it to vibrate mode, meaning he had changed it after Yaoyuan looked through his texts. Did he feel guilty?
Yaoyuan continued searching deeper into his texts.
The text from that unknown number was still there, Zhao Guogang hadn’t deleted it. Maybe it was just an old classmate who’d changed their number.
Yaoyuan checked the call history. There really was an outgoing call to that number.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Kapsoura.