Zhao Guogang hasn’t returned yet, but Yaoyuan was already thinking of excuses to get rid of this guy, or maybe he should figure out how long he was staying for or whether he’ll be touching his stuff… and so on and so forth. Yaoyuan guessed that he was probably here to look for work because he had run out of money for school after middle school. This was very common back in the old village—people coming to a migrant city like this one to earn a living.
He hoped the worst case scenario wouldn't happen, Yaoyuan could almost imagine this Tan Ruikang guy staying at home with nothing to do, eating and living here for free for months on end.
He decided to figure out his intentions.
Yaoyuan’s home was renovated very nicely, they had a pomelo wood flooring that was rare to see even in Shenzhen at that time, Tan Ruikang was a bit at a loss when he entered. He took off his shoes, the socks on his feet had two holes at the toe. He sat down on the couch, and said: “Is uncle not back yet?”
“My dad had something to do this morning, he’ll be back later.” Yaoyuan mimicked the way Zhao Guogang usually acted, boiling a kettle, washing the cups, making tea, all in succession while the water boiled.
“You…” Tan Ruikang pointed to his own head: “Go dry it off first, don’t catch a cold.”
“It’s fine.” Yaoyuan’s half-wet hair clung to his forehead. He’s trying to receive this guest with all his heart and sense of duty, but couldn’t find anything to say. He thought for a bit, and said: “Is everything good back in the village?”
Tan Ruikang rubbed his hands and muttered: “Eldest Grandpa died, you didn’t go back that year, he was still calling your name before he passed.”
Yaoyuan thought of his Grandpa, lots of things from his youth are hazy now, but Grandpa’s army photo and the old person smell he had remained extremely clear for some reason.
Yaoyuan and Tan Ruikang are more than three degrees apart in terms of relation, they’re not really close but not too distant either. Yaoyuan’s grandfather had three siblings, Grandpa was the eldest while Tan Ruikang’s grandfather was the second oldest.
Tan Ruikang’s grandfather died in the Chinese Civil War, leaving behind an only son. Yaoyuan’s grandpa took that son and raised him like his own. Yaoyuan’s first cousin once removed was also in the army when he was young, but his wife ran off with someone else, so Tan Ruikang was once again left behind as an only son.
Descendants were scarce in the family, three generations of sole children.
Yaoyuan said: “What about your dad, is he good?”
In the last couple of years, Yaoyuan only knew about bits and pieces of his father’s phone calls with his mom’s side of the family. Tan Ruikang’s father worked on a construction site, they lived pretty terribly.
He’d always suspected that Dad had given the village a lot of financial assistance. Zhao Guogang’s money was essentially also his money, he shouldn’t be randomly giving it away to relatives. He tried to bring it up a few times, but he was yelled at for it… so instead he took his anger out on his relatives, and baselessly created a lot of hostility.
“He went.” Tan Ruikang said: “He left two months ago.”
Yaoyuan nodded, he couldn’t process it right away and said: “Where did he go again?”
Tan Ruikang said: “Passed away.”
Tan Ruikang said: “His lungs… it wasn’t good for him to breathe in so much dust over long periods of time.”
Yaoyuan said: “Why didn’t he treat it?”
Tan Ruikang said: “When we found out he was already coughing blood, it couldn’t be treated.”
Yaoyuan said: “Why not… why not send him over here to get treatment?”
Tan Ruikang smiled, and didn’t say anymore, a gentle look flickering in his deep eyes.
Yaoyuan sighed, and said: “It was like that with my mom too, but I was too young then, I only understood it later.”
Tan Ruikang’s eyes were red, he said: “It’s all in the past, people should look forward.”
“Yeah.” Yaoyuan didn’t really care, it’s been so many years the scars have more or less healed. He didn’t dislike Tan Ruikang as much anymore, seeing as he was also someone who nobody wanted… Yaoyuan wanted to say something to him, but suddenly felt uncomfortable with how Tan Ruikang looked sitting on his couch—just like a dirty, sticky piece of gum, one that’s been chewed on.
The doorbell rang, Yaoyuan’s father was home.
Tan Ruikang got up to greet him in a hurry, Zhao Guogang had a briefcase under his elbow, he gave a slight nod as a greeting.
“What time did you arrive?” Zhao Guogang glanced at Yaoyuan, saw that his hair was still wet, and said: “Xiao Yuan, go take a shower and get changed, be careful not to catch a cold.”
Yaoyuan couldn’t wait to get away from entertaining the guest. As he went to shower he could still vaguely hear Tan Ruikang and his dad talking in the living room. Tan Ruikang wasn’t very talkative, he replied once for every question Zhao Guogang asked him, as if he didn’t want to say too much in case he said something wrong. After Yaoyuan came out of the shower, he asked: “Do you need to go buy a toothbrush and underwear?”
“I brought some.” Tan Ruikang said.
Yaoyuan nodded, and knowing that Tan Ruikang was staying over at least for tonight, he went to clean up a guest room—up until now, Yaoyuan hadn’t realized anything was wrong, he just treated Tan Ruikang like a guest who came to look for work.
Zhao Guogang also didn’t like to have guests staying over, most of the time guests would only chat for a bit before he would arrange for them to go stay at a hotel paid for by his company. It was only after Tan Ruikang put away his things and left to shower that Zhao Guogang told his son, and Yaoyuan was immediately dumbfounded.
“What?!!” Yaoyuan looked at Zhao Guogang as if he was hearing a joke.
Zhao Guogang repeated himself one more time.
Yaoyuan said: “He’s going to stay here until when?! Wait! Explain it clearly.”
Zhao Guogang said: “He will stay until both of you are able to be independent, until you leave for university.”
Yaoyuan: “How is that okay! Why didn’t you discuss this with me beforehand! No!”
Zhao Guogang: “It was decided yesterday, Dad thought you would be happy.”
Yaoyuan suddenly exploded, he shouted at Zhao Guogang: “Happy my ass! There isn’t a place for him at home! Why does he have to come to our house, what right does he have to live in our house?”
Zhao Guogang said: “Yaoyuan! His dad is your first cousin once removed! He’s already passed! Your mom and his dad were like siblings, and his grades are very good, because of his dad’s illness he dropped out after middle school to take care of him for a year. Your grandma sent him here to go to school, Ruikang is a good child, he’ll be with us for at least three years, you’ll have to live together.”
“Uncle.” Tan Ruikang said from the outside.
Fortunately the soundproofing was good in this house, Yaoyuan was still a little afraid of consequences, not for the sake of others’ feelings but for his own image. But in the moment he was finding it extremely difficult to accept the reality that there was about to be one extra person in their household.
What right does he have? Eating his dad’s and using his dad’s, living here for three years?! Three years didn’t seem very long, but it definitely wasn’t short either.
Zhao Guogang went out to teach Tan Ruikang how to use the water heater, then came back in and closed the door. Yaoyuan was still filled with rage, he asked Zhao Guogang: “Why didn’t you discuss a decision as big as this with me beforehand?!”
Zhao Guogang said: “When you went to your grandpa’s house as a kid, Ruikang stayed with you for the whole summer. When your first cousin once removed brought you to the car, you were still crying for your second cousin to come with you. You cried the whole way back, have you forgotten?”
Yaoyuan was both angry and embarrassed: “Who remembers something so trivial!”
Zhao Guogang sighed, and patted Yaoyuan’s shoulder. His eyes were a little red, Yaoyuan knew he was thinking about his mom.
“Wait! This isn’t over!” Yaoyuan said.
“What do you want to do?” Zhao Guogang asked in return.
Zhao Guogang’s face was gloomy, this matter is non-negotiable. Yaoyuan’s face was also dark, the pair of father and son had the exact same expressions. A voice sounded from the outside, Zhao Guogang hurried to get up and said: “Ruikang, this is your room from now on. Wear Xiao Yuan’s clothes and underwear for now, I’ll take you out to buy more tomorrow since school is almost starting.”
Tan Ruikang was brought into the guest room, Yaoyuan wanted to say something but didn’t have the guts. It was almost like he was dreaming, there was a new stranger in his house just like that.
Zhao Guogang told the two of them something like “get along,” the majority of which was obviously directed at Yaoyuan, Yaoyuan knew what his old man’s personality was like—you can throw a fit all you want in private, but you absolutely cannot lose his face in front of outsiders. He could only nod, and go back to his room to play video games.
And so Tan Ruikang settled in just like that. Zhao Guogang made a call outside to a friend who worked in the Education Bureau and asked him for a slip, he wanted to bring Tan Ruikang to the principal’s house tomorrow. Yaoyuan absent-mindedly played his video games while he eavesdropped, trying to theorize which school Tan Ruikang would go to.
Yizhong and Sanzhong are impossible for him, foreign language or experimental schools… In his dreams. When compared to a migrant city like this one, the quality of education in the countryside would at most be equal to a normal high school. For normal high schools, the acceptance rate for key programs at universities was a mere 3-5%. Yaoyuan’s school was a key high school where the top class at the middle school could go directly to its high school division; each grade had about 300 students and close to 95% of them get accepted within the first three rounds of university admissions.
Yaoyuan put a lot of effort into getting in to middle school, not only did he get a tutor and ask the Education Bureau for a slip, he also had to pay 30 thousand yuan of school selection fees to be able to get into the top class.
Luckily Yaoyuan was a determined person, he’d been prideful and eager to prove himself since he was young and was rather clever, so he wasn’t left behind during the first two years of middle school. In fact, he was able to get into the top 10 of his grade. Although he often played around and never looked like he studied on the surface, he always spent a lot of painstaking effort revising at home.
Yaoyuan’s game had GAME OVERed multiple times, so he closed the computer and took out the books he had bought that afternoon. He lied stomach-down on the bed and flipped through Jimmy Liao's picture book, ears still trained on listening to the outside. He heard Zhao Guogang tell Tan Ruikang to study at home for a couple days, then take an exam… Zhao Guogang was in the middle of speaking when the phone rang.
The bedroom door opened, Yaoyuan said, annoyed: “Can you knock!”
Zhao Guogang sat by the bed and asked: “Baobao, what are you looking at?”
Yaoyuan flushed. Zhao Guogang hadn’t used his pet name in a long time, and the memories of his mother was much blurrier. Zhao Guogang’s “baobao” was used just right, it made the anger in his belly die down.
“Can you respect others’ rights to privacy? Dad!” Yaoyuan was like a hedgehog.
“What others’ rights to privacy?” Zhao Guogang said: “Others? Even when you’re eighty you’re still my son. Jimmy Liao’s book?”
Yaoyuan closed the book, the book was When the Moon Forgot. Jimmy Liao was popular right now, his picture books were everywhere. Zhao Guogang flipped through it, not understanding the hype, and Yaoyuan said: “What school is that guy going to?”
Zhao Guogang’s face darkened, and said: “Call him gege, how can you speak like this?”
Yaoyuan’s expression was indifferent, Zhao Guogang said: “It depends on his exam score, Dad is going out tonight, you take your Ruikang-ge out to eat dinner, buy some things from the supermarket on your way. Go hang the clothes.”
“Oh—” Yaoyuan said: “Drink less.”
Zhao Guogang ruffled his hair, then got up and left.
Yaoyuan flipped through the picture book, then went out and saw Tan Ruikang putting away his things in his room. That room used to be for a domestic worker, it was so narrow it could only fit a bed and a desk. Yaoyuan’s family had hired a few nannies before, but when he was young the nanny wasn’t very responsible, eating and using things without telling and stealing Yaoyuan’s snacks to give to her own son. The one after that would pinch Yaoyuan. Changing from this one to the next, the nannies were like a paper horse carousel lantern, coming and going. Some were too lazy, some were too dumb, when Yaoyuan got to the second year of middle school he complained that he was annoyed there was an extra stranger at home, so Zhao Guogang stopped hiring them. The pair of father and son took turns doing chores, and when it came to spring cleaning they hired an hourly worker to help out in passing, that’s it.
“My dad went out.” Yaoyuan walked through the hallway to the bathroom and opened the washing machine, the clothes had finished washing.
Tan Ruikang said something in the other room, Yaoyuan couldn’t hear properly, so didn’t respond. He took out the clothes and found that there were bits of paper and ash stuck to them, and thought thank god! A guest had come today, he’d forgotten to hide his cigarettes, he was this close to getting caught by Zhao Guogang.
He would definitely get beaten to death for secretly smoking, Yaoyuan shook off the paper bits in a flurry. Tan Ruikang’s voice suddenly sounded from behind, saying: “Xiao Yuan.”
Yaoyuan jumped, his expression a little stiff, only Zhao Guogang called him “Xiao Yuan,” he said: “Call me Yaoyuan, I’m not a kid anymore.”
Tan Ruikang nodded, and said: “Let me do it.”
Yaoyuan immediately replied: “Go back, don’t snatch!”
Tan Ruikang also felt a little awkward, the two of them both insisted on hanging up the clothes, fighting back and forth for it. Yaoyuan was a little angry, he thought that this person was really annoying, but Tan Ruikang then noticed the paper bits, and said: “You smoke too? Does uncle know?”
The word “too” revealed a lot of information, Yaoyuan let out a breath, but still didn’t trust him completely, and said: “It’s my… my dad’s.”
Then soon realized that’s not right, there were only two people’s clothes in the washing machine, Zhao Guogang isn’t involved.
Yaoyuan said: “It’s mine, don’t tell my dad.”
Tan Ruikang immediately said: “I smoke too, I won’t tell, I definitely won’t tell.”
Yaoyuan shook the ash and paper bits into the bathtub and washed it away, then went to the balcony to hang up the clothes. Tan Ruikang followed him, Yaoyuan was a bit out of his mind, why does he keep following me?!
Tan Ruikang’s face was a little red, he said: “Let… me do it, you go rest.”
Yaoyuan ignored him, hung up the clothes, then found that there was a hole in the butt of Tan Ruikang’s underwear. It was a baggy green athletic underwear in a style from decades ago, and he didn’t manage to hold in his laughter.
Tan Ruikang’s expression was extremely awkward, Yaoyuan hung up all the clothes, acted like nothing had happened and headed back to his room to read, then suddenly remembered something and told Tan Ruikang: “My dad has a dinner meeting tonight, are you hungry? I’m taking you out for dinner.”
Tan Ruikang quickly replied he wasn’t hungry, so Yaoyuan went back to his room to look at picture books and wait for dinner. He was still a little absent-minded, thinking about how Tan Ruikang was older by two years and dropped out for a year, so which school will he end up at—most likely a vocational high school, his dad often said you won’t starve in the trades.
Yaoyuan had a lot of sympathy for this second cousin from the country in his heart. He turned back his head and said: “Tan Ruikang.”
“What?” Tan Ruikang replied from the room across.
Yaoyuan sat backwards on the chair and looked across the hall; he saw him organizing the raggedy textbooks he brought from the countryside.
“Can I borrow your reference books, Xiao Yuan?” Tan Ruikang asked.
“Call me Yaoyuan.” Yaoyuan was getting a little too lazy to correct him, and pointed offhandedly to the bed. Tan Ruikang came over to look at his reference books, and Yaoyuan got up to show him some textbooks.
Yaoyuan’s books and pencil bag both had very fine designs, his school bag was also brand name. For a guy to use such fine stationery, he thought Tan Ruikang would praise him for his taste. But it turned out he didn’t notice at all and only said: “The English book is different.”
“Yeah, it’s Coastal Edition.” Yaoyuan said: “You guys probably use the People’s Edition.”
Tan Ruikang seriously looked through it for a bit, and said: “Do you guys test for listening?”
Yaoyuan said: “Of course, we use scantrons on the zhongkao.”
He took out an exam paper and the scantron for Tan Ruikang to see, this time Tan Ruikang was moved.
“Your English is so good!” Tan Ruikang said: “Twenty-three points on the essay?”
Yaoyuan smiled humbly, and asked: “Which school is my dad sending you to?”
Tan Ruikang said: “He didn’t say, he’s afraid I won’t be able to keep up with the pace here, I might have to repeat a grade.”
Yaoyuan nodded in sympathy and said: “It’s okay, when I first came I also had to study very laboriously, everyone at my school was study-crazy.”
6 PM, Yaoyuan got up and said: “Let me take you out to have some fun, you…”
He noticed Tan Ruikang’s clothes. To bring him out like this was a little… Yaoyuan found a pair of his own jeans and a white shirt and gave them to Tan Ruikang to change into.
This action truly was a little… but Yaoyuan was coming from a good place and had no bad intentions, he just wanted him to get used to the city quicker. After all, if he dressed too unsophisticatedly on the streets, it felt a little like he was getting rejected by his surroundings. Yaoyuan used to care a lot about this, there was still a little self-deprecation of unknown origin in his bones.
He looked at a freshly changed Tan Ruikang and realized he had a good figure, past the messy migrant worker haircut. If he got a more stylish haircut, added an earring on his ear and a ring on his hand, he might be pretty presentable.
“Let’s go.” Yaoyuan took Tan Ruikang downstairs, the rain had stopped, Tan Ruikang still wore that pair of dirty Warriors, looking rather out of place.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Kapsoura.