Yaoyuan took him to call for a ride, Tan Ruikang said: “Aren’t there any buses? You call for a ride to school too?”
Yaoyuan sat in the passenger seat, and uneasily said: “I take the bus to school… it’s rush hour right now, I don’t want to crowd onto a bus.”
Tan Ruikang stared at the taxi meter and said: “Taxis are too expensive in big cities.”
The favourable impression Yaoyuan had just begun to develop towards him thoroughly disappeared once again, but he also couldn’t just tell him to let it go. He could only change the subject, saying: “What do you think about the environment here.”
“Very clean.” Tan Ruikang said: “Much cleaner than our village, even the roads here are cleaner than our house, you can practically use it as a bed.”
The taxi driver smiled: “Where’s the little fella from?”
Tan Ruikang said: “Hunan.”
The taxi driver said: “Everyone’s from all over the country, but once you’re here you’re a local, haha, what a migrant city.”
“We’re here.” Yaoyuan got off at the city centre, paying and opening the door for Tan Ruikang. This subconscious action is usually prepared for girls, but he hadn’t been paying attention. When Tan Ruikang stepped off the car, the city lights were just igniting the early evening sky, the flickering neon lights of this new world reflecting in his eyes evoked his wonder and admiration.
This was a new migrant city where the lanterns were red and the wines were green, as he led the way Yaoyuan said: “Across the street is the Stock Exchange Sales Department, a couple years ago the doors were so crowded the glass shattered, apparently someone even died.”
Tan Ruikang was shocked: “Why! What happened?”
Yaoyuan said: “Fighting for stocks.”
Tan Ruikang had a blank expression on his face, Yaoyuan guessed that he probably didn’t even know what stocks were, and said: “It’s to earn money, everyone says that there’s gold everywhere here. Just now we passed an Advanced Vocational and Technical College, we abbreviate that to Advanced Vocational here, that school is pretty good.”
Tan Ruikang followed behind Yaoyuan, Yaoyuan pushed open the glass door and went up to the counter in McDonald’s, turned his head and asked: “What are you eating?”
Tan Ruikang: “.........”
Yaoyuan secretly found it funny. Tan Ruikang was looking up at the display board, Yaoyuan waved a menu at him, and said: “Look here.”
Tan Ruikang looked at it for several more moments. A lot of people were lined up behind them, Yaoyuan was slightly uneasy. Tan Ruikang noticed his behaviour and rushed to say: “I… anything’s fine.”
“Then I’ll order.” Yaoyuan said: “A double cheeseburger, a shogun burger, two orders of black & whites, apple pie and large fries, large coke…”
Yaoyuan recited off the menu in quick-fire succession, then carried the tray over and sat down next to the window.
Tan Ruikang picked up a paper box and looked inside, Yaoyuan smiled and said: “There’s no chopsticks.”
“I know that.” Tan Ruikang laughed a bit at himself, then copied Yaoyuan and started eating. After the first bite his expression became very strange.
There were pickles in it. Yaoyuan asked: “Don’t like it?”
Tan Ruikang rushed to assure him that he did like it, and went to stir his coke. Seeing that there was ice cream in the coke, his expression became even stranger.
The way Tan Ruikang was clearly forcing himself to eat put Yaoyuan himself in a bad mood as he ate his own food. If he had known, he would’ve just dealt with this by taking him to eat some Chinese fast food; he brought this upon himself.
“Here, some ketchup?” Yaoyuan squeezed a bunch of ketchup onto the fries, and Tan Ruikang’s expression was like seeing a ghost. He hurried to wave it off, saying: “I’ll just eat it like this, the taste is pretty good.”
Yaoyuan: “Okay, eat more if you like it…”
Tan Ruikang: “A couple of potato sticks costs eight yuan? That’s so expensive! Eldest Grandma made some before during New Year’s, and there was a whole pot full of fried potato cakes.”
The girls next to them started laughing, turning their heads to look over at them from time to time. Yaoyuan’s expression became ugly. Tan Ruikang stopped talking.
When they were almost done eating, Yaoyuan took a call, leaning against the chair arrogantly, lazily swinging the swivel chair back and forth. After hanging up, he said: “How about I take you to a bar later, introduce you to some friends?”
“A… A bar?” Tan Ruikang said: “I’m good, I’ll just go home and study.”
Yaoyuan could only make another call and tell the others he wasn’t going.
After he hung up, the two were steeped in silence. Tan Ruikang said: “It’s… not good to go to bars, here, ge will give you this.”
He was looking down while digging through his jean pockets. The jeans were tight to begin with, and Yaoyuan was a little smaller than Tan Ruikang, although the pair he chose for Tan Ruikang was already one that Zhao Guogang had bought a size up, it was still very tight on Tan Ruikang’s body.
What’s he going to take out? A regional specialty product?
Yaoyuan expressionlessly watched his actions, Tan Ruikang dug for a long time, finally fishing out a crumpled pack of cigarettes, shaking out a box of matches, the people around them watching curiously.
Yaoyuan immediately got up and said in a low voice: “You can’t smoke here, put it away, go smoke outside…”
Yaoyuan cleaned up the tray, stopping Tan Ruikang from trying to call for a server, throwing away the trash and putting away the tray. 7 PM, the air after the rain was very fresh, under the streetlights Tan Ruikang seemed to want to say something, but Yaoyuan was looking for a snack kiosk. Tan Ruikang said: “Here, didi, Xiao Yuan.”
As soon as the word “didi” left his lips, it was as if some long-neglected chord within Yaoyuan’s heart had suddenly been plucked, making a murky noise for the first time in many, many years.
The two huddled together and lit their smokes. Tan Ruikang’s fingers were beautiful, dark and slender, through the firelight Yaoyuan saw that they were full of calluses.
Yaoyuan took a drag, and the sharp taste of the smoke immediately made him cough until there were tears in his eyes.
“Cough! Cough!” Yaoyuan’s throat was in pain like it was on fire.
Tan Ruikang started laughing, Yaoyuan was half-dying from his coughs; he wanted to throw away the cigarette, or ask how much this pack of cigarettes had costed, but he was afraid of hurting his ego so he could only take a few more drags in pain and say: “Let’s go home, I want to go back to read as well.”
Tan Ruikang said: “Let’s take the bus, I want to familiarize myself with the streets here.”
“You need an IC card.” It was busy at night, Yaoyuan didn’t want to crowd onto a bus, so he came up with a random excuse to mislead him. He opened his wallet and showed Tan Ruikang the bus card, and said: “We’ll get one for you in a few days.”
Tan Ruikang nodded, the two called a taxi home, then Yaoyuan suddenly remembered they had forgotten to buy towels and a toothbrush for Tan Ruikang. He was about to go down again when Tan Ruikang rushed to say: “I brought some, they’re usable.”
Yaoyuan went in the bathroom to take a look. Tan Ruikang’s towels were full of little black spots, and the bristles on the toothbrush were all bushy.
Forget it, they’ll go buy it tomorrow. Yaoyuan said to him this is the shower gel, this is the shampoo, this is the men’s face wash, toner, soap. Tan Ruikang’s expression was lost, nodding again and again. Just as he was talking, Yaoyuan’s phone rang again, urging and pressing him to go to the bar. Yaoyuan was almost as busy as his dad.
Yaoyuan hung up in annoyance, and went back to his room to read—it’ll be fine after a few days, if Tan Ruikang went to school, vocational schools all required lodging. By then they’ll each have their own path and he’ll only be back once or twice a week, just like a guest.
Tan Ruikang was studying English in the room across the hall, Yaoyuan would look up and glance at him from time to time. Tan Ruikang looked extremely clean under the warm lights, the dark skin and flat haircut appeared unrefined, his bare feet up against the pomelo wood floor, his toes bending where they pressed against the floor.
There was a dog downstairs shut up on the balcony, most likely the owner hasn’t returned yet. It was barking non-stop from hunger, the noise agitating Yaoyuan. He opened his bag for his headphones, then looked for a CD.
“Xiao Yuan.” Tan Ruikang said: “Do you remember the dog Eldest Grandpa had?”
“Was there one?” Yaoyuan replied offhandedly: “I forgot.”
Tan Ruikang said: “The year you were five, Eldest Grandpa had a big dog named A-Feng in his yard, he barked non-stop whenever he saw you, it scared you to tears.”
Yaoyuan thought this was so fucking embarrassing, why was he bringing up such ancient history?
He picked up his headphones, about to politely end the conversation when Tan Ruikang said: “A-Feng just liked you. I held you while you rode him, but you wouldn’t stop crying.”
The corner of Yaoyuan’s mouth twitched slightly: “Did I manage to ride him?”
Tan Ruikang laughed: “You rode him for a bit before falling off, both A-Feng and I got beaten for it.”
Looking at Tan Ruikang from the opposite room, Yaoyuan put in one earbud, leaving his left ear empty, and asked: “Is that dog still there?”
Tan Ruikang said: “Not anymore, it died a few years ago.”
Yaoyuan nodded, putting both earbuds in, successfully ending the conversation. Looking down he finished choosing a song, then lay down on the bed to flip through a picture book.
It was raining outside, there was no need for air conditioning, the summer breeze blew the cool mist in with it; flipping and flipping, he fell asleep. In his dreams, there was a swath of green, and it was as if he could hear a buzzing sound.
“Here, this is for you.” The skinny monkey climbed down from the tree.
Five-year-old Xiao Yuan took the cicada from him and asked: “To eat?”
“You can roast it over fire and eat it.” The skinny monkey rushed to say: “Hey, it’s still alive, don’t put it in your mouth.”
Tan Ruikang stuck a stick through two cicadas, holding Xiao Yuan’s hand in one of his own as they walked through the paths between the paddy fields; the scorching sun drenched them both in sweat, the skinny monkey’s sweat turned the dust on his body into streaks. The two found a cool spot in the shade to crouch down, Tan Ruikang took out a box of matches and shook them by Yaoyuan’s ear, then struck one to light a fire and roast the cicadas for Yaoyuan to eat.
At dinner Yaoyuan was too hot and had no appetite. Grandma asked what he ate outside today, Yaoyuan replied cicadas. So Tan Ruikang received a beating.
Sleeping in a daze, Yaoyuan felt somebody taking off his socks for him and didn’t have to open his eyes to know that Zhao Guogang was back.
He flipped over and continued to sleep, taking off his jeans in discomfort and throwing them on the floor. The lights turned off, his headphones came off, the window closed, then the door.
Yaoyuan thought that something was off. Opening his eyes in the dark, he saw Tan Ruikang’s silhouette.
He was really very sleepy, a lot of things happened today, he was too lazy to get up to say something. He didn’t know for how long he continued sleeping before hearing the doorbell ring, then Zhao Guogang’s voice, the sound of a door opening then closing. Zhao Guogang came in to take a look at him, and then went to bed.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Kapsoura.