Though we all wish it was true, did you really expect that her father’s visit really was merely for a visit? The psychological burden of having such a father is so great.
Chapter 18.3 – What Life Looks Like (3)
Instinctively, she clutched at his shirt. Gu Pingsheng seemed to deduce something, and his hand that was resting on her waist gently patted her.
“Yan Yan.” Grandmother had not spoken, and it was her father who first opened his mouth. His hands were carrying two large, orange bags. “Dad remembered that you love to eat mandarin oranges, so I specially went and bought a few pounds of them for you.”
Her mother was known for being a beautiful woman, but in contrast, her father seemed very old. As he spoke, he pulled off his cotton hat. He had not even reached the age of fifty yet but already more than half of his hair had turned gray.
“Perfect. We can serve these to guests who come during the New Year’s celebration period.” Smiling, Grandmother took the orange plastic bags and headed toward the kitchen. “Today is Friday. You can stay here for the day, and when Little Gu gets home from work, we can have a nice meal together.”
This entire time, Tong Yan had been leaning against the side of the cabinet beside the chalkboard with a rather dazed expression, uncertain how to cope with this meeting that had come about so abruptly. Gu Pingsheng had never seen her parents before, nor had he ever asked her about them. She had always hoped to wait until one day when the opportunity arose, and then she would tell him everything.
She had not expected that this ordinary morning would catch her completely off guard.
Her father opened the shoe cabinet and carefully bent over, looking about inside and trying to find a pair of slippers that was meant for guests to wear. As he gazed at those dress shoes and sneakers that were neatly lined up inside, though, he was at a loss, and tentatively standing himself back up straight, he looked toward them with a sheepish smile.
Tong Yan shifted slightly, but she was unwilling to even utter a sound.
In that period of hesitation, Gu Pingsheng had already stridden over with a few steps and pulled open the second compartment of the shoe cabinet. Taking out a brand new pair of slippers, he bent down at the waist and set them beside her father’s feet. “You can wear this pair. The size should be about right.”
“Little Gu, Little Gu, don’t trouble yourself …” her father said hastily and reached to support Gu Pingsheng back up by the arms.
Gu Pingsheng did not see his words so did not answer. When he straightened himself and saw her father looking as if he had just closed his mouth, he immediately smiled, “There are some problems with my hearing for the time being. In the future, if you want to say something to me, just let me see the shape of your lips and that will work.”
Tong Yan walked over as well and instinctively reached for his arm.
“No problem, it’s no problem. Your grandmother told me everything already. It’s no problem.” While repeatedly telling them it was no problem, her father rather flusteredly changed out of his shoes and, in the end, even did not forget to set them on the doormat so as to avoid getting the floors dirty.
Seeing her father looking so uneasy, the icy expression she had been wearing from the outset gradually began to melt. However, since Grandmother fell sick, her father had only ever made a few appearances and had his eyes on the money from the sale of the apartment. These were things that had left a dark imprint on her heart. She watched as he walked over alone to sit down in one corner of the sofa, an almost elderly man who was grasping his hat with both hands, and still did not know how she should break her silence.
Gu Pingsheng cast a glance at the time and hurriedly sat down to have a couple bites of breakfast before grabbing his suit jacket from the bedroom to get ready to head into the office. Tong Yan followed behind him closely into the front entryway where, behind a narrow corner, the two of them were hidden from view.
“Come back earlier.” She looked at him tensely.
With a slight smile, he placed one hand on the stone wall of the front entryway and then, bringing his head down, he wordlessly kissed her. The tip of his tongue still carried the taste of soy milk on it. Her back leaned against the uneven surface of the stone wall, and her hands held onto his waist.
From the kitchen, a noise was suddenly heard, and out of reflex, she shifted her head away and strained her ears to listen.
“Yan Yan, listen to me.” Gu Pingsheng’s voice slid into her ears. When she turned back to him, he had already switched over so that his words were being silently mouthed. “For cancer patients, the most important factor is their emotional state and how good or bad it is. For the health of our elderly grandmother, you need to try to be a little happier today.”
Slowly, she nodded. Taking two of his fingers in her hand, she swung them slightly as she entreated him again, “Come back earlier.”
Gu Pingsheng’s dimple gradually deepened with his smile. “Okay.”
She also smiled. This person before her and the shoulder he offered had long since become the support most worthy of her trust and that she could lean upon.
Watching as he opened the front door, she at last lightly exhaled a breath, turned around, and walked back out of the entryway. But she had not expected that, in the instant right before the door was about to shut, Gu Pingsheng would suddenly lift his voice and call out, “Dad, I’m heading into the office first. I will be back a little earlier tonight and will have a nice dinner together with you.”
Her father, who was sitting on the sofa, stood abruptly and answered toward the direction of the door, “Alright! Walk carefully.”
“Alright now. Little Gu already said that he cannot hear,” Grandmother laughed.
Looking at the genuinely happy smile on the elderly woman’s face, Tong Yan’s heart also softened. “I’m going inside to read. Sit and make yourself at home.”
She spent the entire day lying on her stomach in the bedroom, patiently and unweariedly reading the books for the National Judicial Examination. Page by page, line by line, she went through, reading each word and taking them even more seriously than when she had been actually studying for the examination.
Through the single door, she could faintly hear the activities and sounds outside the room, which generally consisted of Grandmother taking her father to have a look through this new home and slowly and carefully introducing each corner of it to him.
The words that she heard most frequently were “Little Gu.”
During dinner that evening, she could not contain a feeling of dread, as if her heart was in her throat, for fear that something would happen. Fortunately, everything was quiet and uneventful, and by the time they saw her father out, she still could not believe that there truly could be such a family dinner, one that was so warm and comfortable it felt as if it was a dream …
“Actually, when I was in primary school, Dad was still quite good, an especially honest guy. He didn’t like to talk and just loved to work.” She was lying with her belly on the bed, looking into his eyes as she explained, “Later … maybe because he and my mom divorced, he changed. He still didn’t like to talk, but he became obsessed with stock trading and would find every possible means to borrow money to play the stock market. He’s always saying, ‘If I had five million, I’d make all those people who look down on me open their eyes and see me with newfound respect.’”
Gu Pingsheng sat on the carpet, his left hand resting on the edge of the bed, and smiled as he said in an understated tone, “Just those things are not worth you losing a father over.”
Tong Yan’s eyes gleamed as she gazed at him.
Obsession in those things was equivalent to being addicted to gambling, where a person would fall deeply into debt and not even pass up any money within the household that could possibly be used. To have paid no heed to raising and nurturing his own child. To have ignored his duty to support those who relied on him … She had wanted to list these out one by one, but then she remembered that certain person who was his father in name only, that well-known associate chief physician of a nephrology department. That person who, to him, seemed only to be a name. In these thirty long years, he had not even seen that person a handful of times. “Parenting” and “nurturing” should not even be mentioned.
The glow of the wall lamps was very soft. She extended her hand to touch his face, from the bridge of his nose down to his lips until in the end, with a very serious manner, she even poked her index finger into that shallow dimple. “Every time I see you, I especially want to take care of you … But you’re almost ten years older than me. So weird.”
The skin beneath her hand was very smooth and was so beautiful it made people jealous.
Gu Pingsheng’s brows lifted. “What was that you said?”
“Nothing. I’m talking in my sleep.” With a grin, Tong Yan tugged on the down quilt and covered herself with it. “Finally, we get to celebrate the Lunar New Year. So nice … May I go pay New Year’s greetings to your family at their home?”
Full of hope, she gazed into his eyes, the reflection of the wall lamps shining inside them. Only when she heard him say okay did she pull the down quilt over her head, a wordless smile breaking out across her face and an excitement like what she had felt when she was first accepted into university filling her.
After so long, she could at last legitimately go to his [maternal] grandfather’s home.
As the Spring Festival neared, snow unexpectedly fell for a consecutive three days and two nights. Traffic in the entire city of Beijing was nearly paralyzed, and taxicabs were difficult to find. Since the projects Gu Pingsheng was working on were all transnational ones, his work did not lighten at all due to the approaching Spring Festival. In fact, because he was trying to free up his time to go on vacation with her, every day he was working overtime until late into the night.
At the start, Shen Yao had still called to complain to her about Beijing’s frigid weather when it snowed, but she later discovered that during every phone call, Tong Yan’s thoughts were always elsewhere. Gradually, she realized that she was being ignorant about the situation and, with a sigh, lamented that Tong Yan truly had fallen into the mentality of a good little wife, sitting at home every day, yearning for her love’s return …
Tong Yan could not even be bothered to shoot back any replies, and after managing to send Shen Yao away, she arbitrarily picked up a book from beside Gu Pingsheng’s pillow.
Opening it, she saw that written densely all over inside were numerous annotations. Most were scrawled in English, and though she did not really understand, she could ascertain that this must be a reference material he was using as a source for his lectures.
Grandmother opened the door and stepped into the bedroom.
She set down the book. “Why aren’t you sleeping yet?”
Grandmother walked over to the bed and sat down. “Grandmother would like to discuss something with you.” After she finished saying this first part, there was an inexplicable moment of hesitation. Tong Yan faintly felt a bad sense of premonition. Sure enough, the next words that Grandmother opened her mouth to say had to do with money. “The money that came from selling the apartment and that was used to pay for the medical bills, Grandmother wants to use it to pay off all your dad’s debts in one go.”
“No.” Tong Yan abruptly sat up straight, but the pain in her tailbone caused her to turn onto her side. “That money needs to be kept.”
Indeed, she still should not hold out any hope for him.
She pondered out each step, her brain filling in for her how her father had appealed to Grandmother using all kinds of words. In silence, she gripped tightly onto the edge of the down quilt. But when she saw the look on Grandmother’s face, Gu Pingsheng’s words echoed beside her ear. She must not get angry. She must not affect Grandmother’s emotional state.
Continuously persuading herself in this way, she forced herself to control her voice and say, “You are already at such an old age. It’s better to keep some money to support your retirement. If by some chance … something happens to me, then what? Whom can you count on then?”
Grandmother’s voice was calm, but her stance was very firm. “This time, your dad really is sincere. You know it wasn’t easy for that family either. They just wanted to earn some interest and that’s why they lent the money to your dad. But no one had expected that this loan would last seven, eight years and still not be paid back …”
Grandmother rambled on about those things of the past, pulling out those old matters and talking again about them.
Each word spoken was of old, bringing up anew all those facts she had purposely tried to forget.
Eventually, Grandmother even began to say that, in this lifetime, the person she worried most about was not her granddaughter, who was mature and sensible, but her disappointing son. If she, as his mother, died, how would her son possibly survive with all that debt? …
As she reached the end of her words, her tears were streaming relentlessly.
Tong Yan began to sob from merely seeing this, and reaching with her hand, she wiped away at Grandmother’s tears. “I honestly am not saying I won’t provide for him. When he is old and can’t move and doesn’t have the strength to play the stock market anymore, I definitely will provide for him …”
Never had she seen Grandmother weep before her like this. This elderly woman, who had not not cried once regardless of how excruciating chemotherapy had been or how the pain had caused her entire body to be drenched with sweat, was now actually sitting like this in front of her, choked with sobs. In the end, she was crying so hard she began to tremble. She did not know what to say and could only weep.
The door was suddenly pushed opened.
Gu Pingsheng’s head was down, and it was only after he removed his tie from in front of him and lifted his head that he saw the scene inside the bedroom.
He tossed his tie and suit jacket onto the bed, walked over and patted Tong Yan on her shoulder, and then turned to crouch down in front of Grandmother, consoling her in a warm, calming voice. He did not inquire at all for any explanation or reason, only assuring her that nothing was too big an issue and that he and Tong Yan would surely resolve it.
Perhaps because he had once been a doctor, his words always had the ability to bring about trust and to comfort people’s hearts.
After some time, Grandmother let go of her persistence to persuade Tong Yan of anything and merely noiselessly brushed away the tears at the corner of her eyes.
From the bathroom, Gu Pingsheng brought out a towel that had been rinsed in warm water and handed it to the elderly woman. “It is so late already. Go get some rest first. I will talk to Yan Yan.”
“Things are not easy for the both of you … Truly not easy.”
Stating this over and over, Grandmother rose and closed the door behind her for them. The click of the door latch was remarkably distinct.
He sat down close beside Tong Yan. Her head was bowed, and using the edge of the down quilt, she wiped at her tears until her eyes were red and swollen. Still, though, her tears continued to spill down.
At last, Gu Pingsheng sighed, and lowering his head so that his forehead rested against hers, he actually chuckled, “My heart isn’t very good. If you keep crying, I reckon I’m going to have a heart attack right away.”
The more he said words like those, the more Tong Yan’s sobs increased until they choked her throat.
Such was the deplorable state of her family situation. And such was the physical condition of Gu Pingsheng’s body. Though he had spoken in jest, she still could imagine the possibility of him having a heart attack. If she allowed herself to think deeper on this, however, she would also feel great pain in her own heart.
For the first time in her life, she was scared that, because of her, something truly would happen to him.
And also for the first time in her life, she discovered that she perhaps was actually a burden on him — a burden on his already extremely weak and frail body.
He could not hear her crying, but as he watched the ever-increasing tremors that racked her shoulders, he truly felt rather helpless. “Yan Yan?” He pulled her close and held her in his arms. “What’s wrong?”
In his embrace, her tears continued to flow for a long while, and finally, with red eyes, she began to slowly explain the situation to him.
The general idea was merely that, these years, Grandmother had already off and on paid back a lot of debt for her father, but the sum he owed to his biggest creditor was simply too great and she was powerless to help with that amount. Fortunately, that family had someone who was an old co-worker with her father from the factory he had once worked in. During the first two years, the creditor had been rather lenient, but this debt had been owed for seven or eight years already and even the closest of friends would end up falling out. That family had shown up at their home many times. They had still gone to her father’s rented home in the beginning, but after a while, they had simply time and again come to seek out Grandmother instead. Back then, Lu Bei had had an encounter with a vicious-looking husband and wife couple who had come to collect, and without asking for any explanation or reason, he had gotten into a brawl with the man.
Over the years, the Court had mediated the case and old neighbours had talked, and what this all left for her were too many memories that were too painful to recall. She understood the principle that “a father’s debts should be repaid by his son,” and she had originally planned to wait until after she graduated and saved up enough money to pay it off for him. Grandmother’s sickness, though, had unexpectedly caused the situation to become more complicated. Grandmother did not know how much money remained after paying for her medical treatments, and in this matter, Tong Yan had her own personal motive. She wanted to secretly keep the money with Gu Pingsheng to set aside some funds as living expense money for Grandmother in her elderly years. Furthermore, she had to take into consideration the possibility of cancer recurrence in the elderly woman.
1 of 1 Prologue
55 of 66 Main story segments
0 of 3 Epilogue segments