I’m going to try to find that hawthorn popsicle when I’m in China.
Jian Bianlin’s perspective, including his side of the story for a very important piece of the past.
Chapter 8.6 — Your Smile that is Even More Enchanting (6)
Back then, their primary school was near their homes. The children who attended the school were all from nearby communities. She and Jian Bianlin would go to school together and, after school, would return home together.
In the beginning, he had found this annoying. At that age, who wanted to always be hanging out with a girl? After all, they were all boys who were rowdy and active. Later, he became accustomed to bringing a constant shadow that tagged along after him.
When Chu Jian talked to him, he would be vexed; when Chu Jian talked to other people, he would be even more vexed.
Once they started attending middle school, they were not in the same class.
They began to not go home from school together anymore. Later, Chu Jian’s mom mentioned subtly to him that there was a student from another school who liked to always hang around Chu Jian, and she told Jian Bianlin to wait for Chu Jian to go to and from school. Jian Bianlin had agreed to this.
When did things start to become different?
In his impression, the most clear and definitive dividing line was one time during physical education class.
Class No. 9’s class period had been switched around. The teachers had arranged that, together with his class, Class No. 1, they would be preparing for the tests in the 800-metre and 1000-metre runs. When she finished running, Chu Jian’s entire face was bathed in sweat. Secretly, she bought a hawthorn popsicle and hid herself away in a corner of the sports field to eat it. Jian Bianlin had just finished running the 1000-metre when he walked past her, the sleeves of his school uniform rolled up high. And then, he doubled back.
He had wanted to say that she sure wasn’t scared of getting sick from eating stuff like that after she had just finished running and while her whole body was still sweaty.
Reaching out her hand, Chu Jian grabbed his wrist and tugged him over. With a snap, she broke her hawthorn popsicle in two, then lowered her head to examine the two halves. Shrewdly, she compared which was larger and which was smaller before stuffing to him the upper half that she had taken a few licks from. “You’re not allowed to mind that I ate some of it.”
He could feel the alternating sensations of the heat of his hot palm and the cold of that item, and they seemed to brand his skin.
Perspiration still on her temples, Chu Jian warily guarded herself against him. “Don’t even think about trying to fight me for it. I bought it, so of course you’re going to eat the smaller piece.”
That type of torn expression in her eyes that declared, “I didn’t want to share any with you, but I had to take into consideration all our years of friendship and give you some to eat,” was particularly adorable.
After that, he began deliberately creating opportunities for the two of them to be together, to the point that when their two families were having dinner together, in order to be able to personally ladle out her rice for her in the kitchen, he would even silently jump in and take the task of setting the table and bringing the dishes of food over.
One afternoon, she was watching television in his home, hugging a throw pillow and leaning sideways against the sofa. He sat down close beside her, his fingers squeezing the beverage can in his hand until it was dented in.
Secretly, he heaved a deep breath. He wanted to do something. When he called her name, his voice was so soft and tender it seemed like it was tinged with moisture. “Chu Jian.”
She was incessantly surfing channels. Feeling terribly drowsy, she laid herself down sideways, and her head just happened to land on his thigh. “I can’t take it, Jian Bianlin. I’m going to sleep for a bit. If you’ve really got nothing to do, you can help me do my math homework…”
She was completely oblivious to what he could see beneath her neckline from this angle.
He did not move, worried that he would disturb her.
Not daring to take any extra glances, he turned his eyes away and fixed them on the television. On the screen, the Golden-Horned King was cackling and mocking Sun Wukong, but actually, it felt as if the Golden-Horned King was mocking him… Not looking did not mean that the image of what he had seen was not in his head. Jumbled thoughts and ideas swept rapidly through his mind.
Back then, he had not yet been exposed to anything that had to do with the adult world of sex and love.
He had merely wanted to draw near to her, to be close to her. So unfamiliar. He wanted to get close to everything about Chu Jian. Sometimes, when he awakened in the middle of the night, he would recall the curiously unfamiliar and bizarre physical contact that had occurred in his dreams. He would think about her lips, her face, and her body, but at the same time, he would feel that those types of thoughts were too sordid and contemptible.
Until everything was taken and put back to square one again.
That evening, in that dated stairwell with inadequate lighting, while locking up their bicycles and holding both their schoolbags, he heard her say that she did not like him. He could not describe what he had felt. That night, he had worked on practice problems late into the night, several times suppressing the urge to go across the hall to find her. Roughly half a month later, for some crazy reason, he suddenly went outside at past two in the morning and sat downstairs of their building, staring up at her bedroom window and remaining there for the rest of the night. By chance, snow—a rare sight—came down that night. The outcome was that he got a fever. He made up a lie, saying that he had stayed all night at an internet café. After reprimanding him severely, his dad wrote up an absence request slip and had him bring it over to her home.
There was still anger suppressed inside of him, but when he saw her yawning and shuffling out from her room with her slippers on, staring confusedly at him with bleary eyes, his heart softened, and he simply instructed her that it was snowing and the roads were slippery so she should not bike to school by herself…
Later on, he himself began to avoid her.
During their third year of middle school, their two families went on an outing together. On the ferry, it was as if he had been possessed by something. His entire year of avoiding her basically became for naught. A slight sway of the ferry, the congested, noisy surroundings all urged him to lower his head and kiss her.
That day, after arriving at their destination, he really did go to an internet café, and there he gamed with some people he did not know. He did not often play video games, but he caught on quickly. After tarrying there until several hours had passed, he went online and, as if prodded by an invisible force, searched up on certain things. The curious and bizarre images in his dreams more than a year ago became real pictures on his screen. This type of topic was discussed to varying degrees amongst boys, and after hearing about it many times, he basically knew almost all of what it entailed. However, to suddenly be staring right at it was a whole other thing, with thighs and arms covering the entire screen. He shut it down, then opened up the other window again to carry on playing his games.
He was scared that if he looked at too much of that stuff, the scenes in his dreams would become even more real and tangible. And they would all be filled with her—that would be even more unbearable for him.
Afterward, he all of a sudden sprouted upward from his once 1.7-plus metre height, such that when they were just entering high school, his now more-than-1.8-metre, slender frame became a magnet for attention in the school.
At the time, even more of their peers had coupled up. He would often hear people mention “Chu Jian in Class No. 9, Chu Jian in Class No. 9,” to the point that he felt irritable and testy from hearing this. He was suited for the high school workload, and his soaring grades allowed him to temporarily put her to the bottom of his heart.
During the Lunar New Year’s celebrations of their second year of high school, Chu Jian’s dad, after having some drinks, for the first time made the joke that Jian Bianlin should work hard and then just marry Chu Jian in the future. After all, Chu Jian’s grades were not good. Jian Bianlin was listening wordlessly, the adults were all laughing, and Chu Jian was watching the Spring Festival Gala, not paying attention to what was happening over here. Or perhaps it could be said, she was deliberately ignoring what was happening over here.
Slowly, he sipped at the baijiu [traditional Chinese alcoholic drink], consuming quite a fair amount.
In his heart, he said yes to Chu Jian’s dad—immediately and readily said yes.
That winter of their senior year of high school, it also snowed. He thought, what a coincidence. In middle school, when he had been overcome with dismay, he had sat downstairs, covered in fallen snow. Could it be that this snowfall tonight was a good omen?
Alas, there was no good omen but rather, a wake-up call.
From the very beginning, he had been fooling himself, telling himself that Chu Jian still did not know that he liked her, or maybe she was just feeling a little moody and that was why things were tense between them. He simply needed to coax and pacify her and then things would be fine. But in the blink of an eye, she had become someone else’s girlfriend. Those few days had been spent as if drunken or in a dream. Three days later, he forced himself to pluck up his spirits, and he went to find that boy. Approaching this without much thought, he drew in a breath and, in that time after school when the flow of people was at a peak, obstructed that boy near the bicycle storage area, asking him, “Will you be able to treat her well for all your life? Are you able to marry her? If you can’t, then don’t you touch her—not even one finger.”
As a seventeen, eighteen-year-old boy himself, he understood his own gender in this age group too well. They wanted to try out everything, and their bodies were calling out to be close, to be intimate. He was afraid that Chu Jian would end up on the losing end and suffer somehow. He could not even bear the thought that she might be taken advantage of.
He had no right or position to do so, but he was still forcing someone’s boyfried to agree to such a thing.
Any man who had even the slightest bit of gall would break out into a clash of words with this, but not many would dare come to physical blows. Jian Bianlin did not want to fight, either, until the other party stated something that was the absolute truth: “Why do I need to give an account to you of what I do? We’re just in our senior year of high school. You’re talking to me about marriage? Jian Bianlin, are you mental?”
He drew the firm conclusion in his mind that the other party wanted to take advantage of Chu Jian and then not take responsibility for it. And so, his punch flew out.
The other party grew heated as well and began to retaliate. Jian Bianlin had the advantage of height and he also frequently played basketball, so he gained the upper hand, giving the boy quite a serious pounding. Fights are commonplace for boys of that age, and both were caught up in a moment of hot-headedness. Having no previous experience and also not bothering to concern themselves with the setting, they began throwing blows at each other there in that place that anyone who was on their way to or from school would pass, openly flouting the school rules and regulations. They were utterly asking for trouble with this.
That day, Chu Jian had rushed over and dumped the bucket of cold water on him. That dump of water had also completely woken him back to his senses.
He knew he had made a huge mistake, and he wished with all his might that he could beat himself to death.
When they graduated from high school and he heard that she had received the university acceptance letter to go to Hainan, he, having been accepted into a school in Beijing, did not feel any of the joy and liberation that comes after completing one’s college entrance exams. On his windowsill, he sat for entire nights, staring blankly.
Jian Bianlin’s tall figure walked by Chu Jian and headed into the bathroom, where he twisted on the faucet, cupped a palmful of cool water, and splashed it on his face. After he had finished washing his face, he pulled out a new toothbrush and began to squeeze toothpaste onto it.
Simply glancing at the side view of him as he bent over to wash his face was enough to stir something in Chu Jian and make her feel lightheaded…
Tong Fei sent another WeChat message:
I just don’t get it. Why did you never take a fancy to him before?
Chu Jian was silent for a moment before sending back three words:
I was blind.
Concerned that the towel, which had not been used for more than ten days, was not clean, he stepped out of the bathroom, yanked out some tissues, and patted away some of the water that was on his face and hands. He saw Chu Jian, her cheeks rosy, holding her phone in front of her with both hands, but he did not know what she was thinking.
Bending at the waist, he lowered himself into a half-crouch in front of her. “I’m waiting.”
Chu Jian: “Huh? Waiting for what?”
Jian Bianlin: “For you to say who I am.”
Chu Jian: “Jian Bianlin, are you even a celebrity? Can you not wish for something that’s a little grander or nobler?”
Jian Bianlin: “……”
Jian Bianlin’s face was so close it was within reach. She reckoned that she would not be able to get out of this, so after dawdling bashfully for a long time, she dragged a throw pillow over from the sofa, buried her face in it, and slowly eked out one word: “Hubby.”
Jian Bianlin made a low sound in response. Still not sated, he told her, “Say it one more time.”
… The throw pillow slammed fiercely into his shoulder. “Let’s go eat!”
中国中央电视台春节联欢晚会, The Chinese Central Television Spring Festival Gala (or New Year’s Gala) is the yearly special New Year’s program shown on Lunar New Year’s Eve. Its viewership is in the hundreds of millions.
白酒 “bai jiu.” Baijiu literally means “white alcohol.” This traditional Chinese alcoholic beverage is technically classified as a spirit and is made from sorghum and other grains. Those who did not grow up exposed to baijiu will often, on their first taste of it, describe it with adjectives such as “strong,” “fiery,” “harsh,” “biting,” etc. It has a high alcohol by volume (ABV), typically in the range of 40-60%.