This time, we are given a look into adolescent Lu Chen’s life and what kind of family he comes from.
Chapter 5 — A Person in Aimless Drifting (2)
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One hand? Left hand?
Gui Xiao was competitive. Figuring that her odds of winning were very high, she did not play coy anymore and took the cue from him.
She liked cues that were slightly heavier so there was strength to it when she held it in her hands. The one Lu Chen selected for her was just right.
Lu Chen was not very particular when it came to himself. She reckoned that he truly was planning on going easy on her, for he simply took the cue closest to him. Holding it in his right hand, he pulled the billiard balls out from the pockets with his left and tossed them onto the table. With the sudden development of this little drama, everybody, having sat here for an entire afternoon already but not seen Lu Chen show any indication that he wanted to play, all enthusiastically gathered around.
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The sheer curtain was sucked out the window by the wind, then carried back on the air that blew in, tickling the now-empty seat that he had been sitting on just earlier.
Gui Xiao circled around half the pool table. “I’ll break?”
“Of course,” Hai Dong answered for Lu Chen. “Chen Ge is already giving you such an advantage. Do you really think he’s not going to let you have the break, too?”
Pulling her lower lip in, she bent at the waist, narrowed her eyes, and took aim. Her arm pulled back, then thrust forward. A crack! resonated out. She had a huge run of good luck. Her shot sank three balls.
Those several dropout students behind her clicked their tongues, exclaiming, “Awesome!”
Hai Dong held up a cigarette and stuffed it between Lu Chen’s lips. “You’re going to lose to my little sis-in-law, eh.”
Biting down on that unlit cigarette, Lu Chen ran his right hand over the rail of the pool table and swept a cube of deep-green chalk back with it. He rubbed the chalk against his cue’s tip a couple of times, giving a smirk. “You think that’s possible?”
Sadly, after pocketing on the break, the positions of the remaining balls were not good.
Her second shot did not sink anything.
Once Lu Chen’s turn came, she did not get any more opportunities to take a shot again. At the very end, when there remained only the white cue ball and the black 8-ball, Meng Xiaoshan finally was unable to keep watching this. “Chen Ge, don’t pick on our Gui Xiao like this, eh.”
Following suit, everyone began heckling him, telling him to go easy and just throw this shot. The few girls there, on the other hand, were not so agreeable to the suggestion and muttered, “He’s already using just his left hand, and you still want him to go easy? You might as well just have Gui Xiao use her hands to drop the balls into the pocket and let things be at that.”
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Lu Chen was not fixated on winning. Pressing his palms against the torn, dark-brown rail of that pool table, he leaned over slightly and looked at her. A smile touched the corner of his lips as he asked, “Want me to let you win?”
“No need.” Gui Xiao felt even more humiliated with this question. She set her pool cue into the rack, voluntarily conceding defeat.
Lu Chen did not say any more. His arm pulled back and then his cue shot forward. The ball was practically flying as it rolled towards the pocket and dropped in.
Based on the number of balls that had been sunk, she would not be considered to have suffered a crushing defeat. But the other party had played with only one hand, and furthermore, it was his left one. The only additional thing he could have done was to tie both his hands behind his back and just let her win.
Gui Xiao’s defeat was utter and thorough and especially humiliating. Wiping away the sweat in her palms, she gave the excuse that she was going to go buy something at the specialty gifts shop in town and then ran out from there. The woman grilling the lamb skewers did not have much business and was absentmindedly waving a fan at the charcoal burner, staring, like she was watching a show, at those lads who were squatting outside the door of the billiards hall and flirting with girls.
Gui Xiao unlocked her bike lock and hurriedly straddled her bicycle. But with a sharp cry of “Ow!” she hopped back off again.
The bicycle seat was searing hot. She had forgotten to park it in a shady place…
Those lads who had been flirting with girls guffawed gleefully when they saw this. When Gui Xiao turned and fired a glare at them, she saw Lu Chen also step outside and give a kick to the boy who was nearest the door and blocking the way.
“Chen Ge, you’re leaving?” With a wide, toothy grin, the boy shifted slightly to the side. Lu Chen nodded. He pushed out his mountain bike, which had been parked, unlocked, by the door, and threw his leg over it.
In the dazzling sunlight, that person on the bicycle whipped by right in front of her. And then, rounding a corner, he disappeared from sight.
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That night, Gui Xiao’s mind finally caught up after the fact. College entrance examinations were taking place over these few days. Lu Chen should have been in an exam room and not at a billiards hall, right? On the phone, in a very subtle, roundabout way, she probed Meng Xiaoshan about this. Meng Xiaoshan did not detect those little thoughts of her heart and told her, the day prior, something big had happened in Lu Chen’s household. He had had to bear through until the afternoon of the next day, when it was finally resolved, and therefore had missed the first exam, which had already taken place in the morning.
Likely, he would either be repeating the grade or going to take over his dad’s automobile repair shop.
In this school, even dropping out was a run-of-the-mill occurrence, so repeating a grade was not a big deal of any sort. Meng Xiaoshan’s tone was light as she described this. The little notions in Gui Xiao’s heart grew ever stronger.
Repeat the grade, repeat the grade. That way, we’ll be schoolmates again.
Alas, when the new school year began, she did not see him in the senior-year high school class. She surmised, maybe he really had gone to take over the automobile repair shop and be the junior boss. Gui Xiao had no relationship with him, so naturally there would not be any interaction between them. However, when she thought of the name “Lu Chen,” her heart would always feel vacant and hollow.
This continued like so until midwinter drew near. One day, as Gui Xiao cycled past the little jianbing stall by the main gates of the school, she saw him with Hai Dong, who was squatted down and chatting with the auntie-age woman who was spreading the jianbing batter. When Gui Xiao turned her head sideways, looking with surprise in their direction, Hai Dong called to her, “Little Sis-In-Law, come. Your big bro is going to treat you to a jianbing.”
Gui Xiao slammed on her brakes, almost propelling herself into a thicket of snow-laden pine trees…
Lu Chen’s held his palm up against her handlebar, saying, “Take it easy.”
Echoing in Gui Xiao’s ears was the sound of her own slightly quickened breaths, but she still managed to hop down rather composedly. Lu Chen helped her carry her small-size bike over to the side of the jianbing stall and set down the kickstand. Hai Dong instructed the auntie to add another jianbing to the order. “Look how skinny my little sis-in-law is. Add two eggs in there. Choose big ones, eh.”
The auntie answered in the affirmative and picked up two relatively larger, light-brown eggs, which she cracked over the crepe-like wrap.
With her hands in her pockets, Gui Xiao waited for her jianbing.
Jianbing (Left image credit: Hoju. Right image credit)
Plastered on the glass windows near her bicycle were various advertising decals and stickers, all of them dusty and gray with that type of grime that would never be able to be wiped off. In the glass, she inadvertently caught sight of him, his hand propped on her bicycle seat as he observed two boys having a conversation. When she saw him begin to turn his head back, she at once dropped her eyes and continued watching the steaming jianbing. And then, she snuck another peep in his direction.
Lu Chen, in contrast, made no attempt to conceal his actions and truly had turned his eyes onto her. Not evading him, Gui Xiao returned his look.
Afterwards, the regular patrons of this jianbing stall arrived in a swarm. In this early-morning atmosphere of peaceful merriment, the two of them shifted their gazes away. When Gui Xiao took the jianbing that was handed to her, her heart was still hammering furiously…
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As a result of seeing him before the morning self-study period, Gui Xiao’s heart felt as if it was floating on loose, powdery snow as it simply hung there in her chest.
She had not expected that when the final period of the day ended and she was still helping the teacher gather up the papers of the in-class test that had just finished, Hai Jianfeng would come springing up over the two steps in front of the doorway, running into the classroom and up in front of her, and declaring, “I’ll wait for you at the main gates. It’s my big bro’s birthday today.”
“Huh?” Gui Xiao had not heard anything about this. She asked, “Do I need to go buy a gift?”
“Oh, come on, you. Whenever anyone in our class has a birthday, you’ll give a stuffie. You’re going to empty out that specialty gifts shop. Meng Jie said it already: you’re to go empty-handed.”
“Then wait for me, ’kay? I’m just going to hand in these test papers!” Gui Xiao was bursting with elation as she ran off.
After handing in the tests, she leapt straight off the steps in front of the office and, going upstream against the after-school tide, ran back to the classroom.
It was Hai Dong’s birthday—he would definitely be there.
Sure enough, not only was he there, he had provided the venue for everyone to eat.
The automobile repair shop once mentioned by Meng Xiaoshan was not in town. Even in good weather, it was still a forty-minute bicycle ride along the canal to get there. They had ridden only halfway before the sky was completely dark. It was a good thing Meng Xiaoshan had instructed Hai Jianfeng to wait for her so they could go together. Cycling headlong into a northwest wind, the two arduously rode for a full hour. Her ears stung from the wind blowing against them, to the point she was about to cry.
After a right turn, they slid the entire way down a big dirt slope until their two bicycles skidded up to the front entrance of the auto shop.
A black lock hung from a three-metre-tall, dark-green metal door. A small door adjacent to that metal one was open, and Lu Chen was waiting for them in the security gatehouse beside the smaller door. Seeing that Gui Xiao had arrived, he pushed open the glass door and stepped out.
That feeling from when their gazes had met this morning was still present, so when Gui Xiao suddenly saw him appear, she actually felt a little bashful.
“Chen Ge!” Hai Jianfeng, on the other hand, very deferentially gave this shout of greeting.
Lu Chen nodded.
Reaching over, he took Gui Xiao’s small bicycle from her by the handlebar and seat and helped her carry it in through the small doorway. Gui Xiao followed him in. The inside of this front door directly faced a large service bay, and just the door to that alone was five or six metres tall. To both the left and right of the service bay were sheds made of brick.
Lu Chen left her bicycle beside some other ones that were piled in a corner by the wall and then motioned to them to go in.
There were a dozen or so bicycles of all sorts of models. Some were hung up, while others were parked on the concrete floor.
Inside, more than ten adults were still working away. When they saw these half-grown kids, they did not really pay much attention. She surmised, it was likely because Lu Chen often brought people here to hang out, so they were long at the point where they did not bat an eye when they saw such scenes.
They walked to the very end and then turned. There was a room.
Lu Chen bumped open the door with his knee. The white, hot steam of hot pot slithered out from behind the door. When Meng Xiaoshan caught sight of Gui Xiao, she immediately gave a shove to the boy next to her, freeing up a chair. The room was filled with people, but they were different from the ones who had been at the billiards hall last time. These faces were obviously quite a bit older. Gui Xiao took a seat. As she listened to them talk while drinking their alcohol, she was roughly able to guess that these people were Hai Dong’s and Lu Chen’s old classmates from before.
Because the weather was too cold, several of the men were bundled in green, winter army overcoats to keep out the chill.
Lu Chen went to the corner and sat down. Only he was still wearing a school uniform.
Gui Xiao inconspicuously swept her eyes all around. There was a bed as well as a dresser and a wooden desk. Plus, with the clothes strewn on the couch and the various athletic shoes on the shoe rack in the corner… This should be where he lived.
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Shortly after she sat down, someone teased, “Is this Hai Jianfeng’s girlfriend?”
“What are you talking about? She’s my jie.” Hai Jianfeng wagged his hand, a look of sincerity covering his face.
Meng Xiaoshan laughed. “This brat can’t catch Gui Xiao.”
She spread the knowledge to everyone of what Gui Xiao’s grades were, which, coupled with the fact that Gui Xiao was a special-talent athlete and a member of the choir, absolutely made her the apple of the eye of every subject’s teacher. Of course, that excluded the dean of discipline. Simply due to the fact that Gui Xiao always hung out with them, she had been frequently called out by name and censured for a full two years. Back then, her name had been struck right off the list of the first group of people to join the Communist Youth League, and she had ended up getting her league membership with the batch of students who were repeating a grade.
The people in this room had all either dropped out of school or repeated grades; none of them had ever diligently studied. Their connection to girls like Gui Xiao’s type would be like the connection between the student sitting in the first row of the class and the one sitting in the last—two worlds that absolutely did not intersect.
They had not been all that interested in the first parts, but as they listened to the last part of the story about joining the Youth League, they all, one after the other, laughed. These were all people who had been called out and reprimanded by the dean of discipline before, so the feeling of being able to relate was just too strong.
The entire time, Lu Chen was quiet. He dragged over a chair and sat leaning back in it. He did not drink, and very rarely did he join in on the conversation. After listening to a couple of sentences, he would pull out his mobile phone and glance at it. From time to time, he would step out and then shortly after would bring in a new dish that he had cooked up. It was the middle of winter. Even though in the east corner of the room there was a long, silver radiator heater, it still was not enough for this overly tall and spacious room. Gui Xiao was midway through eating but was still so cold she did not dare remove her down coat.
Lu Chen was wearing the thin, cotton high-school uniform, and amid this bunch of people garbed in army overcoats and down parkas, he looked even taller and more slender.
The drinking lasted until past ten o’clock.
The group was dispersing. Seeing that Hai Dong was hammered, Meng Xiaoshan called Hai Dong’s father and had him send someone from the family to pick Hai Dong up. She, too, hurriedly left with him. And so, in what seemed like just a “whoosh,” everyone disbanded. In that entire room, there remained only the two of them.
Lu Chen rolled up his sleeves, grabbed a few empty bottles, and tossed them into the basket by the wall outside the door, telling her, “Sit for a bit. I’ll take you back.”
Nodding, Gui Xiao took a seat on the couch.
After watching him tidy up for a while, she felt that something was not right. She was someone who had eaten here, too. She should be cleaning up with him, right? But as someone who had never had to do any chores, she did not know where to start.
Lu Chen actually worked very quickly, picking up the rest of the bottles and carrying them out together with another two plates.
She cast a glance out the doorway, then rose from the couch to follow him and help. All of a sudden, there was the sound of a plate shattering as it crashed to the floor.
The door was slammed open. A scream tore from Gui Xiao’s lips, and she tripped and fell onto the floor, shocked. In front of her, Lu Chen had shoved one shoulder against the door and was swiftly hanging two padlocks onto it. Catching sight of Gui Xiao from the corner of his eye, he reached over and yanked her up.
With a backhand, he pushed her behind himself.
“Get your ass out here!” The voice, slurred and thick with drunkenness, sounded to be that of middle-aged man.
In front of Gui Xiao was Lu Chen, while behind her was a wall. Her chest heaved fiercely. She could not restrain her fear.
Lu Chen’s tone was even colder than the beating wind blowing outside. “There’s someone in the room.”
The response to that was a massive bam!
Gui Xiao, her eyes riveted on that black latch lock that was now bent and protruding outward because of the the jolting impact, grew increasingly terrified, and her heart quivered and lurched in horror.
Bam! Another huge sound resonated. Two metres up from the floor, the glass above the door vibrated from the force.
His anxiousness due to being backed into a corner got to him, and Lu Chen slammed a fist into the doorframe. “There really is someone! My wife’s not wearing any clothes in here!”
Gui Xiao’s ears rang with these words… Stupefied.
Although profanities were still being hurled forth outside, it was evident those words had caused that person to curb himself quite a bit. He jeered, “You brat! You’re so good now, eh. You’ve even gotten yourself a little wife.” Then immediately, he followed up with several more kicks against the door. Though he did not throw his full force into them, they still carried a rage induced by the effects of alcohol.
Very soon, there was a third man’s voice, then a fourth, echoing in to where they were. They were mechanics who worked in this shop. Holding the man back and making attempts to mollify him, they dragged him away. Gui Xiao was still dazed with shock. All of a sudden, there was another loud bam! as something smashed into the door. “You’re still in school! Don’t damn go knocking someone up!”
Another shiver racked through Gui Xiao.
“Lu Chen, we’re taking your dad home first. It’s best if you sleep in the shop tonight.”
His shoulder still pressed against the door, Lu Chen blew out the very lengthy breath that had been repressed inside him. Continuously pinching the bridge of his nose with his right thumb and index finger, he forced himself to calm down. “Thanks, Uncle Liu.”
“No worries! Wait for a while. Don’t be in a rush to come out!”
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On his arm was a new bruise, left behind by a wrench that had pounded into him. It was throbbing. When he turned his head to look at Gui Xiao, she still had not recovered herself yet. Her little fists were clenched tightly until her fingers stabbed into her palms and her nails were white.
 煎饼. Jianbing is a street snack. In Beijing, it is readily available and very popular. A whole grain, thin, crepe-like outer layer contains a filling in it. The most common type in Beijing would traditionally contain sweet bean paste, egg, scallions, cilantro, and either a sheet of fried dough or a youtiao (savoury fried dough stick). However, there are many variations of fillings, and different regions will have their own favoured variations as well.
 The Communist Youth League of China is set up for young people between the ages of 14 to 28, with a purpose of instilling desirable principles and building up new talent for the country.
To help ground you guys in time:
We know that Gui Xiao was classmates with Ji Yi, and also we know that at the time of Hai Dong’s birthday in this post, adolescent Gui Xiao is in her third year of middle school. Therefore, based on The Healing Sunshine‘s timeline, which is clearly laid out in that novel, and the fact that this post talks about how its approaching the middle of winter in Beijing, we can ascertain that this incident in the automobile shop occurred some time around yearend 1998.
Keep this in mind when you read about the types of mobile phones and riding bicycles everywhere. 🙂
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