Translated by Addis of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Lu Rong wandered haphazardly through the cobweb-like alleyways and searched for a long time before reaching the street. The street was busy with people and cars, not much different from usual. He walked to the place where Wang Tu had drawn a line with a bottle last night and looked around in confusion.
There was nothing there, and no Wang Tu.
The black car they came in was still parked on the side of the road, and he went over and stood on his tiptoes to look inside, but it was empty and no one was there. He didn’t know where Wang Tu had gone, and he couldn’t stay in the garbage can, so after thinking about it for a while, he just stood by the car.
It was late in the evening and no one noticed the child as people rushed past him from work. Even if they did, they thought his parents were in the store by the roadside. The days were always short in winter, and it got dark quickly, and the streetlights came on. Lu Rong was still crouched by the car, looking longingly in the direction from which they came.
Whenever he saw a figure in a light beige down jacket, his eyes would light up and he would stand up and run over to them. After seeing the person’s face, he buried his head in disappointment and slowly walked back.
He looked at his short little shadow and used his foot to step on the round pom-pom on top. Tears dripped down on the snow surface, smashing out shallow nests.
“He’s just busy and won’t throw you away.” He whispered to his shadow.
Halfway through he went back to the garbage cans twice more, imagining on the way that Wang Tu was anxiously rummaging through them. He decided to keep quiet and wait until Wang Tu was so anxious that he was going to cry before he slowly walked over.
But the imaginary scene never materialized, Wang Tu still hasn’t appeared, but he himself cried twice again.
His stomach was hungry and the smell of food was wafting everywhere, making him even more uncomfortable. Snowflakes were falling from the sky again, and he walked to a noodle shop on the roadside and looked inside through the glass door.
There was a little boy about his age sitting in the noodle shop, his bowl full of noodles on the table untouched, only pushing the toy car in his hand around on the table.
He looked up unintentionally and met Lu Rong’s eyes outside the glass door.
The little boy made a face at Lu Rong, and usually, Lu Rong would return the face. But he wasn’t in the mood now and just turned around and left the noodle shop in silence.
“Hey, kid.” He heard an unfamiliar voice calling from beside him, but didn’t realize it was calling him and hung his head as he continued to walk toward the car.
“Kid. Kid!” The man called twice in quick succession, raising his voice.
Lu Rong stood still this time and looked over, only to see a bearded middle-aged man, standing under a tree waving to him. The man said, “Kid, come here, uncle has something for you.”
Lu Rong slowly walked over and stopped in front of the middle-aged man.
The middle-aged man stretched out his left hand as if he wanted to touch his head, but he tilted his head, and the man’s hand touched empty air. The man didn’t take it personally, smiled and then extended his right hand behind his back, carrying a paper bag, and handed it to Lu Rong.
“Hungry, right? Have a meat bun,” he said kindly.
Lu Rong recognized a small grinning figure on the paper bag, which smelled delicious.
He stared at the paper bag in front of him, a smell of baked bread entered his nose, his stomach growled more happily, and saliva instantly dripped out of his mouth. He really wanted to eat, but remembered Wang Tu and the teacher’s usual advice, so he hesitated to move, only his pair of eyes were glued to the paper bag.
The middle-aged man seemed to see his struggle and stopped persuading him, taking a piece of meat bun from the bag and feeding it into his mouth, saying aloud as he ate it, “It really smells good, it’s delicious, it’s so good.”
Lu Rong looked at him and gulped.
“Come on, eat, uncle is treating you.” The middle-aged man handed the paper bag to him again. His expression was sincere and eager, with a kind smile, just like Wang Tu’s usual look when he asked him to eat another bowl of rice.
Lu Rong was too hungry, so he stopped pushing and slowly put his hand into the paper bag.
With his eyes fixed on the middle-aged man, he still moved very slowly to take out the meat bun and put it to his mouth. If it tasted funny, he would return the meat bun.
The middle-aged man kept showing a smile, as Lu Rong took a bite of the meat bun, and the marinated meat fragrance instantly overflowed in his mouth.
“Thanks.” He whispered.
“Go ahead and eat, don’t be polite. There’s more here when you’re done.” The middle-aged man said.
Lu Rong began to eat the meat bun in big bites, answering the middle-aged man’s questioned him as he ate. “My last name is Gao, you can call me Uncle Gao.”
“Uncle Gao,” Lu Rong called out, slurring.
“Hmm.” Uncle Gao nodded and asked, “What’s your name? How old are you?”
Lu Rong swallowed a mouthful of meatloaf and recited skillfully, “My name is Lu Rong. Rong Rong. I’m four years old, I’m in class two in kindergarten, and I’ve been awarded five times as a good boy and three times as a clean boy.”
After he finished, he waited for Uncle Gao’s compliment, but Uncle Gao nodded absentmindedly and repeated, “Four years old…”
Lu Rong didn’t wait for the compliment, but still repeated seriously, “Mn, four years old.”
Uncle Gao saw him finish the meat bun and handed him another piece, but Lu Rong shook his head and stopped eating. The meat bun was so big that he usually couldn’t finish half of it, but now that he had eaten a whole one, his stomach was already very full.
Uncle Gao also took out a bottle of water from the black bag he carried, unscrewed the cap and handed it over. Lu Rong had just eaten someone else’s meat bun, and now he was no longer polite, so he took it and drank it with a gulp.
He had been thirsty all day without water, and ate a meat bun, so now his mouth was dry, and he drank the whole bottle of water in one gulp.
Uncle Gao watched him drink, and when he was done, he took the empty bottle, screwed on the cap, and put it back into the black bag.
Lu Rong wanted to thank him and go back to the car to wait for Wang Tu, but before he could open his mouth, he felt his mind become hazy. The noise of people and cars in his ears began to fade, and Uncle Gao looked at him, his face growing blurry.
He struggled to open his mouth to say he was dizzy, but his tongue wouldn’t listen to him and he couldn’t make a sound, and then his eyes went black and he didn’t know anything.
Lu Rong felt that he was floating in the ocean. The sea was boundless, there were many, many bathtubs that couldn’t be filled with water. He floated and sank in the water, and some voices came to his ears from time to time.
“…The train is about to leave, please check your luggage…”
“…Why is this kid sleeping all the time? He’s been sleeping all day…”
“Miss, we’re going back home. The child came here to see a doctor and has just returned.”
“So he’s sick…”
Lu Rong heard Uncle Gao talking to someone, and heard the rhythmic mechanical sound of clanging, as if through a layer of deep water, blurred and distant into the ears, very indistinct. He thought, ‘So we’re not in the sea ah’, and drifted into a drowsy sleep.
The two of them were talking to each other.
“This day is really too cold, this year is really evil.”
“Our Longquan Mountain is like this in winter, and not only this year, every year it freezes many to death.” The middle-aged man took out a packet of Ashima cigarettes from the pocket of his cotton jacket and handed one to the driver.
“No, no, I just ate.” The driver declined with a local accent.
“Smoke it, it’s okay.” The middle-aged man offered again.
The driver smiled and took it, but didn’t smoke, only carefully pinned it to the back of his left ear.
“Brother Gao, it’s not easy to visit relatives with a small child on a cold day like this. Next spring, you should come back.” The driver looked at the back seat from the rearview mirror.
The backseat was covered with an old blue cotton jacket, with a slight bulge underneath. A child’s head was exposed, sleeping soundly with his face to the back of the seat. From this angle, he could only see him wearing a yellow woolen hat with a pom-pom on top.
“I’ll be busy at the beginning of next spring, so I won’t have time.” The middle-aged man, also known as Uncle Gao, replied.
The driver asked, “So where are you from? Your accent is not from the county.”
Uncle Gao smiled but didn’t answer, and began to ask him about Longquan Mountain. The driver immediately shifted his mind and returned to the question with great interest.
The road was narrow and muddy, with occasional clumps of thin snow on either side, revealing the yellow-blackness below, rather than adding to the dirtiness. After the pickup truck bumped over a pothole, a split appeared on the left, a country road with room for only one car, winding into the distant woods.
“Brother Gao, just follow this road. In another half hour, you’ll be in Longquan village.” The driver stopped the car and said.
“Thank you then.”
Uncle Gao threw a whole pack of cigarettes to the driver, jumped out again, grabbed Lu Rong from the back seat, and said goodbye to the driver. After seeing the pickup truck disappear in the distance, he sat down on a boulder by the roadside.
Although there was no wind in the mountains, the air was cold when the snow was melting. Lu Rong moved in Uncle Gao’s arms, and the pom-pom on his woolen hat turned around, revealing his fleshy half face, which was squeezed out of shape.
A dirty black hand rustled out from under the big cotton jacket and rubbed his eyes.
Lu Rong looked woodenly at the gray sky for a while, his long eyelashes fluttering. Then he looked at the road beside him, and then at Uncle Gao, who was holding him, with a face that was both confused and bewildered.
Uncle Gao, holding him with one arm, took out a bottle of water from the black bag he had brought with him, and bread sealed in a plastic bag.
Lu Rong’s down jacket with the small yellow duck became gray and black, his small face was shrunken in the scarf, there were a few horizontal stains that were obvious against the clean parts of his white skin.
His mouth was dry, and the skin on his lips was already puckered. Uncle Gao unscrewed the cap of the bottle of water in his hand and handed it to him, but he tilted his head back to avoid it. He didn’t know that he had been sleeping caused by the bottle of water, but only subconsciously felt the danger and didn’t want to drink this man’s water.
Uncle Gao didn’t expect the four-year-old to be so wary, as his eyes flashed. After tilting his own head and taking a few sips, he liftes the bottle to Lu Rong’s mouth, “Drink, this water was just opened by Uncle Gao and is very clean.”
Lu Rong struggled in his arms, but couldn’t break away, and when he opened his mouth to speak, only a dull sound of air came out.
Uncle Gao took this opportunity to tilt the bottle and water flowed into Lu Rong’s mouth. He couldn’t swallow, so the water flowed out along the corner of his mouth, and at the same time he began to choke and cough.
Uncle Gao frowned at him, with some impatience between his eyebrows, “Drink it properly, don’t spill it.”
Lu Rong finished choking and coughing, staring at the bottle of water and licking his lips, but finally took it and held it himself, drinking it in large gulps. When he finished drinking the water, Uncle Gao opened the plastic bag around the bread and broke a piece off before he put it into his mouth.
Lu Rong chewed the piece of bread, and Uncle Gao whispered as if chatting, “Lu Rong, do you know you are sick? You fainted on the street yesterday.”
“What’s ‘fainted’?” Lu Rong asked with bread in his mouth, his voice hoarse.
“Fainting is… You suddenly fell asleep and got sick.”
Lu Rong stopped chewing and opened his mouth slightly, “I’m sick?”
“Yes, but it’s okay, we’ve already seen the doctor, and the illness has been cured.”
Lu Rong froze as he finished his bread and turned his head to look at a tree along the road. After a moment, he turned around and Uncle Gao was reaching for the black bag beside him, but when he met his eyes, he stopped.
The child’s large eyes were full of tears, his two black pupils were soaked in it.
Uncle Gao knew that every child who just woke up would look for their parents or grandparents and cry a lot. He was generally not able to coax since he was really bad at coaxing. He was more likely to scare and deter a child, but at least they would obey.
Besides, they had left the city and were at the edge of the village, so there weren’t many here with scruples, which meant he could make a lot.
However, this child was too good-looking and smart, he didn’t want to scare people silly and dumb. Soon he was going to meet the buyer, one more flexible and unafraid of life, which meant that he could raise the price.
Lu Rong begged in a tearful whisper, “I want to find Brother Tu.”
Uncle Gao looked at him expressionlessly and didn’t make a sound.
“Uncle Gao, I want to find Brother Tu.”
Uncle Gao opened his mouth, “He has thrown you away.”
“You’re lying! Brother Tu won’t throw me away!” Lu Rong gave a jolt and sat up straight from his arms.
“I know you’ve been guarding that car. He wouldn’t even take it for fear of coming back and running into you.” Uncle Gao added.
Lu Rong’s face began to redden, he felt that this was not the case, but could not say, could only repeat mechanically, “Liar! Liar!”
“I heard the man from the bun store say that he threw you into the trash.”
“That’s what he told me to hide in!” Lu Rong shouted as he raised his volume. He didn’t want to hear the man speak again and struggled to get off to the ground.
Uncle Gao wrapped his arms around him, confining him to his arms and legs, and snickered, “Whatever is put in the trash is unwanted trash, and he just wanted to throw you away.” 1
Lu Rong had long hidden his fear and it was now pointed out by Uncle Gao. He was stunned. His face swiftly faded of all blood, his tears flowing downward, hanging on his small chin.
“So, you are unwanted—”
“Liar! You’re lying! I’m going to find Brother Tu!” Lu Rong shouted shrilly, interrupting Uncle Gao’s words.
He clasped both hands to his chest, his small body trembling a little from agitation.
“I’m not with you, I’m going to find Brother Tu!” He began to struggle desperately when his body slid down to get off the ground when he was held by Uncle Gao, who wouldn’t let go, so he started to struggle desperately. The down jacket and fleece underwear were rolled upward, revealing a section of his tender waist.
Uncle Gao almost couldn’t hold him down, and didn’t understand how a four year old could be so strong, as he cursed in his heart.
He was like a desperate little lion, waving his tender paws, but without the slightest offensive power. And like a small fish thrown on the beach, frankly white belly, its body fluttering, screaming until it lacked oxygen like open mouth breathing.
“Liar! Liar! Brother Tu will not… would want me!” His voice was hoarse as he howled, and in his agitated struggle, his hat fell to the ground, revealing soft black hair, moistened by sweat and stuck to his forehead.
Uncle Gao grabbed both of his hands and held him tightly in his lap, listening to the ear-splitting cries and yelling distractedly, “If you don’t fucking listen to me, I’ll leave you here!”
He didn’t expect this to stimulate Lu Rong, since he paused only slightly and struggled more aggressively.
Uncle Gao gritted his teeth and leaned down to look at him, thinking about whether to simply knock him out, but afraid of him being injured before meeting the buyer, after all, it was only less than half an hour’s journey into the village.
When hesitating, he suddenly saw two round silver bumps on the top of the child’s head, the size of a coin, hidden in his black hair.
When he fixed his gaze on it, the silver was gone again, making him wonder if he was seeing things. He was so distracted that his hands loosened up and Lu Rong broke free and got on the ground. He was unusually agile as he got up from the ground and ran down the road.
Uncle Gao hurried to chase him, took a few steps to catch up, and grabbed the boy under his armpit. He reached for Lu Rong’s hair and said, “Don’t move, let me see. I told you not to move!”
If the child had any malignant sores on his head, he would sell for much less money. After all, according to the bun store and Lu Rong’s own words, he had indeed been thrown into the trash by his brother of some sort, and it was possible that he really was a sick child.
Uncle Gao fiddled with it for a while, and seeing that his hair was clean and free of malignant sores, he sighed with relief and went back to sit by the roadside.
A few moments later, Lu Rong finally became exhausted and stopped struggling, only his arms and legs still kicked occasionally. He lay on Uncle Gao’s lap, his head hanging down by his thighs, looking at the trees that were also hanging down in the distance.
Cold tears flowed down the ends of his eyes to the corners of his forehead, and then into his hair.
Uncle Gao was sweating and panting from his effort.
He held back the fire in his heart and coaxed nicely, “Uncle Gao took pity on you and gave you a new home. Your brother didn’t want you, so Uncle Gao found you new parents, who will sew you new clothes and make you good food every day, Uncle Gao is sending you to a good home.”
Lu Rong felt his eyes were swollen and painful, he closed and opened them again and continued to look at the trees, murmuring in an airy tone, “Liar…”