Translated by Addis of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
The canteen of the convalescent center had been vacated, the chef boiled ginger soup in a large pot, next to the steamer set up to steam steamed buns. After such a frightening night, everyone was cold and hungry, quietly drinking ginger soup and chewing steamed buns.
Only Old Man Chen woke up, from time to time crying out “My cow!” and the people around him shouted at him to stop.
“Your cow, your cow! Why did the stone not smash you, so you could go with your cow? You also nearly dragged Uncle Cai with you!”
“You have to thank God, the stone stopped next to you and not Uncle Cai, and didn’t hit either of you.”
“That’s because of Uncle Cai’s virtue! When God blessed Uncle Cai, he also took care of Old Man Chen, and he got his life back because of Uncle Cai’s light.”
Old Man Chen whimpered twice and tried to defend himself, but before he could speak, his gaze ran into the eyes of the little boy beside Grandpa Cai and he shut up. He recognized Lu Rong, the usually soft child, was looking at him with hatred; as if he said one more word, he would rush over.
Chen Lao Han realized that he had almost dragged his grandfather into this, his heart was also ashamed, so he snapped away his gaze and shrank into a ball, not daring to speak out again.
The two stone lions at the entrance of the hall were turned over, a chicken lying on one side, and pigs, cattle and sheep were herded into the ground floor hall. These animals seemed to know that they had suffered a calamity, each quietly lying down, surprisingly obedient. Even the unruly pigs behaved a lot, only coldly staring at the people around.
Grandpa Cai looked better already, sitting on a recliner to rest, seeing Lu Rong glare at Chen Lao Han from time to time, he touched the boy’s head and whispered, “Ah, don’t care about him.”
“So you’re starting to care about him?” Lu Rong was still a bit scared when he remembered the scene from earlier, and his eyes were red.
“Grandpa is the village chief, that’s my job.” Grandpa Cai explained patiently.
Lu Rong grimaced aggressively, “Then you shouldn’t be the village chief.”
“I know. Grandpa won’t be the village chief soon.” Grandpa Cai said.
Lu Rong didn’t expect Grandpa Cai to say that, so he froze for a moment and then asked, “Really?”
“You won’t take people to grow medicine and you won’t go to other villages to work?” Lu Rong asked with surprise.
Grandpa Cai smiled and said, “No, I’m just going to stay with my grandson.”
Lu Rong didn’t ask further questions, slowly lying on Grandpa Cai’s lap, allowing him to stroke the back of his head. He thought to himself that Grandpa was too tired every day, and that it was good that he was no longer going to be the village chief.
In the quiet, the sound of snoring came to his ears. Lu Rong couldn’t help but look at the sound and saw Master Hong lying on a bench covered with his monk’s robes, sleeping, with a few chickens with their wings tied under his feet. When he saw Master Hong, he remembered his marriage with Shen Jize and hid himself next to Grandpa Cai.
Finally someone eased up and began to count the items they had brought from home, others followed suit, and the cafeteria resounded with whispered questions and rustling noises.
Grandpa Cai saw this and asked, “Did you bring the folders I gave you?”
Lu Rong took off his strawberry coat, took off his school bag, and was about to pull out the bankbook inside when Grandpa Cai stopped him and said, “It’s here, don’t pull it out, don’t lose it.”
But Lu Rong still reached in, felt the bankbook and a pile of loose checks, and then reached into the compartment to feel the remittance slip that Shen Jize had sent him. His fingers touched the hard paper, and he rubbed it gently, thinking it would be nice to have his brother beside him now.
He missed his brother.
The group of children had already recovered from the shock. They didn’t yet know the pain of losing their home, and just gathered excitedly to tell the thrilling scene when the mountain began to collapse.
“Lu Rong, come here!” A child beckoned to Lu Rong.
Lu Rong shook his head quickly.
“Go on, go play with the children.” Grandpa Cai saw that he wasn’t in a good mood, so he also advised.
“I don’t want to go.” Lu Rong took his hand out of his school bag and plopped back down on Grandpa Cai’s lap.
Puppy wagged its tail next to him, snapping at the poncho. Lu Rong then remembered that it was still covered with a plastic bag and hurriedly peeled it off. The other dogs in the village had become soup dogs, lying at the feet of their masters, shivering, only Puppy was quite dry and looked extraordinarily spirited.
“Uncle, what should we do?” A middle-aged man with a sad face came up to Grandpa Cai and asked. He was afraid that other people might hear him, so he kept his voice very small.
“Don’t worry, the government will take care of us.” Grandpa Cai said.
“When is the government going to take care of us?”
Grandpa Cai thought about it and said, “Soon, I think it’s just a couple of days.”
Before noon, a train rolled into the center and a number of soldiers jumped from it. The soldiers gathered only briefly and trotted off to the village, led by young village officials. The leader asked Grandpa Cai for details, while the rest of the men went to the cars to unload and carry down large bags of supplies.
When the villagers saw the army coming, they were less frightened and calmer, and had the presence of mind to talk to each other.
“Now that the government is here, maybe they will build us a new house.”
“Good, good, what kind of furniture should we get?”
“I think we‘ll be compensated with money…”
“I have ancestral rosewood furniture, we can’t replace it with money like your furniture.”
“Get lost, Boss Jiang! Those unwanted household items in the ancestral hall became your ancestral rosewood furniture?”
“He doesn’t even know what rosewood is, he only recognizes the wild apricot tree in the back of the mountain, and every year when the apricots are still green, he picks them and eats them.”
“Lazy donkeys have good teeth.”
“Who’s a donkey? Who are you calling a donkey?” Boss Jiang jumped up.
“Can’t I call the donkey over there a lazy donkey?”
“All right, all right, stop it. It’s good to be a donkey, you don’t have to worry about anything.”
In the afternoon, the rain stopped.
Tents for disaster relief were set up on the site, and some people used the pots and pans they brought out to cook in the open space, and white smoke rose everywhere.
No matter what had happened, people always needed to eat first. And the village people felt that it wasn’t appropriate to eat at the site canteen for nothing, and the instant noodles brought by the convoy weren’t good to look at, so they should just cook their own food.
Lu Rong and Grandpa Cai ate in the cafeteria, and because the workers knew them and had eaten the bacon Grandpa Cai had given them, they were given a special small stove.
Grandpa Cai thanked them again and again before pulling Lu Rong to sit down.
After eating, Grandpa Cai and a group of workers chatted, Lu Rong couldn’t keep sitting down, so he went outside to play.
Inside the house, one of the workers comforted Grandpa Cai, “Uncle Cai, it won’t take long for Longquan Village to be built again. Don’t worry, there’s the government.”
Grandpa Cai sighed, “Longquan Village will not be rebuilt.”
“It won’t be rebuilt?” The workers looked at each other.
Grandpa Cai said quietly, “Longtan Mountain will be developed into a tourist attraction, and Longquan Village is within the reconstruction plan. The government has long asked us to move away, but many people have lived here all their lives and didn’t want to leave.”
A worker said in dismay, “Isn’t it good to move away? Seriously, Longquan Village is too poor, and it’s time to let the village people go out and see the world! We’ve lived here for months and we’re still not used to it, but the project will be finished soon, so we’re leaving too.”
Grandpa Cai put down his chopsticks and continued, “Isn’t that so? Our village is not accessible to everyone, the young people don’t want to come back after leaving the village, all that is left is the old and the young. There is no way to earn money in this place, only just by growing some medicine. The government originally said that all of us will be moved to Yulu village, which is next to the town. The land and climate is suitable for growing fruit trees, and we can invite experts to teach us. But many people have lived here all their lives and don’t want to leave.”
The worker filled the glass in front of him and said, “Now that the village is gone, they have to go down, right?”
Grandpa Cai spoke after a long time of silence, with a tone of despair, “I’ve been working on the village people’s minds for the past few years, but I can’t get the relocation work done, so I think they will really leave this place this time.”
The worker said, “People live and die, it’s good to move away. And Yulu village is close to the town, the children should be in the town elementary school to study. The quality of teaching in the town elementary school is several grades higher than the village elementary school, and it is convenient to go to school, so you don’t have to run all over the mountain. Besides, your village has a big mountain behind it, even if it is rebuilt, it’s not safe, in case something like today happens again.”
“That’s right, that’s right.” Grandpa Cai finished his sentence and picked up his glass of alcohol and drank it down in one go.
The strong drink entered his throat, he frowned and closed his eyes, as if he got burned. The worker hurriedly gave him some food, “Eat your food, eat your food.”
Grandpa Cai closed his eyes and waved his hand, meaning no need. The worker wanted to persuade him again, but the person beside him poked him and nudged him in the direction of Grandpa Cai.
Grandpa Cai held his forehead in his hands, his lips trembled uncontrollably, and a series of tears welled up in his eyes and rolled down the furrows in his skin. He kept raising his hand to wipe the tears and said with a smile as if to explain, “The drink is too strong.”
“Yes, it is.” The workers fell silent.
Lu Rong walked out of the cafeteria door, and the dog that was chasing him with the other dogs saw him and came bounding over. Lu Rong squatted down and ran his fingers through the messy fur on its back.
“Little child, where’s your man?” A familiar voice suddenly sounded beside him, causing Lu Rong’s whole body to freeze. The hem of his dark brown monk’s robe came into view, and Master Hong also knelt down to pet the dog and continued to ask, “Has your man returned to the city?”
Lu Rong buried his face down desperately, pretending he was mistaken for someone else.
“Don’t hide, I recognized you long ago, Uncle Cai’s grandson.” Master Hong scratched the dog’s chin, “With the village gone, will your man be able to find you when he returns? The two of you are going to break up.”
Lu Rong looked up abruptly, “How can I not be found? The village will be rebuilt, and he will come back to see me during the winter holidays.”
Master Hong said, “No, there are so many beautiful children out there, he will forget about you.”
Lu Rong got up in a huff and said, “Puppy, go, leave him alone.”
Puppy was squinting comfortably, so he shook off Master Hong’s hand scratching his chin and quickly leaned close to Lu Rong.
“You’re in a hurry.” Master Hong said.
“No, I’m not.”
“You’re weak in your heart.”
“No, I’m not.”
Lu Rong turned around to go back to the cafeteria, walked two steps and then stopped, ran back and whispered, “We are not going to break up, and he will not forget me.” After some thought, he added, “I’m better looking than all those little kids.”
Master Hong only closed his eyes and recited, “Amitabha Buddha.”
He looked so anger inducing that Lu Rong grunted and went into the house.
Only then did Master Hong smile and touch his bald head, and take out a porcelain basin from his pocket, and begin to go around the tent to gather alms.
“…Shiyi, two more slices of meat in that bowl.”
Lu Rong entered the dining hall and saw Master Hong’s chickens, still with their wings tied, lying under a bench. With a twinkle in his eye, he caught the chickens, untied the cloth from their wings, and drove them out of the dining hall.
When the chickens were free, they ran happily among the tents, and Lu Rong put his hands together again and shouted, “Master Hong, oh no! Your chickens have all run away!”
Master Hong turned his head to look, and couldn’t care less about gathering alms. He put the porcelain basin on the stone pier next to him, and scolded Lu Rong for being a bad boy, while he went to catch the chickens running around.
Lu Rong smiled and watched for a while, seeing him woefully scratching left and right, finally comfortable in his heart.
For the next few days, everyone lived in the tent and met in the cafeteria every afternoon.
At the beginning, the leaders who came to provide relief spoke, the leaders from the county spoke, the town mayor spoke, and the village chief, Grandpa Cai, spoke. After that, the villagers spoke freely, and sometimes there were heated arguments.
Lu Rong was squatting on the ground, plucking ants, when he saw the old woman of the Wang family rushing out of the canteen with a bag of rolls, shouting that she would die on the ruins of the old house, but was hurriedly held back by others.
Whenever this happened, a group of small children would stand around and watch, full of curiosity, until they were driven away by their parents.
Lu Rong didn’t want to go with them to catch chickens and dogs, so he took the puppy back and forth.
After two days of this noise, he passed by the canteen again and saw that the villagers had calmed down a lot and were asking the leaders what to do with the fields.
When he came back after a few turns, he saw that everyone was writing on a piece of paper and saying words like “resettlement fee”. Their expressions looked quite satisfied, and some people were smiling and offering cigarettes to people around.
But he wasn’t interested in that and went back to the small tent where he was staying with Grandpa Cai.
At ten o’clock in the evening, he fell into a deep sleep on the ground, not even knowing when Grandpa Cai would return from his meeting.
The next morning, Lu Rong was awakened by a loud noise.
It was several cars roaring, someone calling their children, and pigs, cows and sheep bellowing from time to time. Puppy was already awake, lying on his back with his ears by his bunk, staring fixedly at the tent door. He got up with a start and found that it wasn’t yet dawn outside and he was the only one in the tent; Grandpa Cai was nowhere to be found.
Lu Rong hurriedly put on his clothes and shoes and got out of the tent.
The village people were lining up to get on the trucks, and soldiers were driving livestock to the trucks. When he rubbed his eyes and passed by, Lu Rong called out to him, “Brother Egg, where are they going?”
Egg said, “I don’t know. My mother woke me up and said I was going to live in town.”
“…Oh.” Lu Rong said, “I don’t understand”.
He saw a busy Grandpa Cai in the crowd, directing people to get on the bus, so he didn’t panic and just stood in front of the tent and watched.
At the entrance of the canteen, a worker brought two buns and called out to him, “Lu Rong! Come and have breakfast.”
Lu Rong turned around, “I haven’t brushed my teeth and washed my face yet.”
“How can you be so fussy about this? Then go to the front of the house, there’s a sink there.”
The other workers laughed, “Lu Rong is going to be a town boy soon, of course he is fussy about it.”
“I don’t have a toothbrush, it’s still at home.” Lu Rong spoke again.
The cafeteria cook came out with a new toothbrush, “Here’s a new toothbrush, go wash up.”
Lu Rong stood in front of the sink brushing his teeth, and began to think about the worker’s words. Why did he say he was going to be a town boy soon? Did the village not want him anymore?
Lu Rong stopped brushing his teeth and stared at the snow-white sink in a daze.
One by one, buses left the site and followed the winding road down the mountain. As each bus passed the entrance to the village, a chorus of cries would ring out from inside the bus, all of them looking tearfully at their former homes. Buried in that rubble were the memories of their childhood, the sweetness of their wedding night, and the joy of a new baby. It wasn’t just a pile of debris, but their entire life.
Even the strongest person in the world would be crying in this situation.
Grandpa Cai sent off the last bus and finished the follow-up before calling Lu Rong, squatting down and saying, “Rong Rong, although Grandpa’s roots are in Longguan Mountain, now the roots are gone, so we have to go down the mountain.” He also touched Lu Rong’s feet and laughed, “My child’s roots are gone too.”
His face met the sun, his eyes danced with water, and there was a strong sadness in his old eyes.
Lu Rong looked at Grandpa Cai, reached out and put his arms around his neck, pressed his face to his, and only after a long time did he whisper, “Grandpa, I have roots. Where you are, my roots are there.”
Grandpa Cai was stunned, slowly embracing the small body in his arms, after a while he shook his head with a smile, “Rong Rong ah, Grandpa has lived a long life, but is still inferior to a child like you.” After saying that, he stood up with Lu Rong in his arms, kissed him on the top of his head and said, “My child is right, where Grandpa is, your roots will be there. As long as my child is here, Grandpa’s roots will have soil, and as long as we are together, anywhere can be home.”