Translated by Addis of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
The smell in the cattle pen was very bad, so Lu Rong curled himself up on a pile of hay, his nostrils were full of the smell of grass and wood, which was much better. He looked outside at the snowflakes and began to think.
The kindergarten children had all been picked up and taken home. He wondered if Wang Tu had given him a leave of absence. If he didn’t, the teacher would be angry. He didn’t think whether he could go back to kindergarten or not, but the mere thought of his teacher being angry made him anxious.
Lu Rong pricked up his ears to listen to the sounds of talking and laughter in the distance, and shrank back into the hay. At first the group of children came back with the cows, each carrying a large piece of ice with a hole on top of it, tied with a straw rope, and they ate as they walked.
They stopped in front of the barn and waited for the oldest child with the cattle to bring them in. The older child just pushed open the fence, and stood still.
The other children also stopped chattering and stared blankly ahead.
Lu Rong was a little nervous, he was leaning back on the hay, panicked, trying to sit up with his hands, but the soft hay wasn’t easy to hold, and he fell down and rolled on the ground. He hurriedly got up, stood up straight and the group of children looking at each other, hands grabbed their own pants leg.
In the quiet, the older child, eight or nine years old, was the first to come to his senses and asked Lu Rong, “Why are you in the barn? Where is the man who was carrying you?”
He spoke in a dialect that Lu Rong didn’t understand well, but only heard the word ‘barn’ clearly, so he said in a timid whisper, “I’ll leave later.”
“Didn’t we just see that man by the stream? He walked alone.” Some other children nearby said to the older child.
“Yeah, yeah, I saw him too! He was walking alone toward the road, probably going down the hill.”
“Why didn’t he take this kid with him? He just left him in the barn?”
The group of children shouted, all crowding forward, lying on the wooden fence to see Lu Rong, and the cows were pushed aside.
Lu Rong didn’t know what they were talking about, so he quietly took a step backwards, tripped over a pile of grass, and fell backwards to sit down again.
The woolen hat slipped onto his face, so he hurriedly pushed up and put it back on. The two pom-poms tied to the top of the hat were loose, hanging in his face and blocking his eyes, so he plucked the pom-poms to adjust the position.
The group of children seemed to see something funny, and all laughed loudly, staring at him for a moment.
Lu Rong, surrounded by such a crowd and not knowing what they were laughing at, panicked and tried to find a place to hide. But there was only this pile of hay in the barn, so he could only sit rigidly, and his eyes began to redden.
The big kid with the cows yelled at them, as if to tell them to be quiet, and everyone quieted down. He dropped his head again and asked again in less-than-standard Mandarin.
“Why are you sitting in the barn? Did the man who was carrying you just now put you here? Where did he go?”
This time Lu Rong understood. He didn’t want to answer, but he was a little afraid of being blocked by these people, so he whispered back, “He’s gone, I came in by myself.”
The group of children looked at each other, or the older child ordered a few words, two of them ran away quickly, and in a short time brought an adult over.
Lu Rong was still sitting on the hay, looking down at his feet and resting his hands on his knees. He heard an adult’s voice asking questions, but he didn’t need to answer, the children were scrambling to answer.
Someone came in, and a pair of black and blue cotton shoes stopped in front of him.
“Kid, it’s cold for you to sit here, let’s go back to the fire.” The man reached out to take him, “Look at these gloves, they are wet, take them off.”
Lu Rong’s gloves were removed and his hand was held. He felt the warmth of the dry roughness, but he still tried desperately to pull his hand back and curl it into his sleeve again.
“Your little hand has become a lump of ice, let’s go back to the fire.” He didn’t look up, only heard the man’s soft voice, like the old grandfather in the kindergarten security booth.
“He can’t understand, speak Mandarin.” The group of children were shouting again, “Grandpa Cai, you have to speak Mandarin.”
“Grandpa Cai can’t speak Mandarin! Hahahahahaha!”
Grandpa Cai, who was squatting in front of Lu Rong, turned his head and said with a smile, “Grandpa Cai is the village chief. How come he can’t speak Mandarin? The last time I went to a meeting in the village, a few people from the big city came, and I spoke Mandarin.”
“Don’t believe it.” The children jumped and laughed, “Let’s hear you say something, do you know Pinyin? How many more letters of Pinyin can you recite?”
“Grandpa Cai, do you know what aoe is?”
As they were talking, a few more adults came outside the cattle pen and stood outside to communicate with Grandpa Cai.
“It’s a sin how cold it is! Who would just throw a child in a cattle pen? If the children didn’t find him, it’d be hard to say how long the child would’ve lived.”
“Where did this kid come from?”
“He was brought by Gao Chenggang and was intended to be sold to Wang Cuihua.”
“Which Gao Chenggang?”
“The relatives of Gao’s house in Zengjia Village, said to have moved to Guizhou in the early years, and now they are engaged in the sale of children.”
“Still engaged in it? Didn’t they say they were caught?”
“Not caught, ran away, his brother was arrested.”
“So what to do now? Wang Cuihua definitely doesn’t want him, and Gao Chenggang ran away again.”
Lu Rong knew they were talking about him, and just looked down at his shoes, rubbing his feet gently, trying to get the mud off the edge of his boots. The hand that was trying to hold him just now reached out again, holding one of his feet while the other hand took the hay and wiped off the mud chunks on it.
“Child, you and Grandpa Cai go back first. We’ll talk about this tomorrow, it’s getting dark.” The adult outside the wooden fence said to Lu Rong.
The children chattered again, “Speak Mandarin, he can’t understand.”
The adult changed to broken Mandarin, “Child, you and Grandpa Cai go, it’s dark.”
The children began to waggle their tongues and giggle.
Lu Rong listened to their occasional bursts of laughter, so he wasn’t as nervous as he had been at first, and secretly raised his head to look at the man wiping his shoes in front of him.
While cleaning his shoes, Grandpa Cai said, “Child, go back to the fire. Tomorrow, I will send you down the mountain.”
“Child, go back to the fire, tomorrow Grandpa Cai will send you down the mountain.” The children followed suit again.
Lu Rong looked at him and then turned his head to look at the dark sky and the cold snow.
After a moment’s hesitation, when the people thought they would have to persuade for a while, they saw the child come out and put his two small arms very gently around the neck of Grandpa Cai.
Grandpa Cai seemed to be stunned, immediately reacted, smiling at Lu Rong in his arms and stood up.
“Let’s go. All of us should go home, so as not to freeze our noses off. We still need to find out who this child is.”
The children gathered around Grandpa Cai and followed him to his home, while reaching out to secretly touch Lu Rong’s feet. They laughed excitedly whenever Lu Rong looked up at them from the side of Grandpa Cai’s neck.
Lu Rong was carried into a courtyard, and Grandpa Cai drove all the children home and closed the gate. When they entered the house, he was placed on a bench by a fireplace, and Grandpa Cai said, “Good boy, sit down, and I will make a fire for you.”
Lu Rong sat still on the bench and watched Grandpa Cai take a long bamboo tube and blow it into the fire, and after a few strokes, the wood inside started an orange, warm fire.
Grandpa Cai removed Lu Rong’s scarf and gloves, and brought hot water to wash his face and hands, and finally used a large wooden basin to soak his feet in.
“It’s warm, so your little feet won’t freeze.” Grandpa Cai said.
The hot water was very comfortable. Lu Rong soaked for a while before he felt his feet grow back into his body, and he began to gently move his big toes.
Grandpa Cai squatted next to him and smiled, reached in and poked his big toe and said, “Little bug.”
The two little fat feet immediately folded up, a few toes also curled up as if shy, Grandpa Cai stroked his head and said, “Soak well, I’ll go get you food.”
Lu Rong nodded very gently, put his hands on his knees and continued to soak his feet, waiting for Grandpa Cai to go out to the kitchen next door before turning his eyes to look around.
Grandpa Cai soon brought over a bowl of noodles and put it on the square table. Then he went to the bedroom and opened the large standing cabinet and took out a brand new towel. He used scissors to cut the towel open, wiped Lu Rong’s feet clean, and then wrapped both feet in the towel like small dumplings. Then put on a pair of very large cotton shoes, putting Lu Rong’s snow boots to dry next to the fire.
He picked up Lu Rong, placed him at the square table, and asked him, “Want Grandpa to feed you?”
Lu Rong stared at the steaming bowl of noodles, with two fried eggs lying at the top, swallowed and shook his head.
Grandpa Cai handed him the chopsticks and said, “Then eat while it’s hot.”
The bench was so high that Lu Rong sat on it with his legs hanging in the air. But the square table was much taller than the bench, and he had to poke his head to see the noodles in the bowl.
He raised his hand and unskillfully used his chopsticks to pick up the noodles, but after a few tries, he failed to pick up the noodles and looked at Grandpa Cai with some apprehension. He wasn’t very good at chopsticks, and usually when he ate noodles at home, they were rolled up with a fork and fed into his mouth. When Grandpa Cai started helping him, Lu Rong also stopped insisting on doing it himself and started to eat the noodles in big bites.
“Good boy, what is your name? Remember your home? Do you know the names of your parents at home?” Grandpa Cai asked in dialect, and when Lu Rong didn’t answer, he asked again in broken Mandarin.
Lu Rong suddenly stopped eating noodles and looked sideways at the bench without speaking. His long eyelashes hung low, falling in a row of shadows along the bottom of his eyes.
“Grandpa won’t ask, eat first, eat first.” Grandpa Cai said repeatedly, and picked up another piece of egg and fed it to Lu Rong’s mouth.
Lu Rong swallowed the egg in his mouth before whispering, “My name is Lu Rong, Rong Rong’s spelled with fluffy. I’m four years old, I’m in the middle class of kindergarten, and I’ve been awarded five times as a good boy and three times as a clean boy.” His voice was getting smaller and smaller, and finally only his mouth was wriggling, and Grandpa Cai heard the first half of it and knew that his name was Lu Rong and he was four years old.
When he had eaten, Grandpa Cai carried Lu Rong to the fire again and uncovered the pillowcase hitched to the long coffee table, revealing a television set underneath.
“…Secretary Shen said that the development of Longquan Mountain’s tourism resources is the top priority of the current work…”
The TV was in black and white, very small, and Lu Rong’s eyes were drawn to the voice to see Grandpa Cai twisting the knob next to it, clicking and changing the channel.
“…The natural and human landscapes of Longquan Mountain are intertwined…”
Grandpa Cai changed out three stations with images, all of which were the same news, and he said to himself, “All local stations again, where did all the usual cartoons go?”
He continued to change channels, the rest were all snowflakes, when he turned his head he saw Lu Rong rubbing his eyes and yawning, so he turned off the TV and went to hug him, “Rong Rong, go to sleep.”
Lu Rong was already very tired, and when Grandpa Cai put him to bed to undress, he habitually wanted to lean on Grandpa Cai’s shoulder and close his eyes to sleep, but just before he leaned on him, he remembered that he wasn’t Wang Tu, and hurriedly raised his head and tried to keep his eyes open.
Grandpa Cai stripped him down to his underwear, tucked his soft little body under the warm blanket, and tucked in the corners again.
Lu Rong almost fell asleep next to the pillow, and in a haze he heard Grandpa Cai say, “Sleep well. Grandpa will take you down to the police station tomorrow to find your parents.”