Chapter 6: Can’t Hold On
Translated by Fefe of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
It was like a bolt from the blue for Tang Heng.
Li Yuechi was wearing yesterday’s gray jacket. It was windy in the morning, so he folded his collars up to cover up his face. He didn’t say anything after mouthing those words—he just stood in place, looking at Tang Heng.
Sun Jihao made a surprised noise and called out nervously, “Shidi?”
“Sun-laoshi,” Li Yuechi said with a smile. “Good morning.”
“Mornin’, mornin’. Hey, Xiao Li, how come you’re so early? Shidi, did you finish eating? Wait, I have something to say to you! Shidi!”
Tang Heng ignored him and strode away.
More accurately, he fled.
Li Yuechi didn’t run after him.
Fifteen minutes later, Tang Heng was in the backseat of the SUV. The line of cars was all ready to go. Seeing the car in front of them drive off, he asked the driver, “Why aren’t we going?”
The driver twisted around glanced at Tang Heng with confusion. “Sir, we’re still missing someone.”
“Xiao Li—oh, he’s here.”
Before he even finished, the passenger seat’s door was opened and Li Yuechi ducked in. He greeted the driver and pulled a medicine box out of his pocket and handed it expressionlessly to Tang Heng.
Tang Heng froze for two seconds before accepting it. He suddenly realized that he’d used up the motion sickness patches yesterday and hadn’t put one on today.
No, no. The point wasn’t that Li Yuechi gave him another box of patches.
“Why are you here?” Tang Heng asked even though the driver was there.
“I’m your guide for the village,” Li Yuechi said.
“You?” They indeed needed a guide for entering the village. One, someone had to lead the way because mountain homes weren’t next to each other like on flat land. Two, it was sometimes hard to communicate with the villagers, so they needed the guide to help.
But according to the rules, the guides had to be residents of the village.
With his back to Tang Heng, Li Yuechi said calmly, “You’re going to Banxi Village today.”
“I live there.”
Banxi Village was in the southwest of Yinjiang County. It was around two hours by car—after the highway was constructed in 2015.
“What about before 2015?” Tang Heng gazed at the continuous mountains outside the window. It was hard to imagine that this narrow highway had only been constructed two years ago.
“It was all dirt paths, yeah. Hard to travel.” The driver was very talkative. “My wife’s cousin’s husband is from this village. He went out to work in 2007—he went to Wenzhou and didn’t come back for five years! He finally made some money, but his mom got sick. That kind of… emergency, you know. He ran back, but there’s a mudslide and he couldn’t make it back in time…” The SUV had already driven out of the county and was going down the flat asphalt road. But the mountains were still there on either side of the road, one after another in the shadows. Up close, he could see the ups and downs of the gray rock walls. Tang Heng realized that he couldn’t imagine how to live in this place.
The SUV drove into a tunnel. His vision went black for those short few seconds. Tang Heng heard his own voice ask, “How did you go from home to Wuhan for school?”
When light returned, Li Yuechi said, “Caught a ride to the county, took a bus to Tongren, then a train.”
“Was it troublesome?”
“Not too bad.”
“Of course it’s troublesome!” the driver said. “Laoshi, you grew up in the city, right?”
“You don’t know how it is. They all say you need a road to get rich, it’s totally true!” The driver spun the steering wheel. Tang Heng saw that two or three meters away from the car was a steep cliff. “Lemme put it this way, Teacher Tang. Before the road was constructed, it’d take an entire day to get from Banxi Village to the county city when everything was normal—mountain paths twist and turn!”
Tang Heng gazed at Li Yuechi’s expressionless side profile. He didn’t know how to respond, so he just said, “Thank god the road was constructed.”
“Yeah! The country’s policies are great, Macao is great too. We really have to thank you all…” The driver chuckled shyly and lamented, “Our place is too poor. People can’t walk out of the mountains.”
The SUV streaked through the mountains. The clear day was windy. When there weren’t asphalt roads, the dirt would explode and fly up in plumes. Tang Heng had to close the windows and, soon, the glass was covered in a layer of brown dust. There were 180-degree turns, one after another. Tang Heng had put on the motion sickness patches, but he still got dizzy, so he closed his eyes.
Another tunnel. Not long after, the driver suddenly stopped the car.
Tang Heng opened his eyes. “We’re here?”
“There’s still, like, half an hour. Why’d they stop?” The driver stuck his head out the window and called out, “What’s wrong?”
“Car sickness!” the driver of another car answered from afar. “A student threw up!”
Tang Heng opened the door. “I’ll go check.”
There were four students in the car up front. When Tang Heng walked over, he saw a girl squatting on the side. There was an opened bottle of water next to her feet.
“Feeling better?” Tang Heng asked.
“I feel better after throwing up.” Her voice was tiny and sounded pitiful. “I took medicine earlier… The roads here have too many turns.”
“Try your best. You’ll only come once. Rest up and we’ll get going in ten minutes.” Tang Heng dug a car sickness patch out of his pocket and handed it to her. “Stick this on.”
“Ah, thanks laoshi…”
Tang Heng turned—and froze. Li Yuechi was standing in the near distance. Tang Heng didn’t know when he’d come.
“Teacher Tang, can you come over?” Li Yuechi asked. He was quite polite in front of the student.
Tang Heng walked over. They stood on the side of the road, the cliff a few steps away.
“Let’s rest,” Li Yuechi said. He pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. It was the Zhonghua that Tang Heng had bought. “Have a smoke?”
The students had all gotten out of the cars and were getting some fresh air around the highway. He shouldn’t smoke in front of them, but times were different. Tang Heng actually had no way to reject Li Yuechi. He felt guilty inside.
Tang Heng put the cigarette between his lips. Li Yuechi pulled out his lighter, cupped his other hand around to block the wind, and lit it for him.
“How about you?” Tang Heng asked.
Li Yuechi shook his head.
Tang Heng ended up inhaling the smoke alone. “Didn’t think it’d be this far.”
“Yeah.” Li Yuechi laughed. “Why did you have to come suffer like this?”
Tang Heng’s hand holding the cigarette tensed. He’d indeed heard that sentence.
“Since you’ll only come once, why don’t you just not come? Don’t you get really carsick?” Li Yuechi was still smiling, but it didn’t reach his eyes.
“I was talking about her. She’ll only come this once… Not me.”
“Will you still come?”
The cliff was a few steps away; the mountain wind was abnormally sharp in the morning.
Tang Heng stared at the cliff. A few seconds later, Li Yuechi said from the side, “Don’t be scared.”
“You’re scared I’ll push you down.” Li Yuechi took two steps forward so he was facing Tang Heng, back to the cliff. “Is this better? Only you can push me down now.”
Tang Heng’s heart tremored. “That’s not what I meant!” he exclaimed tightly.
But Li Yuechi continued, “We both feel better this way. After all, I stabbed someone before.”
Tang Heng couldn’t say anything. He just felt terrified. Li Yuechi’s jacket flapped in the wind. Inside, Tang Heng calculated that if Li Yuechi jumped the next second, his reaction speed and the distance between them was enough for him to grab onto him. But why would Li Yuechi jump? What was he thinking about?
“Can I ask a question?”
“Yes.” Maybe Tang Heng didn’t notice, but his voice quivered.
“Why did you come to Shijiang?”
“Work.” Tang Heng paused. “It wasn’t supposed to be me. A teacher got hospitalized, so they switched to me.”
“And you agreed?”
“I didn’t know it was Shijiang.”
“And after you knew?”
“I thought…” Tang Heng said with difficulty. “I thought it couldn’t be that coincidental to meet you.”
“Mn.” Li Yuechi was thoughtful. “You have bad luck.”
“Meeting again is a good thing.”
“Not like you’ll come a second time.”
Tang Heng knew he couldn’t deny it.
A cloud—white and long—floated across the sky, covering the sunlight. The sky darkened and the wind seemed to grow stronger. For one instant, a thought indeed flashed through his mind: Li Yuechi wouldn’t push him down, right?
After all, he should hate him. Of course, it wasn’t just him, but also his uncle, his entire family. If Li Yuechi hadn’t met them, his life wouldn’t be like this right now.
It wasn’t that Li Yuechi was evil. Just, if Li Yuechi really did push him down, it was understandable.
“How come you’re in Macao?” Li Yuechi continued asking.
“They were hiring at our school around graduation, so I went.”
Li Yuechi lowered his eyes and shook his head. He only asked a few questions—in fact, his tone was interrogative—but Tang Heng looked at him and felt sadness for some reason.
“Tang Heng,” Li Yuechi said, “do you know why Macao gives Guizhou aid?”
Tang Heng was surprised. He suddenly realized that it was Li Yuechi’s first time calling his full name. The first time since they met again.
“…Because of the national policies?”
“There’s another explanation,” Li Yuechi said earnestly. “I only found out yesterday. Macao’s drinking water comes from the Xijiang River. The upstream crosses through Guizhou. The news said that Macao aids Guizhou because we drink from the same river.”
“…Is that so.”
Drink from the same river.
So, this reunion had been arranged the moment he’d decided to work in Macao?
Emotions battled inside Tang Heng, but he forced up the corners of his lips into a smile. “What a coincidence.”
“Yeah.” Li Yuechi looked past Tang Heng to the SUV up front. Tang Heng turned to look as well. The carsick girl took a few mouthfuls of water and ducked back into the car.
She must be okay now.
“We’ll be leaving soon,” Li Yuechi said in a low voice. “How about we make a bet? It’s such a coincidence that we met again, so it’ll be a pity if we don’t make a bet.”
“Bet what?” Tang Heng asked in hesitation.
“I’ll take three steps backwards. If I step off the cliff and you can catch me in time, you would save me life and we’ll be equal.”
“If I don’t step off…” Li Yuechi paused for two seconds. “Then you’ll be with me until you go back to Macao.”
Tang Heng’s entire body tremored. Did he hear incorrectly?
But Li Yuechi’s expression was too serious—so serious that every word was like a crisp nail hammered into Tang Heng’s eardrums with a clang. But what was this? He must be toying with him. Or was he angry?
“Li Yuechi, listen, I know you feel wronged about what happened…” Tang Heng tried his best to sound warm and gentle. “I don’t know what your future plans are, but I can—”
“One.” Li Yuechi took a step back, his expression calm as ever. Then he took another step. “Two—”
“Li Yuechi!!!” Tang Heng ran over and grabbed his arm, grabbing him with all his might, and pulled him back to his side.
“I agree—I agree.” The cigarette had long been thrown away. Veins bulged on his arm and his heart pounded like he himself had just died. “We—we’ll be together.” What was he saying? It didn’t matter. Li Yuechi was crazy.
The driver ran over when he heard the noise. “Teacher Tang, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” Li Yuechi let Tang Heng grab onto himself and said lightly, “We’re just joking around.”
“Oh.” The driver didn’t suspect anything. “Let’s get into the car. We can get going.”
Tang Heng sat into the car in a daze. He felt like he was still rooted in his spot, watching Li Yuechi step backwards—he ignored his words as if he couldn’t hear anything. In just one step, maybe half a step, he would fall into the wind like a kite and Tang Heng wouldn’t be able to hold on. Six Years ago, he’d said, Li Yuechi, don’t go, but his brain had been muddled and his body, powerless. He could only let Li Yuechi dig out all the cash from his pocket and then watch his backside disappear from the doorway. This time, he was still powerless. He couldn’t hold onto him. That familiar helplessness almost broke him down.
Li Yuechi opened the backdoor and got in from the other side, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with Tang Heng.
“Hey, Xiao Li,” the driver said. “Not sitting in the front?” As he spoke, he shot a look at Li Yuechi, as if saying, That’s the official’s seat. Why are you sitting there?
“Teacher Tang is a bit carsick.” Li Yuechi’s expression didn’t falter. “He wants to lean against me and nap.”
“Ah, I’ll drive more steadily!”
Tang Hang turned his head very, very slowly and looked at Li Yuechi.
Li Yuechi met his eyes and said without shame, “Teacher Tang, don’t make it too hard for yourself.”