Chapter 32: Waiting
Translated by Fefe of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Tang Heng was the only one left in the room. He got up to close the door tightly. Then he sat down and dialed Li Yuechi’s number.
He’d long deleted this string of numbers, but without surprise, he still remembered it—like a guitar pick he’d put in the drawer, he wouldn’t use it every day, but he could always find it precisely when he needed it. This thought discouraged Tang Heng, so when the call was picked up, his tone was quite upset, making him sound mean, “Li Yuechi, where are you?”
Li Yuechi was quiet for two seconds. “I’m at school.”
“Come to the research office. The one from last time.”
“Is something wrong?”
“Yes, something.” Tang Heng spoke rapidly, maybe because he was nervous. “Come right now.”
“Can’t you say it over the phone?”
Li Yuechi responded with an “Mn” and hung up. Tang Heng stared at the Excel sheet on his laptop screen, wondering what that mn meant. Was he coming or not? But no matter what, he wanted to see Li Yuechi.
Fourteen minutes later, someone knocked on the door. Tang Heng opened it and was faced with Li Yuechi’s gaze. There were some streaks of sweat on his forehead and his lips were dry, showing signs of cracking soon. Tang Heng looked away and said, “Close the door.”
Li Yuechi closed the door cooperatively and asked, “What’s wrong?”
He was carrying his backpack and didn’t even sit down, seeming like he was going to leave immediately. “You’re in a hurry?” Tang Heng asked in response.
“Yeah,” Li Yuechi said. “I have class.”
“That tutoring class?”
“How much do they give you every month?”
“Depends on the lesson time.” Li Yuechi’s brows creased. “What exactly is wrong?”
“Don’t teach anymore. I’ll give you three times the salary to finish this project.”
“You know Pan Peng, right? He said you quit because you think the pay is too low.”
Li Yuechi stood without moving. He didn’t speak either as if admitting it by default.
“This is your work from the beginning. You’re gonna quit just like this? I’ll give you money, you finish it.” As Tang Heng spoke, he picked up the VANS canvas bag from the chair. There were scattered bills and coins inside, and a bank card. Tang Heng grabbed the money, some fifties and some hundreds, and tossed them one by one onto the table. “I’ll pay you tomorrow’s salary first. Is this enough?”
Li Yuechi gazed at the colorful bills, face expressionless.
“Not enough?” Tang Heng found the bank card. “Come with me to the ATM. I can take money out on campus.”
“Xuedi,” he finally said. “This is meaningless.”
“I just don’t want to get handed this mess. It’s nothing to do with being meaningless or not,” Tang Heng said nonchalantly. “I’m not giving you free money. I’m not lending you money. I’m hiring you to work, got it?”
Tang Heng continued, “Doesn’t your girlfriend urgently need money? This is good for both of us.”
Li Yuechi was silent again.
Tang Heng picked up a carbon pencil and spun it lazily between his fingers. He waited like that for a moment. Then he heard Li Yuechi’s low voice say, “I’ll think about it.”
“I’ll give you two days to think. It’s 2:17 PM right now. Don’t go past the time limit.” Tang Heng’s tone was quite happy.
Li Yuechi left directly.
The sound of the door closing was a bit loud.
His departure took away the little amounts of happiness. Tang Heng shut down his laptop, picked up his bag, and went downstairs. Standing in the shade, he dialed Tian Xiaoqin’s number. The afternoon sun was at its brightest, but his face was dark.
“Shijie, I have a question.”
“Huh? Oh… Wait a second,” Tian Xiaoqin said quietly, sounding surprised.
After around half a minute, An Yun’s voice came from the other end of the call. “Tang Heng, what are you doing?”
“…You two are together?”
“We just visited an art gallery.” An Yun paused. “Did you eat gunpowder? So mean.”
Did he sound mean? “I’m looking for Tian Xiaoqin,” Tang Heng said.
“Why? Don’t scare Xiaoqin!”
“I have questions.”
“I said, I’m looking for Tian Xiaoqin.”
An Yun muttered “fuck” under her breath and gave the phone to Tian Xiaoqin.
“Shijie, tell me the truth. Why did Li Yuechi quit?”
“Well… I think he said that the pay is too low…”
“Pay too low?” Nice. They’d planned out the alibi beforehand.
“Yeah, it’s only 800-kuai per month, you know.”
“If you don’t tell me the truth, I’ll go ask Teacher Tang, or Dean Zhang—Zhang Jianlong, right?” Tang Heng chuckled. “I’m on campus right now. I’ll go to the economic department right now.”
“Then tell me.”
“We… We had no choice.” Tian Xiaoqin’s voice softened immediately, tinged with puzzlement. “It was all going well, but then the project got handed over to the economic department, and we only had two spots…”
“Aren’t you and Li Yuechi two people exactly?”
“He said you need this spot. You need to put it into your CV to study abroad—”
It was Tang Heng’s turn to curse under his breath. “Fuck.”
That was just an excuse he’d come up with for Li Yuechi to accept his money. Getting credit for a research project was nothing for him.
He didn’t think that Li Yuechi would believe it.
“Happy? Satisfied?” An Yun had grabbed the phone back. “The situation is already like this, so stop messing around!”
“I don’t need this.” Tang Heng’s voice had recovered a bit. “This spot was supposed to be Li Yuechi’s.”
“You… Ah, wait, I’ll tell you tomorrow in person.” An Yun sighed. “It’s not as simple as you think.”
Tang Heng replied, “Okay,” and hung up briskly. He suddenly felt so stuffy. Wuhan’s humid sunlight stuck to his skin, steaming out droplets of sweat. Tang Heng quickly reached his building, got onto his bike, and set out to Li Yuechi’s apartment. He couldn’t explain why he was going, because Li Yuechi wasn’t even home at this time—he was tutoring. But it wasn’t important. He could wait, he thought.
Halfway there, he got another call from An Yun. She seemed worried about him. “Tang Heng, you didn’t cause trouble, right?”
“Not yet.” Tang Heng pedaled the bike slowly. “But you better give me a reasonable explanation.”
“No, you… How did you know?”
“Is it hard to guess?” Tang Heng scoffed. Pan Peng’s seemingly genuine expression appeared before his eyes. “A dumbass said that Li Yuechi only cares about money and thought this pay was too long. Do you think that’s possible?”
“Li Yuechi does need money badly,” An Yun said helplessly. “Pan Peng said that, right?”
“He does need money, but if he really would do anything for money—”
He wouldn’t keep rejecting my money, Tang Heng thought.
“Nothing. I’ll tell you tomorrow.”
“Don’t be impulsive! This isn’t as simple as you think,” An Yun repeated.
Tang Heng replied in affirmation, patronizingly. He didn’t actually want to cause trouble at all, nor was he in a hurry to get things straight with that dumbass Pan Peng. Because he could already see Li Yuechi’s dilapidated building. The trash pile was still there before the door, still reeking. Tang Heng stopped his bike and climbed up the rusty metal stairs, clanging.
The umbrella hanging outside the door was gone, but there was now a pair of black canvas shoes. They hung from the railing, looking a bit ridiculous. The black surface was faded from getting washed, but it was very clean. The tongue was turned out, showing two very blurry labels. The brand was Warrior, size 43. There was a crack inside the shoe, close to the sole. It was in this state and yet he was still wearing it, still washing it? Tang Heng took a step back and leaned against the door, feeling like he’d just acted like a pervert.
He couldn’t explain why he’d come here, like he was in a hurry to see Li Yuechi—even though he knew he wasn’t here, he still wanted to wait for him. But what should he say after seeing Li Yuechi? Say, thank you for thinking for me? With Li Yuechi’s personality, he’d probably reply, Because you’re Teacher Tang’s nephew, and then politely add, Xuedi, do you need anything else? He could really make a corpse turn in its coffin.
Now, it was already past four o’clock and the sun was starting to fall to the west. Standing at the entrance of the second floor, he could see the surrounding buildings of varying heights. Some households had stuck two rods out of their windows, brazenly drying tank tops and underwear under the sun. Dusk painted those clothes in a faint layer of reddish orange. Wuhan was a slovenly place, but at least the sunset was pretty, as brilliant as a scene from a manhua.
Had Li Yuechi seen views like this? He didn’t know. The boy was so busy every day. Would he have the mood to enjoy the sunset?
Tang Heng got tired from standing, so he leaned against the door. Da Da Band’s South played on repeat in his headphones. Whenever Peng Tan sang the line, My first love is there, his heart would shake like a bell.
Even though he knew that Li Yuehci had a girlfriend.
Tang Heng turned to the side and switched to pushing against the door with his shoulder. Did Li Yuechi have to teach for this long? He wouldn’t have to pass out flyers after teaching, right? Actually, he could call and ask, but Tang Heng didn’t want to. He turned and switched to his other shoulder against the door.
A few seconds later, Tang Heng heard a crack—it wasn’t from his body.
Tang Heng got up and grabbed the door handle with doubt. He pushed—
The door opened.
The cylinder from the lock was by his foot, clinking briskly.
Tang Heng: “…”
Now he had to keep waiting.
Tang Heng swore that he didn’t want to go in—it was Li Yuechi’s fault that his apartment was so tiny. He could see the entire room just by standing at the door. There was a wrinkly gray shirt at the foot of the bed, a chipped bowl stood on the moving container, and there was a dark green cup by the bowl—Tang Heng froze for two seconds before remembering that it was the fragrance candle he’d bought. Last time he came to Li Yuechi’s apartment, he’d bought this because he found the trash pile downstairs too stinky.
How many days had it been? Li Yuechi never lit the candle. He just stood it there. Tang Heng walked in and found a book under it. It was Fei Xiaotong’s From the Soil. He knew it was wrong, but he still opened the book without thinking. It was from the school library and was filled with sticky notes, most likely bookmarks. Li Yuechi was reading this? Tang Heng could see him sitting before the two stacked containers, back slightly hunched, as he flipped through the pages one by one, sometimes adding a note. That fragrance candle would be next to his hand. It was unlit, but one could still whiff the faint scent—it was the smell of common sage.
Tang Heng’s cheeks burned. He quickly put the book and candle back in their place and turned to walk out the door. But the instant he turned, he saw that white plastic packet hanging from the wall. It was the one he and Li Yuechi had picked up from the puddle on that rainy night. He knew it contained an X-ray from the Central Hospital—the X-ray of Li Yuechi’s girlfriend.
Tang Heng stared at the packet. The light had been dim that night, so he hadn’t discovered that the packet had the patient’s info written on it. Name, gender, age—
Zhao Xuelan, female, 32 years old.