Chapter 1: The Man Who Fainted in the Courtyard
“He lifted his head and looked at me, his gaze sterned and his expression cold, just like a beast waiting for the opportunity to pounce on its prey.”
At dawn, the first ray of sunlight pierced through the branches of the antler tree, shining onto my bedroom window through the tiny gaps, and landed on my face. It stirred me awake from my dreamland.
Longing for some cold air, I left the windows open last night, letting the cool ocean breeze blow against the curtains. The familiar scent of the sea brought in by the morning wind gently entered my nose—on one hand, I yearned for a bit more sleep, so I tightly shut my eyes and dug my head under the pillow; On the other hand, however, a subconscious thought popped in my head: “If I get out of bed, I get to eat Grandpa’s handmade seafood porridge again.” At thought, another image entered my head — My father, brother, and I wore black clothes and a white band, standing in front of the boat as we scattered Grandpa’s ashes into the sea. White waves closely followed behind the boat, constantly surging, like the wreaths surrounding Grandpa’s portrait in the funeral hall.
At that instant, I clearly understood which was a dream and which was reality. Although I sincerely hope to continue living in the dream that Grandpa is still around, this so-called reality forces you to open your eyes and face it.
Recalling that my step-mom was neither familiar with the kitchen nor cherished Grandpa’s old kitchenware, I immediately opened my eyes and sat up. I looked at the clock on my table; It’s not 6 o’clock yet. The house was still quiet, and everyone else was soundly asleep.
Because of Grandpa’s funeral over the past few days, everyone was worn out. Dad and step-mom are the classic city people and are used to waking up late. I guessed they probably won’t be up until after 9 o’clock today.
After washing up, I quietly went down the stairs and headed to the kitchen to make some porridge. Too lazy to put much effort, I only added scallops. That still counts as seafood porridge, right?
I left the kitchen and stood in the courtyard, instinctively looking for Grandpa amongst the lush plants. In the past, the first thing Grandpa would do after waking up is to take a look at his plants.
Surrounding the walls of the courtyard was the flower that blooms all year — Ixora — its red petals, gathered in balls, were bright and moving, as if it belonged to the bride’s bouquet; climbing on the bluestone wall was the Bougainvillea — under the morning sun, its pink petals looked as if each bundle was pressed against the old walls to add colors to the refreshing morning. Below the window in the living room were the Devil’s backbone and Peregrina blooming big and bright. Outside the study room’s window were the Bleeding Heart Vine and the Orange Jasmine where clusters of their white petal stacks resembled clouds and snow, very pleasing; At the corner of the kitchen was Kumquat that was at least 100 years old, its leaves as green as ever with the little tangerines hiding shyly between the leaves.
All these plants could be commonly found on the island, nothing rare. Almost every household would own one or two, but Grandpa always groomed them better than the other families.
Everyone was busy these days and had no time to manage them. The fallen petals and leaves had accumulated on the ground, seemingly decadence. I wiped my teary eyes, took the broom, and began cleaning the courtyard.
After cleaning the courtyard, I wanted to sweep the front area so I pulled open the courtyard’s door. At that instance, I only felt something black falling towards me. Shocked, I subconsciously dodged backward, tripping onto something, and fell flat on the ground.
“Who left their—” I narrowed my eyes. Upon seeing what laid in front of me, my jaw dropped and no sound came out. What had fallen in my courtyard was a person.
The unconscious man was in an odd attire. His messy hair was covering half of his face and I was unable to see his facial features. But I could tell looking at his dark skin that he was malnourished. His upper body wore a piece of the sailor’s black uniform. This isn’t unusual, but he wasn’t wearing anything else underneath. It was like the double line buttoned uniform people wore during the season from autumn to winter. His bottom wore a pair of Hawaiian pants that tourists usually wear, with coconut tree prints on it. Bringing my gaze down his legs… he’s bare-footed!?
I stared at him for a moment and came back to my senses. Carefully poking him, I called, “Hey!”
There was no reaction, but the touch felt soft. Because Grandpa just passed away, the memory of a lifeless body was still fresh in my memory. I immediately understood that this person was still alive, but his body temperature was very low, abnormally low. I didn’t know whether he was sick, or if my judgment was wrong and that he’d already died.
Holding my breath, I stretched my hand under his nose and felt his breath, and I let out a heave of relief.
The way I reacted was unusual, probably because of this already a bizarre experience. After confirming that my house was not a “corpse dumpster”, my first reaction was not to consider what to do about the man, but rather… sneakily run towards the door and check whether there are any shoes left outside.
He was barefooted!
I looked at the shabby path outside the courtyard, the stone path that is filled with potholes, and looked at his feet. His feet were covered in black stains mixed with blood. It was difficult to tell where the wounds were but I was sure that his way here must have been difficult.
I squatted next to him, taking out my phone to make a call while shaking his body. This place was no big city, I can’t expect an ambulance to come within minutes. Furthermore, given the shabby narrow path leading here is the only entrance, the ambulance couldn’t possibly reach where I am, even if it does make it to the area on time. So it was better to call someone for help.
The call eventually went through, “Dr. Jiang…” After saying my greetings, my hand was suddenly grabbed.
“Not the doctor!” The unconscious man slowly opened his eyes as he weakly talked to me.
I looked at him in surprise. A breeze blew by, accidentally blowing away his hair that was obscuring his face. My gaze met his.
He had such captivating eyes. Within the pitch blackness of his iris, there is a ray of the vast, yet tranquil indigo – it was like the peaceful starry night during the summer, where the bright night sky swallows the ocean, hiding all the secrets in the world, tempting someone to peek and discover.
I looked at him in a daze as he supported himself to sit up and said again: “Not the doctor.”
Looking at him again, even though his eyes were nice, they were not as charming as they were before. It was probably due to the angle earlier which nicely captured the magical moment from the sun’s rays.
As I remained silent in a daze, he said: “I’m just dehydrated, a little water will solve it.”
He certainly wasn’t local, his accent sounded weird as it took some effort for me to understand. But his tone was not overbearing, it was very convincing. Most importantly, my empathy towards a stranger was limited as I still had other matters on hand, so I’d rather have fewer matters to worry about than more.
“Dr. Jiang, it’s nothing. I pressed the wrong button. Something came up now, call you later!”
I hung up the phone and helped the man up. The moment he stood up, I noticed his big build. I am 1.73m tall (roughly 5’7’’) with a tough personality and was often treated as a tomboy. Yet, this person looks as if he was someone who could give me support and comfort.
I helped him walk to a corner of the courtyard as he sat down on Grandpa’s rattan chair, “Wait for me here.”
I walked into the kitchen, poured him a glass of warm water, thought for a moment, and scooped in two spoonfuls of honey.
I handed him the glass of honey water, he took a small sip and then paused. It’s probably because he tasted something different.
I explained: “You fainted outside my house. If you are not ill, then you’re probably low on sugar. So I added some honey to replenish that.” As I was explaining, he had already finished drinking in one big gulp. Obviously, he had figured out what was added to the water before I could finish explaining.
“Do you want some more?”
He kept silent, merely nodding his head.
I went back to the kitchen and poured him another glass.
Back and forth, he had drunk six big glasses of water straight. At the seventh glass, he finally slowed down.
His eyes drooped down, still holding on to the slim glass. Other than “not the doctor” from earlier, he had not spoken a word, not even a “thank you”. I could not figure out what was in his mind.
Between the gaps of the vines, a ray of sunlight landed nicely on the glass, making his finger appear white and clean, long and strong, as if those were the fingers of a pianist. Compared to his wounded and dirtied legs, the contrast was striking.
Logically speaking, I knew I should not be letting a stranger into my house. But somewhere inside my heart softened and I couldn’t bear to chase him out.
I entered the kitchen and opened the lid of the pot. The porridge is almost ready.
I poured a bowl of porridge, alongside a plate of side dishes with two halves of a duck egg, placed it on the tray, and passed it to him.
I tactfully said: “You should eat something to replenish your energy before leaving!”
He didn’t say anything, stared at the dishes in front of him for a second, then finally picked up the chopsticks. Perhaps he just woke up, because his hand was unstable and he only managed to grab hold of the chopsticks after a few tries.
“I still have other chores to do. So eat slowly, call me if you need anything.” fearing that my presence would make him uncomfortable, I casually find a reason to leave.
I went into the living room and flipped through the shoe rack, grabbing a pair of old male slippers. Unlike the other shoes that required a fixed shoe size, slippers are usually one-size-fits-all.
I took the slippers to the tap in the courtyard, washing the pair and then letting them dry under the sun.
Guessing that he would need some time to finish eating, I grabbed a rag and started cleaning the dust in the courtyard, occasionally peeking at him.
Back when Grandpa was still around, the rattan table and rattan chair would be usually placed in the middle of the courtyard. He would sit there sipping his tea and appreciating the view while he rested. How satisfying. After Grandpa became bed-ridden, no one had the leisure to bring out the table and chair so they were shifted to a corner. There were two Bleeding Heart Vine and Murray Exotica that had been growing for decades. The Orange Jasmine is around the height of a person, and creeping on it was the Bleeding Heart Vine, which covered his figure.
I could not see him, but through the spares leaves, I knew he had always been sitting there obediently.
I was slightly assured. Though life in Haidao is simple and plain, theft incidents were rare, let alone rape and murder. Grandpa had proudly claimed that our house was his settling place where he would rather be alone than to live with Dad in the city. As I had long adapted to the city-life, though I am occasionally empathetic, I still had my defenses up.
As my thoughts wandered, my step mom’s voice vaguely came in. I immediately put down the rag.
Shen Yanghui rushed out of the house and made a big commotion: “Shen Luo, why are you up so early?”
Shen Yanghui is my paternal-half younger brother, portraying the classic single-child personality. Though he is naive, as a fourteen-year-old teenager, he is just well into his rebellious stage. Definitely not likable.
Before I could answer him, Dad shouted from the toilet upstairs, “Shen Yanghui, how many times must I repeat? Address sister!”
Shen Yanghui made a funny face and unhappily grumbled: “Shen Luo doesn’t even address my mom as “Mom”, why should I even address her as a sister? Right, Shen Luo?”
Step-mom came out and greeted me with a smile, “Xiao Luo, good morning!”
I also forced out a smile: “Aunt Yang, good morning!” Step-mom’s surname is Yang, when she married my father, I was already ten-years-old. Children from divorced families usually mature earlier, what needs to be known I’d already known. From the very beginning, I had no intentions of letting her become my mother. I’d rather be scolded by my father and insisted on addressing her as “Aunt Yang” rather than “Mom.” She accepted it.
Aunt Yang patted Shen Yanghui’s back and urged: “Go brush your teeth and wash up.” Then, raising her voice: “Haisheng, watch your son brush his teeth, otherwise he’s gonna stir up trouble again.”
I couldn’t help but snickered. After so many years, I had already turned 25 and was no longer the little kid I was back then, yet step-mom remained the same. She would always remind me that between Dad and her, I am not a family member but rather an outsider. Yet, she forgot that we were not in Shanghai in the two-bedroom house she shared with Dad, but at Grandpa’s house, the place where I grew up. Here, she was the outsider.
People in rural areas are less particular. The wide kitchen also acts as the dining hall. While waiting for Dad and the rest to finish washing up, I had laid out the breakfast.
Aunt Yang politely said: “We’ve troubled Xiao Luo.”
I blandly replied: “It’s fine. I’ve eaten. Help yourselves.”
Dad seemed to have wanted to say something else but Shen Yanghui had already lifted his bowl and began munching. So he only said: “Let’s eat!”
Halfway through breakfast, someone knocked on the door.
Just as I was going to open the door, Shen Yanghui had slipped out and opened the door. Worrying, Dad put down his chopsticks and closely followed out, “Yang Hui, how many times have I said, you need to ask clearly before opening the door. Only open the door to people you know……”
Standing outside was a neatly dressed man in spectacles — light blue checkered blouse and straight black pants — behind his gentleness was a speck of wittiness, evidently, he was not a local. Dad’s lecture was halted.
He looked at the person curiously, “Who are you looking for?”
The person wore his professional smile, holding a name card, and introduced, “I am Lawyer Zhou Buwen. I was entrusted by late Mr. Shen to carry out his will. You must be Mr. Shen? We had spoken on the phone to arrange a meeting today.”
Dad warmly welcomed the person in, “Yes, yes! I did not expect you to come so early. I thought you would only come in the afternoon.” There are only two ferry schedules from the mainland to Hai Dao, one departs at 7:30 AM and arrives at 11:30 AM, while the other departs at 12 pm and arrives at 4 pm.
Lawyer Zhou smiled and said: “Just in case, I boarded the ferry yesterday at noon.”
Step-mom didn’t bother eating and hurriedly followed out, then immediately maintained her composure and covered her thoughts: “Xiao Luo, let’s go and listen. This is related to you too.”
Dad politely invited Lawyer Zhou to the living room while Step-mom eagerly poured a cup of hot tea. At that point, I did not know what to do so I quietly stood by the door.
After Dad and Lawyer Zhou dropped a few polite remarks, Lawyer Zhou put down his cup, indicating to Dad and Step-mom that he would be beginning the conversation properly. The atmosphere was tense. Step-mom pulled Shen Yanghui towards her, hugging him tight, in an attempt to gain more assurance.
Lawyer Zhou said: “Late Mr. Shen’s assets are simple so the process will be very clear. Late Mr. Shen’s properties are divided into two, one is the fixed assets, which in this house, the total area is……”
Following Lawyer Zhou’s words, Step-mom looked up to survey the old house. Although the house was old, its layout was reasonable, the courtyard was spacious, the plants were diverse, even a picky person like her also fancied the place. Too bad the house was not in Shanghai but rather on an inaccessible island. Even though more tourists were visiting in recent years, which had brought up the value of the house, this place was still unlike other popular tourist sites such as Sanya and Qingdao. These tourists would only come over and take a quick look instead of staying for a period of time, so its worth was still limited.
Lawyer Zhou finished his detailed explanation on the current situation and added: “Although the house is private property, not a commercial property. According to the law, it cannot be transacted. As such, if no one is residing here, you can only rent it out instead of selling it.”
Step-mom blurted: “Those houses along the shores still can be converted into guesthouses, but this house is on the mountain and far from the sea, in addition to its inaccessibility, if we’re not allowed to sell, who else can we rent it out to?”
Lawyer Zhou courteously smiles, avoiding Step-mom’s question, and continued: “Except this house, late Mr. Shen’s remaining assets are cash. Because late Mr. Shen did not know how to manage his finances, all his cash is fixed deposits, totaling 1.1 million, saved under ICBC and ABC* respectively.”
[*t/n: ICBC and ABC are local China banks, representing the Industrial and Construction Bank of China and Agricultural Bank of China respectively. These are one of the few larger and more prominent banks in China.]
Dad and Step-mom were delighted as they quickly smiled at each other, and upon realization, they controlled themselves from continuing. On the other hand, Shen Yanghui, who was unable to hide his thoughts, leaped up excitedly, “Mom, mom, you were right, Grandpa did hide some money! Don’t forget your promise to me, after paying off the house loan, you’d use the remaining to buy a car and send me to school!”
Step-mom glanced over at him and spoke intentionally: “Stop spouting nonsense, this money might not even be left for you! You may be the only grandson of the Shen family, but you weren’t Grandpa’s favorite! However, grandsons are just grandsons, if the allocation is unfair, your father will not agree to it.”
Step-mom elbowed Dad, Dad faked his composure and said: “Let’s continue listening to what Lawyer Zhou has to say. Father will fairly manage this.”
I stared at the floor in silence. It was not that I was generous, nor was I going with the flow, but rather at this moment, imaging that these were arranged before Grandpa had passed away, for a second, I could vaguely see the image of Grandpa sitting on the bamboo chair and clearly instructing Lawyer Zhou. In my memory, Grandpa had never troubled the descendants and always laid out everything orderly, even his afterlife. My heart soured, I feared that the moment I opened my mouth, tears would flow endlessly. So I could only tightly bite my lips and listen quietly.
Lawyer Zhou, not seeing anyone object, continued: “According to late Mr. Shen’s will, the assets are divided into two. The first is the 1.1 million fixed deposits, the other is a house located at No. 92 Mazu Street and everything included within. Between these two assets, one will be allocated to the granddaughter Shen Luo, the other will be allocated to grandson Shen Yang Hui……”
Listening up to this, Step-mom who has been calm slammed the table and angrily exclaimed: “That old man’s too unfair! Leaving all the money to the other, while giving Yang Hui a worthless old house. Even if we could find a way to sell it away, we can probably only scrape 200K out of it. Shen Haisheng, let me tell you, you must stand upon this matter, even if we bring it to court, we must reallocate the inheritance! In the end, it does not make sense for the granddaughter to be given more than the grandson*!”
[*t/n: Sharing some context to the Chinese family, males are usually more favored over females. As such, ingrained deep in the Chinese family, males are typically given more resources and treated better at home than their female counterparts.]
As if nothing happened, Lawyer Zhou stared at the documents and waited for Step-mom to finish her words, and calmly continued: “Between the two assets, late Mr. Shen did not state which of the grand-children were to inherit them. But rather, he left the decision making to Shen Luo and Shen Yanghui.”
Step-mom was stunned, nervously asked: “Who’s choosing first?”
Lawyer Zhou said: “Late Mr. Shen did not specify. Please discuss amongst yourselves!” Finishing his words, Lawyer Zhou closed his file and lifted the teacup as he engrossed himself in drinking the tea as if his presence no longer existed.
Step-mom sharply looked at me as her hands continued pushing Dad, indicating him to speak.
Acknowledging the fact that I was still his child, Dad stuttered: “Xiao Luo, you think…… who should choose first?”
Step-mom quietly nagged next to Shen Yanghui’s ears but being in his rebellious stage, he swept away his mother’s guidance and rudely said: “Shen Luo, I want to choose first!”
I already had the answer in my heart and peacefully asked Step-mom: “Aunt Yang, who do you think should choose first?”
Step-mom could only further explain: “Xiao Luo, you see… your younger brother is still young, he still has to study, then find a job, get married, his expenditures are higher. You’ve already attended university and Grandpa forked out all these years, your living expenses and education fees but your younger brother did not spend a single cent of Grandpa’s money…… Logically speaking, you should let your younger brother make the choice first.”
I smiled bitterly. My living expenses and education fees were forked out by Grandpa, was this what I wanted? Glancing at Dad, his gaze avoided mine and I couldn’t be bothered to argue any further, replied to Step-mom: “Ok, let Yang Hui choose first then!”
Lawyer Zhou who had been pretending he wasn’t present immediately put down the teacup and lifted his head, asked Shen Yanghui, “May I ask which asset are you choosing?”
Before Shen Yanghui opened his mouth, Step-mom spoke: “Cash. We want the cash in the bank.”
Shen Yanghui followed his mother, repeated exactly in the same manner: “Cash. We want the cash in the bank.”
Lawyer Zhou then looked at me, and I said: “I want the house.”
Lawyer Zhou took a stack of documents from his bag, “Please scan through these documents. If there are no issues, please sign. My assistant will follow up with you on the subsequent procedures.”
After we finished reading the documents and signed, Lawyer Zhou tidied his attire, stood up, and shook our hands as we bid goodbye: “My condolences!”
Witnessing Lawyer Zhou leaving, Dad closed the main door.
Carrying the documents up, Step-mom shouted: “I’m going to pack the luggage, let’s rush for the 12:30 PM ferry out. If we could buy the air tickets for tomorrow morning, we should be able to reach home by afternoon.”
Giving a loud “Yay”, Shen Yanghui celebrated and happily ran up: “We’re going back to Shanghai!”
Dad saw his wife and his son possessing the “can’t wait to get out of here” mentality, and knowing that he was not in the position to object, he could only look at me in apology and said: “Company’s leave was only 10 days… I- I… must return to work.”
These years I had already given up and had no expectations. Dad is not a bad person, but at times he had been weak and had no principles, which was more disappointing than a bad person. I calmly said: “Hmm, understood. Thank you Dad for rushing back in time this time.” Though during the final 6 months, I was the one who accompanied Grandpa, Dad still made it back in time before Grandpa left, running back and forth, he had also put in his best in arranging Grandpa’s funeral.
Dad said worriedly: “You, child, didn’t discuss with me and left your job to take care of Grandpa. It’s difficult to find a job nowadays, you should hurry……”
“Dad, Mom asked me to help you pack the luggage.” Shen Yanghui stood at the stairs above and shouted.
Dad reluctantly said: “I will go up first, anyways just remember, hurry to find a job. If you are left unemployed for too long, no companies would want to hire you.”
After Dad had gone upstairs, I entered the house and kept the documents from the lawyer in the drawer. Vaguely, I somehow felt that I had forgotten something. But Step-mom’s sharp voice rang now and then hindered me from thinking.
Giving up, I walked to the window to look at the scenery, regardless of what the matter was, I’ll wait for them to leave first then figure it out!
A few specks of jade-green from the Bleeding Heart Vine shook along with the wind, petals of flowers on the branches, some only just bloomed, still, snow-white; some blooming vividly, its white stem holding onto a red flower crown, resembling a dragon ball.
I gently smiled as I hooked onto a vine, casually waving it around. I didn’t have the spare capacity to tidy the plants, the vine of the Bleeding Heart Vine had already grown to the side of my window. Suddenly, I recalled what the vaguely forgotten matter was — that man who fainted in my courtyard!
Frustrated, I knocked my head hard. I forgot that there was a stranger at home!
Opening the window, I peered my body out, looking down, below the layers of green leaves and petals of flowers, that black figure that stood out was sitting still as if he had fallen asleep.
Just as I was about to call for him, I recalled that Step-mom was currently walking around in the house packing her belongings, there was no need to further complicate matters. I conveniently plucked a petal of flower from the Bleeding Heart Vine and threw it towards him.
Probably hearing the movement, he immediately looked up towards me, his gaze was sharp and expression cold as if he was ready to pounce and kill his prey. I leaped in shock. Though I used a lot of force, a flower is only a flower, which cannot be used as a murder weapon. In the breeze, the white stemmed red-crowned flower floated towards him. This moment was rather rosy. The gaze within his eyes left, slightly squinting his eyes, he quietly watched the flower float towards him, until the moment before it landed on his face, he then lightly lifted his hand and received the flower.
At this moment, the flower was like snow, resting between his fingers as he lazily leaned on the rattan chair. Through the layers of vines, half lifting his head, looking towards me, it was just a plain and boring man, giving no signs of hostility. The breath held inside me from the startle earlier on finally let itself out. I could only feel my legs turning soft as I held onto the sides of the window to stand well.
What was this unlucky situation? A moment of goodwill to adopt a stray cat, and yet I was nearly frightened to my knees by the stray cat.
I frowned and glared at him harshly, wanting to affirm my position as the boss, Dad’s voice came in from the outside, “Xiao Luo, we’re going off!”
I gave up fussing with the stray cat, hurriedly turned around, opened the door, and ran out of the room.
Grandpa’s legs had rheumatism, where they hurt after climbing too many stairs, so he shifted to using the room downstairs, which was larger in the later years. It was both a study room and a bedroom. As I passed up, I casually swept a look and immediately felt something was amidst. Giving it a second careful look, the antique frame was gone.
“Yang Hui, hurry up! Otherwise, we might not be able to get the tickets!” Step-mom had already carried the luggage and walked to the courtyard.
I rushed a few steps forward and blocked the main door, preventing them from leaving.
Instantly, Step-mom understood what I was trying to and shouted sharply: “Shen Luo, what are you doing?”
Confused, Dad looked at me, “Xiao Luo?”
I said: “Before going, leave Grandpa’s mirror behind.”
Shen Yanghui rushed in: “Mirror? What mirror? Why would we bring a broken mirror back to Shanghai? Except for the gravel and sand, what else here can be better than Shanghai’s?”
I smirked: “Indeed it is a broken mirror. Even so, that is dated back to the Qing dynasty, otherwise, why would Aunt Yang yearn for it?” That was great-grandma’s wedding gift to grandma. According to grandpa’s grandpa, it cost the entire family’s fortune. Other than the bronze mirror, there were also a pair of silver bracelets and a silver hairpin. Unfortunately, with time, the most valuable two items can no longer be located, leaving behind the only bronze mirror.
Dad tightly looked at Step-mom who was holding onto the luggage and understood. Feeling awkward, he looked at me and then his wife, as per usual, not knowing what to do.
Step-mom realized she could no longer hide it any further and gave up, arrogantly said: “I did take that old mirror but so what? That item belongs to the Shen family! The whole house is already given to you, I am only taking a piece of souvenir for Yang Hui, is that not right?”
“Don’t forget, the lawyer has said clearly: I inherited both the house and the items within.” I finally understood why Grandpa’s will emphasized this sentence and even requested Dad and Step-mom’s signature.
Aunt Yang gave up reasoning with me and pushed me forcefully, “Yes, I’m helping the Shen family’s grandson to take a piece of Shen family’s mirror, go ahead and sue me!”
I snatched her luggage while she grabbed onto it tightly, as the both of us broke out fighting. She was wearing high heels while I was in flats, in addition to the fact that I was much younger and was stronger, her luggage was snatched over by me. As she was unstable, she fell onto the ground.
Step-mom instantly cried out, “Shen Haisheng, look at your daughter, she turned violent to an elder!”
Dad received my fierce gaze and was unable to speak up. He only compensated with extra care in supporting Step-mom up, “A mirror is a girl’s item after all, and Yang Hui is a boy, he won’t need it, just give it to Xiao Luo!”
Step-mom was furious as she cried and scolded and hit: “Cut the crap! The house is in a rough state, only this item is slightly valuable, and you simply give it away! Let me tell you, there is no way!”
Couldn’t be bothered, I placed the luggage on the ground, squatted down, opened the luggage, and began flipping for the bronze mirror.
Following a “Pa!” sound, a slap heavily landed on my face. I was startled. Looking up, I stared at Shen Yanghui. His energy was equivalent to an adult’s, that slap was also harsh, causing my left ear to ring. I was unable to stand up for a second.
Before I reacted, he pushed me away with force, grabbing the luggage back, quickly zipping it, and holding it tightly in his hands.
I had always been alert against Step-mom and Dad, but had forgotten there was a Shen Yanghui, they were a family of “three”. The fourteen years old Shen Yang Hui was already 1.7m (approx. 5’6”) tall. In his mischievous look, there was still some sense of childishness. Facing him seriously, his looks were already close to that of a grown man. Putting in the historic context, he was already able to be sent out for battles.
Shen Yanghui looked at me fiercely and said: “You hit my mom first, so I hit you.”
Step-mom immediately stood up and smirked: “Those who hit others will eventually be hit!” Pulling her son towards the exit, “Let’s go!”
Unwilling, I grabbed onto the luggage trying hard to stop them from leaving. Without a single bit of hesitation, Step-mom kicked my arm away in her high heels, sending a sharp pain, I quickly let go of my hand as I watched them leave the courtyard.
Dad bent down to pick me up, “Xiao Luo, don’t put it in your heart. Yanghui is still a child who doesn’t know anything. Just give the mirror to Yanghui, he is after all a son of Shen’s family. You are after all a girl, you will be married to another family eventually.”
Bearing the pain, I didn’t let out a sound.
Dad knew that I was hard-headed since young and would never allow anyone to bully me. He held onto my shoulders and sternly said: “Xiao Luo, I know what you are worried about. You are not the only one who holds the last name of Shen. Rest assured, that mirror, I make sure to let Yang Hui take good care of it. It will not be sold!”
My eyes met with the pair of eyes that resembled closely to Grandpa’s, and slowly nodded my head.
Dad understood the importance of the matter and wanted to add a few more words before Step-mom roared from the outside, “Shen Haisheng, if you aren’t leaving, then stay here forever!”
Dad hurriedly stuffed a bunch of things into my hands, “I’m leaving, if there’s anything, call me.” After finishing his sentence, he rushed out to catch up to his wife and son.
Quickly, the courtyard that was bursting with arguments turned silent, leaving me standing alone.
After my ear stopped ringing, I looked down. My arms had turned purple. Looking at the things in my hands, it was a few rolls of hundred dollars cash. Helpless, I laughed. If this was father’s love, then his love was cheap!
I was already 25 years old, and am no longer that weak little 10 year old. I have a university degree and a big house that Grandpa left behind, I can also live well! But, no matter how my logic convinced me, my heart was empty, and felt nothing but sadness, I was even more at loss than back then.
Perhaps because I knew back then, even if I did not have my parents, I still had Grandpa. But now, I have lost Grandpa, lost my one and only relative. From now onwards, in this world, I am alone! When I’m tired, I have no one to rely on; when I’m hurt, I have nowhere to retreat!
Looking at the house in front of my eyes, I laughed and threw the cash out. Pink notes flew out all over, my smile remained on my face while tears were overflowing.
When I was seven, when my parents divorced, I knew that my tears were useless and were never willing to waste time on crying. But at this moment, as if a tap was turned on, the sorrows contained in my heart became an endless stream of tears, flowing out non-stop.
Losing a loved one was like… you thought you could accept it, reason with it, be strong about it, but never be not sad over it, at a specific moment, specific instance, sadness will overwhelm you.
Crying out in silence, I attempted to wipe away my tears a few times while trying to force out a smile. Since there will no longer be anyone to help wipe away my tears, no longer anyone to understand my pains, then I can only face it with a smile. However, every time I try hard to smile, it will be quickly broken by tears.
Crying hard, I could no longer stand steadily and fell onto the ground. Tightly biting my teeth and hugging myself, I wanted to give myself more strength and comfort, but looking at the empty house in front of me, remembering that the owner of the house was no longer around, tears came down like rain showered, continuous and endless.
I kept crying and crying as if the world was about to end.
Suddenly, a ball of Bleeding Heart Vine’s flower floated in front of my eyes. Like a kid trying his best to make someone laugh, flipping a few rounds in the air, it landed into my arms.
That moment, I stopped crying and stared at the ground. It was a flower ball made from the Bleeding Heart Vine’s flower, with the green vines at the structure, flowers as decorations, it fitted nicely in my palm, delicate and pretty.
I forgot about sorrow as I impulsively picked it up. As I was about to study it carefully, I thought of a question: Where did this flower ball come from?
I was like a robot without its lubricating oil, inch by inch, I gradually turned my head towards the direction where the flower ball came from. That man…… He had witnessed everything… That moment that I hid deep within, my weakest, my most sorrow, most out-of-image moment…
He quietly looked at me, without speaking a word; I felt both awkward and frustrated, my mind turned blank, and could not speak a single word too.
Separated by the leaves and the white petals of the Orange Jasmine, we speechlessly gazed at each other for a while, I jotted up, lifted my hands, wanting to harshly throw the flower ball towards him, but was unable to bring myself to do so. I turned around with the flower ball in my hands and rushed back into the house.
I looked into the mirror at my shabby state. Feeling even more embarrassed, I wanted to smash the flower ball. But upon lifting it and looking at its exquisite beauty, I put it down and advised myself, don’t vent other’s mistakes on your flower!
I quickly washed my face with cold water and re-tied my messy hair. Looking at the mirror, finding that I had already given myself a makeover and restarted my life, I walked out with assertiveness, feeling certain to sternly tackle the man who fainted in my house!
Special thanks to the following staff for contributing to this chapter:
PR: Luna & Laura