Chapter 2: Beauty Like A Painting
“As the sun was setting, shadows were casted onto the ground. He stood over there in a white top and black pants. His tall figure made him resemble a lonely yet mighty pine tree. His features resembled a portrait and his gaze brightened, as if he didn’t belong in the present world.”
At noon, the sun was scorching hot. The corner between the main house and the courtyard was unexpectedly cool and the flowers were fragrant. No wonder he could sit here quietly the entire morning.
I stood in front of him with my hand on my hips, expressionless and asked, “Are you done watching? Are you satisfied with our soap opera?”
He didn’t answer.
I angrily asked: “Why were you hiding here to watch us?”
He calmly replied: “I wasn’t hiding. It’s just that without the owner’s permission, I wasn’t able to casually walk around.” It was incredibly difficult to listen to him speak this morning, but now, even with his strange accent that remained, it didn’t take too much effort.
I scorned: “Did I stop you from leaving? Why did you not leave?”
“There wasn’t an appropriate chance to do so.”
He left me speechless. The soap opera lasted throughout the entire morning, so there really was no appropriate chance to leave. I unwillingly asked: “Why did you…… throw a ball of flowers at me?”
“Didn’t you also use a bunch of flowers to throw at me?”
Hmph! How stingy! I glared at him angrily while he looked back, disinterested. His calm gaze contained a slither of carelessness, similar to the ocean acting impartial as it embraces the river that swirled around in front of its eyes.
I got angrier and as I was about to unleash my temper.
Suddenly, a gust of wind came and flowers fell down, as swift as sudden snow. I subconsciously waved my hand and tilted my head left and right, while he remained seated still as he observed the flowers disintegrate and scatter in the air, floating past his brows and landing on his lapel.
Within the shadows of the flowers, the sun shined gently and warmly, but his gaze was lonely and cold, like a god that overlooked the people with no emotions. However, deep in those focused eyes, there was a strike of melancholy missing the past.
I stopped moving unconsciously and stared at him blankly—
All of a sudden, everything fell silent. The petals falling in the air slowed down and all that was left in the entire space was him, lazily sitting in the spot, as he watched the petals dance around and fall like snow.
But the moment, he caught sight of me looking at him. His gaze slashed across, staring towards me.
Meeting his gaze, I regained my senses, immediately shifting my eyes away. In my heart, I weirdly felt guilty and my cheeks turned hot. Where did the anger from just now disappear to?
Stop, stop stop! It’s my own private matter, why should I take my anger out on others?
Disheartened, I said “You may leave now, the timing is absolutely perfect!”
He stood up and walked around me as he headed out without saying a word.
I bent down to pick up the utensils he used but saw the porridge and side dishes barely touched. I froze for a moment before turning around to see him walk out step-by-step, dressed in a comical fashion along with his bare feet. However, perhaps due to his tall figure, seeing him made others not take him lightly.
He stopped to turn around to look at me, without any questions or expectations. His face was expressionless and disinterested.
I asked: “Was the food not good enough for you? Was the food I made that terrible?”
He nodded his head without hesitation.
I literally, literally……. I was so furious at him! He is in this…… in this shabby condition, had actually dared to loathe the food I made. I should have let him starve to death!
I waved my hands in disgust and said: “Go, leave!”
He turned around, continuing his walk step-by-step, neither slow nor fast. I could not help but to stare at his feet, as I recalled the rocky stone path outside……
He turned around to look at me, still holding that expressionless and disinterested face.
I walked to the middle of the courtyard to pick up the pair of slippers that had been drying and placed it in front of his feet, “Old slippers, don’t you dare dislike them, take them and wear them!”
He stared at the pair of slippers for a moment, before actually opening his mouth and took the initiative to request: “I’d like to wash my feet, may I?”
“S-sure, come with me!”
I walked to a corner of the kitchen and passed him the plastic hose. After turning on the tap, I started to feel embarrassed for staring at him while he washed his feet, and turned my body to look away.
After a while, I heard him say: “Done.”
I took over the water hose and turned off the tap. From the corner of my eyes, I took a glimpse of his cleaned feet, pale as a sheet of paper, and the red scars on his feet became even more prominent.
He put on the slippers and took two steps. The slippers suited him well.
“No problem. It’s just an old unwanted pair of slippers.”
He moved towards the exit without saying anything.
I stared at his back and suddenly shouted: “Hey— Stop!”
He turned around and looked at me. He was still looking expressionless and disinterested.
I hesitated for a moment, and before I regretted not speaking, I blabbered: “Where are you from? Why are you in this state? What plans do you have? Do you need to contact your family or friends for help? I have a phone, I can lend it to you! If you need money, I… I can loan you some!”
He remained silent. I was even more nervous than him. In a panic, I said: “I will only help you because you are in an emergency. But I won’t lend you much, at most just enough to cover your expenses for your trip home.”
He faintly said: “It’s only me.”
His words were very brief, but I understood. He was the only one left. There was no one whom he could call for help when he faced difficulties; there was no haven for him to return to rest whenever he got beaten up. My eyes turned slightly teary, and the feeling of wanting to cry returned. I took a deep breath, and gave a grin. I said: “You have hands and legs and you’ve grown up, you don’t possibly intend to be a beggar, right? Eventually, you will need to find a job to support yourself!”
He thought for a while: “I should find a job.”
I carefully asked: “What’s your education attainment, university, technical school, vocational school, or picked up any skills?”
“None? Nothing at all? You must have learned something since you’re grown up! Even if your grades weren’t good enough for university, you should have at least picked up a skill…….”
He remained silent, appearing expressionless and disinterested, but it was like a silent smirk: I already said I have none, what nonsense are you saying?
I was going mad, “So how have you been living in the past years? You can’t possibly be living off your old parents, right?”
He frowned with displeasure, “I depended on my own strength to survive.”
Okay! As long as you weren’t lazing around or committing crimes, doing labor work is also a decent job. I hesitated as I spoke nothing. He was not in a hurry so he quietly stood under the hot sun, allowing me to battle with my logic and impulsiveness.
of Mother Mary, but turned out my true nature is that of a scammer.
For a moment, I frowned and gritted my teeth. After thinking for about ten minutes, I anxiously asked: “Are you willing to stay here and work? Accommodations and food will be provided, as for pay… It depends on your performance.” Just earlier, he probably felt he was living with a good Samaritan, before finding out I was similar in essence to Huang Shiren*.
[t/n: Huang Shiren is a fictional character from a Chinese play titled “The White Haired Girl”. He is known to be a usurious and despotic landlord who makes fortune as a loan shark by exploiting peasants.]
He was silent while I was nervous, though I didn’t know why I was nervous. The job opportunities on the island were limited. With his current shabby situation, shouldn’t he be boot-licking me?
Finally, he nodded his head, “Sure!”
I heaved a sigh of relief and happily said: “Then it’s settled. As long as you work hard, I will not treat you badly. My name is Shen Luo, Luo from the word conch, not carrot. What’s your name?”
He was silent for a moment, then said: “Wu Julan.”
After a brief introduction, Wu Julan and I were considered to have officially met each other, but what should we do next? It seemed like we needed to sign an official employee contract, but I wasn’t intending to give wages and was even prepared to chase him out anytime. This employee contract…… Anyways, I was not going to be the first one to propose it. If he wanted to call me an extortionist, so be it!
Face to face in the silence, a rare moment happened where he initiated the conversation and asked: “What should I be doing?”
“What?” I was deep in thought, so I did not react.
He said: “You asked me to work, what do you need me to do?”
“Oh! There’s no hurry, let me settle you down first.” I looked at him and decided that the first thing to do was to buy him some clothes.
“I’m going out for a bit, you and I, together……” before I finished my words, I quickly shut my mouth.
Logically speaking, he was still a stranger. I should not be leaving him at home, but considering his current state, I could bet that news would spread across the entire island in less than half a day if I were to bring him to the streets with me. Maybe even before evening, a ‘kind Samaritan’ would be calling to inform Dad, I must be crazy to do that!
I gritted my teeth and quickly changed my mind, saying firmly: “Stay at home!”
I pointed at the spot where he was sitting just now, “You can bring out the rattan chair and sit anywhere.”
I went upstairs to change my clothes while feeling conflicted about my decision earlier on, to leave a stranger whom I only just learnt the name of all alone at home; was it really appropriate? Would my house be emptied before I even made it back home?
In the midst of being conflicted, I rummaged through my drawers and wardrobes, taking out all the cash, credit cards, identification cards, and even the accessories that I rarely put on and stuffed them into a handbag. This way, what’s left at home would only be the old clothes and old furniture. Even if he wanted to carry them away, it would not be this easy anymore!
Upon closing the door of the bedroom, I thought for a while, before going into the bathroom to get my comb, carefully retrieving a strand of hair between the seams and placed it between the fine seams of the door. I moved on to do the same to the doors of the three bedrooms upstairs and the study room downstairs.
This way, if he were to open the door, the hair would drop unnoticeably. I picked up this trick from the television when I was 10 years old. I deliberately placed a strand of hair within my diary to prove whether my step-mom secretly peeked into my diary. When the truth turned out to reveal she had read it, we had a huge fight and I ended up being labeled as “kid who was scheming at a young age”.
Carrying an exceptionally heavy handbag, I walked out of the house. I saw Wu Julan had shifted the rattan chair to the eaves of the main house, and leaning against it, watching the blooming bougainvillea on the walls of the courtyard. My heart slightly moved, the delicate and beautiful hue of pink from the petals contrasting against the old and aged hue of rusty green made it more prominent, forming a very distinct beauty. I often stared at it as well.
I said: “There’s water and food in the kitchen, you can help yourself. Although you dislike my cooking skills, there is no need to starve yourself.”
He nodded slightly, indicating that he had heard it.
“Then— I’m leaving! I’ll be back soon!” The moment I closed the door, our eyes met, I was full of conflictions and uncertainties whereas he was all calm and even carried a stint of humour. That moment, it felt like he had seen through my worries and was amused by my childish anger!
In a daze, I stood in front of the closed courtyard door, impossible! It must be an illusion, it must have been due to the angle of the light!
In recent years, the tourism industry has developed quickly on this island. The clothing stores along Denglong Street were mainly tailored towards the tourists, primarily selling floral tops and floral shorts, which were not suitable for daily wear. However, I didn’t dare visit the shop I frequent as the shopkeepers know me. I was afraid that they might ask who I was buying for, so I could only visit the other shops that were unfamiliar.
After visiting several shops, I finally bought some clothes that Wu Julan could wear. I bought him two round-neck T-shirts, two checkered long-sleeve blouses, two pairs of short pants, two pairs of long pants, and a pair of slippers. Lastly, with my face all red, I gritted my teeth and bought him two packets of underwear. There were three in each packet, so I got six in total.
This is really cheating! I’d never bought underwear for my grandpa. For the first time in my life, I was getting male underwear that was not for my boyfriend but a stranger!
On the way home, I bought some ingredients. Carrying two big bags, I walked along the usual rocky stone path while making some scenario plans for myself: if I return home to realise that he has stolen everything and ran away, it would be normal, I will take it as becoming bankrupt! It’s better to see through such a person earlier than later! So even though my actions today were slightly reckless and impulsive, it was not a loss from this carefully laid out experience!
When I reached the main door and took out my key, I hesitated as I took 2 steps back and carefully studied the surface of the door. The door remained tightly shut, while there were only dropped petals and dust on the ground. There were no signs of anyone attempting to bring anything out after I left.
Biting my lip, I put the keys into the lock as my heart beated nervously. This reminded me of the anxious feeling I got when I received my university entrance exam results.
As soon as I opened the main door, I spotted him sitting under the eaves. I couldn’t help but put a smile on my face. I leaped in front of him and placed the bag of clothes next to him, “These are yours. I randomly bought them so take a look.” Without waiting for his reply, I turned to the kitchen and placed the ingredients I bought earlier on into the refrigerator. “I bought live fish to steam for tonight.” In Grandpa’s words, while steaming fish tests the chef’s ability to control the fire, the greatest challenge is still choosing the right ingredients. Even if the fire was mishandled, as long as the fish is nice and fresh, it will still taste just as good.
After I washed my hands, I exited the kitchen and found him flipping through the bag of clothes. Once he finished looking at the shirts and pants, he lifted and examined a packet of underwear. My face felt hot, and quickly shifting my gaze elsewhere, I rushed to the living room, saying loudly: “You should go take a bath and put on the new clothes. If they do not fit, I can make an exchange tomorrow. You can use the bathroom on the first floor. As for the clothes you’re currently wearing, you can choose between washing them yourself or throwing it into the trash.”
I stood outside the bathroom on the first floor and said to him: “This is the bathroom, there’s shampoo and bath soap. I’ll get you two clean bath towels. Once you’re done picking your clothes, you can go shower.
While I was rummaging the cupboard to look for towels, he walked behind me and asked: “What is this?”
I turned around, seeing him holding onto an opened packet of underwear and was looking serious at me. Blood flushed to my face, almost shouting, I said: “What do you think it is? Even if you didn’t have education and am illiterate, there’re still images on it!”
“How do I wear it?”
I roared: “How do I wear it? What do you think? Of course it’s worn under your pants. Unless you want to be like Superman, wearing the underwear outside? Or like Batman and wear it over your head? I’m warning you, I won’t spare you the next time you crack such a lame joke!” Infuriated, I dumped the towel on him and rushed out of the living room.
I stood in the courtyard and gritted my teeth, vowing to never buy underwear for any men other than my boyfriend! Otherwise, my kindness will be taken as a joke!
After the wind blew for a while, I finally felt the burning on my face cool down. I looked at the time. It was almost time for dinner, but…… I will have to see whether he qualifies to stay for dinner.
I walked into the living room, and saw that the bathroom door was still tightly shut, I tip-toed next to the door and heard the sound of water running through the tap. It seemed that he was still bathing. I hurried to the study room, bent down and examined. My hair was still stuck between the gaps of the door.
I stood back up and headed up to the 2nd floor immediately, examining all 4 bedrooms. Every strand of hair remained in its original place, putting aside falling; they weren’t even broken. Obviously, after I left, he did not attempt to enter any of the rooms and sat still in his spot at the courtyard.
Biting my lip, I walked slowly downstairs. Staring at the tightly shut bathroom door, a grin gradually surfaced on my lips. The anger I felt from being ridiculed earlier on had vanished. As long as he had no ill intentions, having some occasional annoying behavior is not unforgivable.
I finished preparing dinner but Wu Julan was still yet done with the shower. I ran to the bathroom door and heard the water still flowing. He couldn’t have fainted in the bathroom, right? I banged the door, “Wu Julan, Wu Julan!”
The sound of the water flowing disappeared, “Coming out soon.”
“It’s alright, take your time.” As long as he did not faint, I would definitely support him taking a longer and cleaner shower.
I moved the rattan table and rattan chair to the courtyard, placed the dishes on the table and covered them with saran wrap to prevent flies. Once Wu Julan comes out, we could start having dinner
The sky had not turned dark yet, but it was no longer hot, and the breeze was also very comfortable. In the past when the wind wasn’t too strong or it wasn’t raining, Grandpa and I would eat in the courtyard. I sat on the rattan chair, waving the Pu fan* at myself and lifted my head up to look at the white clouds in the blue sky above the eaves. There were no buzzing sounds of vehicles or the noises of human traffic. Just the sound of the wind blowing against the trees and the chirp of crickets. The familiar scenery, the familiar serenity. This unexpectedly brought some comfort to my sorrowful heart that I haven’t seen or felt in a long time.
[t/n: Pu fan is a fan made using cattail leaves.]
Feeling a shadow blocking the light in front of my eyes, I was startled when I realized that Wu Julan was already standing in front of the dinner table. I lazily looked towards him but was caught in surprise, and the fan in my hand dropped onto the ground.
As the sun was setting, shadows were casted onto the ground. He stood over there in a white top and black pants. His tall figure made him resemble a lonely yet mighty pine tree. His features resembled a portrait and his gaze brightened, as if he didn’t belong in the present world.
I wasn’t sure whether he had already gotten used to my shocking gazes or if he didn’t notice it at all. He calmly sat down, “The clothes fit well. Thank you.”
“Oh, oh… You’re welcome. Eat, eat!” I came back to my senses. Borrowing the excuse to pick up the fan, I attempted to conceal my awkwardness. My heart was beating like the running of ten thousand horses. Was this the same person who fainted outside my house? He actually looked so pleasing to the eyes after washing himself clean.
Wu Julan lifted the chopsticks and picked up a piece of fish. While I ate and secretly examined him — his long hair neatly hanging from the sides of his ears, his face no longer half-covered but rather fully shown. The shape of his features remained the same, but after the shower, his skin no longer looked dry and dark but white and bright. His features instantly looked radiant, as if the dust collected on an orb had been wiped clean, revealing its original radiance.
The table had a plate of meat and two plates of vegetables. I noticed that after Wu Julan had taken a first bite, he never took the second again. I gradually realized one fact: he’d rather eat rice by itself than eat the dishes I’d cooked! I leaped up, fumed, and forgot about the vegetables, in order to steam that fish, I had kept my eyes fixed on the clock and guarded dutifully next to the stove, not daring to distract myself.
“You’re not eating the vegetables. Are you finding the food I make disgusting again?”
Without lifting his head, he bluntly replied with a “Hmm.”
I glared at him, enraged. I kept my livid glare on him.
He finally lifted his head, looked at me, thought for a bit and said: “I know you have done your best, it’s alright.”
What? What is he saying? Do I need him to place himself all so high and mighty in order to forgive me? What have I done wrong that needed his forgiveness? I was so angry and left utterly speechless that I lowered my head. With my chopsticks, I took half of the fish into my bowl. Since you refuse to eat it, I will eat it!
Determined to uphold the idea that I might support myself, I ate ferociously. Wu Julan had already placed his chopsticks down, yet I continued eating with all my might, till the extent that I was going to puke. Wu Julan watched me silently as I said angrily: “What’s there to look at? Have you not seen someone with a large appetite!”
The corner of his lips slightly twitched, seemingly holding a slight smile.
I glared at him and said: “I cooked dinner, you wash the dishes!” After finishing, I wanted to stand up impressively and leave gracefully, leaving my suave figure behind. Who knew that the moment I lifted my bottom, I realized that I had eaten too much, the highest amount that I could handle when eating at a buffet, to the extent that I needed a wall to support my movement. I swayed a little and sat back down pathetically.
I picked up the Pu fan and pretended to fan myself, “It’s pretty cool outside, I’ll sit for a while longer.”
He said: “Indeed, sit a while longer.”
Before I had the chance to reply, he had already cleaned up the dishes and went into the kitchen, leaving me staring at his suave figure.
I sat for a while, still feeling uneasy, then staggered as I stood to enter the kitchen and check on his progress with the dishes.
He didn’t add any detergent, so in order to remove the grease, he used steaming hot water, as if it weren’t too hot!
I turned on the tap to put some cold water, picked up the detergent and added a few drops in the water, “If you can’t find anything in the future, just ask me.”
He picked up the detergent bottle and looked at the instructions and calmly said: “Yes.”
I said: “Once you’re done with the dish, clean the countertop, and the stove, and the cupboards, and the floor, and the windows, and……”
I displayed the figure of a boss as I listed all the picky requests one by one, but Wu Julan remained expressionless and replied with a simple, “Yes.”
The both of us, one commanding while the other working, finished the job beyond my expectations. Not only did he clean the countertop, stove and cupboard well, he even wiped the window and the marble surface around the stove till they sparkled. He passed the task I assigned him with perfection.
Seeing the spotless kitchen, I started to become curious about him. Although this person is picky, he is serious and diligent when it comes to work, and is not one to laze around. How did he land in a situation where he ended up being bare-footed?
After cleaning the kitchen, Wu Julan took the initiative to go clean the bathroom he used earlier.
I sat in the empty living room, hearing the occasional sound of water from the bathroom while pondering my thoughts.
Grandpa died of stomach cancer. When he learnt about it, it was already at the middle to late stages. He kept it a secret from us until he could no longer hide it. Only then did we find out. Back then, I was working as an accountant in a foreign company in Beijing. After finding out, I immediately put through my resignation, carried all my luggage and returned to the island.
Grandpa did not object to my stubborn decision, nor did I object to Grandpa’s rejection to be hospitalised in order to undergo operations. Compared to lying on a hospital bed, being cut open here and there, or having people insert tubes in your body, it was better to live like an ordinary human and enjoy the last moments of life.
We intentionally forgot the pains of the illness and lived normally, growing flowers, playing chess, and tasting tea. When the weather was nice, we even set up a stall at the harbour and went fishing in the sea. The time spent was no different from the past, as if the 7 years that I was away from home never existed, as if I had always stayed in the island, only that in the past he was the one who held my hands and walked, while I became the one holding his now.
Before Grandpa fell ill, or even when I was in university, I had thought of returning back to the island to stay. But because of the living costs and that I had already spent quite a bit of Grandpa’s retirement money, not wanting to burden him further and for my plan in “settling back home”, I worked hard to earn more money. This was so that I could come back once I had saved enough and rent an old house along the coast, then transform it into a cafe. This way, not only could I take care of grandpa but also enjoy my life by the ocean. Despite these plans I had for the future, time didn’t wait for me and Grandpa was no longer around.
If I had known Grandpa would leave so early, I may have told him earlier that I did not like the big city, perhaps… However, there is no such thing as “if I had known” in this world.
While I was putting the blame on myself over this, I suddenly heard Wu Julan say: “I’m done cleaning the bathroom. Are there still other tasks that I need to do?”
I looked up, seeing him walk towards me from the bathroom, with even-paced steps. Although all he wore was a pair of cheap black pants, he was able to bring out the aura of the legendary cloud dragon; delicate and swift whilst floating. I could not help but to stare at him for a moment before speaking: “There’s nothing left to do. I’ll bring you to take a look at the place you’ll be living in!”
I stood up, spreading my arms wide open and gestured, “As you can see, this is an old house, it’s the Shen family’s old mansion……”
According to Grandpa, this old mansion was built using the money his grandfather got from selling pearls that he risked his life collecting when he was younger. Because the island was too poor to live in, three great-aunts married in far away places and Grandpa left home, leaving no one else living in the old home. The old home was gradually deserted and the roof was covered with moss. After grandpa left the salvage crew, he did not choose to remain in the city but to return back to his hometown instead. Tidying up the old home, he settled back home.
Different from the structures of the traditional house in the mainland, the old home is formed with masonry. Using resources collected within the island, Hai Dao residents used dark green bricks and greyish green tiled roofs to construct a sturdy home. Not only could it stand against the typhoons, but was also resistant against the humid climate and termites.
The main building of the old mansion is in the shape of a “7”, with a long horizontal portion and a short vertical one. On the upper and lowers levels are two huge rooms. One is a living room and the other one is a study room. The living room is on the horizontal of the ‘7’ and the study is on the vertical of the ‘7’. Both rooms are incredibly spacious. Grandpa had rheumatic legs that made it difficult to go up and down the stairs, so the study was turned into a bedroom.
The staircase going up is located at the turning corner of the “7”. Going up the staircase, the horizontal portion of the “7” has two rooms — both have their own bathrooms within. The room closer to the staircase is slightly smaller. After placing a double bed and a few simple pieces of furniture, there is not much leftover space. These two bedrooms are guestrooms, for the convenience of Dad and the family when they come over for a short stay. Speaking of which, the reason why the old home was renovated to be so “modern-style” was all thanks to Shen Yanghui. When Shen Yanghui was six, he could not adapt to living here, crying and wailing to leave. To satisfy his grandson, the grandpa spent half a year hiring someone for a major renovation, installing shower taps and flushing toilets. Unfortunately, Dad and his family gave back little, spending only two to three days over the subsequent two to three years.
The two larger bedrooms are located at the ends of the horizontal and vertical portions of the “7”, along with another wall to divide in the interior. Even with the bed, bookshelf, study table, rattan stofa, and rattan chair inhabiting the room, it still looked spacious. The room at the horizontal portion was once Grandpa’s bedroom, while the vertical portion was mine.
The kitchen is an independent stone-tiled hut situated on the left of the main building, forming the shape of a door with the main building’s “7”. On the top left corner of the “door” shape was the garden. The lime tree that must be at least a century old is located within. Based on what Grandpa said, he also had no idea the exact age of the lime tree but according to his father, he once plucked the limes for its juice to dip with mackerels.
The left vertical portion of the “door” is a rectangular-shaped garden. Closely situated along the walls of the courtyard are the Chinese Ixora and the Bougainvillea. There is a water tap along the wall closer to the kitchen. Using bluestone and cement, a drain was carved for the ease of washing and cleaning. The right portion of the “door” is an empty space, where the Bleeding Heart Vine and Murray Exotica are planted, just nicely located outside the study room and my room. In the middle of the “door” is a rectangular shaped courtyard, the dark green stones laid on the ground, with some bonsai scattered. The bottom opening of the “door” is exactly where the main door is located.
After taking Wu Julan on a tour around the house, I stood along the windows of the guestroom on level 2, overseeing the entire courtyard, back facing Wu Julan and said: “I plan to open a guesthouse here. It’s not possible to do it alone so that’s why I asked you to stay.”
It was a secret that I had hidden in my heart, and this was the first time I shared it with someone. Feeling a sense of excitement, I could not help but add on: “Since the day I came back, I had no intentions of leaving. No matter how big or bustling Beijing is, it has no connection to me. I will only be a guest who’s staying under someone’s roof. I’ve had enough of such tastes. Even if it is poorer here, I would rather remain back in my own home.”
After finishing my words, I realised I had talked trivally and spoke too much, appearing as too talkative. I quickly changed the topic, putting on a stern face, and said: “The location of the old home is not good. It is located slightly further from the coast and will not be the tourists’ top choice. Hence, I need to create a selling point to attract them. Once I have gained enough reputation, tourists will naturally come over. In the future, I will be the boss of the guesthouse and you will be the service crew of the guesthouse. I will use my brain and you will use your labor. As such, all the dirty work and tiring work will be left to you……” I suddenly felt worried that I might have frightened this crew away right before the guesthouse opens its business and quickly added: “Of course, this is just a guesthouse and not a construction site. There won’t be much dirty or tiring work to do. You just need to be studious.”
Wu Julan gave a “Hmm” sound to indicate his understanding, “Where will I be staying?”
I said: “This room.” This is the decision I made after thinking thoroughly. Since I’d be opening a guesthouse it was only logical that I should let him stay in the study room downstairs while renting out the rooms upstairs. However, as I was not yet prepared and could not bear to let someone else stay in a room where Grandpa once lived, I could only let him stay in one of the rooms upstairs. Between the two guestrooms, this room is right next to mine, allowing me to “monitor” him easily. After all, he is still a stranger.
“My brother was just staying in this room. There are clean bedsheets in the drawer under the bed. You can change it yourself. If you want to clean the bathroom, you can also do so yourself. The rag is in front of the sink and the detergent is in the cupboard below the sink.”
“Okay.” Wu Julan readily agreed.
“I’m tired today so I’ll be sleeping early. You should sleep early too! Once you are well-rested, we have a lot more work to do.”
I helped Wu Julan to shut the door and entered my own room.
After a few days of insufficient rest, in addition to waking up so early today, my head was feeling heavy and I could not wait to climb onto my bed and rest. But, there was still someone next door.
Though he had passed my test this afternoon, there would always be this group of people — behaving prim and proper in the day but turning into the opposite person at night. The human heart cannot be underestimated. Who knew whether Wu Julan could be such a person?
After locking the door properly and placing a long bench behind the door, I placed a beer bottle on the bench. Once someone tries to push open the door, the bottle will fall onto the floor and wake me up immediately.
I put a small flashlight below my pillow, laid my phone next to it, and set “911” as the emergency number so that the police could come over at its fast speed. I also placed a small knife under the bed.
Thinking through and affirming that I had not forgotten anything, I particularly wore a pair of thick cotton socks and laid down on my bed. Although it was not comfortable, the movies always showed the female lead running with bare feet when making her escape. Just in case, I felt that greater sense of safety in wearing a pair of socks.
At first, I tried hard to resist the temptation of falling asleep. I was on high alert, trying to notice if there were any sounds outside. Slowly, however, my tiredness overcame me and I eventually fell asleep.
Special thanks to the following for making this chapter possible!
PR: Luke & Laura