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Chapter 4: Ants Crawling into the Heart (Part 4)
Wu Julan and I were the only ones left in the house. I hesitated on how to speak. As his employer, it is normal for me to ask for his identification card. But as a friend, it would be weird for me to check his identification card. I have no idea when I’ve started to treat him as a friend.
Wu Julan broke the silence and spoke, “If you want to ask me about my identification card, I don’t have one.” His expression was very calm, as if he was speaking about a very ordinary matter.
What was odd was that even though I was somehow mentally prepared and wasn’t at all surprised. I was just feeling empty, though I don’t know what I was feeling empty for. In a moment, I thought about many things–
Exceeding the number of children in a family under the policy — a blacklist without a Hukou*; smuggler — there were those who were smuggled to Vietnam and the Philippines to Haidao in the past, and also Haidao’s residents smuggling to the USA and Europe. Although I’ve never witnessed it, I’ve heard about it.
[t/n: Hukou is part of the Chinese population registry system. Each individual is registered to the Hukou system of their birth city upon birth and hence is a highly effective system in tracking family-sizes during their implementation of the One Child Policy.]
I asked. “Did you lose your identification card or you didn’t have one in the first place?” Before waiting for Wu Julan’s reply, I hastily said, “You don’t have to tell me. I actually don’t want to know as long as you do your work properly.”
Wu Julan didn’t seem at all hiding his nonchalance on this matter, he gently smiled and said, “If you’re alright, I’ll go boil some water.”
I nodded my head and he walked towards the kitchen.
To help me stop the bleeding, he tore the hem of this T-shirt, drastically shortening it and making it look odd. I stared for a moment, and my heart that was frantic earlier gradually calmed down.
Now, I’ve an even more pressing issue to face and deal with — the renovations will commence tomorrow and the payment money has been snatched away.
I thought in silence for a while and used my house’s landline to call Wang Tianlin.
After exchanging greetings, I asked if he had bought all the materials. Wang Tianlin happily said yes and was on the ferry back. He told me rest assured that all the workers have been informed, that despite the tight notice in looking for workers, many of them respected him and he managed to hire the skilful workers.
The industry works on trust. I can’t let Wang Tianlin go against his words so I gave a big red cross to “cancel renovations” in my heart.
I told Wang Tianlin about me being robbed and said that my finances were a little tight and consulted him if the renovation scale can be readjusted to finishing only a portion of it and to work on the remaining after I got more cash.
The both of us discussed through the phone for a bit, removing some changes, and readjusted the renovation budget to 40,000 Yuan.
I repeated a couple of “I’m so sorry, thank you” before hanging up the phone.
Lifting my head up, I saw Wu Julan bringing a cup of water and standing at the door. Probably guessing that it wasn’t convenient for me to walk and yet afraid that I was thirsty, he brought me some water.
I sighed and said, “After the renovation, I’ll really be left without a single cent.”
Wu Julan said plainly, “You can earn back the money that was lost. But you can’t do anything once your life is gone.”
He passed me a cup of water. Since I was also thirsty, I drank it and tasted honey in it, then immediately finished it. Recalling the incident when I first met Wu Julan, I couldn’t help but to grin.
I gently said, “You said you ended up here because you were unlucky. I’ll help you live through this period of unfortunate times to the best of my ability. As for the others, if you don’t talk about it, I won’t ask.”
Wu Julan stared at me in silence for a while, without saying a word, he turned and left.
Wu Julan was preparing dinner in the kitchen. As I was a little bored, I laid in front of the computer desk and practiced using my left hand to use the computer.
“Bam bam!” The sound of someone patting on the door rang. I reacted, standing up with difficulties, I shouted, “Wu Julan! Open the door!”
Wu Julan opened the door in the courtyard. As expected, Zhou Buwen and Jiang Yisheng came in.
“Where’s Xiao Luo?” As Zhou Buwen spoke, he spotted me. He quickly dashed to the window and asked anxiously, “Jiang Yisheng said that you’ve hurt your hand. Is it serious?”
I used my left hand to lift up my right arm to show him, “It’s fine. The robber probably didn’t have the intention to hurt me. The knife cut my arm when he was cutting the shoulder strap of my bag. The doctor told me to have a good rest and there shouldn’t be any post-effects after recovering.
Zhou Buwen examined my hand and said, “Thank goodness you’re alright. Otherwise I would…” He paused, then swallowed his words, “Be careful next time.”
I nodded my head, “Hm.”
Jiang Yisheng laughed, “Eh, I say, are the both of you really talking through the window? Big Head, get inside the house first. I’ll put the things we bought in the kitchen.”
As I limped into the living room, I asked, “What did you buy?”
“Pig trotters! Nourish yourself with what you eat!” Jiang Yisheng’s voice came from the kitchen.
I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Is this the same child genius who skipped three grades?
After I slowly sat down on the sofa, Zhou Buwen handed me a brand new phone, “Jiang Yisheng and I went to buy this. The number is the same as your previous one.”
“How much is it?”
“Forget about it. It’s a present.”
It’s a locally manufactured phone, probably within a thousand dollars. I thought for a bit then accepted it, “Thank you!”
Jiang Yisheng ran out from the kitchen, making a commotion at Wu Julan and said, “Cousin, you can actually cook! What are you stewing in the pot? It smells really good!”
Wu Julan said, “Pork ribs.”
I interrupted and said, “Since you bought a cabbage, how about you and Big Head stay behind for dinner!” The barbeque meal last night was all covered by Jiang Yisheng and I initially planned to invite him and Zhou Buwen over for a meal.
Zhou Buwen said, “You’re still injured. We shouldn’t trouble you!”
“I’m not the one preparing the meal so I’m not troubled at all. Right, cousin?” I emphasised on the word “cousin”, and smiled at Wu Julan cheekily. Too bad that Wu Julan doesn’t watch TV shows and didn’t know whenever there was a scene with a cousin, there would also be conflicts and that the cousin would alway be on the losing end.
Wu Julan didn’t rebut me, and said to Jiang Yisheng and Zhou Buwen, “Whether it’s preparing a meal for two people or five people, there is not much of a difference. Just join us.” He made the decision swiftly then went to the kitchen to prepare.
Five people? I was stunned for a bit then remembered Zhou Buyan and quickly said to Zhou Buwen, “I almost forgot that your cousin is also on the island. Give her a call and invite her over!”
Zhou Buwen said, “No need.”
I was surprised, “Why not? She would need to eat dinner regardless. It can’t be that we’d only invite you but not her for dinner. How would she think of us, who are your friends?”
Jiang Yisheng asked oddly, “Big Head, is your relationship with your cousin bad?”
Zhou Buwen hurriedly said, “No, I just don’t want to trouble you guys too much.”
I said, “Since the chef has already spoken, and doesn’t find it a chore, there’s no need to be polite.”
Jiang Yisheng chimed in, “You’re not one of us if you’re being so polite!”
Zhou Buwen smiled bitterly, “Fine! Fine! Fine! Then I won’t be polite!” He immediately called Zhou Buyan and hung up the phone after saying a few words, “Buyan’s already eating. She said she won’t be coming over but she thanked the both of you and will come over to visit you later.”
Zhou Buyan gave an indescribably odd feeling. Even though she was Big Head’s relative, I wasn’t able to see her as one of us, so whether or not she came, it didn’t really matter to me.
I turned my head and said to Jiang Yisheng, “Go tell Wu Julan to just prepare enough for four people.”
Jiang Yisheng said, “I originally even thought to ask my mum to come over everyday to make your meals. Since Cousin Wu knows how to cook, I don’t have to worry anymore. Xiao Luo, just sit with Big Head. I’ll go to the kitchen to help Cousin Wu.” Finishing his words, he gave me a wink and a look of “See, I’m so understanding.”
After Jiang Yisheng left, the living room fell into silence. With only Zhou Buwen and I sitting next to each other on the sofa, the atmosphere was a little awkward. I quickly searched for a topic, “When are you leaving?”
Zhou Buwen said, “It was planned to be tomorrow. But with you getting injured now, do you want me to stay until you recover before leaving?”
I said, “Thank you very much but I only injured my hand and don’t need anyone to specially take care of me. Although it’s a little inconvenient, with Jiang Yisheng around, and…my cousin, it’s better you stick to your plans and return to work.”
Zhou Buwen said, “Then I’ll come back and visit you again after some time.”
“Sure! Work comes first. After some time, you’re always welcome to visit Jiang Yisheng and I.”
Zhou Buwen said, “After losing so much money, is your plan to set up an inn affected?”
“Nope. We’re going as planned. Don’t worry, if there’s a problem, I will say so.”
Zhou Buwen’s sullen look finally loosened a little, “As long as you remember your words today.”
I smiled and turned on the television. With sounds coming from the television, even if we didn’t talk, it wouldn’t be odd. Two people watching the television and occasionally chatting randomly.
Half an hour later, Jiang Yisheng shouted over, “Dinner time!”
Without consulting me, Jiang Yisheng placed the table and chairs in the courtyard. Zhou Buwen went to wash his hands and then headed to the kitchen to also help in bringing out the dishes.
I sat on the rattan chair and waited leisurely for the dishes to come.
Four dishes and a soup, cold mixed seaweed, stir-fried bok-choy, roasted small yellow croaker, braised pork ribs, seaweed-egg soup.
Although it was just a home-made dish, the colours looked better than how an average person would cook it. Zhou Buwen didn’t give too much thought into it and casually took a bite of the small yellow croaker. His expression immediately changed and couldn’t help but be amazed, “This is the first time I’ve eaten such a fresh and tender small yellow croaker.”
He ate one of the rib pieces and exclaimed, “Tender and sweet. I can’t bear to swallow it.”
I asked gleefully, “How is it? It’s not any worse than those big restaurants, right?”
Zhou Buwen said to Wu Julan, “Cousin Wu, to be frank, I’m not flattering you but I‘ve eaten dishes made by a few famous chefs and yours is not any worse than theirs.”
Jiang Yisheng probably has taken a few bites in the kitchen so he wasn’t as surprised or shocked as Zhou Buwen but just buried his head and continued eating, while saying, “Xiao Luo, I’m applying to come over for meals in the long-term.”
Hearing them complimenting Wu Julan, I felt proud and smiled, “Eat more if you like it.”
Zhou Buwen laughed, “Don’t just look at us eat. You should eat too!”
Using my left hand to hold the chopsticks, it took me forever to pick up a stalk of bok-choy. Even after spending much effort in picking it up, it dropped on my clothes just when I brought it to my mouth. I frantically put down my chopsticks, picked up the vegetable and put it at the corner of the table and said awkwardly, “No wonder foreigners find it difficult to learn to use our chopsticks!”
Zhou Buwen stood up, wanting to help but Wu Julan had already taken tissue papers and helped me to clean off my hand, then passed me another clean piece of tissue paper for me to clean my clothes.
Wu Julan gave me an empty bowl and a spoon, picking up only pork ribs with regular shapes and putting them in the bowl, “Use a spoon to eat instead.”
I scooped a piece of pork ribs and put it into my mouth, realising that even though I feel like a little kid eating, I didn’t encounter any troubles. I laughed and said, “Everyone, carry on and eat. Stop staring at me or else I’ll feel very nervous.”
Zhou Buwen and Jiang Yisheng quickly shifted their gaze away and continued eating.
Wu Julan happened to sit on my left. He used his left hand to hold his chopsticks and eat while his right hand was holding the shared chopsticks, occasionally putting some seaweed stripes or bok-choy on my spoon and also tore a few pieces of the fish maw, where there aren’t any fish bones for me.
Using both his left and right hands at the same time, Wu Julan didn’t appear flustered and ate very naturally. One could even say it was very elegant. Being taken care of by him, I was also at ease and wasn’t in a hurry.
Zhou Buwen and Jiang Yisheng completely disregarded their manners and glared over. I was also dumbfounded, while watching Wu Julan in a daze, I mechanically placed the food into my mouth. Only Wu Julan didn’t seem to find how amazing he was and carried on eating quietly.
Jiang Yisheng couldn’t hold on and asked, “Cousin Wu, you can use chopsticks with both hands?”
Wu Julan didn’t even lift his eyes and said plainly, “My left hand and right hand are exactly the same.”
Since the speaker didn’t even take it to heart, it wasn’t appropriate for us to make a fuss out of it. Jiang Yisheng and I exchanged glances, hypnotising ourselves that “this isn’t a big deal, it’s very normal” and continued eating.
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