Early in the morning, I woke up to the ringtone of my mobile phone.
“Hello? Who's calling me so early in the morning…”
“Ronghua! You lazy pig! Wake up! Have you forgotten that we’re supposed to have a date today?”
I immediately jerked awake from my grogginess, it was An Ning.
“Hey, hey. Lazy pig Ronghua, don’t tell me you’re gonna go back to sleep again?”
“Of course not.” I replied. Otherwise, An Ning might think that I went back to sleep again.
“You better not. Get yourself ready and come quickly. You're the one who invited me to go shopping today!”
Since young, I didn't keep track of the things I need to do. Luckily An Ning was there to call me. Otherwise, I would've definitely forgotten about today’s date.
An Ning, surnamed An and named Ning. We have been buddies for life since junior high and were in the same class every year. Not sure if it had been the work of fate, but the both of us had also ended up as table buddies. Over time, our friendship became as deep as the bamboo roots.
Although we parted during our university years, our friendship had not weakened. Whenever there was any free time, we would plan a date.
I got out of my comfortable bed and looked at the time. Seeing that there was still an ample amount of time left before the date, I went to get myself dressed.
While taking my time in the shower, I looked into the mirror. Seeing the crimson bracelet on my pale white wrist, my hand could not help but touch it.
The television in the living room was broadcasting the morning news. The case it was reporting about was the incident from the cafe that I worked part-time at.
Thinking back to that day’s scenario, my heart almost jumped out. The cause of Xiao Huan’s death was reported as fatigue. I sat at the dining table watching the television news report.
Xiao Huan’s twisted neck became a nightmare that could not be erased from my mind.
Suddenly, the image of the street sweeper auntie surfaced in my head. Her ghastly face, that tilted posture and those eyes…
“Xiao Hua, good morning. Mother just made breakfast, come eat while it’s still hot.”
My mother’s voice interrupted my thoughts and I nodded profusely in response. Cold beads of sweat formed on my back as I pressed my hand against my chest where my pounding heart was. Enough of having those horrible images swirling in my head!
After finishing breakfast, I strolled to the location where An Ning and I agreed to meet at. From a distance, I could see An Ning beckoning at me.
“You’re finally here. If not for me calling you today, you sure you wouldn't have forgotten our agreement?”
An Ning hooked an arm with mine and pretended to look angry as she interrogated me. If I must say, An Ning was model material, with long legs and a C cup chest, who likes to give those kinds of looks. Including the cute and helpless look which I could not stand.
“Fine, fine, it's my fault.”
I laughed as I patted the back of her hand. Holding her hand tightly with mine, our date began.
The first thing on our list was to watch a movie. On the way, we went past the cafe where I had worked part-time. Due to Xiao Huan’s bizarre death during his shift, the cafe’s business was affected and was now suspended of business.
That day’s scene once again surfaced in front of me before I hurriedly shook it off. The thought of Xiao Huan’s deformed neck and his laugh continued to haunt the depths of my mind.
Suddenly, An Ning’s mobile phone rang. She rummaged through her handbag for her phone before answering the call.
“Hello? Ah, Grandpa.”
“What…I’m playing outside together with my friend… it's not convenient for me to come over right now.”
“Ēn…fine, I’ll ask her.”
I looked at An Ning with a surprised face and she gave me an embarrassed smile in return, “My bad, Xiao Hua, my grandpa wants me to go to his shop. He says it is urgent, but I don’t want to leave you… so…”
I was once again taken aback. If I remembered correctly, An Ning’s grandfather opened a shop, and it was something like a…shroud shop?
“If you don’t want to come with me, it’s alright. I’ll go ahead then.”
Having heard what she said, contrary to my heart, I nodded and promised to accompany her. And after the matter is over, we’ll go elsewhere to play.
Upon arriving outside the entrance of the gloomy shop, I saw a white-haired old man with a fan in his hand. His eyes were closed as he fanned himself with the handheld palm frond fan.
“Grandpa, we’re here.”
An Ning cried out to her grandfather. Once the old man heard his granddaughter’s voice, he immediately opened his eyes and glanced in our direction. The moment his gaze landed on my wrist, he swiftly picked his skinny body up.
The frail white singlet on his body swayed and his face turned hideous in shock and fear of what he saw.