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Gu Yu’s backpack was made from waterproof cloth. Even so, he still added several protective layers so as to prevent the materials from getting wet.

He left the market. After another bumpy trip back to the intercity bus stop, he got on the returning five-o’clock bus. His seat was in the last row and there were only two empty ones left. Leaning on the window, he watched the city of Shengtian, which reminded him of an exhausted giant elephant, outside the window.

The bus slowly pulled out of the station. Gu Yu blinked and suddenly found a few drops of water on the glass. The heavy rain that had been brewing all day finally arrived when he was leaving the city.



The weather forecast was pretty accurate. As the bus drove away from the downtown area, thunder was rumbling overhead and the rain was getting heavier. When they reached the entrance of the expressway, the outside was misty because of the downpour and everything turned into a blur.

"Splash!"

"Crackle!"

Gu Yu listened to the raindrops knocking against the window and couldn’t help but feel worried. The rest of the passengers also stopped talking, reducing their conversations to occasional whispers only.

"Ding!"

His cell phone beeped at an incoming message, which was a greeting from Jiang Xiaozhai. "Got on the bus yet?"

"Leaving Shengtian now. Are you off work?"

"About to leave the building."

"Overground traffic should be quite busy now. It’s better to take the subway."

"Not just yet. I’m going to the park first."

"What for?" He was curious.

"To pick flowers, of course. That aunt can’t be still there waiting for me."

‘Er…’

Gu Yu was speechless and could not think of a line to reply. Another message came in right after that. "Don’t you think it’s such a temptingly wretched act, sneaking around and picking flowers in this heavy rain?"

‘Do I…’

He was now admiring her from the bottom of his heart and typed on his phone, "Big Sis, you are something!"

Nothing happened for a while and Xiaozhai sent him a photo about ten minutes later. It was featuring a branch of monthly osmanthus with yellowish to light-white flowers, dripping with water.

The hand holding the branch was slender with well-proportioned muscles. It was graceful, yet still possessed certain strength.

That hand brought a sense of surprise, admiration and flutter to his heart, which he managed to hold back as he replied in a playful tone, "Very pretty. You’ll have a bad influence on the kids, though."

"I’ll donate a sapling to the park then, as my repentance."

"Count me in and make that two."

"Forget it. I’ll be responsible for my own act. Hey, don’t you think what you said was…"

"Such a cliche!"

"...such a cliche!"

Gu Yu pursed his lips and hit the "send" button. Those three words appeared on both screens at the same time. Following that, he got a yellow smiling emoji from Xiaozhai.

They went on chatting like this and Xiaozhai would reply intermittently at various intervals.

He looked out of the window from time to time and could barely make out the condition of the road outside. It would take the bus four hours to reach Bai Town at its usual speed, but the rain was slowing them down. It had been two hours since they left Shengtian and they weren’t even halfway through the journey.

Before anyone knew it, the bus had left the expressway and turned onto a village road, crisscrossing among villages and towns. Another ten minutes passed and the conductor called out, "We’re at Wudao River now. Anybody getting off?" [1]

"Me!"

An old man stood up, holding a sack in his hand. He was no stranger, being none other than the beekeeper Gu Yu saw in the medicine material market.

Wudao River was the name of the town under the jurisdiction of another county. It was not very far from Bai Town, only about 35-40 km away. After the old man got off, the bus drove on and soon entered a mountainous region.

The sun had long set and the darkness outside was threatening to devour everything. The only dim light came from the vehicle’s swaying headlights.

Xiaozhai was busy with her own stuff and Gu Yu had been leaning back in his seat, feeling a bit drowsy. He was drifting off when the bus stopped abruptly with a creaking sound.

"What happened?"

"A traffic jam, I guess?"

"Well, better not be an accident."

As the passengers babbled on, the bus driver got off to take a look. He ran back and complained angrily. "Sh*t! The road in front is blocked. I don’t know what happened there."

Speak of the devil. Incessant complaints immediately broke out among the passengers.

Nothing they said would change the situation though. The crowd waited for a few minutes and there was a knock at the door. A policeman in a raincoat got on the bus and gestured for the passengers to quiet down. "Please be quiet. A landslide has taken place ahead and the road has been blocked. This section of the road is very dangerous at the moment. Due to the possibility of another landslide occurring, we are now requesting all vehicles to turn back to avoid potential casualties."

As soon as these words left his mouth, the passengers went into a frenzy.

"We’re almost there and have to turn back now?"

"Exactly! It’ll be midnight when we reach Shengtian. Where are we supposed to stay for the night?"

"D*mn it! What a rotten day!"

The policeman was rather patient and did not lose his temper at all. He went on, persuading the crowd. "I completely understand how you must feel right now, but it is for everyone’s safety. It’s better to have a rough day then getting hurt or killed, right? Plus, the road is blocked off. No one can make it through."

Everyone knew what was going on pretty well. They just had a hard time accepting it. After some further nagging and gabbing, the policeman got off and moved on to the next vehicle. The driver had had enough and smacked his coat hard. "Enough with the ranting! Do you want to spend the night in the mountains or what?"

The crowd lowered their voices at his words.

Before long, the police started to direct the traffic and instruct the vehicles to turn around. The bus drove after an SUV, which seemed to be venting bitterness through its exhaust pipe.

Gu Yu was extremely frustrated himself and was wondering where he could spend the night. Shengtian was an expensive city. Even small inns there would cost him around a hundred yuan per night. Should he spend the night in an internet cafe?

As these random thoughts went through his head, he suddenly noticed an inhabited area ahead where sparse lights could be seen. He paused for a few seconds and asked, "Excuse me, is there any motel in Wudao River?"

"Yes, I’ve lived there before," the driver sounded quite confident.

"Please let me off there, then."

"You’re not going back to Shengtian?"

"That’s too far. I’ll make do here for the night."

"That could work. It’s closer to Bai Town from there."

The driver was quite earnest and stopped the bus by the road after giving him some instructions. Gu Yu jumped out. As soon as he opened his umbrella, raindrops started smashing against it like spluttering firecrackers.

‘Gosh!’

He put the backpack in his arms and held the umbrella with one hand, then ran toward the town center. Wudao River was such a small place that it had only two streets, crossing each other perpendicularly in the middle. Most shops were closed and only a few restaurants were still open.

The driver remembered it correctly and Gu Yu indeed found a motel following his instructions. Pushing the door open, the counter was right in front of him with a plank bed behind it. A middle-aged woman was slouching on the bed, watching TV with a bored expression.

"Any empty rooms?"

"One person?" The woman glanced at him.

"Yes."

"We have 40-yuan rooms and 60-yuan rooms. Which do you want?"

"May I have a look first?"

"..."

The woman picked up some keys and went straight upstairs. Her attitude was somewhat austere, causing Gu Yu to twitch his mouth as he followed her into a room. It was incredibly small, with two plank beds, a shabby and outdated television, and no bathroom.

"This one’s 40 yuan per night. The toilet is in the hallway. Do you want to see the 60-yuan room?" Asked the woman.

He felt the bedding and found it quite dry, then replied, "No, thanks. I’ll take this room."

"The deposit is 100 yuan. Come downstairs to check in."

"Ok."

After finishing all that, Gu Yu returned to the room and locked the door. He checked the medicines, which were kept dry, first.

He lay down on the bed and flipped through the TV channels halfheartedly. He was going to tell Xiaozhai about his rotten experience tonight, but held himself back on a second thought, feeling the two of them not intimate enough for that.

The reason he got off at Wudao River, was partially to avoid running to and fro between the cities, but was also because of the incident he heard about earlier today, which had aroused his curiosity.

[1] ED/N: I was surprised myself; I corrected to "driver", but having second thoughts, I put the raws into a dictionary and it actually spat out "ticker seller"... apparently it’s not a driver but another person onboard. The translator used the word conductor, but in the British English meaning, hence I changed it to a similar word (we’re all using American English). TL/N: Before buses were equipped with self-service ticket machines, Chinese buses all had one (sometimes two, if the bus was a two-carriage one) 售票员 on board and somehow in the English textbooks they were usually called "conductors" instead of ticket-sellers. I guess it was to indicate that they did more than just selling tickets (e.g. instructing passengers to be aware of pick-pockets and give seats to the elderly and pregnant women)? They are less commonly seen in the cities now, but long-distance buses between small towns still have them.

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