I got out of the airport and flagged down a taxi.
On the road, the driver talked my ear off.
Finally, after what seemed like an endless chatter, he drove into my homeland, Jingdezhen. It was a small town that's famous for its porcelain.
I stood out like a sore thumb as I walked amidst the crowd.
It was ironic, really, considering that everyone else was dressed casually while I was in a well-ironed suit.
It was custom-made without a brand name.
An 'L' was sewn on the corner of a sleeve, however, since I designed it myself.
Nine years ago, on Savile Row Street, I was lucky enough to become a recipient of Mister Bailey's handed-down teachings.
I learned from him for eight whole years and brought the art of tailoring back to China.
Looking back, I have no idea how I had managed to persevere for that long.
In the day, I made suits for famous people all over the world, and at night, I stayed up late to polish my English.
From measuring to drafting, from cutting to sewing...
From speaking simple words like 'sorry' to teaching customers about the history and significance of tailoring in a fluent British accent.
Finally, Mister Bailey gave me the permission to sew a symbol on my suit.
It represented eight years of dedication.
Last year, Mister Bailey said he had no skills left to impart to me.
I left for Beijing, for the best western suit shop recommended by him.
By then, I was a reputable, international western suit designer.
A suit of my creation went at least seventy thousand yuan.
Despite the high cost, the rich and famous came to me in an endless stream.
Even ordinary customers would get me to design their wedding suit as a way of flaunting their wealth.
Finally, I could stop feeling like an inferior being.
If I wasn't happy with a particular customer, he would find his suit a little too tight.
Nevertheless, he would bear the discomfort, give me a thumbs up, and praise my skills.
This was the power of reputation. It was something I had to slog eight hard years for.
Other than offering double holidays, the company also gave me an extra month of rest.
I applied for it in June in order to visit my homeland. It didn't really make any sense since I no longer had any relatives or even a house there.
My old apartment had long become someone else's home.
Looking into the kitchen window, I saw a lady frying vegetables.
Not far away from her was a little boy playing with toys and he looked very happy.
He reminded me of the time when I was still a child. It was a pity that Mom was no longer around.
I saw the lady looking back at me and I quickly averted my gaze with a sheepish smile.
I backed away, not wanting to be misunderstood as a creeper.
Anyway, the point of my visit wasn't my old apartment but the park nearby.
"Summer's really hot," I mumbled as I took a seat on the park's bench. It was noon.
Earlier, I had bought a bottle of cola from a snack kiosk.
The sun shone directly on my face but I only stared blankly at the castle opposite me.
It was a private construction, somewhat like a rich man's villa.
I sat down for an hour.
An hour quickly turned into two.
I was still there when the sun started setting, adding a red tinge to my suit.
Eventually, I got impatient and took a quick look at my watch.
It was time to find a hotel to spend the night.
I squashed the cola bottle out of frustration and stood up.
I threw my trash in the bin, and just as I was about to leave, a little girl called out to me.
"Brother, brother," she greeted cheerily, running over to me.
I haven't seen her before.
"Brother, brother," she called out again, her tone warm.
I looked around before smiling at her, asking doubtfully, "Are you calling me, little one?"
"Why are you so stupid? Is there anyone else around?" she asked unhappily before taking a seat on the bench I had just got up from.
She looked displeased.
I adjusted my collar before speaking, "Is anything the matter, little girl? I'll bring you to the police if you're lost."
"I'm not lost," she claimed and pointed at a nearby building. "Look, that's my house."
"Well, I guess I'm done here then." I turned around.
"Brother? Brother?" she called out yet again.
"What?" I asked impatiently.
"A pretty sister had me come over to pass a message. She doesn't want to see you, she said. She also said you'll buy me an ice cream. Is that true?" she asked, giving me adoring puppy eyes.
I looked around frantically. I grabbed her shoulders and said firmly, "Tell me where she is and I'll get you two."
She whined. "It hurts. She was standing right there earlier. Now I'm not sure."
I looked at where she was pointing but there was no one.
"Damn, I should've been more observant," I cursed to myself.
"Brother? Where's my ice cream? Do I really get one?" she asked timidly.
I answered gently, "Yes, that sister wasn't lying to you."
"Hurray!" She jumped in joy.
I held her hand and brought her to another snack kiosk.
It was newly opened and I hadn't seen it before.
Business seemed lacking and there wasn't actually anyone in the shop.
The owner was a woman and she was sitting on a chair not far away, eating a watermelon.
She ran over to us immediately.
"Any ice cream?" I asked.
"Yes, Aunty, ice cream please," the little girl said charmingly.
"Oh, yes, yes." The aunty quickly smiled at the little girl and opened her icebox, revealing a number of different flavored popsicles.
"I'm looking for ice cream, Aunty," she explained.
"Yes, child, look below," the aunty responded.
At the bottom of the ice box was a plastic cylinder. "I made them myself. In fact, I've been making them my whole life. My son bought this shop especially for me. Alright, there you go, old-school park ice cream."
She opened the cylindrical lid and in it were all the ice creams.
It was then that I remembered something.
The aunty filled two plastic cups with ice cream. "I haven't been doing this for long so there's no egg roll at the bottom. Please make do."
She then took out two straws with a spoon at one end.
The little girl scooped her ice cream out gleefully.
After taking a bite, I blurted out, "This taste is familiar."
"You've tried it before, little fellow?" the aunty asked.
"You used to sell ice cream in a cart outside the park, right?" I questioned.
Recognition dawned on her face and she almost shouted, "Are you Xiaoqiao?"
I nodded with a bittersweet smile. "That's right, Aunty, I'm Luqiao."
She smiled warmly. "Yes, I used to sell them every day until my son had the means to open this shop. Sadly, business hasn't been good. Either way, I have nothing to do so this helps to kill time."
"How much, Aunty?"
"Forget it. This cannot be considered an ice cream so I'm not going to charge. Plus, you're Xiaoqiao. Where's Xiaoyue? Is this your kid?"
Unable to explain everything, I only nodded. I took out a hundred yuan bill and placed it on the icebox. "Keep the change, Aunty, thanks."
Before she could react, I led the little girl back to the park.
We returned to the bench and she continued eating her ice cream joyfully.
"Are you very rich, Brother? Why are you buying me ice cream?"
"Yeah," I responded absentmindedly.
"What's your relationship with that pretty sister?"
"Eh? A child shouldn't ask so much," I replied, embarrassed.
"She must be your girlfriend?"
I remained quiet.
"How lucky of her! Mommy always says it's good to marry a rich man."
I laughed. "I wasn't rich when I met that pretty sister."
"Wait, but she doesn't want to see you now…"
I tried changing the topic by asking for her name.
"Yinuo. Nine years old," she answered innocently.
"Nine?" My heart started beating fast.
"Nothing. I'm Luqiao," I quickly answered.
She grinned. "What an ugly name. I'll just call you Brother."
Looking at the almost disappearing sun, I told her, "Wanna listen to a story, Yinuo?"
Yinuo became excited. "Sure! Mommy and Daddy are always busy. It's been a long time since I've heard a story."
"Alright, come here tomorrow at noon and I'll share it with you."
"I can't come tomorrow. Today's the last day of my school break. I'll have tuition and piano lessons to attend from now on so there's no time," she explained.
"It's no problem. I'll tell you if we meet again."
"Alright. Bye, Brother." She handed me the empty cup before running off.
I continued staring at the castle.
The sky was quickly turning dark. I thought about sitting here for a little while more before searching for a hotel.
Suddenly, a familiar voice rang in my ears.
It was a voice I would never ever forget.
"Why are you still here? Didn't I ask you to leave?"