When Fang Zhao returned the call, that second uncle of his was apparently shaken and could not speak properly. But from his gasps and grunts, it was obvious that he was delighted. He even sent a photograph.
From the original owner’s memory, Fang Zhao remembered that there were four members in his second uncle’s family. His second uncle and aunt and two younger male cousins. In the photograph that was sent, there was one more little girl. During the original owner’s university days, the aunt had given birth to a girl. Now, she was already six.
In the following days, the entire department worked around the clock. Finally, on the 24th, production for the fourth movement was completed. This signified that the virtual projects department’s Memorial Day holiday had begun. On the 25th, Fang Zhao took the entire team out for a big feast, and after that, the members respectively left.
Fang Zhao would not be bringing Curly Hair. Instead, he left the dog in the care of Zeng Huang and Wan Yue.
On Jan 26, Fang Zhao rode in the car of a technical staff who was on friendly terms with Zu Wen as they departed from Qi’an City for Yanbei City. This technical staff was from Yanbei and only went to Qi’an to work. When he heard from Zu Wen that Fang Zhao was also heading back to Yanbei, he suggested he give a lift to Fang Zhao.
However, this staff member’s final destination was different from Fang Zhao’s. The two of them were heading to opposite ends of the city. Fang Zhao politely refused the staff member’s offer of sending him straight to his doorstep and instead called a cab upon arrival in Yanbei City.
"To Kerria Street?"
"It will be a little crowded there. Recently, there have been lots of people, so I will have to drive slower. The charges will be slightly higher," the cab driver explained.
Fang Zhao glanced out the window. Passing by the throes of people strolling through the streets and the plaza, Fang Zhao felt a sense of deja vu. If the world had not gone through an apocalypse, during a large scale holiday, the world would pretty much still be the same. Crowded yet bustling, everywhere filled with festive spirit.
However, that feeling quickly faded away. The 100-Year Period of Destruction had been real, and the New Era had since taken over.
Trains sped along the railways and the sky was filled with flying cars coming and going. There was no returning back to that time, because the world was continuing to progress.
"We have reached Kerria Street!"
Outside, skyscrapers towered on either side. Residential housing was all concentrated together. At least here, the distance between the buildings was larger and the streets below did not appear dusky in broad daylight.
The housing blocks had approximately 100 floors. For every five floors, there would be a passageway that extended outward that had enough space for two cars to fit through. However, cars were not allowed to travel at high speeds along these passageways. Above the passageways, there was a more protruding semi-circular platform that served as a drop-off point. Numbers were written on top, representing the pick-up bay’s number on the building.
"Twenty-fifth floor, stop at the next drop-off point," Fang Zhao told the cab driver.
Fang Zhao’s memory of the address of his second uncle had long since gone fuzzy. However, when he had called a few days back, his second uncle had foreseen the situation and had sent him the address. Fang Zhao just needed to follow according to the written address to find his uncle’s house.
Fang Zhao paid the driver and got out of the cab. He noticed a group of kids running over. Some of the slower ones were red in the face and panting. The lift had a limited capacity, and missing out meant they had to run.
Turning around to look behind him, Fang Zhao noticed a festive car slowly pulling in, landing on the drop-off point that he had arrived at.
Whether it was in Qi’an or Yanbei, it was common to see a bunch of cutely decorated festive cars about everywhere. These festive cars sold candy, which little kids loved.
The festive car wound down its windows to reveal candy of all shapes and sizes. With dazzling multi-colored candy, the waft of sweet fragrance and signature music of the candy-selling festive car, it was little wonder that, wherever such a car was found, it was surrounded by kids.
As the festive car stopped, the kid running at the front rushed over and skillfully ordered his favorite kinds of candy like a pro. The slower kids still running over called out anxiously, worried that their favorites would be sold out.
A smile broke out on Fang Zhao’s face as he saw the kids heading to the festive car.
His own memory of his childhood was fuzzy. However, seeing the kids vigorously chasing the car, a few vague memories came back to him. Even though the memories were not that distinct, they were fond memories.
Fang Zhao was about to withdraw from the place and leave it to the kids who only had eyes for the candy. Just as he was about to leave, Fang Zhao spotted a familiar face among the group of kids.
The six-year-old little girl nimbly bypassed two larger kids in front of her and arrived at the window of the car, tiptoeing and making her order. Beaming, the brightly dressed salesperson picked out a few types of candy and handed them over to the little girl.
After receiving the candy, the little girl raised her hand wearing a bracelet adorned with little bears and tapped it at the payment scanner at the window. She turned to leave, but not before raising her head with a reluctant gaze at the little bear-shaped candy that was displayed right at the top.
Festive cars arranged their candy according to the district’s level of affluence. The more expensive candy had less sales here and was displayed higher up.
The surrounding kids would look through the window enviously at the sweets right at the top but could only covet them. They knew that they could not afford it as their families were not that well off.
"I would like one of those."
Used to facing kids, the friendly salesperson looked up when he heard that. Seeing a young man, he stared for a second before a smile returned to his face and he proceeded to pick out the candy that the man had selected.
The little girl who had just bought candy raised her head and immediately exclaimed, "Brother Zhao?"
"Little Bell Fang?" Fang Zhao asked in a low voice.
This little girl was his second uncle’s six-year-old daughter, Fang Ling. When she'd been born, his second uncle and aunt had heard the sound of bells, thus giving her the name Fang Ling. Her nickname was Little Bell.
"That's me!" Fang Ling nodded her head enthusiastically. Her dad had kept showing her a photo of Fang Zhao over the past few days. The photo was taken before Fang Zhao had gone to university. In the past six years, there had been changes, yet Fang Ling guessed who he was at one glance. Maybe she really recognized him, or perhaps it was just the subconscious mind of a child associating a candy-buying person to someone she knew.
The surrounding kids glanced at Fang Ling enviously. So it was Fang Ling’s brother. Fang Ling was so lucky to have someone buy candy for her.
"Hello, here’s your candy." The salesperson handed over the candy sealed in a wrapper over to Fang Zhao.
Fang Ling’s eyes widened. Her eyes seemed to be shining like stars. Then she watched as the stick of candy that she had longed for for such a long time disappear into the the mouth of the cousin she was meeting for the first time in six years.
Seeing the now headless bear candy on the stick and then glancing at Fang Zhao, Fang Ling was dumbstruck.
The salesman in the festive car and the surrounding kids were all stunned as well. Had he actually bought the candy for himself!?
Under the watchful eyes of the surrounding bunch, Fang Zhao calmly proceeded to finish the entire candy.
During the end of days, they'd also had candy. Just... that sort of candy was created as combat supplies. It did not taste good and was as hard as a rock. However as long as it provided enough energy, they liked it. The aim was all about replenishing sufficient energy, and thus they would not complain about how it tasted. As for this sort of candy that was purely meant as a snack, Fang Zhao had not enjoyed one in a long time.
Soft candy wrapped in icing slowly dissolved in his mouth. The lingering sweetness brought about a certain warmth, as if dispersing a cold winter chill.
Actually, Fang Zhao had just wanted a taste and to tease the little kids at the same time. He did not especially like these kinds of things. He cast a glance at the still-dumbfounded Fang Ling before scanning the interior of the festive car and asking the salesperson, "Is that for sale?"
The salesperson turned his head to where Fang Zhao was pointing. A transparent box in the shape of a bear was sitting there, the inside filled with more of the bear candy that everyone had just seen.
"Then I would like that."
"Ah? Oh. Sure!" The salesperson shifted over the box that was nearly half a meter tall. "There are 50 pieces of ‘Little White Bears’ inside. Here, you can count them." On a normal day, the salesperson would have found it hard to sell even one stick of this candy. He had never expected to sell an entire box when he came out today.
Fang Zhao opened the box and eyed the surrounding kids that had not yet dispersed. "If you kids can line up from the shortest to the tallest within ten seconds, I will give everyone one piece."
The gaggle of kids had not grasped the concept of ten seconds, but as soon as they heard the word ‘seconds,’ they starting moving about haphazardly.
"Ten, nine, eight…"
There were kids of similar heights disputing their positions in the line, but upon hearing Fang Zhao’s countdown, put aside their petty squabbles and promptly got into line.
Fang Ling watched the forming procession then glanced at Fang Zhao before shuffling to find her spot in the line and slotting herself in.
The salesperson in the car gaped in astonishment. The rowdy bunch of kids that had been crowding around the window had formed a line in the blink of an eye. The line stretched to the end of the drop-off area before winding back, forming a line in the shape of an "S."
Passerbys in the airspace passage on the 25th floor looked over in curiosity. Some people within the building also opened their windows to take a good look.
"...Three, two, one, times up! It’s time for my inspection."
A grave looking Fang Zhao inspected the line, making the kids nervous. They were afraid that standing in the wrong spot might have destroyed their chance of having the candy.
"Seems fine. Okay, now, starting from the first in line, come and get your candy from me."
After all the 32 kids present had received one piece each, the box still contained 18 pieces. Fang Zhao handed the remainder, including the box, over to Fang Ling.
"For... for me?" Fang Ling was so startled that she nearly dropped all the candy she was holding. "Is it really for me?"
Fang Zhao nodded. "You don’t want it?"
"I do! Thank you, Brother!"
The dumbstruck look on Fang Ling’s face turned to foolish laughter as she hugged the box tightly.
Thus, when Fang Zhao’s second aunt opened the door, she saw two people, one large and one small, with traces of sugar on their lips.