DRY 😛 – Translation, Editing
Mango – Translation, Editing
Arkased – Editing
"Yes," I said. "That's all."
But if "that" really was "all," then why did she pause for a full half-minute?
After another pause, she told me to just hang up if there was nothing else.
"Oh," I could only reply.
If this were in the past, I would definitely think she was only pretending to be okay, stubbornly refusing to admit that in fact, she was deeply affected.
But now, I wasn't so sure. Maybe she really didn't care. Just like I can no longer say that I understand my Dad, I can't say I understand her anymore either.
In the past, I always thought I was really like Lan Maoli Lan1. Our parents were the same: although once divorced, they'd eventually reunite after seven years. Like how Mao-li Xiao-Wu-Lang liked Fei-Ying, my dad wouldn't be able to bear being parted from my mother to the point where the whole world would be able to feel his pain. As for my mother, she'd be like Fei-Ying: accomplished, beautiful, stubborn, strong-willed; but from time to time, she'd still remember and worry about about my dad.
Thus, I always thought (mistakenly) that there would be a day, just like in that comic, when they would reunite.
Why, then, did they separate? How did my dad, a bright and obedient child, have the courage to clash with my grandparents and marry my mother, even at the cost of being disowned? When my dad caught tuberculosis when I was two or three, how did my mom, only five-foot two, single-handedly carry the gas tank2 downstairs, while saying that it was only nothing, nothing?
Even though I couldn't understand the divorce, I always thought everything was (at least for now) progressing in the right direction — the day that the test scores came out, our family of three celebrated together at Shangri-La's Revolving Restaurant with dinner. I thought they were fine.
Up until two weeks before the first day of school, after the evening news broadcast, my dad said to me, "Geng Geng, you've gotten into Zhenghua; I can finally feel at ease."
I had been cutting an apple at that time. "What for?"
He didn't speak for a long time. When I finally stopped cutting and turned to look at him, I saw him staring at me.
"Next Sunday, I want to take you to meet an Auntie."
I suddenly saw a naked angel slapping me both my cheeks and yelling at me to, for God's sake, wake the f*** up.
Then, I lowered my head and calmly continued to cut apples without cutting my fingers. It wasn't at all like what happened in movies.
But in my heart, I really wanted to ask, "Dad, is this your final attempt to force my mother to act?"No. 9
That night, while lying on the bed, I imagined how I'd make a fuss.
Getting into Zhenhua, I probably owed the devil a lot anyways, so what did I have to fear? Making a scene, rolling on the ground, being unreasonable, screaming, running away from home … I could try anything a child might do to protest their single parent remarrying. Then, like how the fans sometimes tactlessly ship celebrities, I'd shout to them, "I'm begging you, please be together again!"
Immersed in these delusions, I fantasized all night long and couldn't sleep at all. I didn't even feel sad or wronged over the divorce. My heart surged.
Yet, this was what really happened: Sunday lunchtime, with both my easy-going dad and good-tempered self, the atmosphere became warm and cheery.
She was eight years younger than my dad and a nurse at the local hospital. She wasn't gorgeous but looked alright. Her voice was sweet. She had small dimples when she smiled. She was a good-tempered and well-mannered woman. More importantly, in front of her, my dad was a different person.
More natural, confident, and really cheerful.
"Here, Geng Geng, eat a shrimp." She picked up a shrimp and put it into my bowl. Then, my dad picked up a shrimp and put it into her son's bowl3.
Seven years ago, her husband died in a car accident and left her to raise her son. Working at the hospital was tiring and time-consuming. To support her son, she was never picky with her shifts, working both night and day; it was exhausting.
I lifted my head and peered at the little boy across from me. He was called Lin Fan, a third-grader. He looked pure and innocent, like a quiet and shy kitten. When we just met a little while ago, under his mother's surveillance, he bowed to me and greeted me with a slightly embarrassed face, "Hello Big Sister."
He really liked shrimp but only quietly watched his mother, not picking any up himself; he was probably told to mind his manners and be polite4. I gave him the one from my bowl, and smiled: "I don't like this kind of shrimp. Can you help me eat it?"
Then, both she and my father smiled, as though a weight had been lifted off their shoulders, as though I had given them consent for something.
At that moment, I suddenly felt a little … pitiful. Yes, tragically pitiful.
My father liked her. Rather, he liked who he was when around with her: relaxed, satisfied. Around her, my dad was the head of the family, able to do whatever he wanted, without being reproached for being unambitious or a pushover.
Thus, my last shred of hope vanished. This wasn't a ploy to anger my mother into action; his heart no longer moved for my mother. He'd already waited so long; he was no longer obliged to keep waiting. He was a father, but he was also more than just a father; he also had the right to pursue his own happiness.
It's just that I had thought they'd always put my happiness first.No. 10
And so, I finally faced the truth: that I am a child of a single-parent family and that my parents' divorce was real.
A child of a single-parent family should understand that you can keep living no matter whom you separate from, because your happiness isn't tied to your family being together.
So I did everything I could to make them believe that I wanted them to marry.
Only Lin Fan, the little boy sitting across from me, quietly blinking as he watched me, didn't know what to say and only lowered his head, continuing to eat his shrimp.
He was still young, so it was easier for him to accept and adapt to a new family.
"Geng Geng, so I heard from your dad, you'll be checking in at Zhenhua next week?"
Geng Geng. Only then did I snap out of my thoughts. Did this Auntie know the significance of the name she called? This name has been branded on me since birth, and regardless of whether those two's hands held red marriage registrations or green divorce certificates, it will never change. I am like an abandoned memorial, a contract cut short, both parties on the road to heaven, each on different sides.
Once we got home, we sat in the living room and my dad rather uneasily awaited my evaluation.
In reality, only an insignificant question spun within my head.
Once this mother and son move in, can I still stretch out on the living room sofa every morning, without brushing my teeth or washing my face, and belt out a song to start my day?
They might not mind, but I can't have no shame.No.11
Carrying these these feelings within me, I dazedly stepped into Zhenhua's school gate.
Registration day could only be described as a sea of people. Many students were flanked by at least two relatives; beyond their parents followed grandpas, grandmas, and other relatives from the younger generation, bouncing around as they walked. Putting it euphemistically, it was moral support5.
I refused my parents' offers of accompaniment and ran to see the class listings alone, bringing with me my camera and documents, occasionally clicking randomly at the crowd for a few pictures. I bring my camera with me no matter where I go. It used to be a Samsung; now it's a Sony I bought over break, the newest, eight-megapixel model, supposedly a reward for getting into Zhenhua.
Much later, there rose a group of so-called "alternative photographers." They also brought around their cameras or phones and constantly snapped photos of whatever they saw, wherever they went. Not even the public bathroom mirrors were spared. Our difference is that I've never photographed myself, while photographing themselves was all they did.
Combining the Main Branch and Branch Schools, the long, red, class-listing poster hanging on the wall was a majestic sight. I didn't want to force my way through the crowd, so I just stood at the edges, waiting for my chance.
The tiger of autumn6 was really unbearable. I lowered my head, looking for a tissue to wipe my sweat, when I suddenly heard an uncle to my side yell into his phone in a voice both God and man would hate: "I saw it, I saw it, it's just what Xi Xi's mom heard from Mr. Li, this time they indeed got placed into the two top classes! That's right, two top classes, Class 1 and Class 2! Xi Xi, Yang Yang, and our Xiao Chuan are all in the same class again!"
Like me, the uncle wiped the sweat off his forehead and continued into the phone: "All three of them are in Class 2…"
Suddenly the person he was calling said something, and the noisy uncle wrinkled his brow, and shouted even more loudly, "Who said Class 1 is better than Class 2? Does being numerically first make it better? What are you getting all worked up about?!"
I secretly laughed and happened to catch a glimpse of a boy, tall and lean and straight, standing beside that beer-bellied, sunglasses-wearing uncle and scornfully staring at the ground. In particular, when the uncle continuously emphasized the "top classes," the corners of the boy's mouth slightly lifted in a sneer.
I thought to myself, this must be someone distressed that he couldn't get into a top class.
Then I quietly raised my camera and stealthily captured the two contrasting expressions in a single frame.No. 12
Finally, the PA system sounded, asking students to line up by room number and wait for the homeroom teacher selection meeting. People around the wall dispersed. I knew they had already found their class long ago, but had stayed around to look for the assignments of their acquaintances. I took the opportunity to move to to the wall, directly skipped the two top classes, and quickly searched for my name starting from Class 3.
I was too focused on my task to pay attention to my surroundings, so as I moved to the roster of Class Five, I crashed solidly into a boy. My cheek bone knocked into his shoulder and hurt so much that I squatted down right there, with tears beginning to flow. It wasn't because I was weak; it was a natural reaction I couldn't control.
Quite a while passed until I lifted my teary face, and the boy apologetically handed me some tissues. I hurriedly wiped my face clean and, taking a closer look, noticed that he was the boy in the picture I had just taken.
"Classmate, I'm really very sorry," he bowed very earnestly, his buzz cut head swaying side to side.
"It's fine," waving my hands to show that I was fine and hurried to continue looking at the board.
Incidentally, I actually was in Class 5. The name "Geng Geng" was right in the middle of the fourth line, very easy to recognize.
What was more interesting was the name to my right, which was, coincidentally, Yu Huai.
It was nothing much on paper, but when read aloud, "Geng Geng Yu Hai7," it was a little funny.
I started giggling foolishly by myself, and suddenly realized the guy next to me was also staring at the board and laughing too.
A little embarrassed by my stare, he scratched the back of his head, pointed to the student list, and said, "The person to left of my name is Geng Geng. Written together, it's exactly 'Geng Geng Yu Huai.'"
1. Detective Conan in Chinese
2. Gas stoves are commonly used for cooking, and required lugging large gas tanks to power them.
3. Chinese people normally dine family-style, with shared dishes instead of individual portions.
4. Which in Chinese culture, translates to being reserved and quiet before seniors/elders/people of an older generation.
5. This refers to “励志教育,” an ideology of Chinese pedagogy which involves, “encouraging students to grow from their own efforts, as opposed to from external urging.” It doesn’t really have a Western analogue, as far as I am aware.
6. It’s a metaphor. “Usually, when Autumn starts, the weather is supposed to get cooler. It does initially. But the residual power of the Summer will not just give up easily and it lingers into Autumn for about 30 days. Sometimes, it feels that the weather is even hotter than in Summer.”
7. “耿耿于怀” is a homophonous idiom meansing “to take troubles to heart,” essentially to not forget them.