Edited by Isalee
When Bai Xinyu woke up, he found himself lying on the bed. Looking at that familiar ceiling, he recalled what happened last night. Realising that it was not a nightmare but reality, he could not help but bury his face into his blanket, kicking his legs wildly and moaning away.
Someone knocked on his door. His housekeeper called out to him, “Xinyu, it’s time to wake up for breakfast.”
Bai Xinyu shouted back, “I’m not eating! I’ll just starve to death!”
The housekeeper pushed open the door. She looked at Bai Xinyu who was kicking wildly on his bed and sighed. Walking over to the bed, she patted his shoulder, “Look at you, is there any point in throwing a tantrum? Quick, get up and have some food. Auntie has steamed some crabs for you today, they’re really fresh. Be good, come on up.”
Bai Xinyu twisted himself deeper into his blanket, speaking gloomily, “If I starve to death, I won’t have to go.”
The housekeeper could neither laugh nor cry. “You’re going to the army, not the execution ground.”
Bai Xinyu looked up with his hair like a bird’s nest. His eyes were red, and he spoke tearfully, “How is that any different from the execution ground? Haven’t you watched any of the TV shows? Haven’t you seen what it’s like to be in the army? They wake up before the sun comes up, they run around, hit, and beat each other up the entire day. Locked up in the camp with nowhere to go, how is that a life fit for humans?!”
“Aiyah, it’s not as scary as you think it is.” The housekeeper tidied his hair, “Also, what’s the point of making a fuss? Your parents have already made up their mind. If you really don’t want to go, why don’t you think of another idea?”
Bai Xinyu’s eyes brightened. “What idea? Auntie, you have an idea? Quick, help me persuade my mom.”
“My persuasion won’t work. Why don’t you think about who suggested this?”
Bai Xinyu blinked, “My brother…”
“That’s right. When Young Master Jian came yesterday, I was around as well. I heard everything they said. Young Master Jian settled this by coaxing and frightening them. If you don’t want to go, he has to be the one to give in. There’s no use in begging your parents.”
Bai Xinyu thought that this made sense. However, how would he dare to give Jian Suiying a call when all he wanted to do was hide from him?
The housekeeper smiled, “Quick, get up. Come and eat first. It’ll be easier to think of an idea on a full stomach, then you can continue lying on the bed for the rest of your life.”
Bai Xinyu pouted, fussing, “Deshell the crab for me.”
The housekeeper smiled at him, a face full of tender love. “Sure, sure. We’ll go along with whatever my little ancestor says.”
Bai Xinyu shut himself up at home for the entire day, not going anywhere. As expected, his dad kept his word. Upon waking up, his car and the key to his apartment had disappeared. There was no need to look at his credit cards since they had definitely been frozen. Hiding in his bed, he played his video games only to become more vexed as he kept playing. In the end, he tossed his controller away.
Pondering over it, the housekeeper was right. If he wanted to resolve this matter, he had to get his brother to do it. However, he really did not dare to call Jian Suiying. Just imagining that familiar angry roar, he felt chills down his back, his legs softening. He really could not decide whether he should just go to the army to suffer or let his brother ruthlessly beat him up.
Spending two days in listlessness, when it came to dinnertime, Bai Xinyu still did not go downstairs. He had the housekeeper bring his food to his room. Just as he took a few bites, his door was pushed open. Looking up, his parents were standing there, gazing at him with a complicated look in their eyes.
Bai Xinyu immediately tossed his chopsticks aside and leaned onto his bed. He pretended to look as though he had no appetite, and turned his head, aggrieved.
Li Weizhi grumbled, “What are you doing hiding all day in your room? Can’t you just come downstairs and move around?”
Bai Xinyu replied with a small voice, “I have no energy.”
Bai Qingmin was gruff. “Bullshit, sit up straight.”
Bai Xinyu was still a little afraid of his dad, so he sat up straight.
Bai Qingmin tossed a folder onto his bed. “This is your file. Suiying has already arranged everything for you. You’ll be taking the train tomorrow afternoon at four, I’ll drive you there.”
Bai Xinyu’s eyes widened. “To-tomorrow?” He had not expected that the day would come so fast. He was still hesitating over whether to go on a hunger strike, or come up with another method. Now, before he could even try any of them, he had to go? He felt powerless, as though his sandbag had burst open without him even throwing a punch.
Bai Qingmin looked at him, also a little reluctant. But he hardened his heart, “Tomorrow.”
Bai Xinyu wanted to burst into loud sobs, but suddenly discovered that he had vented too much negative emotions over the past few days, and could not summon the feelings up at that instant. His face immediately crumpled, hopelessness and alarm in his eyes, unable to say a word.
Li Weizhi’s heart ached. “Have a good dinner. Tell me what you’d like to eat tomorrow, I’ll prepare it personally. When you’re in the army, you have to obey your officers properly and get along with other people…” She really could not continue. Thinking that her son was about to leave her side, she was extremely reluctant.
Bai Xinyu knew that there was no point in saying things like he did not want to go now. Looking at the folder on his bed, he really wanted to try killing himself by slamming his head into the wall.
Bai Qingmin said, “You should start packing up. Actually, there’s nothing much to pack. The army doesn’t allow rubbish or junk anyway. There’s the instructions for enlistment in the folder, go take a good look.”
After that, he basically could not pay attention to whatever his parents said next. The only thought in his head was to give his brother a call. He would rather be beaten halfway to death by him than to go into the army!
When his parents left his room, he immediately grabbed his phone and dialled his brother’s number. In the end, despite calling numerous times, no one picked up. He knew his brother was not answering his calls on purpose, and he felt his world shattering, that his life was completely ruined.
The next afternoon, Bai Xinyu was forced into the car, crying and fussing, and driven to the Beijing Railway Station.
At that moment, he was dressed in a camouflage uniform. He had never worn something so cheap in his life, and kept feeling that the material was too stiff, the friction upon his skin very unbearable. On his chest was a stupid looking hibiscus, and his normally stylish hair was pressed flat by his flat cap. His eyes were red, his mood depressed, and he was practically dragged along by his dad.
While walking, Bai Qingmin rebuked him, “We forgot to get you a hair cut. That ridiculous dyed hair… Remember, when you’re there, you should go get your hair fixed first, ok?”
Bai Xinyu pursed his lips, his heart filled with resentment and resistance.
Li Weizhi was wiping her tears non-stop, babbling all sorts of instructions at him. However, with his current mood, how could Bai Xinyu take any of it in? He had already walked onto the platform, and in front of him was a sea of green. The platform was crowded with people as everyone was there to either enlist or send them off. In that seething mess, emotional sobs could also be heard distinctly.
Bai Xinyu had already long lost control of his emotions. Thinking that there were so many brothers who would be suffering through such hardships like him, under the atmosphere of all these farewells and parting messages, he too also wanted to crouch down and cry loudly.
Li Weizhi caressed his face, unable to stop her tears. “Darling, take care of yourself properly when you’re there. Mama is reluctant to let you go, but this is for your own good. Don’t blame us, and don’t blame Suiying.”
Bai Xinyu was still grabbing onto the hope that he could be saved. Tears rolling in his eyes, he said, “Mama, let’s go home. I don’t want to go, I don’t want to leave you.”
Li Weizhi wiped her tears. “Your brother is afraid that you’ll be bullied in the army, and he has looked for someone to take care of you. That child’s family background is very powerful. His grandfather is of the same generation as the old master of the Jian family, with a military background. That child is called Yu Fengcheng, and he is enlisting in the same week as you. Your brother has specially arranged for you to be assigned to the same location as him so that he can take care of you. When you’re in the army, remember to look for him. See, your brother is also doing this for your own good. Don’t be resentful, alright?”
Bai Xinyu did not hear a word. His mind was blank, and felt that the train behind him was the one that was driving towards the slaughterhouse, and all of the new recruits were about to be sent for suffering and torture.
The broadcast system of the platform came on. The announcer started requesting for the enlisting soldiers to board the train according to their numbers.
Steeling his heart, Bai Qingmin pushed Bai Xinyu up the train. Bai Xinyu hugged his dad’s arm, crying and wailing, going straight down to his knees. Li Weizhi was still wiping her tears, and the crowd around them nearly could not take it. Many of those who came to send the soldiers off did feel emotional, but to be like them, looking as though they were on the edge of parting forever, was very rare, and so many people turned to look at them.
Bai Qingmin was thin-skinned, and quickly pushed Bai Xinyu up the train. When Bai Xinyu had one foot on the step of the train carriage, his other foot immediately wanted to run away. But before he could do so, someone suddenly gripped his arm and dragged him powerfully into the carriage. A male voice with a Sichuan accent rang loudly in his ears, “Move in, move in, don’t block the door.” In the next second, he was shoved into the carriage.
Finally managing to steady himself, Bai Xinyu turned his head. The person who dragged him in was a wiry man of at least thirty years old. His facial features were very defined, his skin was darkly tanned. His eyes were bright and piercing, his brows thick and bushy, and did not seem like one that he should provoke easily. Bai Xinyu looked at that man plaintively, then was swept by the other new recruits into the carriage.
Bai Xinyu found a seat next to the window and took it. Once he sat down, he quickly pulled the window open. His parents were standing right by the window, and he stretched his arm out, clutching Li Weizhi’s extended hand, wishing desperately that he could just jump out of the window. However, at that moment, he also understood that he was at the point of no return. He was really about to be dragged to the far off Xinjiang to endure at least two years worth of suffering.
Li Weizhi’s eyes whirled with tears, her heart aching with pain to the point where she could not speak. Bai Xinyu’s sobs never stopped. Plastered against the window, he cried without a break.
The train whistle sounded. It was about to leave.
Bai Xinyu’s rationality snapped. He grasped his mother’s hand, crying out loud, “Ma, I’m not going. I don’t want to go, I want to go home, Ma—”
His voice was too loud and gave the people around him a shock. Other parents who were there to send their children off all gave them a sidelong glance. Other recruits cried because they would miss their family, and no one cried like him as though he was dying.
Bai Qingmin’s face flushed, feeling very ashamed, and pulled Li Weizhi away with him.
Bai Xinyu wailed, “Mama—”
Every three steps she took, Li Weizhi would turn back to take a look. In the end, she was tugged away by Bai Qingmin. Bai Xinyu felt that he had been abandoned, and just as he wanted to shout loudly again, he felt his collar tightened around him. Dragged back, the back of his head knocked against the seat, and he saw stars.
Above him came an angry yell, “What are you doing, crying and wailing?! Still calling out to your mother? You haven’t been fucking weaned yet?!”
Bai Xinyu looked up. It was that man who aggressively dragged him into the train. Ever since he was a child, he had been a cowardly bully, and so when he saw that man’s muscular body and sharp eyes, he shrank into himself.
The man pointed at him, scolding, “We’re just going to the training camp, not the battlefield. What are you crying about?! Can the country depend on a person like you to defend it? Who recruited you?” He yelled, “Who recruited this soldier? Who?!”
After shouting a couple of times, a bespectacled man came running from another carriage. “Lao-Xu, don’t shout, don’t shout, come on, come.” He hooked his arm around that man, pulling and pushing him out of the carriage.
Before leaving, that man again pointed at Bai Xinyu, “Try calling out for your mother again!”
Bai Xinyu was scared motionless. Even when the two people left the carriage, he had yet to recover his senses. The recruits around him who originally had looks of sorrow upon their faces all too did not dare to make a sound, only looking at Bai Xinyu, either in sympathy or in ridicule.
Bai Xinyu felt as though he was sitting on pins and needles. He turned around, facing the window. Secretly pulling out his phone, he continued calling his brother. He would now rather be beaten halfway to death by him than to go into the army.
His phone rang for a short while before he heard a sudden roar behind him. “Is the army a dump?! The parents can’t handle him, so now I have to, what is this? Let me tell you—” The voice cut out—he must have been stopped by someone.
Bai Xinyu trembled, sniffing, feeling that this endless nightmare had just begun.
Someone behind him patted him on the shoulder, “Hey, bro.”
Bai Xinyu turned his head, discovering a boy with small eyes next to him. The corners of his eyes were curved slightly, and he was born looking like he was smiling all the time. Bai Xinyu wiped his tears, “What?”
“Why are you crying so badly? Do you miss your girlfriend?”
Bai Xinyu could not remember which girlfriend he should be missing. What he missed were his good days. He shook his head, “I just don’t want to go.”
“If you don’t want to go, why did you come?” A foolish looking boy across him frowned. “There are 29 of us in my village who wanted to come, and they only chose me. I wanted to get my childhood buddy in too, but he was not allowed.”
Bai Xinyu could not be bothered to pay attention to him. My life of leisure, how would a bumpkin like you know anything about it?
“I’m Qian Liang, which means my future wealth…” Small eyes stretched out his hands, giving the gesture of an ambitious and far off target, “… is bright.”
Bai Xinyu replied distractedly, “I’m… Bai Xinyu.” He was not the least interested in chatting with these people. Although he was useless, he was born lucky and filled with the superiority of a rich man’s son. During all these years, he had been interacting with only wealthy and respectable people, so how could he be satisfied with these village children? He only kept tapping on his phone, praying for his brother to quickly answer his calls. However, he lost hope. His brother seemed to have hardened his heart, and left him to his fate.
A while later, that bespectacled man returned. Clapping his hands together in the carriage, he attracted everyone’s attention. “Hello everyone. From today on, we welcome you to officially being part of the glorious People’s Liberation Army of the Republic of China. The clothes you’re wearing now—they’re not just clothes, but the symbol of the dignity and honour of a soldier. I hope that once you put this uniform on, you’ll remember the morals and dignity of being a soldier. You’ll train hard, fight hard, and contribute your strength for defending the country and its people.”
Bai Xinyu rolled his eyes, and did not take it seriously. He continued looking down and fiddling on his phone, complaining to his friends on WeChat that he had been allocated to the borderlands.
“Let me introduce myself. I’m Wang Shunwei, and I’ll be the instructor for this temporary established company of recruits. The one you saw just now is Xu Chuang, the temporary commander. This time, we’ve recruited over 600 new soldiers from all over the country, and we’re going to bring you to Xinjiang. After 3 months of training, you’ll be assigned to various companies depending on the situation. Of course, during these three months, Commander Xu and I will be in charge of your training. From now on, you will all live and train together, and in the future, you might even be comrades-in-arms entering the battlefield. I hope for as long as your comrades are there, you will treat that place as your home.”
When he finished, the carriage burst into applause. All the recruits had an anticipatory expression towards their lives in the army, and Bai Xinyu was the only one who played with his phone from start till end. After the applause died down, he happened to receive a message. A chime of a bell, it sounded exceptionally piercing in the quiet carriage. Everyone’s eyes turned simultaneously towards him.
Bai Xinyu jerked his head up, looking at his surroundings at a loss. “W-what do you want?”
Wang Shunwei frowned at him.
He was the one in charge of this recruitment. In this company, there were some soldiers that entered through special means, and this undisciplined fellow was one of them. He knew that Xu Chuang was angry, and he was unwilling as well. However, both inside and out of this organisation, there were many of such favours and requests. As long as people were involved, this could not be avoided. The head of the organisation had shoved this case into his arms, so how could he reject it?
Although he was the one who assigned him here, he too found this finicky rich man’s son deplorable. He sighed, “This little comrade, what are you doing?”
Bai Xinyu waved his phone, answering innocently, “What’s wrong?”
Wang Shunwei spoke sternly, “When your superior is talking, you’re not allowed to play on your phone or do anything distracting.”
Bai Xinyu shrugged and shoved his phone into his pocket.
Wang Shunwei saw his dismissiveness, and sneered in his heart. There’s going to be so much hardship for you in the camp, sooner or later, we’ll get rid of all your bad habits.
Wang Shunwei left after he was done speaking.
New recruits filled the carriage. Everyone did not know each other, and were not very talkative at the start. After a few hours, they started to get familiar with each other, and some chit-chatted while others played cards. These children whose average age were around eighteen or nineteen easily opened their hearts to each other, and the carriage became very lively.
There was only one person who was a misfit, and that was Young Master Bai.
Ever since Bai Xinyu got into the train, he had been looking down and playing with his phone. A few hours later, his phone was out of battery, and there were no charging ports available on the train. Vexed, he shut his eyes and tried to sleep.
Qian Liang nudged him, “Hey, do you want to play cards?”
Bai Xinyu shook his head, not bothering to even open his eyes.
Someone quietly said, “Qian Liang, don’t bother with him. Can’t you see that he doesn’t want to acknowledge us?”
Bai Xinyu thought, That’s right, I don’t want to acknowledge you all. I’m very irritated now, don’t come and irritate me some more. Filled with grievances, fear, rage, anxiety, along with the swaying carriage, he fell asleep.
He woke up after some time. The sky had already darkened, and the train attendant was pushing the cart and giving them their dinner.
A packed meal on the train naturally could not be considered fine dining. Bai Xinyu was already in a bad mood, and after looking at the mixture of meat and vegetables on the rice in the box, he lost his appetite. Qian Liang saw that he was not eating, and so he emptied it into his own stomach instead.
At about 9pm in the evening, Bai Xinyu, who had already been sitting for six hours, felt an ache in his buttocks and a soreness in his waist. His neck was unbearably stiff, and he could not help but ask, “Qian Liang, there’s somewhere to sleep on this train, right?”
“I think there is. The first carriage of the train seems like a sleeper car.”
“Then what time are we going there?”
“Huh? Going where?”
“To the sleeper car.”
Qian Liang blinked at him, “We’re not going to the sleeper car.”
Bai Xinyu’s eyes widened. “We’re just going to sit here all the way to Xinjiang?”
“Yes,” Qian Liang answered with a matter-of-fact tone. “The sleeper car is expensive.”
Bai Xinyu could not believe what he was hearing. “How… How many days?”
“It might be two days. We’ll transfer to the train going to Xinjiang at Urumqi, then after the train journey we’ll need to take a car. Anyway, that place is very very far, it’s at the border of our motherland.” Qian Lang was in no way affected by it, “If we play some cards and chat with each other, time will actually pass by very fast.”
Bai Xinyu only felt his vision darken, wishing desperately that he could just faint away.