Edited by AlexPT, Planetes
Vague sounds buzzed by my ear. It was so noisy.
As I closed my eyes tightly, trying to fall back asleep, the voice continued to sound unrelentingly by my ear. Annoyed, I finally opened my eyes and was stunned by what I saw.
The woman before me wore a warm expression. She was looking straight at me, the corners of her mouth curved into a gentle smile. Seeing that I was awake, she sighed helplessly. “My son, you’re already old enough to know better and you’re still lazing in bed? Hurry and get up, you’re going to be late.”
When she was done, she turned to the door calling out, “Old Mu, take the eggs out of the pot and pack them up for your son.”
From outside, a loud male voice responded, “Got it! You little rascal, hurry out and eat.”
Dazed, I took in the scene before me. After a moment, I reached a trembling hand toward the woman before me. I opened and closed my mouth a few times, but nothing came out. Finally, I swallowed and said, “Mother…?”
The memories in my head were still muddled. They said she was dead… but right now, wasn’t she perfectly healthy and standing in front of me?
Why could she speak? Why wasn’t I in the hospital? I thought of something and quickly pulled up my pyjama top. The skin on my stomach was smooth and even. There was no sign of a scar, let alone the wound from the dagger I sustained.
“Ranran, what’s wrong? Are you feeling unwell?” It was probably because my expression looked strained that my mother worriedly reached a hand toward me and felt my forehead.
I looked at my mother’s warm, understanding eyes and began to calm down. The painful, confusing memories in my brain began to disperse and everything gradually became clearer.
I am not some orphan.
My name is Mu Ran, and I turn 17 this year. I have a happy family and my mother is a patient, caring person, while my father can be rather loud. Also, I have a good friend who I grew up with named Yi Tian.
Everything that had happened — the drugging incident, the photographs, a mute mother, they were all just a nightmare!
The memories from my previous life filled my brain. I opened my eyes wide and raised my head to look at the bedroom I had spent 17 years growing up in. There were the posters of my favorite idol hanging on the wall, and the messy table that was covered in notebooks I had not tidied away. Even the smelly socks hanging off the back of the chair, all of these things were so familiar. I was certain that this was the home I had lived in for 17 years. That other Mu Ran’s life was just a nightmare! Immediately, my lips formed a pout and I threw myself into my mother’s arms, crying loudly.
“What’s wrong? What’s wrong?” My father rushed into my room holding 2 boiled eggs. He took one look at my tear-ridden, snot covered face and was taken aback.
“Ranran, you’re scaring your mother! What’s wrong?” Fretfully, my mother pulled me from her arms and used a hand to wipe away my tears.
I looked at my parents who were extremely worried by my behavior. The only thing I saw in their eyes was deep concern. All of their emotions had been stirred up by my actions and emotions, as if there was nothing in the world more important to them than me. I suddenly remembered my dream where I was an orphan with no one to rely on but myself. When I thought about how I felt when I believed I had lost my mother, my heart ached and my tears rapidly began to fall again.
Thank goodness it was just a dream. Thank goodness I woke up.
I fiercely wiped away my tears and gulped self consciously. “I had a nightmare,” I explained softly.
The room was silent for a minute, before my father knocked me affectionately on my head. My ears rang with the sound of my father’s loud voice. “You silly boy, how old are you? Do you think you’re still a baby?” I held my head, but it actually didn’t hurt. More importantly, my father’s loud voice was making me dizzy.
“Dad, can’t you yell at me a little more quietly? Your yelling is going to give me a concussion!”
“Are you itching for a beating?” My father was still holding two boiled eggs, and he raised them threateningly.
I scrambled around pathetically trying to hide from my dad’s advances while my mother looked at our silly antics, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.
“All right, stop fooling around. You’re going to be late for class. Ranran, go change your clothes quickly and come out to eat.”
As my mother said this, she dragged my father out of my room.
Looking at the retreating backs of my parents, I froze where I stood, and then I threw myself back onto the bed and happily rolled around. Feeling like my antics were too childish, I quickly sat up again, but after a few seconds I couldn’t help giggling foolishly.
How could I feel… so happy…?
I felt like I was a soft, fluffy piece of steamed bread, surrounded by warmth and sweetness.
After breakfast, I heard Yi Tian, who lived downstairs, calling my name. I changed into my shoes, grabbed my bag and ran out the door.
“Be careful on the way to school! I packed you boiled eggs, don’t forget to eat them for lunch!” From behind me I could hear my mother’s nagging. I acknowledged her words, threw my backpack over my shoulder and hurried downstairs.
As soon as I got downstairs, I heard Yi Tian’s impatient voice. “I have to wait for you everyday! Would it kill you to wake up a little bit earlier?”
The youth before me was frowning fiercely, and he looked annoyed, but despite that he was still handsome. I caught his eye and thought about the unbearable pain and despair I felt in my dream. Suddenly, my heartbeat sped up. How strange… Why did I have such a dream? I looked at Yi Tian’s furrowed brow and thought for a long time. Once I confirmed I didn’t have any untoward thoughts about him, I let out a big sigh of relief.
Yi TIan looked at my dazed expression and ignored it. He simply threw the exercise book he had on hand at me. I fumbled to catch the book and barely had time to ask about it when he replied blandly, “the teacher wants to check it this afternoon.”
“So?” I looked at him blankly.
“So you have to finish it by this morning.” His look of self righteousness almost had me bowing my head and agreeing right away.
“Why do I have to do your homework?!” I stared at him in wide eyed disbelief.
“Because you’ve always been the one doing it.”
“Why me?” I asked again. Yi Tian ignored me, simply turning to go. I followed after him, continuing to ask him relentlessly, “why? Why?”
Yi Tian stopped walking, and turned to look at me expressionlessly. “Give me back my limited edition sneakers.”
I froze, then quickly flashed him a huge grin. I tiptoed and threw an arm over his shoulders, putting on an especially innocent voice. “Isn’t it just a homework assignment? What’s that between the two of us?”
Yi Tian rolled his eyes at me, shrugged me off and continued forward.
Looking at the boy’s proud silhouette, I clenched my teeth and glared daggers into his back. Finally I sighed, helplessly. I suddenly understood why I had that kind of dream…. It was because this asshole constantly oppressed and bullied me. I took my dissatisfaction toward him and expressed it in the form of an aggrieved wife. No wonder the heartache in the dream felt so real, it was because it had its foundations in real life…
Thanks to Yi Tian, I spent the entire day hunched over my desk, desperately filling in answers into his workbook which was so new and unused it could have been returned to the store. Fortunately, the guy still had a conscience. During lunch break, when I was too busy to think about eating, Yi Tian pulled out the eggs my mother had packed for me and began to deshell them. Imagining the eggs were Yi Tian, I bit down viciously, right onto my lower lip. Yi Tian, sitting by me, looked at me like I was an idiot. I almost smashed the egg into his face…
Finally, our assignments narrowly passed the teacher’s inspection. On the way home from school I massaged my cramping fingers while Yi Tian yawned next to me, complaining he hadn’t slept enough. I was so mad I was ready to throttle him.
I said goodbye to Yi Tian and then headed upstairs. But after climbing a few steps, my heart was suddenly filled with a tremendous sense of unease. Quickly, I turned around and ran back downstairs.
“Yi Tian!” I shouted. Yi Tian’s back was facing me but he hadn’t gone far.
Yi Tian stopped and turned around, raising his eyebrows questioningly at me.
“We’ll see each other tomorrow, right?” I also don’t know why I would ask something like this, but I suddenly felt very afraid. I felt the need to confirm something, but I didn’t dare, or didn’t know what I was seeking confirmation for.
Yi Tian didn’t respond. He simply threw me a look that read “this guy is acting stupid again”, casually waved goodbye and turned to leave.
In front of me, my neighbours who had just knocked off from work and were carrying bags of groceries smiled and waved hello. In front of me, there were a few older men playing chess leisurely. In front of me, a bunch of young boys waved a red handkerchief as they chased each other around. In the distance, the sky was a fiery red and the sun wearily hung upon the horizon. Everything was so perfect and real. I exhaled, smiling, as I shook my head and turned to go back upstairs.
I let myself in and the fragrant smell of cooked rice wafted over me. The dinner table was lined with piping hot dishes. My father sat by the side, watching the sports channel which was airing the selection of the top ten NBA players. Occasionally, he would lift his chopsticks to pick up two fried peanuts.
“Ranran, you’re home. Go wash your hands, dinner’s almost ready.” My mother was holding a pot of soup as she emerged from the kitchen. Her face immediately lit up with a smile when she saw me. I agreed and then put down my bag, washed my hands and sat by my father. I had just picked up a fried peanut when my father used his chopsticks to knock it away.
“Your mother isn’t here yet. You’re not allowed to eat first.”
“Then why are you eating?” I said indignantly, glaring at him.
“I’m your father.” My father winked at me and grinned, while taking a large bite of food.
I barely had time to retort before my mother walked by and shot my dad a look. “A big grown man bullying his own son, aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”
My dad blushed suddenly, but didn’t dare to refute my mother’s words. He could only lower his head and surreptitiously glare at me. I held in my laughter, my hands shaking so much I could barely hold on to my chopsticks.
After dinner, the three of us sat in the living room and watched TV together. My mother cut an apple for my father and me, and then we watched TV commercials waiting for the TV drama to start. After a while, the tragic title song was over, and the screen panned to the female protagonist who was sitting on the bank of the river, crying so hard her eyes were swollen.
“In the end I have to go back,” she murmured to herself, “I can’t run from this forever. I can’t stay here.”
My father began to criticize the protagonist’s weak nature while my mother sympathetically defended her: The female protagonist’s life was too cruel, she grew up alone without anyone she could count on.
I leaned against the sofa watching them discuss the drama, my heart filled with warmth and peace. It was probably because the atmosphere was so heartwarming that my entire body relaxed. Gradually, I felt it was more and more impossible to keep my eyes open and I was lulled into sleep.
Someone in the television drama was yelling and weeping. The sudden noise frightened me and my entire body began to tremble. I struggled to open my eyes to see what had happened, but everything was a blur. Everything before me was muddled into a few blurry lights. In the end, I didn’t even have the strength to open my eyes.
“Our son has fallen asleep. Let’s turn the volume down.”
“That little rascal is probably exhausted from his classes.”
“Don’t disturb him, let him sleep for a while. I’ll go get him a blanket.”
The corners of my mouth curved upward as I waited for my mother to lay the soft blanket over me and tuck me in. I waited. But even when everything became nothingness and solitude, even when I lost consciousness and fell back again into that endless darkness, I never got to experience her warmth.