Edited by Planetes
I no longer went to those cheap and dangerous motels in the alley. This time, I found a slightly better guesthouse and moved temporarily into it.
The first day, I was running about outside the entire time. While looking for a place to stay, I was also enquiring about job vacancies. Over the three years of working, I had actually not managed to save much. First, my salary was not exactly high, and second, each month’s rental, food and daily necessities used up quite a fair bit of it. In the past when I was with Yi Tian, people who did not know the situation would mock him for keeping such an ugly and old-fashioned man like me. Because of that, Yi Tian threw a card at me and asked me not to embarrass him. I did not know how much there was inside, and returned it to him without using it. However, in exchange, Yi Tian ridiculed me, “Stop looking like I’ve insulted your sacred love.”
The next day, I confirmed a few places that were within my budget and the area I was looking for, then called to confirm an appointment to view them. I then went to several companies and asked about their vacancies, but there was no good news for me. Returning to the guesthouse at night wearily, I had my dinner and headed to bed early. However, tossing and turning, I could not fall asleep. All I could think of was the image of the mute woman peeling the eggs, or the image of her giving me the bag with shining eyes.
Jerking myself up from the bed, I threw the blanket away, vexed. If I was so worried, I would just go take a look. I would just look at her from far away, and once I confirmed she was fine, I would come back. After making my decision, I pulled my clothes on and left running out of the door.
Reaching the quarters of Auntie Li and the mute women, both places had their windows and doors tightly shut. Everywhere was dark, and no lights were lit. I was a little puzzled. They should be at home right now, but it was still early, and they should not be asleep yet.
I walked nearer and knocked on the windows and doors. After waiting for some time, no one came. There really was no one in the houses. Feeling strange, I headed back out, wondering about where the two of them were. Just as I made a turn, I nearly bumped into someone. Before I could even exhale, there was a startled voice calling out. “Xiao Mu?!”
I looked up to discover that the person in front of me was Auntie Li.
“Auntie Li? Why aren’t you…”
“Xiao Mu, Ah Xiu is missing! I’m so worried!” It took me a second to realise what Auntie Li was saying.
“How did she go missing?! What happened?!”
“After you left that day, I spent a lot of time persuading her. Only when I saw that she stopped crying and fell asleep, then I went back home. The next day, I didn’t see her leave the house at all, and no one responded when I knocked. I have the key to her house, and after going in, I realised that no one was there. I’ve been looking for two days already, but I still can’t find her.” Auntie Li looked exhausted and haggard.
“Auntie Li, you should quickly go back and rest. I’ll go look for her now.” Without waiting for Auntie Li to reply, I ran out.
I did not know where the mute woman went often, so I could only run around the streets like a headless fly. The night was getting darker and darker, the number of people on the streets decreased till there were barely any, and the more anxious I felt. It was so late, where could she go? Mute and with a low intelligence, if something happened to her, she would not even be able to call for help. I did not dare to think about it.
Searching for countless hours, the soles of my feet started to hurt, but I still could find no signs of her. Standing at the door of a restaurant, I gasped for breath. An idea suddenly burst into my head, and I immediately ran back, back to Xingyue Motel. There, I followed the alley and ran to where the rubbish pile was, and expected, I found someone sitting there by the wall.
Leaning against the wall, I panted. Because I had ran so quickly and for so long, I was feeling a little nauseous. That person heard the sound and looked up at me, her eyes brightening, an unconcealable delight appearing on her face.
She stood up, taking a step forward only to stop again, and looked hesitantly at me.
My breathing calmed down, and I walked towards her. Reaching out and holding her hand, I led her out of the alley silently.
It was already late at night, and not a single star could be seen in the sky. There was no one around, and only a few dilapidated signboards of some motels were glowing in the dark.
“Why did you come here?” I continued on without stopping, and I also knew that I would not be getting any response from behind me.
“Is it because you found me there, that’s why you think I’ll appear there again?”
“I’m an orphan. I have no parents, no relatives, and I’ve always been alone.”
I came to an abrupt stop.
“So…” When I opened my mouth again, I realised my voice was shaking. Closing my eyes for a moment, I tried to control my emotions.
“So, if you don’t mind, if you feel that it’s all right too… Even if you’re treating me as your son’s substitute, I’ll accept your care and concern on his behalf…”
“What I mean is, are you also willing to become…” My entire body was trembling. Taking in a deep breath, only then was I able to swallow the pit in my throat, and finished what I was going to say.
“Become my mother?”
There was not even the sound of wind.
I looked down, knowing that she completely did not understand what I was saying. However, my hand was still quivering.
Something rough brushed against my face, lightly wiping the tears I did not know was falling. I looked up, and the mute woman was smiling brightly and looking at me, her eyes curved into crescents.
I looked at her silently, allowing the warmth and joy in her smile and eyes to slowly flush the uneasiness in my heart away. After a long time, I laughed as well, and holding onto her hand, we slowly walked home.
“Your son definitely wouldn’t have been as tall as me… So you didn’t lose out…”
“So, next time, don’t run around like this anymore… Auntie Li is already so old, yet she has to go around looking for you…”
“Ma, let’s go home.”
After bringing my mother home, Auntie Li first circled around her for a while, examining her and nagging at her. When she heard where I found her, she sighed deeply.
“Auntie Li, from now on, I’ll take care of her like she’s my real mother. I will definitely take care of her.” Auntie Li was wetting a cloth, wanting to wipe her face. When she heard what I said, she slowly lifted her head to look at me.
“I’m an orphan.” I knew what Auntie Li wanted to ask, so I interrupted her.
Tears welled up in Auntie Li’s eyes, and she nodded fiercely at me. “Well! From now on… the two of you would be a family, and live a good life together… Although Ah Xiu is like this, she’s… she’s very good…” Auntie Li choked a few times as she rambled.
I walked up and took the cloth in Auntie Li’s hands, bending down and carefully wiping my mother’s face.
“Mn. She’s very good.”
When she was asleep, I quickly ran back to the guesthouse and checked out. Since I had already decided to live as her son, then I would no longer look for any other place to stay. If I were to bring her to stay somewhere else, there would not be anyone to take care of her when I was looking for a job. Staying here, at least Auntie Li could sometimes help look after her.
The most important thing now was to look for a job. Then I would slowly save up some money and repair this house of hers, so that she would not have to stay in such a lousy environment anymore. However, after running about for a few days, I could not get anything. There were clearly a few companies who seemed interested in hiring me, but somehow, nothing happened in the end.
I did not know if it was Yi Tian who was obstructing me, but since I had already cut off any relations with him for so long, I did not believe that he would still spend this sort of effort on me. However, if it was an instruction he had left in the past, then forgot all about later, causing the companies to be afraid of hiring me, that was also possible.
Seeing a day pass after another, my money always going out and never coming in, I was feeling anxious, and could only change the type of jobs I was looking for. It just happened that there was a big supermarket near home that was looking for some warehouse staff, and I went to apply. The role of the male staff was to transport the goods. Especially in the day shift I was working, there were about a dozen of us in the team, and only three of us were male. The goods everyday included frozen food, grains and rice, as well as things like packs of snacks and other things. We had to move them off the shelves and up the shelves, without the assistance of any machinery. Working like this for one day, my back and waist hurt in exhaustion.
And what had been troubling me over the past few days was, how could I let my mother understand that I had the money to support her and she need not go outside to pick those old cardboard and plastic bottles anymore? Every time I pulled out those burlap sacks and little metal hangers of hers, about to throw them away, she would look panicked, and grabbed my hand shaking her head furiously.
Even when I took out a lot of money from my bag to show her that I had enough money, she also did not understand, only retrieving that yellow bag of hers and holding it out to me as though she was offering a treasure. I discussed this matter with Auntie Li, and Auntie Li only smiled and told me to let her be. It had already been so many years, and she had been relying on these items to survive all the while. Maybe, in her mind, she was thinking that she needed to rely on the money to take care of me.
I was resigned, and had no choice but to let her be.
I’m looking for help! In about a month, I’ll be increasing the rate of updates for one of my monthly-updated novels. Which one would you like to have updated weekly?