Edited by PohTahTvh
The sky was murky, and the scent of haze and dust was thick in the air.
This was the first impression Zheng Feiluan had when he opened the window in the morning.
But in actuality, the weather app showed that today’s weather was nice and pleasant, the air quality below 30. Looking at the satellite imagery, Yuanjiang was lush with greenery, covering over 80% of the land area. Among the photos on social media, every single one of them showed an endless expanse of clear skies and calm lakes, birds chirping and flowers blooming.
Unfortunately, that beautiful world only existed somewhere else.
It was completely separated from Zheng Feiluan, and it could not be seen through his eyes at all.
The world that belonged to him was more like a photo that had been sharpened to its limits — its edges sharp, its colours piercing. The sour stench lingering within magnified countless times, rushing into his nose, as though afraid that he would take in even a breath of sweet, fresh air.
From an unknown point in time, he had been entangled within a strong sense of discomfort, like an obscurity that could not be wiped away from spectacle lenses. It was annoying, yet there was nothing he could do about it.
Zheng Feiluan closed the window, heading to the bathroom for a shower. When he came out, there was already a shirt placed neatly beside the bed.
The shirt was made of Sea Island Cotton with a high thread count, handmade in Naples using the best material and cutting. Upon wearing them however, they kept rubbing against his neck and wrists, and they felt as though they were made of the cheapest linen. Yet to even finish up the buttons of the shirt, Zheng Feiluan could no longer tolerate it anymore. He yanked the shirt open, tossing it onto the bed before going into his wardrobe, annoyed.
Despite the clothes strewn all over the floor, he had yet to find a shirt that he was happy with.
The loud creaking and shaking of the clothes rack brought about the arrival of Auntie Zhang. She hurried over, only to see the man she had taken care of since he was a little boy standing in the middle of the walk-in wardrobe, his upper body bare. He was furious, and in his hand was a Brioni shirt.
Trembling, she asked, “Feiluan, what’s wrong?”
With a swing of his arm, that shirt was chucked at Auntie Zhang’s feet, as though it was a worthless piece of rag. “You’re just going to let me wear this sort of thing out?!”
Auntie Zhang was frightened to the point of not daring to lift her head. “Feiluan, I really… I really had ordered the clothes according to your requirements, and I’ve also doubled the amount of softener used. Even the tailor said…”
Said that they couldn’t find an even more suitable material anymore.
He had already heard these cookie-cutter excuses everyday, and yet they couldn’t even settle the simplest issue of clothing.
Zheng Feiluan tried his best to hold his temper, randomly yanking out a shirt and pulling it on. Coldly, he said, “Auntie Zhang, you’ve been working for the Zheng family for around thirty years already. My father has always praised you for being responsible, and that’s why you were chosen to take care of me. But why is it that now you’ve left the main household, you don’t seem to know what you’re doing anymore? Is it that my clothes are very difficult to take care of, or is it that I can’t compare to my father, so you can be perfunctory about your work?”
This shrewd criticism was truly terrifying, making Auntie Zhang’s complexion pale rapidly. “Feiluan, how- how can you say something like that? I’ve doted on you the most ever since you were a child, and I’ve always treated you as though you were my own son…”
“Get out,” Zheng Feiluan stated coldly.
Unable to state her sorrow, Auntie Zhang could only leave, full of grievances.
Zheng Feiluan buttoned up the seven buttons made of mother-of-pearl, before grabbing a suit that had been neatly pressed. The moment the jacket came into contact with him, it was as though a red-hot iron rod had touched his shoulders. The veins on his forehead bulged out as he clenched his jaw, and he almost wanted to shout at Auntie Zhang to return to scold her again — how could this be called a suit?!
It was basically a poorly permeable raincoat! The material clung heavily to his body, his sweat trapped within the layers of clothes on him. It was stifling, damp and sticky. Worse than a wet blanket that could never dry during the rainy season!
Grasping the collar, Zheng Feiluan took a while before he finally exhaled slowly, in order to not let his bad temper take over him.
In the dining room, Auntie Zhang had already laid the table for breakfast, ranging from porridge and soymilk to croissants and coffee. Both western and Chinese choices were available, and there was no worry that nothing would be suited to Zheng Feiluan’s taste. However, the picky Young Master Zheng still did not show any appreciation.
Picking up the coffee cup, he sipped from it. The expression on his face changed immediately, and he spat it all out. Then, slamming the cup onto the table in irritation, he left the house without even looking back.
What sort of coffee beans were used to create such a flavour?
It tasted so terrible!
The world had probably gone mad… No, it definitely had gone mad.
He had grown up eating the food Auntie Zhang cooked, and it could be said to have been the basis of how he judged food. Whether it was a three Michelin star restaurant, or a hidden gem tucked in a corner somewhere, none of them was on par with what she made. After moving out from the family mansion, he had once complained about how he couldn’t get used to the food prepared by the new chef. As such, his father had let Auntie Zhang move over to his new place and focus on taking care of his daily necessities.
However, despite having these dishes that had cultivated his exacting standards for food, they still gradually started to lose flavour, to the point where he could barely swallow them down.
Every day, Zheng Feiluan felt as though his life was starting amidst the same chaos.
Last month was like this, and last week was like this as well. Now, today, his shirt, his suit, his breakfast… these are issues that he had pointed out a dozen times already, but there had been no improvement, and they even became worse. Everyone persuaded him to “keep calm”, but he didn’t know of anyone else, other than saints, that would be able to “keep calm” and tolerate this sort of life.
At 7.30 in the morning, a black Maybach waited punctually downstairs. The chauffeur pulled the door open, respectfully inviting Zheng Feiluan to enter before returning to the driver’s seat and starting the car.
Just as he was about to drive off, Zheng Feiluan suddenly said, “Get out of the car.”
The chauffeur quivered. Not daring to say another word, he immediately opened the door and stepped outside. A few moments later, he then heard Zheng Feiluan say, “Get in.”
In great trepidation, he again got into the car.
The soundproofing in this car was fantastic. Inside the car was very quiet, and a thick, solemn atmosphere lay heavily on the chauffeur’s shoulders, so terrifying that he broke out in cold sweat. He was brimming with anxiety, not knowing what Zheng Feiluan was thinking. With no other choice, he could only straighten his back, sitting motionlessly in his seat.
Zheng Feiluan’s gaze was drifting about his cuffs, rubbing them gently between his fingertips while speaking lightly, “Just now, I took a look at the odometer. ”
The chauffeur’s expression changed abruptly, the stiffening of his shoulders quite apparent.
“If I remember correctly, it’s been three days in a row that you’ve come to pick me up with a gas tank only 10% full, with less than 20 litres of fuel left. ” Zheng Feiluan lifted his eyes, a cold, sharp look directed at the rearview mirror. “Last night, I drove the car back by myself, and before I parked the car in the garage, I paid attention to the fuel gauge. It was neither more nor less, and just about 50% — so, in one night, where did the balance of the 40% go? I need an acceptable explanation.”
His voice was extremely icy. The chauffeur quaked in his seat as he stammered, “I… I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
In a quiet voice, Zheng Feiluan repeated what the chauffeur said, seemingly amused.
The chauffeur’s soul was about to flee from its body, and he said in a panic, “President Zheng, I… I’ll tell you the truth. In fact, every morning, when I come over, the fuel tank of your car is… is always empty.”
Zheng Feiluan jerked up straight in his seat, his gaze burning holes in the back of the chauffeur’s head.
Sweat was beading on the chauffeur’s forehead from fright, drops rolling down his temples. “Y-yes, yes, it started about half a year ago, and your car… would have an empty fuel tank about twice or thrice each month. I wasn’t prepared, so I could only siphon out some fuel from my own car and secretly topped up yours with it.”
Swallowing, the chauffeur continued, “How-however, ever since last Tuesday, the fuel tank of your car has been empty every day. I thought that the Maybach probably wasn’t used to cheap fuel, and I can’t always be adding low grade fuel into it. As such, I would bring a bottle of new fuel with me every day. Your car has a large fuel tank, over a hundred litres. When I empty this little bottle of mine into it, the maximum I can fill it up to is only 10%.”
When he finished explaining, the atmosphere inside the car was almost at freezing point.
Zheng Feiluan gripped his varnished armrest tight, his knuckles white, his wrist trembling, and his complexion was as pale as a ghost. It took him a beat before he relaxed his grip, and as though a puppet with its strings cut, he sagged back into his seat.
After fastening his seatbelt, the chauffeur started driving, terror-stricken.
As the car rolled steadily down the road, Zheng Feiluan’s mood was extremely bad.
It was too quiet inside the car, the silence so oppressive that it was suffocating, and the jasmine-scented air freshener smelt even more crass than previously. Wanting some fresh air, Zheng Feiluan thus wound the window down a crack. Who would have thought that the exhaust from the vehicles outside would billow in, aggressively attacking his sensitive nose.
He could not help but sneeze, and had no choice but to close the window again.
The car made its way up the flyover, and the distant light of the morning was incomparably eye-piercing, just like the intense rays of the noon sun. The tops of the skyscrapers along the river were shrouded by clouds, the glass walls losing their lustre, looking dim and old. It was as though the place had been left behind from modernity by at least a dozen years. As the car neared the city centre, through the one-way window, Zheng Feiluan saw the greasy streets, the manhole covers with sewage spilling out from them, as well as the faded street signs that had seen all sorts of weathers.
There was nothing in this city that was pleasing to his eye.
If it was before, Zheng Feiluan would not pay any notice to these grimy and filthy details at all. However, now, they all fought to capture his attention, trying to banish every single beautiful image out of his mind.
Forced to avert his eyes, Zheng Feiluan started to study his schedule for the day.
The lines in his schedule were all tightly packed, with red and orange and yellow and green, and there were only a few scattered spots here and there for a breather. He looked at his busy work schedule, and exhaustion welled up out of nowhere. He was worn out, his head feeling heavy, and his eyes fell slightly shut, almost about to fall asleep groggily — he had clearly just gotten eight hours of sleep, and he should be filled with energy. However, the fatigue within him was undeniable, as though…
He had stayed up the entire night.
No, no, it couldn’t be.
Nothing happened last night. I slept on my own bed all the way until the sun rose, and I didn’t even take a step away from my house. Otherwise, how could Auntie Zhang not say anything at all?
Zheng Feiluan covered his face with his hand, rubbing his aching eyes hard as he forced himself to muster up some energy.
It’s alright, this familiar sense of disorderliness and anxiety is not something I’m experiencing for the first time already. Previously, having no clue about the pheromones issue, I had already successfully got over it. This time, there’s no reason why I can’t.