Chapter 2 — Zhaomu: From Dawn Til Dusk (2)
In actual fact, Lu Rong did not look like the type of person that would initiate a chat with others; the conversation went dead again as they ran out of things to say. As Lin Mu’s character was currently a pretty, deaf-mute girl, he would definitely freak the boy out if he were to speak out loud. Later on, Lin Mu realized that Lu Rong might have seen him as someone of a similar age to him, and therefore approached him to see if he could spark up a conversation. However, once they started chatting, due to Lin Mu’s character as an ‘aloof and icy beauty,’ he was unable to maintain the conversation.
The two sat together on the bench for a while. Lin Mu felt that there was no point if they continued sitting there. Just as he stood up, Lu Rong quickly followed.
“I’m going to get an ice cream,” Lin Mu signed. “Would you like to come along?”
Lu Rong nodded.
Lin Mu led him to a nearby store. The shopkeeper was sitting next to a freezer, snacking on melon seeds.
“Auntie,” Lu Rong called out. “Two Wall’s ice cream, please.”
The shopkeeper took two out from the freezer, handing them over. She asked Lu Rong, “How’s your granny?”
“She’s attending a class.”
“Is it ok if you’re not watching her?”
Lu Rong nodded. “It’s fine if it’s just a short while.”
Surprisingly, the shopkeeper knew a little sign language as well. She signed at Lin Mu, “You’ve grown taller.”
Lin Mu had no choice but to wave her words away modestly.
Lin Mu and Lu Rong ate their ice cream while walking back. Thinking about what the shopkeeper had said, he signed at Lu Rong, “You came here with your granny?”
“She’s ill.” After signing that, Lu Rong thought for a moment, then tore off the ice cream wrapper and took out a pen from his pocket. He wrote on the wrapper, then passed it to Lin Mu.
As though afraid that Lin Mu would not recognize it, Lu Rong added a few more words to the note. “It’s a type of dementia.”
Lin Mu raised his head, glancing at Lu Rong. The boy was a little shy, and he did not smile often. With incredibly long eyelashes, his eyes did somewhat resemble those of a deer.
“Is it tiring?” Li Mu knocked on the crook of his arm and drew a question mark.
When Lu Rong understood the question, he remained silent for some time and then shook his head. “Not at all.”
They could not return to the classroom without finishing the ice cream. As such, they again returned to the bench under the shade of the trees.
With the wrapping paper, conversation became much easier. Lin Mu realized that Lu Rong could understand sign language fairly well; it was just that he was not fluent at signing. If there were any words he could not sign, he would write them out.
“Are you taking care of your granny alone?” Lin Mu slowed down his signing speed so that Lu Rong could understand.
Lu Rong would mumble softly as he wrote, “My parents passed away a long time ago, so I’m the only one taking care of Granny.”
Lin Mu asked, “What about school?”
Lu Rong wrote, “She comes with me to school.”
He then signed, using simple vocabulary, “I’ve been accepted into a new high school, and I’m going to be a first-year student.”
The situation in the East Zone was rather complicated. Many students would choose to attend the high school that was affiliated to their junior high. In Lu Rong’s case, even a fool would understand his reason for doing so. Lu Rong would be accompanied by an Alzheimer’s patient, and Kunqian High was the only school that fulfilled his need in the area.
“Soon, you’d be my junior,” Lin Mu smiled as he signed.
Seeing his smile, Lu Rong blushed. Wiping away his sweat from his forehead, he wrote slowly on the paper, “I know, I’ve read about you on the newspaper.”
Lin Mu’s mouth fell open. Only then did he remember Lin Zhao had been the youngest member in their city when she entered the qualifiers. Due to her unusual identity and her extraordinary accomplishments, she had appeared in newspapers before.
“You’re very good at Go,” Lu Rong continued writing. “You don’t look like a dis –”
He stopped abruptly, a little flustered. Forcefully, he drew a strikethrough across “dis-”. After some time, he finally glanced at Lin Mu.
Lin Mu could not even put on a smile. He now seemed to finally understand Lin Zhao’s reluctance to come. Perhaps when interacting with others, Lin Zhao had never been treated as an ordinary, healthy person, despite her ordinary, healthy appearance.
“You’ve always ignored everyone else,” Lu Rong wrote carefully, “so, I guessed you came here unwillingly.”
Lin Mu could only sign, “Well, here I am, no?”
He looked at Lu Rong and continued signing, “Is it convenient for you to have your grandmother following you all the time?”
“It wasn’t convenient at first, but I got used to it. There’s no other choice; she needs someone to watch over her.”
Lin Mu gestured, pretending to hit someone, “Do you get bullied?”
Lu Rong did not speak. He clenched a fist and lightly pounded his chest twice.
Lin Mu laughed.
Lu Rong pointed at him. “How about you? Do you get bullied?”
Lin Mu did not expect that he would turn the question back. He was a little dumbfounded, and so he hesitated for a moment, trying to figure out how he should reply.
It was impossible for them to not have been bullied. Things were still fine in primary school, as the teachers were strict, and the students innocent and guileless. If an argument happened, they could complain to the teachers, but things were no longer so easily settled in junior high.
The twins appeared gentle and weak, the very model of well-behaved, obedient children. Boys entered puberty later than girls, so in junior high, Lin Mu was even shorter than Lin Zhao. Most of the time, she was the one protecting her little brother instead.
The bullying was discovered within Lin Zhao’s textbooks. Her textbooks always had a few extra pages missing from them. By the time Lin Mu noticed it, his sister’s English textbook was half its original thickness.
Lin Zhao said nothing of it, only signing that she tore it by herself. Lin Mu did not believe her.
“I saw Sun Hai next to your table in the afternoon,” Lin Mu’s actions were very agitated as he signed, his face flushing red. “Was he the one who did it?!”
Frowning, Lin Zhao’s fingers moved lightly, “No.”
After a moment of silence, Lin Mu spoke, his voice cold like ice, “I’ll ask him.”
Lin Zhao caught hold of him, refusing to let him go. Her fingers signed swiftly, “What are you going to ask? If he says yes, what can you even do about it? Fight him?”
Gritting his teeth, Lin Mu wiped his face with the back of his hand. When he turned back, his eyes were red, and his voice was filled with anger. “I’ll fight him until the end even if I can’t win! Let’s see if he dares bully you again!”
Lin Zhao froze, then cracked up over her brother’s reaction. Her brother was too adorable, yet the slight bitterness in her heart did not abate.
“I’m fine,” Lin Zhao signed at Lin Mu, “just let him be.”
The phrase “let him be” did not last longer than a day. Junior high students had to attend evening classes, and by the time Lin Zhao returned from the Go institute to pick Lin Mu up, the classroom had already descended into chaos. Her seemingly thin and small brother was sitting on top of Sun Hai, whacking his head forcefully with an English textbook.
As his back was facing her, Lin Zhao could not read her brother’s lips, and she could only vaguely make out what Sun Hai was shouting.
From his lips, she read things like “sissy”, “I’m going to complain to our teacher”, “stop hitting”, “I was wrong”, “I won’t do it anymore”.
Lin Mu’s attacks on Sun Hai became more violent when Sun Hai called him a sissy, his strength enough to even crumple the pages of the textbook. Some classmates around him tried to stop him, and they seemed to be telling him that his sister was here. Lin Mu jerked his head back; the fire blazing in his eyes having yet die down. Injuries were scattered across his face, and he cut a sorry figure as he looked at Lin Zhao.
The siblings looked at each other silently. Lin Mu was a little exhausted, and he slowly clambered off Sun Hai. The bully underneath him was still crying, and Lin Zhao’s gaze slid away from her brother. She walked over to Sun Hai, looking down at him in a queenly manner.
She raised her chin slightly, and her fingers drew through the air elegantly yet flippantly. “You can bully me, but you can’t hit my brother.”
Lin Mu pursed his lips, refusing to say a word. He was then kicked by Lin Zhao. “Tell him what I signed!”
Clicking his tongue, he sneered at Sun Hai. “You can hit me, but you can’t bully my sister!”
Lin Zhao’s eyebrows drew together, very certain that Lin Mu had not passed the message correctly. She picked up the English textbook off the ground. To no surprise, it was hers. She had already finished studying the missing pages from the book, so the issue of them being missing did not really affect her.
Taking the book from her hand, Lin Mu threw it onto Sun Hai’s face, speaking fiercely, “Fix the missing pages, or I’ll beat you up again!”
In the end, the pages were indeed pasted back. However, Sun Hai also reported the incident to their teacher. As violence was never the solution, Lin Yanlai and Jiang Wan were called down to the school. Jiang Wan had a bad temper, and upon knowing that her daughter had been bullied, she nearly destroyed the teachers’ office in a rage. Instead, it was Lin Yanlai who calmly said, “We’ll definitely educate Lin Mu properly when we’re home.”
At the same time, he gave the twins standing in a corner a thumbs-up.
Later on, Sun Hai too was admonished. His “punishment” was to help, protect and take care of his classmate Lin Zhao for a semester. Since then, Lin Mu discovered that there was a pest called Sun Hai following Lin Zhao persistently, even fighting over tasks like carrying Lin Zhao’s schoolbag with him.
“Your sister is so cool.” Sun Hai imitated the movements of Lin Zhao’s fingers. His tone was earnest, “Why do her gestures look so good?”
Resting his head on his palm, Lin Mu dumped cold water on him. “Don’t you know that those gestures are how my sister calls you ‘stupid’?”
Sun Hai was dumbstruck.