After the summer vacation, Zhang Xiujuan’s body never truly recovered. When she was tired, she could sometimes even fall asleep in the courtyard. Xie Meng had to keep watching over her to prevent her from getting a cold or heatstroke.
Ji Qinyang’s music theory exam results came out before the start of their third year of high school. Xie Meng did not ask, and he did not say either. The form teacher of Class 6 had sought him out a few times, and it seemed like quite many music colleges had offered him a space.
They had a heavier class load now, and their homework stacked up like mountains. It felt as though their leisure time were truly precious now. Xie Meng spent most of his time reviewing his language classes, while Ji Qinyang sat next to him and guided him.
“Write down the line from Nalan Xingde’s poem that expresses the yearning between lovers.”
Xie Meng wrote in his book. “If time could stop at the first moment we meet…”
Ji Qinyang laughed. “It’s not this line.”
Xie Meng glanced at him. “This line is more familiar.”
Ji Qinyang smiled and shook his head. He took Xie Meng’s book, and with words as pretty and exquisite as him, he wrote, “Two entwined for life, an overwhelming dispute, yearning and longing but not together, for whom is spring.”
Early October, Ji Qinyang began preparing to attend the interview at Beijing Central Conservatory of Music (Zhongyin). He applied for a month off school, and Mo Suyuan planned on accompanying him the whole time.
“This time, we can go to Beijing and have a good time.” His mother packed her clothes into the luggage. “I remember that we’ve been there when you were very young, but I don’t know how it looks like now.”
Ji Qinyang was sitting by the window, in a daze. He acknowledged his mother dully, and his headphones were around his neck.
Mo Suyuan looked at her son. After a moment of deliberation, she slowly asked, “You don’t want to go to Zhongyin anymore?”
Ji Qinyang turned his head around, cocking his brow. “Of course not… Don’t overthink it.”
Mo Suyuan sighed. “I just feel that you don’t seem very motivated. Previously, when you received the recommendation letter, you were still quite interested. Now, when you’re about to go for the interview, you don’t seem to place too much importance on it.” Mo Suyuan reached out, brushing her son’s fringe and speaking gently, “I know you’ve applied for Shangyin as well… But I hope you’ll consider clearly what is it you exactly want.”
Ji Qinyang pulled his headphones over his head. He grabbed the handrail, swaying along with the bus. Other than during the New Year, Shantang Street always had a spectacular crowd, and so there were many people waiting for the bus at the bus stop.
On the bridge was a stall selling fried smelly tofu. The hawker was already very familiar with Ji Qinyang, and he called out to him from afar. “Are you eating today?”
Ji Qinyang smiled and waved his hand. “Not today.”
He crossed the bridge and walked along the river, down the narrow lane, and finally stopped outside the gate of Xie Meng’s courtyard.
Zhang Xiujuan was sitting in a rattan chair in the courtyard. The half-closed door hid Ji Qinyang, and she did not see him.
The boy stood there quietly for a while. He heard Xie Meng shout from within the house, “Grandma.”
The old radio next to Zhang Xiujuan was playing <Dream of the Red Chamber>. The old lady was engrossed, and she only replied after a long time, “Hey.”
Xie Meng walked out with a bowl and chopsticks.
“Grandma,” The boy coaxed. “It’s time to eat.”
Zhang Xiujuan was like a child, seeming a little unwilling. “I don’t feel like eating.”
Xie Meng dragged a chair over. “Even if you don’t feel like eating, you have to eat a bit. I’ll feed you.”
The old lady grumbled something, but at last she still obediently ate the food her grandson fed her.
“I’m old now,” Zhang Xiujuan sighed as she ate. “These few days, I’ve been dreaming about your parents. They say they want to bring me to them so that they can show their filial respect.”
Xie Meng smiled. “Is my filial piety not enough?”
Zhang Xiujuan snorted. “It’s not your turn yet.”
Xie Meng did not say anything. After feeding her a few mouthfuls, he suddenly stopped and held Zhang Xiujuan’s hand. “Let me show my filial piety, alright? I’ll be filial to you till you’re a 100 years old. You must live till you’re a hundred, if not you’ll lose out.”
“Silly child.” The old lady was amused. “Who can live for a hundred years? The dramas are all lying to you.”
Zhang Xiujuan tucked her hair behind her ear, then she patted Xie Meng on the back of his hand. “Grandma doesn’t want to hold you back… You were looking at the universities in Beijing a while ago, weren’t you? That’s a place where Chairman Mao1 had lived before, and Grandma has never been there. If my grandson can go there, that’s something to be very proud of.”
Zhang Xiujuan looked at Xie Meng. The wrinkles around her eyes seemed to mark her years, but her eyes were still clear and bright.
“Grandson, you have to remember,” She laughed. “Grandma isn’t your future, and you will meet someone even more important than me. You have to walk a very, very long road with that person, and live a happy, blissful and long life, just like how it is in the dramas.”
Books always said that young people would easily give in to their impulses. Between love and reality, they would usually choose love. After maturing, they would always regret it. Many years later, when Ji Qinyang was about to turn forty, having experienced the ups and downs of life and his career and finally reaching success, someone too asked him a question about this.
“I don’t think so.” Despite the years leaving their marks on his face, Ji Qinyang’s facial features were still exquisite and dazzling. He rested his chin on his hand, looking at the reporter who asked the question. The lady blushed. Flustered, she looked down at her list of questions.
“Hmm… So in other words, you would tend to choose love?”
Ji Qinyang raised his brow. “It’s not that I’d tend to choose love, but that I will still choose love.”
“You don’t regret it?” The reporter asked.
“Why will I regret it?” Ji Qinyang smiled. He turned to face the audience, and the camera took a very clear shot of the simple silver ear stud in his left earlobe.
“I’ve lost everything before,” Ji Qinyang said slowly. “But I had always had love.”
However, when he was only sixteen or seventeen, just like how the books were, Ji Qinyang was impulsive.
Wearing his headphones, the teenager was lying on the stone bank of the river. The water flowed under the bridge, and the evening wind blew against his heated, burning chest.
That was the last wind of this summer.
When Ji Qinyang left for Beijing, Xie Meng did not see him off. He had a quiz that day, and after the quiz, he received a test from the boy. In the text were only five words. “Wait for me to return.”
Qi Fei pillowed his head with his arms, mumbling. “Seems like the boss will be going much further than us… Maybe we’ll only be able to meet every winter and summer break annually?”
Xie Meng replied the text. He packed up his belongings, and Zhang Ganggang was watching him. “I want to go to Beijing too. Xie Meng, what about you?”
Zhuo Xiaoyuan expressionlessly smacked Zhang Ganggang’s head. “You should first get your grades up. You think it’s so easy to get into a Beijing university?”
Xie Meng smiled. He flicked Zhang Ganggang’s forehead with his finger. “Let’s work hard.”
Zhang Xiujuan went to the hospital for another check up a week ago. The results were not very good. The doctor implied that she had reached her time already, and wanted Xie Meng to be prepared.
“My grandmother has always been very healthy.” Xie Meng frowned, speaking composedly, “Last year, she even sparred with me every morning.”
The doctor sighed. “Many old people are like this after the age of 80. I’ve also met cases before, where they were usually very fit and healthy, they would run every morning, then suddenly pass away at night while sleeping… This has nothing to with any diseases. It’s just the circle of life. When your time is up, this is bound to happen.”
Xie Meng did not speak. He looked at Zhang Xiujuan who sitting in the corridor. The old lady was chatting with a patient next door, and pride could be heard in her voice.
“My little grandson… He’s in his third year of high school, and his grades are extremely good.”
“He’s going to go to Beijing to study after he graduates…How would he not make it?!”
“Yes, yes, he’s very filial. I’m a blessed old woman.”
Xie Meng called out to her when he came out. “Grandma.”
The patient exclaimed, praising him. “Your grandson is very good-looking.”
Zhang Xiujuan was delighted. Xie Meng supported her, and waited for her to say goodbye to the patient.
Exiting the hospital, Xie Meng hailed a taxi. The driver could only drive till the intersection of Shantang Street, and after disembarking, Xie Meng crouched down in front of Zhang Xiujuan.
“Grandma,” He turned and smiled at the old lady. “I’ll carry you on my back.”
The setting sun dyed the clouds on the horizon red, and the clear river under the bridge glimmered in the light. With Zhang Xiujuan on his back, Xie Meng slowly walked along the bluestone path. A black canopy boat meandered past them, and on her grandson’s back, the old lady hummed the Purple Bamboo Tune.
Zhang Xiujuan’s humming broke off intermittently, and Xie Meng was silent the entire time. Halfway through, the old lady suddenly thought of something and asked Xie Meng. “Where is Xiao Ji, how come he hasn’t been here in such a long time?”
Xie Meng shifted her up a little. “He’s gone to Beijing for an exam, and would be back next month.”
Zhang Xiujuan smiled. “See, he’s already gone to Beijing already… You have to work hard too.”
Xie Meng did not reply. Only when they were about to arrive at home, he agreed.
Zhang Xiujuan slept early that night. Xie Meng called Ji Qinyang in his room, and through the phone, the boy sounded a little hoarse.
“I’ve sang too much the past few days,” Ji Qinyang explained. “What about you? Did you miss me?”
Xie Meng lay on his bed, covering his eyes with his arm. “What do you think? … Don’t waste the cost of the long distance call.”
Ji Qinyang laughed quietly.
Xie Meng did not speak for a while until Ji Qinyang asked him, “How is grandma?”
“She’s still fine,” Xie Meng said. “Just like usual.”
“I’ll be back in half a month’s time,” Ji Qinyang said in a low voice. “I’ll come back and accompany you.”
The weather gradually cooled down in the late October. During the weekend, the heat of the sun was pleasant. It was rare that Zhang Xiujuan woke up early, and after practising his martial arts, Xie Meng helped carry her rattan chair and her radio out into the courtyard.
“What would you like to listen to?” Xie Meng fiddled with the knobs on the radio. It had been long since the old lady had been so energetic, and he too felt a lot more relaxed.
Zhang Xiujuan thought about it. “Let’s just listen to <A Girl’s Love>.”
Xie Meng laughed. “You’ve already listened to it so many times, aren’t you sick of it yet?”
Although he was grumbling, he still played Wan Xiaoli’s version of <A Girl’s Love>. The radio was still not very good, and it took a while before sound came out from it.
“I’ll go do the laundry.” Xie Meng straightened Zhang Xiujuan’s hair. “Call me if you need anything.”
Zhang Xiujuan did not answer. Under the sun, she squinted in satisfaction.
Xie Meng stepped into the house. He soaked every item of clothing as he listened to the somewhat desolate voice of the male singer.
“Mandarin ducks and butterflies fly in pairs, the garden in spring is intoxicating…” The old radio jammed a little, and barely managed to continue. “… I asked the eminent monk, is my daughter beautiful… my daughter… beautiful…”
The radio suddenly stopped, only leaving a buzzing sound of rotating machinery. Xie Meng frowned, and he called out. “Grandma.”
Sunlight scattered over the walls of the courtyard. The wind rustled through the fallen leaves on the ground. Zhang Xiujuan sat motionless on her rattan chair.
Xie Meng stood up. “Grandma?”
No one responded.
With a click, the play button of the radio sprung up. It was silent, and could never make a sound again.