Chapter 16: P.
A Special Present


You have to take good care of it, okay?

After the visit to the secret hideout, the two split up, returning to the places wherein they should both belong.
Just like a dream that abruptly ended, there was no clear full stop.

But Ning Yixiao received a present that had an unordinary meaning.
It was a palm-sized toy, an art piece that was the smallest, most inconspicuous one in the factory.
But in the moment that they were leaving, it caught Ning Yixiao’s eye.

Su Hui told him that this was a kitten plush he had when he was younger.
Because the stitch at its chest had unraveled, the cotton filling inside was exposed, so it had been abandoned.

But Su Hui picked it back home and recreated it again.

The tattered little kitten was entwined with many metal wires.
Black strings messily intertwined themselves on the metal wires, spreading outside endlessly.
Among them, a red string was faintly visible, heading inside, connecting to the open chest of the toy.
An extremely small disco ball was placed inside.
Like it was suffering a fault, it flashed haltingly.

The limbs of the plush were bound, chest cut open, but a smile still on its face.
Its big eyes had inherited the innocent genuinity that Su Hui had when he was younger even until now.

Ning Yixiao practically never verbally asked for what he wanted, no matter who it was.

This deficiency preventing his honesty originated from many years ago, and also came from his overly high sense of pride.
To make him express himself without holding back was harder than even resolving others’ difficulties.

But the moment he noticed this kitten toy, he felt a foreign desire.

It was as if Su Hui could read his mind.
Coincidences and tacit understanding were always coiled around them.
It was very strange.

“Do you like this?” Su Hui picked it up.
“I’ll give it to you, if you like it.
I made this when I was really, really young.
It’s been here for a long time now.”

Even if Su Hui didn’t say so, Ning Yixiao knew that this was precious too.
If that cocoon was the shelter that he absolutely could not lose the most, then this kitten was Su Hui himself.

Su Hui smiled as he pushed it into his arms, his expression adorable.

“You have to take good care of it, okay?”

Even until this very moment when Ning Yixiao lay on his desk, staring at the kitten plush, he still remembered the loneliness Su Hui exuded when he sat at the bus stop alone.

Each time he saw Su Hui, his surroundings seemed enveloped in milky white morning fog, hazy and indistinct, as if he didn’t belong here and might vanish without a trace in the next moment.

Ning Yixiao poked the kitten’s cheek with a finger, shifting downwards bit by bit until his finger tip touched that small light bulb heart.

It was hot, as if it was truly alive.
Living with not so much ease.

He even had a very unattainable delusion, imagining that when this damaged kitten was abandoned, he was able to show up and bring it back home.
He stitched the chest wound and then kept it well.

But this thought only occurred for a brief moment, interrupted by a message notification.

The first text came from Su Hui, because he had told him to tell him when he was nearly home.

[Kitten: I’m almost home.
I’m a little tired.]

[Kitten: The car is so cold.
The air-con’s temperature is so low.]


The corners of Ning Yixiao’s lips upturned without him realizing.
Just as he was about to reply, a new text suddenly popped up at the top of the screen.

It was a text urging him for debt payment.

Almost within a split moment, Ning Yixiao stopped replying to Su Hui, returning to reality.

He stared at the text.
Those threatening words was familiar.
He was quiet for a moment, but he still looked down, calculating his recent earnings.

This was the life that he belonged to.

.

Su Hui seemed to have truly given himself to Ning Yixiao.

Even when he returned home, he was crestfallen.
He took a cab, and whilst on it, he could not help but text Ning Yixiao, but received no response.
When he got out of the car, he nearly forgot to pay and also completely forgot about the punishment he’d evidently receive because he had departed the birthday feast at his own discretion.

A punishment was natural.
But he did not expect it to be this severe.

When he returned home, it was afternoon.
Su Hui did not expect that the person who opened the door was not Auntie Chen but a foreign middle-aged woman.
She very enthusiastically smiled at him, saying ‘Little Young Master, you’re home.’

Su Hui was a little bewildered and immediately asked where Auntie Chen was.
But the lady only stammered and mumbled, asking him if he wanted tea.

Something didn’t really feel right.
Su Hui walked straight in and bumped into his grandfather, spotting him upon the raise of his head.
He was sitting on the living room couch with a frown, hands on top of each other as he held the dragon head carved on the top of the rosewood walking stick.
Seeing him come in, his frown deepened sternly.

Su Hui could tell he was incredibly angry and did not make excuses for himself.
He walked there and apologized to Ji Tailü.

Ji Tailü almost wanted to let out a cold laugh.
“No need for that.
You’ve toughened up now.
No one at this house can rein you in.
You make light of even me.”

Su Hui felt a little helpless.
Many words were trapped in his throat.
He could only say sorry.

“Sorry?” Ji Tailü suppressed his fury.
“What kind of event did you believe yesterday’s birthday feast was? What sort of people attended it? Su Hui, you left in front of everyone’s faces.
Where do you want me to put my face? Hmm?”

“I…” Su Hui attempted to explain.
“Yesterday, I overdosed on my meds and had a really severe reaction.
If I stayed there, I’d only lose everyone’s face, so I could only…”

“All right.
Then did you go to the hospital?” Ji Tailü looked at him, eyes slightly narrowed.
“Yesterday, Xu Zhi said he contacted the mental health departments in nearly all the hospitals in Beijing and still could not find you.
Where did you go? And what shameful things did you do again? Do you still remember? Is your brain sober right now!”

Su Hui opened his mouth, but before he could speak, he was stopped by Ji Tailü’s roar.
Each sentence of criticism was thrown on him like sharp knives, cutting his face.

“You don’t need to say anything more.
I don’t want to hear a single word.” Li Tailü spoke in rage, “From today on, you are not to go anywhere.
Stay at home and reflect on yourself while facing the wall.
I’ll sort out the study deferral procedure for you.
Just get yourself treated for me, until your brain is normal!”

“I don’t want my studies to be deferred!” Su Hui’s eye rims were red now.
“I’m not abnormal…”

“You’re not abnormal? Look at your current state now! It’s because you’ve been so spoiled, getting everything you wanted when you were born that your mind is no longer sober and you just go psychotic every day.
We don’t even get a day of peace!” Ji Tailü stood up, blowing a fuse.
“Even without my accomplishments in my whole life, I strive to my utmost as well.
Why do I have a grandson like you? You’re practically the biggest stain in my entire life!”

He fiercely raised his stick, and Su Hui subconsciously evaded it.
But in the end, the stick that was hanging above his head still swung ruthlessly to another spot, shattering a porcelain vase.
It was a handmade gift from the seventeen-year-old Su Hui.

And now it was but shattered pieces.


“It’s all because of the crazy genes from that lowly Su family, for a psycho like you to be born.”

Ji Tailü left these cruel words and Su Hui there, at their original spot.

Outside the full-length window, the sunrays were vibrant, the greens and plants in the garden flourishing, lilacs flagrant.
He could even hear the sounds of birds flapping as they danced in the air.

The new housekeeper approached him, inviting Su Hui back to his new isolation room.
This room was not as good as the previous one.
There wasn’t even a cushion for kneeling.
Only a suffocating smell of incense that covered up the rotten moist stench.

Before the door was closed, Su Hui only asked the new housekeeper a question, “Auntie, where’s Auntie Chen?”

She seemed taken aback, slightly distressed.
“Little Young Master… I’m a housekeeper who just came.
I’m not too sure about what happened before…”

Su Hui’s lips were drawn into a taut line.
He did not speak and just entered the isolation room by himself.

Without windows, this place only had a dim ceiling light as well as a camera that had eyes akin to a venomous snake.
Su Hui knelt on the floor in accordance with the demands, back straight.

His mind constantly replayed the final sentence that his grandfather said.
Su Hui wanted to know badly if he mentally spurned on him every day he saw him.

Everyone in this house followed him with servitude, but were they the same as him too? Treating him as an unremovable stain?

He still remembered how his father looked.
Warm, patient and would buy many drawing books for him, encouraging him to do what he wanted.
His father still had a younger brother — which was his uncle — who was a small-name curator.
So when he was very young, Su Hui was able to go along and visit some exhibitions.

In front of the art piece that Su Hui could not make sense of, they began an overly naive discussion and then began to chuckle quietly while stifling their laughter.
His uncle would purposely mimic him, using exaggerated expressions and childish tones, “Wah, it’s so pretty.”

But afterwards, that uncle became ill.
They said it was schizophrenia.

At that time, Su Hui didn’t understand how one’s mind could become fragmented [1].
It’s not like it was biscuits or ceramics.
Then he received a call from his uncle who said that there was a giant snake in his stomach.
It would speak to him and he wasn’t able to sleep at night, always hearing the slither of the snake.

But at that time, Su Hui was only six years old.
He didn’t understand it, only finding it curious and like he was listening to a fictional story.

Later on, his uncle was sent to the hospital, while Ji Tailü forcefully brought Su Hui away, warning him very cruelly that he was never to be permitted to meet the uncle again.

Everyone in the Ji family was demeaning and uglifying his uncle’s illnesses to no end, painting him as a vile venomous snake, banning Su Hui from taking a single step closer.

Change was the only constant in the world.
Since that summer day Su Hui’s illness was confirmed, he too became an unerasable shadow of a snake in the Ji family’s heart.

If possible, he really wanted to become that snake in his uncle’s stomach.
At the very least, it was safe and warm.

While kneeling on the floor, Su Hui only found this familiar.

It had been like this since he was young.
He was not permitted to even do a single wrong and was often locked in.
But back then, he would still have a soft kneeling cushion and a small bed.
He was only not allowed to play in the garden, not allowed to read or draw in the brightly lit study.
But now, he didn’t have a single thing and was only requested to recite Buddhist chants to meditate.

Su Hui didn’t want to recite any Buddhist chants at all.
His damaged brain could not receive any religious baptism.
Su Hui only kneeled on the floor with straightened back, eyes shut, thinking of Ning Yixiao who was willing to hide in the cocoon together with him.

He was grateful that he gave the plush to him.
Like this, it seemed like only his shell was receiving the punishment here.
While his true self still remained in that rented flat filled with a sense of safety, having never departed.

.

Su Hui vanished for an entire week.
Even until the last day before summer vacation, he did not appear again.


Ning Yixiao felt uneasy and sent numerous texts — and called too — but he could not reach him.
In the end, he could only indirectly ask Professor Wang.
But the answer he received was that he had become sick and was recuperating at home.

But such an excuse to brush outsiders aside could not dispel Ning Yixiao’s suspicion.
He attempted to ask the finance major students he knew through the club, but still to no avail.

That student even laughed.
“Su Hui? He’s like this all the time, not coming to class out of nowhere like he deferred his studies.
If it’s short, he’d be back in a week.
If it’s a longer one, it’s a few months.
It’s pretty normal.
He might show up again tomorrow.
You need something from him?”

Only then did he realize that Su Hui’s connection to this school was that feeble — he didn’t even have a friend who could explain his disappearance.
Not even one.

“Nothing too important.” Ning Yixiao smiled.
“He… borrowed a book with my card before.
It’s near the deadline for book return.”

The student laughed even harder.
“Then that’s tragic for you.
He might not come back.”

Ning Yixiao felt discomfort and disappointment, as though the one who had fallen ill was himself.

The night that he spent with Su Hui seemed to have never existed before — because he vanished so easily, without a trace behind.
Other than that kitten plush, there was no evidence of it.

From the vacation until now, he was called by his major’s professor to help with the maintenance of the service program.
Ning Yixiao was willing to do all these things so long as he could leave behind a good impression on the teachers.
So, since his first year, he had been the most suitable “helper” in his teachers’ minds.
He was a decent helping hand.

He had just typed away a few lines of code when the office door was knocked.

There was no one else in the room.
Ning Yixiao didn’t look up either, continuing to type away.
“The door isn’t locked.
Please come in.”

The door opened in response.
He heard a slightly familiar voice calling him xuezhang [2].

Ning Yixiao looked up.
The person who came was Xia Zhixu, whom Li Cong mentioned many people wooed the moment he first reported to university.
He was a junior in the same major as him and also a brilliant student in the teachers’ words.

Due to the teachers’ favoritism, Ning Yixiao was a teaching assistant for the first years and coincidentally took his class.
Xia Zhixu’s homework was always splendidly done, and he had strong skills in programming.
The code he wrote was succinct and elegant.
Even his annotation couldn’t be faulted.
Except he was someone of few words.
The only few conversations they had were about the class reports.

The expression on Ning Yixiao’s face relaxed slightly.
He smiled.
“Are you sent by a professor to do work?”

Xia Zhixu nodded.
“Yeah.
Yang-laoshi told me to come help record down the grades.”

As he was requested, he sat on the seat next to Ning Yixiao, shaking the mouse to unlock the screen.
He had just recorded two people’s information when he suddenly remembered something, turning to tell Ning Yixiao, “Right, xuezhang, earlier when I was waiting for Yang-laoshi, I heard his conversation with another teacher about going on an exchange program to America.
The candidates in the list seem to include your name.
I also heard there’s a seminar that’s happening very soon.
They’ll get the candidates for the exchange to go.”

Ning Yixiao paused, smiling seemingly without much concern.
“Is that so? Your information channels are better than mine.
I didn’t hear about this at all.”

“Really?” Xia Zhixu laughed then.
“Then I’m probably the first one to get this information.
It’s by coincidence too.
Maybe they forgot I was around when they talked.”

Ning Yixiao looked at him, realizing that this was the first time he saw Xia Zhixu laugh.
When he laughed, he actually showed a pair of canine teeth.
“Zhixu, you’re in quite a good mood today.”

Xia Zhixu was taken aback and then grinned a little sheepishly.
“Am I?”

“You usually seem like you have a lot on your mind.
Don’t give yourself too much pressure.
Just let things happen as they do.” Ning Yixiao put on an attitude of a senior.
After he reassured him, he joked, “If probing into military intelligence can make you happier, I don’t mind you getting more information for me.
If there’s good news, this xuezhang here will treat you to a meal.”

Ning Yixiao’s high EQ and good relations with people were well known.
Xia Zhixu knew this long back.
“Then thank you, xuezhang.
Maybe the name list will be out by the summer break and I’ll be able to get this meal next month.”

“Next month? You’re not going home?” Ning Yixiao stared at the screen, not on him.
“I remember your hometown is in Jiangcheng.”

Xia Zhixu’s expression very obviously dimmed.
He nodded.
“Yeah.
I don’t want to go back.
If I remain on campus, I can still work on some projects and learn some things as practice.”


Ning Yixiao smiled.
“Wuhan [3] is a good place.
I always wanted to visit it.
I heard that the sunset on Yangtze River Bridge looks extremely beautiful.”

Xia Zhixu lowered his eyes, tugging his lips.
“Maybe.”

He averted his gaze, looking at the clear lake wallpaper on the screen.
“I went up there before, but wasn’t able to focus on the scenery.
I’m almost forgetting how it looks now.”

Seeing his expression, Ning Yixiao sensed something.
So, he turned and grinned, “It’s fine.
Your hometown is there.
As long as you want to, you’ll go back one day, and you’ll definitely see it again.”

Xia Zhixu looked up and said thank you.

“Xuezhang, where is your hometown?”

In the eyes of boy and girl juniors alike, Ning Yixiao seemed like a perfect existence, with excellent grades, exceptional talent, academic achievements high and beyond others.
What was rare was that his character was friendly and kind too, and he had never had a conflict with anyone.
It was as if he was naturally flawless.

But Xia Zhixu understood well how tiring it was to be a friendly, passionate person.So, he sometimes wondered if someone like Ning Yixiao would feel exhausted too.

“My hometown…” Ning Yixiao smiled.
“I grew up in a small fishing village.
Even if I told you, you might not know it, so I’ll just give a vague location.
It’s in a northern coastal province by.”

Xia Zhixu knew not to overstep and did not ask further.
“Living by the sea must be really blissful, right? Especially when the sun is bright and pleasant…”

Ning Yixiao’s smile gradually dimmed.

“The sea has its dark side too.”

Hearing this, Xia Zhixu turned to him, seeing his usual smiling face turn cold.
But that was only for one second, for Ning Yixiao smiled again immediately.

“The sea at night is just like an oil swamp, with strong winds and large waves.
Looking at it is a little scary, but it’s quite unique too.
Next time, you can try to have a look at the seaside at night.”

His tone was very natural as if the coldness in that previous moment was only a figment of his imagination.

Xia Zhixu nodded.
“Sure.”

Neither of them continued with another topic, simply whittling away on their respective work.
Xia Zhixu’s was easier, so it ended quickly.
He said his goodbyes and then left first.

The room was once again left with Ning Yixiao alone.

He hit away on his keyboard, each alphabet or symbol akin to seagulls flying through the night skies, twinkling without end.

Extremely inappropriately then, NIng Yixiao wished very much to return to his rented flat to do nothing at all, except stare at that kitten plush.

Or maybe, to go back into that blue cocoon that he hid inside together with Su Hui.

Translator Note:

[1] The term for schizophrenia in Chinese is 精神分裂 (lit.
mind fragmentation).
So, as a child like Su Hui, upon hearing that understood it literally as the mind breaking up.

[2] 学长: a term for a male senior, or a person in a higher rank or seniority to you, usually in school.

[3] 江城: the term used here is pronounced Jiang Cheng, but this is an alternate name for Wuhan, so to prevent any potential confusion with other locations in China with this name too, we used Wuhan here.

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