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Chapter 2.3 Those Little Stories (3)

When Gu Pingsheng returned, the paper was still blank. She truly did not know how to solve it. Afterwards, because it was getting late, Gu Pingsheng’s cousin invited her to stay for dinner.

To be honest, the cooking skills of this former lawyer of the states of New York and California were really something that could not be praised. Tong Yan tasted a few of the dishes and then, without so much as batting an eyelid, she stretched her chopsticks over toward the easiest dish to make, shiitake stir-fried with bok choy. Coincidentally, Gu Pingsheng also happened to pick up a bok choy with his chopsticks as well. A glance passed between the two of them as they put the food into their mouth, and then, at the same time, they both picked up their glasses of water…

Gu Pingfan was eating with great enthusiasm. “TK told me that the two of you had known each other in the past, and it was actually when he was working as an intern doctor?”

Tong Yan nodded and continued drinking more water. “We met only the one time.”

She did not know how much Teacher Gu had said, and she, naturally, was also happy to give a vague answer and let things be.

That incident was like a very private matter. She did not know whether, to Gu Pingsheng, that was the only time he had behaved uncharacteristic of himself, but to her, that was her one and only time she had ever exposed in front of someone else all those secrets that, even to this day, were otherwise hidden away.

In this day and age where morals had completed eroded away, many people simply did not even bother paying attention anymore to the existence of third parties in people’s relationships.

But what if your mother, the one who should be the most gentle and warm person, the one who was always patient and forbearing toward you, suddenly became the party who was wrecking someone else’s home and family? In a single night, the person you most depended upon from the time you only babbled and cooed and were learning to talk suddenly became the type of person that you most despised and shunned. To her, this form of hurt that had been brought upon her was destructive and devastating…

“What do your parents do?” Gu Pingfan suddenly asked her. Her smile was very warm and kind, and a dimple could also faintly be seen in her cheek. So very much like Gu Pingsheng.

Tong Yan stared at the reflection of the wall lamps in her eyes and, all of a sudden, was somewhat at a loss for words.

It was actually Gu Pingsheng who carried on the conversation. “How much of the sugar and MSG in my house did you use in your dishes today?”

Gu Pingfan looked at him quizzically. “Not much. I mostly used salt.” At this point, she suddenly clued in. “You found the food salty? TK, the things you say are crossing the line more and more…”

Later, before Tong Yan had even come up with an excuse, Gu Pingsheng had already recommended that this week, they would have only this one tutoring session and they could discuss the following week about the remainder. He had driven her back to school and had said this as she was getting out of the vehicle on the road opposite the main entrance of the university.

She nodded at him through the car window. Then, she suddenly remembered, “I’m going home for the National Day holiday. That’s next week. I definitely won’t have time for tutoring lessons.”

Gu Pingsheng looked at her. “I will be going to Beijing next week, as well. If there’s anything you need, you can contact me any time.”

Smiling awkwardly, Tong Yan replied, “I won’t. Don’t worry, I won’t disturb your holiday.”

During the National Day holiday, it was difficult to get even a single train ticket. She had asked around for help from several of her senior schoolmates, both male and female, from Beijing before she was able to obtain one standing ticket.

Fortunately, it was only fourteen hours, but when she actually stepped into the train car, she was stunned. As far as the eye could see, it was filled with people, and there were already people lying underneath the seats. With great difficulty, she managed to squeeze her way up to the train door beside the bathroom and then, putting on her thick skin, she helped herself to a spot there.

She could see that, in the bathroom, there were even two children sitting on the sink, and she decided right there that this whole night, she would not have anything to drink and just endure through it until she could get off the train.

The sound of the train rolling over its tracks was very rhythmic.

Getting off the train early in the morning, she traveled on subway and bus, persevering for another full two hours before she finally made it to her [paternal] grandmother’s home. She had just opened the door with her key when she saw the figure of that person she missed the most in the kitchen, busy preparing breakfast for her. “Yan Yan, you’re back? I just made a mixed-grain porridge.”

After suffering through hunger for an entire night, her head was now heavy and spinning as she headed over to her bed and collapsed straight onto it.

“Why are you so tired?” Grandmother asked her.

Pickled vegetables, porridge, and youtiao [savoury fried breadstick][1]. She felt she was going to die of happiness.

“This time I was really lucky. I managed to buy a discount plane ticket. Only three hundred something yuan[2]. It’s just that it was an early morning flight, and I’m so sleepy from taking it…”

But, she still obediently crawled up and off her bed, and under Grandmother’s attentive gaze, she finished all the breakfast, leaving not even the tiniest bit behind, and drank a large glass of water along with it.

“Next time, I’ll take you on a plane ride, when I’ve graduated. I’m just worried you’ll get motion sickness on the plane. Oh right, and your ears will hurt, too.” Her descriptions were made with all apparent seriousness. “This morning, when the plane was landing, my ears were aching so badly.”

Grandmother listened smilingly, and every wrinkle on her face seemed to carry a sense of joy.

As she was talking away happily, Grandmother suddenly, with a mysterious expression, took hold of her hand and said, “This year’s pension amount has gone up again. I’ve saved a full ten thousand yuan for you over these last few years. Can that pay back your student loan?”

Tong Yan started in alarm. “Didn’t I already tell you? I just need to pay it back within five years after I’ve graduated. Don’t try at all to save up money for me, please. I have a part-time job right now, and I’m also helping some journalists write news articles. I’m not short on money at all.”

“I’ve already withdrawn it,” Grandmother continued in a soft voice. All of a sudden, however, she remembered the meat that was still stewing in the kitchen, and hastily, she rose to her feet while saying to her, “It’s just under the couch. Hurry, take it out and put it away.”

As she stared after the outline of Grandmother’s back, her eyes inexplicably began to sting with tears. “How about this? I’ll take it out and deposit it into the account that you and I share. We’ll wait, and if ever I need to use it, then I will.”

When she left Beijing, she had deliberately opened a bank account, taking the bank card with her but leaving the bankbook with Grandmother. Therefore, if there was an emergency situation here at home that required money, Grandmother could immediately withdraw some.

From within the kitchen came Grandmother’s sound of agreement. She walked up in front of the couch and felt around under it for the secret spot used to store money. As a child, she had always been rummaging around everywhere and was well acquainted with this place for money storage.

But when she held the envelope in her hand, she suddenly detected that there was something wrong. The envelope and the contents within were very thin. Even the six thousand yuan of tuition she paid every school year was several times thicker than this… A notion flashed across her mind, and she abruptly felt as if someone had suddenly gripped the bottommost tip of her heart.

She dared not breathe, dared not move. She did not dare speak out the actual situation and could only pretend to nonchalantly ask, “These last few days, did my dad come visit?”

“Yes, and he even deliberately helped me change out the cooking gas tank.” There was an inconcealable joy in Grandmother’s voice.

Sure enough, it was him.

Tong Yan stared blankly at the envelope. This was not the first time, but this time, the amount was so large. Where am I going to get enough to make up for it?

Many jumbled thoughts were continuously flashing into her head, and all of a sudden, she felt as if her strength was drained.

Exhaustion of an entire night rushed up once again over here. She wanted only to cry. No matter how she tried, she could not stop her nose from tingling. As her vision started to blur with tears, Grandmother stepped out from the kitchen.

Tong Yan hastily stuffed the envelope into her schoolbag, pulled out a facial tissue, and pretended to wipe her nose with it, and soon, her tears were wiped away. “Why do I feel like I’m coming down with a cold?…” Standing, she quickly added, “It’s not safe to leave so much money in the home. I’m going to head out right now to deposit it.”

“There’s no hurry.” The voice sounding out behind her was cut off and left inside, behind the closed door.

She waited until she had walked to a far away bus stop before halting beneath the bus stop sign, opening the envelope, and carefully counting the amount inside — only two thousand yuan. Her tuition was normally paid for by student loans, and her living expenses came from the income from her part-time job and writing news articles. After accounting for her day-to-day spending, she had only managed to save two thousand yuan. So, in other words, she was still short a full six thousand yuan.

Six thousand yuan. This sum had to be deposited somehow. Although Grandmother knew how terribly disappointing her son was, she still carried a fanciful dream in her heart that hoped that one day, he would amend his ways.

There were an especially large number of people at the bus stop. Many were parents with their children, spending the National Day holiday together in a bustling, lively atmosphere. As the bus would pull into the stop, many fathers would pick their young child up into their arms, and some would even sit them on their heads, for fear that the crowd would squash their darling baby… Tong Yan stood in that spot and watched for a long time. She had already lost track of how many buses had pulled in since she was here.

At last, she took her mobile phone in hand and stared down irresolutely at a list of more than twenty names.

Even such a good friend as Shen Yao did not know about her family situation. If she was in Shanghai right now, it would be easier since she could simply say that she did not have enough time to ask her family for the money… But right now, she was in Beijing, so she did not even have an excuse she could use to borrow money from her classmates.

In the end, after fixing her eyes on that list for a long time, it came down to only two people: Lu Bei and Gu Pingsheng.

One was a person who, without ever asking for a reason, had always agreed to every single one of her requests.

One was a person who had unwittingly seen some very true scenes of her life.

However, from when Lu Bei had married, she had vowed that she would never see him again. Regardless of the reason why their chance to be together had slipped by them, she had a very strong sense of and demand for pureness of morals, and she would never allow herself to do anything that might break up someone’s home and marriage. And so, in reality, the only remaining option was Gu Pingsheng.

Hesitantly, she sent him a text message: Teacher Gu, are you busy? I would like to ask you for a favour.

Very quickly, he sent her a text message in reply: Go ahead. TK

Two simple words plus his name signed at the end. No emotion could be discerned from them. They actually did not know each other all that well, and if she out the blue asked to borrow money…… She inhaled deeply and then wrote her reply: I was hoping to borrow some money. Only six thousand, that’s all I need. It’s urgent.

A long time passed and still he did not return her message. Tong Yan suddenly very much regretted her action. Why did she ask her teacher to borrow money? But the question had already been put forth, and it was too late to retract it. Uneasily, she stared at her mobile phone, praying continuously in her mind, “Teacher Gu, please don’t be offended. I really had no other choice.”

All of a sudden, her mobile phone rang. Gu Pingsheng was calling?

Tong Yan was somewhat stunned at this. She answered the call and was about to say hello when she immediately remembered that he would not be able to hear her. She then heard Gu Pingsheng on the other end of the line speaking to someone in English. It sounded as if the person was beside him.

Very soon, he spoke into the phone, “Tong Yan, my apologies. I was talking to one of the elder members of my family just now. Text your address to my phone. I’m driving over right now to find you.”

His voice was a little hurried, but it was still as warm and gentle as before. So warm and gentle it made you want to cry.

[1] 油条. Youtiao, literally meaning “oil stick,” is a strip of dough that is fried. While it is often referred to as the Chinese doughnut or Chinese cruller, it is a savoury food, lightly salted, and is often eaten for breakfast as an accompaniment for rice porridge or soy milk.

[2] 元 “yuan.” The yuan is the base unit of the renminbi, which is the official currency of China. It is also referred to colloquially as 块 “kuai.”

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