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During the period when he studied in England, Meng Li felt the taste of loneliness.
It was true that physically and biologically, he was not alone. During the days, he was at school with teachers and cla.s.smates. In the evenings, his host family was very warm and considerate. But there was no place better than home, his real home. Wandering about in a foreign land, breathing the air of a foreign country, eating the food of a foreign country, and hearing the language of a foreign country all made Meng Li feel like a fish out of water.
Before he left China, he was ambitious. He decided that after completing his academic program in England, he would try his best to find a job there and would not return to China. Was there anything good about his home country? Food safety issues, air quality issues, and some persistently unresolved social chaos... However, when he did go abroad, he began to miss the things that he once abhorred—no matter how poor the air quality was, he was familiar with the air; no matter how severe the food safety concern was, at least the food was delicious; as for social chaos, why did it have anything to do with him?
He wasn’t the only one that was unable to adapt to the environment. Among his fellow cla.s.smates that went to England at the same time with him, several of them lost themselves because of sudden changes in the environment.
His host family was very warm to him. Although he never found his way to blend in, he had to admit that the family was very warm and hospitable, and they did not treat him as an outsider. It’s just that he shackled himself and always felt alienated, suspecting they were judging him with strange looks.
There was a puppy at the host family. He didn’t pay much attention at first, because pet keeping was so common among families abroad. In addition, he couldn’t recognize the breed of the dog, for he never saw such a breed in China. After inquiring the host family, he learnt that its name was Julie, and it was a c.o.c.ker Spaniel.
The host family was just so nice. They might have sensed that Meng Li was a little unhappy, and they a.s.signed him a task—taking Julie for a walk outside twice a day, in the morning and in the evening.
This task was easy but time-consuming. c.o.c.ker Spaniels were hounds, which were more active and energetic than ordinary breeds of dogs. Each walk took a long time, and he must shoulder the responsibility of picking up its feces.
Meng Li had never raised a dog before. He was not expecting to get one, but he didn’t reject the idea either. He just hated walking in the streets and suddenly stepping on dogs’ feces. Only after living in the small town in England did he know that, because of the large population of dog-keepers, the situation of rampant spreading of dogs’ feces in England was not much better than in his home country.
Julie looked just like this one in the showcase. They both had a pair of large, round brown eyes, and their clear-cut cheeks made them look like serious old philosophers when they were not barking. Meng Li often forgot that Julie was actually a young female dog; he always called it "Old Chu".
c.o.c.ker Spaniels have very long fur, are very active and like burrowing. That’s why when he took Julie out for a walk, its fur would be hooked by gra.s.s and thorns, and then it would sob painfully. When Meng Li helped untie its tangled furs, it would happily lick his hand in grat.i.tude, and then it quickly forgot the pain and went on burrowing among the gra.s.s.
At first, Meng Li only walked the dog near the host family, but gradually he went farther and farther, sometimes even going all the way to the outskirts of the town. As days went by, residents along the route started to recognize him and they would greet him. Occasionally, some people would catch up with him and walked their dogs with him.
Days pa.s.sed plainly liked that and nothing memorable happened until the end o
f his studies. After graduation, he changed his mind and decided to return to his motherland, which was not perfect yet very familiar to him. The night before boarding the plane, the host family had a lively farewell party for him on the lawn in their backyard, and many residents of the town, whom he knew or had never met before, came to attend the party.
He prepared a lot of presents, hugged and thanked the family members one by one, and said goodbye to Julie. Julie probably didn’t know that he was about to leave. It just bit the bottom of his trouser leg to drag him out, urging him that it was time to go out for a walk. He patted its head, pulled out the trouser leg from its mouth, and said goodbye to it in Chinese so that it wouldn’t understand what he had said. Julie stopped badgering him, it just glanced at him and then ran away to play with the other dogs brought by the guests.
The next morning, he got up very early to catch his flight at an airport in a big city. He quietly dragged his luggage out of the house, took a taxi and left.
With nothing in England to be lingered upon wistfully, his mind was only occupied by the expectation of returning home.
Only when he went aboard, sat in the seat of the plane, and looked at the busy airport through the porthole did he have a trace of dismay. He was really leaving...
The stewardesses were taking the final inspection before the departure and making notifications to remind pa.s.sengers that the plane was about to take off, and cellphones should be turned off.
Just then, his cellphone rang, and the pa.s.sengers around him cast him side glances. One stewardess gave a friendly smile to him and reminded him to turn off his cellphone.
Embarra.s.sed, Meng Li hurriedly muted the ringtone. In fact, it was not the ringtone of incoming calls, it was just his alarm sound. Every day at this time, he would take Julie out for a walk—sometimes he would forget the time if he was busy with homework. Even if he was just a few minutes late, Julie would be restless and running about in the house. The host or the hostess would knock on his door unreservedly to remind him to complete his task, probably because of the unique rigidness and punctuality of British people?
He felt embarra.s.sed when the scenario occurred frequently, so he set an alarm on his phone in case he forgot again. When the alarm rang, as long as the weather was not extremely harsh outside, he would put aside his homework, change his clothes, take the leash,gather the tools to clean up feces, and go out on time. Julie would be waiting excitedly at the door. After it was tied to the leash, rather than saying he was taking it to a walk, it was more accurate to say Julie was dragging him away from the house...
Meng Li smiled at his surrounding pa.s.sengers apologetically and canceled the daily ringing alarm, because there was no need for it to ring again.
His finger was placed on the power b.u.t.ton. Just when he was about to press it to shut the phone down, he received a message from the host. There was a picture in the message, where Julie was squatting in front of his room, stretching out a paw on the door, and turning its head to look at the camera. Its eyes were full of confusion. The message was accompanied by a brief sentence: It’s still waiting for you to take it outside.
The emotions he had been trying to suppress broke out at that moment. He recalled the long-term meticulous caring of the host family, the friendliness and warm-heartedness of the townspeople, and the times when he took Julie out for a walk every day. Suddenly, tears dropped down from his eyes.
The pa.s.senger next to him thought he was sick, and hurriedly called the stewardess. He could only smile through tears, and said he was alright, just struck by his emotions that he was reluctant to leave.
Meng Li had always thought he did not blend into the British life, when in fact, he was the only one who thought like that. Whether it was Julie or the host family, they had regarded him as a family member instead of a guest, and that’s why they had been a.s.signing him with some tasks.
He suddenly felt regret. He was such a coward; he should have at least said goodbye to them in the morning.
The stewardess reminded him repeatedly to shut off the device. Although he wanted to reply with something, he turned off the phone.
The plane took off, leaving the country that was once strange to him but was now familiar, and heading to his motherland that he was once familiar with yet felt unfamiliar now...
At that point, Zhang Zian heard Meng Li’s cell phone ringing from his pocket.
Meng Li pulled out his cell phone, and turned off the alarm on the screen.