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First Published on Chaleuria
057 – “Came looking for you.”
"A fight? Like a fistfight?"
Xie Yu absently hummed in a.s.sent, then walked forward. The stick in his hand sc.r.a.ped loudly against the muddy floor.
Zhou Dalei, who wasn't yet prepared to fight it out: "……"
Xie Yu seemed to be a fight magnet. And in all the fights Zhou Dalei had been in growing up, he likely wouldn't have managed if Grandpa Xie Yu hadn't been around.
Every time Xie Yu stood on smoking battlefields like this, he didn't even need to speak. Just one glance from him could rile his opponent up from the bottom of his heart: All right, you want a fight, do you? You look down on me, do you? You think I can't beat you, do you?
At this point, Zhou Dalei reached out and tugged at Xie Yu. "Boss Xie, at least wait until I find a weapon."
Xie Yu handed over the stick in his hand. He could go at it with his bare fists, anyway. "Now you do."
Xie Yu was too eye-catching, and even the group staring them down couldn't help noticing that among the Guang Mao lot was a boy who looked like he was itching to start a fight. They raised their voices and started yelling. "Fine! We'll have it out today! Mei-jie, we usually respect you as the big sis of this place but you're getting full of yourself."
"Why f.u.c.king bother talking rubbish with them?" The head guy shook the ash from his cigarette, slouching as he walked. "We came here to trash the place!"
Having heard everything, He Zhao's thoughts of, 'When I see my little friend later, I'll give him a surprise. d.a.m.n, I'm a model boyfriend. When I appear in all my splendor, my little friend will be moved to death, and then we'll hold hands and walk down the street together, so romantically,' immediately shattered.
He Zhao squatted on the corner of an unfamiliar street, looking at the haphazard skyline of the residential area ahead, and noticed the words Guang Mao.
He thought, My little friend's violence-filled days really are exciting.
Xie Yu hung up the phone, walked up, and asked quietly, "Who are you and what do you do? You can't mess around on the streets like this forever."
Xie Yu listened to them for a while. They were spouting a load of rubbish and he didn't catch a single useful piece of information. Who knew what trivialities had made them a.s.semble here today. He had initially listened patiently, thinking they might say something new, but they threw insults left and right, greeted eighteen generations of his ancestors, and even repeated the curses they used like a broken record. When it came down to it, they only seemed to know those few curse words.
"Just some riffraff. Very annoying. From North Street. I really f.u.c.king…" Xu Yanmei's voice was still hoa.r.s.e from just having smoked a cigarette and she subconsciously reverted to cursing. She abruptly stopped herself mid-sentence and glared at Xie Yu. "What am I doing… I should be asking you that. What are you doing? Lei-zai, you'd better take him and go."
Zhou Dalei stood to one side and immediately said, "You think I can move him?"
Xu Yanmei: "……"
Simply put, several days earlier, several truckloads of goods had arrived for Xu Yanmei. She hadn't had enough help at Guang Mao, so she had asked the supervisor to find several more people. The supervisor, being greedy, had taken a cut from the budget and then gotten workers of dubious background to do the job.
After the goods had been moved, when the supervisor took stock, he found the quant.i.ties weren't right.
Before he could settle the score with the temporary workers, they retaliated first. They stuck around on the ground floor of Guang Mao and refused to leave, complaining that they were good people who had been wronged and falsely accused, and demanded compensation for emotional injury.
It sounded preposterous.
But things like this happened here nearly every day.
They weren't cultured, and order was not well-maintained here. Many people dropped out of school and would rather make a living on the street, making a few 'lifelong' friends and forming small gangs and sects. Although they didn't gain any traction, they still had a little power.
They couldn't do menial labor for a lifetime.
And yet they arrogantly fell in with gangs and thought themselves better for it.
Xu Yanmei had been at a standstill with them for such a long time because she didn't want to really fight them. Perhaps she was getting on in years and growing more merciful, wanting to show mercy where she could. She had intended to scare them down, but this lot of trash was the sort who wouldn't cry until they saw their graves.
While Xie Yu wasn't looking, Xu Yanmei threw away the cigarette b.u.t.t she had finished smoking but couldn't bear to toss. "d.a.m.n it. Can't hold back any more."
"Trying to get one over on me," Xu Yanmei said. "And what psychological damage. Medical bills, on the other hand, I'll consider."
Xie Yu said, "Fight'em."
Zhou Dalei said, "Give them a proper beating and they'll be good."
Pa.s.sersby were now all watching the excitement. But people from around here watched on with stone-cold faces; after all, scenes like this happened every day. No one called the police. This was standard practice. People from the streets solve their problems on the streets.
Xu Yanmei said, "You two can fight over my dead body! Get back, quick!"
There were about a dozen people on that side and a dozen people on this side.
The two groups of people hemmed and hawed for nearly half an hour. Xie Yu twisted his wrists, about to start and be done with it, but then he heard the voices around him grow several pitches higher.
Xie Yu turned to look and saw a line of people walking over from the other side of the street, all carrying weapons. The one in front, leading the group, looked in high spirits.
Although they didn't know what was going on, the sea of onlookers parted to give them a way through.
Xu Yanmei glanced over, too. "Who is this? What are they doing?"
Zhou Dalei kept looking, and saw something familiar. "This guy… looks a little familiar?"
Xie Yu said nothing but cursed internally.
"Eat some more. How does it taste? If it's good, get another bowl of rice!" By the time Xie Yu had come back to his senses, he was sitting at Aunt Mei's dinner table. He poked at the rice in his bowl with his chopsticks, then watched as Comrade Xu Yanmei picked up a piece of barbecued pork, pa.s.sed him by, and placed it in the bowl of the person next to him.
He Zhao said thank you many times. "It tastes very good. This barbecued meat is fat but not greasy, and seasoned perfectly."
Aunt Mei put another piece of barbecued meat into He Zhao's bowl. She was delighted at the praise and said proudly, "No need to thank me! Don't stand on ceremony."
Xie Yu put down his chopsticks. He didn't want to talk.
Zhou Dalei, on the other hand, had no such reservations. He was overjoyed. "Ah, just now… that was brilliant. Bro, where did you find so many people?"
He Zhao said, "At the internet cafe one street over. Flash mob."
Zhou Dalei: "……"
When He Zhao arrived at Guang Mao with his crowd, he had made a big show of defusing the situation. He was very good at putting on a show, and the ragtag lot had really taken him for a powerful street figure. Zhou Dalei had watched the whole thing with growing admiration and he was squatting on the ground, laughing so hard he clutched his stomach by the end of it all. "Boss Xie, your schoolmate is really something. He's destined for greatness."
Xie Yu thought, Yes, the future Excavator Big Bro. Can he be anything but formidable?
Aunt Mei's dining room was a small s.p.a.ce barely cordoned off from the living room. If she was hosting many people, they would set up a big round folding table in the back garden. But they would have to check the weather report first and pick a calm and auspicious day.
If Xie Yu leaned backwards, his back would touch the wall.
"What's the matter?" He Zhao put down his chopsticks, his hand dropping below the table to touch Xie Yu's. "Why aren't you eating?"
Xie Yu took a long time to say, "Just resting."
Xu Yanmei had a very good first impression of He Zhao. He was the first cla.s.smate Xie Yu had brought home, and he was silver-tongued and good at conversation. In the end, Zhou Dalei didn't get to eat many pieces of the barbecued pork because it all went into He Zhao's bowl.
"Aunt Mei, don't give him any more." Xie Yu watched Aunt Mei endlessly grabbing food for He Zhao and said, "He can't eat any more."
Only now did Xu Yanmei put down the chopsticks and say thoughtfully, "I do seem to have fed him a little much."
It sounded like she was feeding a pig.
Having fed him, Xu Yanmei kept holding on to him. "How is our Xiao-yu doing in school? He's impulsive. If you can stop him, try to talk to him a little."
Xie Yu tried to convince Comrade Xu Yanmei that the few fights he had had this semester had all been with the person currently standing in front of her.
He Zhao immediately said, "Our Xiao-yu… no, your Xiao-yu, he… does quite well in school."
Xie Yu's left eyelid twitched. He had a bad premonition.
As expected, the very next moment, he heard He Zhao start in on his nonsense. Something about being attentive in cla.s.s, hardworking in his studies, being a team player who loved his friends and was respectful of the school rules… all these things came out.
Worried He Zhao would get more and more preposterous with his praise, Xie Yu grabbed He Zhao's hand under the table.
Xu Yanmei did not notice anything amiss. She felt a little embarra.s.sed at the praise, and stepped up to mention a flaw. "Our Xiao-yu's grades are a little less than ideal."
"It's fine," He Zhao said. "I'm even less ideal than he is."
Xu Yanmei: "……"
Zhou Dalei had not eaten lunch and was starving, so he was currently stuffing the leftover barbecued pork into his mouth.
Xu Yanmei turned and went to the kitchen to cut some fruit. She wielded her fruit knife like a weapon, the sound of it crashing down quite terrifying.
Xie Yu was still clutching He Zhao's hand and hadn't let go all this time. He rested one finger lightly on He Zhao's hand, crooking it as he asked, "What are you doing here?"
He Zhao leaned close to his ear and whispered, "Came looking for you."
They didn't keep talking. Their eyes met, and suddenly nothing needed to be said.
Xie Yu averted his eyes, feeling his ear where He Zhao had bent to talk to him now burning up.
Xu Yanmei was bl.u.s.tery, but the plate of fruit she made looked good. There was even an exquisite ring of walnuts arranged around the rim.
He Zhao hesitantly asked, "This is…?"
Xu Yanmei dusted off her hands, walked out of the kitchen, and said bluntly, "Eat up. It's good for your brain."
Xie Yu: "……"
He Zhao: "……"
When they left, their hands were both stuffed with bags of walnuts, already peeled. Enough to last them a long time. Carrying the red plastic bags, Xie Yu's feelings were complicated.
He Zhao, on the other hand, seemed quite happy. This joy lasted all the way to the bus station as he walked side by side with Xie Yu and waited for the bus. He finally couldn't hold it in any more. "Does this count as meeting your family?"