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ISTIL Chapter 9

Qingzhi

It was dawn, and Shi An had stayed up all night.

 

With Yan Zhao’s cell phone still in his hand, he stood by the window of the hospital corridor and looked out.

 

The morning mist was hazy, and the air in the Southern Water Town1water town usually is something like this: 南方水乡
water town 2 water town
would not be very dry even in winter. The cool water vapor hit his face, and the distant lights were soaked in the vapor, making it hard for him to see.

 

Shi An stood in front of the window for more than two hours, making his face frozen and tingling.

 

Standing until about eight o’clock, he figured Lu Qingzhi had probably gotten up, so he lit up his phone and typed in a series of numbers.

 

His knuckles were stiff from the cold, so he struggled to type.

 

Reason told him to think about something before dialing the number out, but instinct prevented him from doing so.

 

So he pressed the dial button abruptly, as if he was afraid of going back. The afterimage brought up by his fingers quickly skipped the screen.

 

The thin sweat from his fingertips stained the screen, leaving a bright stain

 

The phone was answered after a few rings, and Shi An felt his heart beating fast, so fast that his throat seemed to be blocked.

 

He could hardly lift his head because of the choking.

 

“Hello? Who?”​

 

The other side opened the mouth first.

 

It was still Lu Qingzhi’s voice from memory. The texture of her voice was ethereal and indistinct, as if coming from a faraway place.

 

At first it seemed to be soft and gentle, but people who were familiar with her could feel that there was a casual cool and indifference peculiar to Lu Qingzhi in her voice.

 

The Wu Nong soft language2“Wu Nong’s soft language” is generally used to describe the Wu dialect in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province . Because of its soft and gentle speech, it is called “Wu Nong’s soft language”. was muttered by her, light and floating.

 

It seemed that having her speak to a table or lamp was not much different from speaking to a living person.

 

“…I am Shi An.”

 

Shi An thought his voice would tremble badly, but it didn’t.

 

It just sounded a little strange, with a tone that was a little similar to Lu Qingzhi.

 

“…”

 

There was silence for a moment.

 

“…Xiao An? What is it?”

 

If he wasn’t trembling just now, now he was really trembling when he heard this ‘Xiao An’.

 

“Grandma is sick, she went into the emergency room yesterday, and she is not awake yet now.” From last night to now, Shi An said this sentence by himself for the first time.

 

He felt very bad. When he said a word, his heart beat, which made him dizzy.

 

He frowned at himself as his fingers gripped the window pane, his bones flushed white.

 

Obviously the voice of the last sentence was not as light as a small teenager, but now the ending sound has begun to tremble badly.

 

Lu Qingzhi sighed silently.

 

“…Send me the address.” ​Lu Qingzhi said. Her voice was always very weak but was very ethereal. Every sentence sounded like a whisper, like a very soft and inexorable sigh: “I’ll see if I can make it there today…you take care of yourself.”

 

The phone was hung up.

 

When Shi An returned to the ward, Fang Wanqing was sitting next to Jiang Yuan’s bed, holding a cotton swab in her hand, dipping it in water and gently applying it to Jiang Yuan’s pale lips. Her lips looked a little dry and puckered with white dead skin.

 

“I called her,” Shi An put the phone on the table by the bed, “she said she would come over.”

 

Fang Wanqing sniffed and turned her gaze around Shi An’s face without leaving a trace.

 

The lip color was very pale, the look was very pale, and the bottom of the eyes was covered with a light bluish gray.

 

“Aunt Fang, I’ll take care of Grandma, you can go back,” Shi An also sat down, looking a bit tired, “It’s been a hard night.”

 

From last night until now, Shi An found that he could not predict his emotions at all. It seemed that the reactions he made in the face of everything were random and out of his control.

 

In the face of the unknown that couldn’t be accurately judged, people could appear to be in a mess.

 

He did not allow himself to be in a mess, and he did not want anyone to see him in a mess either.

 

Fang Wanqing was hesitant at first, but when she raised her eyes to take a look at Shi An’s expression, she didn’t know what had occurred to her and only nodded gently, saying, “Okay. Call me anytime, take care of Grandma and take care of yourself.”

 

Shi An smiled at her. The corners of his mouth did not move much and the corners of his eyes were slightly bent.

 

At three o’clock in the afternoon, Shi An was woken up by a phone call.

 

He was not feeling well, and he had not slept all night. He was too tired to open his eyes. He was afraid that Lu Qingzhi’s call would disturb the patients in the ward and he was afraid that the vibrating sound would not wake him up, so he simply took the phone and went to sit outside the corridor.

 

There was a row of chairs against the wall in the corridor. No one was sitting there, so Shi An sat on them and slowly lay down.

 

The stainless steel surface of the chair was very cold, so cold that he shivered uncontrollably.

 

Just a little sleep.

 

He felt that it was very hard to move his body. It seemed that there was some kind of beast hiding in the dark. If his movement was a little bit bigger, the beast would pounce and bite without mercy.

 

He moved sideways and curled slightly in a very slow motion.

 

Before passing out, he did think he would just squint for a little while, but immediately after lying down, he lost consciousness like a power failure.

 

Lu Qingzhi made two phone calls, and only when the third phone was about to ring off did someone pick up the phone.

 

“…Hello?”

 

The voice was hoarse, with a soft, nasal ending.

 

Lu Qingzhi’s heart twitched uncontrollably, but sighed lightly, “Shi An, I’ve been waiting for a long time.”

 

“…I’m sorry.” There was a rustle, it seemed to be running.

 

Two minutes later, Shi An pushed open the glass doors of the hospital and walked up to her.

 

The feeling was subtle. Blood was thicker than water so they instinctively had a bond and affection for each other that couldn’t be ignored. However, they had not seen each other for many years so they felt overwhelmingly strange.

 

Both knew that the other party was just a familiar passerby.

 

Obviously, she immediately recognized the other party as soon as she saw him, but her face was still uncontrollable, showing that kind of dazed, unfamiliar, uncertain look on her face as if she had to go through a process.

 

After going through the process, Lu Qingzhi returned to her calm demeanor, looking at the person in front of her from head to toe up and down.

 

Shi An was almost as tall as hers. He was still young and his face was very immature, but traces of beauty could be seen between his eyebrows and his eyes. His amber eyes were very similar to hers; they were bloodshot.

 

Like her, but not like her.

 

There seemed to be a gentleness hidden in those eyes that was so clean and free from impurities. And not in her eyes.

 

Lu Qingzhi was still the same as his vague memory, with clear eyebrows, long hair and a plain dress. The expression was extremely weak, seemingly gentle and harmless, but in fact it carried the coldness from the bones.

 

Eight years ago, if Shi An had not left her and moved to Qingjiu Alley, he would probably be more like her now.

 

The face of the woman in front of him remained unchanged, but her eyes revealed a look of relief.

 

Shi An couldn’t understand.

 

Lu Qingzhi went upstairs and walked to the front of the ward. After entering, she closed the door with her backhand and shut Shi An out. After about seven or eight minutes, Lu Qingzhi came out, glanced lightly at Shi An and said, “I found a hotel nearby, call me if anything happens.”

 

Although standing face to face, Lu Qingzhi’s voice did not seem much more real than on the phone. Still remote and ethereal, light as a puff of smoke.

 

It was the same kind of smoke that floated over the cold pools of deep forests.

 

“En.”

 

Shi An found that he really had no way to predict his emotions. For example, what he had guessed earlier; sadness, loss, embarrassment, and even dependence, did not seem to appear.

 

He was as calm as a pool of stagnant water with no ripples.

 

This feeling was neither good nor bad.

 

He stood in front of the window, watching Lu Qingzhi’s thin back disappear at the end of the corridor.

 

What to do now?

 

He wanted to sleep again.

 

Shi An went back to the ward and buried his face in Jiang Yuan’s arms for a while, then walked out into the corridor and lay back on the bench, curling himself up slowly on his side.

 

His consciousness seemed to float in the air, weak and faint, with no way to completely break away from his control and no way to return to his body with clarity.

 

Like a lighthouse on a gray sea, it flickered on and off, occasionally visible, but once people went towards it, it was lost in the sea again.

 

So when the sound of footsteps sounded in the corridor, Shi An was already half awake, but couldn’t open his eyes.

 

He was immersed in a swirl of weariness. His eyelids illuminated by the setting sun as a blood red and now there was a black shadow in this red.

 

Someone was standing nearby watching him.

 

It was already sunset; the wine-colored sunset reflected on his eyelids from the window and the boy’s vision was mixed in with the blood red.

 

Shi An couldn’t tell if it was the line of sight or the afterglow of the bloody sun that was burning his eyelids.

 

The boy crouched down, the soap fragrance from the corner of his clothes wafted into his nose.

 

The person moved very gently to brush his forehead hair, a warm palm touched his forehead.

 

“It’s not burned, ah…” Yan Liang’s voice rang in his ears. The voice of a teenager who hadn’t yet changed sounded clear, with an inconspicuous grainy texture: “How can you be so tired… Xiao An, can you hear me? Wake up?”

 

Yan Liang didn’t often call him that.

 

Shi An felt his heart suddenly beat heavier.

 

He was so tired that it seemed to take all his strength to open his eyes. And with Yan Liang’s palm resting on his forehead, he was so relieved that he didn’t want to open his eyes anymore.

 

He was like a butterfly whose consciousness began to blur when it was submerged in water, trying to flap its wings but unable to do so, and simply stopped moving and slowly drowned.

 

For the first time, it was so clear that as long as Yan Liang was by his side, nothing seemed too bad.

 

 


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  • 1
    water town usually is something like this: 南方水乡
    water town 2 water town
  • 2
    “Wu Nong’s soft language” is generally used to describe the Wu dialect in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province . Because of its soft and gentle speech, it is called “Wu Nong’s soft language”.
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