It just happened to be the longest noon of summer. Outside the teaching building of No. 1 High School, the large branches and leaves were thriving, and the glass windows were mottled with light and shadow, motionless, stuck in the moment when there was no wind.
At the field, it was the last physical education class before the lunch break.
The boys played tirelessly on the basketball court under the scorching sun, and their large sleeveless shirts were soaked with sweat. The girls nestled under a few huge parasols, waving the water bottle in their hand joyfully, whoever won, they would give it to them. The petite face was full of vitality, causing the male classmates to cheer and rush.
No.1 High School was full of youthful breath. Study, exercise, and love were always inseparable from the age of 18.
It was just that all this had nothing to do with Liao Nanqing. He didn’t like to play in the hot sun nor was he accepted by anyone.
He looks like a reticent alien, with a slight bruise on the corner of his mouth. His eyes were dim, repeating the lengthy loneliness. Sitting alone in the shade of a tree, the phone buzzed and vibrated in his pocket regardless. His beautifully lined chin was particularly noticeable in his thin cheeks, revealing a deviating silence.
A basketball deliberately rolled to his feet.
“Little Convict!1raw: 小劳犯 ( literally means little laborer): 劳犯 is a abbreviation for 劳动改造 (reeducation through labor / laogai (prison camp)” They called him with a sneer, “Why don’t you answer the phone!”
Liao Nanqing raised those hazy eyes and stood up. The thin and slender body gradually disappeared in the shadows, almost out of sight.
The stationery shop outside the school had been open for more than ten years. It had just been renovated a while ago so the display of things had become more tidy. Several packets of scattered cigarettes were placed in the cashier counter. They were being kept in the corner, and sometimes the teachers came to patronize.
At noon when the wind was faint, Liao Nanqing’s hair was blown into a mess, there was a small bruise on his forehead and his eyes were filled with confusion. He said hoarsely to the young man in his early twenties: “I want to buy cigarettes.”
Thinking about it, he added: “I want the cheapest one.”
The young man, Su Beimo, the nephew of the proprietress of the stationery shop, came to help taking care of the shop. He was 21 years old this year, going to be a senior after the summer vacation. When he stood up, he was about 185 cm tall. At a glance, he was wearing blue short sleeves, white slacks, with a pair of flip-flops. He yawned casually. He glanced up and down at Liao Nanqing, then looked at the name badge on his chest, with the class and name written on the top.
‘Liao Nanqing’, Su Beimo said silently in his heart, and replied decisively: “No.”
“Yes, I saw it.”
“Your school leader said hello to us.” Su Beimo looked like he was too lazy to pay attention to him. He despised these kinds of high school students, “Don’t sell it to you guys.”
The teenager took a look at the cigarette on the inside of the counter, his eyes were red, like plums in May. It was hard to say whether it was a headache or there was no way out. Su Beimo took out a box of hard fruit candies from the counter: “There is still this one.” However, Liao Nanqing didn’t take the box of hard candies, and instead left with his head down.
His back was pressed against a brick, slightly hunched, cowering.
In the heat of the summer afternoon, the line of sight was distorted together.
Su Beimo couldn’t help but glanced at him more because of this, and put the hard candy back into the glass counter. The middle-aged woman in the back room took a bag and walked out with a bag of fruit: “Beimo, I want you to help take care of the store in the afternoon. I’ll give your grandma some fruits. If students come to pick up the ordered stationery, they are all here.”
“Got it.” Su Beimo responded, “Auntie, when you go back, if you pass my dad’s office, tell him I am going home tonight. His phone was turned off when I called.”
When Su Beimo was four years old, his parents divorced and his mother went to City A because of work. He stayed in this small county with his father, Su Jing. Since Su Jing was a workaholic, Su Ya, the only aunt, took on the responsibility of taking care of the details of Su Beimo’s life.
The aunt’s husband died in an accident. After that, she did not remarry and had no children. She had always taken Su Beimo as her own son.
Generally speaking, he could kill time in the afternoon with two movies. Su Beimo was sick of time being too fast. But for the students who had to go to cram school on this hot summer day, they hoped for time to have wings, flying faster and faster.
Once it was three o’clock, the cram school was over. The high school students swarmed out of the school in school uniforms, like a colony of white ants, quickly occupied the canteen and swept away the cold drink and popsicles.
Su Beimo was busy collecting money, and completely lost the free time he had just now.
“Boss, the stationery ordered by our class!”
“Here!” Su Beimo wanted to have a shadow clone; he walked to the room at the back after collecting the money, moving out the stationery box by box. “Three boxes, you register it.”
The small shop was crowded with noisy students, and there was also a familiar figure. Liao Nanqing was out of place, and the surrounding students kept their distance from him. No matter how crowded, they didn’t want to run into him, as if he was a stranger.
Three boys carrying stationery struggled to squeeze out and accidentally bumped into a girl.
The injured girl’s arm was rubbed against Liao Nanqing’s arm. As the skin touched, Liao Nanqing’s complexion instantly paled. The girl let out a scream, pushing away from the crowd as if he was dirty and cursing as she ran. The boy who bumped into the girl apologized again and again, but when he turned his head and saw Liao Nanqing’s expression, he shut his mouth as if he swallowed a fly.
He didn’t want to apologize to Liao Nanqing.
Liao Nanqing stepped back helplessly, his trouser pockets bulging.
He stole something?
Su Beimo frowned, leaned forward and grabbed Liao Nanqing who was about to leave. The voice in the canteen suddenly dropped to zero, as if secretly changing a world, quietly.
“Hey…” Su Beimo said.
Suddenly, Liao Nanqing shrank his head in a panic, and turned his eyes to the few boys who were waiting for him outside the canteen. The boys whistled with a smile and laughed at him imposingly, as if watching a good show.
Su Beimo noticed, and immediately changed his words: “Come and help.”
Liao Nanqing didn’t understand and looked at him in confusion, his eyes were timid but full of guard. He trembled a little, very lightly that others could not notice, but Su Beimo could feel it when he grasped his hand. Although Liao Nanqing lowered his head, the newly added bruise on the corner of his mouth was very clear. So, after three seconds, Su Beimo repeated: “Come and help.” He said with a light and gentle voice.
The shop suddenly full of sigh and the noise resumed.
And the young man obediently helped Su Beimo take this and that, collected money for change, and quietly did not escape. After half an hour, Su Beimo’s work came to an end. Liao Nanqing stood in the empty shop, with beads of sweat on his forehead, and a lot of dust on his white school uniform. He took out the two packs of cigarettes in his pocket and put them on the glass counter: “I just… put the money on the counter.”
“These two packs of cigarettes cost 40, so you give me 30?” Su Beimo wanted to put the cigarettes back into the counter, but before he moved them, Liao Nanqing’s hand was pressed against them.
He hurriedly said: “Then I will give you another ten yuan!”
“The school rules of No. 1 High School are very strict. I don’t know about you, but if I sell you cigarettes, the school will talk to us. Understand?” Su Beimo broke his hand off, took out three pieces of ten yuan from the drawer and placed them on the back of his hand, scratching his white fingers with the remaining light, shining lightly.
Liao Nanqing didn’t speak anymore. He dodged the scolding gaze of Su Beimo. His skinny figure in a large school uniform didn’t fit well. His skin was fair for a boy, and his eyes were beautiful. It was just that there were too many emotions in them, and they looked impure. He hesitated for a while and said awkwardly, “I won’t tell anyone that I bought it from you.”
Su Beimo thought of the little ruffian students who were standing outside waiting for him earlier, frowned, and did not answer. He cleaned the counter, put his bag on his back, and gently reached out and pushed the boy’s shoulder: “I’m going to close the door.”
Liao Nanqing walked out in frustration. After taking a few steps, he came back and begged him unwillingly: “Can you sell me the cigarette, just this time. I really will buy it once.”
“You can buy it elsewhere, don’t come to me to buy it.” Su Beimo skillfully pulled down the iron door and locked it.
“But they specified that it should be from you. They stare at me.” Liao Nanqing knew that this request was playing tricks on him, the more he couldn’t buy it, the more reason they had to say to him. But he had no choice, no way at all.
He had to accept these difficulties if he wanted to finish his third year of high school.
“Why does it matter to me?” Su Beimo shrugged, looking unwilling to pay attention.
Liao Nanqing was ignored, rarely showing an annoyed look. He walked further away with his school bag on his back. Su Beimo walked behind, thinking that such a persuasive person still had a temper?
When he received a call from his father Su Jing, Su Beimo was just about to get on the bus.
Su Jing asked him to find a vegetable market nearby to buy some vegetables. The father and son hadn’t seen each other for half a month so Su Jing planned to cook a good meal tonight.
Su Beimo had been living with his grandmother for a few days to accompany the elder so it was rare for him to go home and stay for a few days, hence, Su Jing was very concerned.
Since Su Beimo’s parents divorced, neither party had remarried. A strong woman, a workaholic, there was no big contradiction but it was not suitable for marriage. Su Jing’s staid and boring personality, stubborn and rigorous temper, fitted his work as a researcher. Mama Su was good at interpersonal communication and had an open-minded personality. She started a small company in City A and was in the clothing business.
Although Su Beimo looked like Su Jing, his temper was exactly the same as Mama Su’s good temper.
In the past summer vacation, Su Beimo would stay at City A for a month. This year, his plan to go to City A was delayed because of helping his aunt to take care of the store.
Su Beimo remembered that Su Jing liked to eat okra, so he bought it specially, and visited several deli shops along the way.
It was hard to find a store that looked good, and unluckily when he came out, he ran into that weird Liao Nanqing again.
In fact, Su Beimo could completely pretend that he didn’t see him, but Liao Nanqing was pushed around with a lot of strength by a few boys wearing school uniforms. At five o’clock in the evening, the bustling vegetable market gradually became quiet, stalls were closing, and people were returning home. There was no camera here and the bullying behavior of high school students wouldn’t be known.
Su Beimo passed by them and walked to the platform to wait for the bus.
Liao Nanqing was just ten steps away from him, being pulled by the collar.
Mixed with laughter, nonchalant verbal abuse. Liao Nanqing was hit and hurt, and his lips trembled suddenly.
“You are just like your dad, it’s all trash.” Someone laughed, as if it was a funny joke.
The quiet Liao Nanqing suddenly turned red and raised his arm to resist the opponent.
- 1raw: 小劳犯 ( literally means little laborer): 劳犯 is a abbreviation for 劳动改造 (reeducation through labor / laogai (prison camp)