In a private room of a coffee shop, Su Yun took out the tablet from the document bag and said to the teenager sitting opposite:
“Not many people knew about it back then. After all, more than ten years have passed. It took Song Xin some time to find an insider, who is an old person in the village and once worked as a midwife.”
Song Xin was a very capable private investigator. Since Lin Qinhe asked her some time ago, she hired Song Xin and asked Song Xin to go to Taoxi Bay in Qingshui County.
“The old woman was very alert at first. It took Song Xin some time to get the old woman to tell the truth, all recorded in this video.” Su Yun tapped the video on the tablet and handed it to Lin Qinhe.
Lin Qinhe looked at the video in silence, but did not pick it up quickly.
He never found himself so cowardly before, so cowardly that he didn’t seem to have the courage to confirm the suspicions that made him painful every time he thought about it.
Even if it was already obvious.
He finally took a deep breath, put on the headphones and opened the video on the tablet.
The video was recorded by Song Xin in Taoxi Bay. A gray-haired old woman sat in a hall and spoke with a strong dialect accent to tell the old story that happened in a farmer’s house in Taoxi Bay on a winter night seventeen years ago.
“The painting lady had lived in our village for more than half a year. She had been living with Tao family’s daughter-in-law. The two had a very good relationship. Coincidentally, both of them were pregnant with children and gave birth on the same day. The Tao family mother-in-law asked me and the village Granny Liu to help deliver the baby.”
“Tao’s daughter-in-law gave birth to a boy less than a month old. Granny Liu said at the time that the child might not be easy to raise. I remember clearly that there was a large red spot on the baby’s right wrist. Tao’s daughter-in-law and mother-in-law certainly would not be wrong.”
“Oh, it’s a pity that the painting lady had a lot of bleeding shortly after giving birth. We sent her to the health clinic in the town but she lost her breath before she arrived. I also later heard that the girl and the child were picked up by the family.”
“But then I found that there was no red spot on the right hand of the child raised by the Tao family. I felt wrong at that time. I was afraid that I remembered wrong. I asked Granny Liu once. She said that she also remembered that the child of the Tao family had a birthmark on his hand. We just know that the Tao family quietly changed the two children.”
“Before Granny Liu left a few years ago, she told me about this several times, saying that she was not at ease in her heart, I‘m also not at ease.”
“It’s a sin. The baby who should have grown up in the city grew up in our mountain. How sad it is for his mother to watch it from the sky.”
Lin Qinhe turned off the video and closed his dry and red eyes. His fingers were trembling and clenched tightly, and his nails were severely carved into his palms, so hard that the joints ache.
He had long been psychologically prepared, imagining countless possibilities, and speculated on human nature with the greatest malice. But at the moment when he learned the absurd truth, he still felt furious. The intense hatred and anger were like a prairie fire, almost burning his internal organs.
He was unforgivable to that family, unforgivable to their botched selfishness.
He could not forgive the two old women who witnessed everything. Since their conscience was troubled, why did they choose to be hypocritically silent?
He could not forgive even the people around him. Why did the two old men of the Fang family, Yang Zhengming, his mother Luo Zhengyin, all those people who seemed to be obsessed with Fang Sui for so many years, why did they never return to the place where Fang Sui last lived to see the child who had been left behind?
But what followed the prevailing anger was endless pain and remorse, memories swept and flooded him like an overwhelming snowfall, each snowflake was like a sharp, pointed knife, twisting and grinding on his heart.
“Classmate Lin, can I borrow your notebook and copy it?”
“…I, I just want to find a chance to talk to you, I want to be…be friends with you.””
“Don’t use this boring way, let alone use Yang Duole.”
“This is a gift from Yang Duole’s father. He didn’t come today. You can bring it back to him.”
“If I tell you, I want to cry now, but there is nowhere to cry, are you satisfied?”
“My birthday is also on Christmas.”
“If one day I get sick too, and it hurts very much, will you come to see me?”
“Remember the eighteen-year-old letter your mother gave you? I think she hopes that when you open the letter, you have grown into a strong and optimistic adult.”
“Lin Qinhe, I will also strive to become a strong and optimistic adult.”
“If I grew up with you, would you still like me?”
Those details that had been noticed and ignored, those lurking behind the smile, the painful resentment he had tried to suppress
Obviously there were traces to follow, and the foreshadowing had already been laid, but he didn’t know.
He didn’t know.
He couldn’t forgive himself either.
“Qinhe?” Su Yun called softly, her eyes looked worried. She almost had the illusion that the teenager in front of her was going to shed tears.
Lin Qinhe wanted to say something, but found that his throat was stagnant, like being blocked by hot coals, as if every breath he took in would tug at his aching, numb heart.
He forced himself to calm down, and it took a lot of strength before he asked in a deep, dull voice.
“Did she not say how he grew up?”
Su Yun looked at the teenager whom she watched growing up. How could she not understand his feelings for the child? She sighed lightly:
“How can you grow up in a place like that?”
Fate was inherently unfair. Some people were born with a golden spoon, and while others were born like dirt. But a shining star was buried in the mud at the bottom of the well by an absurd fate. Perhaps after exhausting his energy, he could only be silent and buried in the dust all his life.
Lin Qinhe did not know, but he still did not dare to think about how well Tao Xi had been in that home these years.
Those adults who knew he was not their own child, did they treat him well out of guilt? When he was sick, did anyone take care of him? When it rained, would there be someone to pick him up from school? He loved sweets so much, would someone buy him candy?
Every Christmas in the past year, would anyone buy a birthday cake for his Tao Xi?
People could be parents for the second, third or even more times, but they could only ever be children once. Some things that had been missed in this life would never come back.
Outside the door came a faint cheerful Christmas songs. It was the same familiar tune every year, but people never seemed to get tired of hearing it, listening to it year after year.
Lin Qinhe closed his eyes lightly. He suddenly stood up from his seat and turned to leave, but was called by Su Yun, who took out an old wallet from her bag and spoke quickly about another matter:
“Tao Jian resigned a few days ago. I specifically went to that property company to inquire about it. I heard from his colleague that Tao Jian often went out some time ago, saying that he was gambling and had lost a lot of money, but he had never asked a colleague to borrow money.”
Tao Jian’s job was arranged with her help. Lin Qinhe was investigating this matter recently, so she also paid attention to Tao Jian’s side.
“His colleague gave me a wallet he dropped in the staff dormitory, I had thought Tao Jian might come back to look for it, but he didn’t come even once and his colleagues don’t know where he’s gone.”
Lin Qinhe was almost certain who had given Tao Jian the money. He took the wallet from Su Yun in silence.
The wallet had obviously been used for many years, the rough and poor leather had been worn out a lot. There was not much money inside, but he saw at a glance that there was a group photo in the transparent compartment of the wallet.
The photo might have been taken in a photo studio in a village and town. The background was a hanging Tiananmen curtain. In the center of the curtain sat a couple in their thirties, and next to the woman’s right stood a girl of seven or eight year old.
Lin Qinhe quickly recognized that the girl was Tao Xi’s painted sister, and the couple spoke for themselves.
In order to be able to fit into the interlayer, the photo seemed to be randomly folded up around the edges. His fingers paused, pulled the photo out and unfolded the part that was folded up.
In the complete photo, there was a boy about ten years old standing next to Tao Jian.
The boy was standing straight, slightly raising his chin at the camera, wearing an old yellow school uniform with a red scarf neatly wrapped around his neck, and holding out his right hand in a salute gesture.
The corners of his mouth grin wide, a pair of curved eyes were as bright as stars, and the smile was brighter than the sun.
As if he was the happiest child in the world.
Lin Qinhe looked at the boy who was folded up in the family portrait, his adam’s apple rolled violently. He thanked Su Yun solemnly in a dumb voice, turned and walked out.
The first snow fell on Christmas Eve, and snowflakes drifted to the ground quietly amidst the Christmas songs all over the street. The colorful umbrellas on the streets undulated high and low, and there were radiant neon everywhere.
Su Yun anxiously chased him to the cafe door, handed his umbrella to Lin Qinhe, and said softly in a comforting voice.
“Everything is still lucky. Fortunately you walked to him, didn’t you?”
Lin Qinhe’s shoulders were covered with crystal clear snowflakes, he shook his head: “It was him who walked to me.”
He walked briskly into the wind and snow with his umbrella.
T/N: This chapter is so short I double check lest I only translated half of it. The usual word counts for a chapter is 4000 words and this chapter is only half of it (it’s the 2nd shortest chapter) lol