At the beginning, Tang Xu had no intention of taking Tang Cuo away.
After seeing him covered in wounds, he was angry and felt sorry for him, wanting to help him.
He had various emotions, but not to the extent of “I want to take this child away.”
Tang Xu took Tang Cuo on a donkey cart and carried him a long way to find the “small clinic in the neighbouring village” that Wei An mentioned.
Tang Cuo didn’t say a word all the way and obediently laid on his shoulder, staring absentmindedly at the road behind them.
Later, Tang Xu went to Wei An to understand the situation.
Since Wei An was not very clear, he took him to an old man in a village who was relatively sensible.
The old man had just rolled a cigarette, which was actually a thin, two-layered piece of broken rice paper with some cheap tobacco that was sold in hemp sacks.
At that time, Tang Xu already had a pack of cigarettes in his pocket.
He took a step forward and handed the old man a Red Pagoda Mountain cigarette.
It was not a precious cigarette.
The old man took it and smelled it, then sighed and put it aside.
He picked up the broken cigarette again.
“After smoking good cigarettes, if you smoke this one, it will change the taste.” The old man shook his head and took a puff.
“So, you can’t taste it.”
“You’re talking about Tang Cuo… this child is unlucky even if he is left in this village.” The old man’s speech was particularly slow, and at his age, regardless of how vividly he narrated an emotionally charged event, his tone would always be calm and steady.
“His mother was abducted here.
There was a lot of trouble.
At that time, the old man in that family had not yet died.
Basically, they would fight if they quarrelled.
If it didn’t work, they would tie her up or lock her up.
They were a poor family and finally managed to scrape together some money to buy a wife.
How could they tolerate her making such a fuss? She kept causing trouble, so they beat her up badly… There was no news for a while, and I didn’t see that woman again.
Later, she gave birth to a child, and the name was said to have been given by that woman.
Of course, in that family, she was the only one who knew how to read.
But she didn’t like this child.
I have seen her several times.
She would leave the child on the ground when she went to wash clothes by the river, even on very cold days, and wouldn’t care if the child cried.
There was no expression on her face, as if she hadn’t heard anything.”
Tang Xu was holding a pack of Hongtashan cigarettes and standing still.
He hears Wei An ask, “Does nobody care about human trafficking and crying?”
The old man sighs, “There’s nothing we can do.”
Tang Xu furrows his brow and asks, “What happened after that?”
“Afterwards, the old person from that family died.
Tang Cuo, his father, was a drunkard who couldn’t even chop firewood.
When the old person was still alive, even in the middle of winter, they still had to go to the mountains nearby to pick up firewood.
Their son couldn’t do anything.
Later on, the woman jumped into the river and died.
Her body was never found and was swept away by the river.
The old man lowers his wrinkled eyelids and flicks off some ashes from his cigarette, saying, “It’s better to be dead.
Being alive is nothing but suffering, with no hope for the future.”
On the way back from the old man’s house, after a long silence, Wei An asked, “How is Tang’s health?”
“All injuries need to be slowly taken care of,” Tang Xu said.
As they passed by Tang Cuo’s dilapidated house, Tang Xu stopped and looked inside.
It was quiet, with no signs of activity.
Wei An let out a silent sigh and continued walking.
“The next time he hits a child, we’ll use our village official status to directly lock him up,” Wei An said with some stubbornness.
Tang Xu calmly responded to his suggestion, “You don’t have the authority to do that.
You can choose to report him to the police or try to educate him, but the nearest police station is miles away, and they probably won’t want to deal with this remote and poor area.
As for education, it won’t work.”
“What should I do? As a village official, should I just watch him commit domestic violence?”
The term “domestic violence” becomes especially elusive and difficult to solve once the word “domestic” is added in front of it.
Regardless of their level of education, people who commit domestic violence will always say the same thing when questioned: “I discipline my own son and manage my own wife.
What does it have to do with you?” These people’s defiant looks are like those of a mad dog who claims a mountain and becomes a king.
At first sight of Tang Cuo’s father, Tang Xu impolitely equated him with the term “mad dog” in his mind.
“Hey, it’s the teacher! I’ve never seen a teacher in my whole life.”
With the stench of alcohol mixed in, only an arm’s length away, Tang Xu felt a nauseous impulse.
He held his breath and walked past him into the house.
Tang Cuo was standing next to him, looking up at him.
When he saw Tang Xu walking towards him, he reached out and grabbed his clothes.
Tang Xu covered his waist with his small hand and gently pinched it.
Tang Cuo was stunned, then showed him a small smile.
The room was dimly lit, with only one candle burning in a distorted posture, barely alive.
Tang Xu crouched down and asked Tang Cuo, “Have you eaten?”
Tang Cuo seemed about to answer but was silenced upon seeing a man staring at him ominously from two steps away.
Tang Xu noticed the man’s gaze behind him and lowered his eyes, focusing on Tang Cuo’s ankle hidden under his baggy pants.
He touched Tang Cuo’s head and didn’t mention the injury, turning to ask the man, “I made some egg-fried rice and called the students to come over and eat, but I didn’t see Tang Cuo, so I came to look for him.
Can I take him to try it out and bring him back later?”
The man laughed coarsely, his tongue curling as he spoke, “Sure.”
As soon as they left the house, Tang Xu hugged Tang Cuo again, not letting him touch the ground, and asked if his ankle was feeling better.
Tang Cuo nodded and asked, “Is there really egg-fried rice?”
Tang Xu shook his head, “I lied to him.”
In an instant, the light in Tanguo’s eyes dimmed slightly, and he leaned his head on Tang Xu’s shoulder, sniffing.
Tang Xu smiled and lifted him up.
Holding Tang Cuo in his arms, he could almost feel the shape of his bones.
This child was so thin that he was almost deformed.
“There’s no egg fried rice, but sister ZhiWei made you non-spicy boiled meat.”
When Tang Cuo was in college, some students and waiters laughed when they heard someone ask if they could make boiled pork slices without spicy seasoning.
Tang Cuo didn’t find it funny because he had actually eaten it and found it delicious.
In the later days, it was almost like a time of blessings for Tang Cuo.
Tang Xu would often secretly bring him to the dormitory to eat, where he would try egg fried rice, red bean buns, and many other dishes he had never seen before.
Tang Xu would also check his wounds and ask how his old injuries were healing.
If there were no new wounds, everything was fine, but if there were, Tang Xu would become angry again.
Han Zhiwei had once helped him put on medicine, but halfway through, tears streamed down her face.
Tang Cuo liked both Tang Xu and Han Zhiwei, so he wiped away the tears on Han Zhiwei’s face and said, “Don’t cry, sister.”
Han Zhiwei asked Tang Xu, “Can’t we talk to him? Scold him or even beat him up if we have to.
No one in the village is doing anything about it, but we can.
I don’t believe there will be anyone on our side.”
Tang Xu took a puff of his cigarette and sat on the brick edge by the door.
“We can go and teach him a lesson.
There should be people who will stand by our side and join us in criticising him.
If it works well, he might temporarily restrain himself.
But there is a saying, though it may sound harsh, that is true: A dog cannot change its nature.1The phrase “A dog cannot change its nature” is a common idiom that suggests someone’s inherent character or personality cannot be easily altered.
We will leave soon, and Tang Cuo will be left alone.
I’m afraid that person will take the anger he suffered from us and vent it on Tang Cuo even more.”
As soon as Tang Xu finished speaking, the two of them heard the sound of a water cup falling to the ground.
Tang Xu turned his head and lifted the curtain, seeing Tang Cuo standing next to the table with a water bowl lying by his feet.
Han Zhiwei hurriedly went in to pick him up and lay him on the bed, then turned around to find a towel.
Tang Cuo sat on the edge of the bed, looking at Tang Xu and whispered, “Are you leaving?”
“Hmm?” Tang Xu was surprised.
Tang Cuo lowered his head and tugged at his pants.
He was still wearing the pyjamas that Han Zhiwei had made for him, which were altered versions of Tang Xu’s clothes.
On the day Tang Xu sent Tang Cuo back, Tang Cuo hugged his neck and asked, “When are you leaving?”
Tang Xu did not answer immediately.
Even for him, he felt that this question was too cruel for Tang Cuo.
“In about half a month.”
“Half a month… is that fifteen days?” This was something he learned recently.
Tang Cuo lay back down, but as they approached his home, he raised his head again and asked, “Will you come back in the future?”
Tang Xu didn’t answer the question in the end.
Tang Cuo didn’t press him further and stood at the door, waving goodbye to Tang Xu as usual.
On the way back, Tang Xu smoked another cigarette.
He wasn’t a smoker and would only smoke on special occasions.
He had brought five packs of cigarettes with him this time just in case, but he didn’t expect to have almost finished them all.
On that day, only three days before they would leave, Han Zhiwei said after finishing dinner that she wanted to take a walk and look at the stars.
Tang Xu put on a light jacket and went out with her.
“Although it’s poor and rundown here, the stars are still bright,” Han Zhiwei said, looking at the sky and sighing.
After finishing this sentence, she withdrew her gaze and said another one, “But only the stars are bright.”
They were chatting leisurely about the interesting things that had happened in the nearly two months they spent together.
However, when they passed by Tang Cuo’s house, they heard a desperate, mournful sound.
The sound didn’t even seem to come from the throat and was short and abrupt, like a dying bird’s plea for help.
The two of them were startled, and after exchanging a glance, they both rushed towards the door.
The scene when they pushed the door open made Tang Xu completely lose the self-control he had developed for so long.
He could only curse “f*ck your grandpa”2The phrase “操你大爷” (cào nǐ dà yé) is a vulgar expression that can be translated as “f*ck your grandpa.” It’s considered very offensive and is not appropriate for polite company.
and swing his fist at the man’s face.
Han Zhiwei was so scared by the scene inside the room that she screamed and ran over to tightly hug Tang Cuo, not even covering her eyes.
Because of Tang Xu’s punch, the man’s filthy thing was left out of Tang Cuo’s mouth.
Tang Cuo was shaking all over, with no focus in his eyes.
Tang Xu was still punching the man repeatedly, while Han Zhiwei called out to Tang Cuo.
Suddenly, Tang Cuo pushed her away and vomited on the ground.
He hadn’t eaten in a long time, so nothing came out, but he continued to retch, crying and vomiting at the same time.
His lips were also covered in something, and Tang Cuo kept wiping his mouth fiercely, as if he wanted to rub it raw.
No matter how much Han Zhiwei called out to Tang Cuo, it was of no use.
She turned to look and saw that the man had been punched so hard that his eyes had rolled back and his face was covered in blood.
However, Tang Xu showed no signs of stopping and continued to punch him in the face, his eyes red with fury.
Han Zhiwei quickly stopped him, “Tang Xu! Don’t kill him! Stop now! Come and see Tang Cuo, I can’t handle him!”
Tang Xu gradually stopped, and when he squatted down next to Han Zhiwei, his teeth were grinding loudly.
Tang Cuo was still retching with all his strength, and there were dense bloodshot veins around his eye sockets due to ruptured capillaries.
If it weren’t for Han ZhiWei holding him, he would have collapsed on the ground.
Tang Xu pulled him over and hugged him as usual, supporting his head on his shoulder, and said softly, “Just keep throwing up; it’s okay if you vomit on me.” After speaking, he stood up and pulled Han Zhiwei up, saying, “Let’s go.”
Tang Cuo was carried out by Tang Xu, still retching for a while but unwilling to face Tang Xu, only supporting his shoulder and leaning towards the ground.
After about three to five minutes of walking, Tang Cuo slowly calmed down and then collapsed on Tang Xu’s shoulder, seemingly exhausted.
Tang Xu touched his face and discovered that his chin was dislocated; he was not sure whether it was caused by the man or the vomiting earlier.
That night, the two of them had been taking care of Tang Cuo until midnight.
Later, Tang Cuo developed a high fever and remained unconscious, holding onto Tang Xu’s clothes tightly during the whole time.
After finally putting Tang Cuo to sleep, Han Zhiwei and Tang Xu sat opposite each other on the bed, both looking at Tang Cuo without saying a word.
It wasn’t until long after the birds outside had started singing softly that Tang Xu said, “I want to take him with me.”
That damned father of Tang Cuo has come to cause trouble again.
He covered his face and stood outside the dormitory of Tang Xu and others, shouting like a shrew and accusing Dashing of assaulting someone.
He’s demanding justice from the villagers.
Han Zhiwei didn’t feel well upon hearing this, and she banged her head on the window before climbing onto the bed and lying down next to Tang Cuo.
She lifted both hands and covered Tang Cuo’s ears.
Despite his dazed expression, he looked at her quietly.
She freed up a hand and covered his eyes, saying, “Sleep; there’s nothing to worry about.”
Tang Xu was on the phone in the other room, and Tang Cuo couldn’t make out what he was saying.
But he fell into a deep sleep, listening to the intermittent voice that put his mind at ease while leaning in Han Zhiwei’s arms.
In the room, Tang Xu’s phone call was nearing its end.
He smiled and said, “Grandpa, can you believe that there are still families like this in society? What will happen to this child if I don’t take him away?”
On the day Tang Xu and Han Zhiwei left, the whole village came to see them off.
One reason was to bid farewell to the two college teachers, and the other was to see if that poor child, who no one wanted, was really going to be taken away.
Tang Cuo was led by Tang Xu and kept looking up at him.
In the end, Tang Xu felt like the child’s neck was getting stiff from all the looking up, so he picked him up in front of everyone.
Tang Cuo still didn’t take his eyes off him, so Tang Xu patted him and lifted his chin towards the crowd, saying, “Wave goodbye to them.”
He said this for Tang Cuo to hear, but also for himself.
He knew Tang Cuo couldn’t understand the words “wave goodbye to them,” but he wanted to tell him that he was saying goodbye to the pain and going to see the real world.
As Tang Xu looked around, he saw the man who had just received a large sum of money also come over, perhaps just passing by, standing on the side of the road with a bottle of alcohol in his hand, watching this side.
Tang Xu’s eyes were a bit cold; unnoticed by anyone, he slightly pulled the corner of his mouth.
Then he moved to the side to make sure Tang Cuo wouldn’t see the man.
This man had gone through two transactions in his lifetime: destroying one woman and “selling” his own son.
Some people deserve to reek of alcohol.
At this moment, Tang Cuo raised one hand and waved it twice towards the crowd looking at them.
He really didn’t understand the deeper meaning behind Tang Xu’s words, but he knew he was going to live with Tang Xu.
For the first time, he faced the village that had only brought him endless pain and showed a joyful expression.
The expression made the old man startled with tired eyes, and by the time he came back to his senses, a few people had already left.
Watching their backs, the old man took out a cigarette, a Red Pagoda Mountain, and lit it.
He hunched his body and walked slowly home, muttering to himself, “This child is lucky.”
1The phrase “A dog cannot change its nature” is a common idiom that suggests someone’s inherent character or personality cannot be easily altered.2The phrase “操你大爷” (cào nǐ dà yé) is a vulgar expression that can be translated as “f*ck your grandpa.” It’s considered very offensive and is not appropriate for polite company.
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