Chapter 12: Signed (1)
Chen Ping arrived at the eastern gate and saw a man sitting cross-legged on a tree stump by the gate lazily basking in the early sun. His eyes were closed, softly humming a little tune as he slapped his hands on his knees.
Chen Ping squatted beside him. For a youth like him, it was difficult to talk about debt collection.
He could only look quietly to the long, wide, winding road, like a thick yellow snake.
Habitually, he grabbed a handful of soi, gripped it in his palm and slowly rubbed it,
Chen Ping recalled the time where he had followed Old Man Yao as he traversed the hills and mountains in the vicinity of the small, little town. He’d often carry a heavy bag on his back, a wooden sword, a hoe, and all sorts of other items deemed necessary or not necessary. His bag was packed to the brim. Under Old Man Yao’s lead, they’d walk around and stop at various places. Chen Ping would often have to ‘eat the earth’ so he’d grab a handful of soil and shove it in his mouth, chewing it and carefully tasting its texture. Over time, this action was practiced to utmost perfection. Even if it was only finger grinding, he was able to understand the texture of the soil. Later on, when Chen Ping weighed the broken porcelain pieces at the mouth of some old kilns in the market, he could tell what sort of kiln they were, and how it was burned from its previous master.
Although Old Man Yao was aloof, often indifferent to the world he lived in, he’d often beat up Chen Ping. Once time, Old Man Yao had grown tired of and despised Chen Ping’s lack of comprehension. This uncouth youth, he was an unenlightened fool, so Old Man Yao threw him into the wilderness in a fit of rage while Old Man Yao went back to the brothel he stayed at.
By the time Chen Pink walked sixty li away from the wilderness and approached the dragon kilns, it was already late in the night.
That night, rain poured down, and the youth who was hobbling in the mud finally saw a glimmer of light in the distance. It was the first time this stubborn youth, Chen Ping, felt the urge to cry.
But he had never complained to Old Man Yao, much less hold a grudge.
He came from a poverty-stricken family. He had never read any books. However, he understood the principle that besides his parents, there was no one else in the world who would treat him well.
As for his parents, they left the world when he was of a young age.
The slovenly man chuckled grimly. He knew he wouldn’t be able to get away from the youth. He opened his eyes and softly, he laughed. “It’s only fifty cents. Men are petty, right? If they continue to be so petty, what will become of their future?”
“Aren’t you just making a fuss?” Chen Ping’s face was filled with helplessness.
The man grinned, revealing a jagged mouth stained with yellow. He chuckled and said, “So, if you don’t want to become a bachelor like me in the future, don’t be stingy. Don’t think about that fifty cents.”
Chen Ping sighed. He raised his head and said, “If you’re short on money, then forget it. But I’ll say this in advance. From now on, you can’t renege on a deal.”
The man’s face turned sour. He turned his head and smiled. “Kid, with your temper, it’ll be easy for you to suffer big losses. Haven’t you heard the old saying that ‘suffering losses is a blessing in disguise’? If it’s just a small loss, it shouldn’t be too big of a deal…”
The man then glanced at the soil in the youth’s hand and paused for a moment before replying mischievously, “It’s a sort of life that faces that sky while facing the earth.”
“Didn’t I say just now to forget it?” Chen Ping retorted. “Is it not a small loss?”
The man looked frustrated and annoyed. He waved his hand to chase the youth away. “Scram… It’s really hard to chat with a kid like you.”
Chen Ping turned his palms over, letting the soil fall back to earth. He got up and said, “You smell bad.”
The man raised his head and jokingly scolded, “Do you need me to teach you a lesson? Young kids these days… Tsk!”
The man turned his head and glanced at the youth’s back. His mouth was crooked as he muttered something, as if he was cursing the heavens.
*** *** ***
Today, for some odd reason, the teacher, Mr. Qi, ended his studies early.
At the back of the school was a yard. North of it was a short wooden gate that led to a bamboo forest. When Song Jixin his servant was listening to the story under that old locust tree, they were called to play chess.
Song Jixin almost declined. He didn’t want to, but he could not reject. Mr. Qi was his opponent, wanting to see if his chess skills had improved.
Since Mr. Qi was not smiling, Song Jixin had an inexplicable feeling of respect and fear towards him. When Mr. Qi issued this edict, he had no choice but to comply,
The green-clothed youth that passed the message to Song Jixin returned back home. He didn’t forget to remind Song Jixin not to be late, nagging him over and over ‘till it was imprinted in his brain.