Chapter 4: Opening the Door (2)
When Chen Ping looked outside the wooden fence, he discovered many people standing patiently for the city gate to open. There were at least seven or eight people, both man, woman, and young all present.
And what was strange, the people native to this place were strangers to one another; a mixed variant. Whether they burned kilns or toiled the fields, the people rarely walked pass through the eastern gates. There was no reason to do so. There were no kilns nor fields here.
Chen Ping and the outside groups separated only by the sloppy wooden face looked at one another. He sized them up and down and felt slightly envious of their thick clothing. He thinks it warm and comfortable and able to withstand the harrowing cold.
The outside people were divided into several groups, looking as if they’d not journey through this place in unity. But one thing was certain, they looked at Chen Ping with an apathetic gaze, and occasionally, one or two would get on their tiptoes and look further inside the gates.
Chen Ping felt a strange sensation. Are those people unaware of the imperial edict banning dragon kilns in this place? Or was it because they knew that they wished to run around and take advantage of them?
Chen Ping walked out of the crowd with the intent of opening the gate which had no locks to begin with, but however, just as his fingers touched the gate, he suddenly stopped and retracted his hands behind his back when looking at the little boy on the other side smiling foolishly.
From the corner of his eyes, Chen Ping inadvertently discovered the people from behind looking at guns with a mixture of varying expression: disappointment, ridicule, amusement, frown, and so forth.
Just then, a middle-aged man whose hair was unkempt and unruly walked toward the gate and scolded Chen Ping. “Little bastard, did you get paid to do this? Why are you rushing out to meet your damned birth parents so early in the morning?!”
The middle-aged man always wore a stupefied and angered look. There many reasons why. He lived in the countryside and grew up a country bumpkin. The people here thought themselves much superior and always scolded him. He was unable to retort and wished he could find himself a magical well to jump into and save himself from the jarring troubles. He couldn’t read either—escape through means of books was out of the question. Moreover, he was always teased by those bold and spicy women and not to mention the constant cursing, there were always those ready to pick a fight with him.
Because of this, he was always grumpy. No one ever took him seriously.
“Let’s talk about this later,” he said to Chen Ping.
He reached for his crotch and adjusted the bottom before walking toward the wooden gate. Opening the gate slightly, the middle-aged man with back facing Chen Ping would collect a small embroidered bag from the outside people and flung him inside his sleeve before letting them through.
Passing through the gates, the outsiders were divided into five groups. Toward the front was a young man with a high crown resting on his head and a green pendant hanging freely from the waist down. Behind him were two children who looked about seven or eight; one was a boy who wore a red robe full festive colors.
The boy was half a head shorter than Chen Ping. When he brushed past him, the boy opened his mouth and though no sounds came, the shape of his mouth was one full of clear disdain.
The middle-aged woman beside the boy coughed lightly causing the child to restrain himself.
The other child, a little girl, slowed her pace and walked behind the middle-aged woman and the little boy, allowing a tall and sturdy old man with frosty look to lead her. She turned her head and mouthed a few words, not forgetting to point at the boy the same age as her.
Chen Ping could not understand what she said but he guessed that she was complaining.
The tall and sturdy old man shot a sidelong glance at Chen Ping.
After being looked at by someone intentionally or unintentionally, Chen Ping unconsciously took a step back.
Like a mouse retreating after seeing a cat…
Upon seeing this scene, the little girl immediately lost her desire to fan the flames. She turned around and no longer looked at Chen Ping. It was as if looking at him once more would dirty her eyes.
The young Chen Ping was indeed inexperienced but it did not mean he was unable to read facial expressions.
After their presence had long left, the middle-aged man smiled and asked, “Do you know what they said?”
Chen Ping nodded. “I do.”
The middle-aged man laughed. “They’re praising your looks. It’s good news.”
The corners of Chen Ping’s mouthed twitched.
Do you think I’m stupid?
The middle-aged man saw through the youth’s thoughts and laughed even more. “If you weren’t stupid, would I have allowed you to deliver those letters?”
Chen Ping dare not refute. He was afraid, afraid that if angered this guy, his meager earnings would fly away.
The man turned his head and looked toward the direction of the outside people. He rubbed his chin, leaned over, and in a low voice, he said, “That girl just now… her legs were enough to choke someone to death.”
Chen Ping hesitated for a moment and asked curiously, “She’s practiced martial arts?”
The man was stunned. He lowered his head and looked at the youth with a stupefied gaze. “You little rascal, you really are stupid.”
The youth was confused.
The middle-aged man told Chen Ping to wait as he strode back into the house. When he returned, he had a stack of envelopes in his hands that were not too thick nor too thin. There was about ten of them.
The middle-aged man handed them to Chen Ping and said, “Foolish people have good fortune and good people give good rewards. Do you believe this?”
Chen Ping took one letter in one hand and opened his other palm. He blinked his eyes and said, “We agreed on one copper taels for one letter.”
The middle-aged man flew into bouts of rage and slapped five copper taels he prepared in advance onto the youth’s palm.
He waved his hands and said, “I will give you the remains five copper taels later!”