Chapter 52: Did we know each other before?
Fried dumplings were a type of food which could not be eaten cold. Carrying the carrier bag in his embrace with one hand while holding an umbrella with the other, Xu Tingsheng ran all the way to Xinyan Junior High.
Xu Tingsheng professed to the guard at the gates that he was Xiang Ning’s cousin. The old uncle looked at him with suspicious eyes for a long time. Only after Xu Tingsheng had given him a packet of cigarettes did he grudgingly head over to the classroom buildings to call Xiang Ning over.
Xiang Ning came. Xu Tingsheng stood by the doorway, raindrops trickling one by one down from his hair.
He said, “I’ve bought you some fried dumplings from the shop over by the stone bridge.”
Xiang Ning was momentarily taken aback before she received the dumplings from Xu Tingsheng and called out rather panickedly, “Uncle.”
Perhaps this form of address originated from that long-haired friend of hers. Anyway, to her, Xu Tingsheng was known simply as Uncle.
Xiang Ning only called out a single ‘Uncle’. Amidst this, she appeared a little fearful, her eyes rather panicked.
In his previous life, she had called him ‘Uncle’ countless times, and he had always resisted this…‘It should be big brother, I’m not that old’ was what he always said. This time, he was even younger than before, but he didn’t feel like resisting at all. What he felt was only bliss.
Xu Tingsheng did not speak as Xiang Ning continued asking in a fearful tone, “Uncle, you’re not a bad guy, right?”
“No, of course not,” Xu Tingsheng hurriedly waved his hand in denial.
Xiang Ning stood under shelter, while he stood in the rain. As he held the umbrella with one hand, he reached out with his other hand out of the area enveloped by the umbrella. It shook within the rain, raindrops splashing everywhere, one of them landing on Xiang Ning’s face…
He wanted to reach over to wipe it off, but now his hand halted abruptly in mid-air.
Xiang Ning retreated a step back, looking like she had received a very great shock. She had not been like this the last time he had met her, her totally defenceless look even having caused him to be worried for a time as he had even lectured her on this.
What exactly was up with her this time?
“That classmate of mine, my best friend…you saw her before…She’s disappeared.During the summer holidays, she ran away from home with her boyfriend and went out to play. Her boyfriend brought her to look at a stranger’s house, and after that, she disappeared,” Seemingly able to see through Xu Tingsheng’s doubts, Xiang Ning explained.
In Xu Tingsheng’s previous life, he had not heard Xiang Ning bring up this matter before. Perhaps this matter being too painful for her, she had therefore been unwilling to think about it.
People are actually primed to unconsciously tuck away some things in our minds like this. We are generally unwilling to think about matters that once caused us true fear or extreme pain, being even less willing to needlessly bring them up once more. This is because every time we do that, we will have to relive that kind of pain again, as if taking a sharp knife and using it to slice our old wounds back open.
Now, Xu Tingsheng knew why she was scared.
He thought for a while, eventually using Liu Xueli as a defence for himself, “I know Mrs Liu, your form teacher…don’t be scared.”
Surprised and curious, Xiang Ning asked, “Really?”
“Really,” Xu Tingsheng said, “Also, the packages containing indigowoad root and white vinegar that you and Mrs Liu received in April were sent by me. Don’t be afraid, I’m not a bad guy.”
“Oh?” Xiang Ning’s mouth was half-open as she cried out in surprise, “So it was you! Thank you for that…still, why? What I mean is that we don’t seem to have known each other before this. The guard uncle just now said that you’re my cousin, but I’ve never seen you before.”
Xiang Ning was asking Xu Tingsheng for the reason, but what was Xu Tingsheng supposed to say?
He wanted to say: Because I have loved you for two lifetimes. What I owe you from that previous life, I want to make up for in this lifetime ten times, a hundred times over.
He wanted to say: Because I have tasted the pain of losing you before, and I don’t want to taste it again. Therefore, this time, I want to stay by your side just like this, afraid that you might accidentally fall in love with someone else;
He wanted to say: I want to accompany you as you grow up;
He wanted to say: Actually, I just want to glance at you once more, speak a few more lines with you;
He wanted to say: There is a story which goes like this. Eight years later, Xiang Ning will fall in love with Xu Tingsheng…
However, he could not say anything at all.
“Did we know each other before?” Seeing Xu Tingsheng looking dazed, his brows furrowed as he did not speak, Xiang Ning tilted her head as she asked softly.
“Maybe I forgot; my teachers and my mom and dad all say that I’m very careless,” The little girl thought that it was a problem on her part as she even clarified things for herself on her own.
“Of course we know each other, and how is it merely just that…
I’ve seen you on the Ferris Wheel, seen you by the seaside. I’ve seen you on the street with the fallen leaves of the chinese parasol tree that were scattered everywhere, seen you at the entrance of the park where cotton candy was sold…
I’ve seen you smiling like a flower; I’ve seen your tear-stained face. I’ve seen you obedient and gentle; I’ve seen your unreasonable sides…”
Xu Tingsheng silently said all this within his heart.
“You’ve forgotten…Right, how could you possibly remember? This is a past owned only by me and me alone. To you, this was originally something that would only have happened eight years down the road.”
He still hadn’t thought of what to say when the bell for the end of lessons rang. The students rushed out of their classrooms, flocking towards the cafeteria.
Another girl, perhaps another friend of Xiang Ning’s, was waiting at the foot of the distant building for her.
Xiang Ning said, “I’ll be going to eat breakfast with my classmate.”
“This,” She shook the plastic bag in her hand, “This is something i really really love to eat, but…can I share some with my classmate? She also likes it a lot.”
“Okay,” Xu Tingsheng forcefully nodded.
“Well then, see you.”
“Quickly go back and wipe your hair dry; it’s all wet.”
“Yeah, I will.”
Xu Tingsheng did not look for Xiang Ning again over the next few days. If he did so, rather than being concerned for her, it would be more like disturbing her.
Just like the last time he had come, Xu Tingsheng would leisurely stroll around the city areas once in a while, at other times lying on the slope of the hill behind Xinyan Junior High for the entire afternoon. He was very lucky, once having managed to spot Xiang Ning out on the field as she came out for her physical education lessons.
While her classmates were all running, whether she was slacking off or for whatever other reason, she had gone off on her own.
Her hair tied back in a ponytail, Xiang Ning stood with a basketball beneath the hoops, holding the ball with both hands and repeatedly throwing it upwards. Xu Tingsheng did not keep track of how many she managed to get in. All he saw was that bobbing ponytail, swaying under the sunlight.
How good it was, just being like this…
I watch over you, with you unawares.
At this moment, Xu Tingsheng thought about removing himself from Xiang Ning’s life, becoming a mere spectator. Actually, this was no spur of the moment thought. He had been hesitating all along, struggling between these two choices of getting close or merely being a spectator.
This thought having arisen within him, it did not mean that it would stop Xu Tingsheng’s fervent urge a few days later, perhaps even a few hours later to hear her talk to him, see her smile at him.
For the next few days, at least, Xu Tingsheng managed to restrain himself. He did not look for Xiang Ning, not even going to the slope of the hill behind her school.
Xu Tingsheng went ahead of time to take a look around Yanzhou University, the university he would soon be studying in.
This was a large academy city comprised of seven universities, located in the southwestern suburbs of Yanzhou City. Due to the expansion of university enrollment these last few years, many of these academy cities had been built all over the country. Xu Tingsheng did not know exactly how many talents these large academy cities had been able to groom, but he knew that at the very least, they gave many people livelihoods.
The facilities of this academy city of Xishan were still gradually in the midst of being refined and bettered. Thus, a flourishing market for business had formed in the little town of the same name that neighboured it. While the freshmen had still yet to report, many of their seniors had already returned. Therefore, the various businesses were currently proceeding busily in full swing.
Xu Tingsheng had not come to this academy city in his previous life before. He toured the little town of Xishan and asked around, finally managing to find Yanzhou University that was located at the centre of this academy city.
The feeling of walking the grounds of a university environment once again was very good.
On the quiet forest avenue, a beautiful female senior in a long skirt would walk past you, books clutched in her embrace. Some would sit on the grassy slopes basking under the sun, in a group, or perhaps even a pair. The old yet hale and hearty professor would be practising Taiji, boys gathering up in groups and whizzing off to play basketball or football.
Many above the age of thirty might perhaps wish that they could attend university once more.
Xu Tingsheng remembered that he had once been dead drunk in his previous life. The next day, after he had woken up, his mother had told him: Do you know what you were shouting drunkenly yesterday night? You said that you still want to study.
Now, Xu Tingsheng could truly relive those times once more.