Chapter 53: Big Xiang Ning and Little Xiang Ning
Today, Xu Tingsheng strolled around the academic city of Xishan for the entire day. In the late afternoon, passing by a field of Yanzhou University, he saw a group of boys playing football there.
The grassy field caused Xu Tingsheng’s heart to itch in longing.
After watching for a while and seeing how the players were of a rather high standard with it also not being an official match, Xu Tingsheng waved over from the sidelines, “Seniors, is there room for one more?”
They looked rather surprisedly at him, exchanging looks before one of them said, “Well, our sides are unequal in number anyway. Let’s have him join in.”
Joyfully, Xu Tingsheng instinctively went to his usual central midfielder position after having entered the field. The seniors again exchanged looks, speechless. Still, none of them raised any objections, the one originally playing the central midfielder position going forward as a striker.
This somewhat casual match had no time limit, and it continued all the way till the sun set. Xu Tingsheng did not score a goal. As for assists, he had already long lost count. This was not an official match, after all. Both sides had placed less emphasis on defence.
After the match had ended, the seniors whom Xu Tingsheng had just played with came over and asked him, “Bro, which year are you from?”
Xu Tingsheng said, “Year 1…still yet to officially matriculate.”
“Oh, so it’s like this. What will you be studying?”
“Alright, we’ll look for you again next time…school will be starting soon for you, right?”
“Right, we report on the 12th.”
“Isn’t that the day after tomorrow?…See you around.”
“Yeah, see you around.”
On the last day before he had to report for university, which just happened to be a Friday, Xu Tingsheng couldn’t resist the urge as he again ended up outside the gates of Xinyan Junior High.
“I’ll just look at her from far away,” He comforted himself.
On this particular day, the sky was bright and clear from the early morning all the way till afternoon. In the late afternoon when the students were released from school, however, the sky suddenly turned dim and overcast as a torrential thunderstorm subsequently descended. Day now turned into night as gales howled amidst pouring rain, accompanied by the rumbling of thunder and the flashing of lightning.
Drenched by the sudden downpour, the people out on the streets shielded their heads and fled helter-skelter. Xu Tingsheng could only take shelter in the small store just outside the school.
This time, Xiang Ning appeared alone.
Her slightly baggy short sleeves tugged by the wind and tightly pressed against her arms, she proceeded with some difficulty amidst the great winds and rain, her small body frequently swaying.
Xu Tingsheng didn’t dare call out to Xiang Ning, and neither had she seen him as well. He intended to just follow her from far away like this today. Due to the rain, he intended to see her all the way back home this time.
The mud of the hot summer pavements having been drenched by the rain, the stench of mud drifted amidst the wind. Now, Xu Tingsheng suddenly remembered a line of lyrics from Jay Chou’s <Secrets I Can’t Tell>: It weren’t the rainy days that were the most beautiful; those were the places where we once took shelter together.
Xu Tingsheng stood beneath shelter, while Xiang Ning walked beneath the rain.
As a huge gust of wind blew past, numerous ‘casualties’ instantly surfaced on the street as the umbrellas held by many were gusted away by the wind. Xiang Ning was amongst them. Rather panicked amidst the rain, she swayed a few times, the umbrella flying out of her hands as it was instantly swept a distance away.
As the little girl was about to go over to retrieve it, a figure was already braving the rains, chasing after the umbrella that was still drifting amidst the wind. When Xiang Ning finally managed to get a clear visual of things, the umbrella was already within Xu Tingsheng’s hands.
Standing within the rain, Xu Tingsheng flipped the roof of the umbrella back over as fast as he could before raising it above Xiang Ning’s head.
“Here you go…it’s a thunderstorm, it won’t go on for too long. Take shelter for a while before leaving.”
Rainwater flowed into Xu Tingsheng’s mouth as his voice was also scattered by the wind. Not having heard him clearly, Xiang Ning looked rather gratefully whilst also rather quizzically at him.
“Take shelter!” Xu Tingsheng yelled loudly.
Xiang Ning nodded.
The two took shelter, Xu Tingsheng standing before Xiang Ning to shield her from the incoming winds and the rainwater swept along with it while taking care of another direction with the umbrella in his hands.
He asked, “Are you cold? Little Xiang Ning. Your clothes should be wet, right? Hurry up and call home; ask your dad to fetch you.”
Now, Xu Tingsheng took out his handphone and passed it over to Xiang Ning.
Her drenched clothes stuck to her skin, Xiang Ning shivered slightly. After a moment’s hesitation, she accepted the phone and dialled her father’s number.
“Dad says that he’s already on the way. He’ll be arriving soon,” Xiang Ning said.
“Right,” Xu Tingsheng replied, “I’ll be leaving soon too then.”
“Just now, did you call me…little Xiang Ning?” Xiang Ning suddenly asked.
Little Xiang Ning was a form of address that had suddenly appeared within Xu Tingsheng’s subconsciousness. To be precise, even he himself had yet to notice this.
“Then, is there also a big Xiang Ning?” Xiang Ning continued.
Little Xiang Ning asked Xu Tingsheng whether there was a big Xiang Ning. Like the stitches on the sole of a personally handcrafted homemade cloth shoe, all her words sent stabs of pain straight into Xu Tingsheng’s heart.
Yes, there was a big Xiang Ning, even though that big Xiang Ning was actually rather little as well.
Xiang Ning suddenly seemed to have been overcome by excitement, perhaps feeling that Xu Tingsheng’s silence was equivalent to a definite confession as she continued, “Is it like this? Uncle used to have a girlfriend, big Xiang Ning, but then you two broke up, or perhaps she…disappeared…Then, because we share the same name and maybe look really alike as well, Uncle now comes to look for me, treating me well…Is that how it is?
She appeared excited and in high spirits as she said all this, as if she were discussing a Korean drama with someone else. Right, a Korean drama. This little girl had definitely watched too many Korean dramas. Otherwise, at this age, how would her imagination be as wild as this?
Actually, though, she had not been wrong. The only discrepancy which she did not know of was that whilst being little Xiang Ning, she was at the same time big Xiang Ning as well.
Sheltered from the rain, Xu Tingsheng truly felt like he had ‘secrets he couldn’t tell’.
He frantically asked, “Your dad should be arriving soon, right? I’ll be leaving first. You hold the umbrella…block it…like this.”
As Xu Tingsheng turned to leave, Xiang Ning shouted from behind him, “Will you still be coming? Last time, you suddenly disappeared afterwards, and I thought that you’d never be coming again.”
Xu Tingsheng was momentarily stunned before he asked in anticipation, “Do you hope that I will appear again? Or do you not?”
Xiang Ning pondered for a while before raising her head and replying, “I don’t know, but…I’m very scared.”
Seeing Xu Tingsheng’s instantly downcast expression, she added, “I’m sorry.”
“She’s afraid; I’ve still scared her,” Xu Tingsheng was silent for a while before he asked, “Do you have pen and paper?”
Xiang Ning took out pen and paper, and Xu Tingsheng wrote down his phone number before passing it to her, “This is my handphone number. Don’t lose it, okay?…If there’s anything you need my help with, anything, just call me, and I will come.”
As Xiang Ning accepted it, Xu Tingsheng paused for a moment before saying, “Don’t be scared. Unless you call me, I won’t be appearing before you again…I promise.”
Xiang Ning did not speak.
Xu Tingsheng hoped that she would say that this actually wasn’t how it was, but she spoke not.
The decision that Xu Tingsheng had not been able to make on his own was made by Xiang Ning for him. She said that she was very scared, and thus Xu Tingsheng had had no other choice.
In the days that followed, Xu Tingsheng could only be a spectator, watching over her from far away. Such a situation left him worried.
He didn’t know what the events that had occurred today entailed, whether it just represented a short period of estrangement and rejection, or whether it…Xu Tingsheng thought of a possibility, a terrifying possibility: With the trajectory of things having been changed, their meeting and falling in love eight years later might no longer occur.
Xu Tingsheng regretted it greatly. He would rather never have appeared before Xiang Ning at all. That way, whatever might happen during the process, Xiang Ning would still eventually grow up to become that best Xiang Ning, that Xiang Ning who would fall in love with Xu Tingsheng.
He could just have stayed there, waiting for her.
Instead, things had instead turned out like this. Even if Xu Tingsheng appeared before Xiang Ning at the same time and place eight years later under the same conditions, it might be that she would no longer be attracted to him, for that person before her had already long since sowed seeds of doubt and fear within her heart.
Xu Tingsheng thought that Xiang Ning might never ever call that number. In that case, what should he do?
The many setbacks of his previous life, coupled with his mental age and experiences, could let him exhibit extraordinary calmness and stability in the face of many things. However, when the matter was related to Xiang Ning, he would then become like a helpless little boy who ran around in circles dealing with things, panicked and restless with anxiety.
It was like he had lost himself.
Under such a state, Xu Tingsheng received a call from Apple, having had her first day in university today. After exchanging a few casual words, Apple acutely detected the abnormalities in Xu Tingsheng.
“You’ve encountered a problem that you can’t solve? …You’re unhappy, and also panicked. I’ve never seen you like this before,” Apple said.
Xu Tingsheng did not offer any explanation, and Apple did not press him as well, just saying, “If you’re afraid, go to someplace bright. If you can’t walk there, or crawl there yourself, I’ll carry you…I can bear that weight.”