Chapter 15: My all in exchange for your warm, peaceful longevity
From 14th April to 16th April, Xu Tingsheng took 3 days of leave.
During these unique times, taking a leave of absence was actually very easy. You simply had to go to the sick bay, clutch your head and claim to be a little dizzy. The school doctor would immediately move away from you, and from ten metres away ask you to measure your temperature with the thermometer.
Of course, you could not actually have a fever. If that were the case, you could forget about your leave. You would be quarantined on the spot first.
“No fever,” Xu Tingsheng said.
The school doctor gave a sigh of relief.
“But I feel like one might be coming,” Xu Tingsheng added.
After that, the school doctor would ‘act arbitrarily upon demand’, giving as much leave as requested. She didn’t care if you would have a fever, just as long as the fever did not erupt within the school.
This day, 15th April. Xu Tingsheng would definitely not remember it wrongly.
Yet, would any differences appear in this new world, due to this flap of these butterfly’s wings of his?
Xu Tingsheng could not be sure, and was therefore determined to keep watch for a few more days.
On April 14th, Xu Tingsheng followed Mr Xu around the entire day. Where Mr Xu went, he would also go. Obviously, Mr Xu was absolutely not permitted to get close to any hill, for in Xu Tingsheng’s previous life, Mr Xu’s accident had occurred on a hill.
Mr Xu was followed so closely he felt a little creeped out.
Xu Tingsheng could only say that he had had a nightmare, dreaming that his father had met with an accident, therefore being very worried.
Unfortunately, Mr Xu did not believe this.
On April 15th, Xu Tingsheng pretended to be ill, on tenterhooks for the entire day as he dared not to even blink. Mr Xu kept watch by his side, holding his hand, massaging his ‘tiger’s mouth acupoint’ and his palm.
Perhaps there exists such a pair of rough, yet warm and strong hands in every person’s memory. They support you as you stumble amidst your first steps, raise you amidst your growth, stand behind you as you soar into the air.
Xu Tingsheng had once lost this pair of hands. This time, he simply could not let this nightmare play out once more.
From dawn to dusk, Xu Tingsheng watched the wall clock as its arms leapt across the final gap. 15th April had safely passed without any incidents occurring. Xu Tingsheng exhaled deeply.
This day which had once left him in deep, incomparable anguish, had finally returned to normalcy.
April 16th was the last day in which Xu Tingsheng had decided to keep meticulous watch. Continuing to feign illness was not a part of his original plan. Yet, he really fell ill. His entire body was covered in cold sweat and all over his skin was the sensation of static electricity as he was also plagued by an unbearable stomachache.
In addition to the previous day of feigned illness, this was already the second day, the second consecutive day of him lying sick in bed. Mr Xu completely panicked at this point, repeatedly insisting on sending Xu Tingsheng to the hospital, but he refused to get up no matter what. Even when Mr Xu lifted him up, he would immediately struggle to lie back down.
“Endure this one day. Just this one day and all will be well,” Xu Tingsheng thought.
During lunch, Xu Tingsheng had no appetite for food. Still, after Mrs Xu specially set up a steamer to boil some vermicelli, he barely managed to eat a little.
Perhaps due to his body really being too exhausted and his overexertions from the nerve-wrangling events of the past few days, after lunch, Xu Tingsheng unconsciously fell asleep.
When he awoke, Mr Xu was no longer there. Instead, keeping watch by Xu Tingsheng’s side was Mrs Xu.
“Mom, where’s Dad?” Xu Tingsheng cried out anxiously in a tearful tone.
Mrs Xu was rather taken aback by her son’s over-the-top reaction, “Your dad said he was going to make some herbal medicine for you. After all, your Xu Family has that hereditary trend of kidney stones. He’s afraid that you might also have this ailment, so he went up to the hills to pluck some money plant.”
In the hills.
These three words resounded like a thunderous clap in Xu Tingsheng’s mind. A chill shot straight up from his tailbone to the top of his head as his entire body turned cold.
Xu Tingsheng frantically clambered out of his bed.
“Which hill, which hill did Dad go to?”
“The one just over there,” Mrs Xu pointed, “Tingsheng, what is it?”
Xu Tingsheng had not the leisure to reply as he desperately rushed out of the door, because…that was that very hill.
“Hey, what’s going on? It’s raining outside!” Mrs Xu shouted from behind him.
The sky was bleak; a heavy rain poured. Filled with red soil, this small hill had once been developed into an orange plantation. The soil had all been plowed completely through, the entire place left muddy beyond compare.
Xu Tingsheng ran frantically in the rain, yelling, wailing.
“Dad, it’s me, Tingsheng! Where are you?”
“Dad, Xu Jianliang, where are you?”
“Please! If you can hear me, come out!”
Due to his fear and panic, Xu Tingsheng’s body burst forth with its final strength.
Still, a feeling of weakness began to ceaselessly assail Xu Tingsheng’s mind, the pervasive blackness before his eyes increasing by the second.
He persevered onward, endlessly running, yelling, his body covered in mud from head to toe.
At last, on a slope in the distance, the silhouette of Mr Xu arose, waving.
“Tingsheng, why have you run out here?”
Xu Tingsheng raced towards Mr Xu with all his might, cupping his mouth with his hands as he expended his last vestiges of energy to yell as loudly as he could, “Dad, come back quickly, oh, come back quickly!”
Suddenly, the world before Xu Tingsheng’s eyes turned dark. As his legs grew limp, he staggered for a few moments before he collapsed onto the ground, his body tumbling down the slope.
Amidst his unconsciousness, Xu Tingsheng’s memories of the bitter anguish from his past life burst forth like a torrential wave.
In his previous life, around the time of Mr Xu’s accident, the father and son had been in a cold war, the reason for which he could already no longer remember. Xu Tingsheng only remembered that that cold war had been ongoing for a very long time.
On that fateful weekend, for no real reason, Xu Tingsheng had felt moved. He had brewed a cup of tea for Mr Xu who had been labouring in the fields and asked Mrs Xu to bring it to him.
Mrs Xu had returned saying that Mr Xu had been very happy that day, smiling satisfiedly as he drank that cup of tea as if it was Maotai liquor.
Unfortunately, that was to be the last cup of tea Xu Tingsheng would ever brew for his father.
On the day of the accident, Xu Tingsheng had been in evening self-study when a female cousin of his who lived in the same county had appeared at the door of the classroom. She had then brought Xu Tingsheng into a car.
Only right before they arrived at Xu Tingsheng’s house did she inform Xu Tingsheng that Mr Xu had met with an accident.
Xu Tingsheng had not even had the chance to see Mr Xu’s final moments.
Xu Tingsheng did not cry hysterically that day. He simply sat in silence for the entire night
He recalled his younger days when his father had taught him to swim, sunlight reflecting off the water amidst the joyful laughter of the two.
He recalled his younger days playing with mud in his father’s brick factory, that big tank that Mr Xu had built for him.
He recalled that back when his results had been excellent, his parents had always loved attending his parent-teacher meetings, their faces full of pride and happiness. Later on, even after he had begun slacking off with his results starting to worsen non-stop, Mr Xu had still continued to attend every single time. Faced with the criticism and mockery of the teachers,, he had nevertheless always resolutely believed in his own child.
Xu Tingsheng came to amidst great warmth, warmth which radiated from his father.
Mr Xu carried Xu Tingsheng, running through the rain.
Xu Tingsheng raised his hand and slapped his cheek, afraid that this was all just a dream. In truth, ever since his rebirth, he had constantly had this dread, this sense of fear that all of this, at the end of the day, was but merely a dream.
He could feel pain. It was not a dream.
Mr Xu was safe and sound.
Fate had finally been changed.
“Dad,” Xu Tingsheng softly cried out.
Mr Xu’s eyes were red. He looked like he wanted to get angry, yet, looking at the utterly weak Xu Tingsheng, inevitably couldn’t bear to flare up.
“You’ve awoken? Why did you come running out, really…” Mr Xu rebuked in a gentle tone.
Xu Tingsheng wiped his tears, “I already told you that I had a nightmare, but why is it that you just didn’t listen?”
Mr Xu was rendered speechless, “Hey, you… Just one dream, and….”
“This dream made me know how great a father I have, made me know how much I would hate to part with you, made me begin to grow sensible. Dad, I am willing to give my all in exchange for your warm, peaceful longevity.”
‘Your warm, peaceful longevity’, was, in fact, not a colloquial term. Xu Tingsheng’s last phrase was actually a song lyric from the Chopstick Brothers’《Father》. This song would only be released come 2012, having once left Xu Tingsheng overflowing with tears countless times.
“How I wish we could be like before, I holding on to your warm hand. Alas, you are no longer by my side.”
“Dad who’s strong throughout your life, thank you for everything you have done, supporting our family with you great hands, always exhausting all you have, giving the best that you can to me.”
“Am I your pride; are you still being worried for me?”
“I am willing to give my all in exchange for your warm, peaceful longevity.”
Mr Xu was actually not very used to this kind of outpouring of emotions. The perceptions of his generation as well as their identity as farmers left them even more used to burying their affection at the bottom of their hearts, instead silently conveying their care and concern for their loved ones through other means.
Still, this time, the words went into Mr Xu’s heart.
He raised a hand and patted Xu Tingsheng on the back, “Dad knows already, rest assured.”
Xu Tingsheng grinned, “Put me down then, Dad. I can walk by myself now. After that tumble, even my stomach doesn’t ache anymore.”
Mr Xu tilted his head over and laughed, “Dad is not old yet; I’m still able to carry you.”
The father and son duo were met midway by the umbrella-toting Mrs Xu, receiving a nasty tongue-lashing from her.
After reaching home and taking a hot bath, Xu Tingsheng noticed that his exhaustion aside, he was actually in a much better state than before. Mr and Mrs Xu enquired in great detail on this before finally being able to set their hearts at ease.
Mr and Mrs Xu were actually rather astonished that Xu Tingsheng could have had such a huge reaction and changed so greatly just from a single nightmare. Yet, as compared to this, they were more emotionally moved, and were also able to sense this: It seemed like their son had truly grown up all of a sudden, becoming sensible.
Hence, when Xu Tingsheng made a request, pleading with Mr Xu to agree never to set foot on that particular hill ever again, Mr Xu went along and agreed with great solemnity.
Being more superstitious, Mrs Xu was naturally all the more supportive of this.