Quality Checker: Isalee
First Published on Chaleuria.
I continued to drag him forward as I replied without much thought, “That’s right! How did you know?”
Shi Yitong immediately shook off my hand and looked at me suspiciously, “You better explain yourself clearly. I felt you were acting weird a moment ago. What happened?”
I stopped and looked at Shi Yitong while my thoughts were still in a tangle.
Should I tell him about Mr. Wen? I thought for a moment and decided against it. Shi Yitong was distressed enough right now. If I were to tell him about that nonsense, it would only add to his worries. Besides, that mysterious gentleman in the old residence seemed like he came from my dream, and I was rather skeptical about him myself.
But that gentleman already told you how to solve the problem. Is it really okay to hide it from Shi Yitong? A voice faintly whispered in my head.
“Hey hey, Gu Yu.” Shi Yitong lifted a hand and waved it right in front of my eyes, “Are you okay?”
At that, I finally composed myself and smiled sheepishly, “Ah… I’m fine. It’s just that it’s too hot.”
—What a lame excuse! This was exactly what was written on Shi Yitong’s face as he looked at me in disbelief.
“I really mean it.” I rubbed my nose, trying to gloss over how uncomfortable I was feeling. “I’m a little worried about your grandfather. How is he now?”
Right after I mentioned his grandfather, Shi Yitong withered at once like a frostbitten eggplant.
“To be honest, not so good.”
Shi Yitong’s face looked even more ghastly than yesterday. As I took a closer look, the dark circles under his eyes seemed more obvious as well. He scratched his head and looked at me, then finally, as if he had made some kind of firm resolution, he said, “Grandpa suddenly told me some very strange things.”
I felt a quiver as my ears pricked up. “What strange things?”
“Grandpa told me something that happened to me when I was young.” Shi Yitong mumbled.
“Isn’t that a good thing?” I didn’t get it. “Shouldn’t it be a good sign that your grandpa is starting to chat with you again?”
But Shi Yitong was shaking his head desperately. “No, that’s not it. How should I put it… It’s not the kind of topic that my grandpa and I usually talk about.”
“Then what is it?”
Shi Yitong glanced at me and thought about it for a second. “Grandpa… mentioned something that happened when I was eight.”
We started to walk side by side towards the outside of the school. Outside the school gate was a big street with several taxis parked on the side waiting for customers. When they saw us walking out, they started to honk one after another, hoping to draw our attention. Shi Yitong went around those taxis and chose the bus stop instead. As we waited at the bus stop, Shi Yitong continued his story.
“I don’t know if you have noticed, but our village is very close to the North Tong River. When I was young, I used to play with my friends on the river bank. At that time, for some reason, the adults were always nervous about us going into the water. The water isn’t very deep, it doesn’t even reach the chest of children, so it’s not dangerous at all. Besides, my friends and I all know how to swim, so us kids didn’t take the adults’ words seriously.”
“So there was one time that I and two other boys went into the water for a swim after noticing that the adults weren’t paying any attention to us. At first, nothing happened. We were having fun playing with each other. But soon after, I started to feel that something was not right. The water around me somehow became deeper, and we had to paddle with our arms in order to float. I didn’t realize what happened before something suddenly grabbed my ankle. At first, I wasn’t concerned about it. I thought it was only algae or something. But the grip became tighter and tighter, almost like there was someone in the water trying hard to pull me down. I shouted as I struggled, hoping that my friends would come and save me, but I didn’t expect that both of them were being pulled down by some unknown things as well. I took a quick glance when I was pulled into the water and saw an especially bright red color. I couldn’t tell whether it was some kind of clothing material or the color of the water itself. Anyway, it left me with such a deep impression that I can still clearly remember it even now.”
I got a little nervous from listening. “What happened afterward?”
“I lost my consciousness afterward. When I woke up again, I was already lying on my bed at home. My grandma was extremely worried, but my grandpa only furrowed his brows. I learned later that the two friends who went to the river bank with me that day had both drowned. I was the only one who survived.” Shi Yitong scratched his head again and sighed, “I still don’t know how I survived even now. Who saved me and brought me up? Whenever I asked my grandpa about it before, he just said I was lucky. If I questioned further, then he simply refused to say anything more. It has been more than ten years, I had almost forgotten about it myself. Surprisingly, last night grandpa brought it up again.”
“What did he say?”
After he heard my question, Shi Yitong’s expression turned a bit strange.
“Umm, grandpa told me that I was able to come back alive was because he used the life of someone else to pay for mine. The two boys who went together with me drowned, right?” Shi Yitong took in a deep breath and continued, “Grandpa said that he used those two boys’ lives to pay for mine, and that’s why I was saved.”
I stood there, my mouth agape from surprise. I was having a hard time believing it. “Pay for your life? Is it true? Or is he delirious now?”
Shi Yitong shook his head. “I don’t know. He babbled on and on, saying that he had done too much evil in his life and that people in his profession wouldn’t have peaceful deaths… I didn’t have the heart to interrupt him, so I just sat there and listened. He also talked a lot about when he was young. There were a lot of confessions and sighs.”
I couldn’t bear to watch Shi Yitong’s expression. It couldn’t go on like this. Just as I was about to tell Shi Yitong about Mr. Wen, a bus stopped right in front of us.
“Well, thank you.” Shi Yitong mumbled, seemingly embarrassed. “It doesn’t have anything to do with you, but you are still kind enough to keep me company.”
“What are you talking about?” I gave his shoulder a heavy slap. “What do you think brothers are for?”
The bus headed towards the afterglow of the setting sun along the road, neither too fast, nor too slow as if it was about to become one with this little village. There weren’t a lot of passengers on the bus. The majority of them were middle-aged people and elders. Everyone just sat there quietly, and one could hear the sound of someone flipping over a newspaper once in a while.
We traveled in silence, and soon after we arrived at a place near Tong He Village. Just like last time, Shi Yitong was in front leading the way as I followed after him. We started to chat about other topics to ease the tension in the atmosphere.
“I think I’m falling in love—” Shi Yitong put both hands over his chest in an exaggerated manner and said, “I want to switch my major and transfer to your class right now!”