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One week before National Day, Wu Yuan received a call from Wang Cuixiu.
"Xiao Yuan, have you had lunch?"
"I just got out of class."
"Oh." Wang Cuixiu asked, "How are your studies lately? How are you doing?"
Wu Yuan frowned, "Mum, did something happen at home?"
"Xiao Yuan, can you see..." Wang Cuixiu's voice hesitated, "No. Are you able to borrow some money from your classmates?"
Wu Yuan just came out of the autopsy room with his mobile phone between his ears and shoulders. When he heard those words, he asked directly, "How much?"
"Five thousand." Wang Cuixiu immediately said again, "No, if not, one... one or two thousand is fine."
The hand that Wang Cuixiu used to hold the phone trembled. Her son hadn't spent a penny on them since college and this year's living expenses and tuition had been earned by himself working part-time.
They hadn’t asked, and so they didn’t know whether he was having a difficult time.
Now that her son was still studying, she only needed to take care of herself. But she had no one else to turn to now and she could barely open her mouth.
"I can think of a way to get the money." Wu Yuan walked away from his classmates and walked to a corner. "Tell me, what’s going on at home?"
Wang Cuixiu said softly, "Your father is in the hospital."
Wu Yuan's lips pressed, "What's wrong with him?"
Wang Cuixiu dodged his question, "He’s just...sick."
After hanging up the phone, Wu Yuan stood by the sink to wash his hands. He used soap to wash back and forth. Then he asked the counselor for leave and bought a ticket in the afternoon.
While in the carriage, Wu Yuan was calm. He didn't expect that when he got home, he would be yelling when he heard the truth.
It turned out that Wu Dongqiang often went to town to the barbershop to play with the girl who gave him haircuts. The day before yesterday, the husband of the girl came home and caught them in bed. He nearly beat Wu Dongqiang to death in anger, if not for the neighbours who came in to stop him.
"I sold the shop but it was still five thousand short." Wang Cuixiu looked at her son with a haggard face, "Xiao Yuan, your dad is still lying in hospital. The doctor said that there was enough to perform the operation. What do you think we should do?"
Family matters stayed behind closed doors. When the village heard her mentioning the money, she refused to give them an explanation, instead she relied on her only son to make the decisions.
Wu Yuan took a deep breath, "Mum, are you crazy? He got hurt messing around with other women, why do you care about him?"
Wang Cuixiu clenched both her hands and her eyes were bloodshot, "I don't care about him, I just can’t not care."
A sense of powerlessness arose within him and Wu Yuan's tone was full of sarcasm, "Look at what he has done over the past years, what’s the difference between him and trash?"
"Others can speak ill of him, but you can't." Wang Cuixiu trembled, "He is your dad!"
With a bang, Wu Yuan slammed the door and went out.
He wiped his eyes as he walked. For so many years, his dad had had a bad temper. He was addicted to alcohol and gambling, and made batch after batch of dog friends, all idle good-for-nothings.
He did nothing for him except provide the sperm.
He dragged their whole family down, WuYuan didn’t understand why his mother was so good to him, why she repeatedly compromised and endured.
Wu Yuan walked to his alma mater unconsciously. He sat on the stone steps outside the classroom, his hair hanging down.
More than half an hour later, Lu Shenxing came out holding a textbook, and after poking him with his foot, Wu Yuan stood up and followed after him.
"Did your school close early in November?"
Lu Shenxing tilted his head, "Then what's with the long face?"
"It’s my dad." Wu Yuan explained the situation.
Lu Shenxing paused. The original plot didn’t describe Wu Yuan's parents in detail, only that Wu Yuan's family was poor. In the end, Wu Yuanhad a paragraph in the hospital where a woman came to see him.
"How much is the surgery fee?"
"I can pay."
Wu Yuan's toes rubbed against the ground, his voice was dry and dumb, "I want you to accompany me."
After calling Wang Cuixiu, Lu Shenxing returned to the dormitory to get his bag, then went to the hospital with Wu Yuan.
In the back of the cab, Lu Shenxing's hands were grabbed by Wu Yuan.
Lu Shenxing remembered the visit. Wu Yuan and Wu Dongqiang weren’t close, but for every child, the role of father was unavoidable.
It's just that the respect and love slowly fades, and although with some effort, little by little, their connection can deepen, without it the feelings will gradually fade away.
But even through his repeated disappointments, his father was still an irreplaceable part of his life.
Wu Yuan lowered his eyes, "Sir, will you only have me in this life?" He couldn’t tolerate betrayal, he didn’t understand his mother.
"Yeah." Lu Shenxing said, "Only you."
His promise flowed into the deepest part of Wu Yuan's heart. It firmly fixed itself there and took root.
At the entrance of the hospital, Wang Cuixiu looked around. She saw Lu Shenxing and Wu Yuan getting off the cab and ran over immediately. She was flustered and said to Lu Shenxing, "Thank you, Mr. Zhang."
"It's nothing." Lu Shenxing said as he walked, "Take care of the surgery first."
Wang Cuixiu rubbed her pants with her hands, her vision blurred, "Hey!"
Wu Yuan paid the money, as Wang Cuixiu kept wiping her tears. Lu Shenxing shook his head and sighed, life was full of negative things, but even people such as Wu Dongqiang the heavens would still treat well.
His wife was hardworking and virtuous and his son was strong and independent.
The operation was very successful. The doctor said that he would wake up in the next two days but his spine was severely damaged and he wouldn’t be able to walk normally.
Hearing the outcome, Lu Shenxing's Adam's apple rolled.
Wang Cuixiu attempted to control her expression, but her voice trembled and in the end she showed an expression that was uglier than crying, "That's fine, it’ll save him from running around outside."
Wu Yuan raised his eyes abruptly, and then turned towards her. She was still resentful after all.
"Mr. Zhang, thank you for coming." Wang Cuixiu said, "Xiao Yuan, send Mr. Zhang back."
Wu Yuan put the oranges on the table and turned out of the ward.
Wang Cuixiu watched them leave. She watched for a long time, she seemed to see something as her eyes caught their figures, before she slowly turned away as if nothing had happened.
Walking out of the hospital, Lu Shenxing suddenly said, "Your mother seems to already know about us."
Wu Yuan didn't panic, he was no longer the anxious boy he used to be. He said, "I’ll deal with it."
"She won’t ask directly, she’ll just harbour the notion." Lu Shenxing frowned, like Zhang Dafu did.
Wu Yuan said, "Then I’ll mention it."
He asked suddenly, "Sir, how old are you?"
Lu Shenxing's temple hurt, "Why do you ask?"
Wu Yuan ignored his question, "Thirty?"
Lu Shenxing looked calm, "I’m eighteen."
Wu Yuan, "...don't mess around."
Back at the dormitory, Lu Shenxing gave him his ID card, "Look for yourself. No. Should I give you a calculator so you can calculate the age gap between us?"
Wu Yuan looked at his ID card then put it in the drawer, "Sir, I'm just worried about your health."
"Wu Yuan, you’re a medical student. You should understand better than ordinary people. No one can predict the impermanence of life and death, and it’s impossible to stop it." Every word Lu Shenxing said was like a needle piercing Wu Yuan’s heart.
After a long while, Wu Yuan buried his face in Lu Shenxing's neck and sighed softly, "Sir...you’re deliberately making me feel bad..."
Lu Shenxing was made uncomfortable by taking the blame for his sadness. He patted Wu Yuan on the back, and ran his fingers down his spine, saying, "Okay, go and wash your face."
"Your dad's situation may not be that bad."
Wu Yuan didn't say a word. Although he hadn’t been responsible for an operation yet, he had too much theoretical knowledge. He had entered the operating room in the hospital many times and participated in the whole process.
His father's condition wouldn’t change, it would only get worse. The medical expenses could be dealt with, but the setback of losing his mobility was too great.
After Wu Dongqiang woke up, he was very emotionally unstable. He seemed to be mad, and he destroyed everything within reach, crying messily.
"Get out! Get out!"
A nurse restrained him, forcibly giving him sedatives.
Wu Yuan stood by. At this moment he truly realized that his father had been there for most of his life.
Wang Cuixiu said, "You can go back to look after the house, I’ll stay with him."
Wu Yuan responded, "I’ll watch him in the evening."
Wang Cuixiu couldn’t move him, "Then bring a blanket over, it’s cold at night."
Wu Yuan called the school to explain the situation at home. The school approved his leave request and he accompanied Wang Cuixiu to take care of Wu Dongqiang and their unstable home.
Good news was no news, but bad news always spread. The whole village soon knew about Wu Dongqiang’s situation. When they passed by the door of Wu Yuan’s house, they would point it out, sympathize or laugh, voice their suspicions or disgust.
Wang Cuixiu rubbed Wu Dongqiang's body and massaged his legs and feet. When she got close to him, her face would be beaten, the old bruises didn’t even have time to heal before new ones were added. Her withered yellow face was shocking to behold.
Wu Dongqiang's appearance was similar to that of Li Gui, pale and grim, "What the hell are all you deadbeats doing?"
Wu Yuan lowered his head and held Wu Dongqiang, his hearing aid was grabbed by Wu Dongqiang, and his left ear hurt.
"What are you looking at? Are you laughing at me too? Ah!"
Holding his hearing aid tightly, Wu Yuan's chest rose and fell violently. Blood leaked from his clenched teeth, but he swallowed it without saying a word.
Wu Dongqiang often cried at night, more miserable and heart-piercing than the stray cats in the village.
The lifeless and unsightly day didn’t last long, Wu Dongqiang committed suicide.
Wu Yuan felt that the past month seemed like a dream.
He woke up from the dream, his father did not.
When Wu Dongqiang died, all his relatives sent a few words to comfort him, followed by a reminder of the debts he owed. Life for the next generation was already difficult.
Wu Yuan took out his notebook and wrote down every amount of money he’d borrowed. The coffin fell into the ground, and his peace was finally broken.
Lu Shenxing pressed Wu Yuan's head into his shoulder, "I know, you did a good job."
On the cramped floor of the house, depressed sobbing could be heard.
Wu Yuan felt the grief and powerlessness of losing someone for the first time. It was his father who taught him with his own life.
Little late today, cat decided to claw the skin off my arm while I was uploading...luckily she is smol and her claws are tiny.
A note about Wu Yuan calling Lu Shenxing: So usually Wu Yuan has been saying 'laoshi' which is just 'teacher', I've been changing it to 'sir' and 'mr.' since they're a bit more era appropriate. Recently however Wu Yuan has just been saying 'shi', which is kind of interesting given the 'lao'(老) in 'laoshi'(老师) means literally 'old', and Wu Yuan is obviously hyper-conscious of Lu Shenxing's age.