When it was time, Uncle Liang took the camera back from Xu Qi who had come back from school. He didn’t check the contents, and neither did he lock it back into the glass cabinet immediately.

He sat on the wicker chair behind the reception counter, looking leisurely at Xu Qi as the latter dragged his feet away slowly as if they were made of lead. Only when his feet had crossed the door frame did Uncle Liang speak.

“You want to learn photography, right?”

Xu Qi couldn’t think properly and nodded his head in reflex. His voice started trembling from nervousness. “I want to.”

“How did you come to like photography?”

“From… television, and I’ve also seen other people do this in magazines, so I’ve been thinking how nice it would be to hold it in my hands and try it for myself. The feeling of capturing the scenery must be great. I, I usually like writing diaries to record everything that happened.”

Xu Qi’s answer was like a square peg in a round hole (*). He really didn’t know how to explain it clearly, and slumped his head in frustration, quietly adding, “When I held the camera, it felt peaceful, down-to-earth.”

He could forget all the impetuous thoughts and distress in life, tugging him out from the lifeless stagnant water.

It allowed Xu Qi to feel as though he still had a negligible trace of value, entrusted within that tiny photo.

Uncle Liang seemed to be measuring Xu Qi’s words. He rubbed his hands against the stubble on his chin. “I forgot to ask you yesterday, what is your name?”

“Xu Qi.”

“Xu Qi, Qi like the miserable in ‘desolate, sorrowful, and miserable’? (**)”

Every time someone asked about the meaning of his name, helplessness would appear all over Xu Qi’s face. “Yes.”

Uncle Liang squeezed out a tut. “This word isn’t common. To be given such an unauspicious name, it’s no wonder you look so bitter all the time. Which year of high school are you in?”

Contrary to expectations, Xu Qi didn’t feel like Uncle Liang’s words were bringing him down. When Chen Fang gave him this name, it exuded distraction from inside to outside; turning to a random page in a dictionary would probably yield a better word, yet he wasn’t even willing to go the extra mile for something simple like this, because he already poured his heart and soul into his first child. As someone who came after, it was normal for him to be disregarded.

His head drooped even more and answered honestly. “Third year.”

“You’re already in your third year. Doesn’t that mean there aren’t many days to Gao Kao left?”

Uncle Liang called Xu Qi over. It was only now, that he seemed to properly a good look at the latter. He answered honestly. “Originally, I wanted to rent the camera to you long-term after seeing that you like it so much; you could come and help sweep the floor in your free time. As the only boss and employee in the shop, it gets unbearably boring every day. But now, it seemed like you were more busy than I was.”

Any ordinary person, upon hearing that this loafer boss was recruiting high schoolers for free labour, would probably spit out the word shameless. But Uncle Liang had said it bold and confidently, and Xu Qi didn’t think there was anything wrong at all. When he heard the word ‘long-term’, he automatically filtered out the long chain of words that followed, impatiently waiting for a chance to speak. “I have a lot of time. I’m free during my weekends, and 3rd year isn’t that busy so I can come over on both Saturday and Sunday. I can do whatever you want me to do.”


Blood rushed to Xu Qi’s head as he nodded vigorously, gravely afraid of hearing the words, ‘forget it’.

There were many kinds of students, and it wasn’t that Xu Qi didn’t study even though he knew the importance of doing so. He has tried, only to find out that he wasn’t made for academics at all. It was tough enough for him to follow the contents of the textbook; the so-called life-changing Gao Kao was never considered in Xu Qi’s list of important things. He didn’t believe that a single exam could turn his horrid luck around and add some hope to this dull tasteless life of his.

Xu Qi knew that he was born a calamity, bringing ill-fated luck to both himself and the people around him. No one gave him a hand; everyone allowed him to give up on himself.

Xu Qi could compromise on anything, bearing the labels ‘disappointment’, ‘abnormal’, ‘sick in the head’, that everyone had pasted on him. This was the only time he had the desire to strive. His boiling instincts far surpassed the pessimism that seeped into his bones.

Perhaps his expectations lay too bare, too pure, Uncle Liang didn’t dawdle over Xu Qi’s pleas and finally opened his mouth.

“Fine, but I really can’t lead you astray. When you finish your homework and still have some time, you can come over whenever on the weekends, I’ll be at the shop every day; the bedroom is upstairs. If you’re really sincere, I might consider teaching you some photography techniques.”

“I’ll definitely come.”

On Xu Qi’s lightly pale skin, a rare tint could be seen. The brightness in his eyes shone through his heavy glasses lens; it was the first time his half-lidded eye had opened fully. It was hard to discover that the pair of deep black eyes he had were actually devoid of any impurities, and was far from the word ugly.

“Thank you… for giving me this chance.”

Today was Lin An Nan’s birthday, which coincidentally was Friday. The entire afternoon, people who came to give gifts and blessings never stopped streaming in.

Class 7 was rarely rowdy, so the news had somehow floated into the teacher’s office. Before class ended, the homeroom teacher took the initiative to say “happy birthday”, and the entire class started clapping.

Under the attention and blessings of the crowd, Lin An Nan’s face flushed bright red from joy and shyness.

There was no shortage of men who gave gifts; some had their feelings written all over their faces as they walked up coyly, which sparked others to push and jeer. In the end, they would toss a birthday card on Lin An Nan’s table with a blush and leave hurriedly, and if one only looked at their actions they would think it was a declaration of war.

Xu Qi’s gift lay quietly in the hole of his desk. He reached his hand to touch the corner of the gift before slowly retracting. If the person who gave the gift just now were him, everyone’s laughter would probably turn into relish.

Due to her kindness Lin An Nan would never reject people’s gifts in front of others, but Xu Qi understood how scary gossip and rumours were; he didn’t want to see her feeling awkward on her happiest day. He made up his mind to wait until there was no one left before giving her his gift personally, to let her know the feelings that he had kept hidden deep within his heart. Even if the answer would definitely be rejection, he would have no regrets left.

He waited and waited until lunch break came.

Lin An Nan got up and parted with her friends. When she left her seat, Xu Qi, who was watching her, secretly stuffed the wrapped gift in his school uniform and silently followed.

With the amount of noise in the classroom, the two people’s disappearance didn’t attract any attention.

Walking out of the classroom, Lin An Nan did not go towards the washroom or the office. Instead, she went downstairs without hesitation. The accidental meetings that Xu Qi rehearsed had no chance to be implemented, and he could only watch the back of her hurried figure. It was as if she was going for an important but unknown promise.

Where was she going?

Xu Qi pursed his lower lip, hesitated for half a second, and continued behind Lin An Nan while hiding his breath within his silent footsteps.

The vast greenery of the forest fades away. The orange-yellow autumn coats a layer of gold on the leaves. The blades of leaves rustled against the wind. Xu Qi could smell the wet stick scent of water that came from the artificial lake nearby. Lin An Nan stood under the tree shade. The streaks of light that poured through the spaces between the branches draped over her shoulders. Demure, and at the same time beautiful.

But the person in front of her had forcefully ripped this peaceful image into a separate world, carrying the usual coldness, the usual quiescent unhappiness.

Xu Qi hid in a corner of the math block, observing the scene of Lin An Nan and Lin Jinxue’s face-to-face conversation from afar. The hand that had been gripping the wall buckled against the deteriorated, uneven, peeling paint, slicing his finger. He couldn’t feel the pain.

“I thought you wouldn’t come.”

Lin An Nan’s voice was mixed with a light softness, coated with an outer layer dipped in sugary water, and was not at all infected by Lin Jinxue in front of her. He stood outside that red line, looked down at Lin An Nan, and asked directly, “Why did we have to come here when you’re asking about exam questions?”

Her thoughts were seen through in no time. Lin An Nan’s beautiful face blushed a little. Biting her lips, she softly said, “It’s not regarding the exam questions. Today is my birthday, you probably already know this, the reason I called you here was because I hope you can give me a gift.”

“I don’t know,” Lin Jinxue said.

Lin An Nan was stunned for a few seconds. Without a doubt, this wasn’t the answer that the popular her would ever expect. Furthermore, Lin Jinxue had been able to maintain that unchanging calmness since the start.

In an instant, her smile became more forced, and she also started to stutter and stumble over the words she had prepared. “I see… it’s okay. I, I just wanted to tell you, I’ve liked you for a long time. You don’t have to worry, I will enter the same university as you after Gao Kao, and we can work hard together for these last few months. Are you willing to be my boyfriend?”

A wave of silence.

Lin An Nan had seemingly been put on pause as she watched Liao Jinxue’s expression, her body tightening into a single chord. Regrettably, Liao Jinxue showed no shock or happiness, and neither did he display the same level of bashfulness she did. Without needing any more time to think, he left a short reply. “Sorry.”

One word was enough to grind her fantasies down to dust. Before Lin An Nan had the time to ask why, Liao Jinxue’s figure had already become a distant blur.

Xu Qi stood too far, and couldn’t see what they said clearly. But from how Liao Jinxue left, and Li An Nan’s expression, Xu Qi could guess that it definitely things he did not want to hear.

When Liao Jinxue was far away enough, beads of tears fell from the corner of Lin An Nan’s eyes, one after another. She squatted down, hugged her knees, and started sobbing. As Xu Qi watched her shoulders tremble, the heart in his chest tightened. He took a step forward, then a step back, and paused. He took one breath, and walked a few steps forward. Like a marionette being lifted forward, he stop-and-went all the way to Lin An Nan.

He recalled the day during PE when Lin An Nan had squatted in from of him to comfort him and did so similarly. He reached his hand awkwardly to comfort her. “An Nan, don’t cry anymore……”


Upon contact with her shoulder, Lin An Nan shrieked, brushed Xu Qi’s arms away, and stood up with a swoosh. Her pale lips trembled. “Xu Qi? Why are you here?”

Xu Qi stood up hurriedly and took out his gift, which was fevering from the cover of his shirt. He explained hastily, “I, I saw you coming here just now and wanted to give my gift to you. Lin An Nan, happy bir…….”

“You followed me here? Did you see everything that happened just now?”

Xu Qi’s lips twitched, unable to answer. He didn’t know how bad his expression looked right now; perhaps it really seemed exactly like he was crying.

“You saw everything right?”

The outer coat of sugar had let out crisp cracks. Lin An Nan’s aggression had left Xu Qi speechless. Strings of silencers started exploding in the air. Lin An Nan, who felt totally humiliated, pushed Xu Qi onto the ground. Even the meticulously wrapped diary in his hands was smacked away, thumping twice as it hit the grass, staining itself with the dirty mud.

“Xu Qi, you pervert!”

Li An Nan cried as she ran away. Xu Qi sat on the field, frozen in his sorry position. The sharp blades of glass pricked against his palm; the waves of pain he felt weren’t even a millionth that of the pain from Lin An Nan’s single sentence.

After a long time, he straightened his body, and picked up the diary that had fallen. Inside recorded half a year of his love and attention towards Lin An Nan.

Xu Qi wasn’t good at saying mushy words. He hoped that Lin An Nan could see this diary, and in order to make the black colour cover a little more attractive, he even went to buy many animal stickers; girls probably liked them.

Brushing away the turfgrass on the little bird sticker, Xu Qi paused. He gripped the sides of the book, and ripped; the glue holding the pages together cracked, and the pages drifted, sprinkling around his feet like fallen snowflakes.

Xu Qi kneeled on the ground, picked up the torn remains of the pages, and threw them into the bin nearby. It turned out that only a short five minutes were needed, to turn that thick heavy diary that took half a year to write, into a weightless pile of ashes.

The last person who was willing to pull him also didn’t want him anymore.

After all that, every bit of energy had been wrung out of Xu Qi, who almost slammed into a tree trunk when he got up. He wobbled his way forward, up the stairs, and returned to the classroom. The classroom was as noisy as before he left, but Lin An Nan’s seat was empty.

Xu Qi sat in a daze for a few minutes, his soul had already flown far away. He stood up suddenly, and without a care for the startled students around him, he ran out of the classroom, dashing towards the forest behind the school with all his might,

He had left the book cover on the field, and there were possible fragments of paper with words written undiscarded.

Please don’t let anyone go there.

Please don’t let anyone see it.

Xu Qi repeatedly chanted in his heart, as he started panting only from that short few hundred meters run. The bright yellow trees wavered as they entered his line of sight. Xu Qi dragged his slowing feet and stopped in front of that meadow.

As the light weaved through the branches and illuminated his face and shoulders, Xu Qi could feel a chill radiate from within his limbs.

There was nothing on the grass.

(*) The original phrase 牛头不对马嘴 literally translated into ‘bull’s head doesn’t match a horse’s mouth’ which was a little awkward in English so I used a different expression that had the arnd the same meaning.

(**) Xu Qi (许戚)‘s Qi doesn’t usually have negative connotations but it is used as the last character in 凄凄惨惨戚戚 (qī qī cǎn cǎn qī qī), and the phrase translates to desolate, sorrowful, miserable. Btw his Xu means allow/promise, so technically Xu Qi = Promise to be miserable. Strictly in that context because Qi is also used in 亲戚 which means close relatives, so Idk.