As the doctor walked out, Jian Bianlin simultaneously stepped forward and had a brief discussion with him. The doctor informed him that his father had already been sent directly to the intensive care unit after coming out of surgery. The operation was very successful, but due to his older age, with more than ten metal pins and nails in his body, Jian Bianlian’s dad sooner or later would need to undergo another surgery to do a hip replacement.
This could be considered good news that could set everyone’s mind at ease for the time being. Chu Jian and her parents also breathed out in relief.
Twenty-four hours later, Jian Bianlin’s father was transferred out of the intensive care unit and into the general ward. During this entire period, Jian Bianlin avoided any instances of directly interacting with Chu Jian. It was only that one time, when he wanted to help his father change into a clean hospital gown, that he said to her, “Go out and ask the nurse when the doctor is going to come do a check-up.”
With an “oh, okay,” Chu Jian took two steps away before she suddenly realized, Hey, wait, no. Didn’t the doctor just leave?
The sound of the hospital bed curtains being drawn behind her explained his reason for saying that.
On the third day, the person who helped her escape from this awkward situation was, surprisingly, Teacher Li, who had come again to pay a visit with a bag of fruit in hand. After chatting a while with Jian Bianlin’s father, Teacher Li fondly took hold of Chu Jian’s hand, set it in her own palm, and gently stroked it. “Do you two want to go back to the school for a look?”
Chu Jian could not even imagine what the scene would be if Jian Bianlin made an appearance on the school grounds. She answered, “It’s probably not fitting for him to go, right?”
“Today is Saturday. Only the third year middle school students are there for a make-up class. It’s okay.” Teacher Li’s very warm and kindly invitation was likely extended in hopes of using the memories from their days of youth to ease their relationship.
Chu Jian was not daft. She could figure out the little scheme that this teacher had in mind.
Even though she was not doing it to “reconcile and get back togther” with him, she did still want to find an opening that would allow Jian Bianlin to tell her of his own accord about needing to undergo surgery. And so, she rather readily agreed to Teacher Li’s suggestion.
The school was only ten minutes away from the hospital. If they did go there, they would still be able to return very quickly.
She thought, Jian Bianlin had always respected his teachers since he was a child, so he would definitely not refuse. However, though she predicted the beginning, she had not correctly predicted the outcome.
If this man did not want to talk to someone, no one was able to pry open his mouth.
Sitting on the railing of the bleachers with her legs dangling down, Chu Jian fixed her eyes on him.
Jian Bianlin sat quietly on the steps, staring out at that athletic track that was empty of any persons.
“Jian Bianlin.” She called his name.
Jian Bianlin. Those were the very first words he had been able to speak in Mandarin. A name. His own name.
At age five, when he first arrived here in this unfamiliar city, he had not known how to speak Mandarin yet. That four-year-old girl who lived across the corridor was especially clingy to him. Charged with the task by Jian Bianlin’s father, every day, one sentence at a time, she would teach him Mandarin and had been persistent and resolute about this duty. Day after day, she would trail after him, crying “Jian Bianlin, Jian Bianlin!” and would prattle on endlessly in her not-quite-proper Mandarin that was intermingled with some Hangzhou dialect.
Finally, one evening when the adults of their two families were having a little drink and conversing casually, he looked right at her and stiffly threw out the words, “You are so noisy! I know what my name is—Jian Bianlin.”
The pronunciation of his entire outburst had been perfect and shocked the casually chatting adults of the two families as well as that little girl skipping after him in a yellow dress with a duck print on it.
In reality, he was not a child prodigy; he was simply too proud. He would take every sentence that she spoke during normal times as well as the voiceovers that he heard from the news on the television and silently commit them to memory. Then when no one was around, he would practice speaking until he was adept and precise in his pronunciation.
“Jian Bianlin?” In the blink of an eye, twenty-two years had passed. Yet, the one calling his name was still that same little girl.
“Sit further away.” His voice was thick and muted, and it seemed as if it was not he who had spoken that sentence. “Don’t block my view.”
“Oh, okay.” Chu Jian slid sideways along the railing slightly. “I’m further away now.”
Unspoken words were in Chu Jian’s eyes, words she dared not speak. She wanted him to tell her himself about the difficulties he was encountering.
Jian Bianlin was still staring at the farthest point on the athletic track. He surmised that she likely knew already.
But she did not understand that, in comparison to completely letting go of her and giving her up, these things were all nothing. He needed only to think about, if he let go, he was giving her the chance to willingly place her ring finger into the hands of another man, and then he would feel that his life could be considered over, that it could basically end at that point.
“Jian Bianlin.” Her voice floated over to him, still probing him as she asked, “Are you not feeling well somewhere?”
Unexpectedly, Jian Bianlin rose and jumped down two steps. Striding swiftly down the stairs of the bleachers, he cut across the sports field and jogged into the main hall of the school teaching building. However, as he listened to those hurried footsteps that were chasing after him, he all of a sudden halted his feet.
Chu Jian was still thinking that she absolutely had to get an answer from him today, regardless of how stubbornly tight-lipped he was, when he suddenly grabbed her by the wrist.
“What are you doing following me around the entire time?”
“Let go of me first. There’ll be trouble if the students happen to be getting out of class.” Chu Jian twisted her wrist, trying to pull it out of his grip. “I know you’re not in a very good mood. Uncle Jian just had surgery, and you also…”
“Also what?” Jian Bianlin flung her arm away.
Caught completely off guard when he cast her away like this, she had absolutely no chance to react before her arm slammed into a blackboard. Her sleeve smudged away several of the red and white words on the board, and chalk dust rained down.
Chu Jian’s fingers curled in pain. She felt she was going to die of this suffocating, powerless feeling of being wronged. “I know you need to go for surgery. Your agent said so.”
“You have no relatives in Beijing; you just have an agent. Uncle Jian just had surgery, too, so there’s no way he’ll be able to go there to be with you…”
“I want to be by your side during that time.” Chu Jian thought, Forget it. If I suffocate to death from this feeling, then let it be. At least I’m better off than he is right now.
She had just recovered herself as well and was striving hard to quell her own emotions. She did not expect that Jian Bianlin would be completely ungracious about this. In a voice that was increasingly cold, he shot back, “Be by my side? As my what? Good friend? Or girlfriend?”
Chu Jian was taken aback for just a moment, and then she caught on. He was forcing her into a corner again.
Feeling a faint tightness in her chest, she pressed her lips together, not wanting to say anything at all.
Were it not for Uncle Jian’s current condition, were it not for the fact that she knew he had some sort of illness that required surgery, how could she even be chasing after him? She had always avoided him if possible. But in the face of this great trial in his life, it would be rather unacceptable of her if she continued to evade him.
Yesterday, Tong Fei had even asked her in WeChat, “If it’s some sort of sickness or disease that doesn’t look very positive, what are you going to do?”
She had replied with three words: “I don’t know.”
She did not know and felt especially confused, to the point that when he had stood with his back to her, silently waiting in front of the operating room, there had been several moments where her heart had softened and she had been ready to cave…
A few steps away, a notice posted by the administrative office fluttered up in the autumn wind, rustling noisily.
Something was pulsating in Jian Bianlin’s palm. It was her pulse—faint, quick. No matter how small the detail, if it were about her, he would notice it.
His throat tightened.
He wanted to kiss her.
Drifting out intermittently from the easternmost staircase of the teaching building, there was the sound of laughter, which belonged to some girls, as well as noisy commotion, which came from some boys. It was the students getting off from the make-up class.
Chu Jian hastily pushed him away. “I’m not going to concern myself with you anymore. You do whatever you want.”
She sprinted out of the teaching building, cutting through the basketball court. Then, after rushing through the small metal gate that was open, she decisively ran in the direction opposite to the hospital. There was a stifling feeling in her chest. She blamed him for being completely unappreciative of her gesture, and she also blamed herself for still losing her temper even in such a time. All kinds of emotions—blame, vexation, anger—melded together and left her feeling so stifled by them that she wanted to cry.
After the girl in front of him had run out of the teaching building, Jian Bianlin took a few steps forward and pushed open the door of the nearest classroom. In that instant when the door swung open, two female students, who were each holding a piece of chalk and making a blackboard poster, were given a shock. As they turned around, a cry immediately slipped from them.
Jian Bianlin pressed his lips together and brought a finger against them, signaling to the two to not make any sound.
The classroom fell back into silence.
In that hallway that was separated from them by only a wall, third-year middle school students were beginning to walk by this room. They were excitedly celebrating that today’s make-up class had come to an end. The bustling noises gradually moved further away, tapering off from intermingled lively conversations of many different people to a discussion between only two or three people, until at last, quiet was restored. Finally, he nodded his head apologetically in an expression of thanks to the two girls for being so cooperative with his request.
“You’re… you’re really Jian Bianlin?” one of the girls stammered.
He did not reply, which could be taken as silent admission.
“I said it before, didn’t I?! Baby Jian is a grad of our school!” The other taller girl hopped off her chair, and beside a desk in the very last row, she began rifling through her schoolbag. As she rummaged, she cried, “Where’s my mobile? Where’s my notebook? I’m going crazy, I’m going crazy, I’m going crazy…” The hand that had dug out a notebook was shaking incessantly from excitement. “Sen—… Senior Brother [senior, male schoolmate], could you give us your autograph, please?”
Before he had even answered, the girl was clutching his arm tightly. “And also, and also, could you leave some words for our class?” Her eyes held an expression of eager expectation, excitement, and, also, fear of being turned down.
Still Jian Bianlin did not utter a sound. Reaching over with a hand, he fished out a half piece of white chalk from the blackboard ledge.
The feeling of the chalk in his hand conjured up memories of those days when he had made blackboard posters for Class No. 9. Back then, there were none of those ambiguous romantic rumours about them. She would not purposely avoid him either and would look to him for help in all things, for example, having him write out famous quotes or maxims on the blackboard at the back of her classroom.
Remembering that it had already been a long time since she left in a run, Jian Bianlin hastily left an English sentence on the very bottom of the blackboard:
Only after climbing to the top of the mountain can you see the beautiful scenery of the peak.
And then, setting down the chalk, he hurried out of the classroom.