Green Plum Island Ch2
The accident happened the year I was ten. As I recall, it was summer then too.
That day after school, I was on my way home along my usual route on a secluded path when a weak but urgent cry came from nearby. I looked everywhere for the source and eventually discovered it to be a tiny bird lying in the bushes. It was smaller than the palm of my hand, its feathers not yet fully grown.
I looked at the trees above until my eyes landed on a well-hidden nest on a branch directly above where the little bald bird lay. It must have fallen out. Fortunately, the mud was soft, and with the added protection of the soft grass, the bird managed to survive.
Protecting animals was every human’s responsibility: we learned this from primary school to university, and even at ten, it was deeply ingrained in me. I didn’t think to call an adult for help—I was blinded by confidence. I threw my schoolbag to the ground, picked up the crying bird, and started climbing the tree.
After all, I had spent many a day playing on the island with Sun Rui, causing all sorts of trouble from up in the mountains down to the sea. In the process, I’d acquired all sorts of skills. The tree’s height wasn’t anything to me, and although it took some effort, eventually I made it to the nest and placed the bird gently back into its home.
Right as I was dwelling in self-satisfaction and getting ready to climb back down, it happened.
My foot slipped, I lost my balance, and down I fell, slamming the back of my head against the ground. I fell unconscious the second I hit the ground.
When I woke up, I was at the hospital, with just my mum sitting by the bed.
Upon noticing that I had woken, she perked up joyously and showered me in hugs and kisses, all the while praising the heavens that I was okay and lecturing me for climbing trees.
I was just about to explain to her the whole matter of the bird when something caught my eye: Above her head, there was a white number suspended in the air—86.
“Mum, the thing over your head…” I pointed above her. My mind was still foggy from having just woken.
As I spoke, the white number turned grey and the value fell by five.
My mum stroked my head and asked me worryingly, “What is it? A bug?”
“No, it’s numbers. Two white numbers, that change colour,” I answered matter-of-factly.
The colour of the numbers became darker, almost black.
My mother stared at me. She looked frightened. “Don’t move, I’m going to go get the doctor.”
She ran out of the room haphazardly. In less than five minutes, a group of doctors in white coats entered my room. Every single one of them had a number over their head, except the colour varied.
They surrounded me and did all sorts of tests, sent the nurses to take me to get a CT done, and in the end found that everything was fine. They told my mother to keep a close eye on me and to wait and see whether my hallucinations disappeared in a few days.
My mum, worried sick and anxious, brought me home and secretly phoned my father.
“Mian Mian fell from a tree and hit his head. I think something’s wrong. Can you come back to check?”
“Yes, they tested him. The doctors didn’t find anything, but… look, he’s saying there are numbers floating on top of my head!”
My dad had always been a busy man. The call had come in the middle of his workday, and so he hung up after just a few minutes. I was his son, yet to him, work was ever more important.
Mum went “hello” a few times into the phone, but Dad had hung up on her. Years of accumulated anger and frustration prompted her to throw her phone in irritation.
As she stood there with her face in her hands, the numbers over her head turned red, then blue, back and forth. The value had fallen from the 70s to the 50s.
I had a feeling then that my parent’s marriage would not last.
Children are smart; using the only clues I had, I quickly figured out the rules of the numbers. I used a week to note down what I saw, then compared them with the numbers and colours that seemed to make no sense. A week later, when Mum brought me back to the hospital for a follow-up appointment, I took my notebook out and told the doctor my findings.
I shook my head. “No.”
He asked me a myriad of questions, my patient file filling with handwritten scribbles. The exam room was silent save for the sounds of pen on paper permeating the air.
“Doctor, what’s going on with my son?” Mom’s hands were on my shoulders, her voice anxious.
The doctor stopped writing and exhaled slowly through his nose. He seemed to be looking for the right words.
“It’s possible that when he fell from the tree and hit his head, it affected his sensory system…” The doctor noticed Mom’s face get tighter and hurriedly continued, “You don’t need to worry too much. The aftereffects don’t necessarily mean his life is at risk. I recommend looking into synesthesia, there’ve been many diagnoses overseas.”
As he spoke, he wrote the word “synesthesia” large and clear onto the paper.
He continued to explain to us that synesthesia was a condition in which information meant to stimulate one sense stimulated multiple other senses as well. Some people with the condition heard sounds in colour; some had their sense of hearing and taste combined so that they ended up tasting words.
I seemed to be a special case, given that my ability to feel seemed to have merged with my sight, resulting in me being able to “see” people’s feelings.
All in all, this wasn’t some blessing sent down from the heavens, I didn’t have superpowers, and I wasn’t supernatural. I had simply damaged my brain.
In the first two years, I was like Mom, unable to believe in the doctor’s scientific explanation. I was sure I had gotten a rare terminal illness. But slowly, as time went by, I came to understand more about the numbers and the colours.
For example, even though my parents attempted to act like they were still in love in front of me, I could tell from the perpetually low numbers on their mood indexes that there was much hatred between them and their married days would not last.
My synesthesia also made me privy to the secret relationships that blossomed between my classmates. I knew who was secretly crushing on whom, even though I could care less.
Sometimes it felt like my ability to empathise surpassed what I saw on the surface as if I could sense what people truly felt inside. I tried to make sense of it all, but before I could get very far into the details, my parents’ marriage imploded completely. Mom got a divorce, took me away, and I never saw a member of my paternal family again.
The period after the divorce, I was unhappy and became rebellious. I was strange and unlikeable, and worst of all, as I went through puberty and sex hormones surged through me, I discovered that I was into men.
It was for that reason that my research into whether my synesthesia was a superpower or a neurological disorder was put on hold. By the time I was no longer rebellious and had come to terms with the fact that I was gay, a lot of things had happened and it was no longer important to me what this ability of mine actually was.
Suddenly, everything goes dark. Just a few seconds ago, the fan was still turning from side to side. Now, everything electronic in the house is still.
I put my manga down and stand up, feeling my way through the dark. I shine the flashlight on my phone and carefully go down the stairs.
“Grandpa, the electricity’s out. Did the circuit short?”
The house was old, built when my grandfather was young nearly half a century ago. Deterioration of the electric circuits was inevitable, and now whenever too many electronics are plugged in, the breaker throws a temper tantrum and trips.
Grandpa had been watching TV on the first floor, but now I see he’s found the flashlight and has felt his way to the circuit box. “Let me see…” he’s saying. He opens the box door and pushes the main switch upwards.
He tries another two times, then turns regretfully and says, “I think the fuse is broken.”
“What do we do then? Can it be fixed?”
Grandpa appears not to hear me. He walks to a drawer and scrummages through its contents for a while, then tut-tuts. “We don’t have any spare wires.” He waves the flashlight; a bright, white light flashes before my eyes. Pointing the light at the door, he says, “Mian Mian, go next door and see if the neighbour has any spare wires. Quickly, Love is in The Revolution is about to start airing.”
Besides selling tea eggs, Grandpa’s other hobby is watching TV shows. He tends to binge them one after another until the middle of the night. He’s more like an electronics-obsessed teen than I am.
“Then be careful here, I’ll be right back.” I don’t know whether he hears me or not, but nevertheless, I leave and make my next door.
The path before the house is as quiet as ever, lit dimly by streetlights. On the right are neighbours who have lived next door to us for half a lifetime, but unfortunately, their windows are shut and lights are off. Clearly, no one is home.
I have no choice but to turn towards our new neighbours to the left.
When I pass the wind chime before the door, I look up. A piece of paper about two fingers wide hangs down from the cone-shaped glass chime. The characters are written on the paper soar in the wind: After fresh rains, autumnal dusk descends upon the empty mountain.¹
I take in the words briefly, then ring the doorbell.
Immediately, the sound of footsteps can be heard approaching from somewhere in the distance inside.
Neat, short hair. Deep, black eyes. The neighbouring man opens the door and up close, his figure is even more mesmerising. He looks fit like he works out.
It’s likely he could knock me down with a single slap.
“H-Hello, I’m from next door,” I stammer nervously. “The fuse wire in our breaker box is probably broken. Do you… happen to have an extra wire we can borrow?”
The door isn’t fully open. The man has a hand propped against the doorframe and is practically looking down at me.
“Extra wires? Let me check, I should have some.” He takes his hand off the doorframe and turns to go inside. “Come on in, don’t stand outside.”
The door swings inward slightly. After a moment of hesitation, I step inside the house.
Inside, books lie in piles on both sides of the entranceway. All kinds of books; new ones with flawless pages, and old ones whose pages are falling out of the binding. The books cover most of the hall. I follow them to the living room, where more books lie in disarray all over the room, even on the staircase.
In the living room, the TV is on. A little girl wearing a red polka dot dress sits on the floor clutching a gaming console in her hands, her eyes fixated on the giant screen.
I glance up. She’s playing Mario. After all these years, the plumber has evidently maintained his popularity. And after all these years, the man is apparently still trying to save Princess Peach.
The girl takes notice of me. A pair of round eyes with thick eyelashes gives me a sweeping glance. She’s unbothered and quickly returns to her game.
Beneath her dress, there’s only a single leg. On the ground next to her is a prosthetic leg clearly meant to attach to a knee joint.
“Ah Shan, hurry up, I’m about to die!”
The man is too far away to hear her.
I go over to her to observe the situation and then guide her, “You have to jump on her head to kill her…”
The girl gives me a startled glance, but quietly follows my advice, and the stage clears.
“You’re not bad.” A cut scene plays on screen and she takes the time to offer me a compliment.
She has no idea that I’m a diehard Mario fanboy.
“Qiuqiu, if you’re done playing, tidy up and get ready for bed.”
I turn around. The man has located an extra wire and comes back to the living room.
“Thanks…” I stand up and walk towards him, reaching a hand out to take the ball of wire.
He raises the wire out of my reach so my hands grasp at air. I freeze, staring up at him.
“Do you know how to use it?” He must smoke often because his voice is husky when he speaks quietly.
If it wasn’t for his mood index which is a steady white colour, I’d have confused his tone for flirtation.
I bring my hands back, grateful that the room is dark and he can’t see me blushing. “I don’t, but my grandpa does.”
The man ponders this for a minute, then speaks to the little girl. “Qiuqiu, let’s go. I’m taking you to Tea Egg Grandpa to play.”
The girl’s face brightens and she hurriedly puts on her prosthetic leg. “Yes, yes! I love Tea Egg Grandpa!”
The man turns back to me, lifting his chin. “Let’s go, I’ll go take a look.”
I suppose this is what a mature, fully-qualified man is supposed to look like. Helping you think of what you haven’t thought about, doing what you dare not do. This inadvertent display of reliability was incredibly admirable.
He’s so cool…
My heart beats wildly. I nod, saying, “Thanks.”
He has to carry the girl and can’t hold the flashlight, so I walk at his side, shining a light at his feet. “I’m Yu Mian. Mian as in cotton. What is your name?” I push open the entrance gate and let him go first.
As he brushes past me, his husky voice drifts into the night air, it’s tenor like someone playing a single cello string with a velvety vibrato.
If my synesthesia was hearing and taste combined, his voice would be a glass of strong wine, you could get drunk on it.
“Yan Wanqiu.” The girl introduces herself from over the man’s shoulder.
After fresh rain visits these empty mountains, autumnal dusk descends.²
The meaning of the words hanging beneath the wind chime finally makes sense to me.³
I didn’t know it at the time, but there was a third member of the Yan family who was named after the same poem—Xinyu. Yan Xinyu. She was Yan Kongshan’s older sister, Yan Wanqiu’s mother. Yan Kongshan was not a single father, but the girl’s uncle.