Green Plum Island Ch3
“Ah Shan, to think you made a special trip here, I’m so sorry to trouble you.” Grandpa motions for Yan Wanqiu to shine the flashlight onto the wall. He clasps his hands together and positions them between the white wall and the light, entertaining the girl with a simple game.
“What do you think this is?”
Yan Wanqiu concentrates on the shadow animal and a moment later replies, “A rabbit? Its ears are so long.”
“What?” Grandpa doesn’t hear her on account of his bad ears.
The little girl is patient. She cups her hands around her mouth, leans in close to Grandpa, and repeats herself. “Ra–bit–!”
Startled, I turn my attention back to my task and realise that the flashlight I’m holding is sideways and not illuminating the circuit box. Yan Kongshan has no choice but to stop working and prompt me.
“I’m sorry!” I readjust the angle of the flashlight.
He goes back to his work, his face neutral and expressionless.
The circuit box is embedded within a cabinet that’s two meters off the ground. I can only reach it on tiptoes, and Grandpa has shrunken over the years, so we have to use a stepping stool every time we want to check on it. But the man before me is tall and sturdy; he can reach all the switches just by turning his head up slightly.
It must be so nice to be tall. I decide that beginning tomorrow, I will wake up every morning for a run. At least that way Grandpa won’t keep telling me off for sleeping in.
After switching out the fried wire, Yan Kongshan tightens all the screws of the box back in place, then pulls the electricity switch.
God said let there be light, and then there was light. The electricity comes back and light fills the room once again.
“Aiya, it’s fixed! I can finally watch Love is In the Revolution! Qiuqiu, do you want to watch? It’s an amazing TV series!” Grandpa jumps up immediately to go turn on the TV.
“No, last time the series you said was good wasn’t good at all.” The little girl gets up, pats down her dress, then walks obediently towards Yan Kongshan. “Ah Shan, isn’t it time to go home?”
“Yes, hold on a minute.” Yan Kongshan shuts the circuit box. He hands me the screwdriver and says, “The circuit is too aged. Never mind not being able to use high voltage electronics, it’s also extremely dangerous. Get an adult in your family to find an electrician sometime, it’s best to get it changed as soon as possible.”
He doesn’t even look that much older than me, yet he’s telling me to “get an adult.”
“I’m eighteen… I’ll be nineteen in two months.” For some reason, I don’t want him to think of me as a child. “I’m not a kid.”
Somewhat surprised, he says, “I thought you were about sixteen…”
He must see the expression on my face because his voice quickly trails off.
“Then I’m heading off, let me know if you need anything.” Yan Kongshan walks off with his daughter’s hand in his. As he passes Grandpa, he points at the door and then at himself.
Realising that the man is leaving, Grandpa goes to slap him on his shoulder and praise him for his charitable character, then walks our two guests out the door.
When I hear Yan Wanqiu saying goodbye to Grandpa, I suddenly come back to my senses and realise that I’ve forgotten to thank Yan Kongshan.
All he had to do was give me the wire, but he’d gone out of his way to come fix it for us in this hot weather. Grandpa is Grandpa, and I’m me. Just because he’s thanked the man doesn’t mean I shouldn’t, and thanking him is the least I can do.
There’s not much time to think; I grab two yellow apples from the nearby fruit bowl and run outside.
“Huh? Mian Mian…” The rest of Grandpa’s words evaporate into the gust of air I leave behind me.
Yan Kongshan’s legs are so long, in just this short span of time, he’s nearly reached his house.
“Wait!” I call out to him. I run too quickly and when I stop before him, my breath comes in gasps.
Yan Kongshan has a hand on his front gate. Upon hearing me, he pauses.
“T-Thank you…” I hand the apples over to him.
He gazes downwards at me with a baffled expression.
I explain, “A gift of gratitude.”
Yu Mian, what are you even doing?
What era are you living in that you’re running after someone just for two apples? Not to mention lately the island has been deluged with apples, so much so that Sun Rui’s dad has been using them to feed their pigs. And here I am, presenting them with such a dastardly offering. Was I possessed?
Will he think I’m stingy…?
My hands are frozen in the air, my face stiff. Inside, my heart is racing.
Thankfully, his mood value is stable. He isn’t particularly happy or upset.
“You’re too generous.” Yan Kongshan takes the apples from my hands. He nudges the gate open with an elbow and walks home, Yan Wanqiu holding onto his other hand.
“Ah Shan, can I eat an apple?”
“Brush your teeth afterwards.”
Their voices fade gradually as they walk further away, until they can’t be heard anymore. With the wind comes the tinkling of a wind chime; a door opens and shuts.
I squat beneath their flower hedge and grab onto a nearby telephone pole in vexation.
Why did I have to give him apples? Why?!
I should have given him a Coke! It’s so hot, and who knows if he even likes apples, but he definitely wouldn’t detest an iced Coke! Who would hate happy fizzy water? Or I could have waited until I had a more appropriate gift, instead of rushing out as I’d done.
A voice sounds from somewhere nearby. I freeze, my mind racing as I furiously scramble for ways to explain my extraordinarily strange behaviour.
Calm down. Everything is fine.
I stand up and cough loudly, swinging both arms to give the telephone pole a hefty punch before spinning around in mock surprise to face the approaching person.
“Oh, Granny! What a coincidence, are you out walking your dog? It’s too hot and I couldn’t sleep, so I came out to exercise.”
The woman before me is elderly, but she glows with charisma. Her silver-streaked hair is swept up in a bun behind her head, clasped with a traditional hairpin. She’s dressed in a white floral silk qipao, her wrist adorned with an imperial green jade bracelet. With her slender figure and pale face, she looks like a wealthy madam from the Republican era.
This is Grandpa’s cousin; at the age of twenty, she coiled her hair up on her own and swore never to marry. She moved into the island’s “spinster house,” becoming a member of the Comb Sisters. Now, at over the age of 70, she is the only remaining member of the spinster house, an old cat and dog for company. Grandpa goes often to visit her with groceries and he always tells her to move into a senior home, but she refuses because she doesn’t want to abandon her elderly pets.
“An An is old, he has bladder problems and needs to pee often, so I tend to walk him for a bit before bed.” Granny tugs the leash in her hand. A tiny Maltese dog wearing a hairclip makes its way over to the telephone pole near me, and lifts a leg, leaving its scent behind.
After peeing, he runs back to Granny and paws at her feet, whining.
She picks him up and smiles at me. “It’s late, you should head on home after you’re done exercising. Don’t worry your grandfather.”
“I’ll be home soon,” I assure her.
She scrutinises me for a moment, then adds, “If you can’t sleep, drink some milk. I heard from your grandfather that you’ll be living here from now on. That’s not bad, this way you can keep him company. You don’t have to worry, you’re always welcome at his place.”
I purse my lips and smile at her, nodding. “I know.”
Mom remarried last month to a man who’s never been married before; he’s good to her. Although I have a room in their new house, I don’t want to be a third wheel, so I brought up moving to Green Plum Island. In the beginning, she rejected the idea, but her mood index rose at my suggestion and it was apparent that she wasn’t telling the truth. The third time I brought it up, she agreed.
Sometimes I hate this “synaesthesia” of mine; it can be tiring for people’s emotions to be so transparent.
Fortunately, Grandpa welcomed me with open arms. Green Plum Island is adjacent to Hong City, and there are ferries and buses going to and fro every single day. Once the university begins, it’ll be easy for me to come home every weekend.
Granny walks off with the dog in her arms. I let out a long breath and swivel my head back towards the house behind me. The blinds are shut; light glows from the second floor, but there’s not a silhouette to be seen.
The street is serene, the air tinged with a sweet aroma. I briefly wonder if the house will see a visitor later tonight.
Before setting off for Grandpa’s home, I pluck a petal off the rosebush fence and hold it against my nostrils, breathing it in.
Green Plum Island, as its name denotes, is known for its green plums. Each May, when the plums are fully ripe, the island sees waves of tourists who come to pick plums, to enjoy the sea. The lively tourist season usually lasts until October, when the temperature drops.
There is only a single shopping street on the entire island, called Nanpu Street. It’s a bustling corridor littered with shopfronts and restaurants, and in the evenings it turns into a night market. The place is popular amongst both tourists and locals.
Sun Rui asks me to go shopping with her, promising me she’s going to bring me someplace nice.
I follow her around sceptically. We go around in circles this way and that and after wandering inside the alley for a quarter of an hour, we finally stop in front of a bookshop: Tianqi Used Books.
I stare up at the shop’s sign, already aware that I’ve been dragged into one of Sun Rui’s schemes again.
“When have you ever been interested in books?” I ask her pointedly.
“What are you even talking about, I’ve always been a book lover,” she says, smiling bashfully.
I turn to leave.
Sun Rui rushes up hurriedly to stop me. “I’m contemptible, I admit I’m not into books at all, but I’m into the man in there!”
She should have just said that earlier.
I turn back around and move past her, pushing through the door straight into the shop.
Inside, the air conditioner is blasting at full capacity. The difference in temperature makes me shiver for a second. The bookstore is quiet, with just a few customers here and there. Sun Rui heads straight for the cashier, blasting the young man working the register with a flirtatious smile.
“Wen Ying, I’m back. Did you find the book I mentioned last time?”
The handsome young man looks fresh and pure; I don’t know what he did to capture the attention of my devil of a best friend. He may be classy and innocent now, but he has no idea what situation he’s about to find himself sinking into.
And… I inspect his mood index. It’s a balanced 75, not remotely yellow or pink. Sun Rui has a long road ahead of her.
I leave her with her cash register boy and find myself wandering around the bookstore.
The shop isn’t particularly spacious, with only four rows of shelves on the first floor, but there are books strewn all over the place, including on the staircase leading to the second floor.
Did this place even meet fire regulation standards?
A familiar scene flashes before my eyes. It suddenly strikes me how closely this scene of a sea of books in my surroundings resembles Yan Kongshan’s home. Sun Rui did say he owned a bookstore, though who knew where…
I stand on my tiptoes, trying to reach for a book on the highest shelf. My arms are stretched as far as they can go, and it’s almost within reach. I curse internally at the height of the shelf.
Honestly, do they have something against short people reading?
The second my fingertips are about to touch the book spine, a large, slender hand appears from somewhere behind me and grabs the book from the shelf with ease. The person behind me is so close that the heat of their body reaches me through the thin material of our clothing.
The well-worn wuxia novel is brought before me and I grab it, somewhat disoriented. I turn around to face my “saviour.”
“It’s you?” I stare, eyes wide and startled, at the sight of Yan Kongshan standing before me.
“It’s me.” Across his waist is a small grey pouch similar to the one I’d seen the cash register boy wearing earlier. As he speaks, he reaches in to retrieve a ballpoint pen and notebook, then proceeds to jot down notes while perusing the shelf.
It appears that this is his bookstore.
“Came with your girlfriend?” He’s focused on whatever he’s writing and doesn’t look at me.
He must have been watching me since I walked into the store.
My hands tighten around the novel I’m holding. “No,” I explain, “she’s not my girlfriend. We’re best friends. She… She likes your employee.”
“Oh?” Yan Kongshan’s lips curve up into a smile, eyebrows raised nonchalantly. “My employee is worth a lot on the market, he has a lot of suitors. Your best friend is going to have to work hard.”
I know he’s just making small talk to lessen the awkward, unfamiliar atmosphere between us. His mood index value isn’t any higher than Sun Rui’s cashier boy, but nevertheless, I’m pleased.
“Right, I’ll tell her to work hard.”
I peer fixedly at his mood index and curiosity has me pondering whether he would turn pink if someone “works hard” at making it happen.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to assume so, considering he has a child that’s already five.