Green Plum Island Ch4

Sun Rui doesn’t find the book she wants, so she has to come back some other time. Although her face seems filled with regret over the fact, her mood index value is high. She leaves the store empty-handed, but I end up with an old 90’s wuxia novel.

“The owner of the store was just telling me how that cashier boy of his is really popular. He said you have to work hard,” I inform her while flipping through my new book.

Heroes saving damsels in distress, misunderstandings and falling off cliffs, truths revealed, joining hands and retiring off into the sunset. It’s a bit cliche, but the writing isn’t bad.

“You managed to talk to the owner?” Sun Rui asks in surprise. “Did he tell you what kind of girl Wen Ying is into?”

 

I close my book and clasp my hands behind my back. “Let’s see…,” I pretend to be deep in thought. “I think he said the guy likes the self-restrained type. Not too forward.”

Sun Rui’s thin brows knit together, disbelief with a tad bit of uncertainty written across her face. “I didn’t get those vibes from him.”

“You can’t tell he’s a carnivore man?” I laugh.

 

The past few years, Sun Rui has let her hair grow long. Paired with her healthy, tanned skin, she radiates sunshine and liveliness without a trace of vulgarity. Looking at her, you’d think she was a cross country star, a cheerleader, or a delicate and obedient girl. No one would believe her bluntness when it comes to her desires or her obsession over the size of men’s penises.

“Human beings live for the sake of pursuing their desires, I just happen to live with more self-awareness than others.” Not only is she direct, but she can also be snarky: “There’s nothing I hate more than prudes who can’t talk about sex, who yap all day long about chastity, who perpetuate rubbish standards from feudalistic times and make them the modern status quo. It’s despicable!”

Despite the fact that Green Plum Island is a small place, its prime location makes it a prime holiday destination for both Chinese and foreign visitors. Over the last few centuries, foreigners had established schools, hospitals, racehorse stadiums, and other means of enrichment on the island. Constant intermarrying from centuries past is what gave present-day locals their racially ambiguous appearance, and longtime contact with people from all colours of life cultivated an openminded culture on their island.

 

A prime example is Granny, who, in the years of her prime, had a tall nose and deep ocean eyes. It’s rumoured that her mother was a foreigner that died giving birth to her second child. When Granny’s father remarried, her stepmother treated her terribly and beat her, leading her to lose faith in both families and wedded life. And thus, at twenty, she put her hair up and moved into the spinster house.

“Yeah, sure, super despicable,” I say to Sun Rui consolingly.

We approach a fruit stand and I buy myself a watermelon slush. The second the sweet, refreshing liquid enters my mouth, it’s almost as if the summer heat has all but disappeared.

I let out a deep sigh and keep walking. Sun Rui seems suddenly struck by thought because she scoots up close, leans in, and asks in a hushed voice, “Yu Mian, are you a virgin?”

I choke, watermelon juice nearly splattering out of my mouth. After a long moment of me hacking my lungs out, I throw her an alarmed look. “What are you trying to do to me?”

I clutch my chest in fear that her mood index will turn yellow and that she’ll want to make a move on my pure soul.

“You never had a crush on anyone in high school? I mean you’re good-looking, I have a hard time believe no girl had a crush on you.” She scrunches her nose. “It’s a pity you never experienced young love.”

So that’s what she’s getting at. I relax, the warning bells in my mind calming down.

In my first year of high school, there was a girl who confessed to me, but I rejected her because we weren’t of the same sex and dating her simply wasn’t an option.

In my second year of high school, I thought Fu Wei liked me because his mood index was always pink and I stupidly told him we could “try things out,” and then—well, there was no and then… Fu Wei’s attitude towards me flipped 180 degrees and he avoided me like I was a snake. He even went so far as to tell everyone I was messed up and to avoid me at all costs, which put an end to any chance at a high school romance I could have gotten.

Chewing on my straw, I say, “What’s there to pity? It’s better to focus on studying when you’re supposed to. And anyways… how do you know that I won’t find someone this summer?”

Sun Rui thinks for a moment. “True,” she agrees. “Who knows, a passionate romance might just appear out of nowhere for you.”

Passionate romance…

A tall silhouette floats unconsciously across my mind. Wind breezes past my ears, and I think I hear the sound of a chime.

I’m still gnawing on the straw in my mouth when we stop before a shop’s window display. Aside from the plastic mannequins in the display, there’s a giant body-length mirror, and it just so happens to show me a reflection of what I look like in this very moment.

A smile lingers around the corners of my mouth, my eyes sparkle, and above my head is a pair of pink numbers; my emotions are soaring to unimaginable heights.

 

Perhaps I’m mistaken. After all, how could I fall for someone I’ve barely even met? I was never the type of falling in love at first sight.

I think again of Yan Kongshan, of his large hands, his dark black eyes, his straight legs…

Do you see it? This time my mood index doesn’t turn pink.

Damn. It’s yellow.

I silently curse myself and lean weakly against the glass window, my inner thoughts a jumbled mess.

Was I seriously sexually attracted to Yan Kongshan and thus, fell for him at first sight?

My emotional turmoil quickly floats to the surface, and beside me, Sun Rui gleams that something is up. “What’s going on with you?” she asks with a perturbed expression on her face. Lowering her voice to a whisper, she adds, “You’re into that stuff?”

“What?” I peer at the display window. Two mannequins dressed in sexy lace lingerie stand before me, modelling provocatively. It’s a lingerie shop…

I straighten my face instantaneously and stand up straight. “Here’s the thing,” I explain vehemently, “I just remembered that my mum’s birthday slipped my mind. I feel a little bad about it.”

I shoot Sun Rui a convincing smile to top off my lie.

She falls for it, saying, “Oh, I see. Are you planning on getting her something? If you’re too shy, I can go in and help you make the purchase.”

I thank her for her good intentions but turn her down.

We wander around a bit more and then take the bus home. Sun Rui leaves me at the station, reminding me to maintain an amicable relationship with my neighbour so I can help her get more info on Wen Ying. I agree distractedly, my mind racing with thoughts.

Her request is troublesome, but as I think that, I know deep in my heart I’m lying to myself—in fact, I’m extremely satisfied with this wonderful opportunity Sun Rui has handed me.

My heart feels as if it has given birth to a sparrow that is beating its wings furiously, wanting to be set free, and I am about to lose my hold on it.


[I bought “The Thunder Hero” at a used bookstore on the island today, it was a good read.]

Most young people these days have one or two social media accounts that they use to share their lives and feelings, and I am not an exception.

 

The comment section quickly starts to fill up, some people asking about the book, some asking about the bookstore.

Netizen A: I travelled to Green Plum Island before, I feel like it’s a really relaxing place, perfect for retiring.

Netizen B: I went to the used bookstore on the island, they really have all kinds of books there, but it’s messy inside. You have to have the patience to browse.

Netizen C: “The Thunder Hero” hasn’t really aged well, it’s pretty cliche, but back in the day it was unique.

I reply to a few comments, then exit the app and lie back in bed to sleep.

Before getting into bed, I had shut the window, but the night air is hot and stuffy, and the electric fan isn’t doing anything. I’m covered in sweat and I’d spent the earlier part of the night tossing and turning, unable to really fall asleep, so I get up to reopen the window.

As soon as I push it open, an elegant-looking young woman donned in a white dress, her long hair flowing down her back, happens to be exiting my neighbour’s house.

Yan Kongshan appears behind her, escorting her until she’s left his yard.

“Are you sure…” The woman turns back and says something to him.

Yan Kongshan shakes his head.

The woman appears regretful, and their exchange ends. One walks off into the distance, the other locks the gate behind him.

I expect Yan Kongshan to go back inside his house, but instead, he sits on a long bench stationed in the yard and lights a cigarette.

He’s too far away for me to catch a clear glimpse of his face. All that’s visible is the hand holding the cigarette resting on a wooden table and his gaze, staring straight ahead. I don’t know what thoughts are mulling in his mind.

I prop my elbows on the window ledge and fold my hands under my chin, holding my head up. He gazes somewhere ahead of him, I gaze at him.

I take out my phone, snap a photo of the moon overhead, then upload it to update my status.

[It’s a long, sleepless night.]

At this hour, most people are asleep, so the comments come slowly. After a while, only three commenters show up.

Netizen A: I guess we’re all insomniacs.

Netizen B: Nah, not me. I’m jet-lagged.

Netizen C: The moon is so big! It’s not cloudy at all, it looks like the weather tomorrow is gonna be great!

 

Putting the phone back down, my eyes shift back to Yan Kongshan. He’s standing up, it appears he’s finished with his cigarette.

The air outside is cooler than in the room. Leaning against the window, sleep starts to dull my senses.

Right then, Yan Kongshan looks over without warning and stares directly at me. It’s too late to hide, so I end up crouching down awkwardly like a dog. Praise the gods the man didn’t have super sight and didn’t know I was staring at him the entire time.

Our two houses aren’t positioned neatly side by side; rather, one lies in front of the other, so my window faces his yard, with a narrow lane between us.

“It’s late, you’re still up?” Yan Kongshan walks over to the flower hedge and looks up.

The cicadas are loud, but his voice rings clearly into the night.

I raise my head a little. “It’s too hot, I can’t sleep. Why are you still up?”

I know why, but I ask him anyway.

He stares for a few beats, then purposely evades my question. “It’s too hot, I can’t sleep either.”

Before our conversation can continue, he reaches up to massage his temples, exhaustion overtaking his features. “It’s late, I’m heading back to sleep.” He swivels around, and without looking back, waved a hand. “You should get some sleep too, little man.”

I purse my lips, resisting the urge to shout at his back for him to take back the “little.”

I’m not little. Not in age, and not down there.

That night, the wind chime doesn’t sound; Yan Kongshan took it inside. I sleep until eleven the next morning, bombarded with dreams all night. When I wake, I don’t remember any of them, but I’m lethargic.

After washing up, I head downstairs and am passing through the living room to the kitchen to fill my empty stomach when I stop suddenly, realising something. I detour back to our ancient pearwood couch. There’s a little girl planted on top of it, watching TV.

“What are you doing here?” I have no idea what’s going on.

Yan Wanqiu’s legs swing back and forth. Spongebob plays on the TV. She turns around. “It’s the weekend, I don’t have school.”

“What about your dad?”

“Ah Shan went into the city for books, he can’t bring me so he left me here.”

“What about my grandpa?”

She squishes her lips together, indicating towards the kitchen. “Cooking in the kitchen.”

 

I go looking for Grandpa.

Upon seeing that I’m awake, he hands me a large bowl and motions for me to sit down to eat noodles before hollering for Yan Wanqiu to come over.

“I’m going to sell tea eggs later, you stay home and take care of Qiuqiu.”

“Huh?” My chopsticks freeze at my mouth, noodles slipping back into my bowl.

“There are lots of tourists in town, the tea eggs sell really well,” Grandpa continues, unaware. “I can sell them all in one afternoon.”

And despite the fact that Yan Wanqiu is shovelling noodles into her mouth with her chopsticks, oil smearing her face, she manages to add to the conversation, “Ah Shan says the bookstore is doing great too because it’s summer.”

After lunch, Grandpa heads off with his cart, leaving me and Yan Wanqiu staring at each other across the dining table. Several long moments pass; I have no idea how to interact with a five, six-year-old girl.

“You read any manga?”

“I can’t read.”

“Then let’s watch TV.”

Spongebob is over.”

“…Mobile games?”

“Ah, Shan says it’s bad for your eyes.”

I give up. “What do you want to do then?”

The small girl’s round eyes blink a few times, then she blasts me with a sweet smile, dimples forming on her cheeks.

“Let’s go to my house to play Mario.”

It’s clear from the expression on her face that she’d been waiting for me for a while.

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