The He couple were worried that that woman would really obstruct their fifth son, He Aige’s path to university. So they asked around for Shi Yan Mama’s unit, and after work they waited for her at the door. Usually, they weren’t the type to kiss up to this kind of high-ranking officials. This time, aside from giving her some canned food as gifts for Shi Yan and putting in a few good words, they didn’t really know what else they could do. Shi Mama had always looked down on people who were oblivious to her family’s authority, especially a family at the bottom of the social ladder like the He family. She didn’t bother giving them any face; trying to buy her over with those few, shabby cans? Throngs of people gifted them such cans all the time.
The He couple lowered their heads dejectedly and returned home in shame. Naturally, He Papa wanted to punish the He Nuo who had caused this mess. Everyday, after He Nuo received corporal punishment from the belt, he would be ordered to kneel and reflect and wasn’t allowed to attend school. This continued until the fifth day when Shi Mama finally said that she wouldn’t pursue the matter, then He Nuo finally stopped receiving love and care from the belt.
However, the He couple still wanted to punish He Nuo for his vile behaviour and ensure that their fifth son’s future wouldn’t be implicated by He Nuo’s actions, so they decided to send He Nuo to the countryside for some hard work to completely reform him. To them, if you didn’t suffer through some hardships, you wouldn’t cherish the opportunity to study. He Mama’s brother didn’t live too far away – he lived in a village that would take about 3 hours by train plus a 45 minutes drive to reach. He Nuo’s second brother was then tasked with the job to send him to this “uncle”‘s house.
He Nuo’s eldest brother was already married with kids, but his second brother didn’t even have a prospective partner. Yet, Second brother was still saving money with all his might; he scrimped and saved to prepare it for his future bride. He Nuo’s parents gave Second brother some money for He Nuo’s living expenses to pa.s.s to Uncle, and an extra hundred dollars to buy He Nuo a pair of cotton shoes. In the village, they slept on kang bed-stoves1, and weren’t as good at keeping people warm as in the city. The remaining expenses were meant to be for He Nuo’s school fees and for emergencies. Because the He couple didn’t tell He Nuo any of these concerns and had instead told their second son directly, He Nuo didn’t know that they had pa.s.sed Second brother any money. After Second brother sent him to the village and pa.s.sed the money to Uncle, he asked He Nuo to wise up and help Uncle’s family with more work before he left. As for the extra hundred dollars…when He Nuo knew about it several years later, he just smiled and let it pa.s.s.
When he reached the village, he filed in the transfer papers for his new high school. Since winter holidays were coming up (the South’s winter holidays usually began around 15th January), his uncle told him not to attend school for these few days so they didn’t need to pay the fees for the current semester. He Nuo thought his Uncle’s words made sense, so he immediately entered into a holiday mood. Winter was the season when the South’s farmers could relax, so He Nuo didn’t really have to help out around the house with much other than some small tasks like washing the vegetables and dishes. His uncle had four children – two daughters and two sons. The older two were girls, one was older than him by two years and the other was the same age as him. But both of them worked in a rural factory that was a bit far away, so they always left the house early and returned pretty late and didn’t have many chances to meet He Nuo. Both of his sons were in junior high, and initially thought that someone from the county would look more decent but were surprised to see how poor He Nuo was.
In the village during winter, it seemed like the people there would only bathe once during the New Year and usually didn’t change their clothes very often either, so He Nuo took over his cousins’ job of washing the clothes — He Nuo didn’t know that his parents had entrusted some money to his Uncle as his living expenses and always thought that he was mooching off his Uncle, so he wanted to work more in order to repay them. Because of He Nuo’s diligence, and how he would never ask for an extra bowl of rice or touch the meat and fish dishes on the table, his uncle and aunt’s originally black faces started to clear up. The condescending looks of his cousins also lessened considerably, and they would even talk a bit before falling asleep on the bed-stove. However, the time He Nuo spent in the toilet began to lengthen, and he suffered serious constipation – it became increasingly difficult for him to take a no. 2. Eventually, he forced himself to try and take a dump at least once a day even if he didn’t feel the urge to.
A new school term started. As the school was situated quite far away halfway up a mountain, the students who lived nearby relied on cycling to get to school. He Nuo owned one too. He had to leave the house at 6AM in the morning because how could he cycle up a mountain? When he reached the foot of the mountain, he had to get off and manually push his bicycle up the mountain. It was only at the halfway mark where the mountain path levelled off and became flat when he could cycle a bit before the next inclined portion. In the afternoon, the students here wouldn’t return home so they usually brought along their own lunches. The time at which they could leave school was much earlier here because of their surroundings. This school was actually an ancient temple in one of the dynasties, and during the Cultural Revolution the offerings inside were smashed to smithereens. Afterwards, when a few villages wanted to set up a high school, they decided to just convert this temple into a school building, or else who would construct a school halfway up a mountain? The moment the sun set (the sun sets at around 4:30 in Winter), the cla.s.srooms would fall into complete darkness. The village only provided electricity from 6:00PM onwards, so the school had to let their students off before darkness fell.
He Nuo’s results that were usually above average became relatively outstanding in the village’s school. Children in the village who came from more affluent families were all sent to the city to study, so the children left in the village weren’t any special – they were all just common village children. He Nuo’s ragged, old clothing became less conspicuous here. There were even students who would take the initiative to talk to him in cla.s.s, or ask him some questions regarding their schoolwork, which made him very happy. So every day after school, as he rode his beloved bicycle that made noises everywhere aside from its broken alarm bell, he felt like he was flying through the metre-wide mountain path.
1. The kang (Chinese: 炕) is a traditional long (2 metres or more) platform for general living, working, entertaining and sleeping used in northern part of China, where there is cold climate in winter. It is made of bricks or other forms of fired clay and more recently of concrete in some locations.?