He Nuo realised something weird. Ever since he started school, one of the village’s children who was in the same year but different cla.s.s would always visit the house, and the moment he arrived, he would talk to his Uncle and cousins with their backs to He Nuo. His Uncle would also question him about his whereabouts after school. Everyday after school, He Nuo would lie in a small forest on the mountain for about 10 to 20 minutes before returning home. He liked to lie on the fallen leaves there that had gathered up over the years. When he opened his eyes, he could see the clear, blue sky which would bring huge comfort to his tired soul as he hoped to go through every day happily.
One letter washed away He Nuo’s doubts. As he was washing everyone’s cotton-padded jackets, he was used to turning out all the pockets to ensure that there was nothing left in them by accident. He found a letter in his uncle’s clothes, and it was written in his father’s handwriting. He was curious and started to read it: … this kid is ill-natured, do take note and ensure that he doesn’t hang out with his cla.s.smates too often, and don’t let him go out after school…; the first half was written by his father, while the next half was written by his mother: … get Da Long, Xiao Long (Uncle’s sons) to pay more attention to him in school so that he doesn’t cause any trouble, this kid is pretty good at making a mess, don’t let Da Long and Xiao Long get too close to him lest he leads them astray too…
He Nuo originally squatted by the river and within a moment, he felt like he had aged considerably from a bright and happy teenager into an old man. With his icy-cold hands and feet, he slowly placed the clothes on the river bank and walked over to a tree then sat next to it. His hand still grabbed ahold of the letter as he looked up and closed his eyes to prevent the warm tears from leaking out as his heart turned desolate. For the first time, He Nuo no longer tried to lie to himself and admitted that he could feel sad, that he could get hurt.
Soon after, he managed to bring his hazy feelings under control and told himself that he did hurt Shi Yan, that he did implicate his brother, and he did make his parents grieve. All of these were true – no one maligned him. When he got to the root of the problem, it was all because of his impulsiveness that day. Once Shi Yan recovers and his brother attends university, everything would get better. How can a guy get this upset over a few words? He Nuo, hurry up and clean up that pile of dog p.i.s.s and do what you need to do! He Nuo thought all this then stood up and walked over to the river bank to collect the clothes.
He Nuo didn’t want to cause any trouble for his Uncle so he minimised his contact with his cla.s.smates and returned home straight after school. There were no abnormalities in his day to day life. But as He Nuo saw the transplantation of the rice seedlings and the green wheat fields that signalled the start of summer holidays, he did not display the same excitement as the other students but showed worry instead. Although his results were quite good, even the best student from his school only managed to enroll in a Normal College1. After all, this was the village. The low quality of the teaching here was one thing, but they didn’t have any specialised revision materials. How could a village bear to spend money on “Haidian”‘s2 revision booklets? He Nuo was starting to worry about his future.
A beautiful autumn arrived, and He Nuo saw the spectacular sight of harvesting crops. He even managed to learn how to use a sickle to cut the gra.s.s in order to feed the two young lambs at his Uncle’s house. He Nuo had managed to obtain some simple resources from a third year graduate, but he needed to erase the notes and answers from the booklets before he could use them so he often had to stare really hard at the blurred out words on the books. As a result, he overstrained his eyes and his ability to see the words on the blackboard was not as good as before. He was afraid that he would develop myopia (getting spectacles would cost money) but electricity was often stopped in the village so he couldn’t avoid reading his books under candlelight.
One day, as he was delivering some homework for his teacher, he saw one of the teachers mix some red, dried fruits with water in a gla.s.s to drink and a lightbulb went off in his head. He remembered that he had pa.s.sed by a type of small, red droplet-like fruit in the mountains which should be the goji berry that the teacher had used to steep water with. He Nuo had heard that goji berries were good for the eyes. On the second day during lunchtime, he ran to the mountains to look for the goji berries and indeed, he managed to find little, red fruits suspended along some branches which attracted attention. He Nuo happily picked the berries until he filled up half of his lunch box, then ate them at night after washing them. It was difficult to describe its taste – it was neither delicious nor horrid, and it wasn’t as sweet and sour as one would expect. The sweetness of this goji was bland to the point that it was hard to taste it, and the sourness was even less detectable. However, since they were good for the eyes, He Nuo always went to pick half a lunch box full of goji berries every afternoon.
The goji berries on the mountains were all grown in the wild, so there weren’t many of them and since winter was coming, the branches would likely rot away soon too. The amount of fruits He Nuo could pick began to lessen, but he had a plan. Every day, he would pick the goji buds off the branches and bring them back for safekeeping. During the days when He Nuo couldn’t pick goji berries, He Nuo would wash these dried buds then slowly chew on them. It was slightly bitter and tart, but He Nuo preferred this type of bitterness and tartness to the tastelessness of his usual goji berries.
The villagers loved to welcome the auspicious snow that foretold a good harvest, and the children loved it too because it meant the start of the season for s…o…b..ll fights and snowmen-building. It was also the time when He Nuo encountered a challenge – the challenge of disease. At the start of the year when he had just arrived, he didn’t need to go to school so he didn’t really think much of it. But now that he had to attend school everyday, his feet had to undergo a grim ordeal. He had no cotton-padded shoes. His shoes from last year with wedged in cotton had already become too small for his feet. Even though he managed to squeeze his feet into his old shoes, they weren’t real cotton-padded shoes that could withstand the snow and frost of the harsh winter.
During cla.s.s, he had to continuously wriggle his toes around in his shoes to prevent them from becoming stiff; after cla.s.s, he always walked about and exercised his feet so that his blood could circulate around his body faster. There was once when it snowed after a bout of rain and He Nuo was pushing his bicycle up a portion of the mountain path when he felt that every time his feet stepped onto the ground’s frost, it felt like he was stepping into ice and the cold pierced into his flesh and bones. Towards the end, he used both his hands to support himself on his bicycle as he took his foot out from the snow time and time again. He would take a deep breath every time he took one foot out of the snow, then determinedly place his next foot in.
1. This isn’t Normal as in ordinary, but rather a college that follows the norm in ways of teaching. And this college that He Nuo was referring to was a college where students go to study to become a teacher.?
2. A district that hosts famous universities, so it’s basically good revision materials from a well-off place like notes from Harvard LOL?