Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
Like a sharp knife, the cold wind slashed across pedestrians’ faces, beckoning them to hasten their footsteps. In the midst of such bone-chilling weather, no one was willing to spare the slightest sympathy for those around them.
Suitcase in hand, Xu Lan collided head-first into a person rushing to work. The latter cursed while gently massaging his shoulder as he turned his body, ready to give a piece of his mind to Xu Lan who had just bumped into him.
Xu Lan – bent over while gathering documents strewn all across the floor – looked up after being shouted at. His face was blank.
“Watch your step! Next time we meet, I might not let you off the hook so easily!” Having caught sight of Xu Lan’s trembling expression, the man said those words rather reluctantly, though the tone of his voice was certainly no less fierce.
Xu Lan stared at his phone. It laid there broken and shattered on the ground. He then looked at the silent silhouette of a person and smiled cynically. Nowadays, it did not matter whether he consulted the Yellow Calendar before leaving home, his days were still exhausting. Moments ago, he had just been friend-zoned by his dream girl, after which the bureau chief had suspended him from his duties. Then, he received a call from his landlady along the road and to make matters worse, he dropped his phone and broke it.
Along with red, dry, and heavy eyes, his despondent self had only one goal in mind — to reach home. Like all the days before, he once again resembled a puppet as he walked mechanically with a suitcase in his hand.
“Somebody! Help! Someone’s drowning! Someone’s drowning!” a voice shouted from the bridge up ahead, and in a short moment, the crowd made passing through the area almost impossible.
“It’s a child! How did it fall in there?”
“No idea. I don’t know how to swim.”
People were talking amongst themselves, occasionally extending their heads over the bridge to look at the flailing child. Since the frozen surface of the ice was thin, the movements of the child shattered the ice, and the child began to sink. Soon, the child – now weak from constantly flailing – no longer had the strength to stay afloat.
As soon as Xu Lan reached the bridge and saw the situation, he immediately dropped his suitcase and removed his cotton-padded jacket. Without a second thought, he dove right into the icy river.
It did not matter that the ice-cold river water treated his body like a pincushion and pierced deep into his bones. Xu Lan thought nothing of it and merely clenched his teeth while swimming toward the child. During winter, the cold river water rapidly deprived the body of its warmth, causing limbs to stiffen and become numb. There was no way of knowing what condition the child was in, but one thing was for sure — the flailing sounds were nowhere to be heard.
With directions from the city people, Xu Lan was able to save the child and a huge crowd soon surrounded him. Many showered him with praise, while others made phone calls to local television stations. There was no doubt that this was big news.
Shivering from the cold, Xu Lan wore his cotton-padded jacket and hugged the child. He frantically asked, “Where’s the one-twenty? Is it not here yet?”
People looked at each other in dismay, then looked back at Xu Lan. The knife scar above Xu Lan’s eyebrow appeared threatening, and the heat from his breath generated a thin layer of austerity in contrast to his cold and stiff expression which was slowly becoming somber. Underneath the jacket, Xu Lan’s well-built figure and tan skin seemed dour.
“Move away!” The responses of the onlookers clearly struck Xu Lan’s nerve. He hugged the child and barged out of the crowd, rushing toward the city’s nearest hospital.
“Hey, that guy just now, was he a gang member or something?”
“I don’t know, but he sure looked like it,” the crowd was muttering amongst themselves.
Snow that fell for thousands of miles covered footprints left behind by pedestrians, erasing all traces of where they came from. No one remembered the child who fell into the water, much less the resolute man who saved that child.
Xu Lan sat on the corridor of the city hospital. The cold naturally got to him, and he shivered while chattering his teeth.
The door to the operation room creaked open. Xu Lan, stumbling, rushed in to stop the doctor.
“Doctor, how’s the child?”
After squinting and casting a glance at Xu Lan, the young and handsome doctor impassively said, “At the moment, we’ve averted all immediate and life-threatening dangers. With that said, hospitalization is required as we will need to monitor the situation closely.”
At that moment, Xu Lan breathed a sigh of relief and thought, “Thank God he’s alright, thank God he’s alright.”
“In that case, can I go and see him now?”
“The patient is asleep.” The young doctor seemed unwilling to continue dealing with Xu Lan as he pulled his mask off and handed it over to his assistant. The doctor promptly left, leaving a bewildered Xu Lan standing in the corridor.
The assistant followed suit, but turned back after walking halfway and pointed a finger at Xu Lan’s face. Driven by emotion, the assistant had some strong words to say, “You. What kind of a father are you? Surely no parent, bad or good, will ever treat their child like how you did. Do you have any idea how close to death he was? If you were so much as late by two minutes, he would have been chatting with Yama!”
“What? He isn’t my-”
“What do you mean he isn’t your child? Have you taken a DNA test yet? My God, the youngsters nowadays…”
A flurry of sidelong glances were cast immediately after Xu Lan was publicly denounced. Most of those looks were directed at Xu Lan. Murmurs began surfacing, all of them similarly denouncing him. They said that he was irresponsible and a deplorable parent, amongst other things.
“Fine then, go in and have a look at the child. Next time, please don’t make light of a child’s life!” said the assistant. He had seen how terrified Xu Lan was after being reprimanded. Coupled with the Xu Lan’s embarrassment and unease, the assistant suddenly realized that his words were rather excessive so he let Xu Lan into the ward.
Feeling as though he had just received a decree of special pardon, he gladly entered the ward. At that time, he still remained fearful of a scenario where everyone would judge and find fault in him. There were a few occasions where he dreamt about it in his sleep, causing him to wake up dripping in sweat and distraught with anxiety.
During that frantic moment of rescuing the child, Xu Lan did not manage to take a closer look at the boy but he could now see that the kid was about three or four years old. Bruises and scars adorned the boy’s pale face. It was evident that the kid was in pain as his eyebrows were tightly creased, and his frail unsettled hands were gripping tightly at the bedsheet.
“Hey, there little guy. Time to wake up.” Xu Lan truly could not bear to see the child suffer so he woke the boy up. Perhaps, the sleeping child was having a nightmare.
The boy disconcertingly opened his eyes, took one look at Xu Lan and fainted out of sheer fear.
Xu Lan, who could not quite pick up on what had happened merely stood there at the edge of the bed. For a few moments, he was clueless as to what had happened. Xu Lan turned around to see the neighboring patient staring at him in horror as though he had just witnessed a homicide happen right before his eyes.
The patient nervously pressed the call button and the doctor soon rushed in with a bunch of medical interns. They stood in front of him in an overbearing manner.
“What’s going on?”
“He… uh… fainted,” said an embarrassed Xu Lan while scratching his head.
“Didn’t I tell you that the patient was sleeping? Who let you in?” asked the doctor as he was checking on the boy. He did not look too happy.
“When I came in earlier, he looked like he was having a bad dream so I woke him up,” Xu Lan hastily explained. Although he felt there was no real need to explain himself, there were too many people in the area who were looking at him with disdain.
“How did the patient collapse?”
Realistically speaking, if Xu Lan repeated the same thing again, it would only make matters worse for him. This was especially so since the crowd had already formed a negative impression of him.
“Shh… little fella. Are you awake?”
The boy blankly opened his ruby-like eyes and darted them across the area. His gaze finally stopped on Xu Lan but seconds later, he turned toward the young doctor.
“You’re such a good boy. Are you feeling pain anywhere?” The boy shook his head.
Xu Lan had a lingering feeling that the boy’s look was unbearably terrifying. When the boy looked at him, he felt as though the child was staring into the depths of his soul. It was not the kind of look a three or four-year-old would possess.
“Doctor, since the boy’s awake, I’ll get going. I need to find a job,” said Xu Lan to the doctor, without looking at the boy.
“Excuse me? Which is more important, the child or your work? Are you thinking about making a run for it and just leaving your child here?” questioned the assistant who previously chastised Xu Lan in front of everyone.
“No, of course not! This child isn’t mine. I saved him from the Sanhe Bridge just this morning,” Xu Lan briskly explained.
Xu Lan received a look of contempt from the young doctor, who said, “Whatever the case may be, you should first settle all the medical bills.”
“What?! But doctor, I have no money. You should get in touch with the child’s parents instead of extorting money from me. They are the ones who should be paying for his expenses!” As soon as Xu Lan was asked to foot the bill, he got angry. He was already behind on rent by three months, and in the morning his landlady had just informed him that he would have to pack his bags and leave if the rent was not settled!
Xu Lan’s voice naturally had a powerful tone. If he raised it by even eight degrees, those who were ready to fight him would simply hiss and keep quiet.
“We saved the boy. Then, at the final moment when we kindly ask that you settle the expenses, you turn around and say the boy isn’t yours and that you have no money? Do we look like a charity to you?” the doctor calmly remarked even as he was faced with Xu Lan. Though he was a young chief physician, he was experienced and had seen countless antics by hard-headed people.
“But I don’t even…”
“Papa!” exclaimed the boy, with his misty eyes fixated on Xu Lan. As he heard the boy’s crisp voice call out, Xu Lan’s jaw almost fell to the ground. What was that trickery? When people spoke of being a ‘stepfather’, were they referring to this?
“Young man, you must be responsible for what you say! I am not your father, and I have no money to pay for the medical bills!” Xu Lan could no longer bear the various weird looks – mostly of disdain – that were thrown at him. He simply shrugged it off, closed his eyes, and headed for the exit.
“Papa doesn’t want me anymore?”
Xu Lan’s hand swiftly reached for the door, but landed on it with a thump, shocking the doctor who had just came in to check on the patients.
“Sergeant Xu? Why are you here? Are you injured again today?” asked the squinty-eyed doctor. While composing himself, he checked the medical records which he held close to his chest.
“Ah, old friend, finally I found someone who can speak on my behalf. Please come with me and try to reason for me!” Xu Lan appeared to be holding on to the last blade of grass as he grabbed and led the squinty-eyed doctor into the ward, in hopes that the doctor could rectify things for him.
“Hehe… what’s this all about? This is Sergeant Xu from the public security bureau. Don’t let his buff looks fool you, he’s a real expert when it comes to handling cases. Not to mention his honesty! Every time there’s a case, he puts himself in the front line and suffers plenty of injuries. Just look!” The squinty-eyed doctor pulled Xu Lan over and pointed at the scar above the latter’s eyebrow. “I personally stitched this wound for Sergeant Xu! At the time, his supraorbital ridge was broken, and seven stitches were needed. After only half a month, he was back at work again–”
“Papa!” came a soft voice, cutting off the doctor’s train of thought and non-stop babbling.
“Sergeant Xu! Your son’s a big boy now? My my, you never said anything about him,” the squinty-eyed doctor teased, causing Xu Lan to fly into a fit of rage.
“I’ve already said, he’s not my son!” Xu Lan trembled in anger. He looked at the group of doctors and noticed that their expressions changed again.
“Papa doesn’t want me anymore, again?” said the child in a shy and whimpering tone.
“Sergeant Xu, I used to have a lot of respect for you, but don’t you think it’s a little un-classy to do this sort of thing?” asked the squinty-eyed doctor as he looked at the group of physicians. Immediately afterward, some of them went along with his statement and started criticizing Xu Lan.
“Alright, alright, alright! I’ll pay the damn bills. But I want to leave the hospital now, and I mean right now!” Xu Lan simply could not ignore how the others looked at him. He forced himself to cough up the money to pay the medical bills, then took the kid and rushed out of the hospital. He did not want to stay at the hospital for a second longer!
‘Child? A child?!’ Xu Lan looked down and saw that the young boy’s bright eyes were looking back at him. Thankfully, Xu Lan was from the public security bureau; the parents of such a cute kid must be terribly anxious.
He thought about how he was just suspended from duties by the bureau chief that morning, but fast forward to later in the day, he was rushing back to his workplace to settle another mess. He seemed unwilling to accept how the whole issue turned out and deep down, he truly did not welcome what was happening. He thought about it for a moment and decided, ‘Perhaps it would be better to deal with it tomorrow and head home first?’
As that thought surfaced and he began heading home, Xu Lan abruptly slapped himself on the thigh.
‘Bloody hell, how could I have forgotten?’
 喜当爹– translated as ‘stepfather’, although this does not quite encompass the meaning of the word, but is the closest translation without needing to explain the term in its entirety; this phrase actually has a very curious origin, based on etymology searches, two of which seem relevant to Xu Lan’s scenario. The first is described as “a cynical term coined by the internet community to describe a situation where a man hooks up with a woman and becomes the father of her unborn child. The child is fathered by someone else obviously.” The other is where “A guy with mediocre credentials and limited means won the girl of his heart, but realized later on it went so easy because she was pregnant with someone else’s child and desperately needed someone to assume the paternal responsibilities.” The gist of it is that a man now becomes a father, but is not the actual father of the child, and does not seem to be too happy about having the child (thus ruling out the use of the word ‘adoptive’ to describe the term).
 黄历– translated as the ‘Yellow Calendar’. This is said to be the origin of 通勝 (Tung Shing) which is a Chinese divination guide and almanac; it is a calendar based on the Chinese Lunar Year. It tells you what the most suitable activity is for any given day.
 While at this point of time the author did not specify the reason for the landlady’s call, it is later revealed that he was two months behind his rent.
 120 – the telephone number for medical services in China; Xu Lan here was asking why medical services had yet to arrive.
 阎王– translated as Yama, who is also known as the King of Hell. With this tidbit of information, you may wonder why the child would be meeting with the King of Hell after dying: after all, children are innocent and hell should be the last place for them to go. Well, in Chinese mythology, Yama is not only the literal King of Hell, but he is also the one who passes judgment on those who are dead. The dead spirits – be it children or adults – will have to undergo judgment by Yama, after which they are supposed to either pass through a term of enjoyment in a region midway between earth and the heaven of gods or to undergo their measure of punishment in the netherworld. So rest assured, the doctor did not mean that the children would be sent to hell.
 三河– translated to Sanhe, which means Three Rivers; this is likely the Sanhe Province in Beijing, China.