Holding the picture, Zheng Bin took a breath and exclaimed, “Old Zhao, where did Auntie find such a beautiful girl for you? She’s not worse than the mainstays of the art troupe!”
He knew that Zhao Nan was from the countryside, and although there was no intention to discriminate, the impression that normal people had was, that the rural girls who worked on the farm, weren’t they tanned and skinny? It was a bit surprising for him to see such a fair-skinned and delicate girl.
“Look, look,” he stuffed the picture in front of Zhao Nan’s eyes, “If they are all such beautiful girls, why would you reject them? What else is there to be dissatisfied with?”
Zhao Nan accepted the picture and took a glance, he then read the letter that came together with it.
The letter was dictated by Zhang Liyun and written by Zhao Qianqian. The general idea was that the family found him a good girl, and no matter what, he had to take a family leave. They wanted him to go home in the near future or at least at the end of the year, to meet the girl and settle his lifelong event. At the end of the letter, harsh words were written. If he didn’t do it, Zhang Liyun would find the leader of the army and let the leader care for his subordinates.
After reading the letter, Zhao Nan frowned. (T/N: the original text says that he frowned with a “川” word in between his eyebrows, like a -.-lll expression)
The last time he went home to visit relatives, he rescued a girl from the reservoir. After Zhang Liyun learned of it, she intentionally or unintentionally, tried to probe him. He thought that his mother wouldn’t give up this time and hence sent the girl’s picture over, but unexpectedly, it was the girl’s sister. He didn’t know what had happened in the family over this short period of time, to have such a change.
He put the picture and letter back into the envelope. The yellow envelope gradually covered the person in the picture, as if in slow-motion. From the slightly upturned lips to the dimples on her cheeks, then to the eyes that seemed to be smiling, until all had disappeared.
Zheng Bin had been beside him the whole time, waiting for his response, but after Zhao Nan kept the letter away, he picked up the document and continued reading.
“Old Zhao, don’t you feel anything at all? Are you not even a little tempted? Don’t be shy, you can talk to your elder brother. Your elder brother, me, is a person who has been around. You see here, it’s all experience!” Zheng Bin said while patting his chest.
“Is the deployment of the training plan for the third battalion completed? Do you have the determination to not be the last for the exercise this time?” After some time, Zhao Nan slowly looked up from the documents.
Zheng Bin was choked by the words and he covered his chest, his fingers shaking as he pointed at Zhao Nan. It took him a while to speak, “Old Zhao! This is too much! What do you mean by the determination to not be the last? Could it be that my third battalion is always at the bottom? The soldiers of your second battalion are capable, but we, the third battalion, are not weak! Just wait and see, sooner or later, we will surpass you!”
Zhao Nan listened, put down the document in his hand, and solemnly looked at him, “I have been waiting and I am still waiting.”
Zheng Bin felt even more aggrieved, he took two heavy steps, turned around, and pointed at him sharply. Then, took another two heavy steps. In the end, he didn’t say anything as he left while clutching his chest.
The warmest two-month summer vacation passed slowly, and school was about to start.
For the past two days, Wang Tonghua had been thinking about Du Baozhen’s tuition fees. After several calculations, they were still short of a few dollars. The family had no income at the moment, and she did not plan to borrow from anyone. She could only go to the commune’s high school when school starts, and ask the teacher for some grace. Fortunately, this kind of thing was quite common in the rural areas, and the schools were more tolerant.
The night before school started, Du Baozhen tossed and turned as she couldn’t sleep. Nowadays, high school only took two years, that is to say, she would have to take the university entrance examination in less than a year. She couldn’t wait, she envisioned the city she was going to go to, the university she was going to be admitted to, and the person she was going to meet again. She was so excited that she couldn’t stop.
She suddenly turned sideways, faced Jiang Rui’s bed, and asked in a low voice, “Sister, are you asleep?”
“Not yet.” In the darkness, Jiang Rui’s voice softly sounded, “Why are you not sleeping yet? You have to get up early tomorrow morning.”
“I know, but I just can’t sleep, sister, talk with me.”
There was a rustling sound in the dark, Jiang Rui also turned and laid on her side, her head resting on her arm, ” What do you want to talk about?”
“Let’s talk about….the future! Sister, have you ever thought about what the future would be like?”
“The future…” Jiang Rui opened her eyes and looked into the darkness. If the real Du Baoqin was still alive, what would it be like in the future? Perhaps she would marry someone who is neither too good nor too bad, have two children who are neither smart nor stupid, live a life that is not rich but not poor to the point of embarrassment, and grow old like this, average and ordinary, full of children and grandchildren.
But Du Baoqin was no longer here.
She shook her head slightly, “I have no idea.”
Du Baozhen laughed and said excitedly, “I’ve thought about it, I want to go to university, stay in the big city, and be with the person I like!”
Jiang Rui nodded, “That’s good, you have to work hard.”
“I will!” Du Baozhen agreed cheerfully, “Sister, in the future, wait for me to find a job in the city, then I’ll bring you around to have fun! I heard that the city is way larger than Yang’an County, there can be four cars on the road at the same time, and there are buildings that have dozen of floors!”
Jiang Rui didn’t ask who she heard that from, she just smiled and said softly, “Then I’ll wait for you.”
“It’s a deal!” Du Baozhen said happily as if that scene had already occurred.
The first night, she slept in the middle of the night and the next day she had to get up early to go to school. In order to have more time to review her homework, she applied for accommodations this semester and only went home on the weekends.
Many of her books and clothes were moved out of the room. It was a lot more empty and also looked a bit messy. After Jiang Rui finished the housework, she tidied up the house, and a letter was swept out from the desk drawer. There was a name inscribed on the envelope, Han Wenke.
This person was deeply imprinted on Du Baoqin’s memories, second only to her family.
Han Wenke was an educated youth who came from the big city, and he was different from the young people of the commune. He was pale and skinny, cultured and refined, always neatly dressed. He wore a pair of thin-rimmed glasses, had beautiful handwriting, and could play the harmonica, the accordion, and even sing Russian songs.
It could be said that back then, he was popular in the entire Chaoyang Commune, and at least half of the girls from the commune fell in love with him, including the two daughters of the Du family.
Du Baoqin did not let anyone discover her love for Han Wenke, and when she gave up her studies, she knew that that person had already become an unattainable wish. Last year, when Han Wenke was admitted to a university and returned back to the city, she completely buried this past in her heart.
Du Baozhen also liked Han Wenke, and Du Baoqin was very clear that she was trying for university admission because of him. She watched her younger sister embark on the road that she could not finish at the beginning, getting closer and closer to that person at the end of the road.
And she, would forever stay where she’s at.
Jiang Rui didn’t move the letter, she just wiped the drawer and put the letter back in its place.