He Chusan knew that he couldn’t take Xia Liuyi’s “huh” as a “yes” –Moreover, they had a big quarrel on that night, and the quarrel hadn’t been settled yet. Two days before the New Year, he made a call to Xia Liuyi to make sure if he would come, but instead of asking explicitly, He Chusan had nice tactics for it, “Boss Liuyi, what else do you want for the reunion dinner besides char siu dumplings? Do you like Wenchang chicken?”
Xia Liuyi was ordering A-Yong to beat someone in the basement. He held the cigarette in his hand and yawned, “Anything works.”
“What about steamed fish?”
Hanging up, He Chusan chuckled quietly to the phone. Big Boss Xia sneezed again, “Ahchoo!”
A-Yong’s hand paused. He looked at Xia Liuyi, together with the poor, beaten person.
“What the heck are you looking for! Keep beating!” Xia Liuyi glared and took the tissue bossily from A-Biao, blowing his nose and throwing the used tissue onto the floor.
Supporting his heavy head and stepping into the elevator, he eventually realized –F*ck! Who made that call? He A-San? When did I say yes to him!
Regardless of the late thoughts and hesitation, on New Year’s Eve, he still drove to where He Chusan’s tong lau was and parked in a nearby alleyway.
The neighborhood here was composed of previous Snapdragon Walled City residents, so he put on sunglasses to avoid being recognized. He went upstairs like a hitman with the collar of his overcoat standing. Luckily, every family was preparing for the reunion dinner at home. Only a few of the cheering children passed by him, laughing and playing, and they didn’t pay attention to him because of the dim light.
Before he knocked, He Chusan pulled the door open from inside with a smile full of happiness and excitement, “Boss Liuyi, it will be a prosperous year.”
Xia Liuyi hadn’t seen such genuine happiness for a long time. Being in a daze behind his collar, he said, “Uh, wish you will have a prosperous year.” He handed a fruit basket over that he carried.
He Chusan led him into the home. The house wasn’t big and was the size of a living room of a rich family, but the living room and the two rooms were cleverly divided, and it looked much more spacious than their two-floor shabby house in the walled city. Dentist He was no longer busy and had cut many delicate window declarations. Because of them, the house was surrounded by red and a picture of an adorable Auspicious Boy was hung above the TV. Everywhere was cheerful.
In the middle of the living room, there was a little square table. Three sets of tableware were already set. A plate of steamed dace fish covered by scallion and ginger was in the center, with an attractive smell.
Xia Liuyi had never experienced such a simple, warm New Year in his life. In his childhood, New Year meant his dad drinking more and beating him and Xiao Man harder. After living in the villa, it was always grand but lonely – Azure Dragon was busy and would always come back late, and he would simply finish those luxurious dishes with Xiao Man. Standing in this little house filled with the hope of spring, he was almost bewildered.
“Come and sit, Boss Liuyi, other dishes will be ready soon,” He Chusan called, “Dad! Boss Liuyi is here!”
Xia Liuyi’s teeth hurt as soon as he heard the call. Dad He came out from a room with a demijohn of rice wine. He squinted his eyes, looking at Xia Liuyi from top to bottom, “Tsk-tsk, Mr. Xia has become a dragon head big boss. Such a visit to our humble house is a great honor, great honor.”
Xia Liuyi was more desperate to this dad than to the son. He answered with his face stiff, “Mr. He, please sit.”
“I dare not. A visitor is a guest, please sit first.” Dentist He was very polite.
“No, you please.”
They played humble in the living room for a long while and no one was willing to sit first. Finding that Xia Liuyi was gonna lose his temper and explode, He Chusan walked out with a plate of Wenchang chicken, “What are you standing here for? Sit down. Dad, Boss Liuyi brought us fruit.”
“How could I dare. That’s too nice of Mr. Xia,” said Dentist He, “Mr. Xia, I heard you drove us to the hospital when I was sick last time. An old wood like me can’t be more grateful. I didn’t know someone who ‘has business’ like Mr. Xia has such a kind heart…”
He Chusan came out from the kitchen again with a plate of dumplings and chuckled, “Dad, stop showing off your knowledge.”
Dentist He glared, “What is showing off? Dad is being polite! Do you think everyone is uneducated like you? He’s a Big Boss!”
Xia Liuyi kept feeling his teeth sour. He said with his face rigid, “You’re too polite, Mr. He. Driving you was not a big deal. Thank you for your generous help in the walled city.”
“Nothing, nothing. Are your teeth still good, Mr. Xia? Shall I check them for you after dinner?”
“Ahem! No, thank you.”
“Don’t be so distant Mr. Xia. It’s for free! You don’t need to pay!”
“Mr. Xia, the teeth are very important for our bodies and you must pay good attention…”
Before the sniffing Mr. Xia exploded, He Chusan went out to mediate with a pot of dishes, “Dad, don’t talk about teeth while eating. Let’s watch TV.”
Dentist He had been away from his clinic for too long and had accumulated too many words. The floodgates opened once he saw someone and he still wanted to continue bubbling about the importance of teeth with Xia Liuyi. He Chusan stopped him with a bowl of soup.
He Chusan also gave Xia Liuyi a bowl of soup, chuanbei*1 snow fungus and pear stew, mild, warm, good for cold patients. He didn’t mention the effects at all but instead watched TV together with his dad. When Xia Liuyi put down the bowl, he refilled the bowl with pretended carelessness.
Xia Liuyi was well prepared for this visit. He was cautious about He Chusan’s little signs. However, He Chusan looked candid and calm, asking him about his work, the health of Boss Little Ma and Boss Dongdong, and other random things. There were no uncommon words or actions at all, and he couldn’t be more genuine and friendly.
The heater brought the warmth of spring in the room. Xia Liuyi enjoyed the heat on his back. The warm air gradually turned his alarm off and put his attention to the dishes – He Brat San was not an amazing cook, and most dishes were just decent, but the fish was really good. Big Boss Xia couldn’t help moving his chopsticks to it many times, and he even tried to check the tail.
He Chusan flipped the fish for him without being noticed.
Xia Liuyi ate the fish with a stiff face. He was silent. Compared to how he usually disputed with He Chusan when they had meals, today, he not only had his temper affected by the presence of Dentist He, but wanted to leave more distance between He Chusan and him. Thus, he controlled his mouth well and almost didn’t talk when no one asked him anything. His demeanor was indifferent and cold, but the Hes didn’t mind his attitude at all. They babbled about random daily life stuff on their own.
Dad He didn’t eat a lot and put down his chopsticks very soon, pouring rice wine into his empty bowl, “He A-San, He A-San! Dad didn’t want to be too involved! You got guts as soon as you get money! No more studying or a part-time job on weekends but pursuing girls whenever you have time! Well, that’s not a great deal, but why don’t you take her to me and let me have a look! – Mr. Xia, it’s homemade rice wine, would you like some?”
“No, thank you. I’m driving,” said Xia Liuyi. He scratched at the fish belly with the chopsticks.
“Hey, it’s rice wine. You won’t get drunk from it. Don’t be alienated, let me fill you a bowl of it…why are you pulling at me He A-San! Say it if you have something to say! I haven’t finished yet! Is your-your dad such a scary parent?! Let Mr. Xia judge what you did: Should you show your dad his daughter-in-law?”
“Dad!” He Chusan even had a light red color on his little face, “That’s still ambiguous.”
“Ha! Ambiguous! I’ve heard from Aunt A-Hua that you’ve taken the girl to her restaurant! And you cooked for her! You brat looks quiet and nice, but you have so many techniques to pursue girls, uh?”
Xia Liuyi didn’t know why he felt his teeth so sour. He maintained an indifferent expression, swallowing the last piece of fish belly, and left for the toilet.
The Hes were still scratching at each other behind him. He Chusan poured the rice wine in Xia Liuyi’s bowl back into his and said quietly, “He has a cold. This is not good for him.”
Dad He glared at him, “Your dad is being welcoming!” Then he lowered his voice, “Brat, you received his money, right? You care so much about a little cold? No matter what, he’s a triad man, and we can’t accept money that’s not clean!”
“I really didn’t, dad,” said He Chusan. He added another half bowl of soup into Xia Liuyi’s bowl.
Xia Liuyi rinsed his mouth in the toilet. When he came out, Dad He was hitting the son’s head with a cigarette holder, “How much can your dad use for himself! I just want to gain you some wife savings*!”
*Wife saving, the money saved for marrying a woman. (a note from the author)
“Don’t be too tired at your age,” said He Chusan, “I have my salary.”
“What’s my age?! Am I old?! I’m at my best age! You brat!”
Xia Liuyi watched the cigarette holder continue hitting He Chusan’s forehead and couldn’t help asking, “What happened?”
“Dad wants to open a grocery store after the New Year,” He Chusan covered his red forehead, “Help me persuade him, Boss Liuyi.”
The headache and toothache Dad He had brought him was sufficient to make the persuasion impossible for him. He had the soup and coughed, “Just let Mr. He do what he wants. You don’t need to stop him.”
Dad He immediately found Big Boss Xia nice and understanding, “See? Big Boss said OK! OK! Get away from us, you brat.”
The dinner ended in the random talk of the Hes. Xia Liuyi was too concentrated on their family things and had three bowls of soup, most of the fish, a dozen dumplings, half of a chicken, half bowl of vegetables, and two bowls of rice. He almost died from being stuffed full and had to put all his attention on keeping himself from burping, or it would ruin his Big-Boss veneer.
After the meal, a few neighbours that lived alone invited the Hes to the New Year Fair. Dad He agreed joyfully and put on his coat while the neighbours were waiting downstairs. He Chusan used studying as an excuse to stay with Big Boss Xia.
“I went there last year, nothing particularly interesting,” He Chusan said while cleaning the table, “Let’s go to the rooftop for fireworks, Boss Liuyi.”
“Just go to the fair with your dad. I’ll leave.” Said Xia Liuyi.
He Chusan was distracted for a moment, and then he smiled and suggested, “It’s still early, Boss Liuyi. There are few people on the rooftop. It’s quiet and nice.”
Xia Liuyi covered his filled belly, feeling he couldn’t stay in this warmer and warmer room. If he stays, something would go wrong—that’s it, the feeling of “home” distracted him from the heat.
“I have things to do,” he said with an indifferent demeanor, standing up to take his coat. He Chusan took hold of his coat behind the door before him and didn’t hand it out, “You just had dinner. Why not sit for a while?”
Xia Liuyi pulled the coat to himself, “No need.”
He Chusan blinked and insisted no more, “Alright, I won’t delay your business. Let me send you down, Boss Liuyi.”
Xia Liuyi waved his hand casually, “Don’t bother. Don’t let others see.” He stepped out to open the door. He Chusan suddenly grasped his arm.
A string in Xia Liuyi’s mind was hit. Subconsciously, he pulled his hand back mightily! He turned his head, glaring at He Chusan.
He Chusan kept his innocent facade, saying peacefully, “Wait a moment. There’s something for you.”
Xia Liuyi tried to stay at the door, and He Chusan went into the kitchen hurriedly. He soon came out with a little iron bottle, in which he used to put some century egg with pork congee, “I made too much soup today. Dad and I can’t finish it. Take it back and put it in the fridge. Ask your bodyguard to heat it up when you wanna drink it. It will go bad the day after tomorrow.”
He looked candid and righteous. The soup was in Xia Liuyi’s hand before he could refuse. He Chusan opened the door for him and stepped back, smiling, “I won’t send you off then, Boss Liuyi. Goodbye.”
Xia Liuyi wrapped himself with the coat, carrying the silly iron bottle exiting the building. He walked on the dim stairs, broken wind cooling the heat in his face. Even so, he was still not used to it and lifted the collar of his coat, trying to make himself colder, a little colder, just like how he was every day.
He threw the bottle onto the passenger seat carelessly and settled it carefully before it fell and spilled the soup. He punched the steering wheel powerlessly, leaning on the seat, sighing, sending the white breath to the top of the car.
He Chusan stood by the window, watching Xia Liuyi’s silhouette under the streetlight. He walked into an alley quickly with sunglasses, and after a long time, the black Benz finally left the alley.
The length of time belonged to a cigarette.
He bowed, sticking his face on the icy window glass, smiling quietly. Now, he knew how much he weighed in Xia Liuyi’s heart—at least he was worth an annoyed cigarette in the car.
Faraway, fireworks bloomed above Victoria Harbour. Across the layered buildings, a little colourful starlight flew over him. He Chusan rested his head on the windowsill, poking at the red declarations. Thinking about how the triad Big Boss frowned while picking out fish bones concentratedly at the table, he couldn’t help chuckling like a fool again. Nothing could bring him more ease and happiness.
- *Chuanbei is good for lungs in TCM. Snow fungus and pear stew are also believed to be helpful for coughing. ↑
TN: Edited by our best editor Mio Rio.
Today is Chusan (the third day of CNY). Happy New Year and happy birthday to A-San!