The surroundings were quiet. Luo Wencheng waited for a while and said, “Do you still want to hide?”
After a while, a figure came out from the shadows: “Young Master Luo.”
Luo Wencheng turned his head and looked at the other man: “It’s really you, Zhou Qian. How long have you been with me?”
Zhou Qian didn’t answer.
Luo Wencheng didn’t have to have this answer either. Zhou Qian probably followed him since he left Haining. He didn’t deliberately conceal his whereabouts. He used his ID card wherever he had to use it, because he felt that there was no need to hide. If some people wanted to find him, even if he was careful everywhere, he would still be found.
But he originally thought Lu Chong would not look for him.
The man was more soft-hearted and more affectionate than he had thought.
Luo Wencheng was a bit lost in thought and asked Zhou Qian, “Did you arrange for me to meet Zhang Qihui and become a teacher at the town’s primary school?”
“The ride in Zhang Qihui’s car was really a coincidence. The teacher part was arranged by us.” Zhou Qian looked up and asked, “How could you tell?”
“You may have arranged it well, but the principal and teachers at school are not too good at acting.” And as soon as he wanted to get into the school, this opportunity appeared. The town had never had any interest classes in the past. Wasn’t it too coincidental?
Luo Wencheng’s tone eased: “Since you are here, do me another favour.”
“Just say it.”
“I want to arrange a secure future for the Zhang family. See if you can help me set up an education fund to support the two children’s studies in the future until they graduate from university… No, until they work for two years. Don’t use my name, just make them think there are enthusiastic people in society,” Luo Wencheng said as he walked.
Zhou Qian made a note. This matter was very simple: “That’s it?”
“I have to think about other things.”
Although the situation of the Zhang family was difficult, it was not insurmountably difficult. It was mainly health problems and future problems. With the protection of the education fund for the two younger ones, a big burden would be removed from the family.
But compared to this, Zhang Shujie’s problems were actually more serious. He had almost no future in life to speak of. This was not only a financial burden, but also a heavy mental burden.
Luo Wencheng found that Zhang Shujie did have a talent for painting. It would be nice if he could go this way. He started going to the Zhang family to tutor him every day, sometimes staying for an afternoon, and then he would come back after the interest classes of the two little ones were over, have dinner by the way, and teach the three of them in the evening.
Only Zhang Shujie systematically studied painting every day, and the two little ones just drew a variety of things, from cartoon characters to some strange things. Sometimes Luo Wencheng would teach them some maths, sometimes English, and sometimes even fun crafts like making carton models.
On one occasion, he even took a carrot and carved some cute little animals for the children.
His carving skills were learned while he was in prison, saving food and going hungry. They were not very good, but not bad either. However, when he thought that the original intention of learning carving was to please Luo Kaifang, he didn’t like to use this craft. As a result, the twins were so fascinated that they instantly gave up painting and became obsessed with carving, which caused Luo Wencheng to have another job teaching carving.
Zhang Qihui felt it was too much trouble for him, but Luo Wencheng said he would only be here for two or three months, and he didn’t know many people, so he had nothing to do every day. He happened to have a relationship with their family, and there was no place to go if he didn’t come to their house to spend his time.
Now that he had accepted Lu Chong’s help, Luo Wencheng was no longer in such a hurry to make money. Xitou Town had no beautiful scenery, but it was also attractive. He drew houses, water, bridges and rice fields every day. The days were also leisurely.
That day, he sat under the big tree at the bridge to paint a portrait. Luo Wencheng often came to the Zhang family’s house, so he was a bit familiar with the people nearby. Today, an old man shyly asked him to paint a portrait of him.
Luo Wencheng had nothing else to do, so he agreed.
The twins suddenly ran over and squatted aside for a long time before Zhang Yutong, the sister, finally said, “Teacher Luo, can you teach us to carve a lamb?”
“Why do you want to carve a lamb?” Luo Wencheng asked. A lamb was not so easy to carve. These days, they basically learned to carve small flowers and simple characters out of the melon skin. Every time he saw the twins holding a carving knife in such small hands, Luo Wencheng felt it was very dangerous.
“We want to give it to Big Brother. Today is Big Brother’s birthday. He is a Sheep,” the little girl said tenderly.
Luo Wencheng turned his head to look at Zhang Shujie, who was drawing a shoe in the stall.
Zhang Yuyang, the younger brother, said: “It’s not Brother, it’s Big Brother.”
Luo Wencheng was even more confused.
The old man whose portrait was painted said, “It’s that big brother of yours, isn’t it?” Then to Luo Wencheng he said, “There is another eldest in their family, I heard that he was taken away by traffickers when he was very little. Hey, it’s also very sad.”
Luo Wencheng was dumbfounded, then thought about it; he was indeed a Sheep, and it was indeed his birthday today, his birthday according to the lunar calendar.
“Do you celebrate your eldest brother’s birthday every year?” He asked with a complicated expression.
“Yes! Dad will buy a very beautiful little cake, and Mom will make a lot of delicious things,” the younger brother said.
The sister added: “Each of us will give gifts to our big brother every year. We put them in a big box and we will give it to him when he comes back.”
Luo Wencheng fell silent, and it took a long time before he said to the two of them: “You go get a piece of modelling clay, and I will teach you how to carve.”
Eventually Zhang Shujie also put down the drawing board and joined in. Luo Wencheng sat under the big tree in front of the stall, teaching the three of them to carve lambs.
Zhang Shujie chose white modelling clay in a disciplined manner.
Zhang Yuyang chose a golden colour: “Gold is cool.”
The little girl mixed a special colour by herself: “This colour is beautiful.”
It was not so much carving as sculpting. After an afternoon, the three conscientious people all made lambs with their own characteristics, while Luo Wencheng found a piece of wood and carved a wooden sheep.
The sheep was sheep-like, chubby and curly, half-lying on its side very comfortably, without any worries.
“Teacher Luo, is this also for Big Brother?” The little girl looked at this little sheep with starry eyes, so cute! And then she looked at her own sheep, so ugly, but ugly in a cute way too.
Luo Wencheng looked at the sheep and put it in the little girl’s hand: “Well, it’s for your eldest brother, you can take it home for me.”
“Isn’t Teacher Luo coming?”
“No, Teacher has something to do, so I’ll go first.” Luo Wencheng went back to his place. This was the apartment Zhou Qian had arranged for him after their meeting; it was much better than the hotel before.
Luo Wencheng stood in front of the window and looked at the fields in the distance. He stood for more than an hour. The dim sunlight stretched his shadow longer and longer. When it reached the door, Zhou Qian knocked: “Young Master Luo, it’s time to eat.”
Luo Wencheng didn’t move, and after a while he said, “Zhou Qian, what do you think I should do?”
Zhou Qian asked, “Are you asking if you should recognise the Zhang family?”
“I don’t know what you think. If it were me, I would. Mr. Zhang obviously misses you very much. Let him know that you are still alive and well, it will be a great comfort to him. If you are worried that living together will be uncomfortable, just go on as relatives in the future, seeing each other several times a year…” Zhou Qian said, “Of course, this is just my opinion.”
Luo Wencheng sighed and murmured, “It would be great if it was just that simple.”
“If you can’t make up your mind, ask Master?”
Luo Wencheng propped himself up on the wooden windowsill and lowered his eyes slightly. The setting sun dyed his eyelashes with a somewhat intoxicating colour, making his face as gleaming and delicate as jade. He was silent for a moment: “Let’s eat.”
After nightfall, Luo Wencheng couldn’t help it. He went out for a while, and unknowingly came to the Zhang family’s house again. Not far away, he saw Zhang Qihui holding a lit candle, sitting under the streetlamp by the river, whispering something to himself.
Quietly approaching, Luo Wencheng saw that there was a seven or eight inch cake with a candle lit on it, small and cute.
And Zhang Qihui was not talking to himself, he was talking to a photograph.
“Xiufang (his first wife’s name), ah, I’m doing well now…
“It’s just that I miss our son…
“I don’t know how he is doing.
“Do you know that we have an art teacher here, who is only twenty-two years old? He is very good-looking and very nice. At first glance, he is from a good family and has a good education. It would be great if our son could be like him…
“He can do whatever he wants, he can be anywhere, just don’t let him be like Xiao Jie… I’m really scared, you don’t know how scared I am…
“I have raised two more children, and I haven’t dared to talk to you in detail for so many years, you won’t be angry, right?… You should be angry too. I didn’t want to have children anymore, but when people are getting older, they look at the house that is always empty and they feel uncomfortable… Now, it’s much better now…
“Xiufang, if you can hear it, just listen to me, don’t worry about anything, live your own life, just get over that hurdle…”
Luo Wencheng retreated silently. By the brightly lit water, he lifted his hand to touch the dense drooping branches of a willow tree.
He suddenly stood still, took out his mobile phone, found a contact, looked at it for a long, long time, and finally dialled it.
It was picked up quickly.
Luo Wencheng’s heart seemed to be rattled, and there was a sudden sourness in his mood of sadness and joy.
“Sir, today is my birthday,” Luo Wencheng said, “Can I ask you for something?”
There was a pause over there: “Go ahead.”
Luo Wencheng looked up at the night sky dotted with sporadic stars, and a smile lifted the corners of his lips: “Wish me a happy birthday.”
At the same moment, Lu Chong parked the car on the side of the road and also looked up at the night sky from the car window. He held up his mobile phone and said in a low and clear voice, “Wencheng, happy birthday.”
“Thank you, sir.”
The call was neatly hung up.
Lu Chong put down his mobile phone, opened the small drawer next to him, and took out a delicate royal blue gift box from inside. This was the birthday gift he intended to give out, but he was counting according to the Gregorian calendar. There should be five days left. Now it seemed that the already embarrassing gift might not be ever given out.
The car drove to the villa, and as soon as Lu Chong entered the door, the servant said anxiously, “Sir, Ribs has been asleep all afternoon and refuses to get up for dinner no matter how much she is called.”
Lu Chong flinched and quickly walked inside, “Where is she? Did you call the doctor?”
By the living room’s floor-to-ceiling window, in front of Ribs’ favourite cushion, Dr. Wang was squatting. Turning his head, he shook it slightly at Lu Chong.
Lu Chong froze. The big black and yellow cat on the cushion was sleeping, curled in a ball, her fat belly heaving.
Lu Chong walked over, squatted down gently and stroked the cat’s back. A handful of cat fur fell out with his movements and floated over his hand.
“…How much longer?” Lu Chong asked calmly.
“Not much.” Dr. Wang pushed up his glasses and sighed, “Spend more time with her these days. Let her go whatever she wants, whether to eat or to play.”
But from the looks of it, she probably couldn’t eat or play anymore.
Lu Chong carefully took the big cat into his arms: “I see. Write a recipe what is suitable for her to eat now.”
The weather was very hot. When the primary school started, the results of the provincial painting competition also arrived. Luo Wencheng won second place this time. The organiser notified him to come and receive the award. Luo Wencheng refused to attend, but agreed to go abroad to visit the painting exhibition and conduct some exchange studies.
Luo Wencheng went to see Zhang Shujie. Zhang Shujie expressed his desire to continue to study painting rather than continue to repair shoes and umbrellas and look after the shop day in and day out, or rack his brains to find another way to earn his living.
Luo Wencheng then asked Zhou Qian to step in and make a contact with the Disabled People’s Federation in the name of a social sponsor. He wanted to send Zhang Shujie to a formal painting training institution outside to study, and he named a well-known master.
The money was in place, the connections made, and Zhang Shujie’s situation was also there. The Disabled People’s Federation had no reason to refuse, and agreed to operate on the surface on his behalf, and also promoted Zhang Shujie as a typical local model, attracting donations from the community and setting up a fund to specifically support the study and work of people with disabilities.
After the dust settled on this matter, Luo Wencheng had no more worries. He said goodbye to the Zhang family and was personally sent to the airport by Zhang Qihui early one morning.
He would first go to the provincial capital, and then go abroad with the award winners.
But just after boarding the plane, he received a call from Lu Chong.
Luo Wencheng was surprised. The last time he called Lu Chong was an accident. He warned himself that he could no longer contact Lu Chong. He didn’t expect Lu Chong to call himself.
He picked up: “Sir?”
“Wencheng, you… can you come back for a visit? Ribs wants to see you.”