In the summer of 2004, there was a ten thousand people concert in Jiangcheng1 a city . If you walked through the streets and alleyways, you could hear the songs written by Albert Leung2 a famous award-winning lyricist and writer based in Hong Kong everywhere, and the song sang by Xu Meijing that went: “The brand of smoke you used, made me run to all the stores in the village”.
It was no different that day. There was a misty light shower, and fog that could not dissipate.
The windows in the room were flapping with the wind, and the rain went drip-drop, drip-drop to land on top of it. On the table, there was an old-style desktop computer and a dozen books piled high beside it, becoming as big as the size of an Oxford dictionary.
Meng Shengnan was flipping through the materials in her hand, with a group of pencils and a stack of paper beside her.
She read till the climax:
Liang Sicheng once asked Lin Huiyin, why did you choose me?
Lin Huiyin replied: My answer is very long, I need to use my whole life to answer you.
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“R’x tskdt swv qsa y ckv.”
This was when Sheng Dian finally looked up, “It’s raining, where are you going?”
Meng Shengnan took an umbrella from the entrance, walking out while saying, “The power is out, I need to write my manuscript.”
“It stopped again?”
Sheng Dian frowned, “When your dad comes home tonight I’ll need to speak with him properly, the fuse must be broken after the line wasn’t properly routed.”
“Okay, I’m leaving now.”
“Hurry back when you finish writing.”
She closed the door with a backhand and walked out of the alley.
The rain dropped with a pit-a-pat-a on the umbrella. There were some small puddles on the ground, if she didn’t pay attention, she would get splashed. This alley was around two hundred meters long. Meng Shengnan raised her wrist to look at her watch -16:10. She came out of the alley, turned to the right, walked down the street and turned into a short alley through a narrow entrance.
The third building down was the Tianming Internet Cafe.
She closed the umbrella and went to the second floor. A young girl at the front desk saw her and asked with a smile, “You’re here?”
Meng Shengnan nodded: “There’s a power outage at home.”
“Why does your house keep going out of power?” The young girl was called Xi Linxiao, who was around her age. The two had tutoring lessons together with the same teacher when they were in their third year of middle school, so they were familiar with each other.
At that time, most internet cafes wouldn’t let underaged people enter without an ID. Of course, there were still many people who used various excuses to get in. Because they were acquainted with each other, Meng Shengnan sometimes had nowhere to write her manuscripts. Since Xi Linxiao’s family had opened up an Internet cafe, she would come here to write them. After coming a few times, she was used to it. Now, Xi Linxiao was studying at the No.14 High School, and she was at No.9.
Meng Shengnan smiled and shrugged with helplessness.
She took the ticket and went to find a computer.
There were almost no empty seats in the Internet cafe. She had just walked a few steps when Xi Linxiao stopped her.
“There are a few more inside, go and take a look over there.”
The smell was very unpleasant. She walked through the corridor holding her breath. Both sides were filled with boys and girls, the sound of laughter from gaming filled the area. Meng Shengnan walked quickly, going straight to the end to see an empty seat to her right. It was in a corner, and the light was a little dim.
To the left side of the corridor were two boys.
The one sitting on the outer side was wearing a short grey T-shirt, with large headphones on. His hands were typing on the keyboard with a click-clack sound. The point was that it was too noisy, Meng Shengnan was unable to ignore it. She glanced away, walked towards the last computer, sat down and turned on the power source and computer.
As soon as the computer turned on, she entered the account password and opened Word.
Across the one-meter-wide corridor, the click-clacking sounds became clearer. She couldn’t concentrate on writing, and the little inspiration she had left, disappeared just like that.
The boy was staring at the computer attentively, holding the mouse in one hand and covering the keyboard with the other, his motions so quick, it seemed natural and smooth. She cast her gaze to his computer. It was Warcraft, the game that Qi Qiao’s boyfriend often played. The characters on the screen were lightning fast, and the scenes changed constantly.
She couldn’t understand it.
But she felt a bit of antipathy. When she was just about to withdraw her sight, she saw that he suddenly pressed the spacebar heavily, and then spread both his hands on top of the keyboard. It was strange that she felt attracted to those hands.
Slender and clean.
It was similar to Kang Kai’s hands, he was a neighbourhood older brother who all the girls in their alleyway liked to follow around.
“You’ve won?” A male voice rang.
“Not a big deal.” The owner of the hands laughed with a hum.
Meng Shengnan raised her eyes and looked over.
He was leaning back on the chair lazily, squinting slightly, reaching into his pocket to smoke a cigarette. The corners of his mouth curved upwards to a smile, he looked even better than the gangsters in the dramas who carried a sort of trashy careless and casual attitude. Half his body was hidden in the dim light, his shadow indistinct. She was a little embarrassed to keep staring at him and turned her head back in silence. The distance was too close, the scent of the boy wafted over, and the conversation that spread to her ears was vaguely heard.
“We’re going to the karaoke hall in a moment, we’ll call a few brothers over.”
Another boy continued, “By the way, you changed girlfriends again to Li Yan from Class 3?”
He bit the cigarette and played with a lighter in his hand, making a soft ‘yep’ sound.
“You’ve got it, you.”
He gave a faint smile.
“How is it?” The boy still didn’t give up on this topic.
“How about what?”
“Li Yan, the big beauty, how does it feel to hold her3one can infer that he is referring to breasts?”
He raised his eyebrows: “You want to try next time?”
The boy was taken aback, then laughed wickedly, “You are such a f*cking bastard.”
Meng Shengnan listened attentively, pretending that her tapping actions on the keyboard had stopped, staring at the randomly typed 5-point Song Font for a long time with red cheeks. The person next to her had already left his seat and begun to walk outside, smoking a cigarette with a hooligan-like grin.
“What are you doing?”
Even the voice was lazy.
The boy chased after him.
Only till now, did Meng Shengnan look up and watch him openly. He was very tall, five or six centimeters taller than the boys she knew. He had a broad back and was tall and thin. With one hand in his pocket, he walked out of the door carelessly.
Thinking about the few words he had just said before, he was perverted and had no shame.
What a pity.
She retracted her gaze and stared at the computer screen to find some inspiration, but still didn’t get anything done. When she got home, it was already half past six, and the rain had long stopped. After Sheng Dian had finished making dinner, her dad Meng Jin came back from work just in time. The sky in July was still slightly bright at this time, but the light rays shining into the house were very weak.
“The power went out?” Meng Jin put down his briefcase and sat at the dinner table.
Sheng Dian placed the dishes one by one on the table and Meng Jin placed the chopsticks.
“Do you even need to ask?” Sheng Dian provoked back.
“Okay, I’ll go and take a look.”
“Go after eating.”
Meng Jin had already left the living room and walked towards the backyard, “It will be inconvenient later when it’s dark.”
Meng Shengnan followed her father and went to the backyard, carrying a torch to shine it at the location of the fuse while standing on her tippy toes.
Meng Jin said while taking care of it, “I am thinking about whether to sign you and your mother up for a tour group so you can go have fun for a few days. You still have one month before you start school, it’ll be boring to stay at home.”
“Are you not going?”
Meng Jin glanced at her, slightly turning his head, “I’m busy this month.”
“Then leaving you at home – won’t you be lonely?”
“My ears can relax for a few days.”
“Be careful of mum hearing this, she’ll give you a lesson.”
“No one will know besides you and me.”
Meng Shengnan pursed her mouth and smiled with bad intentions, “Mr. Meng, don’t tell me you are raising a mistress outside?”
Meng Jin raised his eyebrows: “Are you in fear that our family is too calm that you want to add some icing to the cake?”
“Cut.” Showing off his literary skills again.
After fixing the fuse, the three people sat around the table to eat. Meng Jin mentioned the travel plans.
“I have organized activities at the school early next month, so I can’t go.” Sheng Dian took a sip of porridge, looked at Meng Shengnan and then said, “Isn’t Qiaoqiao4nickname for Qi Qiao, our FL’s friend very free, you both should go together.”
“Mom, our average age is 16.5 years old. Are you that rest assured?”
“But your average mental age is 28.5 years old, I am completely assured.”
Meng Shengnan: “Why 28.5?”
Meng Jin started his spiel again: “From the perspective of social psychology, our psychological age is generally one round older than our actual age, which is 12 years. Meng Shengnan, you should study harder.”
Meng Shengnan shrivelled her mouth: “You two are very impressive, is that good enough?”
Sheng Dian put a piece of tofu in her bowl, and said, “Don’t retort, how about you go and play at your aunt’s place for a few days?”
With steamed buns stuffed in her mouth, Meng Shengnan thought as she chewed, “That also works, I will call Qi Qiao later.”
The rain outside slowly started again. After dinner, Sheng Dian needed to go visit Li Wan’s house across from them. She went to get the umbrella at the entrance but couldn’t find it anywhere, so she went to ask the father and daughter watching TV on the sofa: “Have you two seen the green umbrella at home?”
Meng Jin looked back after hearing the sound, “You can’t find it?”
“Yes, this is the only umbrella we took out today, how is it gone?”
Meng Shengnan suddenly went ‘Ah’ and said, “I forgot it at the Internet cafe.”
Sheng Dian glanced at her with displeasure: “I will say Amitabha5 common Buddhist chant, could be the Western equivalent of Hallelujah if you can change your character.”
Meng Shengnan smiled wryly: “I’ll get it tomorrow morning.”
After watching TV with Meng Jin for a while, Meng Shengnan went back to her room. She turned on the computer, opened Word habitually, and then the window was reduced to a smaller size. At that time, it was popular to have a Tencent account. As soon as she went online, Qi Qiao’s messages came.
“What are you doing?”
Meng Shengnan returned, “Being idle.”
Qi Qiao said: “I’m so bored.”
Meng Shengnan knocked a space bar to reply, “You?”
“Song Jiashu6her boyfriend went back to his hometown with his parents already.”
Meng Shengnan thought for a while and asked: “My parents want me to spend a few days with my aunt in Shanghai, do you want to come?”
Qi Qiao replied with a series of question marks.
“It’s true,” Meng Shengnan said.
Qi Qiao wasn’t calm anymore, “I’m definitely going!”
Meng Shengnan smiled, “Okay.”
The two quickly negotiated a time to meet at the Pizza Hut opposite to the No.9 High school at 8:30 in the morning. After chatting for a while, Meng Shengnan went offline to write her manuscript. In the document, the phrase ‘W got her period on the night of her 13th birthday–’ disturbed all her thoughts.
Meng Shengnan thought, would she be the first essay-writing contestant to ever let the female lead get her period?
She didn’t know why, but she couldn’t continue on writing anymore. She rubbed her face with boredom and drank several large sips of her glass of water. Her eyelids began to twitch, so she simply turned off the computer and went to sleep. The sound of rain outside the window dripping to the ground was crisp and clear.
The next day, she got up at seven.
At that time Meng Jin had already gone to work, and Sheng Dian was doing some exercise in the backyard. Meng Shengnan freshened up and changed into a pale pink T-shirt and knee-length light-colored jeans. She bit a piece of bread in her mouth and walked out, “Mom, I’m going out.”
“Where are you going so early in the morning?” Sheng Dian stopped her bending motion and asked while puffing slightly.
“I’m going to hang out with Qi Qiao.”
Meng Shengnan went out of the alley and went to the Tianming Internet Cafe first to get her umbrella.
It was early in the morning, and the streets were relatively quiet. She walked while nibbling on the bread, wiping her mouth clean after eating. She turned left, then right, entering the Internet cafe. There were a lot of people who had paid to stay for the whole night, yet almost all of them were now lying on their tables fast asleep. Meng Shengnan went to her spot yesterday and took the umbrella before walking out. After taking a few steps, she subconsciously looked back at the empty place on the other side of the corridor. Strange enough, the face of the boy from last night appeared in her mind.
She took a deep breath and left the Internet cafe.
Qi Qiao was already there waiting, and soon saw Meng Shengnan coming.
Meng Shengnan walked over and sat down.
“You came so early?” she asked.
Qi Qiao was drinking hot cocoa, she handed her another cup that she had ordered, and pursed her lips.
“I’ve got nothing to do. I say, it’s not even going to rain, why are you bringing an umbrella with you?”
Meng Shengnan took a sip, then said: “I went to the Internet cafe to write my manuscript yesterday afternoon and left it there. I just went to get it.”
“The New Concept Writing Competition7Chinese literary competition for young writers?”
“Which year are we up to?”
“The sixth year.”
Qi Qiao reached out her arm across the table and patted her on the shoulder: “Sister, I really admire you, if you don’t win the prize this year, I will write the two words Qi Qiao backwards!”
Meng Shengnan sighed: “I don’t know how it will turn out yet, the preliminaries have only just started.”
“Looking at your unpromising attitude, isn’t it just because you didn’t get an award last year? How big of a deal is that? No matter what, you got into the semi-finals. Besides, with your talent, I refuse to believe that you won’t do well. Last year they didn’t have good taste, this year you will definitely get the first-place award, your sister here is confident in you.”
Meng Shengnan chuckled, “I thank you, my good sister.”
“Hmph, we have to carry this vigor of being more courageous with more setbacks–I still don’t believe it, can it be more difficult than the Second Sino-Japanese war?”
Meng Shengnan laughed even harder.
The two chatted casually for a while. Qi Qiao then mentioned the travelling situation: “Should we go to Chengdu to play?”
“Fine, Song Jiashu’s hometown is in Chengdu.”
Meng Shengnan was speechless: “Then if you go to Chengdu to find him, what should I do?”
Qi Qiao glanced at her a few times with a look of regret that she had not lived up to her expectations, “That’s what you get for not getting a boyfriend, you deserve it.”
Meng Shengnan retorted: “Do you think boyfriends are so easy to find?”
“There are a lot of people chasing after you.”
Meng Shengnan rolled her eyes: “Why don’t I know about it?”
Qi Qiao smiled, “You’re the type of girl that seems too otherworldly. You know that no one dares to approach you, only I can.”
Meng Shengnan smiled.
“Speaking of which, what’s your type?”
Meng Shengnan thought about it seriously, “I don’t know.”
This was Qi Qiao’s catchphrase, and Meng Shengnan was always rendered speechless by it. The number of people in Pizza Hut gradually increased, and the background noise was flowing into every corner. Meng Shengnan drank her hot cocoa and asked Qi Qiao, “By the way, we’ll be in our second year of high school this year, are you going to choose humanities or science?”
Qi Qiao said without hesitation: “I’ll choose whatever he chooses.”
Meng Shengnan’s mouth shook a bit: “Do you really have no principles?”
“This is called the wife should follow the husband.”
Meng Shengnan said, “You are adhering to outdated ideas.”
Qi Qiao made a ‘Che’ noise and said, “You don’t understand the world of love.”
Meng Shengnan asked, “What do you like about him?”
“He is extremely good looking8 Author uses a phrase – he looks like Pan-An, who was a very pretty man in the history of China., and he is sincere and loyal.”
Meng Shengnan knew everything about Song Jiashu’s pursuit of Qi Qiao. It was in the third year of middle school. Song Jiashu, who never properly studied but was so drop-dead handsome, was the dream lover of almost all the girls at school. He sang-shouted Alan Kuo’s “Love you to death” at their graduation ceremony to confess to Qi Qiao, being as cool as Wu Yanzu9 a very famous actor, here is what he looks like: ten years ago.
“What are you thinking about?” Qi Qiao waved her hand in front of her.
Meng Shengnan blinked and said, “It’s nothing.”
Later, the trip ended up being cancelled, the reason being that Qi Qiao’s mother Qiao Meili enrolled her into a folk arts class without her knowledge, it was an Erhu10 Chinese instrument that looks like this: class that was paid based on the number of class hours taken. So, Meng Shengnan spent the rest of the summer vacation writing and deleting and starting again while drafting up her manuscript and listening to Qi Qiao playing the Erhu.
That year, she was sixteen and a half.
Translator’s note: It’s a long chapter to start with! Thanks for reading! As mentioned in the novel summary, this is a novel that slowly progresses and delves into our FL’s deeper emotions and feelings. I hope you are in for the ride and give it a chance.