[Chapter 070] The first conversation between father and son
Both father and son were silent in the quiet car. Yuan Shuo kept glancing at the boy beside him, not knowing how to start the conversation. Meanwhile, Bian JinYuan couldn’t be bothered to initiate.
Eventually, Yuan Shuo broke the silence.
“Have you eaten? I’ll treat you to a meal.”
“Small aunt has kept food for me, I’ll be eating at home.”
Yuan Shuo could only nod, “I see.”
He heard Bian JinYuan mention “small aunt” and followed it up, “Your small aunt is named Bian Jie correct?”
“I heard your mother mention that she has a younger sister who looks a lot like her, only that she has a different personality, that she’s very gentle,” Yuan Shuo said, and then smiled as if he had thought of something, “You know it too, your mother’s personality is very carefree.”
Bian JinYuan remembered his mother and quietly replied with an “Mmm”.
“You’re living with your small aunt now?” Yuan Shuo asked.
Bian JinYuan knew what he wanted to ask, and got to the point, “My mum has been gone since a long time ago. She passed away when I was in primary school.”
Yuan Shuo had on an obvious look of shock and disbelief.
He looked at Bian JinYuan, his expression dark, as if in defeat. His head lowered as he looked outside the window, as if to school his emotions.
Bian JinYuan looked at him and felt that this was strange. Did this poor excuse of a father not investigate their family’s situation? His current self seemed to be in pain at his mother’s passing.
“Apologies,” Yuan Shuo spent a long time to resume his composure from the shock, and said softly, “I didn’t know, Lu XiangMing hadn’t told me.”
“You’re talking about Lu YunFei’s father?” Bian JinYuan said calmly, “He doesn’t know. Lu YunFei knows, but he probably didn’t tell his family.”
Yuan Shuo nodded, his entire being seemed slightly in shock, When he had first heard about a boy who looked like him from Lu YunFei’s father, he hadn’t thought much about it, and had merely acknowledged it with a smile. It was only when he heard that his surname was ‘Bian’ when Yuan Shuo reigned in his smile to ask, “What surname? What character is it for ‘Bian’? Is it the ‘Bian’ from ‘edge’ (biān yuán)?”
“That’s right, it was my first time hearing this surname too,” Lu XiangMing said cheerfully.
Yuan Shuo couldn’t say the same for himself. This wasn’t his first time hearing of this surname. Twenty years ago, he knew a girl with this surname, a girl whom he still thought about time and again.
Yuan Shuo thought that perhaps this was a coincidence. While the surname ‘Bian’ could be said to be rare, even the rarest surname could be repeated in a large country like China. Moreover, he clearly recalled that neither he nor Bian Ting had a child when they were together.
While he tried to persuade himself, he couldn’t help but learn more about this child from Lu XiangMing. Lu XiangMing thought that he was simply intrigued by this child who shared similar features with him, so he shared more about him. However, his knowledge was limited as he didn’t know much about Bian JinYuan. As Yuan Shuo listened, he slowly pieced his memories together.
“My child will have my surname. Don’t you think that the surname ‘Bian’ sounds nice? I’ve got to pass it down.”
“But my surname doesn’t sound bad either.”
“Then we could give a surname each,” the girl joked, “the eldest will have my surname, the second-born will have yours.”
“Why can’t the eldest have my surname, while the second-born gets yours?” Yuan Shuo asked.
Bian Ting smiled, “Because I may not necessarily want to give birth to a second child.”
She looked at Yuan Shuo, “Childbirth is so painful, so I may not be able to go through it twice.”
“So you’re just giving me a blank cheque to nowhere?”
“Not necessarily,” Bian Ting thought for a bit, “how about this, if I don’t wish to give birth to a second child, I’ll try my best to add your surname to their name. This should settle it right?”
“Something like Biān Yuán (edge)?”
“You’re so dull!” Bian JinYuan glared at him, “you’ve lost your naming privilege.”
Yuan Shuo gestured to zip his mouth shut and gave her an okay sign.
They were young then, both having just turned 21 years old, dreaming about the future as they walked along the tree-lined path. The Bian Ting then would not realise that her imagined future was not the same as Yuan Shuo’s.
Bian Ting was in Yuan Shuo’s imagined future, but hers was different.
He asked Lu XiangMing, “What is this child’s name? You keep on referring to him as teacher Xiao Bian, what’s his name?”
“Bian JinYuan,” father Lu knew this, “but my partner loved to call him teacher Xiao Bian, so I just followed suit.”
Yuan Shuo’s hand which held the wine glass trembled, “‘Yuan’ as in ‘origin’ (yuán lái)?”
“No, it’s the ‘yuan’ from ‘fresh water flowing from its source’ (wèi yǒu yuán tóu huó shuǐ lái).★“
“You’re so dull,” Yuan Shuo suddenly recalled what Bian Ting had said.
“Do you know where he stays? I’ve got to meet him now since we share such a fate.”
Unfortunately father Lu didn’t know. He made a call to uncle Li and then told Yuan Shuo the train station where he usually alighted. Yuan Shuo thanked him and saw Bian JinYuan at the train station the next day.
Bian JinYuan stood out even among a crowd, like a picturesque landscape. Yuan Shuo looked at him and knew without a doubt that he was his and Bian Ting’s child.
Only, how did he and Bian Ting have a child? Why didn’t Bian Ting ever tell him? He calculated from Bian JinYuan’s birthday and age and made a startling realisation when he got a clearer picture.
Yuan Shuo sat in the car, his expression distorted. His heart was full of regrets, his face torn between crying and laughing in ridicule. At this moment, he was finally paying for the carefree actions of his youth.
Yuan Shuo lowered his head as he tried to pull his thoughts back together. He hadn’t investigated Bian JinYuan’s current circumstances because Bian Ting hadn’t liked such actions then, “Don’t you find this disrespectful? I have to lay myself bare to you just because you have wealth and power? Please, who would want to be pursued while naked, at least wear a piece of clothing.”
Who would have thought that the person who had said these words was no longer here.
“I had thought that you were only staying with your small aunt temporarily.”
“No,” Bian JinYuan replied coldly.
“Then she…” Yuan Shuo fell silent for a moment before continuing with difficulty, “was it an illness or an accident?”
“Illness,” Bian JinYuan replied calmly, “you don’t have to feel upset, my mother passed away peacefully. She didn’t leave behind any regrets, and never mentioned you.”
Yuan Shuo turned to look at him, “Do you hate me?”
Bian JinYuan looked outside the window at the passersby walking past the car. He stated, “To me, you’re just like them. I don’t have hate, but neither do I have love or emotions towards you. You’re just like a stranger to me.”
Yuan Shuo followed his line of sight at the people walking by, lapsing into silence.
“Do you have anything else to say?” Bian JinYuan asked, “If not, I’ll be leaving.”
“I wish to visit your house,” Yuan Shuo said heavily.
“Not today,” Bian JinYuan stated, “my small aunt doesn’t know that you’re here. I’ll have to go home to let her know about it, otherwise she’d be shocked.”
“I’ll be leaving then,” Bian JinYuan said as he opened the door.
Yuan Shuo looked at him and swallowed whatever he wanted to say to him.
As Bian JinYuan closed the car door, he reminded Yuan Shuo, “Don’t follow me again, goodbye.”
Saying this, he shut the car door and walked forward.
Yuan Shuo looked at his silhouette intently. After a long while, he raised his hands to cover his eyes. Bian Ting was dead. She was really dead. Even now, Yuan Shuo was unable to accept it.
Bian JinYuan didn’t waste much time getting home. He opened the door to find Bian Jie guiding Shuang Shuang as he learnt his vocabulary. Seeing that he had arrived home, she got up to heat up his food.
Bian JinYuan placed his bag on the sofa and took over teaching Shuang Shuang words. Shuang Shuang was very obedient, and took his learning seriously no matter who taught him.
Dinner was rice and some side dishes. Bian Jie scooped rice and heated up the dishes before serving them. Shuang Shuang was tempted too and followed after Bian JinYuan with a pair of chopsticks to take two bites.
Bian Jie smiled as she hugged him, “Little glutton cat.”
Shuang Shuang meowed at her, and then giggled.
Bian Jie and Bian JinYuan were tickled by him into laughter, and the small room was full of warmth.
After Bian JinYuan finished his meal, Bian Jie went to wash the dishes. Bian JinYuan followed after her.
Bian Jie told him, “You don’t have to bother with this, go study. It will be good if you could go to bed earlier.”
Bian JinYuan didn’t listen, as he took a bowl to help her wash. He said softly, “Small aunt, I have to tell you something. Don’t be surprised.”
“What is it?” Bian Jie asked.
Bian JinYuan looked at her, his words calm, “I saw my dad this afternoon.”
Bian Jie froze, both hands in mid-air, as she stared at Bian JinYuan.
Bian JinYuan elaborated, “His name is Yuan Shuo, you probably know this name.”
Bian Jie was still frozen. After a long while, she gently nodded, “I know, Yuan from ‘origin’ (yuán lái)’ and Shuo from ‘ On the northern air comes the sentry’s gong’ (shuò qì chuán jīn tuò)⚑. Your mother mentioned it to me before she passed.”
“Do you believe in fate?” she asked Bian JinYuan.
Bian JinYuan was stumped for a reply, and chose to remain silent.
“Your mum said that she believed in fate. She said that perhaps you would meet your father one day, and so she told me his name. If the both of you never crossed paths in your lifetime, it meant that you weren’t fated and I didn’t have to tell you his name. You would simply live your life; but if you met one day, then I had to tell you his name, because then you would be able to make the best decision for yourself.”
Bian JinYuan nodded.
Bian Jie asked, “What did he talk to you about?”
“He wanted to visit.”
Bian Jie clasped her hands uneasily. After a while, she said softly: “Alright, since you’ve met already, it’s inevitable for him to visit.”
“You don’t have to meet him if you don’t wish to.”
Bian Jie shook her head, “No, I want to meet him. I have things to tell him.”
She looked at the young man in front of her, “If he hadn’t appeared, I wouldn’t have searched for him. Now that he has, we’ve got to clear the air between us regarding your mum and yourself.”
Bian JinYuan saw the resolution in her eyes and said softly, “Okay.”
The next day, as Bian JinYuan exited the school grounds, he saw Yuan Shuo’s car.
I feel so bad for Yuan Shuo!
⚑ Another poem, this time from the famous Ballad of Mulan (木蘭辭) – here’s a translated version of the poem. Mulan, who had cross-dressed as a male to take her father’s place in the war, returned home after a decade and stopped cross-dressing. When her comrades visited her at her residence, they discovered her to be a woman. Her response to their exclamation in the final line (which is oft-quoted) is something of a beautiful revelation in my opinion: But when the two rabbits run side by side, / How can you tell the female from the male?