Eighty Soldiers 03
It is also skillful and sweet.
In June, even if she slept on a summer sleeping mat at night, she felt as hot as a fish in a steamer.
The Du family courtyard was very quiet, as everyone had gone to sleep.
Zhang Xiao Xua was pregnant. Compared to others, she was unable to endure the heat, and she tossed and turned sleeplessly. Du Baoqiang snored next to her, and she kicked him angrily passing by him.
“Oh… What’s going on?” Du Bao Qiang asked, confused. Since he did not open his eyes because he thought that she wanted to drink water, she got out of the bed.
Zhang Xiao Hua teased him, “Why, I can’t sleep, talk to me.”
“What?” Du Bao Qiang lay back down as his words waned, and the snoring sounded again.
Zhang Xiao Hua was so angry that she wanted to pinch him, only to see that he was really tired, and was not willing to put a hand on her, so she hit a palm-leaf fan.
Unknowingly of how much time passed, a bit of cool breeze blew through the half-covered window, and she hurriedly took advantage of the coolness to brew sleepiness. Just as she was about to fall asleep, Du Bao Qiang suddenly got up and awakened her, “Wife, did you call me just now?”
After finally coming to a doze, Zhang Xiao Hua ran away, and almost started to weep, sitting up as his wife pounded him with her fist.
Du Baoqiang did not dare to fight back. He waited until she was tired of hitting him and got out of bed to pour a cup of tea, attentively serving her.
Zhang Xiao Hua shouted furiously after drinking tea. Seeing his lost and depressed look, she reproached, ” Look at your silly look. Fortunately, it was a boy; if it was a girl, with dad and mom’s eccentricity, they would have sold you to provide for their treasured daughter to go to school long ago.
“Our parents wouldn’t, right?…..” Du Baoqiang scratched his scalp.
“Nothing? There’s no bias?” Zhang Xiao Hua looked at him from the side of her eyes and snorted, “If they’re not biased, how can they have two daughters, one who works hard at home every day and the other who wants to study and go to college?”
Du Bao Qiang looked outside of the room and whispered, “Isn’t it Bao Qin who said she didn’t get good grades and take the initiative to study?”
Zhang Xiao Hua laughed grimly and said nothing. Du Bao Qin didn’t get good grades? She was afraid only the Du family believed this. She had a younger cousin* who was studying in the same class as Du Bao Qin. She boasted in front of her that the girl who ranked first in her class was gentle, beautiful, and had good grades. Later, Du Bao Qin finished junior high school and did not go to senior high school. Which of her classmates was not surprised?
Only when Zhang Xiao Hua married into the Du family did she discover that Du Baoqin halted her studies because Du Bao Zhen was going to junior high school, and their family could not afford two tuition fees at once. Thus, she took the initiative to say that she was not as smart as her sister, that her grades were not good, and she stopped studying.
Talk about appeasing crying kids with candy When Du Bao Zhen wanted to go to senior high school last year, she could not pay a tuition fee of dozens of yuan a year, but she squeezed it out from her family by crying and making noise.
The rabbits at home—cutting the grass, feeding them, cutting their hair, and cleaning their cages, which is not Bao Qin’s job? The eggs that she gets in exchange for rabbit hair are not even hers. Your father and yourself worked, but I had a baby in my belly. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had the face to eat them. But what about Bao Zhen? She says that she needs to study to nourish her brain, but look at all the days she’s been on holiday. When has she read a book? You Du family members are all blind at heart, but I am not.“
She still had one more thing to say in her heart: don’t think that no one doesn’t know what Du Bao Zhen did in the reservoir alone every day for the sake of a wild man! When the man was admitted to college and went back to the city, she then wanted to attend high school and college to move there with him too.
Du Bao Qiang scratched his cheek and said nothing, but Zhang Xiao Hua dropped another bomb. “Today, mother asked Baoqin to go to Zhao’s house. I think it’s because Bao Zhen doesn’t want to marry, so she wants to push Baoqin out.”
“No way…” Du Bao Qiang looked up at once.
“Not way what?” Zhang Xiao Hua sneered, “Did you really not sense anything before? In fact, we all know about this matter, but we are just hiding behind a smokescreen to hide our embarrassment without poking through it. This is your Du family’s business; it’s none of my business. I only care about this child in my belly. I’m telling you Du Baoqiang, if I have a daughter in my belly and you Du family members dare to be so biased, don’t blame me for ending things with you!”
When she finished, she lay down with her back to her side and did not speak again.
After going to the Zhao’s house that day, Jiang Rui dug hare, cut rabbit hair, and did housework as usual. Then, she went to the back mountain to collect firewood. When she saw an ownerless tea tree, she picked a handful of tea leaves and gathered them in her pocket.
Just after entering the house, Wang Tong Hua pulled her into the room, “Girl, mum wants to tell you something.”
She was covered in sweat, her bangs sticking uncomfortably to her forehead, and she casually wiped them with her sleeve, “What is it, Mom?”
“Didn’t you go to the Zhao family a few days ago? Just now, your Aunt Zhang came and told Mum that she likes you very much and wants you to be her second daughter-in-law. What do you think?”
Jiang Rui had long anticipated it but she pretended to look surprised. “It’s not that Bao Zhen ……”
Wang Tong Hua interrupted her, “As you can see, Bao Zhen doesn’t want to. Besides, your Aunt Zhang has told me that she likes you better. It’s a good thing, girl. You’ve reached an age when people often ask about you, and I just tell them that I am reluctant to let you go and want you to stay two years. In fact, I was afraid that if you didn’t marry into a good family, you would suffer like me. Look at my whole life, how much suffering have I had because I’m poor and your father is incompetent? How many people have looked down on me? As long as you are well and have a good life, I am not afraid of suffering.”
As she said this, thinking of sad things, she wiped her tears.
“Mom, don’t be like that. It’s all in the past.” Jiang Rui gently consoled her.
“Yes, it’s all in the past.” Wang Tong Hua wiped the corners of her eyes, “Look, now the Zhao family wants you as their daughter-in-law. Girl, your good days have come!”
Jiang Rui said with difficulty, “I haven’t even met Zhao Nan ……”
“It’s alright,” Wang Tong Hua hurriedly went to the drawer and took out a photo, “Your Aunt Zhang also said earlier that Nan was busy with his work and couldn’t come back for a while, so she took a photograph for you to see. This is the one he left at home before. Look, how spirited he is!”
The picture was shoved into Jiang Rui’s hand. The man in it was less than thirty years old, dressed in a neat military uniform, his hair cut short, and his face full of solemnity as he looked into the camera. Compared to the one Jiang Rui saw a few days ago when he was 15 or 16 years old, the man in front of her was more masculine and calm, and the kind of sharpness he had as a teenager was covered under his uniform, like a sharp sword hidden in a sheath.
Wang Tong Hua added, “What your Aunt Zhang means is that she wants us to take a picture for Ah Nan to see as well. Girl, you should go to the county town tomorrow to take pictures.”
Jiang Rui frowned slightly, “It costs money to take a picture.”
“Don’t worry, mum has money!” Wang Tong Hua was afraid she would disagree and said, “You just need to get a good night’s sleep tonight; get enough energy to take a nice picture tomorrow, and don’t worry about anything else!”
At this point, there was no room for Jiang Rui to refuse.
The next day, she put on the same clothes and carried a bag with the rabbit fur she had recently collected. She brought it to the commune’s supply and marketing agency to exchange for some items that her family needed. When asked on the way, she just said she was selling rabbit fur.
From the Chaoyang Commune to Yangan County, there were only two buses a day, one in the morning and one in the evening. Jiang Rui walked from the Xishan brigade to the commune, afraid of being unable to make it, and departed very early. She waited at the station for nearly half an hour before the bus set off, with a ticket costing 25 cents.
The road was in bad condition, paved in yellow mud, with holes in the road, and hard car seats. By the time she got out of the car, half of her body was partially numb.
The county town was much bigger than the Chaoyang Commune; the roads were much wider, and the people walking on the streets wore more glamorous clothes, unlike those in the village, which were grey and dusty. The supply and marketing department was also much bigger than the one in the commune and called the Yangan Department Store. The glass counters were filled with clothes, food, and furniture by category. Behind the counters stood a young saleswoman wearing a white shirt and a ponytail, a very fashionable look.
Jiang Rui wandered around the shops with her bag of cloth before she found the purchasing station in the corner. There were already many people lined up, people like her from the lower communes and brigades in the countryside, selling some poultry eggs or used materials, as well as herbs and animal skins.
The line moved slowly, and when it was their turn, everyone kept an eye on the scales in the buyer’s hands and counted the money exchanged back and forth several times, penny by penny.
The four rabbits saved up for three months, a total of one catty and a little over one tael, were sold for four yuan and fifty cents. In the past, there were still rabbit cubs for sale, but this time a litter of six was born. Four were exchanged for eggs with people in the same brigade, and two were given back to the Zhao family as gifts, leaving only the rabbit fur.
She counted the money once, carefully storing it in her coat pocket. Then, she exited the department store, walked a little further, and found the photo studio.
The photoshoot was luxurious and expensive, and Du Bao Qin had never even entered a photo studio when she was growing up. This time, it took Jiang Rui nearly three dollars to get in and out. She left her home address for the photograph to be developed and mailed to her.
Before leaving home today, Wang Tong Hua gave her three yuan for protection. The three yuan, she didn’t touch. In addition to the return ticket, there was still a piece and a quarter left on hand.
She went back to the department store and bought a box of matches, ten small pieces of which cost 20 cents, and two pounds of coarse salt for 50 cents. She also saw sugar and soap, but both were in short supply and required a food coupon. In the end, she only bought a few eggs and a pack of cheap cigarettes for her father, Du You Fu, for eight cents.
At noon, a group of teenagers came to buy bread and biscuits with food stamps; they were no more than 15 or 16 years old, presumably still students, out on a trip together.
Jiang Rui watched curiously for a while until they left, then she pulled a pie out of her bag to eat.
She stayed in the department store until the afternoon when there was a bus back to the Chaoyang Commune.
As soon as she arrived home, Du Bao Zhen rushed over to pick up her bag of cloth, glanced at it a few times, and said with disappointment, “Sister, mum said you went to the county to sell rabbit fur. I thought there would be something different in the county.”
Her grumpiness came and went quickly. In the past two days, Wang Tong Hua did not mention the marriage to her, so she stopped being angry.
Wang Tong Hua shooed her away with a wave of her hand, “Always thinking about eating, starving ghost!”
Du Baozhen stuck her tongue out and went back to her room.
There was no one around, so Jiang Rui handed the rest of the money to Wang Tong Hua and spoke to her about the day’s events.
“You’re just too serious. What’s the point of calculating so well? When you go to the county, it’s good to buy yourself a couple of candies to eat.”
Jiang Rui just smiled.
It took several days for the photo to arrive at the house, and Jiang Rui only took one glance at it before Wang Tong Hua tucked it away, not knowing when she was going to send it to Zhang Li Yun.
About another month later, in a military region thousands of miles away, Zhao Nan was reading an operational training plan from behind his desk.
A series of footsteps came from outside the office, and the visitor knocked twice on the door before pushing it open, ” Lao Zhao, there’s a letter for you.”
Zhao Nan’s eyes were still fixed on the document in his hand as he reached out to pick it up.
Zheng Bin, however, did not give it to him and waved the letter in front of him with a gloating face, “Looking at the address, it’s from your hometown, and judging from the feel of it, there should be a photo inside. Lao Zhao ah, it seems that auntie finally can’t hold back and is going to urge you to get married!”
Zhao Nan did not answer his ploy and withdrew his hand again.
“What? Don’t you want to take a look? Let me see what the girl looks like. Is she the one you met last time you went home to visit your family? You’ve been back for so long without a word; did you settle your life in one night? Is she pretty? How old is she? How old is the girl? Lao Zhao, tell me.” Zheng Bin was impatient and kept harassing him.
Unable to stand it, Zhao Nan frowned and took the letter. Just as he tore open the seal, a picture slipped out inside, and before he could pick it up and look at it, a hand next to him snatched it away.
“I’ll keep an eye on it for you!” Zheng Bin said with a smile, holding the photo up to the light from the window for a closer look.
The photograph was of a girl around 18 or 19 with two braids, a pear-shaped face, big eyes, clear skin, and two pear crescents painted on her cheeks. A light smile pursed at the corners of her mouth as she stared peacefully into the camera, looking serene and sweet.
凉席: summer sleeping mat. eg. https://pic1.zhimg.com/v2-96d952c3f5441b417cfb7401b9a87883_1440w.jpg?source=172ae18b
唔: oh (expression of agreement or surprise)
自己: one’s own
昏昏欲睡: drowsy / sleepy (idiom)
表妹: younger female cousin via female line
会哭的孩子有糖吃: lit. the child who cries gets the candy (idiom) / fig. the squeaky wheel gets the grease
阿: prefix used before monosyllabic names, kinship terms etc to indicate familiarity
老: prefix used before the surname of a person or a numeral indicating the order of birth of the children in a family or to indicate affection or familiarity / old (of people) / venerable (person)
CHARACTERS THAT APPEAR IN THIS CHAPTER:
Wang Tong Hua: Bao Qin and Bao Zhen’s mother
Du You Fu: Father of Bao Qin
Du Bao Qiang: First son. Husband of Zhang Xiao Hua
Du Bao Qin / Jiang Rui : Main character and First daughter
Du Bao Zhen: Second daughter, third child
Zhang Li Yun: Mother of Zhao Nan
Zhao Nan : Male lead and second son of the Du family
Zheng Bin: Friend of Zhao Nan
Btw, Zhao Nan is 9 years older than Jaing Rui