“It’s so weird.” An Ning got up and dressed while shaking her head and frowning, as if she was trying to remember something.
I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, brushing my hair.
When I woke up, Pervert was already gone. I didn’t know where he went, he had probably gone back to the Underworld.
From her reflection in the mirror, I saw An Ning grab her hair with both hands, expression worried.
She suddenly lifted her head and looked towards me, staring so hard it felt like she was going to drill a hole right through me.
“Yesterday night….did you do something with your husband?”
I felt all my blood rush to my head and my face turned red hot. I stopped brushing my hair and coughed nervously.
Did she see what happened yesterday night? Wasn’t she asleep….was she just pretending? It didn’t look like she was faking her sleep.
I laughed dryly, then asked: “What do you mean ‘did something’? We just slept, what else could we have done.”
An Ning got up, hands still grabbing her hair, which was in a complete mess which closely resembled a bird’s nest. She sniffed twice and then said: “No, I definitely saw you and your husband getting intimate, but….I’m not certain.”
She moved closer to me, until her face was almost touching mine, and then raised an eyebrow, examining my expression. Then, she sighed, her voice tinged with confusion: “I don’t know if it was a dream or if it was real.”
I was tensed up the whole time, desperately trying to make my expression less stiff for I was terrified that she might sense something. I turned away and prepared to wash my face, casually changing the topic of our conversation.
“You must be sleeping too much, otherwise why would you dream about something like that. Are you getting lonely? Do you want me to help you find a boyfriend?”
With cleanser still on my face, I squinted at her and asked, laughingly. An Ning glared at me and scoffed, “I don’t want a boyfriend! Having you is enough!”
I rubbed my upper arms, smoothing down the goosebumps, and then rinsed the soap from my face and left the sink for An Ning.
With my hands pressed on my cheeks, I sat on the small sofa and waited for An Ning to wash up.
Suddenly, I remembered the name card Yang Yi had given me yesterday night, and how he told me to go look for him today if I were free.
I felt my pocket. A hard piece of card was jammed in the small space and I pulled it out.
Gu Jin* Teahouse.
If Yang Yi had not handed me this name card, I would have thought it was just an advertisement for a teahouse.
The card also had the area the teahouse was situated, the exact address, the shop’s phone number and the owner’s personal mobile number.
As soon as I saw the word “Teahouse”, I thought back to the old couple I had seen the day before.
At the time, they were standing in front of a teahouse, talking with a middle aged man. An Ning and I were too far away and I hadn’t paid attention to the name of the teahouse.
“An Ning, can you go somewhere with me later?”
I stretched out my neck and yelled the question at An Ning, who was still in the bathroom.
With her hair in a headscarf, she was using a cushion compact and applying makeup. Even though she stuck her head out of the bathroom, her hands were still moving busily.
“Go where? Aren’t we going to visit the palace area today?”
I shook my head and waved the name card in the air: “No, let’s go to the palace area tomorrow. I’m going to visit this teahouse later.”
An Ning paused, her hand still holding her lipstick, and looked at me disbelievingly.
Why go to a teahouse?
I picked up my bag, already ready to leave, and urged her on: “Move faster, let’s go right after we eat breakfast.”
An Ning’s movements increased in speed, but her expression was still confused. I knew that she still didn’t understand why I wanted to go to a teahouse, but what happened yesterday night….I couldn’t tell her just yet.
When An Ning and I arrived at the familiar food street and stood in front of Gu Jin teahouse, we both stopped walking.
As soon as I saw the familiar storefront, I knew that it was the teahouse the old couple had been standing in front of with the middle aged man yesterday.
An NIng’s memory was very good, and she recognised the teahouse too. Surprised, she pointed at it: “Isn’t this place….”
I nodded, but did not explain and instead headed straight inside. An Ning looked at me, and followed.
The teahouse had its air conditioning on, but it was not very strong. It was still uncomfortably hot, but there was the wafting fragrance of tea, carrying with it a warm and soothing atmosphere. The store’s front door was half closed, and the customers sat on chairs woven from bamboo, chatting quietly amongst themselves. In a corner of the reception area, an old radio was playing some traditional music.
The middle aged man saw us walk in and immediately came forwards, ready to receive visitors.
I looked around, but didn’t see any sign of Yang Yi.
“How many of you to be seated?”
The middle aged man asked us enthusiastically. His voice was not too loud or too soft, just enough for me to hear clearly without disturbing the other customers.
“I’m here to look for someone.”
I replied, then glanced at the man, and felt my eyes widen.
This middle aged man’s features closely resembled Yang Yi.
I handed him the name card, and though he clearly did not expect it, he took it.
“I’m here to look for Yang Yi.”
He froze, then went silent. He looked at me, his eyes filled with suspicion. I smiled at him, “Yang Yi told me to come visit him today.”
Before the middle aged man had the chance to reply, a familiar voice sounded from behind him.
“Dad, grandpa and grandma are looking for you.”
Yang Yi was wearing a yellow paul frank t-shirt with cargo shorts and had flip-flops on his feet. As he walked over, he yawned, running his hands through his hair, making it look even more like a bird’s nest.
His disorganised appearance almost made me choke on my own spit.
The contrast was too big! When I saw him yesterday, he was a clean, organised young man, but now what was with his just-woken-up look….
My troublemaking side was awoken. When I noticed that he had not seen me yet, I reached out and waved at him.
“Yang Yi. It’s me!”
Yang Yi paused, the hand in his hair froze. His head turned robotically towards me. When he saw me, his whole face changed! I saw a red blush rapidly spread across his face!
“Quee….” When he made his first sound, I knew what he was going to call me, and signalled at him with my eyes. He very smartly covered his mouth with his hands.
His face was filled with an expression called “awkward”. Yang Yi didn’t meet my eyes. He pointed towards the door behind the reception counter and said softly: “You two should come in too.”
I smiled and nodded at the middle aged man. The way Yang Yi addressed him confirmed my suspicions.
“Hi Uncle Yang.”
Uncle Yang smiled kindly: “You two are Little Yi’s friends? Come in.”
Before he went inside, Uncle Yang left some last-minute instructions for the employees in the teashop. An Ning and I walked into the inner rooms.
Behind the door there was a clean hallway with shiny wooden floorboards. It was so clean I was almost afraid to step on it, in case I got it dirty.
“No need to change shoes, just go in.”
Uncle Yang tapped me on the back, and told me to go straight in. I looked at the shelf of shoes by the doorway, there were household slippers on top, but since he’d already said not to change shoes….
There were rooms on either side of the hallway, and some had their doors closed, some open. At the end of the hallway, I could hear the voices of an old couple.
Just from their voices, I could already tell who was inside.
It was indeed a small world. The strange old couple, Yang Yi who was an Eclipser, and this teahouse, were all closely connected.
“Old man, I don’t want to stay here, let’s go back. There’s nothing good about this place.”
“Old woman, I’m here, nothing bad will happen. Look, this place has become so beautiful. The houses outside are very appealing. Don’t keep dwelling on those rotten things from the past.”
The dull hum of the old couple’s voices travelled through the air, accompanied by the sound of chair legs dragging along the floorboards.
“Ah you, old man. If it wasn’t for you, would our little Yi have to take on so many responsibilities? You have the face to say that the past is in the past. Just because it’s history doesn’t mean it’s gone. You make me so angry, you’re going to be the death of me.”
The old lady’s exasperated voice sounded in my ears. I could see Uncle Yang smiling at me embarrassedly, a little awkward, but mostly nervous.
I waved him off, and walked further in.
The old couple was sitting on the sofa, arguing, the old man’s hands held the old lady’s tightly.
They were like two old children, determined to fight until there was a clear winner, but those two pairs of wrinkled hands were closely intertwined.
Suddenly, their voices stopped. The old man saw me standing in the doorway and froze.
The old lady’s reprimands stopped midway, and she too turned to face me.
“Ah, aren’t you that….” She raised her hand and pointed at me, then asked confusedly, “little girl why are you here, you can’t come in here.”
Yang Yi and Uncle Yang walked in and started explaining.
“Grandpa, grandma, I told them to come in.”
Old Yue suddenly didn’t know what to do with himself. He moved his hands around restlessly and glanced repeatedly at his wife. He muttered a few words under his breath, very lightly, but I still heard what he said.
“Look, look, they overheard us, isn’t this….what we said….”
He looked over at me worriedly and asked, “Did you hear everything?”
I didn’t want to lie to them, so I nodded. Immediately, Old Yue’s whole face went dark, while Old Yang made a face, his whole expression written over with “I know nothing”, and turned so that he wasn’t facing us.
Uncle Yang grimaced, the atmosphere was incomparably awkward.