The Untold Story - Chapter 10

Published at 25th of December 2018 06:44:23 AM

Chapter 10

Chen Mingsheng took the cup without drinking from it . He held the cup and said to Yang Zhao, “Ms Yang, I still think you should return me my prosthetic leg after all . It’s inconvenient for me . ” Yang Zhao said plainly, “I’ll return it to you when you’re better . ”

“Be more reasonable . ”

“I’ll return it to you when you’re better . ”

Chen Mingsheng sighed and looked at Yang Zhao . Yang Zhao was shorter than him by a head, and had been looking up to him this entire time . Her slightly pale eyes, coupled with her remote expressions and placid manner of speaking, had the uncanny effect of dousing one’s anger before it spilled forth .


Chen Mingsheng turned and set the mug on the kitchen counter . “In that case, I’ll be making a move . I’ll collect the leg when I’ve recovered . ”

Yang Zhao asked, “You’re leaving now?”

Chen Mingsheng nodded .

“Won’t you finish the milk before you go?”

“Nah, don’t like milk either . ”


Yang Zhao glanced at the milk that had been set aside . Steam still rose from it .

“Okay then . Go back and rest up . ”

Chen Mingsheng was about to thank her, when the thought of how Yang Zhao had kept his prosthetic leg came to his mind stopped him short . He nodded, turned and left with his crutch .


Rather than send Chen Mingsheng downstairs, Yang Zhao took up a spot by the windowsill and watched from the window . Following Chen Mingsheng’s departure, she began counting numbers silently, the way bored patients were wont to do .

When she counted up to 67, she spotted Chen Mingsheng exiting from the unit and walking toward the condominium’s main entrance .

Yang Zhao shifted her position . Pressing her forehead lightly against the french window, she watched that bowed silhouette recede far into the distance until it was no more .


Yang Zhao waited for days, but Chen Mingsheng’s call never came .

During these days, she threw all of her energies into the work Xue Miao had set for her . Since restoration work demanded extreme concentration, she did not initiate the call .

Only, sometimes, when she wasn’t working, she would sit at her desk in her study, see the prosthetic leg standing next to the bonsai in the corner, and be reminded of that man .  


Often, she would remind herself to stop thinking of him so frequently, that it was weird to do so . Then again, she would think, by the time she told herself that, her thoughts were already of him .


6 days after Chen Mingsheng left, Yang Zhao’s restoration work had gone swimmingly and was now in its final stages . At 3 o’clock in the afternoon, she put down her tools, put on her coat, and went out of her apartment .

She lit a cigarette in the corridor and brisk walked toward the elevator, her high heels clacking rhythmically against the marble floor .


Everything—from opening the door, getting on the car, lighting up a cigarette, to exiting the main entrance of her condominium—proceeded smoothly without a hitch . Yang Zhao had a questionable sense of direction, and as such she usually needed to have her route perfectly mapped out before she drove off toward her destination . This time, however, was one of the rare occasions when she was absolutely clear about where she was going—

—Qima Road, old housing estate, 5th floor .  


By the time Yang Zhao arrived at her destination, it was past 4 o’clock . She pulled her car over by the roadside, and tightened her coat around her body . Just before she got off the car, she took out her makeup kit from her bag and applied light makeup .

She gazed into her face in the compact mirror . It was perfectly expressionless . She snapped her compact mirror shut, and stepped out of her car .


Outside, buffeted by the freezing winds, Yang Zhao felt as if her skin had shrunk by a layer . She clutched her bag and entered the housing estate .


It was a very, very old housing estate . To Yang Zhao, the architectural style of the buildings seemed straight out of the late 80s . This housing estate consisted of just three apartment blocks arranged in the shape of the chinese character pin (品) . Right smack of it all was the courtyard, which, as Yang Zhao realized while she walked, was filled with people .

There, elderly men and women congregated by the bicycle racks while chatting with one another, while young children played and chased each other .

When she gave her surroundings the once-over, Yang Zhao noticed that the courtyard was partitioned by wooden fences, the handiwork of residents living in the surrounding ground-floor apartments . The ground was not paved with cement . It was all loose soil, home to a mix of trees and plants . Only, in this season, most of the trees had already shed their leaves, and with their bare frames providing the only clues to their identities, Yang Zhao was unable to tell what exactly they were .

She took a few steps and saw several cats lying on the roadside with their bellies up . If it weren’t for their slightly swaying tails, they would have passed for dead, and even when she passed by the strays, they did not so much as stir .


There was a world of difference between this place and Yang Zhao’s, so much so that she ended up loitering around the place for over a good ten minutes before remembering what she came to do .


When she entered the building that Chen Mingsheng went into the last time, she found no elevators there, only the faint smell of mold clinging to its corridor . The gates to each apartment were all different in some way, some made of wood, others of metal .

She still remembered what Chen Mingsheng said . He lived on the fifth floor .

She wound up the stairs . On the fifth floor, Yang Zhao saw that there were two units on either side .


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The gates to both apartments were old-fashioned metallic types, upon which all sorts of little labels were messily stuck on . Some offered racy services, others were advertisements for so-and-so product . Perhaps the only difference was that the gate on the left had a fading couplet stuck to it, while the gate on the right had only advertisements and takeout pamphlets, nothing else .

Yang Zhao scanned both sides, then headed for the gate on the right .


She searched for a long time, only to realize, belatedly, that this type of gate did not come with a doorbell .


Knock-knock-knock .  Yang Zhao rapped against the door .

Then, hugging her bag, she waited silently by the entrance .

Yang Zhao felt calm as still water . She had a feeling—Chen Mingsheng would emerge from this door .


Her hunch proved to be correct .

A knock and a delay of three seconds later, sounds of shuffling footwear issued from within the apartment . It was loud, like the sound of plastic slippers striking against a concrete floor . In the few seconds before the door was opened, she imagined what Chen Mingsheng’s footwear would look like .

Flipflops were out; he was definitely not the sort to wear them . The more likely candidate was  those old-fashioned bathhouse slippers, the dark blue ones, probably…


On this outmoded metal door, the peephole had long been glued shut by the assorted sticky notes . Yang Zhao was ready for this . During this short period of time, she’d already rehearsed several scenarios in her mind—for example, what to do if Chen Mingsheng refused to open the door upon hearing her voice, or if he coldly rebuffed her after opening the door…


Yet, contrary to expectations, when the sound of the slippers stopped short at the doorstep, the door opened immediately .

Not a single question was asked .


Yang Zhao was more than a little perplexed . “Xiao-Li, you—” Chen Mingsheng said as he opened the door . By the time the door was fully open and Yang Zhao’s figure was unveiled before him, Chen Mingsheng was no longer talking .

Yang Zhao understood: he thought she was someone else .


Yang Zhao looked at Chen Mingsheng and said, “Chen Mingsheng, I’ve come to find you . ”


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Chen Mingsheng always struck her as a man of few expressions . As such, this new expression that could be described as “dumbstruck” pleased her very much . She opened her mouth again . “Who is Xiao-Li?”

For a long time, Chen Mingsheng stood in stunned silence . “Ms Yang?” he eventually said hesitantly .

Yang Zhao nodded . “You don’t recognize me?”
“No, that’s not it…” Chen Mingsheng looked her up and down . “How did you come here?”

“By myself, of course . ”

“How did you know where I live?”

“Learnt about it last time,” she replied vaguely .


Although she had glossed over the matter, Chen Mingsheng didn’t press her; he was not one to pry . He felt that this woman was so mystifying it bordered on the supernatural .

Seeing that Yang Zhao wasn’t speaking, Chen Mingsheng asked, “So, what’re you doing here?”

The way Yang Zhao was looking at Chen Mingsheng became increasingly odd .

Chen Mingsheng looked at himself . Nothing unusual there .

“Something wrong?” he asked .

Yang Zhao shook her head, thought for a moment, and said, “Why aren’t you asking me in?”


Could he not tell she was visiting him? She assumed she’d been obvious enough . Strange, Yang Zhao thought: from what she knew, or from her point of view, Chen Mingsheng ought to be inviting her inside the apartment now .  


Looking at the woman before her, Chen Mingsheng suddenly felt foolish . But having retained basic observation skills and noticed that her expression wasn’t right, he turned sideways and told Yang Zhao, “Come in, it’s too cold outside . ”

Yang Zhao nodded, and said, “Okay . ”


Chen Mingsheng entered the apartment first; Yang Zhao fell in behind him . At the entrance, Yang Zhao bent down, intending to remove her shoes . Chen Mingsheng noticed this and called to her, “Leave it . Come in with your shoes . There’s no flooring anyway . ”

Yang Zhao threw a glance around . The entire apartment was paved with bare concrete . Just as he said, there wasn’t a need for her to remove her shoes .

The apartment was not big, consisting only of a bedroom, a living room, and a toilet . A round table, probably a dining table, stood in the living room, while the kitchen was situated at the end of the living room . The size of the entire apartment seemed smaller than a single room from Yang Zhao’s apartment .

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It contained a lot of knick knacks for its size, though they were not strewn messily about . Organized by categories and stacked tidily, they gave the apartment a neat and orderly appearance .

As Chen Mingsheng led Yang Zhao to his bedroom, Yang Zhao studied his back properly for the first time .


On his lower body, Chen Mingsheng wore white cotton workout pants . As his right pant leg was not clipped up, the emptiness of it was all the more pronounced . It hung loosely, swaying with his every step . As for his upper body…


Not many men wear singlets these days, was what Yang Zhao thought .

Chen Mingsheng had on a tight fitting black singlet . He had muscular upper arms, not the particularly ripped kind, but the kind that’s gradually sculpted through years of accumulated effort, a figure brimming with a sense of strength . Out of habit owing to Yang Zhao’s arts background, she traced the contours of his arms with her eyes, identifying each of his muscles one at a time .

Chen Mingsheng led Yang Zhao into his bedroom .


“Ms Yang, I—”

“It’s Yang Zhao . ”

Chen Mingsheng paused, then said, “My place’s kinda small . Have a seat here first . ”

Yang Zhao looked around and found that he wasn’t just being polite: there really wasn’t much space in his bedroom at all . There were few furniture in the apartment, only a bed, a bedside cabinet, a TV set and a miniature sofa .

Yang Zhao sat on the sofa . Chen Mingsheng said, “I’ll get you some water . ”

Yang Zhao nodded . “Thanks . ” While Chen Mingsheng went to boil some water, Yang Zhao glanced around and saw that a balcony was linked to the bedroom . His balcony was a real balcony, unlike hers, which had a french window . She looked at it for a while . Just as she was going to stand up and head over, Chen Mingsheng came bearing a cup of water .

She saw that he was balancing the cup with one hand and his crutch with the other . It looked like a great hassle . Immediately she stood up and took the cup from him .

While Yang Zhao lowered her head to drink, Chen Mingsheng lowered his head to observe her .

Today, Yang Zhao was clad in a black skirt and a grey sweater with a trench coat over it . Her makeup, applied with a light hand, looked simple yet sensible . Chen Mingsheng’s gaze lingered on the slight curve of her slender neck . He shifted it away before Yang Zhao finished her drink .


”Thanks . ” Yang Zhao passed the cup back to Chen Mingsheng .

Chen Mingsheng accepted it and turned to Yang Zhao .

“So…what’re you here for?”