Published at 16th of April 2016 10:45:02 PM

Chapter 11

The next day . The sun hung in the centre of the sky, its fiery rays blazing down on the city beneath it .

It was afternoon . Bei Ye sat by the side of the table, strumming his guitar and humming various tunes . Conversely, Chen Nian sprawled by the window, peering at the lively alley not far away . As it was still rather early in the afternoon, numerous farmers sat by the roadside, peddling their freshly grown vegetables and fruits .

The melody in the house came to a sudden stop .

Chen Nian didn’t move, and remain sprawled by the window . Before long, Bei Ye’s shoes appeared in her vision field . Chen Nian raised her head to look at him . Hopping onto the window sill, Bei Ye suggested, “Let’s go for a walk . ”

Chen Nian readied herself to clamber onto the window sill . However, before she could even attempt to do so, Bei Ye had already stooped down and offered his hand to her . Chen Nian paused for a second before placing her tiny hand firmly in his palm .

Easily lifting Chen Nian onto the window sill, Bei Ye mocked her, “You’re so skinny you’re like a starved monkey . ”

Chen Nian, “…”

With a fluid jump, Bei Ye successfully landed on the cement ledge . Once again, he turned back and stretched his hand out towards Chen Nian . As the cement ledge was rather narrow, Chen Nian’s legs began to tremble at the possibility of falling onto the ground below .  Chen Nian lowered her body as slowly as she could before finally managing to grip Bei Ye’s outstretched hand . With his help, Chen Nian easily slid onto the narrow cement ledge .

The two youths pressed their bodies to the wall whilst traversing the cement ledge .  Before long, they easily reached the emergency stairwell, and managed to climb onto the walls surrounding the abandoned steel mill .

There was a peddler at the bottom of the wall, selling his freshly harvested vegetables . There was a pile of discarded vegetable leafs next to his makeshift store .

Without any hesitation, Bei Ye leapt off the wall . Conversely, Chen Nian was still stuck on the wall . Staring blankly at her surroundings, Chen Nian shifted from one foot to the other, feebly attempting to source for a more stable position on the wall .

Bei Ye stretched his arms out towards Chen Nian, urging her to jump into his arms . Tightly pressing her lips together, Chen Nian shook her head gently, indicating that she did not require Bei Ye’s help .

Bei Ye snorted before retracting both his arms and readied himself for a good show . As he stared at Chen Nian’s white skirt, he suddenly began to squint, his lips curving into an immensely naughty smile .

Thunderstruck by the realisation of what Bei Ye was smiling at, Chen Nian’s face reddened with embarrassment . Without a moment’s hesitation, she began to carefully tuck the folds of her skirt around her .

And with that, Bei Ye could no longer admire the view .

Bei Ye threatened, “I’m going to leave you here if you’re not going to come down in a few minutes’ time . ” He started to turn his body away from Chen Nian, putting in a bluff for her, “You can just wait for me on top of that wall . ”

Chen Nian didn’t want to wait on the wall, and hurriedly squat down on the wall whilst carefully covering herself with the skirt, “Don’t……”

Upon seeing Chen Nian’s anxious face, Bei Ye’s heart felt greatly comforted . Bei Ye ‘unwillingly’ stretched his arms out towards her, and coxed her gently, “I’ll catch you, so you won’t fall . ”

Chen Nian mustered all her courage and leapt off the wall, successfully crashing into the youth’s arms . The moment Chen Nian jumped off the wall, Bei Ye wrapped his strong and steady arms around her, and the two youths tumbled into the pile of discarded vegetable leafs .

In the crowded alley, numerous farmers from the surrounding neighborhoods had set up various makeshift stalls to sell their freshly harvested fruits and vegetables . As Chen Nian and Bei Ye browsed through the produce, they spotted one particular stall selling extremely fresh cucumbers . Bei Ye bought a single cucumber and split it into two halves . He began to munch on one half by himself whilst handing the other half to Chen Nian .

As they continued browsing, a group of small yellow ducklings caught Chen Nian’s eyes . They were a furry, tiny bunch, and were all squeezed together in a relatively small box . Noticing that Chen Nian had glanced at the ducklings more frequently than usual, Bei Ye asked, “Do you want one?”

Chen Nian nodded her head gently .

Bei Ye squat down by the box of ducklings, his gaze sweeping over the yellow, furry ducklings . Before long, he grabbed a small duckling by its neck and flipped it over in order to examine its butt . Uncomfortable with its present position, the small duck began kicking wildly in an attempt to protest its unhappiness . Bei Ye returned the small duckling into the box, and grabbed another duck for its examination .

Chen Nian looked at Bei Ye suspiciously, in a state of half-belief . Having selected the second duckling, Bei Ye placed it right beside Chen Nian’s feet . After some consideration, he grabbed hold of the first duckling once more and placed it alongside the duckling waddling besides Chen Nian’s feet . The two ducklings stared at Chen Nian, confusion evident in their blank stares .

Chen Nian squat down beside the two ducklings, and patted their heads happily .

Bei Ye paid the money over to the stall owner . “Let’s go . ”

The two ducklings invested all their energies into their short tiny legs, waddling shakily behind Chen Nian .

The two youths didn’t return home using the way they originally used; instead, they routed round walls of the abandoned steel mill and re-entered the compound from the main gate . The yard was devoid of any signs of life . Chen Nian followed Bei Ye dutifully whilst the two ducks followed her loyally .

Even after reaching home, the two ducklings still traced Chen Nian’s footsteps relentlessly – even when Chen Nian went to the toilet, the two ducklings insisted on following her . However, before the two ducklings could even set foot inside the toilet, Bei Ye had already intercepted the two ducklings, grabbing them by their necks and chiding them in annoyance, “Indeed – with a body full of yellow hair, there is little wonder that you have such yellow thoughts[1] . ”

[1] Yellow thoughts – Chinese slang for nasty, perverted thoughts . Since the two ducklings wanted to follow Chen Nian into the toilet, Bei Ye is chiding them for their “perverted” nature .

Having received a scolding from Bei Ye, the two ducklings turned their attention towards him . As such, they began their journey of following Bei Ye dutifully . Annoyed and impatient, Bei Ye grabbed them by the neck and placed them in an old shoe box .

Just then, the phone rang . Walking to an isolated corner of the house, Bei Ye picked up the phone .

“F***, can’t you keep your bloody legs in check?”

“I f***ing told you to stop!!”

“If you do it one more time, I f***ing swear to God……” On hearing the bathroom door slide open, Bei Ye hopped out of the window and headed to the emergency stairwell .

Before long, Bei Ye returned with a dark expression on his face . Turning to Chen Nian, he informed her, “I’m heading out for a short while . ”

Chen Nian stared at him calmly . It was her signature gaze – clean, clear and distant . Although her gaze betrayed no hint of any emotion, it was like a infant’s hand which gripped you tightly, leaving you trapped with nowhere to run .

Bei Ye’s face paled slightly . Subconciously lowering his voice, Bei Ye explained, “My friend ran into some trouble outside . ”

“A childhood buddy . ” Dissatisfied with his previous explanation, Bei Ye added .

Chen Nian simply continued looking at him, before nodding her head quietly and turning back to the ducklings .

Bei Ye’s gaze chased after Chen Nian’s figure . After some time, he walked to the table and retrieved a spare key from the drawer . Handing the spare key to Chen Nian, he instructed, “It’s for the shutter door . ”

Chen Nian responded, “I won’t…… . need it . ”

Bei Ye patiently explained, “You might want to head out for a short walk . ”

Chen Nian gently refused, “I don’t……want to…… . walk . ”

“…” Bei Ye lapsed into a momentary silence . Ultimately, he still handed the key over to Chen Nian . “Keep this . Remember to be careful when you’re pulling the shutters down – don’t injure your hands in the process . ” Chen Nian was about to retrieve the key from Bei Ye when he suddenly retracted his hand . Walking back to the drawer, he began to sift through the contents in the drawer until he found a long, red string . Threading the red string through the key, Bei Ye hung the red string around Chen Nian’s neck .

Chen Nian didn’t protest, silently assenting to Bei Ye’s actions . Lowering her head, Chen Nian peeked at the key before quietly pouring a bowl of water for the two small ducklings .

Bei Ye started towards the shutter door, but returned shortly after having taken a few steps . Trudging over to the couch, he began digging in the crevices of the couch in an attempt to locate the remote control for the television . Upon locating the remote control, he suggested to Chen Nian, “You could choose to watch the television whenever you’re bored . ”

Having jabbed a few buttons on the remote control, Bei Ye discovered that the remote control was out of battery .

Chen Nian raised her head to look at him, and gently pointed towards her pile of books . “I have……my books . ”

Bei Ye paused momentarily, before responding, “Oh, right . You have books . ” Lowering his head, he removed the depleted batteries from the remote control .

When  he squirrelled out from beneath the shutter door, he turned back to look at Chen Nian one last time – Chen Nian was still squatting by the old shoe box and playing with the tiny yellow ducklings . She didn’t bid him goodbye .

Tearing his gaze away from Chen Nian, Bei Ye jogged along the corridor and hurriedly descended the stairwell . For the very first time in his life, Bei Ye experienced a fervent desire to return home even before he had left his house .

It was evening by the time Bei Ye finally settled his friend’s messy affairs . Veering his motorcycle into the abandoned steel mill, he managed to spot Chen Nian’s pale figure from a distance away . Suddenly, Bei Ye was overcome with the urge to smile – however, he didn’t smile . Instead, he simply increased the speed of his motorcycle and sped over to Chen Nian, only braking when he was right in front of Chen Nian .

Chen Nian was sweeping the yard under the shade of  the tree . Wherever she went, her broom left a clear and distinct mark on the dust-filled ground . An indescribable emotion surged in Bei Ye’s heart – it was as though the broom had engraved the clear and distinct marks on his heart .

Hopping off the motorcycle, Bei Ye asked, “Why do you bother clearing the leaves?”

Chen Nian replied, “After sweeping……the leaves……the yard looks……cleaner . ”

Trooping up the stairwell, Bei Ye discovered that the stairwell too, had been swept clean . The stacks of rubbish and scrap papers that used to line the corridor had all disappeared, and even the bicycle and junk appliances were neatly stacked together .

Bei Ye remarked, “I didn’t hire you to be my cleaning lady . ”

Chen Nian quietly followed Bei Ye, choosing not to respond to his remark .

Turning to Chen Nian, Bei Ye lowered his voice and inquired in all seriousness, “Are you very bored?”

Chen Nian shook her head, “I was reading…… . my books…… . I swept……the floor as a……short break . ”

“Break?” Bei Ye repeated in a mocking tone . Trudging into the house, a pile of neatly stacked books on the table caught his eye . With every breeze that swirled past, the pages of the book would flip to a new page . At that very instant, Bei Ye’s heart felt as light as the pages of the book .

Turning towards Chen Nian, he threw a packet of items towards her . Flustered, Chen Nian carefully caught the unknown packet and carefully looked at it .  It was a packet of dried plums . Chen Nian noticed that Bei Ye would always bring some snacks back for her every single time he left the house .

Chen Nian placed the packet of dried plums in her school bag .

Fanning himself with his shirt, Bei Ye retrieved a bottle of beer from the fridge and rammed the lid of the bottle against the sides of the table . The bottle cap immediately dislodged itself from the beer bottle, and fell into Bei Ye’s palm . Bei Ye threw the bottle cap into the bin and began to down the bottle of beer, his Adam’s apple bobbing with every gulp of beer he drank .

Chen Nian’s eyes were glued to Bei Ye .  On lowering his head, Bei Ye caught Chen Nian staring at him . A glimmer of happiness flickered across his eyes as Chen Nian hurriedly turned her head away .

“What would you like for dinner?”

Chen Nian used her hands to smooth the creases in her skirt . Sitting herself down on a chair, Chen Nian slowly replied his question, “I’m fine……with anything . ”

Lowering her head, Chen Nian was about to continue reading her books when her textbook was suddenly snatched by Bei Ye . Raising her head in alarm, her gaze locked into his .

“Speak properly . ” Bei Ye instructed .

Puzzled, Chen Nian continued looking at Bei Ye, the confusion evident in her bright eyes .

Straightening himself up, Bei Ye walked over to the drawer and dug out a book that had been stored at the bottom layer of the drawer . Dusting the thick layer of dust off the cover, Bei Ye opened the book and presented it to Chen Nian, “Read this . ”

Chen Nian lowered her eyelids, gazing at the book . It was a Primary School textbook .

Bei Ye flipped through the book cursorily before quickly setling on a passage . Using his fingers to point at each and every word, he narrated, “It’s snowing . ” After waiting for a few seconds, he looked at Chen Nian out of the corners of his eyes, “Why are you looking at me? Look at the passage!”

As such, Chen Nian began to read the passage in silence .

Exasperated, Bei Ye instructed, “Aloud . ”

Chen Nian, “……”

There were numerous illustrations in the Primary School textbook, and every single Chinese word had the corresponding Hanyu Pinyin [2] right beneath the word . It was an extremely childish book .

[2] Hanyu Pinyin – the official phonetic system for transacribing the Mandarin pronunciations of Chinese characters into the Latin alphabet in mainland China and in Singapore .

Bei Ye repeated, “It’s snowing . ”

Chen Nian narrated after him, “It’s …… . snowing . ”

“It’s snowing . ” Bei Ye repeated once more, his low voice ringing out loud and clear, the deep and rich tone resembling the melody that originated from the cello .

“……It’s snowing . ”

“A group of artists”

“……A group of artists” Chen Nian subconsciously nodded her head as she spoke, struggling to express the entire sentence without a single pause .

“arrived in,”

“arrived in”

“the snow . ”

“……the snow . ”

Bei Ye narrated loudly and clearly, “A group of artists arrived in the snow . ”

Chen Nian, “……”

“Don’t be anxious . Repeat the sentence a few times in your hed before you speak . ” Bei Ye coached her carefully .

Chen Nian lowered her eyelids . Following his instructions, she first repeated the sentence a couple of times in her heart, before carefully and slowly pronouncing each and every word, “A group of artists arrived in the snow . ”

Having narrated the sentence fluently, Chen Nian carefully and discreetly raised her eyes to look at Bei Ye; although Bei Ye’s head was lowered, he was gazing at her as well, an unmistakeable and small smile forming on the corners of his lips . Lowering his eyes, he continued reading the book .

The glow of the setting sun softly shone on Bei Ye’s face, causing Chen Nian’s heart to beat erratically .

Bei Ye resumed his narration, “The little chick drew bamboo leaves,”

“The little chick……drew bamboo leaves,” Predictably, Chen Nian began to stutter once more . Embarrassed, she lowered her head in shame .

The innermost thoughts of the youthful girl was akin to a deep lake, whilst the voice of the youthful boy was akin to the bubbles that formed on the surface of the lake .

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“The little chick drew bamboo leaves,” Bei Ye’s low and steady voice rang out once more .

Chen Nian collected her thoughts, and focused entirely on the sentence, “The little chick drew bamboo leaves,”

“The little dog drew plum blossoms,”

“The little dog drew plum blossoms,”

“The little duck drew maple leaves, the little pony drew the moon .

They didn’t use crayons; they didn’t use pens,

Within moments, the picture was formed .

Why didn’t the frog participate?

It’s because the frog had fallen asleep in its hole……”

The blazing sun splattered reddish, blue and purple hues over the vast sky; somehow, the sun had already begun to set .

The scent of freshly baked bread wafted into their noses .

Everything was bathed in the golden glow of the setting sun .

The next morning, Bei Ye was woken by the unending stream of noises from outside the window . Struggling to open his eyes in the humid and stuffy room, Bei Ye slowly turned to look behind him, only to discover that the other half of the bed was empty .

Bei Ye sat up instantly, and surveyed the room meticulously .

Chen Nian wasn’t around .

Jumpning off the bed, he headed over to the shoe box . Although the shoe box remained in place, the two tiny ducklings had disappeared .

As the the shutter doors were locked from within, Bei Ye hopped out of the window ledge, and made his way to the walls surrounding the abandoned steel mill . Standing on those walls, Bei Ye looked at the alley pensively . It was unlikely that Chen Nian left via this route – after all, Chen Nian couldn’t even jump off the wall herself the previous day, not to mention she had two tiny ducklings tagging along with her this time round .

The barely audible sound of someone narrating drifted into Bei Ye’s ears .

Bei Ye turned back, carefully scaling the stairwell and headed to the rooftop . As he ascended the stairwell, the voice gradually became clearer and louder . The narrator had a steady and extremely gentle voice, “A thirsty crow began to scan its surroundings for water . …… . The crow spotted a bottle which contained some water . ……But the bottle was……extremely large,” Chen Nian paused, letting the words roll over her tongue before continuing, “but the opening was rather small . Furthermore, there wasn’t much water in the bottle……so the crow was unable to consume the water . What should it do?……”

Chen Nian sat on the edge of the roof with the book in hand, her two pale legs swinging freely in the air . Because Chen Nian had lowered her head as she read, a tuft of stray hair fell before her eyes, which she attempted to brush away but to no avail .

Bei Ye trooped over and sat down beside her .

Chen Nian closed the textbook, and placed it by the side .

The two youths sat side by side at the edge of the rooftop; beneath them, innumerable people bustled about, carrying on with their way of life whilst various buildings stretched into the distance . A railway snaked through the town, ultimately disappearing in the horizon .

Chen Nian started, “When I was looking……for books, I saw this . ”

It was a small, black Bible .

Chen Nian looked at Bei Ye, the question evident in her eyes; Bei Ye ­­put on a mask of cluelessness, asking her directly, “What do you want to ask?”

Left with no choice, Chen Nian had to ask her question aloud, “Have you…… . read it?”

“Nope . ” Bei Ye leaned back, using his arms to prop himself up . Gazing at the sky, he continued, “My mum bought it . ”

Chen Nian nodded in response .

After a few seconds, Bei Ye let out a short, cold laugh, “She uses it as a prop when she’s acting as the nun . ”

Chen Nian only had a hazy notion of what Bei Ye was talking about, and furrowed her brows as she looked at him . However, Bei Ye did not return her gaze, and simply stared into the distance . The morning breeze gently whipped the stray locks of hair in front of his forehead, easily revealing his full and clean forehead . Staring into Bei Ye’s eyes, Chen Nian could tell that Bei Ye wanted to leave – he wanted to escape to somewhere far away .

The sharp whistle of the train pierced the peaceful calm of the morning . Chen Nian glanced at the bright red train, its metal exterior carrying innumerable people on their journeys to faraway lands .

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One more month .

After one month, her tiny figure too, would be on the train .

The two youths gazed at the rumbling train .

The smell of freshly baked bread wafted into their noses once again . The two youths were immensely hungry .

All of a sudden, Bei Ye stood up and declared, “Let’s run away . ”

Let’s escape!

The two youths quickly reached an agreement, both deciding to run away from home .

The deadline: One entire day .

With the guitar and the two ducklings in hand, the two youths leapt off the wall surrounding the abandoned steel mill, their hearts filled with anxiety and anticipation . They purchased freshly baked bread from the bakery in the alley as rations for their journey; traversing the crowded and noisy marketplace, every single thing appearing especially new and curious to them .

One day – how far would they be able to go?

Their hearts beating in trepidation and excitement, they walked along the alleys till they reached the intersection before the railway station . From this point onwards, they left the city and the town behind them; they walked along the railway track, heading towards the unknown .

When they reached the lake, the two youths sat themselves down by the riverbank, replenishing their energy by devouring their bread . They looked at the various cargo ships and cruises navigating thee waters, streams of white smoke commonly emerging from their respective kitchens .

Having rested themselves sufficiently, the two youths continued their journey .

The two youths crossed the bridge over the river, the wild grass growing in clumps around the railway track .

With one entire day, they felt as though they had travelled to the ends of the world . However, Chen Nian didn’t feel tired at all . Not even the slightest bit tired .

School, home, everything seemed to have slipped away quietly . The pressure and influence they exerted on her had gradually diminished till they disappeared entirely .

She was free .

She walked beside Bei Ye as they walked on the railway track, their shoulders touching each other from time to time .

The railyway track beneath their feet began to tremble violently . Bei Ye said, “The train is coming . ” The two youths hopped off the railway track . As the piercing whistle of the train grew closer, the two youths continued walking on the wilder side of the railway track where clumps of wild grass grew to an astounding height .

On the other side of the track, Chen Nian could see beautiful fields of bright, yellow sunflowers . Admring the beautiful sunflowers, Chen Nian said in a wistful tone, “The sunflower fields are so pretty . ”

“Well, let’s head over there then . ” As he spoke, Bei Ye had already stepped onto the railway track .

100 metres away, the train cruised towards Bei Ye at high speed . The youth easily navigated the railway track, flitting over to the sunflower fields without much difficulty . The moment he reached the other side, he turned back, waving towards Chen Nian and urging her, “Come on!”

Chen Nian’s heart tightened . Leaning forward, she turned her head to look at arriving train, the rapidly approaching train looking like a humongous metallic bug .

70 metres, 50 metres… The shrieking of the whistle and clanking of the train was accentuated by the quietness of the surroundings, nearly deafening Chen Nian in the process . Chen Nian’s heart began to beat wildly . She took one step forward . Her body was raring to head to the other side, and her brain was in a frenzied state . Her heart wanted to rush over to the other side!

30 metres, 10 metres…… .


The bright red monster swallowed the sunflower fields and the youth, the huge train separating the two youths from each other .

Ultiamtely, Chen Nian didn’t take that one, final step .

The strong wind whipped Chen Nian to the point where she felt as though it was about to tear her face off and separate her soul from her body . In the wind, her white dress billowed about her like a white flag .

With the departure of the train, the youth reappeared in the sunflower field . He didn’t say a single word, and simply stared at Chen Nian quietly .

Her gazed interlocked with his . In the deathly silence, an invisible train lay between the two of them, separating them for eternity .

In the month of May,

when the flowers were in bloom and the breeze was gentle, Chen Nian stood by the railway, the initial rush of excitement from having run away faded away, and a wistful sense of sorrow gradually formed in her heart .