Chapter 9: P.
The Escape of the Ants
People were passing by the school gate.
Ning Yixiao gripped the cigarette box, staring at Su Hui telling him “see you” with a smile and then flitted from his side like a little bird, heading straight to a car parked by the road.
The chauffeur at the driver’s seat specifically came out just to open the door for him.
The well-bred young master got into the car, rolling down the window to gaze at him from afar, all the way until finally vanishing in the stream of vehicles.
Ning Yixiao kept the cigarette box properly in silence and took public transport to the home of the student he was tutoring.
In the car, Su Hui turned back, no longer looking out of the window.
He began to stare at the new chauffeur’s face in the rearview mirror.
This person looked around forty years old and was slightly buff.
He had a green birthmark the size of a thumb on his forehead.
The chauffeur seemed to have noticed Su Hui’s gaze too.
He gave a glance before he diligently forced out a smile.
“Young Master, do you want some water? I even brought some juice.
“You can call me Xiao Hui.” Su Hui smiled politely and then asked immediately, “I’ve never seen you before.
What happened to Uncle Zhang?”
“Something happened back home.
I heard an elderly had a stroke, so he’s taking a long leave to take care of them.
I was introduced to this job by Mr.
Xu.” As he spoke, he seemed to remember something.
“Oh, look at the rush I am in.
I even forgot to introduce myself.
My surname is Feng.
I’m Feng Zhiguo.
You can just call me Old Feng.”
“I’ll call you Uncle Feng.
Thank you for taking the trouble to fetch me.” Hearing him talk about Mr.
Xu, Su Hui’s mood began to dip.
Not long later, Su Hui asked again, “How did you know Uncle Xu?”
Hearing that, Feng Zhiguo laughed.
“Now that’s probably something that happened twenty years ago now.
He and I came from the same hometown and grew up together.
But Xiao Xu… Oh, I mean, Mr.
Xu is clever and is good at studying.
Back then, I already said he’ll become someone with some status.
Wasn’t I right? He took each step himself until now, and now he’s already at the capital and made a name for himself.”
Just like many middle-aged men, when Feng Zhiguo started boasting, he could gibber and prattle on.
Su Hui chatted along with him, quietly getting answers to questions that he wanted to know, including where Xu Zhi grew up and the middle school that he attended.
Su Hui’s father had passed away in a car accident when he was thirteen.
Three years ago, Xu Zhi and his mother began to date, and by now, they had been married for a year.
In these years, Su Hui had never heard his mother mention Xu Zhi’s past.
He wanted to know these badly.
Because in the very instant that Xu Zhi appeared and ever since he had invaded his family, Su Hui never felt at ease.
So, it turned out that Xu Zhi’s background was much lower than he had originally thought.
Even so, he still gained his grandfather’s approval.
“Although our little fishing village is small and undeveloped, it produced plenty of talents.
Speaking of which, it’s kinda a coincidence.
My son is still pretty hard-working  and got into the same school as Young Master Xiao Su, you know.”
Feng Zhiguo had a smile that held some pride.
When he talked about his son, he began to rattle off and rave, saying his son was in computing, which was a particularly popular major.
When he registered for his preferred majors, he felt unconfident.
But thankfully, he was accepted.
Su Hui thought of Ning Yixiao.
“Your son is called…” Xu Hui asked.
Hearing that, Feng Zhiguo assumed that Su Hui was this curious because he wanted to be friends with his son and felt particularly delighted.
“Ah, he’s called Feng Cheng.
That’s the Cheng in Fung Ching Ching’s name.
I used to love watching Shanghai Beach.
I like that female lead, so I gave him this name.”
Su Hui nodded.
They weren’t the same person.
For some reason, he let out a sigh of relief.
“Some day, I’ll bring my son here to let you meet and say hi to him.”
Su Hui grinned, but didn’t respond.
Nearing the Su family residence, Feng Zhiguo slowed the speed.
“We’re almost there, Young Master Xiao Su.
Do you find this speed alright? Do you feel uncomfortable anywhere?”
Every chauffeur would ask this question before he got out of the car.
But the assumption was that he could still get off the car by himself.
“It’s not bad.” Su Hui’s face held the smile the whole time.
He got out of the car with quick and light steps.
“Thank you for your hard work, Uncle Feng.”
Different from the earlier lifelessness, when Su Hui opened the door, he could tell someone was at home.
He walked in and saw Auntie Chen coming up from the underground cellar with a bottle of red wine.
Su Hui’s voice carried a spoiled tone then.
“Auntie Chen, what wine did you get~?”
“Xiao Huihui is back?” Auntie Chen laughed, showing him the wine bottle.
“The mistress wants to drink and told me to take it out and wake it up.
Why are you back so early today, mm? Was it tiring?”
Su Hui shook his head.
“Auntie Chen, I want to eat scissor-cut noodles.
I want it spinach-flavored.”
I’ll make a bowl just for you later.
Tomato and spinach noodles.” Auntie Chen took the wine decanter and headed inside with Su Hui.
In the parlor, Su Hui spotted Ji Yanan immediately.
Her long curls were left cascaded down as she leaned on the couch, and she was looking very meticulously at something in her hands.
Perhaps it was the “high spirits” brought by his illness, or perhaps it was because he truly hadn’t seen his mother for a very long while, he felt momentary excitement, his steps even quickening.
He wanted to talk to his mother, wanted to share what happened while he studied and about the people he met — for example, Ning Yixiao.
“Mom, I’m home.”
Ji Yanan didn’t look up.
You’re quite early today.
You didn’t eat outside, did you?”
I just had something small from the cafeteria.” Su Hui didn’t plan to tell her about the beverage he had.
With a smile, he walked over.
“Why are you home so early today? Has the company not been busy recently? Or do you need to use your paid leave?”
“It’s your grandfather’s seventieth birthday in half a month, so of course I have to prepare for it.
I pushed back my work for these few days and I’m not seeing my clients anymore either.
I’m just specifically going to organize all these for your grandfather.”
She put down the namelist in her hands, an index finger on her temples.
“Just seeing the guest list gives me a headache.
They’re all important people with reputation and name.
Their seating, and what they like… All of them have to be planned well.”
How was this like a celebration? It was practically an organizational conference.
Su Hui originally wanted to tell her about how Professor Wang chose him to write a thesis.
To someone like him who frequently deferred his studies, this was very worth a share.
But Ji Yanan probably wasn’t in the mood to listen.
And right now, Su Hui was very afraid of gatherings, particularly ones with those powerful people.
The mistakes he made a few times had led him to subconsciously evade such occasions.
“Then, Mom, take care and make sure to rest.
I’m going to my room to put down my bag.”
“Oh, wait a moment.” Ji Yanan stopped him, scrutinizing him up and down.
“Youyou, have you been taking your medication on time?”
Youyou  was his nickname, but Su Hui didn’t find it very intimate when he heard it.
“Mhm.” Su Hui looked at her, tone gentle.
He even had a small smile.
“Mom, I should still look like a normal person right now, right?”
Ji Yanan’s expression relaxed.
But I’ll say this first.
From today onwards, you must take your medicine properly every day.
You can’t skip a single time.
“Your grandfather’s birthday celebration is a big event.
Every guest attending is either the first- or second-in-command.
If something happens, you don’t have to attend any more classes this semester either.
I’ll hire a teacher so you can be home-schooled.
That’s how you spent your high school anyway.
And nothing bad happened.”
Su Hui listened calmly.
He didn’t seem like a mentally ill person at all.
He even nodded, very well-behaved.
He said nothing else.
His swelling desire to express himself was deflating little by little.
Like gassy water that was left alone for too long, the bubbles vanished bit by bit, losing its flavor.
Mom just hopes that you can attend the birthday celebration normally.
That’s why I said it like that.”
Seeing that he had fallen silent, Ji Yanan thought he looked a little pitiful, so she walked over to circle Su Hui in her arms.
“Mom only has one child, and that’s you.
And your grandfather only has one grandson, that’s you too.
I’m even hoping you’ll cut the cake for your grandfather.
Put on good behavior and let everyone rest assured, okie dokie?”
Su Hui wanted very much to know exactly when they would be willing to tell others about his illness.
But that was probably impossible.
Was there any first- or second-in-command who was willing to hear an elderly leader announce at his birthday party that his own grandson was mentally ill?
“I’ll take my medicine properly.” Feeling a little stuffy, Su Hui pushed himself slightly out of Ji Yanan’s arms.
“If my state is really bad, just say that I got sick.
That I got a cold.
So I can’t go.”
It wasn’t his first time lying that he was sick to escape such occasions.
Many times, it was his mother who took it upon herself to lie, just so that he won’t cause the family to lose face.
“That won’t do.
This is an important occasion.
You can’t be in a bad state.” Ji Yanan was continuing on by herself.
Your Uncle Xu even found a really well-known psychiatrist.
He’s a clinical doctor who specializes in bipolar disorder.
Uncle Xu already informed him.
Tomorrow, we can bring you to a professional for a consultation.
All of them said it’ll be very beneficial.
Maybe this time, it can be treated.”
Su Hui nodded.
He weaved through the stuffy and empty big living room, not speaking a word.
It had already been five years since it started at fourteen years old.
Each time, he got closer to hope, but he relapsed every time.
He already held no hope of being treated.
Pushing the glass door at the corner of the living room, Su Hui walked to the garden at the back, circling through a cobblestone path lined by grass and trees to reach his own room.
He took off his shoes outside, slid open the glass door and walked in with bare feet.
His room had been kept clean, without any dangerous objects.
Items that had been determined to be “harmful to him” had all been eliminated too, including some of his newly bought books.
Su Hui didn’t even have the chance to flip through them.
Outside the glass door, the Endless Summer hydrangeas had bloomed in the garden.
Large patches of blue after blue stood above the green.
Cicadas chirped all round, under ample sunlight.
But Su Hui felt breathless.
He attempted to remove all of the burdens on him.
The heavy school bag.
The skintight top.
All of them were thrown onto the floor.
Facing the mirror, Su Hui stared at his protruding ribs for a while, raising a hand to caress the light pink scar under his rib.
It was faintly visible.
His heart was against that thin layer of skin and muscles, beating faintly.
This was proof that he was alive.
As he spaced out, came the vibrating sound from his phone, interrupting the cries of the cicadas.
But it was very short.
The sound vanished very quickly.
Su Hui found that weird.
He squatted down, fishing out his phone from the bag.
Opening it, he found that there was certainly a missed call.
It was from an unknown number.
The sight of Ning Yixiao seated on a bench appeared in his mind.
And that Adam’s apple that bobbed.
Holding the phone, Su Hui took two steps before throwing himself heavily on the bed.
He half-rolled around, burying his face on the soft blanket before calling back the number.
The noises of the electric current were stimulating his heart.
Ring, after ring.
Approximately more than ten seconds later, the line finally connected.
A voice appeared.
“Su Hui?” On the phone, Ning Yixiao’s voice was even lower than it was when they were face-to-face.
On that end, there was even a small boy’s voice speaking, “Ning-laoshi, I don’t really understand this question.”
The voice moved afar then.
Su Hui heard Ning Yixiao tell the boy to wait and to work on some questions first.
Only then did he return to Su Hui, calling his name again.
“Mhm.” Across the electric current and cotton blanket, Su Hui’s voice transmitted over, calling him in a slightly sticky voice, “Ning Yixiao.”
The person on the other end was silent for a while.
Seeming to have found a quieter place, Ning Yixiao’s voice was louder and much clearer than before.
“I called you because I wanted to ask you for that thesis that Wang-laoshi mentioned.
He said you have it.
But after I dialed the number, I realized I could download it, so I hung…”
Su Hui called his name again, cutting off this explanation.
Su Hui lay in the blanket and felt both suffocation and safety at the same time.
“Have you ever felt like wanting to escape very badly?”
These words dazed Ning Yixiao for a moment.
It reminded him of some unpleasant memories.
Did he have times when he wanted to escape? Many.
Although he was clearly on the tutored student’s home balcony, he suddenly smelled the faint stench of the ocean.
For a moment, Ning Yixiao turned into that helpless child again, trapped in the days and nights of the small fishing village.
Even when he just walked, he would be encircled by a few boys a couple of years older than him.
Pushing and shoving him, insulting him with calls of “bastard” and worse words.
Back then, he had no option available.
A sole person’s fists could not defeat a group of people; he could not escape that place.
He could only return home with a face full of wounds, watching his mother embrace him while breaking into a sob.
Su Hui was very patient.
He did not urge for his response.
Ning Yixiao walked out of his memories himself.
“Yes, I have.” It was rare for him to be honest, instead of disguising himself as a sunshine-type of person without any wounds.
On the other end of the call, Su Hui seemed to have sucked in a deep breath and paused for a few seconds.
His voice was still muffled in the blanket, and his words sounded both unreal and illogical.
“Where can we escape to?”
Su Hui would, at times, say some strange things.
When it came to this, Ning Yixiao thought that he had already gotten used to it.
But upon hearing him say “we” with a sigh, his heart was still moved.
“I feel just like an ant.”
While Ning Yixiao was still dazed, Su Hui switched to another topic.
“An ant trapped in a glass dome.
As long as I stay inside obediently, I’ll be very safe.
But once I want to go out, and when I crawl to the edge of the glass dome, a human’s finger would press on my body, and I won’t be able to move.”
Like a very bizarre telepathy, through this phone call, Ning Yixiao could actually sense his anguish and gloom.
He was someone who completely didn’t know how to comfort others.
He lacked empathy, but would hide this fact very well.
However, at this moment, Ning Yixiao actually had the thought of wanting to comfort Su Hui.
Su Hui’s voice was very soft.
“I don’t want to be an ant that’s raised inside.”
Even if he knew that his own journey in life wouldn’t be too blissful and won’t receive much of a perfect ending, at least, he wanted freedom.
Even if it was a painful freedom.
“You’re not.” After a moment of struggling, Ning Yixiao still spoke up.
“You’re not an ant.”
He was someone who didn’t know how to comfort people at all, and also one who believed that the act of comforting was the most useless thing in the world.
Ning Yixiao only did things that had value — only things that would benefit his future and prospects.
Unless they helped him to progress.
Otherwise, he would not be affected by anyone’s emotions.
But, what was he doing right now? Ning Yixiao didn’t know either.
He also seemed to think that this was a little ridiculous.
Just a single sentence of denial seemed very nonsensical too.
So, he explained further, “I mean that although I don’t know what happened to you, someday, you’ll be free of them.”
It was silent on the other end of the call for a good while.
He could not help but think then, if his words sounded very powerless and provided no help at all.
But these were also what he relied on to make it through.
On the other end of the call came an abrupt laughter.
Immediately followed by Su Hui’s very soft but humored voice.
“Ning Yixiao, you are an ant outside the glass dome.”
 争气: the word in a more literal sense, means “struggling to not breathe your last breath”, but is used metaphorically to refer to how one struggles to get a good result despite the bad results others might expect of them.
So, here, he’s saying how his son’s determination led him to perform better than expected.
 优优 (youyou).
This nickname doesn’t seem to be derived from Su Hui’s real name.
But the character comprising this nickname is the same character used for “excellence”.
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