After the rain, the sky was as blue as a lake. An airplane streaked across the sky above the city, as if it were a lone canoe drifting across the surface of said lake. Buildings and skyscrapers of various heights were bunched together within the large bustling city. The lines of cars on the streets were endless. Despite the congestion, traffic was surprisingly orderly. Vehicles were spread throughout every corner of the city, like a spider’s web.
A grand conference was being held in a hotel. Number one bestselling author Luo Xinqing – whose sales had secured her that precious spot – had written a novel that became a hot topic among many young people . This seemingly ordinary fantasy novel was filled with various fantastical images; however, it had managed to tug at people’s heartstrings with its incredible romance, making it a popular book among women.
And this conference was being held because said novel was about to be turned into a film, which was currently in production.
“Everyone, let us invite the author, Miss Luo Xinqing to talk about her feelings regarding her book!” Upon the host’s words and the thunderous round of applause from the audience, a lady – dressed elegantly yet simply – walked out from behind the stage. With her pale blue pencil skirt and her white heels, this sweet-faced lady looked as if time had stopped for her at the age of eighteen, although she was already twenty-nine.
“Hello, I’m Luo Xinqing. Thank you for all the support and encouragement that you have given me until now. I feel very honoured to be able to stand on this stage today…”
“Miss Luo, I heard that you wrote the novel when you were eighteen. You only began the journey to become a writer after an accident, right?
“Miss Luo, you once said that you found inspiration through your own real-life experiences. May I ask if your soul left your body and really went to that world when you were unconscious, or if that was purely a moment of inspiration?”
The questions from countless reporters made her lapse into silence; it was as if only the flashing of cameras remained. She lowered her gaze and forced out a thin smile.
“If you were to say that was merely a dream, then to me, it was real. That’s because if you went to that place, saw that world, and met a boy, if it were a dream, you’d eventually wake up. But, that was also a dream that changed my life.”
The audience quietened; everybody’s eyes were on her now. She unhurriedly continued, “Years later, I still feel that was the most perfect experience I ever had in my life. That accident left me asleep for a month. During that one month, it was as if I was in that world for ages. In that dream, it felt like how when you first fall in love with someone. It’s clearly right before you, just right at your fingertips, and yet you’re afraid that once you awaken, it would be as if nothing ever happened at all.”
Her words left a few female reporters scrambling to wipe away the tears that had gathered at the corners of their eyes, that thin veil of sadness having overwhelmed their hearts. It seemed that those who had read the book had completely fallen under the spell of that written dream: the image of the boy in a white shirt with a gentle smile, standing against the backdrop of a night sky lit up by fireflies deeply etched within their minds.
When it ended, the sound of applause roared throughout the room. Once the reporters had left, the only ones who remained were the cleanup crew, busying themselves with their job.
Luo Xinqing returned to her car with the guidance of an aide. Just as she was about to get in, a female worker hastily ran out.
“Miss Luo, please wait a moment!” It was upon hearing the woman’s call that Luo Xinqing halted her steps and quizzically turned her head back.
The worker puffed and panted as she caught her breath for a few moments, then took out a teardrop pendant with a silver chain to show to Luo Xinqing. When she saw the pendant, Luo Xinqing stiffened and touched her neck in a moment of panic. It was only then that she realized that she had forgotten about this precious item when she was changing out of her clothes.
“Thank you.” Her voice was slightly hoarse as she reached out to retrieve the pendant.
That female worker was perhaps in her early twenties. That anxiety-filled smile made Luo Xinqing think of her past self.
“Miss Luo, I’m your fan. I really like your novel’s storyline. That male protagonist is called Ah Can, right? An existence like a bright shooting star on midsummer night, that was the name you gave him. It’s really nice. He gave you this necklace while in that world; it must be really important to you.” Her smile was bright, just like a young ignorant girl who was still in love with the characters in the novel.
Luo Xinqing clutched the necklace tightly in her hand and smiled, “Thank you for helping to return the most important thing to me. Yes, he is called Ah Can.”
After waving goodbye to her, the car began to move slowly. Luo Xinqing still tightly clutched the necklace in her hand, as if it were the only thing that could prove her dream had really existed.
“Xinqing, I heard Director Pei say that the drama team is starting the shoot at the place where you had your accident. Do you want to take a look?” asked the female aide, Linda, who was driving the car.
“Mm, let’s go,” she replied distractedly, clutching the comforting pendant.
It was another year of midsummer, the season when cape jasmines bloomed. Opening the car window, the road of cape jasmines blanketed the hills and fields, giving off a light fragrance. Within the forests in the hills, cicadas chirped, cheerfully playing a village tune.
Over ten years ago, she was still a regular high school student. During her summer vacation, she followed her soon-to-be divorced parents to holiday in the countryside.
Year 2005, summer vacation.
It was summer in July. The sky was clear for miles; the sky did not have a single wisp of clouds, and the sun roasted the ground till it was boiling hot. A cool breeze blew by, wafting up a roll of heat from the ground. It was so blazing hot, it made people feel suffocated.
A small car drove down a peaceful road. When one looked around, there were flat paddy fields with glossy green paddy saplings. The bright green leaves of the banana plants drooped lazily. All the trees had a lifeless look to them.
Luo Xinqing sat in the back of the car, never raising her head even once as she played with her phone through the journey.
“Xinqing, once we reach the countryside, it won’t be as comfortable as the city. You should chat more with your grandmother. Also, don’t keep playing with your handphone, Mum is talking to you, did you hear me? Sigh, this child really is becoming more disobedient. It’s your fault, she hasn’t graduated yet, why buy her a phone?” After she ignored her mother’s nagging, her mother then began to complain to her father, who was driving.
“Yes, blame me, then why didn’t you discipline her properly?” Her father’s rebuttal instantly made her mother unhappy.
“Isn’t it because I put all my energy into earning money for the family? It’s all easy for me. On the hand you have it good, if you have time why didn’t you come to visit her more often? Even if we’re close to divorce, she’s still your daughter.” Her mother was really displeased.
“…” Hearing her parents quarrel, Luo Xinqing impatiently put on her headphones. Even though they’re going to divorce soon, why did they still have to argue endlessly? She was about to select some songs to play, but it was only then that she realized that the internet had been cut off. She put her handphone back into her pants pocket in irritation, her gaze drifting to the car window.
The relationship between her parents had broken three years ago. Her mother was always busy with work, and could never take care of the household. It was because her father could not feel the warmth of home that the two agreed to divorce. As for who she was going to live with, she didn’t care.
Her mother hadn’t dared to tell Grandma about this, and Grandma had no idea that this trip back, to put it in crueler words, was simply a facade.
After the car slowly entered the village entrance, under a layer of green, one could see old people sitting relaxed in their rocking chairs, rocking in chairs made of rush. Children ran around large trees, their bodies tired until they were sweating heavily; Women sat together making small talk, talking endlessly.
Grandma’s large yard had a camellia tree. Because it was midsummer, it was long past its blooming season. Below the tree was an old swing. This was the swing that Xinqing’s grandfather had made for her while he was alive.
“Mum, we’ve come to see you.” Alighting from the car, her mother carried the luggage and walked into the house, while her father was in charge of parking the car in the yard. Xinqing still stood woodenly on the spot after exiting the car. She pulled her luggage handle, but did not take a step all this while.
“Xinqing, why are you still frozen there? Come in.” From the house came her mother’s impatient voice. Luo Xinqing pressed her lips together before languidly pulling the luggage into the house.
“Mum!” Her mother called. Hearing no one reply, her mother went to the backyard and saw her grandmother feeding a few chicks she was raising. Grandma turned her head, and was so pleasantly surprised to see them. Luo Xinqing was startled a bit. In the past she wasn’t as tall as Grandma; now, she was taller than Grandma by a full head.
“Qingqing, you’ve already grown so tall. Aiyo you really look like your mother when she was young. Come, let Grandma take a good look at you.” Grandma laughed till she couldn’t close her mouth, pulling aside Xinqing to look at for a while.
“Mum, don’t just stand around, come into the house.” Her father said to Grandma.
“Alright, alright, I’ll get something ready.” Grandma turned and entered the house. From the beginning till the end, Luo Xinqing never said a single sentence. People tended to change during their rebellious phase, gradually becoming reluctant to chat with adults, and their personalities also seem somewhat isolated. Her mother always chastised her for these reasons, saying that she used to be so nice and sensible, but now her mouth practically seemed as if she had taped it shut.
Grandma made her own sweet wine. Every time there were guests, or when Xinqing came to visit with her parents, Grandma would always prepare plenty of sweet wine. Sweet wine was the most beloved drink of the countryside. Compared to rice wine, sweet wine had even more flavour. Especially during summer, not only could sweet wine quench people’s thirst, it could also repel insects. Even those who went down to work the fields would prepare a self-fermented bottle of sweet wine.
After Luo Xinqing drank a bowl of sweet wine, she instantly felt better. Her mother was in the kitchen helping her grandmother prepare some pickled vegetables. Pickled vegetables was one of Grandma’s favourite foods, of course only her mother would know her grandmother’s taste. Her father stood outside the door to smoke out of habit. It was unclear what he was thinking, as it took quite a few minutes for him to finish a cigarette.
She silently took her luggage and went upstairs. Grandma’s house was three storeys tall, and the third storey had two empty rooms. Looking out from the window on the third floor at the village paddy fields, what entered her eyes wasn’t yellow, but green. The yellow was from the wide wheat fields. A comfortable breeze blew, and she breathed in a lungful of fresh air, making her feel refreshed.
Somehow it was afternoon already.
The setting sun’s rays covered the ground. The pleasant midsummer night wind, carrying the light fragrance of jujube flowers and Chinese roses, wafted into this simple and comfortable living room.
Luo Xinqing sat on the verandah, seemingly a bit bored. She took her phone and looked at it a few times, but there was constantly no signal. Her parents had already went upstairs; she was unsure what they were still talking about.
“Qingqing, is there something up with your parents?” Grandma was already standing behind her, her smile friendly and kind.
“Nothing, they’re still fine.” Luo Xinqing didn’t want her grandmother to worry, ignoring her conscience to tell a lie. However, how could this possibly fool Grandma, a person with much experience? Since they entered the house, her parents had very little interaction, and her father was always intentionally avoiding some of Grandma’s question. How could this not make anyone suspicious?
“Grandma may be old, but I still know some things. Your mother is a fiery and forthright person who isn’t willing to tolerate things, while your father leaned towards calmness and he’s more steady. The most important thing for the two of them still is to live their lives together. They have to compromise, just like I did with your grandfather. We had been together for decades, and never once argued.” When talking about Grandpa who had passed away, Grandma however did not have a drop of sadness, instead she was happy. This was because even though they could not hold hands and grow old together, could not live and die together, their entire journey was beautiful and joyful. Grandma had never regretted it.
Luo Xinqing watched Grandma’s expression and was stunned for a bit. For some reason, she was envious of her grandmother.
After eating dinner, her mother for some reason began to quarrel with her father in front of Grandma. No matter how Grandma advised her mother, she didn’t listen. Finally, her mother furiously left the house, while her father sat by the door, lighting up cigarette after cigarette to smoke.
Grandma helplessly shook her head and sighed. She was very clear about her daughter’s personality; no matter what she said, she wouldn’t listen. The evening’s gentle sunset and the colourful clouds hugged the mountains not too far away. There were villages built on the mountains, smoke curling from each house.
Because she couldn’t see Luo Xinqing’s mother return, Grandma was somewhat worried.
“Grandma, I’ll go out and look for Mum.” Luo Xinqing said as she took her bicycle and headed out.
“Be careful outside.” Her grandmother’s voice rang from behind her.
“Got it.” After her grandmother watched her vanishing into the distance, her grandmother turned her head and saw the dispirited Luo Ming. She sighed and said, “If you really divorced Xiaolian, I actually hope that Qingqing can go with you.”
Grandma’s words made Luo Xinqing’s father, Luo Ming astonished. What followed after was a feeling of gratification.
Luo Xinqing rode her bicycle to the fields and saw the people who were still farming. A group of children played and chased each other by the fields. How lively it was.
White cape jasmines added a different scene to this green mountain. When the wind blew, the cape jasmine flowers’ fragrance wafted into through people’s noses and into their hearts. It was just that, she didn’t have the mood to appreciate this beautiful scenery which was hard to find in the city.
The sky was getting darker and darker; the mountain road couldn’t be seen anymore. A few stars suddenly appeared in the dark blue sky, and the clear moonlight covered the countryside. Luo Xinqing pushed her bicycle and groped her way through the dark fields. All of a sudden, she saw rays of light shining.
That moment, she heard the voices of her father, her grandmother and even her mother shouting for her. Apparently, her mother had already gone back earlier. It was only upon thinking that that she began to quickly walk towards the place with the light.
“I’m he-” Before the words could leave her mouth, her foot slipped and she lost her balance. She fell into the water with a splash, and the place where she fell, was a river right outside the village entrance.