Zhang Kelai – Someone who persuaded you to quit smoking
They weren’t lovers, but partners.
I am Sheng Xiyuan’s wife Chen Yuan. I sincerely apologize, Shen Xiyuan died in a car accident on April 15 2015, I wrote the previous emails under his name because I’m curious about Xiyuan’s past.
We met each other in 2010, and I don’t know anything about his life before. I only know that both his parents have passed away and his entire family left their ancestral home to move to Xin Chuan long ago; I found out about the house at No. 227 Qishan Back Street by looking through his old phone, but I still don’t know much about this matter.
I sincerely apologize, but I still hope that you’ll be willing to talk to me about Xiyuan’s past.
Also, if you want to see Sheng Xia, feel free to contact me.
Attached: My phone number.
2017, June 10
On New Year’s day of 2000, the first day of the millennium, Zhang Kelai picked up a home tutor for her little brother.
An eighteen year old boy who was guaranteed admission to Xinchuan University a year before, now out to find a job, wanting to earn some extra money during winter break, pushed his student ID, ID card, and report card towards her, lined up in a row, saying: “My name is Sheng Xiyuan.”
That year, Zhang Kesi was in the ninth grade, had horrendous grades, and ran out every night to play. Zhang Kelai originally got this home tutor to tether the little ancestor to his house, but who knew that Sheng Xiyuan really was something, not only did he tether the little ancestor, he also trained him to obedience. He was both a teacher and a friend, during class he was a teacher, after class he was a brother to play basketball with.
(t/n: In case you don’t know, in china, grade 1-6 is elementary, 7-9 is middle, and 10-12 is high school)
Zhang Kesi thought this person was pretty good and wanted to give him an extra 100 yuan every week. He shook his head, unable to find the right words. She thought she was giving too little, and offered to give him an extra 200. He repeatedly waved his hands, saying that wasn’t what he meant. He thought this was too much, a reward he didn’t deserve, instead he’d give a few more lessons every week.
When Zhang Kesi heard that little Mr. Sheng was coming over four times a week, he first felt bitter, but once he realized they could play basketball together four times a week, he decided he wasn’t losing out and smiled with joy.
In July, Zhang Kesi was preparing to enter high school. Although his family still arranged for him to attend a private school and prepared to send him to Japan, Zhang Kelai still wanted to treat Sheng Xiyuan to a meal and gave him a red packet with 200 yuan before leaving. Sheng Xiyuan rejected it and hesitated for a while before saying: “If possible, could I borrow some money from you to buy a phone?”
Zhang Kelai originally wanted to directly buy one for him, but he refused to say what model he wanted, maybe to say he didn’t want her to pay for it, so finally, she let him be.
Back then, Zhang Kelai had opened her own bar in Xin Chuan. Other than the allowance her dad gave her, she had quite a bit of income. Although it wasn’t much to her, in Sheng Xiyuan and his classmates’ eyes, she could be considered a rich lady. On the weekends, Zhang Kesi often went to Xin University to play basketball with Sheng Xiyuan and the others. When Zhang Kelai passed by Xin University at night, she’d just go to the sports field to find him. A group of young college students in the sports field ran and sweated under the sun. From afar, they could see her sports car park outside the sports field. They put down their basketball and collectively watched Zhang Kesi run over, pleading as he ran: “Jie, let me play a bit longer, later I’ll come home on my own, ok?”
Sheng Xiyuan always ran over with him, talking with him about something until he escorted the boy to her, and she stuffed him into the car. Then, he’d obediently say goodbye to her, say goodbye Kelai Jie (older sister).
Zhang Kelai had once asked him why he was so obsessed with earning money, where were his parents? Sheng Xiyuan said my dad passed away when I was in elementary school and my mom also isn’t here anymore. Then have you ever considered getting a grant for needy students, life’ll be easier with some money.
No, he’d say with a laugh, there are people who need it more than me.
Only many years later did Zhang Kelai faintly perceive that his life wasn’t as simple as he made it sound.
In late Autumn 2006, Zhang Kelai’s father had an accident at a construction site.
That day was very strange. According to the secretary, Mr. Zhang originally planned to get off work early at 3 p.m, but a subordinate called, and Mr. Zhang said he’d drive over himself.
A safety rope silently broke, and a shovel falling from the sky smashed through father’s skull.
Zhang Kelai sat at the morgue entrance listening to the lawyer and manager uncles from the company buzz on and on about something as the sound of a ticking clock echoed through her mind. There was a church in the community she lived in as a child. Dad would take her up into the clock tower, and she’d knock on the inside of the clock, generating a shocking sound that’d easily cause a headache.
Little brother cried as he ran in. He had been on break playing video games at home. When he saw her, he was even more distraught than she was, so she could only hug him as he cried. Sheng Xiyuan stood at the doorway, two dark bags under his eyes, appearing even more haggard than her. After graduating, he worked as an engineer in a software company, his employee ID still hung around his neck, it appeared that when Kesi received the call, in a moment of panic, she could only think to ask him for help.
Sheng Xiyuan hesitated for a moment, but still walked in and supported Kesi’s shoulder’s to say: “Let’s go eat first, it’s already eight.”
She nodded, all the managers left, leaving only the lawyer. Sheng Xiyuan saw that she might have to discuss serious matters as she ate and tactfully excused himself, only to be called back by her: “It’s fine, you’re not an outsider.”
In a stall selling Shaxian snacks just outside the hospital, she and the lawyer began discussing the matter of splitting the company assets and father’s inheritance. She said it didn’t matter how the assets were split between them siblings, but the lawyer gradually revealed a difficult expression and finally, could only speak the truth: “Kelai, the problem is not about you two, but a third person.”
Zhang Kelai heard a thud in her mind, just like the boom of a giant clock crashing from the roof to the ground.
In the presence of her lawyer, she had a video conference with a woman in Vancouver. Beside the woman sat her thirteen year old son, Zhang Kelai and Zhang Kesi’s brother of a different mother. His face bore some marks of resemblance, but the boy was different in that he had no Chinese name.
The woman said they were still small, young. When your dad was alive, he said that he’d wait until you developed a mature financial mindset before he could feel comfortable handing his money over to you.
Zhang Kelai smashed the computer to smithereens at the scene.
The lawyer ordered takeout to be sent to the office for her and advised: “According to your father’s will, the procedures can only be done this way. Zhang Kesi hasn’t graduated from college yet and you haven’t married, so these assets can only be put in the trust fund.”
Five days later was Father Zhang’s funeral. Zhang Kelai saw her legal stepmother for the first time and was surprised to find out that she and her own mother had nothing in common. Her mother died from illness ten years prior and in life had an appearance similar to a silver plate, rich, magnanimous, stable. The stepmother before her eyes was skinny, small, and appeared to be from Guangdong.
Sheng Xiyuan waited for all the guests to leave before entering, appearing even skinnier than he was during their last meeting. His entire spirit appeared dejected, as if the father who died wasn’t Zhang Kelai’s but his own.
Kesi was sleeping on the stairs. They sat in the living room eating fast food. Zhang Kelai deliberated for a while before finally speaking: “There’s something I’d like your help on.”
Sheng Xiyuan gradually raised his head as if in a dream, looked towards her, and slowly said: “Say it.”
“I can only get the money my father left for Kesi and I after I get married, but my family’s situation is complicated, and I can’t wait too long. Can you marry me?”
Zhang Kelai felt regretful after saying this, but the words were already spoken and couldn’t be taken back, so she could only thicken her skin and return his gaze. He didn’t process everything immediately and chewed on the thought for a while before saying: “Ok.”
The living room became quiet in an instant with only the sound of the wind outside the window.
Sheng Xiyuan lowered his head two eat, and the two remained in silence for a while. After about five to six minutes, he softly said: “Kelai Jie, relax, I won’t take your money. But I might need you to do me a favor.”
After thinking for a while, he added another phrase: “No, two.”
Thinking back, Zhang Kelai still thought that year was really inconceivable.
She lost a father, gained a stepmother and a brother with the same father but different mother, and a husband obtained in exchange for trust beyond common sense, even if only in the legal sense.
“2006 November, because of the problem with my father’s inheritance, I asked Xiyuan to marry me, and he agreed.”
Zhang Kelai typed a line on her laptop, the cursor continued blinking at the end of the sentence for a long time before she deleted everything until the page was blank again.
Outside the window was a quiet and cool night in Vancouver’s suburbs. She closed the laptop and once again remicenced on that winter day they got their marriage license. The two were in total silence and the office lady looked around, afraid to speak. After coming out of the Civil Affairs Bureau, they were legal husband and wife. It was raining outside, and the two sat in the car for a while. Still, no one spoke.
Zhank Kelai slightly lowered the car window and lit a cigarette, exhaling smoke through the small gap. Sheng Xiyuan’s soft voice broke the silence: “When did you start smoking?”
She turned her head, “I always smoked.”
“It’s not good for your body.”
“I can’t quit.”
“If you want to, you can.”
If you want to, you can. These six words seemed to be Sheng Xiyuan’s life philosophy, like when he wanted to pay his own college tuition, made up his mind, and made it a reality.
“Why aren’t you even a bit worried about me, what if I covet your money?” He was fretting over her, as if to say, you’re so foolish, what’ll you do if you get cheated one day.
She gently touched his head as if petting a small dog: “I know you.”
In actuality, she had no one else to trust. On the contrary, she knew Sheng Xiyuan since he was a half-grown child. Time had flown by and it had already been six or seven years.
Their marriage began just like this, without a wedding banquet, not to mention a honeymoon. They weren’t lovers, but partners.
Sheng Xiyuan asked Zhang Kelai for two favors. First, to buy No, 227 Qishan Back Street. Sheng Xiyuan insisted on returning this money, and she, knowing his temperament, didn’t decline, only telling him that it was ok to return it slowly.
Second, was that child born in March. Zhang Kelai didn’t know who the child’s mother was and only met her a few times. She only knew that her big eyes, long eyelashes, and overall appearance was incredibly like Xiyuan.
Later, he gave this child a name, Sheng Xia.
Zhang Kelai opened the page again, fingertips typing away on the keyboard.
“Xiyuan and I used to be good friends and partners. In 2009, I left the country to settle in Vancouver. As for his matters, I’m afraid I only know a bit more than you, but in this email, I will try to tell you everything I know.”
t/n: Sorry about the delay, I forgot I still had this chapter stocked up. Anyways, this is all the chapters of this novel I translated last year. I still like the novel but I’m probably not going to continue from this point on. If anyone wants to pick this up feel free. I hope you’ve enjoyed this novel up to now 🙂
BTW I’m working on another BL translation so stay tuned.