Chapter 37: The Storied One
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
During their training, He Wen kept glancing left and right in hopes that she would catch a glimpse of the mysterious goalkeeper―however, it was all in vain. She had no choice but to ask Li Yongle, and although her promptness could be a cause for understanding, it was still better than being seen as a spy.
“Why is Zhang Lintao absent from today’s training too? Haven’t seen him for days.”
“He went off for individual training again.”
“Individual training? With just a few days left before the preliminaries? How will he guarantee his form without training with his teammates?”
“You don’t have to worry.” Li Yongle smiled at her. “He has his own training methods to keep his form.”
“Oh? What kind of training is that?”
“A training specially designed to handle Shu Guang’s Yang Pan.” Li Yongle gazed into the distance as he remembered the unbelievably powerful shots that Yang Pan kept firing in that game last year. It even horrified the typically calm, Zhang Lintao. Yang Pan may be fearsome, but he had to overcome Zhang Lintao and Zhang Yang first.
This year, Li Yongle decided that he would focus on determining the victor between himself and Zhang Jun once and for all; he was unwilling to wait another year. No more waiting, come what may.
One punch, two punches, three punches, four punches… how many times did he hit the sandbag in front of him? He could not remember clearly. He only knew how to unleash his full strength on the punching bag until he wore himself out. On the first day, he kept it up for 25 minutes until his strikes waned, half an hour on the second, 37 minutes on the third and 41 minutes on the fourth…
Today, he kept it up for 72 minutes, but still had strength to keep going.
There were stripes of blood on the sandbag where his bruised fists made contact, proof of his diligence.
Yang Pan’s shot hit the woodwork, but the Shu Guang player did not react. What was he feeling? It was neither shock nor embarrassment, but fear! It was actually fear! For the first time, he felt fear!
It was undeniable that Yang Pan was dangerous. He was unable to keep all of his shots out entirely in that game. If it had not been for Zhang Yang and Li Yongle’s Chain defense on Yang Pan, he did not know if he could have kept it up.
But it was not the same this year. He was now confident that he could block every shot from Yang Pan. It did not matter how powerful the opponent was, he no longer felt fear.
He was the only one who could guard Zhongyuan’s post!
Another heavy punch landed on the punching bag―shaking it obviously.
“Alright, today’s trainingis over. Everybody, go home.” The players began to head for the locker rooms with a wave from Liang Ke.
However, Zhang Jun stopped Yang Pan and An Ke.
“What? I’m so tired!” An Ke was clearly reluctant.
“Let me ask you guys this,” Zhang Jun asked seriously, “Yang Pan has his terrifying shooting skills while Li Yongle has his deflected shot. They’re so good. Does that mean I’m weak for a main character?”
“Where’s your head going with this?” Yang Pan laughed.
“No! No! This matters to my status as the main character!” Zhang Jun waved furiously while he prodded the ball with his feet. “Please, An Ke, do you mind guarding the goalpost for a bit?”
It was such a rare occasion of politeness from Zhang Jun that An Ke felt a little chagrined. He took out his gloves and got between the posts once more.
The pitch was empty; only the trio remained after the others had left.
Starting out with a tap, Zhang Jun entered the box with the ball from the left.
Yang Pan did not know what his friend was attempting and resigned himself to watching from a corner.
On the other hand, seeing Zhang Jun rushing at him towards goal, An Ke called out, “One on one! There’s no need to have special training for this!”
He had already rushed out and dived towards the striker.
But Zhang Jun suddenly took a shot in the middle of his run!
An Ke made the right call and dived towards the shot!
“Ren Yu De, have you seen Zhang Jun and the others?” Su Fei had not seen Zhang Jun and Yang Pan since she packed things up―she did not see them anywhere when she tried to look for them.
“They’re with An Ke on the pitch.” Ren Yu De pointed towards the grounds. “No idea what they’re doing. Go take a look.
Su Fei then headed over.
An Ke and Yang Pan were looking at the ball that stood quietly in the goal. Both of them were startled.
How did it go in? That was unbelievable!
Whenever he was tricked by Zhang Jun in the past, An Ke would chatter off the rest of the day with innumerable excuses as to why he was beaten. This time however, he was left speechless. Everything happened so fast―he only saw the ball vanishing in front of him in a flash… and then, it went in!
Meanwhile, as a spectator Yang Pan saw how the goal was scored. But, he thought, is such a scoring method achievable? Indeed, it was an inconceivable goal! And was it truly something that an absentminded person thought of?
“How was that? It’s my ultimate skill! I cooked it up after thinking long and hard! Not bad, right?” Zhang Jun asked the stunned pair happily. “It’s my secret weapon and I won’t let others see it easily.”
Yang Pan was speechless as he gazed upon his friend’s innocent grin.
“Hey! The three of you! What are you guys doing? The others already left!” Su Fei’s call from afar reminded them of the time; it was late―the skies were already dark.
Zhang Jun ran back to the locker room happily.
An Ke followed and quietly asked Yang Pan, “That ball just now… did you see it clearly?”
Yang Pan patted him on the back. “I couldn’t, it was too dark.”
Looking up, An Ke watched the gloomy skies. “Right! It was too dark just now…”
Li Yongle was standing by the roadside with his bag, waiting for the traffic light to turn red. There were rows of hawker stalls beside him, and when the streetlights illuminated, it would be their golden hour.
As he waited, someone’s laughter traveled to his ears. It was familiar and unfamiliar at the same time, as though the laugh penetrated space and time to travel in his direction. It had been more than a year since he heard it. That giggling was like a store-sign―hearing the sound itself was like seeing the person.
He quickly turned; the laughter was coming from one of the stalls. Naturally, he saw the familiar figure who had slightly curly hair and a slim figure. Truly, hearing the sound of his laughter was like seeing the person itself.
“Ah Yuan!” Li Yongle called out.
The other person turned. A ferocious face―coupled with a pair of cunning eyes and a knife wound extending from the bridge of his nose to the corner of his mouth―made it obvious that he was not the kindly type.
Ah Yuan squinted at the tall boy and jumped up as he cried, “It’s you, brat! F*ck! I couldn’t even recognize you! Come! Sit, sit! Let’s eat something!” He dragged Li Yongle―who did not refuse―to his side. “Boss, another pair of chopsticks!”
“Let me do the introductions. This here is Flame Kid, an old friend!” Ah Yuan said to his followers who were seated around him. “This kid was head and shoulders above all of you during his brawling days! A strong body and a stinging punch! F*ck! But, now…”―he stared at Yongle’s short hair and tracksuit―”he’s an athlete.”
The Yongle that Ah Yuan came to know in the old days was a classic hell-raiser; his hair was long and it was dyed a fiery red. Street fights were all in a day’s work for him and when he fought, he was like a raging inferno―his enemies would fall after a few simple touches. It was then that Ah Yuan dubbed him the “Flame Kid”.
Those followers of Ah Yuan did not care about his real age, instead they nodded together at Yongle. “Brother Flame!”
Yongle smiled and asked Ah Yuan, “You’re still in the business?”
“Yeah. Although business is bad,” Ah Yuan said, downing a mouthful of beer. “It’s the street life after all! You on the other hand, quite the look now. Still playing soccer?”
“Zhongyuan High School.”
“Zhongyuan? That school was the national champion!” one of the younger followers exclaimed before he was immediately silenced with a glare from Ah Yuan.
“That’s good! Soccer, becoming a star… Heh!” Ah Yuan shook the beer in his glass. “You’re not doing those things anymore, now?”
Li Yongle nodded. “Fighting can get you cut from the school team.”
“That’s such a waste, you’re such a seasoned fighter… I still remember that time you took down five people on your own. Your face was like that of a leopard’s, filled with blood lust… Heh! Won’t see that anymore…” Ah Yuan’s slightly blood shot eyes were beginning to blur.
“I’ll be off then.” Li Yongle stood up.
Ah Yuan looked at him.
“It’s getting late and my parents will be anxious.”
“Hehe! Even caring about home now. It’s fine, it’s fine, go on quickly!” Ah Yuan waved him off.
Yongle turned and left the table.
“Wait!” Ah Yuan stopped him.
Li Yongle turned back again and saw Ah Yuan squinting again as he sized him up. “To be frank, this suits you…”
The student smiled at him. Shortly after, he turned and left. The followers from behind called out to him, “Brother Flame, travel safe!”
Looking at the scenery as well as the people and cars traveling back and forth, Li Yongle’s steps slowed.
He never imagined that he would meet a friend of his bygone era. It had been more than a year and he was no longer the little thug he was in middle school. But Ah Yuan was still Ah Yuan. That face, those eyes, that knife wound; nothing had changed.
“You beat down these guys?” The man asked the red-headed boy in amazement. Meanwhile, he gently kicked the guys who were lying down on ground.
The boy wiped the blood off the corner of his mouth in quiet admission.
The man looked at the others on the floor once more. “So vicious… Did they offend you?”
“I couldn’t stand the sight of them.”
“Haha! What a wonderful reason! These few did just beat up my bros. I was looking for them to get some medical fees. That’s moot now though, too bad. What’s your name?”
“Yongle? Ha! Happy forever¹! Such a good name! You can call me Ah Yuan.”
“Hey! Flame Kid, you gotta watch yourself when you fight! It won’t do if your handsome mug is ruined,” Ah Yuan said as he watched Li Yongle.
“You can’t say that! You won’t get good tail if your face is ruined. You’re not thinking about becoming a monk, are you? Haha!”
“Want one?” Ah Yuan gestured a pack of cigarettes in his face.
Li Yongle shook his head.
“What? Not smoking on the streets? You’d look unstoppable!”
Li Yongle still shook his head.
“Tch! Fine! Zhang Yang.” Ah Yuan threw the box to Zhang Yang on the other side.
“You two are really going to play soccer?” Ah Yuan looked at Zhang Yang and Yongle in shock. “Flame Kid’s played before a long time ago, but Zhang Yang, you prat, what are you joining him for?”
Zhang Yang smiled. “I’m his friend after all!”
“Friend, friend…” Ah Yuan mumbled. “So that’s how it is, I understand. Nothing else? I’m going.”
He turned and left. “Goodbye, the two of you!” He waved without turning his head around.
And that was how the ruffian shadow of Ah Yuan vanished from Li Yongle’s sight. And they never met again until now. Why was that? The Jianxi District was only so large and everyone lived quite close to one another. Why did they not bump into each other in over a year?
Ah Yuan must have misunderstood them the day Yongle and Zhang Yang looked for him, breaking the news that they were going to play soccer. That fool must have thought that they were trying to sever ties. In the end, the pair just wanted to go to high school. How could two youngsters with aspirations in soccer cordially interact with people who had gangster affiliations? Indeed, anyone would have probably thought that their intention was to kiss their past goodbye and start a new life.
It was not typical for a person in the environment that he lived in, but Ah Yuan was sentimental. He really did cherish his relationship with Yongle and Zhang Yang. Did he recall the past when they bumped into each other? Or were those blurred and bloodshot eyes simply the works of alcohol?
Like running water, those days were never coming back. He had his life now and an ambition along with it. Ah Yuan? He had his life too―his aspiration was to survive in this town. Looking at the people passing by―some of whom were rushing about while others were expressionless or calm―they had their own lives too, their own stories and their own aspirations whether it was a slice of bread, a cup of water or just a place to sleep in.
¹Yongle (永乐) means eternal happiness in Mandarin.