Chapter 64: Grandmother
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
Zhang Jun always thought of Yang Pan’s granny as his own.
Since his own paternal grandmother had shuffled off the mortal coil before he was born, he got his own understanding and meaning of “granny” from Yang Pan’s grandmother.
She was a compassionate and gentle elderly woman who always smiled; a warm and kind woman who always gave him half of their tasty stuff; and she was an elderly woman who supported Yang Pan and himself as they “crazily chased a leather ball around” since they were toddlers.
When Yang Pan was in elementary school, his parents were working in Xinxiang. His paternal grandparents would therefore travel all the way in the opposite direction to take care of Yang Pan.
His parents, afraid of their child getting hurt did not support him playing soccer. But, the elderly pair from the village would staunchly support their grandchild to the point that they got into an argument with their own son. His grandmother believed that to play outside was the right thing for an active and energetic child; it would have been counterproductive to keep him so tightly under wraps.
It never mattered that she did not understand what on earth soccer was or know the reason why there were so many people addicted to it. She would always have her grandson play it.
When Zhang Jun got to know Yang Pan, he would carry his own ball and look for his friend every day. And she would be there to see them off with a grin.
When they returned with sweaty bodies and dirty faces, there was a warm shower at the ready.
As they fooled around in the bathroom, she would wash and dry their dirty clothes and prepare two mugs of cool water on the table.
After they finished their showers and excitedly chattered about all kinds of interesting things they encountered during their game, she would sit with them, listening attentively.
Every time he left Yang Pan’s house after playing, his own pocket would have extra treats. A few pieces of candy, biscuits, or maybe an apple.
Yang Pan’s grandma would also passionately attempt to have Zhang Jun stay for dinner. In the beginning, he would remember his own mother’s instructions to not simply eat at other’s, and stubbornly refused. However, her ears would often “malfunction” at an oddly perfect time. So, when he got older, Zhang Jun would go there to have an extra meal. His reason that “Granny’s food was too good!” left his mother speechless.
In those moments, Zhang Jun never thought about what his own grandmother was like. The way he looked at it, Yang Pan only had a grandmother, not parents—although the way he thought may have been disrespectful to Yang Pan’s parents.
When he knocked on Yang Pan’s door for their usual soccer session one day, an unfamiliar middle-aged man answered the door. He thought he was at the wrong place until Yang Pan showed his face behind the man. That was when Zhang Jun knew that the “rumored” Uncle and Aunty had returned while Granny was gone.
In the present, he remembered the moment when they were talking excitedly about soccer stars and she suddenly poked in. “Basil? (1) I know basil. It’s edible!”
Both him and Yang Pan froze. Shortly after, they burst into unstoppable laughter; Granny had thought “Brazil” was “basil”.
Zhang Jun recalled how he and Yang Pan joked about how ignorant his grandmother was, not knowing that the word “ignorant” should never be used on an aged person—especially when it came to things like soccer. Remembering it today, his nose suddenly felt stuffy and his eyes brimmed with something warm.
Su Fei heard a few things about what happened here and there, but she did not ask Zhang Jun why he looked so sad; not that he intended to tell her in the first place. He feared that if he mentioned it, the memories would drown him like a violent tide and the tears he had been holding back would flow out uncontrollably.
“Again! Again!” Zhang Jun shouted at An Ke, but the keeper was still lying on the ground.
The other players looked at Zhang Jun in fear and doubt. They were unsure if An Ke had somehow offended him and was being punished with penalty practice. It had already been an hour; An Ke was exhausted, but Zhang Jun was still calling out to him. “Again! Again!”
They also did not know about what happened to Yang Pan. But, knowing would not have helped them understand Zhang Jun’s sadness anyway. Liang Ke only stated that Yang Pan had “applied for leave to return to his hometown” before having the team train. He did not give them any time to ask questions.
Meanwhile, Zhang Jun was still shouting at An Ke. “Get up! Get up! How many balls has it been?! Keep it up!”
Poor An Ke did not even have the strength to retort.
Liang Ke came over, took An Ke’s gloves off and wore it himself before standing between the posts.
“Let’s continue,” the coach said.
With mud splattered all over him, An Ke wiped the sweat off his brow.
“Su Fei, I feel bad for troubling you. Those brats ran faster than rabbits once they heard the word ‘dismiss’!”
He held up a spent Zhang Jun. “This kid’s really got some spirit! I’m so tired. You hold him and be careful on your way back.”
Su Fei nodded and took over with her small frame.
Their usual journey home from school took just five minutes, but today, Su Fei took half an hour just to reach the main gates of their courtyard. Zhang Jun’s entire weight was pressing down on her lithe body, and she was soaked despite it being an evening in early winter. Still, she carried him quietly.
“Su Fei, you can let go now.”
Zhang Jun finally broke the silence. She was taken aback, but complied. He sat down on a stone bench, leaving half of it empty and Su Fei sat down too.
It was already dark, but there were no stars or moon in the sky; the lights from Mudan Square had lit the sky a bright crimson and the noise from the main street could be heard in the park. People passing by were rushing home in swift steps, so nobody noticed the pair of kids sitting quietly on the bench next to the path.
Zhang Jun had lived there for 10 years. He never left since moving there from Beijing in ’89. It was also the same year he met Yang Pan, his best friend.
There was a kindergarten in the park and it came equipped with a rectangular “pool”. It was called a “pool” because its shape and design resembled one. Its half-meter tall concrete frame had now been filled evenly with real mud on its floor.
When they were still small, Zhang Jun, Yang Pan and a few of their little friends used to grab their ball and jump into the “pool” to play soccer to their heart’s content. It was their very own pitch; there were no adults who would scold them for breaking someone’s window again, or big kids who would claim it as their territory. The only drawback would be the need for them to climb out whenever the ball was knocked out of the little arena.
They kept playing in that little box for three years despite kicking up dust and dirt every single game. This went on until they reached year four in elementary school. The “pool” could not hold their exponentially growing bodies anymore, hence they stopped playing there altogether.
Now, the pool was dry, but there were no children who would jump in and play soccer excitedly.
The garden also held a kindergarten and a playground of its own; when they were in elementary school, he and Yang Pan still enjoyed playing with the kindergarten’s see-saws, rotating wheels, slides and trampolines. When they were not playing soccer, they would climb over the gates and sneak into the playground. They played crazily with those “scrap metals”, which the kindergarten kids hated.
If they played too late into the night, Granny would come out looking for them, drawn to the kindergarten by their laughter. She would quietly wait outside the gates until the two living treasures had enough and climbed out the gates themselves.
While the two lively brats ran ahead, she would totter right behind them.
The sky would be completely dark, and the streetlights would light up behind their happy steps one after the other. Yang Pan would theatrically declare himself the “deity of light” as the lights lit up wherever he stepped.
Zhang Jun did not buy it, and Yang Pan would rush into the pitch-black stairway and cry out. It would be the exact time that the entire stairway lit up from the first floor to the fourth.
“Look! I am the deity of light!” Yang Pan’s giddy shouts would echo throughout the stairway.
Zhang Jun wondered how he could remember the past so clearly, even Granny’s smile was so vivid.
He saw a pair of raucous kids passing in front of his eyes, their laughter sprinkling their entire journey. And then there was an elderly person wobbling in their wake. It was a face filled with a kind smile, just like Granny’s…
A wind blew and Zhang Jun realized that it was late. He stood up to find Su Fei holding both her arms, shuddering slightly.
“Yeah,” Su Fei answered; her clothes, which were wet with sweat felt colder than usual after the wind blew at it.
Zhang Jun took off his jacket, dusted it and handed it over to her. “Take this. It’s a little dirty, but…”
But it’s really warm, she thought as she draped it over herself.
“I’m sorry. I’m in a bad mood, and you’re forced to sit here with me for the day.”
“It’s nothing. I’ll keep you company no matter how long it takes.”
Looking at her smiling face, Zhang Jun suddenly realized that he had been ignoring her the entire day. His mind had been filled with the past, about Granny. He did not even notice that Su Fei quietly stayed beside him without a feeling of irritation or a word of complaint.
Touched, Zhang Jun suddenly thought of holding her to stave the cold off even if stronger winds should come. However, he could not do it in front of familiar faces in their backyard. All he did was reach out to adjust her collar.
“Let’s go home.”
The wind that night was abnormally strong and the temperature was low. There was only warmth at home in such a cold winter night.