Early the following Saturday, Xiang Feng roused from his bed, ventured to the morning table where salutations were tendered to him—all but his sister, who trained upon him a look of spite and bile.
The breakfast progressed with the contentment of an average Chinese family, until, unexpectedly, a moment of fracture and discontent.
Xiang Fengs mother began expounding with deep revulsion upon Qi Zhens malevolence, fully incredulous that such a villain should have been housed beneath their roof. His mothers garrulous disposition never ceased, while her husband partook in the discourse, nodding in agreement along the way.
Xiang Fengs sister sighed, a deep exhale of frustration evident on her face as she rose and left the table. Her departure left her family looking on, a sea of confusion glistening in their eyes, yet not a single word spoken in response.
When his sister had departed, a gentle silence settled in the air, leaving none to utter a sound for a few tender moments as they enjoyed their breakfast in one anothers company. Eventually, Xiang Fengs father softly asked, "Now that the summer break is over, and a new school year is dawning before us, are you going to resume your studies? I will not force you, yet I suggest you are begin to consider it earnestly." With that his mothers gaze met his own, eager to discern the answer he was about to inform them of.
Gently, Xiang Feng smiled and spoke, "I planned to resume my studies this year. My prized ambition is to learn to the utmost, and to strive for success in the forthcoming Gaokao."
His parents beamed with joy, and his father beamed, "I am so proud of you, my son."
His mother drew closer, enfolding Xiang Feng in her tender embrace, brushing her delicate fingers through his hair as she gazed upon him with a profound love and curiosity. "What divine intervention could have stirred such noble change in you?" she mused, perceiving the once idle and disinterested boy before her had blossomed into this impressive and gracious young man.
"I am not sure how to answer," Xiang Feng uttered to his mother with a hesitant yet hopeful smile, "perhaps—it was nothing more than inspiration, prompting me to pursue a virtuous life, and make not only myself, but my family, proud."
His mother held him tightly in her embrace, and his father beamed with radiant pride. Their beloved son, who they had nurtured with such devoted care, had grown into someone of whom they could justifiably feel proud.
Once the morning meal had drawn to a close, each at the table dispersed to find the answers to their pursuits, rendering Xiang Fengs sister absent, her billowing in all directions like a gust of wind. Xiang Feng found himself in thought, pondering his independence at eighteen and options for making the most of his upcoming return to school and final year. As he had been since the beginning, his principal ambition was to strive for excellence and earn a high score on the states placing exam, the Gaokao.
His mother then asked if he could fetch the groceries, and he assented, having no better pastime in mind. His clothes fit him surprisingly well, considering the amount of weight he had lost; he had grown taller, his shoulders broader and his legs longer. Though it was not a perfect fit, it was acceptable—even a handsome man looks passable in a garbage bag.
As he stepped out of his abode, into the expanse that had begun to be populated with a few here and there, all would fix their eyes upon him—not once, but twice, or even thrice. Men and women alike would turn their gaze his way, particularly the fairer sex, some even capturing his visage on their phones.
The air suddenly filled with an electrifying intensity as the tall, distinguished, and imposing figure Xiang Feng appeared down the street. His gait, so confident and effortless, commanded attention and admiration from the women who nearby. His physique, toned and athletic, was evident even beneath the casual clothes he wore, and his handsome face and magnetic presence turned heads of nearly every female he passed. The eyes of the youthful women in his path lit up as he strode gracefully towards them, stopping to adjust the cuffs of his shirt or the collar of his jacket. His features, chiseled and perfect, caught the light of the sun as he dropped his head slightly and proceeded along the path. It seemed as thought they were all spellbound by his mesmeric charm. He continued, undeterred by the admiring stares, his strides still strong and powerful despite the heat of the summer day. It was as if he were the sun himself, radiating a golden aura that could not be ignored. The women, seemingly lost in a trance, watched him calmly, with a trance-like appreciation for the splendor of his presence.
Xiang Feng arrived at the bustling market, his gaze darting rapidly in attempts to find what his mother had asked him to get.
The morning sun was streaming through the slightly ajar entrance of the Chinese market, illuminating its bustling interior. The air was thick with the pungent odors of fresh fish, spices, and herbs. The tumult of voices and footsteps of the thronging crowd of merchants, shoppers, and beggars created a harmonious cacophony of sound. The aisles were lined with wooden stalls and carts, each one stacked with exotic and brightly colored fruits, vegetables, and dried goods.
The stall owners were busy bartering and exchanging goods, and their bargaining was accompanied by the lively chatter of their customers. At the center of the market, a small pond was filled with a teeming mass of fish. The sight of the shimmering water was a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the market. The hawkers were shouting out their wares, each trying to outdo the other with their booming voices. The aroma of freshly brewed tea and roasted nuts filled the air, and the sound of laughter and music from the nearby eateries provided a welcome background to the daily bustle of the market. Everywhere, shoppers were searching through the piles of goods, looking for a bargain or something special. The sounds and smells of the Chinese market created an enchanting atmosphere, and one could almost forget the noise and chaos of the morning rush hour. For a moment, the market was completely alive and vibrant, a kaleidoscope of colors, sights, and sounds.
As he perused the market in search of the items his mother had requested, a familiar face caused a blush to rise to his cheeks as he attempted to conceal himself. "Fuck, is that her?" he thought, his gaze settling on Guo Xiaoli, his childhood crush. In the past, he had lacked the nerve to approach her, rendering himself invisible in her eyes, yet here he was presented with a second opportunity.
Xiang Fengs gaze trailed along Guo Xiaolis swan-like figure as she sashayed through the bustling market, a beaming vision of beauty and perfection. Captivated, he couldn tear his eyes away from her flawless features or the delicate curves of her body that the sun seemed to dance and shimmer upon. Shopping bags dangled from her gloved hands, brushing against her figure as she moved.
Xiao Fengs remembered the future of Guo Xiaoli like a movie reel, scene by scene. Guo Xiaoli would graduate, and soon thereafter meet the boy who would later become her husband. But, Xiao Feng knew, this would not be the fairytale ending that Guo Xiaoli had hoped for. The man she thought would bring her joy would bring her nothing but pain. He would cheat on her and take out his frustrations in the form of physical abuse.
Luckily, nothing had eventuated yet, and may never do so.
"Are you alright?" Guo Xiaoli inquired, her voice ever so sweet and caring.
Xiao Feng, so deeply engrossed in his thoughts of the future, was startled when he heard Guo Xiaolis gentle voice asking after his well-being. As his eyes beheld her figure standing before him, he felt the urgency of her inquiry and the genuine concern for his welfare. Her gaze, which he could feel intently upon him, was one of genuine distress and Xiao Feng realized that she was truly worried for him. He gave her a small smile and nodded his head as a sign of affirmation.
Xiang Feng felt a gentle warmth wash over him as the womans gaze carefully inspected his presence, her soft voice inquiring, "You seem familiar. Are you a new student here?"
His mouth turned up in a friendly smile as he decided to tell her the truth. "Actually, I am not a new student," he began, his warm eyes glistening. "I am Xiang Feng." The womans eyes widened in surprise, Guo Xiaolis expression morphing into one of incredulity. "No way?" she asked, her voice barely above a whisper. Her gaze moved over his features, her disbelief almost palpable as she attempted to reconcile his current form with the one shes remembered. "The Xiang Feng I remembered was short, fat and ugly."
Xiang Feng felt wounded, yet managed to disguise his pain with a strained simper. He admitted with a reluctant voice, "Yes, I had an illness around that time—a prolonged sickness that forced me to stay at home and miss out on school. The result was a severe weight-loss, as I had to adopt a more nutritious diet, and my growth spurt was accelerated. Ive certainly gone through a lot of change recently."
As Guo Xiaolis arm grazed gently against Xiang Fengs, she looked into his eyes with a warmth that made her intentions undeniably clear. "It doesn matter," she said softly, reassuring him that whatever might have transpired between them in the past was not a barrier to the present. "I always knew you were a good person," she added, her voice held a hint of happy surprise that he had proven her perception correct. Oblivious to their surroundings, they both smiled, thinking of their unlikely reunion in the coming year. "You
e going back to school this year?" Guo Xiaoli asked, her enthusiasm bubbling over now as her smile widened. As if to remind her of the time that had elapsed between them, Xiang Feng nodded, reminding her that he was no longer the senior she once knew. As if to say, "Yes," he spoke with a wry grin, "Now we
e in the same grade."