The two men looked at each other in the setting sun, with the sunlight pouring into the man’s dark eyes, making them shine gold. He still had a calm expression on his face, as if he had just made an ordinary remark like “The weather is good today.”
Qi Yin was convinced that this guy was not deliberately mocking him. He might have a problem with his brain.
“I won’t bring up the marriage anymore,” Qi Yin said.
Fu Lan looked at him with a puzzled expression.
“Don’t you see it?” Qi Yin said helplessly. “She just kissed her husband. She’s already married to the owner of the pharmacy.”
Fu Lan looked towards the medicine shop. The old owner was sitting at the counter, calculating his accounts, tapping his tongue with his index finger and turning the account book page by page. The bony back of his hand was covered with protruding blue veins.
This was an old mortal man, whose spirit and soul were gradually declining, and he would soon enter the cycle of rebirth.
“Her husband is weak,” Fu Lan said calmly. “He can be beaten.”
Qi Yin was shocked and looked at the man in astonishment. He still gazed at him quietly with his large black eyes, which were even and clear, like a piece of pure glass. Qi Yin suddenly realized that his eyes had never changed. In his eyes, everything, whether it was human, animal, or plant, looked the same, as if everything were indistinguishable.
Qi Yin suddenly became very curious about what kind of parents could raise such a…silly child.
“What does your family do for a living?” Qi Yin asked. “Where are your parents? You came to find a wife with your cat alone. Why didn’t your parents come with you?”
“I have no father, no mother,” he answered.
Fu Lan showed no emotion, but Qi Yin sensed a deep sorrow in his words.
He couldn’t believe that they were strangers, yet he felt such sympathy towards him.
“Ah…” Qi Yin sighed heavily and took Fu Lan’s wrist, putting a purse into his hand. “There are one or two silver coins in here. I saved them myself – not much, but you can use them. Don’t look for that woman anymore. Find a decent way to make a living and take care of yourself and your cat. When you have some savings, it will be easier to find a wife. Don’t worry, men are not afraid of getting old.”
Fu Lan stared at him blankly.
“Life is not easy for anyone. Just grit your teeth and get through it, and don’t go down the wrong path. Got it?” Qi Yin finished speaking and patted his shoulder before turning to leave.
He looked down at his thin and long shadow under the sunset, a dark and long streak with his shoulders slumped and head hanging, like a homeless ghost. Suddenly, he felt ridiculous. He couldn’t even manage his own life and yet he was trying to comfort others.
He had aimlessly wandered around outside all day and hadn’t done anything productive. He didn’t know whether his aunt would scold him for losing money when he got home. Wait, she relied on his status to send Yao Xiao Shan to the immortal mountain, so she would probably be a bit nicer to him.
Suddenly, his collar was pulled. He turned around and saw the guy pulling on his lapel. “What’s up?” he asked.
“Are your balls still there?”
Qi Yin was dumbfounded by the sudden question. Did he look like a eunuch? “Both of them are still there. Why?” he sneered.
“Quickly get rid of them. They’re dangerous. Be careful,” said Fu Lan nonchalantly, cradling a cat in one arm and holding an umbrella in the other. He walked away slowly with his back turned, unaware of Qi Yin’s confusion.
Qi Yin was perplexed. He treasured both his balls. Why would he want to get rid of them? And why were they dangerous? Wait a minute, did he mean the stone egg?
Qi Yin was horrified and chased after him, but the streets were filled with people coming and going, and the man had disappeared as if he had never been there.
When he returned home, he went straight to the attic and pulled out a box from under the bed. The stone egg had developed several cracks and looked like it would break at any moment. Qi Yin was uncertain and dared not touch it. He closed the box tightly and wondered, “Is it a demon egg?”
His aunt’s voice could be heard from downstairs, screaming and stomping her feet. Her high-pitched voice reverberated throughout the house. He had lived in this noisy environment for thirteen years. He pushed open the window and saw the grandmother sleeping in a drunken stupor on a rocking chair in the backyard. The dim sun crept up her knee, hovering around her withered fingers. He closed the window, shutting out the setting sun. In the gloomy attic, there was only him and the demon egg on the verge of hatching.
Auntie stood in front of the table, watching Xiao Yuan put dishes on the table one after another, while the old lady sat down, twirling her prayer beads and drooping her eyelids, looking as peaceful as a statue. Auntie couldn’t help but glance towards the direction of the attic. Qi Yin hadn’t come home since noon. Auntie had set a rule at home a long time ago that he must not stay out at night, and if he didn’t come home before the sun went down, he would have to sleep on the street. This child was timid and had never broken the rule before.
As she fanned herself with her silk fan, she turned to the door and peeked towards the attic. The doors and windows were still quiet, with no signs of movement. The dishes were ready, and Yao Xiao Shan and Uncle Yi had arrived, leaving only Qi Yin.
She became more and more impatient and wanted to go upstairs to check. The old lady slammed her chopsticks on the table and said, “Come back and eat!”
Auntie hesitated for a moment, then reluctantly walked back. Just as she finished serving the soup for the old lady, the light at the door darkened, and Qi Yin walked in with a small box in his arms. He placed it on the table and said, “Auntie, this is the Qilin egg that my cousin asked me to hide for him. Last time he asked me to hide a talisman for him, and it turned into a bunch of toads. I dare not do it this time, so I will hand it over to you.”
“Qi Yin, you betrayed me!” Yao Xiao Shan shouted.
Auntie glared at him fiercely and said, “What did you do in the West Market again? Even if our home is full of gold and silver, it is not enough for you to squander! Later, I will search your room again and throw away all the things you used to deceive people!” She took the box and handed it to Xiao Yuan. “Go, put it in my room.”
Yao Xiao Shan was unhappy and threw down his chopsticks in anger. Xiao Yuan took the box and left, while Qi Yin sat at the table with his head down. Auntie smiled at him, picked up his bowl and served him rice. “Qi Yin, you are a sensible child. Don’t copy your brother’s behavior. Come, eat. Young people have big appetites, so eat more.”
Seeing Qi Yin start to eat, she felt relieved. The food was laced with a sufficient amount of drug to knock out an ox. Everything was ready, only lacking the eighteen glass beads on Qi Yin’s wrist. Auntie lowered her head, took a sip of the soup, and involuntarily looked at the child sitting in the far corner with his head down, his messy hair covering his eyes.
This child looked like his father, not ugly, and could be considered handsome, but he always kept his head down so people couldn’t see his face, acting like someone else’s shadow. His features were deep and sharp, like they were carved with a knife. When he smiled, he was full of vitality, but when he didn’t, he was cold and distant, as if he was far away from others.
He had a personality that was not likable, keeping his head down and rarely speaking, which always made people feel uncomfortable. In fact, Auntie had held him when he was just born, wrapped in swaddling clothes, with a wrinkled face that kept crying. She looked at him and felt that he was like his father, but she didn’t know why he seemed to be hiding something behind his eyes.
But he shouldn’t have come to her house. He should have been dragged away by the water ghost like his mother. Then her love for him could have continued until now, and every time their mother and son death anniversary came, she would spare no expense in doing the ceremony.
She thought she had done right by him, raising him to be so tall and strong. As long as her son went to the immortal mountain, she didn’t mind spending more money to let Qi Yin marry a desirable woman. Achieving immortal status was a blessing that ordinary people dared not dream of. She imagined those immortals standing high up in the clouds, looking down on them like they were mere specks of dust. From now on, her son could also stand that high, with no dust on his feet, and live for thousands of years.
Qi Yin finished his meal and returned to his room. She sat at the door, fanning herself with a silk fan, waiting quietly for nightfall. The moon slowly rose, round and full, white and bright, seeming to indicate a reunion for all people. She passed a small pastry to the old lady and quietly went up to the attic. She lifted a corner of the gauze window. The room was pitch-black, and there was a faint shadow on the wooden bed.
She pushed open the door and tiptoed in. Qi Yin’s eyes were closed, and in the darkness, his features were peaceful and ignorant of everything. She trembled and stretched out her hand to take off the glass bracelet from his wrist. It was the only thing left by his parents, and suddenly she felt guilty.
“Don’t blame me, I’ve done right by you,” she said, and tiptoed out of the room, locking the door behind her.
She returned to the main room, lying on the couch, looking down at the glass bracelet on her hand, and took a deep breath. It was the first time she had done something like this, and her heart was pounding like a startled rabbit. Her husband smiled and handed her a bowl of beauty soup. “My wife is really something. Thank you for your hard work. Drink up, drink up.”
She glanced at him askance, gave a cold snort, and felt a sense of self-satisfaction. She lowered her head to drink the soup.
In the darkness of the attic, Qi Yin opened his eyes.