Chapter 5: Tang xiao tian enlists to the army (pt. 1)
When they were young, they made a wish under the stars. One said they are willing to wait, and one said they will definitely come back.
As they approach their high school graduation, Tang Xiao Tian tells Shu Yawang that he is enlisting to the army. Yawang don’t understand this; with his grades, he can just apply to military school, why bother with enlisting to the army? Uncle Tang once told them:
“The men that graduated from military schools are called students and the men that graduated from the army are called soldiers. You have to be trained under the army to be qualified as a real soldier.” Yawang purses her lips when she hears the reason. I don’t understand Uncle Tang’s reasoning. Why is he always like this, treating other kids like they’re treasures, but he treats like own kid like this?
“Do you want to go?” She asks him. He looks back at her and nods his head.
“I do, men regret spending two years enlisting to the army, but men who did not enlist to the army will regret it for the rest of their lives.” He answers in a serious tone. He wants to enlist to the army before applying to military schools. He wants to be just like his father, so he chose this path for himself ever since he was little. Yawang admires how Xiao Tian have a sense of direction in his future.
She sulks as she looks at the passing scenery in the bus, clutching onto the straps of her backpack tightly. Xia Mu is sitting beside her, and he will sometimes turn his head to looks at her when the traffic lights reflect upon her face.
“Hey.” He speaks out to her.
“Huh?” She turns her head and looks at Xia Mu. He still looks the same even if he’s thirteen years old now, having the same emotionless expression with his beautiful facial features.
“Hmm?” Xia Mu turns his head.
“You didn’t talk much today.” Do I usually talk a lot? She usually can talk from when they aboard the bus all the way until they reach their stop.
“I’m thinking of something.” She leans her head against the seat, her head tilting slightly to look back at him, looking exhausted. Xia Mu turns his head to look at her with the same, emotionless expression.
“Xia Mu, do you want to know what I’m thinking of?”
“Mmm.” He answers, signalling his slight curiosity.
“You want to know?” She teases him as she pinches his cheeks. She likes to pinch his cheeks because that’s the way she can get a reaction from him.
“Don’t pinch me.” He retorts, tilting his head to get away from her pinching.
“If you want to know, let me hug you!” She quickly wraps her arm around him and buries her chin onto his hair.
“It’s so nice and warm hugging Xia Mu.”
“You…let go of me.” He struggles escaping from his embrace.
“Alright, I’ll let go.” Xia Mu moves back slightly and glares at her after struggling so hard.
“Let Jiejie hug you again.” She whines as she extends her arm out. She likes hugging Xia Mu, he smells nice and feels soft and warm.
“No.” He denies as he moves to sit at a different seat.
“You don’t want to know what I’m thinking of?” She didn’t rush to go after him, instead, she lowers her head and smiles. The bus window displays the black sky with a row of street lamps going backwards as the bus keeps driving. Her head is down while she is staring into space, not noticing that someone is sitting down next to her. That person tugs onto her clothes and she raises her head, seeing Xia Mu’s indifferent expression.
“I’ll let you hug me, but don’t mess up my hair.” Her eyebrows raise in surprise and she smiles brightly. Xia Mu sees his reaction and backs away, but Yawang already have him in her embrace. She rests her head on his tiny shoulders and closes her eyes.
“Xia Mu is so adorable.” She murmurs as she ruffles his hair softly. Xia Mu have his back straighten and his lips pursed as she continues to hug him. After a while when Yawang didn’t say anything, Xia Mu speaks up.
“You have to tell me what you’re thinking of.” Shu Yawang opens up her eyes and smile at him.
“I’m thinking of my life goals.”
“Yes.” Xia Mu didn’t give a response and Yawang didn’t say anything afterwards. To Yawang, she needs to be the one taking the initiative when talking to Xia Mu or their conversation will never flow. However, it’s not the case today.
“And?” Xia Mu asks out of curiosity.
“What kind of life goals have you thought of?” Yawang lowers her head as she fidgets with her fingers.
“I don’t know, didn’t thought of any. Maybe I’m those type of people that will go through their rest of lives with no idea of what they’re doing.” Xia Mu lowers his gaze and stays silent, then he raises his head.
“Those people that holds a strong determination are the most selfish and cruel.” When Xia Mu said that, it don’t feel like it came out from the mouth of a thirteen year old boy. Shu Yawang don’t understand what he means by that and asks him. He is unwilling to answer her and stares at a distance with his gloomy eyes. Why did he say that? It’s because his father is that type of person. It’s because of his father’s determination of working in one of the most dangerous jobs that constantly makes his mother worry, and at the end, it costs his life. His mother is also like that, even with his constant begging and crying, she still chooses to commit suicide. Huh, people with strong determination. He thinks in his head as he clenches his hands tightly, his fingernails unknowingly digging into his skin. A hand suddenly places itself on top of his hand and he stops clenching. He turns his head and notices it’s Yawang’s hand.
“Xia Mu, we’re home.” He slowly separates his hands and look out at the villa.
It’s around nine in the evening and Yawang is drawing in her sketchpad in her room when the phone rang.
“Yawang, the phone!” Her mom yells out from the outside.
“Coming!” She puts down her pencil and stands up before walking outside to receive the phone call.
“Yawang, it’s me.” Xiao Tian chuckles through the receiver.
“Oh, what’s up?”
“Oh, nothing.” Xiao Tian hastily replies after being taken aback from Yawang’s straightforwardness. Neither of them speaks afterwards. Yawang bites her bottom lip from the awkward silence.
“If you’re not going to say anything, I’m hanging up.”
“Yawang!” He blurts out, scared that she will hang up on him.
“Yawang, come out. I’ll wait for you in the playground, you have to come.”
“No, I’m not going.”
“If you’re not coming, I’m not leaving.”
“Liar, you’re leaving tomorrow morning anyway.” Tomorrow is the day he is enlisting to the army.
“Yawang, I’m leaving.” He abruptly hangs up on her after.
“Hello? Hello?” She listens to the “do-do-do” tone from the phone before hanging up. How dare he hangs up first? I will teach him a lesson! She turns around to grab her coat and shoes before heading out to the playground, and it turns out, she’s the first one there. She is looking at the stars in the sky when Xiao Tian run towards her. She sees his hair cut into a crew cut, revealing more of his handsome face. He is panting when he stops in front of her. The distance between his house and the playground is five minutes longer compared to her house and the playground so she concludes that he ran in one go. He shows her the practice books he is holding onto.
“Here, they’re for you to use when you’re studying.”
“I don’t need them, I already have a bunch of them at home that I didn’t bother to look at.” She rejects while shaking her head.
“Yawang, can you not be angry? I’m leaving tomorrow, can you not be angry at me?”
“I’m not angry.” She denies.
“Then why were you ignoring me these past few days?” Yawang bites her bottom lip and lowers her head.
“I’m not angry, I just, can’t bear the fact that you’re leaving.” Tang Xiao Tian’s eyes starts to redden and he can feel his heart clenching.
“Yawang.” She did not raise her head, her dark hair covering her face, making it easier for her tears to stream down. Xiao Tian extends both arms out, wanting to hug her, but he drops them halfway. Suddenly, he crouches down, placing the books onto the ground, and makes a push-up posture.
“Yawang, come up.”
“What are you doing? Your dad is not even punishing you.” She laughs from his sudden action.
“I’m punishing myself. I made you cry, so I should be punished.”
“No, it’s fine.”
“Come up already.” Yawang makes a small laugh and sits on top of Xiao Tian’s back.
“Alright, do twenty then.”
“Okay.” He starts doing the pushups and Yawang raises her head to look at the stars. She smiles as she recalls the memories of this happening since they were little. It’s been eighteen years and she can’t believe she won’t get to experience this again for the next two years. She knows she don’t want him to leave, but…
Tang Xiao Tian is not done with twenty pushups yet, but Yawang stands up and leans down to have him stand up.
“Go, I’ll wait for you.” She tells him as her eyes reddened. Xiao Tian pulls her towards him and hugs her tightly. They made a wish under the stars; one said they are willing to wait, and one said they will definitely come back.
He is leaving for the 8am train the next day, Sunday. Yawang waits for him downstairs, smiling when she seems him in his military uniform and hat with a huge red flower pinned his chest. She suddenly recalls the military slogan, One person becomes a soldier, brings pride to their family. She fixes her hair as he approaches her.
“Hehe.” Xiao Tian smiles as he adjusts his uniform. This is not his first time wearing a military uniform, he always takes his dad’s and wear them ever since he was a kid. He will walk around in front of the mirror with the huge military uniform on his body and his dad’s helmet covering half his face. Now, he finally have his own uniform. He straightens his back and salutes to Yawang. Shu Yawang laughs and pats his shoulder.
“Not bad, not bad.” His father appear behind him and kicks his shins.
“You fool, stop posing.”
“Dad!” Xiao Tian yelps, rubbing his shins with his hand. Always embarrassing me. His dad glares at him then turns his attention to Yawang.
“Uncle is going to get the car, wait here.”
“Okay.” She smiles while nodding her head. Xiao Tian steps forward with his lips pursed and holds onto Yawang’s hand.
“You don’t have to see me go.”
“I don’t want to see you cry.” Yawang’s heart feels warm and touched. She forcefully smiles back and said,
“But I want to see you go.” He holds onto her hand tightly, not knowing what to say. He liked this girl ever since they were little, there are too many things to miss, too many emotions warped in his mind, and he can’t just say it’s because he likes her. So what is this feeling called? This sweet, blissful feeling that warms your heart, but also having a bit of regret although he don’t feel sad, because he knows, that she will wait for him. He knows that she feels the same way. Tang Xiao Tian pulls her towards him and wraps his arms tightly around her. Yawang wraps her arms around his back and leans her face onto his chest. He can smell the sweet scent of her hair and she can hear his heart beating.
That summer, they were eighteen years old. That summer, they were separated. That summer, their hug as each other’s first love, will constant appear in their dreams during the years he was away. Yawang didn’t see him go that day, because she don’t want to see him cry. She stands by the main entrance as Xiao Tian climbs up his dad’s military vehicle. He rolls the car window down and looks out to her. She gives him a smile, her eyes starting to turn red when she tries to prevent herself from crying. He smiles back, his eyes also turning red when he fights his tears back. The engine is rumbling as it prepares to go, and that’s when they fully realize they’re going to be apart. They are not certain with the future, but they believe that they will see each other again.
When the vehicle starts to move, Yawang unconsciously walks two steps forward. Xiao Tian thrusts his body out of the window and pulls the flower that is pinned onto his uniform before flinging it out to her. The bright, red flower tumbles in the air as it heads straight towards her direction. She instantly catches the flower and looks at Xiao Tian.
“Yawang, you have to wait for me until I come back! Wait for me!” He shouts as the vehicle drives farther and farther away. She looks at the flower in her hands and starts to play with it.
“It’s only two years.” She chuckles. She looks up from the flower and stares straight ahead as the vehicle disappears from her sight.
After Xiao Tian is gone, Yawang partakes in the fine arts professional examinations from a local university and an university in another province and have successfully pass with flying colors. The humidity in mid-June is unbearable; the fans in the classroom providing little assistance as it ripples across the pages of the textbooks. Teacher Cao enters the classroom and decides to give a break to the mentally exhausted students.
“Let’s rest for a bit, it’s almost our turn taking the graduation photo. Everyone meet up outside of the school building.”
“Oh.” The students chant back. There is nothing that excites them at this point, they just want to get the last test over with. Yawang looks up from her books and thinks about how time pass so fast. It just seems like yesterday she was looking at the other graduating classes taking their photos and now, it’s their turn. She stands in the first row with twenty-nine handsome male students standing behind her. She smiles before the camera, leaving the most radiant smile imprinted onto the photo. Years later when the male students flip through their yearbook in their high school reunion, they will point at Yawang.
“She’s our class flower, isn’t she pretty?”
Yawang requests an extra copy of the photo so she can send it to Xiao Tian. He places the photo in his treasured journal, feeling regretful that he left before he have the chance to take the graduation photo with the class. The last section of the college entrance exam they have to take is integrated science which covers physics, chemistry, and biology. As the students walk out of the door, study notes are shredded and thrown to the ground. They can finally express their joy of completing the exam after being pressured from it for three years.
“We’re free!” The students shout as they run out of the building. Yawang walks down the stairs and fixes her hair as she exhales a sigh of relief. She takes out her study notes from her backpack and dumps them into a nearby trash bin.
I will never want to see you again. As she walks out from the building, her parents run towards her with refreshing cold drinks and a towel as they greet her.
“How is it? Are you tired? Are you hungry? How did you do? Are the questions hard?” Her mom asks. She shakes her head in reply. English and humanities are okay, but she feels iffy in the integrated science portion. She sees her parents’ anxious looks and rubs her nose.
“I think I did well.”
“Good, good, you worked hard. Let’s go, Dad will buy you something good to eat.” He wraps his arm around her shoulder and gives it a gentle pat. Her daughter finally takes her studies seriously in the last two years of high school and that is considered a miracle for him. She leans her body slightly in her father’s embrace as her mother opens the car door. She sees Xia Mu sitting inside as well.
“You came too?”
“Uncle told me to.”
“Oh,” Yawang drinks some water from her bottle. “So you were forced to come.” Xia Mu shoots her a glare and she rubs his head back.
“I’m kidding, I know you’re worried about Jiejie, that’s why you came.” Her mother turns her head back from sitting in the shotgun.
“Yawang, I made your favorite dishes; kelp and ribs soup, mushroom with pork, and cucumber with pork slices.”
“Yes! I’m starving.”
“Xia Mu, come over and taste Auntie’s cooking.” Xia Mu stares back her blankly, not nodding nor shaking his head. Her mother looks back at Yawang and she tugs onto the hem of his shirt gently to get a reaction from him.
“Okay.” Her mother happily turns her head back and discuss tonight’s plan with her father. Yawang inches closer to Xia Mu and whisper to him,
“Xia Mu, when adults talk to you, you need to answer back. It’s rude if you ignore them, understand?” Xia Mu lowers his gaze to the floor and turns his head to the side. Argh, this child. If only he can be more straightforward.
Once they arrive to Yawang’s home, Yawang goes straight towards the couch and turns on the TV while retrieving some grapes that are placed on top of the coffee table. Her parents goes to the kitchen to start preparing the food. Xia Mu follows Yawang and sits on the couch. She hands over a grape to him, but he shakes his head.
“You don’t want it? It’s sweet.” He extends his palm to accept the grape.
“Will you go to an university in another city?” He suddenly asks. Yawang spits out the seeds from the grapes into the trash bin. She gives the question some thought before answering back.
“I don’t know, if my score is high enough, I can get into the Art Institute in T City.” Xia Mu turns his grape as he lowers his head.
“Do you think you scored high enough?” She smirks and hooks her finger to tell him to come closer. He inches closer and she whispers in his ear,
“A pretty good chance.”
“Oh.” He smiles and eats the grape. Wah, so sour! He shoots a glare at Yawang who is laughing hard on the couch.
“Haha, stupid. You got fooled!” He turns his head in annoyance.
“You’re so detestable.” He mutters. When Yawang sees him getting annoyed, she think it’s adorable and proceeds to hug him.
“Xia Mu, let Jiejie hug you.”
“No.” He quickly stands up from the couch before she can wrap her arms around him. Yawang quickly follows behind and there is a chasing spree in the house. Yawang’s dad looks out to see what the commotion is all about and smiles when he sees them two playing. Xia Mu is becoming more lively, Yawang is great with children. Haha.
Before taking the entrance exams, Yawang swears to sleep for three whole days after she takes them. However, she can’t seem to fall asleep afterwards. She lies on her bed as she looks over the answer key her teacher provided to her with her own answer key. She first looks over the integrated science section and finds out that she got many of the questions wrong. She turns less confident and bites her thumb nervously as she flips through the answer keys. After awhile, she sits up from her bed and opens the top drawer of the bedside dresser. It consists of many envelopes and she takes all of them out. They are all letters from Xiao Tian, a total of sixty-eight letters after she counts them. She takes out the most recent one and starts to read from it.
“Yawang, it’s now 9:31pm and I just finished playing basketball in the military playground. I missed you, so I started to write this letter.” Yawang smiles from the first two lines. This is how Xiao Tian likes to write, he will first write down the time and place he’s at, telling her what’s he doing. Everytime she reads the beginning, she can imagine the scenery where he writes his letters. In the light night wind with the sun starting to set, a young man sitting on the bleachers of the playground writing in his journal.
“Did you know? Our team won in the basketball game. Big Brother is too powerful, he got 45 points on his own!” Big Brother, a name she keeps on seeing appear in his letters over and over. He and Xiao Tian enlists in the army at the same time, but since he’s the oldest out of all the recruits, he’s referred as the Big Brother. Xiao Tian will write how fast Big Brother can run, how many pushups he can do, and how he stands up for the new recruits when they are bullied. Yawang sighs when she reads those compliments, she feels that her Xiao Tian is being stolen from this Big Brother.
“Yawang, the special forces will come and choose the top recruits next month. There’s only ten spots, but I will give my all for it. I came all the way here to be in the special forces, I will not give up this opportunity.” She smiles at his passion and determination in the letter. Lucky guy, he’s doing what he likes.
“Yawang, how did you do on the exams? Are the questions hard? I’m worried for you. You don’t know how much I wanted to take the entrance exams and go to university with you. I feel so contradicted, at first I came here with no hesitation, but after separating from you for three months, I start to regret my decision. I keep on the dreaming the scene where you are holding to the red flower I threw out and you’re crying. Were you crying that day, why do I keep on dreaming that you cried? Yawang, do you miss me? I really miss you.”
She covers her face with the letter and lies back down on the bed. This idiot, why can he be so frank in the letters, but he is not able to say them in person? How can I not miss you?
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