Chapter 12: Blame it on fate…
He was still there the next day.
Nonetheless, I couldn’t toss him out according to last night’s plan… because…
Moxi was tugging the sleeve of the unconscious black-clothed man and innocently looking up at me, anxiously hoping I would come over and help him.
I sighed. Would I be a little too cruel if I were to throw this man out right now? The thing I couldn’t bear the most was also having Moxi looking at me with those eyes. I quickly nodded, dragged the man inside the house, stripped him of his clothes and cleansed the wound at his waist before dressing it with some medicine.
His breathing slowly evened and some color was finally restored on Moxi’s little face. If he had been the God of War Moxi, then I was certain he wouldn’t even give this injury a glance. But this was only a seven-year-old Mo Xi who was still so young and innocent.
After I washed my hands, I looked at Moxi and told him quite seriously: “Saving him might bring us a lot of trouble. But since you asked me to save him, don’t go telling me you regret it in the future.”
Moxi nodded albeit with some perplexity.
Watching his big watery eyes blinking up at me, fright not yet gone from his face, my heart softened into a puddle. Unable to help myself, I smacked my lips onto his soft white cheek.
His eyes grew even rounder.
“Does it feel good?” I lifted his chin and asked him like a rogue.
Moxi touched his face and gave my question some serious thought, then solemnly nodded.
I grinned smugly. “Even if it does, this is something you can only do to the most important person in your life. You mustn’t do it casually.”
Moxi softly rubbed his cheek, and then cupped his small hands around my face. My reflection was clearly imprinted in his clear eyes at the moment he stood on tiptoe, copied my action, and gave my cheek a sounding peck.
Afterwards, he touched the spot he had just kissed and kept looking at me as if to say: “I’ll only do this to Sansheng.”
For a second, I couldn’t help giving him several more kisses. I kissed him till his face was smeared in saliva. He was hesitant to push me away in his helpless way, only smiling quietly.
“Tell me, Moxi. How am I not supposed to like you?!” I ruffled the soft hair on his forehead, wishing I could carry him in my pocket and keep him safe from the world.
Our lives went on as usual. We just happened to now have a comatose man in the house. The number of soldiers marching to and fro in the capital increased markedly. The tavern had been searched many times, but they had fortunately not come to search the house just yet.
Three days later, I picked up a book to read in my free time after Moxi went to school. I sat on a rocking chair in the courtyard looking to the sky then looking back at my book. I rocked back and forth counting the days till plum blossoms would fill the garden. Out of the blue, illusory footsteps sounded inside the house. I closed my eyes and listened as they slowly made their way out of the room, circled the living room and then the woodshed, and finally to the yard before they halted.
“Miss, who are you?” he asked in a chilly voice. “Why did you save me?”
“Blame it on fate…” And then, I couldn’t help but lament: “I have a soft spot that made me save you. What else could I do?”
The man behind me fell silent for a short while. His voice carried a hint of awkwardness: “I thank you for your kind feelings, but I’m currently not interested in a relationship.”
He made me want to laugh. I was referring to Moxi as the one I had a soft spot for, but this man tried to be smart and thought himself a ladies’ man. He had obviously and thoroughly misunderstood. I wasn’t one to explain things, and since this wasn’t anything important, I just let him think what he wanted.
Not hearing me speak again, he asked, “For the past few days, was it you who… erm, dressed my wound for me?”
“Yes,” I said without much concern. “Pooping, peeing, farting, shampooing, sponging, wiping your butt, it was I who served you through it all.” After Moxi went to sleep, I used magic for everything.
I gave some thought and then added: “I’m telling you this for your own good. Your excrement has a heavy odor. Get treatment, you’re sick.”
Not one peep behind me.
This silence persisted until the sun went down.
Moxi came back and froze when he opened the door. He ran to me, pulled my hand and pointed to the man. His smile showed that he was pleasantly surprised. At this time, I was carrying a dish of stir-fry vegetables. I nodded as I walked into the house: “Yes, yes, I know, I know.”
The man looked at Moxi, his expression strange for a moment. “He is…”
I gave him a glance. “My little brother.”
Moxi smiled at him. He seemed to have thought of something, for he made a bow to him like a little grown-up. Appearing to have taken interest in Moxi, the man stepped up and circled him a few times, saying: “He has an excellent body for learning martial arts. But, can he not speak?”
“Yes, he was born that way.” He asked very cautiously; on the other hand, I answered very carelessly. Moxi also smiled unconcernedly, attracting his curious glances again and again.
“You’re very open-minded.”
By the time food was laid on the table, like always, I gave some to Moxi while he gestured to me about the interesting things at school. The man couldn’t restrain himself from asking: “He still doesn’t know how to write?”
Moxi’s smile dropped from his face as he lowered his head to eat his food. I placed my chopsticks down. “You got something to say about it?”
“I don’t care even if you do.”
He was silent, and then softly sighed: “Miss, you’ve misunderstood me. I only meant that perhaps the teachers are prejudiced when they see him this way and do not teach him properly. You’ve saved me, but I have nothing to give in return. The only thing I can do is teach him some practical things so that he can provide for himself in the future.”
“You should ask Moxi these things. What are you looking at me for?” In my opinion, Moxi had always been my equal. He should decide his own matters. How could I decide for him?
The other person gave another sigh, likely thinking it was nigh impossible to talk to me. As he was about to speak again, Moxi suddenly grabbed his hand, gave him a solemn stare, and nodded vigorously. He froze before laughing: “Then I’m your teacher from now on. There’s no need go to school tomorrow. It will be very difficult to learn from me; you’ll need to be prepared.”
Moxi kept on nodding. I lightly asked, “What’s your name? I can’t always holler ‘hey you’.”
He thought for a moment and then offered: “I go by the name of Bai Jiu.” (1)
homonymic with ‘white wine’
Pfft, what an uncreative pseudonym. “That’s great, I’m called Huang Jiu. This kid here is called Xiong Huang Jiu.” (2)
yellow wine and realgar wine respectively
Bai Jiu’s face twitched. “Miss, you have a great sense of humor…”
I lightly replied: “Not at all.”
Thenceforward, Moxi began his apprenticeship.
Not only for Moxi but even for me, ‘master’ was a completely foreign creature. Master Bai Jiu taught Moxi words, art, martial arts, and even an elegant melody or two occasionally.
He taught a lot and Moxi also learned quickly, as if after depriving him of his ability to speak, Heaven had compensated him with other talents.
His was most gifted in music. It didn’t take long before he was able to strum a song. I loved lying beside his zither stand, propping my head to watch his miniature adult appearance. His young and tender fingertips would glide across the strings. There were a few notes he hadn’t mastered accurately, but he was so darling in his confidence that one couldn’t help adoring him.
I often took advantage of Bai Jiu’s absence to quietly have my ways with Moxi.
One time, I gave Moxi a hug and a kiss.
He flushed from my kiss and was caught by his master. From that day on, just like his master, he became cautious around me as if I were some children-eating witch from the Black Mountain.
It became difficult for me to have my ways with Moxi. I resented Bai Jiu so much my blood could’ve dyed several beaches. Just as I was wondering when to chop this deadwood up and toss him back to the woods, he suddenly became busy and often disappeared for a long time.
I relaxed in jubilation. Rain or shine, I came and stuck by Moxi’s side. I didn’t know what Bai Jiu had said to Moxi, but his affection for me had turned timid and shy.
I didn’t want to force Moxi, but my grudges against Bai Jiu grew even deeper.
Moxi took his studies very seriously. Even if Bai Jiu weren’t pushing him, he would exceed the daily tasks Bai Jiu gave him. He was still so young, nonetheless. Over time, he wouldn’t be able to keep this up.
I sewed a new coat for him on the first snow of the year. He held and admired it over and over, both hesitant to put it on but also reluctant to put it down. Blushing, he watched me with apprehension. At the thought of his bashfulness previously, I silently forbore the impulse to kiss him. “Tidy things up yourself. I’m going to make dinner.”
By the time I brought food back, Moxi was hugging the coat, asleep on the table.
I carried him to bed, tucked him in, and then painfully watched the small face that had grown so thin. With my power, it wasn’t impossible to protect and help him through his trial so that he may have a safe life. But it was after all his life. He should be the one deciding it. I touched his face, thinking: After this life is over, will we cross paths again? The Black and White Guards of Impermanence said you made a good tantrum in the underworld… What’s wrong with you? I helped you pass your trial, but instead of thanking me, you’re always mean to me. You’re being ungrateful! I was nice for nothing!
And yet, no matter how poorly Moxi treated me, I couldn’t treat him the same way.
Who told him to be my love trial?!
I softly sighed. Watching him fast asleep, I couldn’t but get sleepy myself. Not caring about the food that was slowly growing cold on the table, I lay bedside, admired his face, and slowly dozed off.
It was a ticklish feeling on my cheek that woke me up.
I opened my eyes to see that Moxi was watching me with a huge grin on his face. He was holding my hair in his hand, sweeping it across my cheek and tickling me again.
I didn’t like having other people touch my precious hair, but it never mattered with Moxi. Even if it did, I could never get mad at that beaming face. I blinked a few times and said to him: “Moxi, are you having your ways with me?”
He copied my blinking and looked at me in puzzlement, not understanding what ‘having his way’ meant. I gave him a sly smile and playfully nibbled his ear. “This is called ‘having your ways’.”
He froze, clutched his ear, and turned crimson red.
As I was sighing why this child was so easily embarrassed in this lifetime, he surprisingly puckered up and gave my cheek a sounding peck.
This time, it was my turn to freeze.
He grasped my hand and wrote onto my palm with his index finger: “I love Sansheng the most.”
All I knew was that my heart was melting into a pool of bubbly warm liquid that was rippling all the way to my limbs.
By the time I recovered, I planted an equally blunt kiss onto his face. I kicked away my shoes, lifted the quilt and climbed into bed, cuddling him in my arms. “Let’s not do anything today. We’ll just lie here and have a good rest.”
But how could there be such a good thing? Not long after we lay down, the quilt was snatched away.
Blue veins popped on Bai Jiu’s forehead. He looked at Moxi, then glared at me, and at last closed his eyes to restrain himself before asking in a stabilized voice: “Why aren’t you doing your homework today?”
Moxi instantly jumped away from my hug to hurry out of bed and put on his shoes.
Furious that we got bothered at such an intimate moment, I grasped Moxi’s hand while looking at Bai Jiu saying: “What are you running for? We aren’t adulterers caught in bed.”
Moxi obviously didn’t know what I meant, but Bai Jiu was livid with anger. He pointed at me: “You, you, you…” He stood rigid for half a day and couldn’t manage anything more to say. He reached for Moxi, wanting to pull him away from me. I imperturbably held onto Moxi, blocking him with one hand.
His expression worsened when he failed to grab Moxi.
I smiled smugly. “Hmph! Moxi is mine!”
“How can you subject such atrocity on a child?”
I didn’t bother with him. I turned around and petted Moxi’s head, asking: “Must you follow and learn from such a useless fogy?” In point of fact, Bai Jiu should only be in his twenties or thirties; he was a far cry from a ‘useless fogy’. But in my eyes at this moment, his ideas were so old-fashioned that he was no different from the useless fogies at school.
As soon as I said this, Bai Jiu’s face turned the color of pork liver. He looked as though he could spray dog blood in my face and then give me a good beating.
Moxi hastily covered my mouth in disapproval. I pulled his hand away and asked him, “You still want to learn from him?”
Moxi looked at Bai Jiu and nodded. I caught a glimpse of Bai Jiu as he smiled a strange smile like that of a child who had just cheated while at the same time like that of a beaming villain.
For the time being, I could not tell what I was feeling. I only lightly said, “Very well. Continue learning from him, then.” Without even putting on my shoes, I went straight out the door to the tavern and spent the night there.
This was the first time I stayed out overnight. It was also the first time I got mad at Moxi, or rather it was jealousy I was feeling. He was clearly just a stranger I had saved. He hadn’t even been with us for long but the stupid child was already taking his side! Really…
That night at the pub, I sent Accountant Liu along with everyone else home. Then, I poured all the white liquor in the store down the toilet.