Cheng Jingpo politely declined the invitation for a meal. Towards this, Mu Zibei expressed extreme regret. The little one had wanted to use this opportunity to build a good relationship with his ‘Cheng dage’ and worm his way into some inside information. Too bad it failed miserably.
On the way home, Mu Zibei sighed ruefully. He wondered why everyone in Doctor Cheng’s family was so good looking. Could this be the contribution of a great gene? But at the same time, it also gave rise to a seed of doubt, how could his twin brother be so stupid then? All of this things just simply did not add up.
Bo Ziren was lost in her own quiet world for the entire journey.
“What are you thinking about?” Mu Zibei exclaimed loudly, pulling her out from he musings, “Looking as if part of your soul has wandered off. Are you still upset with me?”
Casting her eyes downwards, Bo Ziren’s gazed at Mu Zibei. But she decided to brush him off in the end.
“Fine, I was wrong. But I’ve also gained my lesson. When we reached home, you absolutely must not tell Mama about this.”
“What lesson did you gain?” Bo Ziren was confused.
Mu Zibei composed his face. “I’ve lost the crucial first impression points. Consequently, Cheng dage might be complaining about me in front of Doctor Cheng.”
Shaking her head Bo Ziren said, “He wouldn’t bother about such trivial matters, especially with a little kid like you.”
“Since he won’t bother, then you also shouldn’t be angry with me.” Mu Zibei reached out and shook her hand.
Without a doubt, Bo Ziren could not do anything to this cunning and smooth talker of a little brother. Instead, she pretended to swat his hand away indicating that the two of them were of a different border.
Mu Zibei did not give up, he persistently pestered her with sugar-coated words, “Jiejie, you’re the best. When I grow up and have a lot of money, I definitely am going to buy handbags for you.”
Inwardly, Bo Ziren sighed. She silently compromised in her heart.
When they reached home, Liu Xinyu’s time and attention was once again monopolized by the twin boys and did not have the time to pay attention to her daughter. Till evening arrived, Uncle Mu came home, and the family had dinner together. Uncle Mu then brought the boys out for a stroll after dinner, only at this time did Liu Xinyu manage to squeeze out some time to chat with her daughter face to face. But the topics were limited to study life.
“You must exert some effort to get to know more female friends, go out some more and have fun. Don’t isolate yourself.”
“If you have any problems, tell me and your Uncle Mu. No need to act brave and shoulder everything on your own.”
“Sounds like they’ve come back. I’ll go down and take a look. You, take your time and rest.” Liu Xinyu left her daughter’s room and closed the door on her way out.
Bo Ziren sat by the bedside, her fingers adjusted the bedside lamp’s brightness to the minimum. Alone in the dimly lit room, she sat cross-legged on the bed in a pensive mood.
When she had apologized to him earlier, he only smiled and said it was not an issue.
Just like that. Nothing more. Not even a cursory ‘what a coincidence to run into you here’. Could it be that he was actually really angry inside? Yes ah, without rhyme or reason, he was suddenly ‘greeted’ by a fierce little kid, and it was related to her. He must have blamed her somehow. However, at the same time, there was also a different kind of feeling, such as, lucky.
She had not expected to meet him today.
She felt she could finally understand the meaning of the words ‘finding pleasure in small things’. It was a small matter, but it brought happiness to her akin to spring rain and rainbow in the winter. The encounter had lasted briefly, fleeting yet it remained for long in reminiscing.
At this point of time, from the other side of the door, sounds of joyful laughter of a family of four was reverberating within the surroundings. However, she could not feel any trace of loneliness at all. Perhaps, his smile had a healing effect.
This good mood lasted until the day she finally met him again.
Cheng Jingpo had always been someone who kept his words. This time around, he arrived earlier compared to Bo Ziren. When she made it to the first floor, she caught sight of him at first glance and instantly noted that he seemed to be in a good mood. But, this week, on the second floor, other than him, there were also two groups of customer present –– on one side was a pair of male and female students, while at the other was a pair a middle-aged married couple. In the small space they claimed as their own, the two pairs were either whispering softly or reading quietly.
After she sat down, the first thing she did was apologizing.
“I am truly sorry for that day, my little brother hit you with a stone.”
“It’s okay, just little kid’s pranks.” Listening to his tone of voice, he really did not seem to mind.
She wavered for a moment before added, “He misunderstood your relation with Doctor Cheng.”
“This wasn’t the first time. Doctor Cheng always has a group of admirers, and it is easy to mistake our connection. In fact, as long as they use a little effort, they would notice the similarities between us, and the way we speak are that of a family.”
“Cheng Jingjie,” Bo Ziren tested the name in her tongue, “both of your names are very nice.”
“Our names were given by our Grandfather from our mother’s side.” Giving off this much, he stopped talking about his family matters, and brought up this week’s book club exchange topic, “Have you finished reading the book I lent you?”
Bo Ziren took out a thin book from her school bag, and placed it on top of the table: “En, I have finished it. I felt it is very useful.”
“Useful?” actually, he had only flipped through the pages casually.
“It allowed me to know many things that I had no knowledge of before. Usually, when people mention India, the first thing at the top of their head is the Taj Mahal, their dances, and songs. Now I know half of the people in Mumbai lives in slums. They boast to have the world’s biggest open air laundry, and due to frequent blackouts, every family and shop have their own generator. Their male-female signs in public washrooms are designed as attractive as movie posters. And like us, education is the only way most children have that could change their destinies, but we use one to nine multiplication tables whereas they use one to nineteen multiplication tables. They can get the answer for thirteen multiply by eleven within seconds.”
“Looks like you take reading very seriously.” He concluded. “This book talks about the everyday things found in India in simple descriptions, complete with their culture. Just as in the past, everyone has their own way of doing things.”
“Did you read this book because it’s relevant to philosophy?” she was curious about this.
“There is some relevance. India’s culture cannot be separated from philosophy and it’s different from our study of the subject here. Over there, the point of view of the majority becomes philosophy. The culture they are brought up in, put great importance to the spiritual world. They stay close to God, and practices the belief of silence is golden, and also favors meditation which gives birth to many philosophies.”
She listened attentively.
“You are interested?” he inquired.
“Yes.” Actually, the moment before she spoke, interest was nada. She merely wanted to listen to him speak.
“If you want to know, we should start from the origin of their civilization. I can recommend you some related books, because if I were to explain, I’m afraid I can’t finish in one night.” He kindly reminded her, “Of course, it’s on the premise that you really are interested, ‘cause those books are really, really thick…..”
She rubbed her nose. An awkward feeling mixed with the embarrassment of being exposed flashed across her face.
“I… let me think about it for a while before deciding then.”
He smiled in reserved, nodding as his slender hand raised the glass on the side and drank a small gulp of water.
“My guess is….” she inquired some more, “is it because you lecture the same things in classes that you dislike to discuss these things in your private time?”
Like some chefs, dishing out delicious food every day to people. Yet, at home, because of tiredness they felt too lazy to cook for themselves.
“Not at all.” He denied, “Casual discussion during private time is fine, just not particular in guiding others.”
He was right, to answer time and again ‘what is philosophy?’ was truly tiring no matter how much one enjoyed to be a teacher. Judging from his looks, he did not have the appearance of someone who liked to correct each and everything or everyone.
Soon, a waiter brought a cup of cocoa and a piece of dessert over. Carefully placing them next to Bo Ziren before quietly retreated.
She took a sip of the hot cocoa, and stared at the handsome man opposite her, and stated out of the blue, “Actually, you are the owner of this café, am I right?”
“I’m not the Boss, just one of the investors. The real owner is my friend, but he opened this café on a whim. He didn’t show up after the opening ceremony and isn’t too concerned with the profits.”
“What happen if the business is bad?”
“To be honest, it would be closed down.”
“That’s a real pity. This environment is a good place to read.” She picked up the fork and sliced a piece of the bitter almond cake, “The desserts are delicious too.”
“You like it very much?”
She was startled for a second, clueless of what his like referred to––’liking’ this café, ‘liking’ this environment which was suitable for reading, or ‘liking’ this piece of cake in front of her? Nonetheless, at this moment, she ‘liked’ all of them. Thus she nodded.
“Thank you,” but he told the truth honestly, “However, this Book Club Exchange will end this month.”
“I understand.” She had already been aware of this fact since a long ago.
People who liked to read books were getting scarce nowadays. Not to mention those people with enough enthusiasm and free time to sit around in a café to exchange opinions were even rarer. If Friday meetings did not have attendees, then there was no further reason to keep it going.
Despite understanding all these things, it was still regrettable. Initially, she thought there were still a few more opportunities to talk with him, but time flew so fast and now it finally came to an end.
Of course, the regret was only on her part. There was no changes to his moods whatsoever. In the next one hour, under her requests, he mentioned several different genres of book recommendation to her, and talked about the main themes in some of the books. Worried she would get the wrong books, he even wrote down a list of the books for her.
He slipped the book list in between the pages of the travelogue, and handed them together to her, “No need to return this book, take it as a present for you.”
In the end, he even paid for the hot drink and dessert, politely saying farewell in his own way to her.
Bo Ziren walked to the stairs alone, she noticed the customers sitting at the corner was still there, a pair of well-dressed middle-aged husband and wife, accompanied with cooled-off coffee sitting on their table as the two of them enjoyed a magazine together. The scene alone was enough to make people who saw them feel warmth in their hearts.
Suddenly, her steps paused. Looking at the man who cast a shadow on the wall. Silent and smooth as the flowing water; full of determination, she turned around.
“Did you forget something?” seeing her returning back, he asked like he would any other person.
“I forgot this, take it as compensation.” She took out a package of chocolate that had three round chocolates from her bag.
She remembered on that day, after being hit by Mu Zibei’s pebble, he jokingly said he thought a chocolate fell from the sky and he caught it happily. Thinking maybe he liked chocolates, she bought one as she was passing by the shops on the way here.
Inside were three round chocolate balls with hazelnuts inside. In fact, she wanted to give him when she sat down but she was afraid it would be too abrupt, so she had been keeping it inside her bag.
Time seemed to stand still for a few seconds, after seeing what it was, he muttered his opinion, “En, a very fitting gift.”
“Next Friday is the last, will you be coming?”
“If there was nothing important, I’ll be here.” His answer was of no different than the last time.
Bo Ziren nodded as an indication she understood.
Cheng Jingpo kept the chocolate in his jacket pocket. Looking out through the glasses, it was already very late. He stood up and said, “I needed to go out for something, let’s go down together.”
They went down the stairs, one at the front and the other wordlessly followed at the back. Not long, the door closed, each faced a different direction and left simultaneously.
After buying two bottles of Guding Brand mineral water, Cheng Jingpo returned back to the café. His hand slipped into his jacket’s pocket and produced out the chocolate.
The waitress had quick, sharp eyes, and knew he never eat this kind of childish flavor chocolate, so she softly asked, “Present from someone?”
He gave a silent assent.
“From your student? Didn’t you always insist that you won’t take anything from students?”
“Not from a student. I was lucky enough to be hit by it.” Opening up the wrappings, he took one and generously put the other two left in the little box on the bar counter, to be shared with the staffs, and went upstairs.
Xiao Ji unwrapped one and popped it into her mouth. A thick sweetness melted in her mouth and it made her shudder. At the end, she decided to use the last remaining one as an ingredient for chocolate caramel cake.
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