And as expected, Zhao’s father is not home. Mommy Zhao is all apologetic, and keeps explaining that “he was really called away last-minute by a super important phone call”.
Of course Shen wouldn’t mind. Zhao wears a smile, and surprisingly has nothing to say. The two enjoy a meal at Zhao’s place and leaves.
Zhao was thrown into dismay by the holy tree, so he somehow didn’t notice… but what father would coldly excuse himself because “preparations need to be made, so we shall meet later”, when he knew full well his son’s male lover was right there in the apartment?
It’s not a date, what’s there to prepare for?
He simply doesn’t want to meet Shen.
But why not? Does he not want to? Or does he not dare to?
Just before leaving, Zhao retrieves a small and weathered wooden box from his bedroom. Mommy Zhao asks, “Didn’t you play with that when you were young? How come you never threw it away, and what are you doing with it?”
“Sharing childhood memories with my lover. Lonely, old married couples like you who have grown to hate each other wouldn’t understand.”
And for that, his mother beats him out of the house.
It’s Valentine’s Day. The empty streets are suddenly crowded with people. A girl who sells flowers passes by the two nonchalantly, but is called back by Zhao, “Hey girl, how many flowers do you have?”
The girl looks at them with surprise, and then smiles, “As many as you want, I can go back to the shop to get them for you.”
Zhao says, “Then I will have five thousand…”
“Sorry, sorry, he is just kidding.”
Shen covers Zhao’s mouth and tows him away.
Zhao struggles to free his head from Shen’s arm, “I still wanna buy stuff, wait!!!!!!”
Shen pulls the car door open and stuffs him inside without a word.
Zhao half-genuinely complains, “Do you know romance?”
Shen fires back, revolted, “As if you do?”
Zhao very irresponsibly says, “I will buy a few thousand flowers, and cover the entire car with flowers, then I will take you as my wife.”
Shen has probably been bullied by him for too long, he no longer silently bursts out in anger, but has silently become corrupted. He takes down his glasses, and somewhat inhibitedly wipes the snow off of them. He feigns nonchalance, while arduously raising a flag of resistance…. he says, taking care to appear calm, “I thought you wanted to become a flower supplier… shouldn’t I be taking you as my wife? Yesterday you said you will take my last name.”
Zhao has been used to one-sided abuse, other than that one time he got drunk, his teasing has never met any comeback. He is instantly left gobsmacked.
Of course, what he doesn’t know is that much like Guo, Shen had to rehearse his line three times in his mind to finally be able to say it smoothly out loud.
And yet, this old, sly gangster very quickly recovers, and very shamelessly starts taking his clothes off, “Alright, I will take your last name, wanna bone right here, hubby? You don’t need to do anything, just lie there, I will satisfy you.”
Shen is furious, “Zhao Yunlan!”
“How… how can you be so improper?”
Zhao’s hands press on to his car seat, and says with a naughty smile, “You haven’t seen me at my worst.”
Embarrassed and outraged, Shen’s face darkens. He pulls Zhao in by the collar, and glares at him menacingly, spouting one word after another, “Do you realise we’re on the streets? Do you realise people might see us? Do you know for how many times I’ve thought about the people who have been with you before, and wanted to scoop all their eyes out?”
Zhao is speechless.
After a good while, Zhao finally withdraws back to his seat, and mumbles, “Hey, actually I was just kidding, just kidding. I wasn’t gonna do anything. Still got serious stuff to do here.”
Shen starts the engine in silence. Zhao rubs his nose, and sits aside in good discipline. He opens his little wooden box, and starts rummaging through the sundries inside. He finds a small radio receiver, and then takes out a box of small screwdrivers kept in the car, and begins working on the small machine.
His fingers are incredibly dexterous. Obviously, he used to mess with wires at school all the time… one can totally foresee, if only Zhao weren’t the thriftless and fickle kind, being with a man like him means no new electrical appliances needed, ever.
The two sit in silence for a while, and as Shen’s anger subsides, he becomes regretful… most people are pretentious and uptight in front of strangers, but relaxed and genuine with their loved ones. But Shen is the exact opposite, he has gotten too used to restraining himself in front of Zhao. He is always afraid that Zhao would notice his condemnable nature. Sometimes, Shen doesn’t even know what to say to Zhao… he has always found himself filthy and disgraceful, thus not worthy of Zhao.
Zhao has been working his small tools for long, and hasn’t said a word. Shen finally peeks at Zhao at the traffic light, and very anxiously whispers, “What are you doing?”
Luckily, Zhao is quick to forget, and quick to forgive. He excitedly explains, “This is a signal receiver I made as a kid. I’m fixing the broken parts… stop at the supermarket later, I’m gonna get some batteries.”
Zhao has his batteries, and the small monitor on the receiver lights up with a “hiss”. There is a barely visible dot on the screen, but the brightness is very low. Zhao puts his hands around the screen and leans in for a closer look.
He changes the channel slowly, and adjusts the size of the dot, while comparing with some markings on the side that nobody understands. After a while, he says, “Uh, not far away. Seems to be avoiding us… let’s turn back.”
Shen makes a u-turn, while Zhao leans close to his small screen, and gives instructions, “Turn left… this is a tracker I made out of a radio receiver when I was a kid.”
“What does it track?” Shen seems to be quite interested, although he probably doesn’t even understand what “radio” means.
“It tracks my dad. I put a signal generator in his phone, and who would have thought he is still using the same phone for all these years.” Zhao says, “I was still going to high school, so my technique wasn’t very good. It’s unstable, and it loses track if the signal is too far away.”
Shen can’t help but touch his pocket, as he thinks of his age-old phone that he never uses, and doesn’t even know how to answer sometimes… if someone did something to it, he wouldn’t have any idea.
Zhao sees what’s going on, as he crosses his legs and lights a cigarette leisurely, “Don’t worry, I won’t put anything on you as long as you aren’t cheating on me with some young pretty boy.”
Shen glares at him, irritated.
“Left, left. Yes, that tea house. I see my old man’s car.” Zhao’s voice seems lighthearted, but his face sinks deep, “I must find out today, just who is this man who raised me.”
Shen’s car has barely stopped, and Zhao is already out of his seat belt and off the car. He runs up the stairs.
Shen locks the car, and adjusts his glasses. He finally follows suit, with utmost composure. He even nods towards the waitress as he goes up the stairs.
The waitress is only in her twenties. She is mesmerised, and a tea cup falls to the floor, and shatters.
Zhao’s father sits with his back facing the door. He turns around when he hears something, and his eyes look out from behind the light-reflecting lenses of his glasses.
His eyes look calm and his gaze is distant. Zhao stops at first, then he takes big leaps forward and signals the waiter to leave. He sits opposite his father, and lowers his voice, “You’re not my dad, who are you?”
“Zhao’s father” has yet to answer. He looks towards the stairs with a stern expression, and watches Shen making his way up. The two lock eyes precisely, and after some hesitation, Shen very politely nods, “Uncle.”
“Zhao’s father” has a strange gaze, and his facial features tighten greatly. Because of his age, smile lines on his face deepen. After a while, he replies with a neutral tone, “You are too kind.”
Shen wears a barely noticeable smile, and does not sit at the table. He sits in a chair on the side, a few steps away from the two. He takes a new cup, washes it, and makes some tea for himself. Without batting an eyelid, he clearly doesn’t intend to join the conversation.
Zhao says, “I was a drunken fool that day, otherwise I would’ve realised you are a fake just from your eyes… my dad has always been an ambitious beast, he would never wear a face with so much tastefulness. You tricked me into calling you dad for a few times, and I can let that slide, but where’s my dad? And how are you connected to Shennong? Don’t tell me…. you are Shennong?”
“Zhao’s father” moves his lips, but for whatever reason, doesn’t say anything. After a while, he lowers his eyelids, and glances to the side at Shen. He then takes a sip of tea, and still makes no sound.
Zhao’s patience is running out. He knocks on the table lightly with his finger, and says, “Hey mister, I’m only so civil with you because you might be related to Shennong, if you won’t co-operate… as a son, I owe it to my dad, this is something I cannot ignore.”
“I’m not Shennong.” After a good while, “Zhao’s father” begins, “And your father is fine. I borrow his body once in a while, and I always leave some useful memories for him. I’ve never been an inconvenience.”
“Then what are you?” Zhao asks.
“Zhao’s father” smiles, “I’m only the great Shennong’s medicine bowl. During the war of gods, by some sheer luck I completed cultivation and became a minor deity. If I was any inconvenience to Lord Kunlun, I am truly sorry.”
“What are you doing in my dad’s body? Are you connected to the memories I saw in the holy tree?” To Zhao, whether he is a deity or something else has no bearing, he treats people and gods the same anyway. Somehow, he has assumed the role of a cop interrogating a criminal.
“Zhao’s father” raises his eyebrows, and asks slowly, “How did Lord Kunlun find out that the memories inside the holy tree aren’t your true memories?”
“I’m not that childish zombie who works for me, and I’m not Sun Wukong either,” Zhao drinks tea like water, and finishes a cup in one gulp, “I might be a bit wild sometimes, but mostly I’m carefree. If there is anything that can force me to rebel, it must be some tremendous rage. But why didn’t I feel anything while watching, except sorrow?”
“Zhao’s father” nods in agreement, “Makes sense.”
“No matter what, I just cannot believe I would do something so simple and violent like puncturing a hole in the Heavens out of anger.” Zhao continues, “After all, Kunlun was born master of the mountains and rivers, the protector of life on Earth. For all my past and present lives I have always been an animal rights activist. I would never stab the godly dragon blind.”
“Zhao’s father” smiles lightly, and doesn’t speak.
Zhao’s gaze grows cold, “So I want to know, why did you mislead me using the holy tree?”
“Zhao’s father” sighs, “Perhaps when Lord Kunlun can look beyond forever…”
“Don’t give me that bullshit.” Zhao interrupts, “Talk like a human, I’m running out of patience. If you make me angry, I don’t care who’s broken bowl you are, you’re gonna be in real pain.”
“Zhao’s father” looks at him, and then his gaze lightly shifts, falling on Shen who is flipping through a magazine. Suddenly, his body trembles vigorously. Zhao’s father loses focus in his eyes, and then soon regains clear sight, but his gaze… no, his entire person has changed.
Zhao’s father massages his temples, and then frowns, looking at Zhao, and asks confusedly, “What were you saying? I’m a bit tired these few days, I couldn’t concentrate.”
Zhao flinches. Immediately, he transforms from a ferocious gangster to a juvenile delinquent. He almost melts down, and after a while, he very softly says, “Dad?”
Zhao’s father frowns, “Hm?”
That expression speaks a thousand words. Zhao can clearly make out a complex message: “say whatever crap you need to say, I will give you one full minute only because you’re my son, I’m tired I don’t want to hear some bullshit wasting my time”.
Zhao immediately pulls Shen towards him as a human shield, “Nothing. It’s just that we agreed to meet. You’re not home, so I brought him here to meet you…”
“I had something to do last-minute, came here to meet a friend.” Zhao’s father murmurs, and then rigidly turns to look at Shen. After some detailed scrutiny, owing to Professor Shen’s gentlemanly charisma, he could not find any wrong to nitpick. Finally, he greets him drily, and then says, somewhat forcefully, “I have been rude to our guest, I hope Professor Shen wouldn’t mind.”
Shen very politely greets him back.
Zhao takes out a paper talisman, it’s a deity repellent. He secretly folds it into a triangle behind his back, and then pushes it towards his father, “And also, I went to the temple to get you a talisman for good luck. Don’t open it, keep it on your person.”
Zhao’s father unsuspectingly accepts it.
And yet, nothing happens. The talisman does not respond. Zhao instantly frowns… has that broken bowl ran away, or is it so strong that even an advanced talisman like this has no effect?