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Chapter 9: Boss, Did Your Family Cat Run Away From Home?


When Zheng Tan went down the stairs, he discovered a piece of paper stuck in the corner between the fifth and fourth floors. It had been placed so that it would be just level with Zheng Tan’s eyes.

“If you’re going on a long trip, switch off any unnecessary power sources to avoid invisible hazards. Draw the curtains and shut the doors to prevent the wind from blowing dust inside, and remember to bring something to eat… For specific steps please refer to the detailed instructions placed on the desk.”

Papa Jiao’s writing.

Zheng Tan twitched his ears, then helplessly turned around and went back. There was some difficulty using the key that was hanging around his neck to open the door. He managed to enter the couple’s bedroom and jumped onto the desk. Sure enough, there was an open notebook with everything that needed to be done listed out in detail. Zheng Tan looked through it once, then walked through the house, as he followed the instructions and turned off part of the power sources and closed all the doors and windows.

After everything was done, Zheng Tan clenched a bag of finger biscuits in his mouth, then swiped the card key at the door. He arrived in front of a Paulownia tree at the side of the cement road at the Eastern residence courtyard, then climbed up the tree. On a branch at the third fork, there was a hole the size of a fist. Zheng Tan placed the house key and key card inside this hole, then covered it with two leaves.

Generally, very few birds stayed in the trees by the road in the courtyard, including that lowly parrot. As for other cats, they would rarely climb any of the trees here. If they wanted to climb, they would climb the trees over at the little forest, and not the ones by the cement road. Therefore Zheng Tan felt reassured in leaving the things here. After all, he couldn’t bring the house key and key card which represented his identity as a housepet with him outside. That would be too inconvenient, and also if he were to get caught doing naughty deeds it would be even more troublesome.  

After putting everything away, Zheng Tan soon arrived at the underbrush on the side of Dong Yuan Supermarket waiting for an opportunity to get on the truck.

The delivery driver was helping to unload the goods at the moment. After moving the last box of goods from the truck, he leaned on the car door to take a smoke. Turning his head he saw Zheng Tan crouching in the underbrush with a bag of finger biscuits often eaten by small children at his side.

“Yo, Ash, going out again today?”

The delivery guy recognized Zheng Tan. He was already very familiar with this scene. What was different today was that this cat had also brought along a bag of biscuits. Was it preparing for a long trip?

Zheng Tan had slipped out twice before by riding on this delivery truck. At that time the delivery driver had some complaints, but after Papa Jiao gifted him two boxes of cigarettes and a bottle of alcohol, the delivery driver would pucker up a smile every time he saw Zheng Tan. If Zheng Tan came for another ride, it meant he would receive more gifts in the future. Those cigarettes and alcohol were some of the good stuff, and over at the supermarket in Central Department Store, it would cost a hundred yuan or so for some.

Zheng Tan stretched his body, picked up the bag of biscuits, and jumped onto the trunk of the pickup truck. He waited for the driver to finish settling the bill with the supermarket staff.

Today, there wasn’t much inside the trunk of the pickup truck, and it had been unloaded until it was spotless.

“Ash, I’m finished with the deliveries today and won’t be going in the direction of Central Department Store. I’ll be going straight home, so I’ll be using the back entrance at the second north gate instead of the east university gate.”

The previous two times, Zheng Tan had gone to the area around the Central Department Store for a walk, which was two bus stops away from the east university gate which was close to the residential building quadrant. Although it was about a twenty-minute walk away, people could still clearly make out the Chu Hua University buildings from around the Central Department Store area.

As for the comments, the delivery driver had made earlier, he didn’t actually expect that a mere cat would be able to understand his words. All he could do was let this black cat hitch a ride. As for where this cat hitch-hiked to, he couldn’t have cared less.

When it was almost six o’clock, Dong Yuan Supermarket finished counting their inventory and the bill was settled. The delivery driver called out to Zheng Tan and then drove the pickup truck towards the second north gate.

The setting sun had already turned a bloody orange color and was about to drop under the horizon. At the entrance of the North Campus Dining Hall, some students were coming in and out, since the last class for the day had ended not long ago. They were talking and laughing about the day’s events.

The pickup truck drove past the North Campus Dining Hall, and Zheng Tan, the figure that was squatting within the truck, watched them as he thought of his own previous self. He suddenly felt a little emotional. Before he had somehow ended up like this, he had also been a third-year university student.

By the time the truck drove by the opening of a small access road near the North Campus Dining Hall, Zheng Tan saw a young guy who wore a white uniform pedaling on a noisy ancient bicycle[1] towards the North Campus Dining Hall. If you neglected the words “Chu Hua University North Campus Dining Hall” which was printed on the left breast, other people could have mistaken him for someone who had just come out of one of the laboratories.

Everywhere around, there were elites who were the future of the country, but this young man wearing a cafeteria uniform and riding an ancient bike didn’t look particularly envious, and he certainly didn’t look inferior. As the wind blew, it made the work uniform he was wearing look like a high-end stylish windbreaker. He was humming a song, facing the bright red of the setting sun, his smile looking as brilliant as ever.

As they exited the north gate of Chu Hua university, they didn’t approach the Central Department Store, and one could only look at the luminescence around Central Department Store in the distance. There was a scenery that Zheng Tan was familiar with, and the neon lamps standing around the Central Department Store had already been lit up. Giant screens flickered, demonstrating the glamor of a large city.

Zheng Tan watched as the scenery outside zipping past like an alien spectator. Even though he saw a lot, his brain didn’t think of anything at all, always staying in a trance-like state.

As the truck went from the city center to the third outer ring road[2], and then to the suburbs, the sky gradually darkened, and the air became cold.

The pickup truck suddenly came to a halt, which caused Zheng Tan, who was then lost in thought, to knock his head against the backboard of the trunk with a “bonk”.

Zheng Tan lifted his furry claws and brushed at the fur on his head.

Hearing voices outside, Zheng Tan could tell that the pickup truck driver had arrived at home. He stood up and shook the dust off from his body, picked up the bag of biscuits, and jumped out of the trunk. After taking a look around him, Zheng Tan decided to first look for a place to sleep, he would then wait until morning before taking a stroll. Although he was a cat, he still preferred to take walks during the daytime.

While Zheng Tan was searching for a place to stay the night, a certain phone rang in the research student dormitory at Chu Hua University.

The person who was closest to the phone responded and politely spoke a few words, and then said, “May I trouble you to wait a moment? He should’ve finished his shower, I’ll go get him.” He set the phone aside on the table and went to the bed diagonally opposite him.

The person on the bed was in deep sleep, and he gnawed his teeth while smiling. The other three people in the dorm, apart from being startled earlier, were now all apathetic.

The person who picked the phone gave the sleeping person who was grinding his teeth on the bed a couple nudges and whispered, “Yi Xin, your boss is calling! I said you were in the shower earlier, so don’t mess up the story.”

Just from hearing “your boss” those two words, the man who was muddleheaded from his sleep instantly became clear-headed, scrambled off his bed, and ran to the bathroom to rinse his throat since people who just woke up tended to have a somewhat hoarse voice. Yi Xin didn’t want his academic advisor to know that he was actually sleeping during the prime time of the night. Wouldn’t that ruin his boss’s mental image of him?

“Professor Jiao! Sorry I was having a shower before, is anything the matter?” Yi Xin took the call, feeling his acting wasn’t bad.

In order to coordinate with him, his roommate that was playing a game stopped hitting the keyboard and was even putting on an act of discussing the scientific question on why you can only get nutrition when eating meat that was paired with garlic.

On the other side of the phone, Papa Jiao paused then said, “Pardon me for disturbing your sleep.”

Yi Xin: “…” The fúck are your ears made of, boss! His ability to discern is so freaking amazing!

Fortunately for Yi Xin, Associate Professor Jiao did not continue to pursue this matter, and instead spoke, “Do you have time right now?”

“I do!” Yi Xin hurriedly responded. Even if he didn’t, he would still have squeezed the time out.

Twenty minutes later, with the keys he found in Associate Professor Jiao’s office cabinet, Yi Xin stood in the Jiao family’s living room.

This was Yi Xin’s second time coming to the Jiao family house. The first time was in the earlier half of this year after the results of his PhD examination came out. Besides being Associate Professor Jiao’s first student, he also had an intrinsic talent, so Associate Professor Jiao valued him a lot and invited him to dinner at his home.

Yi Xin had never met Zheng Tan. The time Zheng Tan went to the life sciences department, apart from members of the Jiao family, nobody else knew about it. As such, Yi Xin had no idea that the cat his PhD advisor kept at home was so outstandingly unusual.

After searching around for awhile without seeing any trace of a cat, Yi Xin went to the bedroom and picked up the phone in the bedroom to give Associate Professor Jiao a call.

“Professor Jiao, I didn’t see any cat, did your cat run away from home?” After saying that, Yi Xin wanted to give himself a slap. Who let your mouth run off!

“Is the air con’s plug unplugged?” asked Papa Jiao on the phone.

“It’s unplugged! The electrical outlet in the kitchen has also been switched off!” Yi Xin spoke in a rush, describing the situation inside the home.

“Mr. Jiao, should I go buy a bag of cat food and leave it here?” asked Yi Xin.

“No need. As long as there are snacks on the sofa and in the fridge it’ll be fine.”

Yi Xin: “…” Is there this way of raising a cat?

“Go to my place every day and take a look, you can use the phone at my place to report to me. As for your work summary, there will be no need to report for this week.”

At hearing that he didn’t need to report on the progress of experiments, Yi Xin let off a sigh of relief. These two days the progress of the experiment wasn’t too smooth, there wasn’t much to report.

“Okay, please rest assured, at this time every day I’ll come over to take a look.”

On the train, after he finished giving his orders, Papa Jiao placed the cell phone back into his pocket, then looked at the night outside the window.

That little brat had run away, just as he expected!


Footnotes:

[1]The Type-28 Bicycle was a type of bike that was extremely common in the 60’s and 70’s in China. Everyone had one in the era. The “28” comes from the dimensions of the wheel, which were 28 inches (71 cm).

[2]Many Chinese cities have a highway that loop around the city. Since 16 and I are both from MA, it’s basically the equivalent of I-128 or I-495, though the urban part of cities like Shanghai and Beijing… the ring roads are still pretty urban. The third ring road is pretty far out though, I think.


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