Chapter 9: The Old Days
He walked by my side as if nothing had ever happened, but I could sense something different from him. Before he went to jail, he was wild and impulsive. Even though we were brothers, he fought with me over trivial disagreements from time to time. But after he’s out, not only did his fighting skill improve, he also learned to hide himself in his now dark and gloomy eyes. On our way, he didn’t talk to me, just implicitly observing the sides of the road as if something dangerous might appear.
That year, I was eighteen, and he was nineteen.
While we were walking there, he suddenly spoke, “I was going to beat the sh*t out of you today, but you’re so wimpy that your eyes turned red like a rabbit upon seeing me, I just want noodles instead.”
He explained so seriously that I laughed, and dragged out a plastic bag from my pouch, swinging it in front of his eyes.
“What is this?” He asked.
I opened up the crumpled plastic bag layer by layer, inside were a bunch of one Yuan and five yuan small bills. There was a whole bag of them.
I was counting the small bills in my hand. “You can fill your stomach as much as you want, I guarantee that you can be full today.”
He gave me a look, “From now on, stop paying the local gangs any protection fee. Just tell them you’re my younger brother.”
“Look at how dumb you were today; trying to please me with the nice cigarettes? I really should have kicked your ass. Stop shaming me from now on. Those gangs only have the guts to bully the weak, but they are scared of the terrible ones. If you go out with a knife, they will leave you alone.”
“Why? I am just a businessman. I do not live in the same world like them, so I don’t want to make a big deal out of it.”
That day, Chu Yuan Jiang ate for a long time, until I used up almost all the bills in the plastic bag.
“Let’s go.” I urged him while fanning him. It looked like it was about to rain. The air was hot, humid and stuffy.
“To where?” He wiped off the oily spot on his face with a hand full of thick calluses.
“To your home.” I said.
He raised his eyebrows, and I explained, “Isn’t my home just your home?”
He smiled, it’s the first time in such a long time that I saw him grin with his mouth wide open. “Then let’s go.”
*** *** ***
Soon after, I opened my storefront and became a real businessman, and he established a name in the underworld too. We always helped each other.
Sometimes he would run back to our rented apartment drenched in blood, and I would do some simple bandaging for him. Because of what he did for a living, I also got hit randomly when I went out.
Then one day, he asked me, “Do you know how to do construction projects? Our Boss has a construction project, do you want to do it for him?”
“Doesn’t he own a construction team?”
“The Boss thinks the project is too small and there is too little profit, so he’s unwilling to take it.”
But I was willing to do it.
I took the project and got all the money from government funding. Three out of ten went to the production cost, including materials, workers, and machines. Another three went into the pocket of the officials in the government to get the project approved, and another three was paid as a tribute to Chu Yuan Jiang’s boss, whose connections made all this possible, and whose shield I worked under. The last ten percent was the first bucket of gold in my life.
I used this money to register for a company and rent an office, and finally, everything got on the right track.
That year, I was twenty-four, and he was twenty-five.
He used his blood to clear the path ahead for me, and made me a way with no obstruction.
But l didn’t continue on the same path. I went back to my original field and stopped taking construction projects.
Chu Yuan Jiang fought with me over this at that time. Of course, I couldn’t suppress him physically. He grabbed my head and hit it on the wall, saying something’s wrong with my head for me to give up such great opportunities for no reason.
I remembered it clearly, at that time we already had some money. Both of us had brought an apartment, and we lived next door to each other. Chu just broke into my apartment and smashed everything he could.
I supported myself on the wall and fell on the sofa, my face bruised and scarred. “I can take construction projects right now only because those politicians higher up are lenient with me. But what if next time the person in the position doesn’t need me? Then they will try to get rid of me and I will suffer from it. This plan is not a long-term business; I am by no means doing it……”
He glared at me coldly, and I could almost see intense beams coming from his eyes. “This is what we are, and what we can make is this easy money. Take the chance while I can still protect you.”
I shook my head and sneered at him, “Have you seen the Forbes ranking? Every year, one of the top five guys would get thrown into jail. Today they earn easy money on this, and tomorrow they will get brought down by those jealous of them.”
Chu Yuan Jiang threw an ashtray at my head out of anger, and pointed at my nose, scolding, “Are you still a man or not? Where are your fúcking guts?”
It hit me and tore a bloody scar on my head, and I got furious suddenly, and shouted to him, “Who the fúck do you think you are? I don’t want to be your lackey forever motherfúcker, and follow you around! You have nothing to do with my fúcking business!”
That time Chu Yuan Jiang and I almost ended our friendship.
He moved away, sold the apartment, and didn’t tell me his new address.
After that, I no longer cared about his business, and he stopped minding mine either.
In the end, it’s me who surrendered and brought wines to apologize to him during the Spring Festival, when I finally met him again.
I didn’t know, but he moved into a new place that was much more splendid and fancy than the previous one. There were many people there for the festival. Everyone was calling him Brother Jiang.
Only then did I finally know Yuan Jiang had come to power and became the Boss now.
He gave me a look, seized the wine bottle, then kicked me out. When he shut the door, it almost hit my nose. I was so angry that I went to a bar to drink for the entire night, thinking I was so fúcking wrong about him. Fussing over such a tiny thing for so fúcking long, what a petty man.
But unexpectedly I saw him waiting in front of my door when I came back, and cigarette butts all over the floor. He stood up seeing me back, and stroked his forehead in embarrassment and explained, “Those were all underworld people. I know you are a legitimate businessman, it’s bad if they see you.”
I pounced on him to give him a bear hug.
He asked to my ear, “Do you blame me?”
I laughed, “Bullsh*t.”
*** *** ***
I was holding the steering wheel of the Cadillac, and Chu was sitting quietly next to me. That star at the corner of the sky secretly showed its face, even though the city lights dimmed it, I can vaguely tell it’s the same one as when I was sixteen.
I guess I must be getting old. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have recalled things that happened such a long time ago.
Just now, he asked me why I didn’t stay with him at that point.
What could I say? How could I say it?
I didn’t want to talk about this because this was my own wishful thinking. If Chu could, he would have understood everything a long time ago; if he couldn’t, it wouldn’t help even if I told him, so there was no point.
The night made his face looked somewhat surreal; it reminded me of a hero in his last days.
I drove for quite a while, thinking about it, and finally decided to tell him what I thought, “Since we went different ways, we should separate our businesses. In the future, if anything happened to you, I can still get you out of jail.”
I thought he’s gonna taunt me, but he just calmly commented, “Because you have known this ending since a long time ago?”
I didn’t know how to put it, so I remained silent.
What other endings could one expect for a gangster?
Although there were those who lived a prosperous life enjoyed unlimited wealth and power and died a peaceful death, there’s no guarantee in this world.
Even if he was young and reckless, and didn’t care about this, I did.
These years, Yuan Jiang had gotten his hand pretty dirty. Although when he went out, people called him Master Chu, and he drove fancy cars and lived in a grand house with a huge garden, but to put it bluntly, he was just a lackey for those powerful ones in the government. If there are something that’s not convenient for them to set hands on, then Chu would deal with it secretly and quietly under the table. The real power still lies in the hands of those masters above.
He seemed to be absorbed in memories too, “In the past, I always think that you’re too nice, too kind. A good friend and brother, but not the type of man to fight together. Now that I am getting old, I finally understand how thoughtful you were at that time.”
“Nah, you are exaggerating.”
“You stayed away from my business….is it because you want to give me somewhere to go back to?” He asked.
I didn’t expect this. After so many years, Chu finally understood my concerns, so all those beatings from misunderstanding I took were not in vain.
When we were young, we only knew shouting and screaming ‘you don’t understand,’ and let our fists fall on each other. Then we grew up and learned how to tolerate, to wait, and to sacrifice.
I said, “Not you.”
“US. I want to give us somewhere to go back to.”
I didn’t get married, refused to be serious about relationships, and just goofed around because there was a string in my heart that’s Chu Yuan Jiang. I didn’t know when he would need to quit, when he would need me, and when I need to sacrifice my life for him.
That’s what you do for brothers.
“Take it easy. I am always here for you.”
“Yeah, hope this time it’s just a false alarm.” He closed his eyes.
Chu is a true friend…and I totally understand those who hate Lin because of Chu. For Chu, Lin is the source of all the bad things that happen to him and Ou, and he has every reason to kill Ou and Lin’s relationship. For Lin, if Chu never exists or Ou cares about Chu less, they may have the chance for a perfect happy ending. It’s really interesting that we can interpret the story so differently from different perspectives. To be fair, nobody is innocent. Everybody got what they deserved in the end.
Next chapter we will go back to Ou and Lin’s honey moon, or, the calm before the storm.
Editor’s notes (Anike):
I really love the bromance, I’m kind of sad that Ou has this loyal guy by his side but can’t be with him. Also Chu how could you misunderstand for so many years and now that you might be going under understand. Guys if you have a friend like Chu just try and date them okay, you’ll save yourself a lot heartache.