Chapter 45: Humbert Humbert Twelve

TL: QuantumC, Editor: IsaLee

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Fei Du’s forehead was covered in sweat, either from the hot weather or from the pain. His face was as pale as paper. He squeezed out from between his teeth: “Enough already.”

Luo Wenzhou stood on the side with a straight face good enough for a funeral. He only managed to keep it for two seconds though. Then, he burst out laughing his head off.

“Young man, you can’t live like this…” The orthopedic doctor kept on rambling as he treated Fei Du’s broken arm: “The terrible living habits are going to get you eventually. You young folks nowadays are all nocturnal animals who never exercise. All you want to do is lay there and play video games. How can you stay healthy this way? I’m curious, what is so fun about video games? Trust me, don’t think that because you are young it’s okay. There are many people in their twenties or thirties who have osteoporosis…”

Fei Du choked on the illegitimate accusation speechlessly — he had never played video games in the middle of the night.

Fei Du crashed into another car at an intersection on Chenguang Road. The other driver was a rookie who just got his license two months ago. That brother was dug out and sent away in an ambulance. Accordingly, he was unfamiliar with the signs, took a wrong turn, and somehow found himself going in the opposite direction against the current. Then he saw Fei Du’s towering SUV approaching. Panicked, he mistook the gas pedal for the break — such was the conclusion from the traffic police officer.

In summary, the cause of the accident was 1) crappy driving school, and 2) Fei Du’s bad luck.

It could have been worse. But luckily for him, the car that he drove today had excellent safety features. He was quick to break too. So the other car ended up with more damage while he escaped in one piece — even his glasses were intact.

…But perhaps the praise should go to the glasses for being extra durable. Because comparatively, Director Fei’s expensive body wasn’t so durable. His left arm was fractured by the discharged airbag.

Fei Du insisted that it must have been because of the awkward angle that the arm was stuck in.

What’s worse — god knows what shitty luck he was getting that day — this rare embarrassing moment of his was witnessed by that doofus jerk, Luo Wenzhou.

Luo Wenzhou accompanied him in a night trip at the hospital. After hearing the conditions of Fei Du’s injury, he held up Fei Du’s heroic glasses and couldn’t stop laughing. The stress from work lately was completely wiped out.

“Doctor, these little hooligans of the bourgeoisie class don’t play video games. They go out and party, day and night.” Luo Wenzhou gladly rubbed it in, “Look at his face…look how frail he is. That’s the proof of his abjective and rotten lifestyle.”

The old doctor opened his dragonfly-like eyes even wider. Through the reading glasses, he studied Fei Du’s vampire face closely, then said: “Hmmm…you have a point.”

Fei Du: “…”

“Here, I will secure it for you today. The fracture is not very serious. You can come back to remove the cast in two days. Remember not to engage in too much physical activity. No smoking, no drinking, no sexual intercourse.” The old doctor advised him earnestly. “Also, you need to take some calcium regularly, young man! Otherwise, in ten years, you will be as brittle as a crispy cucumber.”

That last sentence somehow had Luo Wenzhou in stitches again. He laughed so hard as if the joke was good enough for the rest of his life. All the way until the two got back in the car and he was driving Fei Du home, Luo Wenzhou still occasionally burst out laughing.

Fei Du thought him pathetic: how boring and pitiful Captain Luo’s life must have been for him to have such a low taste of humor?

They both had appointments to go to originally — one with Dr. Bai and one with Chief Lu — but both had to bail out because of the incident.

“Turn left at the … you missed it.” Fei Du rolled his eyes impatiently, “Grandpa, do you know how to follow the GPS?”

“Oh, I’m planning to abduct you. Didn’t you notice? I’ve secured a buyer already.” Luo Wenzhou continued in the wrong direction, and drove all the way into the parking lot of a shopping center. He parked the car and waved at Fei Du: “Come. The buyer is waiting to inspect what he paid for.”

“Would you please dress me up nicer before selling?” Fei Du looked down sourly at his wrinkled shirt, then tried to move. There were probably a million bruises on his body, because it hurt everywhere. So he decided to stay put. He feebly said, “You might have to bring the buyer here. I can’t walk.”

Luo Wenzhou didn’t argue further. He sneered at his exaggerated fake-fainting and got off the car, leaving the man more fragile than a glass frame alone in the car.

Fei Du thought Luo Wenzhou had something else to take care of, and was simply offering him a ride home along the way. Hence, he saw himself in no position to demand better service and didn’t mind being left behind.

He slid the front passenger seat further back, taking up more than half of the car. Half laid down and amidst the ceaseless pain, he closed his eyes and started thinking about the car accident.

Misreading the sign, and mistaking the gas pedal for the break… these things were not uncommon. And no one could truly tell whether the driver was really acting in confusion or whether it was intentional.

The only difference is that the latter is a murder, while the former is an accident.

Seeing it this way, cars were really the most convenient and effective murder weapons.

Just when Fei Du was wandering in random thoughts and close to passing out, the lock of the car clicked. Luo Wenzhou was back.

Fei Du’s eyes landed on him casually. Then, in shock, he realized that Luo Wenzhou was holding a cake in his hand. The paper box was covered with stupid cartoon characters and candles.

Fei Du scooted towards the other side of the car, as if what Luo Wenzhou was holding wasn’t a birthday cake but a bomb.

“What, you’ve never seen a cake before? Why so timid? The cake is not going to harass you…” Luo Wenzhou put the cake box away carefully, “The brother handling your car accident took down your ID. Now don’t tell me your birthday on the ID is fake.”

Fei Du was now more stiff than the cast on his arm. His whole body was in an unstable emergency state, ready to jump off the moving car anytime.

In the end, he didn’t. With Luo Wenzhou’s eccentric song mix of folk, pop, and Chinese traditional singing playing in the background, Fei Du remained in that tense and unstable state the whole way until Luo Wenzhou finally parked the car outside of his apartment.

“The doctor said that you need complete abstinence: no smoking, no drinking, and no sex. Let me see your cast. Now, I say you ditch any plan about going out tonight and have a taste of the dull – but healthy – old man lifestyle with this old man right here.” Luo Wenzhou raised his chin, “Get off.”

Fei Du gave him a perplexing look. Shortly after, he slowly picked up the aching arm with the other one, and moved out of the car like a real handicapped person.

He walked too slowly. Luo Wenzhou had to stop many times to wait: “Seriously, my lord? Luckily I live on the first floor. Otherwise I might have to carry you up…”

Fei Du didn’t talk back.

He was like a cat that had accidentally stepped into another’s territory. Every single vertebra on him was tense. One baby step at a time, he moved towards the entrance of Luo Wenzhou’s apartment. As soon as the door opened, the “master of the house” poked out its long-awaiting little head and scouted out.

Luo Wenzhou shooed: “Get inside, Luo Yiguo. Don’t block the way.”

Luo Yiguo’s line of sight was blocked by the big box in his hand. Mistaking it for some novel tribute from Mr. Litter-cleaner, it shamelessly stood up on its back feet and tried to reach up. Luo Wenzhou adeptly knocked those paws away. Luo Yiguo landed on all fours. Annoyed, it meowed angrily at him. At that time, it finally saw that there was someone else at the door. A stranger.

Fei Du and Luo Yiguo looked at each other. Fei Du was the more contained one. He only took a small step back. Luo Yiguo, on the other hand, completely freaked out. It made a horrible shriek that was not like any sound a cat would make. It clawed the floor with all four limbs, its head lowered and its back arched, ready to attack at any time.

Holding this aggressive posture, it studied Fei Du for another moment. Then, without hesitation or warning, it abandoned post and dashed under the sofa.

Luo Wenzhou: “…”

He felt ashamed for having raised such a wimp.

“No need to change your shoes.” Luo Wenzhou pointed to the sofa: “Make yourself at home. Ah, I never knew this cat could be so shy. Last time someone came over, it begged to be petted the whole time. I guess it’s just you — Luo Yiguo, get the hell out of there! Don’t you dare get all dusty and then wipe it on my bed, you little shithead!”

Luo Yiguo was playing dead, motionless.

Luo Wenzhou yelled at the sofa: “Are you going to eat or not?”

Looked like he got it this time. Two whiskers carefully inched out from the slit beneath the cushions. But immediately it smelled the stranger and retracted right away.

Comrade Luo Yiguo was so scared that even food couldn’t lure it.

Luo Wenzhou gave up. He opened a can of wet food, left it next to the cat bowl, and then dug out a can of candy from the cabinet and threw it at Fei Du who was sitting upright in all seriousness on the sofa: “See if it’s still edible. I’ll go throw some dishes together. For the record, I don’t plan on pleasing some majesty here. You’ll eat whatever I make. No whining.”

To his surprise, Fei Du didn’t argue back this time. He sat there so squarely as if what was beneath his bottom was the ‘roof of the world’ itself instead of a sofa.

Long after Luo Wenzhou was gone, Fei Du struggled to open the candy can with one hand. There were many kinds of sweets inside, probably from some variety packs from the Spring Festival. Some of the chocolates melted into odd shapes, which was not inviting at all…The bottom layer was a box of toffee. It was the ancient kind, wrapped in cheap and colorful wax paper, and very chewy. He remembered this taste.

Fei Du took out one toffee slowly and opened the wrap with the help of his teeth. Candy in mouth, he looked towards the kitchen. The range hood was roaring, and the sound of the knife hitting the chopping board was rhythmic and comforting. He could get a glimpse of Luo Wenzhou’s back from time to time.

Luo Wenzhou said “throw something together”, but was actually making a good effort. In a very short time, he finished several meat and vegetable dishes. He put the birthday cake in the middle. Then, after a short hesitation, he lit a candle.

Luo Wenzhou looked up and accidentally caught Fei Du’s eyes. So he explained, with a dry mouth: “What are you looking at? I’m not singing the birthday song… Are you going to make a wish? Something like ‘No car accident at next year’s birthday’ counts too.”

Fei Du curtly answered: “Okay.”

The two stared at the chubby cartoonish candle in awkward silence. The air in the room stalled, as if they were bidding a solemn farewell to the years that had passed.

Luo Wenzhou immediately regretted the idea: “Go ahead and blow it out, quickly. This is too retarded.”

There were many types of fancy cakes in the world, and Fei Du had almost tasted them all. Only birthday cakes were unfamiliar. The last time he had it was many many years ago, when he was very little. There were a lot of guests in the room that day —  the birthday was basically a show for the guests. He only got to have a thin slice of that expensive cake as a token. Then it was taken away. The next day he looked for it again, it was gone — because the cream wasn’t fresh anymore.

Honestly, what difference was there between birthday cakes and regular cakes other than a couple of small holes in the cream topping left by the candles? But Fei Du kept thinking that the taste was different.

Luo Wenzhou was a good cook. The only imperfection of the meal was that there was no wine. Captain Luo followed the doctor’s advice religiously, and only gave him a packet of calcium-boosted breakfast milk.

For some middle-aged man, giving too many speeches to subordinates in the office made it hard for them not to bring the condescending lecturing style to his wife and kid on the dinner table. Little Luo Wenzhou hated his father’s lecturing before dinner. But ironically, the habit was contagious. Normally, when he had dinner with no one but Luo Yiguo, the disease was in the incubation period. Today, with Fei Du on the table it finally broke out.

“Another year,” Luo Wenzhou poured the microwaved milk into a glass and pushed it in front of Fei Du. Then, just like his father, he started on the tirade: “I don’t mean to intrude, but it’s about time you live a more serious and responsible life. Otherwise, where is the end of this vacant extravagance? The affluence should lead you to pursue something meaningful, something sublime, rather than laying on the gold mountain like a salted fish. Young people need to have a purpose in life, or you’ll get in trouble sooner or later.”

Fei Du was new to this kind of traditional Chinese parenting talk. He bit on a meatball, and listened with a lot of interest.

Luo Wenzhou continued: “It is only human nature to go after easy pleasure. However, once these needs are satisfied, you must pursue something higher, such as the sense of achievement, or self-actualization. If you indulge in low-level squandering, you are only hypnotizing yourself — before long, you will start to feel the anxiety from the emptiness. Maybach for today, Bugatti for tomorrow… Sure, you can buy them all, but can they really solve the inner conflict and ease the aching deep down in your soul?”

“No, they can’t.” Fei Du slowly swallowed the fried meatball, then said, “But the ache of not being able to buy them is obviously more tangible.”

“…” Luo Wenzhou glared at him, but was surprised to see that Fei Du’s eyes were smiling. He was joking, although the joke sounded a bit too hurtful. Luo Wenzhou said, “Do you talk back to your parents like this when they give dinner table lectures? In my family, spoiled brats like you would be ordered to write a self-criticism essay in the hallway. Forget about the food.”

Hearing this, Fei Du seemed to have been reminded of something. The little smile on his face faded. He paused for a while, then suddenly said: “In my family, no one talked during dinner, unless there was a guest. Otherwise, my dad very rarely ate with us. My mom’s moods were not very stable. Sometimes she’d have a meltdown in the middle of a meal, leaving everything broken. Sometimes she’d suddenly start crying on the dinner table.”

Luo Wenzhou didn’t know what to say.

“Eating at home was a risky business.” Fei Du shrugged, “A peaceful dinner once in a while was like winning the lottery.”

Luo Wenzhou pondered. Then, instead of condoling him, he commented casually, “Sounds quite terrible. I don’t know if it’s worse than writing the self-criticizing essay though.”

Fei Du raised a brow.

“Seriously, imagine squatting in the hallway behind a stool as your desk, and facing your own door. Back then in the summer people only shut the mosquito screen and kept the doors open for ventilation. So everyone could see who is up to what from the outside — and the neighbors were all your parents’ colleagues. Everyone who walks by you would give you this look, and ask in pity: ‘Oh kid, what have you done this time?’ It’s an utter insult to your integrity as a person.”

Fei Du chuckled.

Luo Wenzhou was about to say more, but suddenly, his cell phone rang. It was a call from the office. Luo Wenzhou was a little surprised. Somehow he had a bad feeling about it.

“Hey,” Tao Ran was panting, “Captain Luo! Just now Chang Ning and her family reported to the police station in her neighborhood, saying that Chen Chen went missing!”

His cellphone was very loud. Fei Du heard it too.

Luo Wenzhou asked: “When? Where? Calm down. It might not be related.”

“She went for her painting lessons at the YMCA today. Chang Ning sent her there at noon. In the evening, her parents asked her to wait inside for half an hour and her dad would pick her up after work. Their class … at around 4:30 pm, her dad called her and she was still in the painting room then. At a little past five, when he arrived, she was gone.”

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