Chapter 88 – Childhood Memories
Wei Chen looked at the small wooden box on the coffee table, pondering if Chen Li intentionally placed it there for him. He wondered what was inside the box and if it had any relation to him.
Doubts crept into Wei Chen’s mind one by one, but he couldn’t find any answers. In his recollection, he first met Chen Li in the attic of Chen’s house, where the young man had stayed for an unknown period of time during the hot summer without air conditioning. The first time they met, Chen Li fainted in front of him.
At that time, Chen Li was as fragile as a piece of paper, as if he could faint at any moment.
Now, recalling those memories, Wei Chen’s heart would ache uncontrollably, feeling immense pain for Chen Li.
Wei Chen’s gaze grew slightly darker, but when it landed on the piece of paper on the coffee table, the gloom in his heart slowly dissipated.
Wei Chen walked over to the sofa, sat down, and reverently picked up the paper from the table.
It was a small paper with only four words written on it: “Achen Ge Ge” (Brother Achen).
Apart from these simple four words, there was also a simple sketch of two little boys—one with a serious expression, and the other looking vacant. However, the atmosphere between the two appeared harmonious. They were sitting together on a grassy field, with a round marble rolling between them.
Wei Chen stared at the paper, his hand trembling uncontrollably. The most beautiful memories deeply buried within his mind suddenly came flooding back, and his eye sockets were instantly filled with tears.
Trembling, Wei Chen reached out to take the small wooden box from the coffee table. Although it was obviously light, Wei Chen felt as if it weighed a thousand pounds. With great care and trembling hands, he opened the box, revealing a round marble resting silently inside. Time had not left any marks on the marble; it was washed clean, free of any dust, a testament to the owner’s care.
For a moment, Wei Chen didn’t know what he was feeling—surprise, joy, nostalgia… Various emotions surged, ultimately converging into a single thought in Chen Li’s heart: “So, you were the little boy from back then.”
It was the day of Chen family’s celebration, attended by influential figures from the military, politics, and business circles of Shanghai.
Wei Chen, who had just turned ten years old this year, was the grandson personally nurtured by the Wei family’s patriarch. Naturally, Old Master Wei brought Wei Chen along to experience such grand occasions.
However, Wei Chen didn’t actually enjoy such gatherings. The scenes of mutual flattery felt too artificial, making him feel stifled. So, while Old Master Wei and the head of the Chen family exchanged pleasantries, Wei Chen secretly slipped away from the banquet hall and headed towards the Chen family’s backyard. The main residence of the Chen family in Shanghai was an antique mansion with a large grassy backyard. In the midst of summer, the grass was adorned with vibrant flowers, truly beautiful.
Taking a deep breath in the backyard, Wei Chen felt his lungs fill with the fragrance of flowers, dispelling the stuffiness he had felt in the front hall.
Wei Chen walked along the cobblestone path on the grassland, and soon he spotted a slender figure sitting by the roadside, alone and lost in thought.
Wei Chen had gotten used to being alone. When he was at the Wei family, Grandpa was strict, and Wei Chen didn’t have any playmates. He attended classes alone, finished classes alone. Even on weekends, he spent his time in various training sessions, never having personal time or close friends. But Wei Chen had grown accustomed to it, and he didn’t mind being alone. However, when he saw the lonely figure in the distance among the bushes, Wei Chen inexplicably walked towards that person.
The frail figure in the bushes remained unaware that someone was approaching and continued playing with something.
Wei Chen approached and crouched down next to the boy. Upon closer inspection, the boy appeared even weaker and more emaciated up close, as if a gust of wind could blow him away. His face was dirty, resembling a mud monkey.
“Hello, I’m Wei Chen,” Wei Chen introduced himself proactively.
But the boy seemed not to hear and continued playing with the mud, oblivious to everything. Just then, a small ant crawled onto the boy’s face, and feeling itchy, the boy wiped his face with his hand. The already dirty face became even dirtier, making it difficult to discern any facial features.
Seeing that the boy ignored him, Wei Chen wasn’t upset. Perseverance was one thing Wei Chen never lacked, and he felt determined to get the boy’s attention.
Wei Chen thought silently, considering ways to engage the boy. He remembered seeing marbles in a fish tank in the hall earlier. Wei Chen stood up and with his little shoes making a clattering sound on the cobblestone path, he hurried back to the banquet hall. He found a waiter and asked them to retrieve a few marbles for him. Then, with the same clattering sound of his shoes, he ran back to the backyard, relieved to see that the boy was still there. Wei Chen took a deep breath and approached the boy once again.
Instead of initiating conversation, Wei Chen found a stone and placed the marbles on the grass. He used the stone to hit the marbles, creating a small indentation in the grass.
Then, Wei Chen drew a line in the distance and stood behind it, tossing the marbles. Normally, the marbles should have been thrown into the small indentation he had made earlier. However, Wei Chen deliberately threw them at the boy.
As he threw the first marble, the boy didn’t react. Wei Chen spoke to the boy, saying, “Hello. Can you throw the marble back to me?”
Still, the boy showed no response and continued playing with the mud.
Wei Chen was puzzled. Why wouldn’t the boy acknowledge him? So, he approached the boy once again, wanting to see what the boy was doing. Upon closer inspection, Wei Chen couldn’t take his eyes off what the boy was doing.
The boy was drawing on the mud with a tree branch. The mud wasn’t very soft, making it a bit difficult for the boy to draw, but the result had a captivating quality that drew Wei Chen’s gaze to the image on the mud. After the boy finished a stroke, Wei Chen couldn’t help but exclaim, “Your drawing is amazing! It looks great!”
Perhaps Wei Chen’s words touched something within the boy. Finally, the boy looked up at Wei Chen, pursed his lips, and nodded as if to say thank you.
Feeling the boy’s gratitude, Wei Chen continued, “I really think your drawings are fantastic. When you grow up, you’ll definitely become a great artist.”
At that moment, Wei Chen had no idea that his innocent words had left a deep impression on the boy’s heart. Even if he had to go hungry later, the boy would continue to draw, persistently and passionately.
The little boy had been encouraged and continued to diligently draw, while Wei Chen squatted beside him, watching him draw stroke by stroke. His thoughts were captivated by the boy’s artwork until the boy finished the final stroke, and Wei Chen snapped back to reality. Praising words automatically slipped out of his mouth, “Your drawing is really amazing!”
The boy pursed his lips and didn’t reply, but his face, covered in mud, seemed to light up.
“Do you want to keep drawing?” Wei Chen asked, although his expression was neutral, his gaze was sincere, devoid of any mockery.
The boy stared blankly at Wei Chen, lost in his own thoughts.
Wei Chen presented the marbles in front of the boy and said, “How about we play marbles?”
The boy looked at the marbles in Wei Chen’s hand, his eyes filled with confusion.
“Let me teach you how to play,” Wei Chen said, stepping outside the line he had drawn earlier. He continued, “Look, I stand here, and then I toss the marble into that small hole. If it goes in with one toss, I win. If neither of us gets it in, we play marbles to see who gets it in first. The winner is the one who succeeds.” With that, Wei Chen threw the marble, a game he had just come up with, unsure if the boy would like it.
The marble thrown by Wei Chen didn’t land in the small hole but rolled to the side, not too far away, appearing somewhat regrettable. However, Wei Chen didn’t feel that way and took out another marble to hand it to the boy.
The boy stared at the marble in a daze, and just when Wei Chen thought the boy wouldn’t reach out, the boy’s hand trembled as he tentatively extended it, taking the marble from Wei Chen’s hand, his hand trembling while receiving it.
“Come on, stand here,” Wei Chen called the boy to his side.
The boy glanced at Wei Chen, then at the marble in his hand, and slowly, hesitantly, walked to Wei Chen’s side. “Toss the marble in your hand,” Wei Chen instructed.
With a single word from Wei Chen, the boy made a single motion, and the marble flew out of the boy’s hand, perhaps due to the boy’s exceptionally good luck, as the marble landed perfectly in the small hole.
“You’re amazing! You won!” Wei Chen praised without hesitation.
The boy’s lips pursed, forming a small, subtle smile, but unfortunately, Wei Chen didn’t catch it.
Wei Chen, unwilling to admit defeat, played several more rounds with the boy. The goddess of luck wouldn’t favor one of them indefinitely, and after a few rounds, both of them had won and lost. Unbeknownst to Wei Chen, he had become just like the mud-covered boy, something he had never done before due to his strict upbringing by his grandfather and considering such play childish. But today, when he met this little boy, Wei Chen cast aside all reservations and played with the boy freely. Although his facial muscles were naturally weaker than others, and he couldn’t smile, at this moment, his eyes were filled with pure joy. However, from that moment until Wei Chen’s death, such unbridled joy never appeared in his eyes again.
The two children got along well and played to their hearts’ content, completely oblivious to the danger approaching them. When Wei Chen threw the marble in his hand, a cloth soaked in a strong-smelling substance was pressed against his nose and mouth. In a daze, he saw that the little boy was experiencing the same fate as him.
After that, Wei Chen lost consciousness.