Zhou Yan’s hometown was a small county town near mountains and rivers. The county town was surrounded by mountains behind it and a large river flowing slowly in front of it.
A few tall buildings could be seen along the way just as soon as they exited the highway, and as the car gradually drove towards the depths of the county town, most of the old buildings with a height of six or seven storeys could be seen.
They hadn’t had lunch yet.
Ning Junyan asked Chen Yuncheng, “What would you like to eat?”
Chen Yuncheng didn’t answer. He felt that he could eat anything, even if he had a bowl of noodles in a small noodle restaurant by the roadside, it didn’t matter, but he felt that it was too random and somewhat wrong to Ning Junyan.
“I’ll eat whatever you want,” Chen Yuncheng finally said to Ning Junyan.
Ning Junyan nodded. He slowed down and drove forward on the streets of the county town until he saw a well-decorated Chinese restaurant on the side of the road. He found a place to park the car and got out of the car with Chen Yuncheng to eat.
It was already past lunchtime, and there were obviously no customers in the restaurant, yet Ning Junyan still asked for a private room and sat at a small round table with Chen Yuncheng to eat.
“There are no small private rooms,” Ning Junyan said.
Chen Yuncheng rinsed the tableware with tea water1the tea water is usually provided free by the restaurant and Yuncheng may just want to make sure the tableware is clean and said, “This kind of Chinese restaurant generally doesn’t usually have a private room for two people.”
When putting the cleaned tableware and chopsticks on the table, Chen Yuncheng originally wanted to tell Ning Junyan that it must be hard for him to accompany him on this trip. However, before he could say anything, he was afraid that Ning Junyan would say something back to him that he wouldn’t be able to answer. So in the end he just gave up.
The dishes for lunch were ordered by Ning Junyan alone, a soup and three other dishes with meat and vegetables.
When the waiter brought the soup, Chen Yuncheng picked up the soup bowl in front of Ning Junyan and helped him fill it up. Ning Junyan kept his eyes on him and said softly, “Thank you.”
Chen Yuncheng had to say, “You’re welcome.”
After they finished eating, Chen Yuncheng asked the waiter to settle the bill, but the waiter told him that Ning Junyan had already settled the bill after ordering.
Chen Yuncheng felt a sense of powerlessness of having nowhere to move. When they came out of the restaurant, Chen Yuncheng stood on the side of the road and asked Ning Junyan, “Do you think I’m poor, that you didn’t regard me as an equal brother?”
Ning Junyan held the car key in his hand and wanted to pick up the car. When he heard Chen Yuncheng’s question, he turned to look at him and asked, “Why do you say that?”
Chen Yuncheng felt that he was being a bit unreasonable. He wouldn’t have minded these things in the past, and he wouldn’t have said them despite the awkwardness of the atmosphere, but he had been in a mess for the past two days, half because of Zhou Yan and the other half because of Ning Junyan. He couldn’t help but say, “You came so far with me to find Zhou Yan, and you didn’t even let me invite you for a meal? Do you think I can’t even afford to spend this amount of money?”
Ning Junyan’s expression was calm, and he replied, “I didn’t think about it that much. If you want to treat me to a meal, you can do it tonight.”
Chen Yuncheng was a little stunned by what he said and then said, “I’m sorry.”
Ning Junyan said, “Does it really matter?”
It didn’t really matter, and Chen Yuncheng didn’t know exactly what was going through his head. He laughed at himself and said, “It doesn’t matter, don’t pay attention to me. I’m in a bit of a mess.”
Ning Junyan asked him, “Is it because of Zhou Yan?”
Chen Yuncheng glanced at him and nodded without saying that it was also because of him.
Ning Junyan suddenly said, “You didn’t even think of looking for me when I left.”
Chen Yuncheng froze for a moment. At first, he didn’t react to Ning Junyan that said at the time he had left, and then he thought that maybe it was the year they got separated, and Chen Yuncheng was standing by, watching as Ning Junyan’s parents took him away.
Ning Junyan didn’t seem to need his answer, turned around and walked towards the parking place before he spoke, “I’ll get the car.”
Chen Yuncheng had somehow lost his temper with Ning Junyan and had been feeling bad about it. So after they got into the car again, he spoke in a gentler voice to the other party.
He found the address on Zhou Yan’s ID card and showed it to Ning Junyan, “Can you navigate here?”
Ning Junyan said, “I’ll try.”
It was the first time they had both come to this county, and they relied entirely on their mobile phone navigation to find their way.
Zhou Yan’s household registration address was in an old district courtyard on an old street in the county town. The car couldn’t drive in, so they could only park the car on the nearby street and walk over.
The neighbourhood didn’t have any access control, only a lazy old man sitting in the guard room watching TV.
The address on Zhou Yan’s ID card was detailed to the unit and house number. Chen Yuncheng went straight to the doorman, showed him Zhou Yan’s ID card, and asked him if he recognized this person.
The old man touched a pair of old-fashioned reading glasses on the table and set them on the bridge of his nose, looked at the ID card photo carefully, shook his head and said, “I don’t remember, but this address is really here.”
Chen Yuncheng asked him, “Then do you recognize this family?”
The old man looked at it carefully for a while and didn’t answer directly. He raised his head to look at Chen Yuncheng and Ning Junyan and asked, “Who are you?”
Chen Yuncheng said to him, “This Zhou Yan is a friend of ours. He returned to his hometown some time ago and could not be contacted. His son is sick again, so we came to find him.”
The old man said “oh” without any intention to press further and said, “I don’t know if this family is his family, but there are two couples living at this address; the male’s surname is Qi, the female’s surname is Li, and there is no surnamed Zhou. “
Ning Junyan asked, “How old are they?”
The old man said, “Almost fifty.”
Chen Yuncheng thanked the old man, walked into the neighbourhood with Ning Junyan, and planned to go to the family’s home and ask them in person.
“Have you met Zhou Yan’s parents?” Ning Junyan asked.
Chen Yuncheng shook his head, “He was sent back to his hometown by the police, and I haven’t seen his family.” And too many years had passed, and even if he had seen them when he was young, Chen Yuncheng probably didn’t remember what they looked like.
“He has a bad relationship with his family,” Chen Yuncheng said slowly, “He never talked to me about his parents.”
Ning Junyan was silent and did not speak.
The neighbourhood was not big, there were four old buildings in it. Chen Yuncheng found the unit building where Zhou Yan’s household was registered, went up to the third floor with Ning Junyan, and knocked on the door lightly after seeing the house number.
He wanted his appearance as unobtrusive as possible, at least to not scare Zhou Yan’s family.
The building was really old, the white walls and ceilings in the corridor had turned grey with dirt residue, and broken cobwebs could be seen in the corners.
Ning Junyan stood behind Chen Yuncheng, and neither of them was short. In the narrow and cramped stairwell, nothing but dimness and a sense of oppression could be felt.
Chen Yuncheng didn’t hear any movement in the room, so he knocked on the door twice with a little more force.
While waiting for a response, he turned his head to look at Ning Junyan, “Could they have gone to work? If you’re less than fifty years old, you probably haven’t retired yet, right?”
“Today is Saturday,” Ning Junyan told him.
Chen Yuncheng was not sure, “What about working overtime?”
Ning Junyan sidled past him to approach the door of the room and raised his hand to knock hard, “Maybe they just didn’t hear it.”
There was still no response from the room, but the resident next door heard the sound, opened the door a crack, and looked out vigilantly.
“Hello,” Chen Yuncheng asked before the older sister next door close the door, “Is this family at home?”
The older sister looked at him first, and then Ning Junyan, perhaps because she thought they didn’t look like bad people, so she replied, “Li jie went back to her parent’s house last week. I don’t know if Qi ge is here.”
Chen Yuncheng asked again, “Did you know that they have a son?”
The older sister frowned when she was asked, and after a while, she suddenly said, “You mean Zhou Yan?”
Chen Yuncheng and Ning Junyan looked at each other.
The older sister said, “Zhou Yan went out to work for many years and never came back.”
“Have you not seen him recently?” Chen Yuncheng asked.
The older sister shook her head, “I haven’t seen him since he left. It’s been many years.”
Chen Yuncheng thought about it and asked her, “Then do you know when Zhou Yan’s mother will be back? Or when is his father expected to be home?”
The older sister still shook her head, “I don’t know.” After she finished speaking, she was about to close the door.
Chen Yuncheng didn’t give up and asked quickly, “Then do you have the contact information of their family? Can you help me ask?”
The older sister didn’t seem very happy.
Chen Yuncheng said, “Please, jiejie.”
The older sister looked at him carefully and asked, “Who are you guys?”
Chen Yuncheng repeated what he said to the doorman.
The older sister listened and said, “The little one is sick, huh?” She seemed hesitant, “Then wait.” She took out her mobile phone and sent a WeChat message. After waiting for a reply after a few seconds, she raised her head and said to Chen Yuncheng, “Li jie said she will be back tomorrow morning, so why don’t you come over tomorrow morning?”
Chen Yuncheng instantly smiled and said, “Thank you.”
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