Lu Changze guarded a black school bag in front of him as he walked through the crowded train with difficulty. He bought a regular ticket and the journey was long.
He was surrounded by people going back home just in time for the Spring Festival. There were a lot of people and on a journey lasting more than 10 hours, most had no more energy and had to find a place to rest, whether leaning or lying down.
Lu Changze had one hand on his school bag and the other was holding an instant cup noodle.
He was going to the other end of the carriage to get some hot water as he was a little hungry.
He hasn’t eaten since he got onto the train.
After finally getting some hot water, Lu Changze didn’t dare to fill it up too much. He covered the cup of instant noodles, turned around with difficulty and squeezed into the smoking area, standing next to the toilet.
It was a cramped place to eat noodles.
Lu Changze ate very quickly. He had to finish eating quickly. There were too many people in the carriage and most of the passengers were migrant workers. Some looked honest and some did not look like good people. He did not want to cause trouble, not to mention… There were so many people, so it was awkward eating slowly. In two or three bites, he finished the mostly-uncooked noodles.
It was difficult to throw the instant noodle packaging into the garbage bin.
After eating, he found a place where he could stand and barely squeezed in. There were other people’s luggage beside him, but Lu Changze did not mind.
He just hugged the black schoolbag in his arms tightly and leaned his dirty head on the shaking carriage as he watched the scenery whistling by outside the carriage.
Lu Changze is thirty-seven. A man of this age should have started a family long ago, but he didn’t. What Lu Changze has gained at this age are only the wrinkles in the corner of his eyes and a heart that no longer beats for any reason apart from sustaining his life, as well as the $150,000 of cash notes in his bag. That was all he had.
He bought a ticket at the station, but in fact Lu Changze didn’t know where he was going to get off. He didn’t know which city he would settle down in for the rest of his life.
The train is heading south. The further south, the hotter the weather, so the thick down jacket on his body is already starting to make him feel hot but Lu Changze didn’t want to take it off. It was too troublesome so he’ll just keep wearing it as he doesn’t want to move. It’s hard to even turn around in this place.
What’s more, he was carrying a huge sum of money with him.
The train came to a slow stop and Lu Changze looked out the window. There were few people on the platform. Not many people were getting off the train.
The small station didn’t even have a decent platform and through the simply built white platform signs, one could see the lush mountains and forests.
The train bell was already ringing and Lu Changze hurriedly squeezed out of the crowd. He got off the moment the train door closed.
I’m here, he thought.
When he got out of the station, he realised that the platform was really small. Xuan Qi was a city that hardly appeared on the map. He only took two steps when it started to rain again.
Lu Changze quickly put on his hat, but the rain was getting heavier and heavier so he had no choice but to find a nearby noodle shop. He sneaked in and ordered a bowl of noodles. He hugged his school bag as he ate, waiting for the rain to stop.
The noodles from the shop next to the train station were not good, and they were expensive. However, Lu Changze has always been a person who likes to get his money’s worth.
As such, he even held the bowl and downed the soup. When he put it down and looked at the empty bowl, Lu Changze sneered silently at himself.
The rain had stopped and the streets were muddy. There was a puddle of murky water and he stepped on it. His blue and white shoes had now become a pair of dirty black ones. He was speechless.
Walking down the street, Lu Changze looked up and around. The surrounding shops were disorderly and most of them were dilapidated. Especially after it had just rained heavily.
The other pedestrians on the street were in groups of twos and threes. There weren’t many cars. Most were probably at home and at around four or five in the evening, most shops will be closed
The lights of every residential building were now turned on. Over here, most people lived on the second floor of the shophouses, with the shops below.
Lu Changze stopped on the road. He looked at the house lights that were gradually increasing and was lost in thought. A line of lyrics suddenly came to mind, but he couldn’t remember who sang it.
Tens of thousands of lights. The more one sees, the more lonelier they will be.
He found a cheap, small hotel and paid for a room to stay in for a night. It cost 69 yuan a night. The room was barely enough to fit a bed and a small wall-mounted TV. There was also a tiny standing shower with half a mirror next to it. After entering the room and locking the door, Lu Changze heaved a sigh of relief before placing his backpack on the bed that he had been carrying for more than 20 hours. He then took off his dirty shoes and put on the dark blue plastic slippers that had been worn by countless people who had previously stayed in this hotel before taking off his down jacket.
His socks were already so wet and they could no longer be worn, so he simply balled them up and threw them into a garbage bag. He sat on the bed for a while, got up and went to the shower room to wash up. He tried to turn on the hot water twice but the shower was still more cold than it was hot. At least it was not too cold and Lu Changze was alright with it.
Turning around to take off his clothes, he froze when he saw himself in the mirror.
The middle-aged man in the mirror was very haggard, with chunks of hair sticking to his head. The lenses of his glasses were covered with dust and oil stains.
Lu Changze tried to show a flattering expression by smiling but the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes immediately became obvious.
Lu Changze was too used to this flattering and humble expression in the reflection. He has lived with this expression for thirty-seven years.
The corners of his mouth were raised even higher and Lu Changze laughed silently so much that he couldn’t straighten his waist. His hands were in the mirror and tears came out of his laughter.
When Lu Changze laughed enough, he slipped down and sat down on the ground. The bathroom room was too narrow and his falling body turned on the tap of the shower. The warm water completely drenched him from head to toe.
Before Lu Changze could close his laughing mouth, he was forced to take a big gulp of water, which made him cough.
After getting up and turning down the water, Lu Changze took off his wet clothes and threw them on the ground, humming a song while taking a bath.
After taking a shower, he simply wiped himself. Lu Changze looked at the wet and dirty clothes piled up on the ground and sighed. He only had one set of clothes.
Ah, there was nothing in this shitty hotel, so he won’t be able to dry his clothes before tomorrow after washing them. Lu Changze rubbed his hair vigorously with a towel and resigned himself to doing laundry using boiled water.
He wrung out his clothes and hung them in the small cabinet at the corner of the bed. After finishing, he picked up his school bag and fell asleep soundly.
Xuan Qi is a prefecture-level city and the city is very small. There were only three bus routes. Route one, two, and three respectively. The third route was considered a bus route but actually cost two more yuan.
It takes one and a half hours to drive to Pingzhou, a relatively large city nearby. Xuan Qi is actually a city under Pingzhou and taking route one or two will allow one to cross between the two cities.
Xuan Qi is still in early development and the pace of life here is very slow. Lu Changze was content eating takeaway and watching TV.
He has stayed here for five years.
After staying in that small hotel for more than ten days, he purchased a small shop near the route one bus terminal. The shop was not very big, and it was roughly 20 square meters but Lu Changze was very satisfied. After he sold many orders, he made it into a small self-running shop and got a computer to be the cash register. He went to collect the money from the cash register every day.
He lounged around, watched TV, played games and surfed the Internet for the entire day while the small shop ran itself with about seventy to eighty people coming by per day.
After deducting the cost, he could only earn two or three meals a day, but Lu Changze is quite satisfied. As long as he didn’t starve to death, Lu Changze was living a pretty good life now and he was happy.
When it’s time, Lu Changze pulled down the shutter door of the shop and put the key in his pocket. He walked home slowly on a path diverging two ways. He walked to an old residential building and walked up to the third floor to find his house. Yes, the location of Lu Changze’s house was very convenient and close by.
He bought a small house and it was enough for a single man to live in. Lu Changze opened the door, changed his shoes, went in, lay down on the sofa, and covered himself with the blanket that was always on the sofa. The sofa was small but very soft. Lu Changze hummed twice in satisfaction and fell asleep.
When he woke up, he took his phone out and looked at it. At two o’clock in the morning, Lu Changze got up, turned on the light and opened the refrigerator to find something to eat. The house is small and there is no kitchen.
In the studio, there is only a small area behind the sofa for preparing food and eating.
Lu Changze rummaged for the only instant noodles he had left. He took out the pot and turned on the gas, tore open two packets and put them in. After beating two eggs, he put them in front of the pot.
He watched quietly. From time to time, he would use his chopsticks to stir them twice. The sound of gurgling in the pot was very random and it stood out in the quiet room in the middle of the night. Reassured, Lu Changze turned off the fire and started to eat directly using the pot on the wooden table in front of the sofa. The weather was a bit cold but the instant noodles were steaming.
The glasses Lu Changze was wearing were covered with white mist. He took off his glasses, took a big mouthful of noodles and stuffed it into his mouth to eat. After being hungry, his mouth was full of food. It was a very fulfilling feeling as the soft instant noodles could be swallowed without much chewing. Lu Changze finished it in two or three bites. In fact, he likes it
Lu Changze put the finished entire pot and put it in the sink next to the gas stove before returning to nest on the sofa. He always eats cleanly, and only leaves some soup bases. It’s late at night, so he didn’t want to wash the dishes.
He took his mobile phone from the side and searched for a movie to watch. After watching it, the sky was bright. His days in Xuan Qi were very comfortable. There were a lot of movies and he had a lot of time to do what he wanted.
Lu Changze was sitting behind the cashier and catching up on a show. Aunt Liu who lived across the street came down to do some shopping and bought a bunch of things. Lu Changze
paused the screen and recorded the stock.
Aunt Liu is an old lady with a round face. She talks a lot. Every time she comes to buy something, she always hopes that Lu Changze can give her a cheaper price. This has been going on for a while.
Lu Changze would occasionally charge her less for a pack of vinegar and the two of them saw each other every once in a while. Seeing that Aunt Liu had bought a lot of beer, Lu Changze casually asked
“Aunt Liu, someone in town? Buying so much beer, will you be able to carry it?”
“Yes, don’t judge my appearance. I am strong!” Aunt Liu said while putting the alcohol in the canvas bag she carried with her, “You don’t know about it yet? I’ll tell you.”
As she spoke, she got closer and said mysteriously, “Our area is going to be demolished. I have a relative who works in a real estate company in Pingzhou. According to internal information, their company is responsible for the compensation for our demolition. I heard that the company is big and can pay a lot of money. Young Lu, don’t underestimate the small size of the shop. You’ll be able to make a lot of money by getting the compensation later!”
Speaking enviously, she looked at the small shop owner.
Lu Changze pushed his glasses up and helped Aunt Liu put the things into her bag, “It’s nothing to worry about. They said that they would demolish it last year but they didn’t. Aunt Liu, don’t take it too seriously. That’ll be 57 yuan in total.”
“Believe it or not, it’ll be different this time. My relative is still at my house and they were still talking about it today. I think it’ll proceed this time.”
“After two months, everyone will find out. Let’s not talk about it now. Get moving.”
Aunt Liu paid the money and took the things and went back beaming. Lu Changze took the
Money and placed it into the bag he always carried with him. He sat back in the chair and continued to watch the TV series, not taking Aunt Liu’s words to heart.
After spring began, Lu Changze found that more people were coming to this area. From a glance, one could tell they were not local. They came to judge and compare the houses here. They were the same people from last time and he now believes Aunt Liu’s words. It seems that this area is soon to be demolished.
It was completely dark outside but Lu Changze hadn’t closed his shop and went back home. Today, he watched the drama he hoarded some time ago and the plot was not bad.
He didn’t stop until he finished it. Usually, he closes at six or seven o’clock, but today it was way after ten o’clock. After watching the show, he took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He got ready to get up and collect his money but saw someone coming in to get something out of the corner of his eye. The cash register was a bit tall, so he didn’t see it clearly.
The visitor took a bottle of mineral water and put it on the cash register without saying a word. Lu Changze stood up and looked down at the hand holding the water in surprise.
After the other person took the most expensive water in the shop, Lu Changze raised his head, “Four yuan…”
Their eyes met and Lu Changze was stunned.
Gu Xiu’s hand holding his wallet paused and he recovered after a while, “Lu Changze, I didn’t expect to see you here.”
There were no ups and downs in his voice.
He took out a 50 yuan note from his wallet and handed it over. Only then did Lu Changze snap out of it. He took the money and put it in his bag. He then found some change and passed it to him.
Gu Xiu took the money but did not keep the coin that Lu Changze gave him. It was too troublesome to keep such a small change, so he put the rest of his change inside his wallet, took his water and left the small shop.
Lu Changze saw a car parked on the other side of the street with the light from the small shop to the door. It was dark and only the outline of the car could be seen. Gu Xiu got into the car and drove away.
Lu Changze withdrew his gaze, glanced at a coin left on the cash register, reached out to take it and put it in his bag. He then turned off the computer and lights, closed the door and went back home.
Gu Xiu drove the car a long way before turning around and driving back. By that time, the small shop was already closed. Gu Xiu looked at the small shop through the car window and smoked a stick of cigarette before driving away again.
Lu Changze came back and changed his shoes. He took off his coat as usual and lay down on the sofa. He put his arms over his eyes before getting up from the sofa after a while.
After entering the narrow bathroom and taking a shower, he lay down on the bed wearing a tank top and shorts, ready to go to sleep. However, he ended up tossing and turning until 4:00 in the morning, unable to sleep.
Unexpectedly, Lu Changze simply turned over and sat up, turned on the light, took the sketchbook beside him and started drawing.
After drawing, it was already eight o’clock the next morning. Lu Changze felt drowsy then, so he casually threw the book and pen on the quilt before lying down and falling asleep.
The store is closed today.
T/N: Happy Bad End Month! Here’s the second novel for September~