The meal lasted until more than nine o’clock in the evening, and everyone was drunk. Especially Song Daozhen——Tao Mu had known the old man for so many years and had never seen him drink more than two cups. But he also became drunk with the rest today and when everyone helped him to lie down in his room, his mouth was still drunkenly muttering something. Tao Mu faintly heard the old man say “Little Wen’er”.
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Dean Tao took off the clothes and shoes for old man Song, helped him to lie on his side, and added warm water to a towel used to wipe his face and hands. After everything was finished, she took the dirty clothes that old man Song had taken off, and dragged Tao Mu out of the room.
The color of the moon was like water, and the breeze was refreshing. Moonlight poured down from the old locust tree, like a thin layer of gauze, covering the quiet courtyard. The people who were drunk had already gone to the wing rooms to lay down to sleep.
Dean Tao put the clothes that old man Song had taken off into a enamel washbasin that had chipped paint, and put it under the faucet. While washing, she said: “The little Wen’er that old man Song mentioned was his son who died early. His name was Song Yunwen. He usually never talks about the past, but today he is drunk, and likely more emotional.”
Tao Mu’s heart softened and couldn’t help asking: “Then the old man hasn’t thought about building a new family for so many years?”
Dean Tao was silent for a while, and the movements of her hands also slowed. After a long period of time, she said lightly, “No. It’s probably because the past hurts too much. He kept saying that the fortune teller told him he was born under a murderous and unlucky star, killing his wife and his son, and that if he marries a wife and has children it will only bring harm to others and himself, therefore he should be alone all his life.”
“Can fortune tellers be taken seriously?” Tao Mu was someone who was reborn, and most disbelieved in fate. Hearing these words, he was very disapproving: “One’s life depends on how we live it. I don’t believe in fate. From now on, I will be the grandson of the old man, and I will stay with him for the rest of my life, support him in his retirement.”
After a pause, Tao Mu also said to dean Tao: “Dean, in my heart you are my grandmother. I will also support you in your retirement in the future.”
Tao Mu spoke this from the bottom of his heart. But he didn’t expect dean Tao to suddenly become angry, giving him a glare and scolding lowly, “What nonsense!”
Tao Mu was taken aback and watched dean Tao holding the enamel washbasin and walking under the grape rack to dry the clothes. The moonlight shone on half of her face and the outline of dean Tao could faintly be distinguished, revealing a mixture of sadness and joy.
Tao Mu scratched his head stupidly, and his brain, which had always been running fast, became more and more sluggish under the erosion of alcohol. He still didn’t manage to understand why dean Tao was suddenly angry at him.
Tao Mu, who couldn’t understand it, went into the west side room by himself——the Song family’s courtyard residence was the old-fashioned three-entry house. The front was changed by Song Daozhen to open the Song Ji restaurant. Further inside was the main courtyard. Old man Song lived in the main room by himself, and the side rooms on both sides were locked with big brass locks, and ordinarily no one was allowed in. Behind it was a back room, which was used to house the two workers in the restaurant. Later, the two workers got married and both moved out. Old man Song now used the back room as a warehouse utility room.
In the spacious and empty courtyard, Tao Mu had his own room, the west side room. It had been renovated according to Tao Mu’s preferences with air-conditioning, TV, and computer all available. Even the thickness of the bed was according to Tao Mu’s preference. The quilt was aired out every day, and it still smelled of the sunshine. Tao Mu felt drowsy as soon as he lay down, and quickly fell asleep in a short while.
Then in a hazy state, he dreamt of what happened when he was a child——
When Tao Mu was five years old, he broke into Song Ji’s back kitchen, hugged the old man Song’s leg and raised his head to call him grandpa. He had adorable looks, a sweet mouth, and was a tiny little thing. He begged old man Song with a childish voice to let him do some miscellaneous work for meals in Song Ji. He said that the meals at the orphanage were not good at all while the aroma of Song Ji’s food could even be smelled across the street: “Grandpa, your cooking is so fragrant, you must be very capable. I want to learn from you. I will work for you. I don’t want money, you can just give me a bite of food.”
What could a five-year-old kid do? Old man Song had a solitary temperament, and he was the most impatient of screaming troublemaking children that could be seen running up and down the alley. But Tao Mu was like a small fluffy ball, soft and white. When he hugged old man Song’s leg, old man Song could clearly feel that the child’s body temperature was higher than that of adults. He looked down at Tao Mu and saw that Tao Mu’s large doe-like eyes were full of him.
The old man Song felt his heart soften all at once. He thought of his son. When he was sent to work in the countryside, his wife couldn’t bear hardship, and abandoned his old mother and their child to remarry. His son had been wandering the streets since he was a child. Meals were inconsistent and was often hungry, perhaps just like Tao Mu. If someone was willing to stretch out a helping hand to his son at that time, maybe his son would not learn bad habits, and he would not be shot during the crackdown.
That was how Tao Mu stayed in Song Ji. He was too young to do heavy work so he just stayed in the back kitchen to help wash the dishes and vegetables. The old man Song taught Tao Mu to cook in his free time, from peeling potatoes and cutting potato shreds to decorative carving and preparing meals. Tao Mu learned from old man Song for seven or eight years. Training during the winters and the summers, such that there were layers of calluses on his hands, and faint scars on his fingers, but he had never complained of tiredness or bitterness.
So old man Song regarded Tao Mu as a direct disciple. In the times when the old man Song learned to cook, custom emphasized that a teacher for a day meant a father for life. When the master accepted an apprentice, he not only had to teach the apprentice the craftsmanship, but he also had to worry about the future for the apprentice, and even had to be concerned with important matters such as marriage. It was practically the same as a father and son relationship.
The old man Song also refurbished the side room to the west of the main room for Tao Mu, so that it was more convenient for Tao Mu to just rest there after finishing his homework and practicing the basic skills of knives every night. He didn’t have to go back and forth to the orphanage anymore. Tao Mu lived in the courtyard residence at the age of six until he entered junior high school at the age of twelve when some classmates began to joke that Tao Mu always smelled of ginger, garlic, and oil which was not very cool at all.
There were too many people who ridiculed him, so Tao Mu gradually didn’t want to work at Song Ji anymore. Instead he went to work in a western restaurant outside the alley because wearing a vest shirt looked more cool and fashionable than a gua (TN: Chinese-style unlined garment) and cloth shoes. Later, Tao Mu worked various “fashionable” odd jobs one after another. He was good-looking, sweet-mouthed, and easily attracted customers wherever he worked. So even if he was younger, everyone loved to hire him.
Tao Mu went to school during the day and worked at night, specifically looking for a place with staff dormitories. After work, he would sleep the night in the staff dormitory. He was a very stubborn person. Since he was not working in Song Ji anymore, he insisted on not mooching off at the courtyard residence of the Song family. But he would still go to Song Ji every weekend, taking all kinds of delicious Western food from his part-time jobs to see old man Song.
Old man Song scolded him every time he saw him, complaining that he was being ignorant and not doing proper work. So gradually, Tao Mu didn’t even like going to Song Ji anymore. Whenever he bought something new, he would just leave it with dean Tao and ask dean Tao to help him send it over to Song Ji.
By the summer vacation of his third year in middle school, Tao Mu went to work at Night by chance. The staff dormitory at Night was a high-end apartment that Liu Yao bought for investment. Too lazy to rent it out, he simply used it to house his employees. The decoration was luxurious and the location was also good, and there was a large floor-to-ceiling window in the living room. Standing in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows, one could practically see most of the city of Beijing. That was the best place Tao Mu had lived in since childhood. And the people in the shop were very fashionable. Whether it was a resident singer or the male hosts and MBs, each one looked better than the next and each one was richer than the next, wearing and using only famous brands.
These people were also good to Tao Mu. Knowing that Tao Mu was an orphan, they would give Tao Mu their outdated designer clothes that they didn’t like to wear, taught Tao Mu to sing, taught Tao Mu to mix drinks, taught Tao Mu how to use make up, and some even taught Tao Mu how to seduce rich women. However, after letting this be known by the boss, this certain male host was given a good beating.
But Night’s reputation was not very good. Someone saw him working at Night, and went back to gossip in front of old man Song. Old man Song angrily came and made a scene with his broomstick, insisting on taking Tao Mu back. That day also happened to be Tao Mu’s birthday. Everyone in Night had held a birthday party for Tao Mu. The boss Liu Yao even opened a bottle of wine, most of which was drunk by Tao Mu. When old man Song came over, Tao Mu was already drunk.
He very impatiently pulled away from old man Song, and told the old man to go back wherever he came from, and to not obstruct him in making money. He also said that old man Song was not anyone to him, and so he was not qualified to boss him around. He, Tao Mu, was an orphan with no father or mother, and even his parents didn’t want him. No one could control what he liked to do.
Old man Song slapped him severely that night, and walked away tremblingly. When he got home, he threw away all the dishes he had made that whole day, dumping them all into the trash along with Tao Mu’s favorite birthday peach.
Tao Mu only found out afterwards. He toughened his skin and went to apologize to old man Song. After saying many good things, old man Song was finally coaxed. But when old man Song told him to leave Night, Tao Mu was not happy. The two quarreled again, and Tao Mu ran back to Night in an unhappy mood. Then he went to apologize to Liu Yao for old man Song almost smashing Night the other day.
Tao Mu felt that the one who treated him best in Night was the boss Liu Yao and his wife Meng Qi. To curry favor with everyone, Tao Mu would often cook for everyone. He was only 14-15 years old at that time, and because he was good-looking and could talk, he made more money from selling alcohol than others. He helped the resident singer Kevin sing on his behalf, and he could collect seven to eighty thousand in tips for one night. All the girls at the bar would gather around to see him. But sometimes bad things happened. For example, when a drunk guest slapped him in a fit of anger; when he was slapped with a pile of money on the face in order to force him to accompany in drinking, a thousand yuan for one drink; and when he was bothered by a persistent customer who wanted to keep him. He had met all kinds of people.
Later, Liu Yao pushed him to go work in the back kitchen with the cooking, and prevented him from going out to deal with customers. Tao Mu had worked in Song Ji and western restaurants, and could do everything. And the customers especially recognized his craftsmanship. Brother Yao even dared to sell a plate of egg fried rice for 78 yuan. But Tao Mu didn’t like being in the back kitchen, so Liu Yao and Meng Qi coaxed him and were willing to give him a dividend. 50% of the 78 yuan that a plate of egg fried rice sold for. 30% of the 66 yuan a plate of sweet fermented riceballs sold for.
Tao Mu’s wallet swelled up all at once. But he learned how to spend money lavishly from the people at Night, and he was also one for enjoyment, so even if he made more money, not much was saved. Moreover, he also used the money to remodel the electric circuit of old man Song’s courtyard house. Buying old man Song a new LCD TV, refrigerator and air conditioner, and the latrine was also changed to a flushing toilet. Old man Song complained that he was being wasteful just because he had some money, so he fooled old man Song, saying that he would have to live here too when he came back later, and that he wouldn’t like to come back if the place was old and broken down.
At this, old man Song stopped complaining. As a result, the courtyard residence was remodeled but he never went back to live in it. After all, even after the remodeling, the courtyard residence was still just such an old shabby courtyard residence that could not compare in comfort to a high-end apartment.
Later at Night, he also met a few models who often came clubbing. Those little models played well with him, so they urged him into becoming a model and dressing up for those online clothing businesses. Tao Mu looked good and he was a natural clothes hanger. Whatever he wore, he could wear out his own style. Those online businesses also liked to use him as a model. It was a pity that Tao Mu did not go at a good time, it being winter at the time. In the winter in an unheated studio, he had to be shirtless while having his pictures taken so after the photoshoot which lasted for several hours, Tao Mu came down with a cold and got a fever when he went home. The few thousand yuan earned all went into buying medicine.
When Meng Qi was taking care of him, he also lectured him as well, calling him stupid for not being willing to enjoy his blessings. Was it not good to stay in the kitchen at Night every day, he didn’t even have to cook many dishes in a whole night. It was so much better making good money this easily than going out in the bitter winter and getting a cold.
Tao Mu was pretty innocent at that time. He didn’t pick up on Meng Qi and Liu Yao’s worries that the modeling circle was too messy and that a child like him would learn bad things if not under their noses. This was why they didn’t want him to play too closely with those models.
Tao Mu also felt that being a model was indeed really hard and not fun at all. So when that group of models called him again, he refused and did not go again. But Tao Mu had become interested in taking pictures. He went to the photographer who took pictures of him, and had him teach him to take pictures. After learning all he could, he then worked part-time in the photographer’s studio. The photographer was actually quite famous in the industry and occasionally picked up gigs photographing celebrity posters. He asked Tao Mu to be his assistant, and from him Tao Mu came in touch with the film and television circles.
At that time, it was Tao Mu’s third year in high school. He originally wanted to work directly without going to college after graduating from high school. In any case, he thought going to university might not let him earn as much as he did now. But, the photographer and the assistant at the advertising agency suggested Tao Mu to apply for a film and television school. They also said that Tao Mu was so good-looking and so smart, so long as he graduated from a professional school, he would definitely be a big star.
So Tao Mu was convinced by these people to apply for the art exam, passing both Beijing Film and Yan Film. In the end, he reported to Beijing Film——because old man Song didn’t agree with him being an actor, feeling that this was something particularly unreliable. Later, after asking around, he found out that after the students of Beijing Film Academy graduated, they would be able to become a drama actor at worst, and they were also arranged to have a permanent job post with insurance. Which was better than Yan Film where if graduates couldn’t find acting roles they would have to switch careers or go be an extra.
Tao Mu got a headache from arguing with old man Song, so when finally seeing old man Song softening on the matter, he didn’t bother to think about whether Beijing Film was right for him and just applied for Beijing Film directly.
Later, he went to H Town, where it was as if he had lived a whole lifetime, and then returned to Beijing. Where he then recognized two dads and a grandfather. Thinking about those old things from the past again, it was as if a layer of filter was added to them. He didn’t feel bitter at all. A heart that was always drifting like duckweed now settled firmly on the ground, as if a big tree had taken root, slowly germinating, stretching up and out freely and unrestrainedly.
The quiet moonlight passed through the window and quietly crawled into the western side room.
You c an fi nd t he la te st cha pte rs at ( th e ir on tr ee bl oo ms. c o m )
Tao Mu unfurrowed his eyebrows in his sleep, and the corners of his lips curled upwards like the last quarter moon hanging high in the sky.
A teardrop quietly slipped from the corner of his eyes, disappearing after landing on the pillow.
Tao Mu dreamt as he slept deeply. In the dream, there was old man Song, his Yao Dad and Xiao Qi Dad, and also dean Tao…..
They were all his family.
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