Zhang Heng pasted the Spring Festival couplets and the word ‘Fu’ (prosperity in mandarin) on the front of each door, taking a step back to make sure they were aligned correctly.
One thing he just couldn’t understand was that with the continuous economic boom, consumer products were continuously improved, not only in terms of function but also in design. This part had been given more importance as the years went by. Yet, the Spring Festival couplets were forever so gaudy. Since it was going to be the Year of the Dog, malls and roadside stalls had incorporated elements of dogs to their Spring Festival couplets. Their designs, however, were somewhat questionable. The cartoonish images looked almost exactly as they did ten years ago, and everyone seemed to have gotten used to this gaudy style.
It was generally accepted that if the couplets weren’t gaudy and garish, they wouldn’t be traditional enough. In actual fact, the traditional Spring Festival couplets centuries ago didn’t feature these messy cartoonish elements.
A little girl ran into Zhang Heng as he was pasting the couplets. She knocked on Tian Tian’s house, located opposite his grandfather’s place. She looked to be a classmate of hers and was warmly welcomed into the home by Tian Tian’s mum. This seemed to confirm that Tian Tian was indeed very popular in school.
When Tian Tian’s classmates heard about the misfortunes befalling her family from her mother, many of them came by to visit. They gave her some much-needed encouragement and wished her a speedy recovery, also reassuring her that she would be out of the woods soon. On top of that, her relatives had also been by her side, eagerly searching for a cure.
Now that Zhang Heng had found and eliminated the source of Tian Tian’s anti-social behavior, her family should be able to enjoy a peaceful and happy Spring Festival.
Zhang Hen’s parents were expected to land at seven twenty in the evening. As the Spring Festival approached, a massive influx of people was on the move. To avoid getting stuck in a traffic jam and the ensuing lack of parking, Zhang Heng left home with his grandfather an hour and a half ahead of time.
Despite that, when they finally arrived at the airport, a long pile-up was blocking the road, with a few cars rear-ending each other like dominoes. Fortunately, no one was hurt, and by the time traffic police were done dealing with the accident, there wasn’t much time left. Coincidentally, the flight had been delayed too. Thus, even after grandparent and grandson circled the airport’s parking lot twice, the plane still hadn’t landed yet.
Grandfather’s wore a very formal outfit tonight, donning a 20-year-old French leather suit with meticulously combed hair. Although he had often expressed his dissatisfaction with his daughter and son-in-law, this was the first time in three years that they saw each other. This reunion was clearly very important to him.
The two squeezed their way through the crowd, and when they finally arrived at the pick-up gate, it was crowded as hell. Like Zhang Heng and his grandfather, most of them waiting for their relatives. Some even held up signs.
There were no more seats left at the pick-up gate. Zhang Heng looked at the watch on his wrist. Although there had been a traffic delay, the flight was also delayed by 30 minutes. Including the time needed for baggage collection, it meant Zhang Heng and his grandfather would have to wait here for at least forty minutes.
Sensing that the long wait might be taxing for the elderly man, Zhang Heng said, “Why don’t you go back to the car? I’ll stay here and wait.”
“Don’t worry about me, I’m not that old yet. I didn’t dress like this so I could sit in the car,” said Grandfather as he shook his head.
“Alright. I’ll get us some drinks then. What would you like?”
“Water will do.”
Zhang Heng nudged his way through the massive crowd again to reach the convenience store. He grabbed two bottles of Ganten* off the shelf, and at checkout, the cashier swiped away 24 yuan from his Alipay*.
Selling mineral water at the airport was probably more profitable than pushing drugs.
As soon as Zhang Heng paid for the water, a commotion started at the pick-up gate.
During the holidays, the flow of people at the airport skyrocketed. Because of how crowded it was, it was almost impossible to avoid physical contact with another person. It turned out that a man had seized the opportunity to lean his body against a young woman. He held a magazine in one hand, preventing anyone from seeing what was he doing with the other.
The young woman noticed it and quickly shifted away, but soon after, the man leaned against her again. The woman was obviously a little uneasy, but since she was too embarrassed to speak up or was unsure if it was accidental, she simply shuffled a little further again. The man, however, was smart enough not to step on the same rake twice. Seeing that the woman had been alerted, he quickly changed targets.
As soon as he drew near to his next victim, a solemn voice came from behind him. “Young man, how could you be so despicable at such a young age? Does your family know about this?”
The man turned around and saw an elderly grey-haired man in his sixties. He wore a gray old-school windbreaker with a woolen sweater underneath. His shoes were well-polished as well.
“Lunatic!” the lewd man cursed. When he saw people staring at him, especially the girl he ‘accidentally’ touched earlier, he glared at the nosy man with suspicion before turning around to leave.
Someone, however, stepped in front of him. It was a young man who looked like a student and was holding two bottles of water.
The man was already in a fit of anger and in a hurry to leave. When this happened, his shame suddenly turned into rage. He was about to tell the young man to piss off, but when their eyes met, he felt this strange chill in his heart, and he could not seem to get the words out.
Just then, he saw two stern-looking security guards coming in their direction. “What are you doing?!” they shouted.
Panic quickly spread across the man’s face.
The nosy old man was already walking towards the guard. “Comrade, he groped a woman. I saw it.”
The guards nodded. “Leave it to us, sir.” They then walked up to the man and said, “Please take a walk with us, sir.”
“Why? I didn’t do anything! Don’t listen to his nonsense. Look at him, he’s an old man. He can’t even see properly,” the man hissed.
“My vision is still 1.0. I don’t even need reading glasses to read newspapers,” retorted the elderly man.
“Please come with us. If you really haven’t done anything, the surveillance cameras will prove your innocence,” the guard insisted politely.
The man looked at his belly and realizing he couldn’t outrun the sturdy guards, he reluctantly left with them.
Zhang Heng nodded at a girl who was at a distance. She was standing in front of him at the checkout queue earlier, and when Zhang Heng saw the commotion, he had asked her to call for assistance. Worried that his grandfather might be bullied, he hurried over to the scene. Now that the matter was resolved, he went over to thank the girl. Then, he walked up to the elderly man. “Not bad, a good sword always stays sharp.”
“If something like that happened back in the day, he would have been paraded on the streets!” his grandfather said in a grim tone. “I am an old man. Even if he challenged me, he wouldn’t have dared to do anything. Why did you stand in his way? That was redundant.”
“There won’t be a next time,” Zhang Heng smiled, not offering any explanation.
Ganten: a.k.a Baishuishan in mandarin, a premium Chinese brand of bottled water.
Alipay: third-party mobile and online payment platform.