Chapter 1 - The Mirror Opens
"Click." Everything went from dark to light, the screen flickered and the picture began to appear.
This is a staff dormitory, one of the most nooks and crannies of the century-old school group of buildings, located in a remote area, and the college mostly sends young teachers to live there. The house looks beautiful from the outside with its red bricks and white steps, and the ivy climbing around the old building with a thousand delicate vines, so anyone who passes by can't help but look twice, but when I was lucky enough to become a teacher, I went inside and realized - it turns out that this house has been repaired over the years, and the walls of the interior walls are all drab, like a tired face that has been touched up countless times.
So tired that even digital television is lacking, allotted to each room in the dormitory building, is a cable TV of antique quality.
"Heavy to torrential rains continue in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River ......"
As the teenager walked past the entrance to the building, the sound of television programmes filtered through the window panes of the communication room, and the old lady on duty used to stop him and shout.
"Hey, young student, do you know? This is the staff dormitory, where the teachers live, you're a student don't always go in there."
But today, the old woman did not cross-examine him, perhaps because she was in a daze and her old eyes were dizzy, not noticing his passing in the dark.
He went straight up to the third floor and knocked on the familiar iron door.
The door creaked open and the woman in it probed, "It's you."
The teenager whispered, "Xie teacher."
Although it was late and the teenager was an unexpected visitor, she was his teacher and the closest person to him in the school, and the woman welcomed him inside after a brief moment of surprise.
Make a cup of tea and cut ginger slices to add to it. It was raining outside and she felt wet and cold on the teenager and the hot ginger tea would keep the cold away.
Ms. Xie placed the steaming cup of tea on the tea table in front of him, "When did you get back?"
"Just got back today." The teenager stood shakily in front of the sofa.
Teacher Xie: "Sit down quickly."
Only then did he sit down, his hands curled in his lap, restrained, without touching the teacup.
"How come you didn't even tell me in advance when you got back. There's a bus to school this late?"
"So how are things at home being handled?"
The teenager was quiet for a moment, looking down and picking at the torn hole in his jeans.
"My mum still wants me to drop out of school ......"
Ms. Xie was silent.
She spoke to the mother of the teenager in front of her and promised to give the special hardship family a tuition fee waiver in the hope that the mother would allow her child to finish the university she had worked so hard to get into.
But the mother pointedly refused -
"Read what? Learn Chinese? Who doesn't speak Chinese? You are just scammers!"
She patiently reasoned with the mother: "The child is very talented, look, he's already in his second year, isn't it a pity to give up halfway? If he finishes his studies in two more years, he will be able to find a job in society. I've asked him, he wants to be a teacher in the future. With his grades, it's not a problem to get a teaching job, it's a child's dream, and teaching jobs are stable ......"
"He won't make it as a teacher! It's not like you haven't seen his face!"
The mother's words came down like a blunt knife, cutting between invisible currents.
Ms. Xie felt angry, but she didn't know what to respond to.
"I want him to go home and work now! There's no money in the house! Don't waste time! That face - that face ...... reads the book, what's it going to do! What school would want a teacher like that!"
What kind of a face is that?
An incandescent lamp was on in Ms. Xie's room, low wattage and seemingly dim, but still illuminating the teenager's face.
His face, which Mr Xie was used to seeing, would have made anyone gasp when they first saw it - half a shadowy face, with bruises covering his forehead to his neck, like a rotting skin.
Striking and starkly abnormal.
"Don't go near him, it's not likely to be contagious."
"Hey! Yin and Yang people!"
With this face and with him grew the abuse and ridicule that followed.
Because of his illness, because he was too sick to hide and too ugly to hide, the youngster grew up with a lot of white eyes. Even though he studied hard and was gentle with others, he was still like an evil dragon wandering under the blue sky, not getting any equal treatment.
Few people share Mr Tse's ability to find the normal half of his face good-looking and gentle.
He always bore everyone's sneers gently and numbly, sometimes laughing in tandem with them himself, as if he had really done something wrong.
But what had he done wrong?
He was always the most serious in his studies, honest and sincere, and always did the most work in his group in silence. When others bullied him, he always took it good-naturedly and didn't say much.
"It's all right, teacher, I'm happy enough for you to talk to me. In the past, when I was in the village, people used to go around when they saw me, and no one ever listened to me as intently as you did."
"The students were all very nice too, at least they didn't hit me with a brick."
He speaks calmly, but his head is always bowed and his shoulders hunched, having grown a deformed and bent spine from the heavy insults he has carried for so long.
She later said to him, "You can come to me for individual tutoring after evening study whenever you want, and if you don't understand anything and need my help, just ask."
He smiled shyly, his half-normal face showing some embarrassed red.
In the two years she had known him, she was used to him coming, slightly hunched over, to knock on her dormitory door, bringing her his own written essays, prose, and even poetry, asking for her guidance.
These days many people like to curse, but few like to write poetry anymore.
Instead, he wrote doggedly.
His classmates laughed at him, the ugly bastard writing ugly things, sour as hell, more sour than your rotten grape cheeks.
He smiled and wrote again honestly.
But now, he doesn't even have that power anymore.
Thinking about what had happened before, Ms. Xie sighed in his heart and looked at the boy in front of him with pity.
The young man said, "I have come here to say goodbye to my teacher. I'm leaving tomorrow."
"...... Well, sort of."
The teenager paused, "Teacher, if my illness wasn't on my face, but where others couldn't see it, people would be kinder to me. That would be so nice."
She couldn't help but feel her eyes were red, she had done everything she could to help him, but unfortunately she was not his family, she couldn't make the final decision, nor could she save him. The mother regretted letting the boy go to school, but after all, there was an able-bodied second son who was only in secondary school, and the sick one could be called back so that the able-bodied one could be replaced.
She felt that what she did was not wrong either, and as a mother who also had to weigh up the family situation, she was fair.
"The paper you ...... you left with me last time and asked me to look over for you, I haven't quite finished rewriting-"
She felt she was on the verge of tears and hastily changed the subject.
"But I've read the front very carefully, do you want to do the school leaving formalities to go later, when I've approved them all ......"
"No." He smiled and shook his head, "I'm leaving at first light."
Why did she always feel that there was still time?
Why not stay up one night?
Why, then, go shopping, gossip and have those long, pointless meetings?
Here is a student's dream that is about to be broken and a heart that is about to beat, and she, as his last teacher, is unable to offer a bouquet of flowers to his dream as a farewell.
"That's okay." He said, "but I ended up writing a poem, can I give it to you?"
She was busy nodding her head.
He then took it from his book bag and showed it to her, the pages were so thin that they seemed weightless in his hands.
She read it word by word, a very loving love poem, hot and passionate but careful, a love she had seen written by many masters. She had read many love poems written by the masters, from the ancient "When do I lean on a false front and dry my tears in the double light?" But at this moment, it seems that none of them are as good as this page held out by the young man.
He didn't break anything, as if it would be a lack of rhyme to do so.
The young man was a poet, and knew that without poetry, a love of disparate status would be nothing but an embarrassment.
"It's left as a memento for you."
Tenderness is written on both ugly faces and normal faces.
"I'm sorry, teacher, I just can't afford to buy you any presents."
"There's nothing better than that." She turned her back, suppressing a choked sob, "You, you eat something, I'll get you some refreshments."
Borrowing from rummaging through the cupboard and getting herself under control, Mr Tse took a tin of butterscotch biscuits and put it on the coffee table.
The teenager thanked him politely and, under Ms. Xie's watchful eye, finally touched the teacup carefully, only to retract his hand and say softly, "It's hot."
She touched it, "How? It's warm."
But still, he was given some cold water to go back to.
The teenager drank it little by little with his favourite biscuit.
After eating and drinking, the night is still long.
He said, "Teacher, can I read in your place for a while longer?"
The teenager laughed again, a little helplessly, "It's all going away and you end up being such a nuisance."
"It's okay, you can stay a little longer ...... Right, when you get back, give me another address, I'll send you a copy of any good books I see. You're so smart, in fact, even if you study on your own ...... it won't be that bad." Teacher Xie could only chat as a comfort, "If you need any help, you can find me on WeChat."
The teenager looked at her, "Thank you."
There was a pause.
"If everyone was like you, then maybe ......"
He lowered his head and said no more.
The most abundant thing in her dormitory was books, and as he was ugly and sickly naked, he was the centre of attention whenever he went to the library, she invited him to come to the staff quarters and lend him her collection of books to read.
The young man thus spent the whole night reading in the staff quarters, as if he would take all these words back to his homeland by this one night.
It was rare for him to be so self-conscious; once upon a time he would not stay too late, always worried that he might disturb the teacher's normal routine. But today was an exception.
She didn't blame him for this last caprice, it was just that she stayed up with him until the latter part of the night and did get a little sleepy, unknowingly ambling off to sleep.
In a haze, she heard the teenager suddenly say to her again, "Thank you, teacher."
She answered him vaguely.
"There's one more thing I'd like to apologise for."
"Before the class theft ...... those students always lost things, how could they not be checked and caused you to be criticized. Those things, in fact, were taken by me."
She woke up in a daze, but she was too tired and heavy to get up.
The teenager said with slight sadness, "But I didn't ask for those things, I didn't ask for a penny. They laughed at me like that, and I actually had resentment in my heart ...... I threw all their bags in the haystack and later burned them all clean. At that time they suspected to me, but you did not even come to ask me, and excused me. The truth is that I was really not the one who did it."
"I don't have the courage to admit that I've only ever been a normal person in the eyes of one person, or even a good person."
"That person is you."
"Teacher, I'm vain aren't I? ...... But if even you are disappointed in me, I don't know what I'll do. You're the only recognition I've ever had in my life."
His voice grew softer towards the end of his sentence.
The eyes, however, are clear, almost transparent, as if relieved.
"- The thing I regret doing the most is this ...... Thank you teacher, I'm really sorry. My illness seems to have moved from my face, to my heart. If I had another life, I would really like to be a normal person ...... I don't want to be so sick that I don't even have the qualifications to love."
"Ms. Xie ......"
The wind blew through the window, causing the pages on the table to flap like streamers beckoning spirits.
And then, all was quiet again.
The tea on the table is cold.
Mr Tse woke up early the next morning to find he had slept at his desk all night, the house was clean and the teenager was a very polite man, but on this day he did not wait to say goodbye to his teacher before packing up and leaving.
Inevitably, she got up and went to the living room with sleepy eyes.
Glancing down at the coffee table -
But the whole thing was like a shower of ice water on your head, and your eyes were wide open!
The tea she poured for the teenager yesterday had frozen, but ...... but ......
The room temperature was clearly 27 or 28 degrees!
She searched the room with wide-eyed ooze, and more and more traces kept her heart cold - the tin box of cream biscuits, which she had clearly watched the teenager eat yesterday, but now it didn't look like a piece was missing. The water in the teacup had frozen to ice, but it wasn't missing either, and finally -
At the end, the content of the implicit love poem was still lying in her heart, and he gave her a piece of paper as a farewell.
The paper, however, is missing.
Or rather, there never was that page ......
She shuddered when her phone vibrated with a sudden ding, causing her to jump and snatch it away. She was relieved, but then she woke up like a dream and quickly dialled the teenager's number.
Duh. Duh. Duh.
The heart beats and the mechanical sounds flutter together.
The person who answers the phone is the familiar voice of a middle-aged woman, gruff, but with a bit of a sobbing tone at this point. She exchanged a few words with the mother of the teenager on the other end of the line.
The heart falls hard into a black hole that it cannot see into and falls down.
She heard it -
"It's you guys! It's you guys again!!! I haven't even had a chance to look for you! You're the first to call!"
The woman was complaining, and she couldn't remember what was said before, her mind was almost blank, she only heard the last harsh cry as if it were a baton: "He's dead! He's dead!"
Blood flows like ice.
"It's all your compulsion!!! He and I had a fight, ran out, it was pouring outside and the police said there was a section of cable exposed there ......"
Ms. Xie's ears buzzed.
She only barely heard two more words in the fierce tirade of abuse and wailing, like a ghost or a chimera, like a farewell not of this world.
On the other end of the line, the woman's voice broke into a piteous whisper.
"What else are you looking for? What else are you looking for?!"
"Yesterday was the seventh day of his death!!!"