Mama was acting too weird.
Ning Yu Ren spent half a day teaching Ning Ning how to walk out of the forest. When she got home that night, she smiled at Xu Rong at the dinner table and said, “Director Chen called me today, he wants to start filming a new movie immediately with Ning Ning as the female lead.”
Xu Rong was surprised. “As the child version of the female lead?”
“No, it’s the female lead herself.” Ning Yu Ren said, “This movie is titled <<Agent Stay-home Dad>>, depicting the story of a retired special agent and a little girl. It’s going to be the New Year comedy film for the year. The lead actor is Guo Cheng Dong, there will also be cameos from quite a number of big stars, like Qiao Yue Hua, Xie Xin…”
She listed off seven to eight of the hottest stars at that time, finally saying with a laugh, “But after I thought about it, I should reject this for Ning Ning.”
“Why?” Xu Rong looked at her, confused. “This is such a good opportunity.”
“Because she’s not old enough.” Ning Yu Ren turned around and looked at Ning Ning who was sitting beside her. “The female lead for this film is at least seven or eight years old, she is but four.”
Xu Rong and Xiao Yu glanced at each other. After dinner, Xu Rong quickly washed the dishes then knocked on the door to Ning Yu Ren’s room, the two of them discussed something in the room with one another.
Ning Ning sat in her own room and played with a Rubik’s cube, looking at the door from time to time.
There was indeed a film titled <<Agent Stay-home Dad>> in history, it was indeed a New Year movie. The director was really Director Chen, there was also definitely a number of cameos from big stars, but the lead actor was an eight-year-old boy, named Chen Shuang He…
Mama lied to her, but why?
The door was suddenly flung open, Ning Yu Ren walked out of the room.
Ning Ning tossed the Rubik’s cube in her hand aside as she called out, “Mama…”
She did not know what to follow up her call with.
The Ning Yu Ren in front of her felt too unfamiliar, Ning Ning could not help but think, “Was Mama like this in the past?”
Lying without blinking, harming herself, smiling everyday, but never truly smiling. She was completely different from the Ning Yu Ren from Ning Ning’s memory. She seemed to always be in pain, to be tired, as if she had just struggled to crawl out from Hell.
“What’s the matter?” Ning Yu Ren sat by Ning Ning’s side, touching her hand ever so gently. At this moment, she was like Mama from Ning Ning’s memory again.
“…What did Nanny Xu tell you?” Ning Ning asked.
“She asked me for help, to help Xiao Yu get the role of a female lead.” Ning Yu Ren smiled as she asked, “I rejected her, guess what she did next?”
“Was she very sad?” Ning Ning asked.
“No, she was angry.” Ning Yu Ren, “She said I had previously promised to help her, to help Xiao Yu.”
Ning Ning was speechless.
“Tell me why that person is so weird. I helped her so much, but she remembers none of it. The one time I rejected helping her, she got so mad, as if I owed her or something.“ Ning Yu Ren shook her head and smiled at Ning Ning. “Forget it, let’s not talk about her. Ning Ning, do you want to go out and play recently?”
“Play where?” Ning Ning asked.
“At Mama’s friend’s place.” Ning Yu Ren said, “He loves children, especially when you are still this cute. If you were to ask anything from him, he would give it to you. If you wanted to go play, he would be willing to bring you anywhere.”
“Is Mama’s friend a boy or a girl?” Ning Ning asked out of curiosity.
“A boy.” Ning Yu Ren answered.
This was very serious. Ning Yu Ren was well-known for not getting along with people in the circle. She had very few friends, and even fewer male friends. Someone who was close enough to her for her to be willing to let them babysit… Ning Ning asked carefully, “Is it Papa?”
The smile on Ning Yu Ren’s face froze. She asked after a while, “Ning Ning, what kind of papa do you like?”
Ning Ning felt 囧1, “I can choose?”
Ning Yu Ren, “Let’s hear it.”
Ning Ning had no choice after Ning Yu Ren urged her on. She could only count her fingers as she listed them out, “Handsome, tall, good personality, loves his wife and children…”
As she started to list more and more qualities, the more she felt that that person was not like that.
If that person was truly that good of a person, Mama would not have left him and he wouldn’t have ignored the two of them for so many years. Ning Ning was fine, she had Mama to love her, but who would be there to love Mama?
“…Forget it.” Ning Ning reached out and hugged Ning Yu Ren. “I don’t want anything else, all I want is for him to rush over to you when you need him…”
At the same time in another room, Xiao Yu was also hugging Xu Rong. She looked at her expectantly, “How did it go?”
Xu Rong sighed. “She didn’t agree.”
“Why?” Xiao Yu looked at her with astonishment. “Didn’t you tell her that I’m already eight this year?”
“I did.” Xu Rong said, “But it was no use.”
“How could this be…” Xiao Yu muttered, then her mouth trembled and she started crying.
“Hush now, don’t cry.” Xu Rong patted her as she coaxed Xiao Yu in her arms. As she tried to coax Xiao Yu, she herself started to tear up. She said sadly, “If only I did the same back then, if only I had also left home to become an actress. We were similar back then. If I had entered the show business, I wouldn’t have been much different from her either…that way I would not have to beg her.”
“Why did you not leave home?” Xiao Yu sobbed as she looked at Xu Rong with a trace of grievance.
“It’s my fault that I was too timid when I was young, I was not adventurous enough…”
A night passed.
The next morning, Xu Rong apologised at the dining table, saying that she was being too rash the previous night. Ning Yu Ren accepted her apology graciously. The two of them were childhood friends, they buried the hatchet (instantly), at least on the surface level.
After that, a car brought both Ning Yu Ren and Xiao Yu to the crew. Xu Rong on the other hand brought Ning Ning to school. Everything reverted back to normal, except for one thing…Ning Ning realised that Xu Rong had been especially attentive to the weather forecast recently. As the days slowly started getting colder, her mood slowly started getting better.
“It’s snowing.” Xu Rong caught a snowflake in her hand on the way back from school.
Ning Ning looked up at the sky, pale white snow was falling from the cold and gloomy sky.
It was now November of 1997.
It was the beginning of winter.
The two of them were holding hands as they walked down the streets. A young girl in red leather boots walked towards them, stopping in front of a car. The door of the car had opened, Pei Xuan stepped out of the car and stood in her way, “Greetings, Young Lady.”
As if it was rehearsed, a group of reporters flocked over and repeatedly took photos of them.
At the corner of the photos, Xu Rong and Ning Ning looked at them like two curious passersby. It was not until when the car had left with the two of them—with the reporters chasing after the car while raising their cameras—that Ning Ning and Xu Rong continued on their way.
“Clearance sale! Supermarket clearance sale!”
The two of them walked past a supermarket which was currently having a sale. It was seemingly filled to the brim with housewives. A youth managed to squeeze his way out after much effort, then bumped into Xu Rong who was at the entrance.
“I’m sorry.” The youth turned and looked at them, it was Mu Gua.
He held a bag of eggs in his arms. It looked like he had just got his hands on some discounted items. Just as he was about to leave after apologising, Ning Ning shouted at him from behind, “Wait!”
Mu Gua looked back.
“You dropped something.” Ning Ning bent down to pick up a pair of white gloves.
Mu Gua frantically felt around his pocket, then walked towards Ning Ning and took the gloves out of her hands. He handed an egg to her. “Thanks, little girl.”
Ning Ning held the egg and didn’t call out to him again.
Because the paper she had long prepared was already stuffed into the glove, waiting for him, or her, to open it and take a look.
“Let’s go.” Xu Rong told Ning Ning. At the next bus stop, she got on the bus with Ning Ning in her arms.
The scenery outside the window changed continuously, this was not the way home.
“Where are we going?” Ning Ning asked while sitting on Xu Rong’s lap.
“We’re going to your mama.” Xu Rong said with a smile, “Let’s have a snowball fight.”
At the final stop, Xu Rong brought Ning Ning down the bus, the snow crunched drearily under her shoes.
They passed through the snow covered field and the forest with trees that had its branches bent by the snow. Ning Ning saw a familiar place. An abandoned set of tracks, there were no trains, there was no one around, there was only weeds. With a gust of the snowy wind, the tracks hummed.
Xu Rong let Ning Ning down and said, “Your mama is not here yet, let’s wait for her here.”
Ning Ning turned her head to look at Xu Rong. “Will Mama really come here?”
Xu Rong’s eyes drifted off for an instant, but she quickly smiled and said, “Of course. You’re here, why would she not come? Why don’t the two of us start first? We can play as we wait for her.”
Ning Ning started to smile. Her smile made Xu Rong feel uncomfortable for some reason, it felt extremely like that of her mother.
“Ok, let’s play.” Ning Ning bent down and picked up a pile of snow, moulded it into a ball and threw it at Xu Rong.
The two of them went back and forth at each other. After they had their snowball fight for a while, Xu Rong suddenly said with a smile, “Ning Ning, do you feel hot?”
Ning Ning was a little out of breath after running about, she was even perspiring. She watched as Xu Rong walked over and took off her hat and coat. She hung them over her arms and gazed in the direction of the forest. “Why is your mama not here yet? Ning Ning, wait here, I will go over to check.”
After she finished speaking, she disappeared from Ning Ning’s sight in two to three steps.
The wind was blowing, Ning Ning felt a little cold and sneezed, then she sniffled. She started laughing coldly in the direction Xu Rong left in.
“No wonder Mama wanted me to memorise the way out,” she muttered, “it’s for this day…”
But how did Mama know that Xu Rong would begin to think about abandoning her here on a winter day?
“Mama…are you the same as me? Did you transmigrate here from the future via a movie?” Ning Ning muttered in a low voice. She opened her stride and ran towards the forest. Luckily, the markings Mama had left behind were still there. She relied on those markings and her memory to finally walk out of the place. The path was originally not easy, it was an even more difficult walk than usual with the snow, she accidentally tripped. Before she could fall to the ground, an arm had reached out from behind her and grabbed her into his embrace. A youth’s clear and bright voice sounded, “…Watch out.”
Ning Ning looked back.
The white snowy ground, a white coat, a collar covered in white fox fur had enveloped his face like a white angel.
After he helped her up, he picked up the sketchpad he had tossed on the ground. Ning Ning took a glance at it. “It’s me?”
“Yes, it’s you.” The other party placed the sketchpad in front of her.
On the sketchpad was a sketch. By the abandoned tracks, Xu Rong and Ning Ning were having a snowball fight. It was clearly a childlike drawing, but for some reason it emanated a bone-chilling creepiness. The smiles on both people were creepy, especially Xu Rong’s. The drawing would not even feel different if the snowball in her hand were to be swapped with a rock or a knife.
“That’s not your mother, right?” He asked from the side.
Ning Ning shook her head, then widened her pitch black eyes and looked at him… He was still as sharp as when he was young, nothing could escape his eyes.
“Let’s go.” The youth quickly kept his sketchpad and reached a hand out to her. “I’ll bring you to your mother.”
Holding his hand, Ning Ning looked up to him and said, “My name is Ning Ning.”
The other person was taken aback, then he smiled gently. “My name is Wen Yu.”
With the sketchpad in one hand and Ning Ning’s hand in the other, his figure quickly vanished amidst the snow. Around half an hour later, a black leather shoe stepped on and broke a fallen tree branch. A tall adult man braved the snowy winds to come to the abandoned tracks.
He looked around for a moment before taking out his mobile phone and placing it on his ear.
“Hello, Yu Ren,” he said, “your daughter is not here.”
1This is a word used as emoticon (“smiley”) meaning embarrassed, sad :-(, depressed or frustrated