Life in the Morning, Death in the Evening
Tires screeched on the road, it was an ear piercing sound.
The car had yet to come to a complete stop, but the door opened, Ning Ning rushing out of it.
“Ning Ning, hold on…”
Wen Yu’s voice rang out behind her further and further away.
“Huff, huff…” Ning Ning ran up the stairs maniacally.
There was a period of time where I hated going home a lot.
“Huff, huff…” She frantically took out her keys, due to her trembling hands, it took her a very long time before she managed to put the key in.
Because there was no one waiting for me at home, I had to eat alone, wash dishes alone, sit alone in the living room, no one would tell me to go to sleep even when the sun came up.
The door opened, Ning Ning rushed in without even taking off her shoes.
She left a trail of dirty footprints, staining the wooden floor in a crooked line, like the time when the mermaid princess had given up her tail for a pair of legs, leaving a trail of footprints on the beach.
Not in the living room, not in the bedroom, not on the balcony…
“Shi Zhong Tang…” Ning Ning stood in front of the balcony and murmured in a low voice at the setting sun.
“Here.” Shi Zhong Tang’s voice rang out behind her.
She was stunned, she looked back.
Shi Zhong Tang stood behind her. He was wearing her pink apron, in his hand was a little pot that was used to make soup, grinning. “To capture your heart, I plan to first capture your stomach… Hey, hey, don’t come over here, it’s very hot!”
Ning Ning had wanted to rush over and hug him, but the pot blocked her.
Shi Zhong Tang placed the pot on the table then opened up his arms, “Here.”
“Hmph!” Ning Ning walked past him, took off the lid and drank the soup angrily.
“Hey—” Shi Zhong Tang turned his head, he dragged out his voice.
“Don’t come here!” Acting like she was busy eating, Ning Ning scooped a spoonful of soup, her tears dropped onto the spoon.
“…Is my skill that good?” A pair of hands slowly reached out from behind her and hugged her, saying gently, “Is it so delicious that it makes you cry?”
“No, it’s not.” Ning Ning said stubbornly, “It’s far off from my mama’s…”
Mama’s cooking would always be the best.
Because a person could only have that for the first half their life, not throughout their entire life.
For the rest of her life, whose cooking would she have? Most of the time she would have the bento from the crew, sometimes she would cook for herself, sometimes she would eat out, eating gradually became a type of work, a scheduled procedure required to survive.
She gradually became numb, she gradually stopped hoping—hoping that one day, a person would say: I’ll cook for you for the rest of our lives.
“Heh heh, there’s nothing I can do even if it’s bad,” Shi Zhong Tang said shamelessly, “my standards are that low, you better get used to it.”
“For the rest of my life?” She clearly did not have hope anymore, why did her mouth say such a thing on its own? “If you were to cook for me for the rest of my life, I will get used to it from now on.”
The arms wrapped around her waist suddenly stiffened.
“Ah…the rest of your life…” Shi Zhong Tang suddenly laughed. “The rest of your life is too long, let’s just seize the day, alright?”
Ning Ning fell silent for a moment, she asked with a smile, “Are you saying that because your life is destined to be longer than mine?”
Shi Zhong Tang didn’t say a word.
The two of them snuggled up to each other, the pot in front of them billowed with white smoke.
“You are a masked person, but me…” Ning Ning gritted her teeth and closed her eyes. “I’m sorry, I cannot be a masked person.”
Footsteps approached them, it stopped in front of the two of them, Wen Yu stood at the doorway and watched the two of them quietly.
He did not say a word, but how could Ning Ning disappoint him?
The future he narrated would not come true? Ning Ning did not dare to guarantee that. She could only guarantee that she would not turn into a masked person out of her own will. This way, even if a leader appeared among the masked people, the leader would definitely not be her. She would not lead the masked people to do evil, turning the entire world into a chaotic and bloody stage, turning everyone into members of the stage.
But this would also mean that, as a human, she would not be able to be together with the masked person Shi Zhong Tang. She could only be in the first half of his life, not the second half of it.
“…Life is a countdown the moment you were born, I don’t know how long I can live either.” She could only turn around and give him such a promise. “If I can live for a hundred years, I would accompany you for a hundred years, if I can live for a hundred days, I would accompany you for a hundred days, if I can only live for a day, I will accompany you for this day…”
Shi Zhong Tang fixed his gaze on her.
Ning Ning felt her face get hot, it was not only from feeling shy, but it was also from guilt.
It was her who suggested a promise that would last forever, but she was the one who could not fulfill the promise at the end.
“That’s right, I will turn old.” She looked away as she stopped being demanding. “You will stop liking me at that time. I, too, don’t want you to see the ugly and old me… Please leave me at that time, let me be alone…”
Ning Ning was taken aback, she looked back at him.
“Life in the Morning, Death in the Evening, I’ll be together with you.” Under such harsh conditions, Shi Zhong Tang accepted her promise with a smile. He also gave her a promise, “Even if it is only for a day.”
However a human couldn’t live with just love.
Food and shelter, getting married and having children, all of those require money. Besides a small portion of people who were born with a silver spoon, the others have to work hard like ants, so that they could give their loved ones and themselves a life.
Especially with a leader like Director Chen.
Ning Ning could only spend a tender day with her loved one before she was ordered back to the crew.
Director Chen’s exact words were, “It doesn’t matter if you have to save the world tomorrow, or if the world comes to an end, you have to finish filming this movie today!!”
<<Phantom of the Theater>> was also Director Chen’s lover, he would give it his all to love it, if he could only live for a day, that day would be given to it.
“Next scene, get prepared.” Director Chen had already lost so much weight that he was now beyond recognition, he covered his mouth with a handkerchief as he coughed. “Cough, begin!”
<<Phantom of the Theater>> was nearing the end of its filming.
As the male lead grew more and more popular, his need for the phantom grew less and less, he was gradually slipping out of her control.
Friction started to appear between the two of them.
The biggest cause of the friction was the male lead’s suitor—a very passionate rich young lady who loved him with all her heart.
Although the phantom had warned him a few times, the male lead was soft, he did not have a decisive personality, so he had always maintained a lukewarm relationship with the rich young lady, not cutting her off completely. The rich young lady, on the other hand, was more of a bastard, she would not let go of him. She would attend every one of his shows, completely ignoring the gossip among the outsiders, it even got to the point where she became the joke among the circle of rich people in the capital.
It was hard to let down a beauty’s grace. Although the male lead said that he did not feel anything towards her, he could not turn a blind eye towards her either.
Him treating her normally was mistaken as him being interested in her by the phantom. Jealousy rose in her heart, which in turn stoked her murderous intent. She almost killed the rich young lady, but the latter managed to get away due to a stroke of luck. However, this caused the male lead to rage and a fierce fight broke out between the two of them.
“That woman is only playing you,” Ning Ning said coldly with a superior demeanour, “just like how those young masters had played me.”
It was night time again, it was the place they first met.
In the box seat of the theater, she wore her costume and a mask as she sat lazily on an old-fashioned wooden armchair. Chen Shuang He stood in front of her, his eyes no longer filled with adoration or blind devotion.
It was filled with rage instead, along with the pain of the image of his crumbling idol.
“…I have stayed in this theater for many years.” Ning Ning paused for a moment, she was not used to the expression he was using to look at her, thus she spoke in a more gentle manner hoping that their relationship can be reconciled, “There were many talented performers who were tricked out of their hearts and bodies, the ones who managed to get married were few and far between, most of them were tossed to the side. What about you? You are more talented than any of them, you have the qualities to go down in history, do you also want to abandon yourself? To exchange your youth for money like them?”
Ning Ning’s smile stiffened.
“You claim that it’s for my sake…” Chen Shuang He’s chest undulated, his hands by the side of his body clenched tightly into balls of fist, he said with a little agitation, “But I have never told you to kill anyone!”
The smile completely disappeared from Ning Ning’s face, she was no longer gentle nor compromising. She stared at Chen Shuang He with an ice cold expression, just like how she stared at others from hell. “Why didn’t you say this when I killed the lead performer?”
Chen Shuang He was stunned.
“Why didn’t you say this when I killed Dun Lan?” She asked again.
“I…” Chen Shuang He said with hesitation.
“Why didn’t you say this when I killed the troupe leader?” Ning Ning laughed coldly. “Cat got your tongue? Let me tell you why.”
She stood up from the old-fashioned wooden armchair, walking towards Chen Shuang He step by step, the overwhelming pressure forcing Chen Shuang He to retreat step by step.
“You had the opportunity to make a name for yourself after the lead performer died. There was no one to play dirty tricks on you behind your back after Dun Lan died. There was no one to hold your “slave” contract, squeezing your earnings dry and trying to give you to powerful and rich old masters to gain their favour after the troupe leader died.” Ning Ning forced Chen Shuang He into the corner step by step, with a bang, his back was against the wall.
“Shut up!” Chen Shuang He leaned on the wall, his eyes staring at her lips, as if extremely sharp knives were coming out of it instead of words.
“You benefited from their deaths, that’s why you have nothing to say about them.”
“That’s not it!”
“You only want to enjoy the benefits I bring you.” Ning Ning caressed his cheek lightly, his tears staining her fingers like a knife piercing her heart. She cracked a painful yet carefree smile, “…Such a convenient thing doesn’t exist.”
“…I didn’t know that you killed anyone at all at the beginning!” Chen Shuang He roared suddenly. He shoved her hard, Ning Ning stumbled a few steps back. She felt exasperated. Just as she was about to mock him more, she saw that his face was filled with tears as he looked at her with a blank expression, murmuring, “I was certainly very jealous of the lead performer, hated Dun Lan and the troupe leader a lot, but I have never wished for them to die, even worse…I have never wanted you to become a murderer for me…”
The more he spoke, the more he sobbed. He slowly hugged himself and sat on the floor. He would viciously slam his head on the wall viciously from time to time, crisp banging sounds rang out as he choked from crying.
Seeing him torturing himself like that, the rage and jealousy in Ning Ning’s body disappeared in a matter of moments.
She looked at him quietly for a while before she abruptly walked over, hugging his head, not allowing him to smash it on the wall.
“I know you aren’t that type of person.” She also started tearing up. “I’m just…too lonely…”
So I could not help but pull you into the darkness, I could not help but turn you into a person like me…
At the same time, on the balcony of Ning Ning’s house.
“You always loved to bring me to high places when we were young, one has to climb up to the peak of Mount Everest once himself.” Wen Yu held two cans of beer, he reached out with a can in hand to the air in front of him. “Want some?”
An invisible hand took the beer can out of his hand and opened it, it clinked beer cans with him but did not drink out of it.
Wen Yu took a sip alone, then sighed, “This is hard for Ning Ning to say, so I’ll be the one to tell you this personally.”
Although he could not see him, he could determine Shi Zhong Tang’s position using the beer, he looked over sincerely and seriously, “Big Bro, you are old.”
The beer floating in front of him suddenly trembled ever so slightly.
“I’m actually from the future.” Wen Yu told him the simplified version of his own situation along with the situation of the future, then he said, “Based on research, masked people can live for a very long time, they can even live from the Ming Dynasty up until modern times. But even if their body doesn’t age, it doesn’t mean that their mental state doesn’t do the same. Big Bro, you’re the same…”
He paused, he finally decided to go straight to the point and be straightforward about it.
“Your body is not old, but your mental state is.” Wen Yu could not help but said, “You’re not watching <<Person Within the Painting>> for the sake of seeing Ning Ning, it’s to see yourself…the you who was young.”
Two finger-shaped dents appeared on the beer can. He did not know whether it was because Shi Zhong Tang did not like the beer, or if he did not like what he was saying.
Wen Yu sighed in his heart.
Some words when spoken felt like they cut the flesh. It was natural to feel pain when rotting flesh was sliced off piece by piece, but if they were left on the body, the rot would one day spread into the organs.
He also didn’t want to say the following words.
The problem was that the problem between their relationship was not just a problem between the two of them anymore, it was something which held everyone in the future at stake.
“Big Bro, you have your reasons to woo Ning Ning.” He said slowly, “Because you are like the wind, you cannot stop. You need to chase after something—that thing can be a career, it can be a secret, it can also be a woman. It doesn’t have to be Ning Ning. You could continue to chase her because she has not been saying yes. Once she agrees, you have to stop, then your life will become stagnant…”
Scaling heights fearlessly, seeking thrills, in Wen Yu’s memories—in everyone’s memories—Shi Zhong Tang had always been such a person.
No matter what he did, he would always strived for the best. Moreover, he would not do just one thing. Between acting, mountain climbing, martial arts, literature, investing—he mastered all of them, he was a genius who appeared once every few decades, maybe even once every century. Like a fierce gale, he was destined to stir up the entire generation.
Unfortunately, he died prematurely.
Reborn in Life Theater as a masked person.
This place did not fit him at all. A fixed location, fixed screenings, sometimes even the movies were fixed, the people around him were also a fixed set of masked people.
Just like a pool of stagnant water.
There would be new masked people joining him occasionally, but that would not cause any changes to the stagnant water, instead it would gradually erode the stagnant water further, he would turn lifeless just like the other masked people.
Shi Zhong Tang did not like this kind of place, he did not like these people as well.
What else could he love? What else could he chase after?
There was no other choice—
“Ning Ning doesn’t understand that, so she accepted you.” Wen Yu said, “But we understand, so…”
Glug, glug, glug…
The beer can was raised over Wen Yu’s head, bright orange beer was poured on his head and flowed down to his feet.
“Little Brat, talking to yourself, what do you know?” Shi Zhong Tang raised his beer can with a repressed expression, he laughed out of extreme rage. “If I don’t love her, I would not have come back at all… Look at my hair!”
Cruel sun rays that looked like blood illuminated Shi Zhong Tang’s head, his hair was still black, but the roots of his hair were already white.
“Who says that masked people would not age? I’m aging every minute I stand here… Ah, I’m sorry, I forgot that you can’t see me.” Shi Zhong Tang retracted his hand that emptied the beer can as he mocked, “You can only see the things you want to see anyway, wouldn’t you say so? Philanthropist, savior of the world?”
Wen Yu wiped the beer off his face, he looked in front of him without any expression.
“You claim to want to save humanity, then, masked people aren’t people anymore?” Shi Zhong Tang knocked on the mask on his face. “With this, do I not compare to a stranger whom you don’t even know the name of anymore?”
“…Do you want to bring Ning Ning into the theater?” Wen Yu said with a deep voice, “I’m looking for the reason she went in. She could not have gone in on her own accord. Something must have happened to cause it, or maybe someone forced her to go in. The possibilities aren’t many, her mother, you, or me, are all possible…”
“Heh, heh, it’s not bad being a masked person, it’s better than a lot of people with flesh and blood…”
“It’s impossible for it to be her mother, it’s impossible for it to be me, the one with the highest possibility right now is you…”
The two of them each spoke their piece. Due to the fact that they could not see nor hear one another, they could not communicate at all.
“Hey, we’re getting nowhere.” Shi Zhong Tang was the first to lose his patience. As he uttered his words, he tossed the beer can behind him, brushing past Wen Yu with a low voice and proceeded without hesitation, “Stick your nose out of our business! Life in the Morning, Death in the Evening, that’s what she promised me!”
He would not bother with what would happen with the future.
Because he had no future at all!
The beer can was thrown in an arc and landed beside the rubbish bin, a gust of wind blew it and it fell downstairs, it landed right in front of a cat that was sunbathing on the pedestrian walkway.
“Meow!” The cat got scared and its fur stood on its ends, it quickly ran away from the pedestrian walkway.
In the next second, a motorcycle drove past where it was originally nesting at, leaving behind a flattened beer can.
The cat moved its right ear, looking up at where the beer can dropped from.
An argument, an unhappy parting, a beer can that was casually thrown away changed its fate.
How else would the future change?