People of Different Surnames
Wen Yu could not see him.
Shi Zhong Tang seemingly smashed his own face at the other. His speed was quick, his momentum was forceful, anybody would have reacted to it. However, Wen Yu didn’t even blink, he did not step back in surprise either. He stood his ground with his regular expression, smiling at Ning Ning. “I’ve made a fool out of myself, I did not think there would still be an old theater like this.”
Ning Ning looked at him for half an instant before she said with a smile, “What about the people? What do you think?”
“People?” Wen Yu was stunned, he looked at his surroundings. “…Where?”
The people had always been around, by his side.
Besides Shi Zhong Tang, there were also other masked people. Although there were less than usual, but seeing them enter, all of the masked people came over from different corners, laughing in a strange manner. One by one they said to them, “Welcome back.”
“Hehe, welcome back.”
Who were they welcoming?
Shi Zhong Tang, or Wen Yu who was once a masked person? Or maybe…her who was a regular customer?
“Over there.” Ning Ning pointed at a masked person. “Not only is the theater old, the staff members here are also very old, what do you think?”
Wen Yu looked at where she was pointing and said with a laugh, “They are young at heart. Some old folks can’t stand not doing anything, the more you want them to retire and stay home, the more their health would decline. On the contrary, holding a job would maintain their mental and physical health.”
The masked person that Ning Ning was pointing at was at a tender age, he looked around seven or eight. The reason she had said that he was old was because he was wearing a jade pendant around his neck, a scarlet ancient robe and a pair of deer skin shoes—he looked like a young master from a rich family in a Ming or Qing dynasty novel. Saying that he was old was just saying that he had a lot of seniority being a masked person.
“Ok,” Ning Ning interrupted him, “you can’t see anything, right?”
Wen Yu stopped speaking and looked at her quietly.
“No wonder you hesitated so long when I asked you if the person on the poster looked like me.” Ning Ning could not help but let out a laughter, she shook her head, “You can’t even see the poster, right?”
Wen Yu did not refute her. At this time, silence meant admission.
“You had the cheek to say ladies first.” Ning Ning stared at him. “You just heard someone else talk about Life Theater, but you cannot see it at all, that’s why you need a person to bring you in, right?”
Wen Yu sighed after she stared at him for a long while. “Yes.”
“I knew it.” Shi Zhong Tang walked a few rounds around him, laughing with his hands clasped behind his back. “He does not fit the standards of the theater at all—no, he is the complete opposite of the standards. Full of hope and forgiveness, instead of changing the past, he would want to change the future more… Even if the whole world were to be able to come in, he probably wouldn’t be able to.”
Wen Yu seemed to not want to be tangled up with this problem anymore. He sat on a random chair, a group of masked people immediately surrounded him. One of them bent down, narrowed their eyes and looked at the ticket in his hand. They looked up and said, “Customer, the ticket you have is an ordinary ticket, you cannot sit on a designated seat.”
Ning Ning hurried over and pulled him out, they walked over to the ordinary section.
“What’s the matter?” Wen Yu asked.
“That was a special seat,” Ning Ning said, “you are holding an ordinary ticket, you cannot sit there.”
Wen Yu looked at the ticket in his hand, as if absorbed in thoughts. “Are there many types of tickets?”
Ning Ning shut her mouth, she chose not to answer his question so that she would not leak more information to him.
The two of them sat down among the ordinary seats. Once they were seated, Wen Yu looked at the screen in front and blandly said, “Madam Qin wasn’t the first one.”
Ning Ning looked over at him.
“Starting from two months ago, the amount of people that came to the clinic for consultation had been increasing.” Wen Yu said, “It wouldn’t matter if it was one or two more, but it wasn’t ordinary when it increased by the tens and hundreds. It’s not an infectious disease, why did everyone have the same symptoms? …Everyone said that there was an invisible person around them.”
This time it was Ning Ning’s turn to remain silent.
“I have to know what is happening so that I can help them.” Wen Yu grasped the armrests tightly. A ray of white light fell upon his eyes, it was from the screen in front of him…the movie for the night has started. He paused for a moment, he finally added one more sentence, “Also, my brother, You Ling and your mother had mentioned Life Theater tickets, I want to know…”
What do you want to know?
Before Ning Ning could make out what he was saying, the theme song started playing.
It was the voice of a sickly man accompanied by the deep sounds of a drum and crisp sounds of a flute, he sang in a very weird tune, “Wearing masks on the face, wearing colourful clothes, doing ritualistic dance, expelling evil and pestilence… Ha, who’s evil, who’s pestilent? Who’s the Nuo dance for? Like a play but not a play, is a play that is not a play.”
A weightless feeling came over her, Ning Ning slowly closed her eyes.
2012, on a narrow road to a village.
Ning Ning suddenly sat up. She bumped into the person that was calling out for her, the two of them cried out at the same time.
“You loathsome girl, why are you so fidgety? Ah.” Cui Hong Mei rubbed her forehead. “That hurt!”
Ning Ning also rubbed her forehead, she took the time to look at her surroundings. She realised that she was sitting in a car, it was drizzling outside. Ning Yu Ren got out of the car to take a look, shaking her head. “It’s not going to work, the tire has sunk in.”
The ground of a mountain was not easy to walk on. Moreover, it had just rained, the mud was like the hands of a resentful wife, holding on to the wheel tightly and not letting go. Cui Hong Mei got off the car and took a look, she turned anxious. “Ah, what do we do now? It’s getting dark, don’t tell me we have to spend the night in the car?”
“I told you we should have taken the train here. You wouldn’t listen, you insisted on me to drive here so you can be ostentatious.” Ning Yu Ren said coldly.
“We’re finally rich. If we don’t show it off, what else can we use the money for?” Cui Hong Mei retorted.
The two of them argued until an unfamiliar voice rang out from the side, “The village is not far away from here, can’t you just walk the rest of the way? You can get the people in the village to help you push the car later.”
That made a lot of sense!
Ning Ning looked at the back of the other person. The person was wearing an old Chinese tunic suit and a pair of cloth shoes, he was fleet-footed even among the mountains and plains, one could tell that he was used to this path with one look.
Ning Ning chased after him frantically.
“Ning Ning, don’t run off on your own!” Ning Yu Ren’s voice rang out behind her.
“Mama, the village is right in front.” Ning Ning shouted back at her, “Let’s rush over while it’s still bright out, then we can get people to help us.”
The three girls went up the slope, wading through muds with great difficulty as they got to the entrance of the village before it turned dark. Cui Hong Mei wiped the sweat off her forehead. “Thank God.”
“We should thank that big brother.” Ning Ning looked at an unfamiliar teenager not far from her.
“What are you talking about?” Cui Hong Mei looked at where she was pointing and asked doubtfully, “What big brother?”
Ning Ning was astonished. At this time, the young man walking in front of them who had led them here turned his head around, on his face was a ferocious and terrifying mask that had fangs on all sides.
…A masked person?
“Eh, you guys are?” A villager walked towards Ning Ning’s group. He walked past the masked person along the way, but he paid no heed to him, as if he couldn’t see that person at all. “Outsiders? Here for a trip?”
“Who would come to this crappy place for a trip?” Cui Hong Mei fanned her face with her hand. “We’re locals, I’m Cui Hong Mei.”
The villager pointed at her face, he got so excited that he could not speak for a very long time. He turned his head back after some time and shouted, “The Ning family has returned! Ning Qing’s wife and child have returned!”
“The Ning family has returned?”
“Ah, that’s great.”
A group of people flocked over quickly. Ning Ning had thought that they were rushing over to her superstar Mama, but they were rushing over at her in the end.
“You’re Ning Qing’s granddaughter?”
“What is your name?”
“It’s too bad, if only you were a boy…”
“It’s alright, a girl is the same as well, she has the Ning surname anyway.”
These people…why did they feel a little strange?
Ning Ning looked at the passionate villagers in front of her. She had experienced the same thing when she was a teenage girl. But at that time, she had seen little of the world, she had credited the passion of the villagers to her superstar Mama… Wasn’t there that saying? The quickest way to gain favour from a mother was to praise her child.
As long as she was by Ning Yu Ren’s side, all eyes would be on her, she would always get praised, Ning Ning had long gotten used to it. Looking back at it now, she just realised that that was not it. Although the villagers were interested in Mama, they were more interested in her, and the reason for their interest was…
It seemed to be just because of her surname being Ning?
“Alright, don’t crowd around here.” A little old man poking with a crutch who looked like a village chief appeared, smiling at Ning Ning’s group amiably. “Let’s go, let’s go. The banquet is about to begin. Everyone, take a seat at the table, we can talk about anything while we eat.”
Ning Ning had another surprise when they took their seats.
“Come,” the village chief pulled out a chair, “sit here.”
Ning Ning looked at him, then at Ning Yu Ren. She did not dare to sit down, she forced a smile and said, “I’m a junior, how can I sit at the head of the table?”
Everyone said that the people from the city were prideful. Actually, the people in the country were more prideful, furthermore, they also had more rules. Especially in villages that were sealed off from the outside world for many years, their rules could come close to the ones from ancient times. Wake up in the morning to work, go home and sleep at night, no women at the dining table, the dead must be buried, they even spoke with old Chinese phonology.
If one were to offend ancient people who valued those rules, they would sometimes land themselves in serious trouble.
“It’s fine, it’s fine.” The old village chief remained amiable, he even pressed Ning Ning onto the chair. “It’s a special circumstance this time. Your surname is Ning, you are supposed to sit here.”
Ning Ning slipped away from him like a loach. She slipped back to Ning Yu Ren’s side and hugged Mama’s arm, saying to him while still in shock, “No, no, no, I’ll just sit here.”
“Just let her sit here.” Ning Yu Ren hugged Ning Ning and smiled at the village chief. “Her surname is Ning. In this village, she can do whatever she wants, isn’t that so?”
The old village chief looked at her with a strange look. Ning Ning noticed it. The reception area that was rowdy just a moment ago turned silent, everyone stopped moving their chopsticks and looked at them from every direction while holding their wine cups.
Amidst the suffocating silence, the old village chief suddenly let out a laughter. “Of course…Come, come! Serve the wine ,serve the wine!”
The banquet that seemed to have had the mute button pressed on had started to move again. The group of people joked and laughed, ate and drank, there were even people who came over to have a toast with Ning Ning’s group from time to time.
“She’s still young, she can’t drink, let her have some other beverage.” Ning Yu Ren poured juice into Ning Ning’s wine cup.
Ning Ning thought for a moment before she told Ning Yu Ren, “Mama, I am a junior, I cannot let these aunties and uncles come to me, I should go to them.”
“Alright,” Ning Yu Ren said with a smile, “go ahead…remember not to take any alcohol.”
“Yes, yes, yes!” Ning Ning hopped off the chair. She held the juice in her hand and went over. As she was toasting them, she asked for their names and their seniority.
She discovered something very strange.
Generally speaking, a village would usually have only one surname. For example, in a Zhang Village, more than half of the people would have the Zhang surname. More than half the people of the Niu Village would have the surname Niu. Even when not everyone had the same surname, at least half of them would have the same surname. This surname would be the main surname of the village.
But in this Ning Village, there was only one family with the surname Ning—Ning Ning’s grandfather’s family.
As for the others—Zhao, Qian, Sun, Li, Zhou, Wu, Zheng, Wang… In the entire village, there were scarcely anyone with the same surname.
This was a village of different surnames.
“If blood ties and surname are not what is holding the village together,” Ning Ning could not help but think, “then what is?”