The Second Adopter
After taking into consideration how the heavy drinking of the first adopter had caused fire and thus him burning to his death, Ning Ning selected very carefully this time around. She picked a language teacher. The teacher was fat, her face would scrunch up when she smiled, making her look very affable.
“I am fifty this year, I don’t really have any bad habits, I would fish by the river at most.” She introduced herself to the two of them, “I was never married, I never had a child either. As I am getting older, I want to raise a child to take care of me in my old age and send me off. Ah, do you like to read graphic novels?”
Wen Yu stopped in front of a bookshelf and looked up at her.
The Language Teacher smiled and took down the whole set of <<Investiture of the Gods>> and gave it to Wen Yu “Go read them in the living room, it has better lighting.”
Wen Yu looked at Ning Ning again. Ning Ning nodded at him, he went to the living room hugging the novels. The Language Teacher closed the room door and said to Ning Ning, “Let’s talk about him.”
They did not know that Wen Yu did not go to the living room to read. Wen Yu stood outside of the room they were in, leaning on the wall to listen to their conversation.
Ning Ning pointed out a lot of good points about Wen Yu in the beginning, the Language Teacher only listened before she finally asked while laughing, “You like him so much, why not raise him yourself?”
“He is a very good kid.” Ning Ning said after being silent for a while, “But I am not a very good adult. I do not have a permanent residence or a stable job. No savings, no ability to pay for his school fees, I also frequently…lose my temper. Rather than me, he should have a better person (to care for him).”
Wen Yu blinked, then suddenly walked towards the living room. He opened a novel and sat on the floor. Not long later, the sound of footsteps came from behind him. Ning Ning put her hand on his head. He looked up, placed his face in her palm longingly, and looked at her with the gentle eyes of a puppy.
“From today onwards, you will live with Teacher Yu.” Ning Ning also looked at him gently, “You have to listen to her, do you understand?”
Wen Yu nodded meekly, then reached out and hugged her neck.
It was to the extent that even on the way back, the heat he passed over still lingered on Ning Ning’s neck.
“You have to get better, better and better.” Ning Ning touched her neck and said softly, “I also need to get better, better and better.”
Back at the theater, it was already meal time. Ning Ning took the lunch box from the canteen staff. She just turned her head, but then turned back to the staff again and smiled with unfamiliarity, “Thank you.”
The canteen staff was surprised, she touched the back of her head and said, “Oh, oh, you’re welcome.”
Ning Ning did not bring her lunch box back to the cellar. She sat on a chair at the side with her lunch box, the people at the same table immediately stopped chatting and gave her weird looks. Ning Ning opened the lunch box, she froze for a bit when she saw the piping hot meal. She resolutely picked up a pair of chopsticks and shoved the food into her mouth with determination while trembling at the same time.
The Socialite exclaimed with a smile, “My Lady Phantom, why do you have the time to eat with us today?”
“I am only a phantom on stage.” Ning Ning replied with a smile, “Right now, I am a human.”
I am a human! I want to have warm meals, I want to interact with people, I want to say thanks. I cannot lock myself in the cellar forever, I cannot lock myself in a coffin from the past!
After the meal, she returned to the cellar and took out the paper cranes Wen Yu left for her. She read them one by one very carefully. Ning Yu Ren tossed and turned but could not fall asleep, she got up and asked Ning Ning, “It’s so late, you’re not sleeping yet?”
“I still want to study for a while more.” Ning Ning said with her back facing Ning Yu Ren.
“What are you studying?” Ning Yu Ren asked curiously.
“‘First Love’.” Ning Ning answered.
“You found a method?” Ning Yu Ren could not help herself and sat up. She followed Ning Ning’s view and looked at the papers in her hands. After reading the contents of the papers, NIng Yu Ren furrowed her brows, “Are…these useful for acting?”
“They are.” Ning Ning sat on a chair, raised her head and smiled at Ning Yu Ren. “Are you free? I can act it out for you.”
The second day, in the kitchen.
Cook Chen looked at them strangely, “Do you two have some business with me?”
Ning Ning held up a paper crane and said, “Wen Yu gave me this. He said that you told him that first love is like an egg roll.”
Cook Chen scratched his face, slightly embarrassed. “That…I answered randomly.”
“Why egg roll? Why not things like rice dumpling or toffee apple?” Ning Ning looked at him sincerely. “There must be a reason, can you tell me? This is really really really important to me.”
Cook Chen simply could not bend nor break her, so he could only reply, “When I was young, I made egg rolls for my first love for three years.”
“Then she got together with you?” Ning Ning asked.
“No, she married someone else. I never made egg rolls from then onwards.”
Ning Ning lowered her head in silence. After a few moments she suddenly raised her head, “May I ask, when was the last time you made egg rolls?”
“… It was at her wedding banquet. It just so happened that she hired my master as the chef. As a disciple it was a given that I would follow him to the banquet.”
“I understand now.” Ning Ning looked at the direction of where the eggs were stored in the kitchen, “I will make an egg roll, can you help me taste it?”
“I have no say in this.” Cook Chen snorted. As of now he was only a helper, acting as a supporting role in the kitchen.
“Just watch me once.” Ning Ning rolled up her sleeves and walked towards the chopping board.
She held nothing and put it on the chopping board, her other hand looked like it held a kitchen knife, she started to cut at a high speed on the chopping board. Ning Yu Ren watched a while and realised that Ning Ning was chopping spring onions. Ning Ning’s movement was fast and messy, as such she quickly cut her finger.
She stopped chopping (the spring onions) and put her finger in her mouth. She looked towards the entrance with an expression that looked like happiness and sadness. Suddenly, she rushed over to the entrance but stopped when she got there, Ning Ning came back to the kitchen dejected.
She started chopping again. Chop, chop, chop, chop, chop, chop… Eh? Ning Yu Ren touched her ears, was that the sound of chopping? As it turned out, she started hearing things after watching Ning Ning for a period of time.
Upon closer inspection, the way Ning Ning was standing was not her usual posture. Her back was a little crooked, her toes were pointing outwards. Ning Yu Ren turned around and looked at Cook Chen beside her—the two of them had the same standing posture.
Chop, chop, chop, chop, chop, chop…She finally finished chopping the spring onions. Next, she cracked the eggs, added starch and put them in the pan. She didn’t use any real ingredients, so the pan was always empty. But when it was time for the dish to be served, it was like Ning Ning was really surrounded by an aroma. She slowly used the imaginary spatula in her hand to scoop the egg roll and placed it on the chopping block. Chop, chop, chop. Three cuts were made in total, the cylindrical egg roll was cut into four smaller pieces, then divided into two plates.
She was imitating how Cook Chen cooked? Watching up to this point, Ning Yu Ren had some doubts. What had this got to do with learning how to act out your first love?
It was at this moment, Ning Ning suddenly turned her head. She watched her surroundings warily, then slowly took out something from her pocket.
Her movements in taking this object out were very slow, the change in her expression was similarly really slow. It was to the extent that Ning Yu Ren could clearly discern the change within Ning Ning’s heart through her expression—she had brought something bad into the kitchen, she didn’t want anyone to see it. She was very hesitant now, considering whether to commit the next step.
Her movements were very slow when she was (feeling) hesitant, but once she made a decision her movements turned very fast.
Ning Ning quickly took out the item from her pocket. It was a bottle. She opened the bottle and sprinkled the contents on one of the plates of egg rolls. Ning Yu Ren gasped, but in the corner of her eyes she realised that Cook Chen was already stiff from head to toe.
Finally, Ning Ning turned around. In her left hand was a fresh-out-of-pan egg roll, in her right hand was the egg roll which was spiked. She brought both to Cook Chen.
“Do you want to let her eat the first egg roll,” she asked, “or the other one?”
Cook Chen gulped and said, “The first egg roll of course…She is still alive.”
Then the theme of this first love, would be ‘giving up and forgiveness’.
The two of them walked out of the kitchen. Ning Yu Ren walked behind Ning Ning and suddenly asked, “You intend to act out everyone who was on the papers once?”
“Yes.” Ning Ning answered, her hands were holding onto papers that were unfurled from the paper cranes.
“Why?” Ning Yu Ren shook her head, “You want to act as the Phantom, not the cook, the sweeper or the opera teacher on these papers. This is quite a waste of time.”
“It’s not a waste.” Ning Ning looked back at her, “To me, if I want to act as a character, I need to understand their inner workings at that moment, then pick the actions the character would use and the things they would say. I cannot act as the Phantom because I could not understand how she feels inside… I could not understand how she feels when she falls in love with someone.”
She looked down at the pile of papers in her hands, the bunch of people represented on the papers. “I don’t have better ideas, I can only continuously act, continuously learn. Once I am done acting out everyone who was on the papers, experience all the first loves, maybe I will be able to grasp something.”
And at the same time (she could) break away from the influence Qu Ning’er had on her. After all, she was the one who acted, not Qu Ning’er. She could not be controlled by a hallucination from the past all the time.
Therefore, a difficult session of self-training began. She could not use the training or rehearsal time, so she could only make use of her rest time. But even if that was the case, not everyone was willing to go along with her. She had to temporarily give up on these people and looked for others who were willing to go along with her.
And thus, the first paper crane, the second paper crane, the third paper crane…As the number of paper cranes in Ning Ning’s hands dwindled, Ning Ning’s condition turned out for the better. Everything was on an upturn, the only thing that was disappointing was that deep into the night, there was one less person by her side. She always had an extra portion during meals, which she had to finish by herself.
“What do you want?” the Socialite looked at Ning Ning with vigilance and doubt, thinking that she was less normal today than usual.
“I heard that Chen Guan Chao is your first love.” Ning Ning walked towards her step by step.
The Socialite grew more vigilant, “Of course!”
“What do you like about him?” Ning Ning imitated Chen Guan Chao, placing two fingers in front of her forehead, then waved them forward in an attempt to be dashing, “Like this?”
Then with the momentum from waving her fingers Ning Ning stretched out her arm and placed her palm on the tree behind the Socialite. Ning Ning smiled at her frivolously, one corner of her mouth curving upwards. “… Or is it like this?”
The Socialite had goosebumps all over her body, a violent shiver went through her. She bent down and escaped from under Ning Ning’s arm then turned back and scolded her, “What’s wrong with you today?”
“I’m just a little curious.” Ning Ning said while laughing.
The Socialite rolled her eyes, then stomped her way over and said to Ning Ning in a low voice, “Stop trying to act innocent. Aren’t our motives the same? It’s for his money, money, money!”
Looking at the Socialite’s back view, Ning Ning folded her arms behind her, smiled and shook her head. Not every first love was beautiful, sometimes they were full of lies and deceit. There were all kinds of facets in life, even if it was this kind of first love, it could also become tiny pieces which filled her heart.
But it was still lacking something.
“…You’re not around.” Ning Ning sighed and slowly turned around, “It always feels like something is missing.”
Behind her, Wen Yu smiled at her. Like the sunlight shining through the canopy of a tree, coming down at an angle getting dispersed into tiny beams by the leaves, and ending up on her face.
Ning Ning only came to her senses when he hugged her waist. She returned his hug and asked while smiling uncontrollably, “Why are you back?”
Footsteps came from in front of her, she looked up and saw the Language Teacher struggling to speak in front of her.
“…Sorry.” She stopped biting down on her lip and said to Ning Ning, “I cannot adopt him.”
“…Why?” Ning Ning asked.
Wen Yu slowly turned back and looked at the Language Teacher while hugging Ning Ning. The Language Teacher avoided making eye contact with Wen Yu and frantically said, “It’s nothing.”
Ning Ning suddenly felt angry and walked towards her, “What exactly do you mean? He is not a pet you can return after a few days of buying him because you don’t like him! What’s the reason? There must be a reason right?”
The Language Teacher struggled with her words for a while before leaving Ning Ning with a sentence, “If you have the time, you can look at his drawings.”
Ning Ning stared at her blankly.
Drawings? What drawings?
Wen Yu walked over from behind her and gently held her hand. Ning Ning bent over and touched his head. She consoled him, “It’s alright. Even if she doesn’t want you, I want you.”
She felt that it was not good for a child to bear hatred, so she pulled his hand towards the direction the Language Teacher had left in and shook it, “Tell Teacher Yu goodbye and take care.”
He stared at the direction the Language Teacher left in with his pitch black eyes. Wen Yu slowly waved his tiny hand, listening obediently to Ning Ning, mouthing the words, ‘Goodbye, take care.’
…She really should have taken care of him herself…
A few days later, a fisherman found a floating corpse with a pale face, its hair was scattered like seaweed. It was the person who had gone missing for a few days, the Language Teacher.