There was no mouth on the mask, there seemed to be no mouth under it as well.
The masked person in front of her was gesticulating with his hands and feet, trying to express something to Ning Ning, but he was only able to make meaningless sounds. He tilted his head to think as he saw Ning Ning’s blank expression, then abruptly took something out from his pocket and attempted to shove it in Ning Ning’s hands.
It was a ticket.
There was a stamp on it, on the stamp was his portrait.
A main character ticket.
Ning Ning got frightened and took a step back after she took a good look at it, she waved her hands repeatedly. “I don’t want that.”
The masked person tilted his head again. He kept the main character ticket, then searched around with his other hand and took another ticket out from his breast pocket.
An ordinary ticket.
“Ah, ah…” He reached out with the ordinary ticket towards Ning Ning, he seemed to be asking, would this do?
Ning Ning looked at the ticket then looked at him. She still did not dare to take the ticket, because it was clearly mentioned in Ning Yu Ren’s will: “Unless it’s a last resort1, never accept a ticket from a staff member.” Did the ticket here refer only to the main character ticket, or did it include any other ticket?
“Alright, I told you she wouldn’t take these.” Shi Zhong Tang placed his arm over Ning Ning’s shoulders and winked at the masked person in front of him.
The masked person’s shoulders drooped like a deflated balloon.
The movie was about to start now, Shi Zhong Tang pulled Ning Ning over to the seats and sat down.
“What exactly is going on?” Ning Ning was incredulous. “What did he want?”
“He wants to get in your good books.” Shi Zhong Tang said with a smile, “So that you will do him a favour.”
“…What favour?” Ning Ning looked at him.
“There’s no rush.” Shi Zhong Tang turned her face towards the screen. “How can you ask for a favour without offering something up? If you won’t accept the ticket, then he has to offer you something else.”
Upon finishing, he turned around and looked at the masked person beside him who was unwilling to leave. He said blandly without a smile, “You should leave, the movie is about to begin.”
The masked person looked at him then at Ning Ning, before turning around with difficulty as he left unwillingly.
“…Why does it feel like you are bullying him?” Ning Ning could not help but say after he left.
“Are you kidding me? Where do I have the time to bully a chubby kid?” Shi Zhong Tang pretended to be surprised as he looked at Ning Ning. “If I wanted to bully anyone, it would be you.”
Ning Ning was taken aback by his words.
“I’ll make you cry, make you hate me.” Shi Zhong Tang smiled and said, “Then I’ll help you wipe your tears, tell you that I was joking, that I actually love you the most. I’ll wait for you to let your guards down, then I’ll…”
He took advantage of when Ning Ning had her guard down, suddenly pinching her face, turning her mouth into an ‘o’ shape.
“…Shi Zhong Tang!!”
Amidst Shi Zhong Tang’s laughter and Ning Ning’s angry shouts, the lights dimmed and the main theme started playing.
“My angel talked to me today, she said I am as fat as a watermelon.” The cracked voice of a teenage boy rang out, his voice was filled with love and helplessness. “My angel smiled at me. She laughed at my singing, saying that it sounded like a duck. For the sake of making her laugh, I quack, quack, quack…”
Ning Ning was speechless.
“You didn’t even get angry from that, you could still quack, quack, quack.” Shi Zhong Tang sighed in the darkness. “I believe in love again.”
“…Impossible.” Ning Ning refused to believe that this was a youthful romantic film based on her observation and the theater’s usual quirk. Her expression turned dark. “No one could endure such humiliation. It’s even less likely for a teenage boy or girl. My angel…might not indicate love, it might mean that he intends to send her to heaven to meet God later.”
“…You are too nervous.” Shi Zhong Tang said.
Ning Ning looked at the screen with fear and shook her head. “Based on my past experiences, even if I raise my vigilance tenfold it still wouldn’t be enough.”
It was all lessons taught in blood, trauma caused by deaths.
“…It’s not all bad, wasn’t there some good things as well?” Shi Zhong Tang’s voice rang out from beside her, it was filled with love and helplessness. “…In your opinion, am I good or a bad thing?”
Ning Ning was stunned. The feeling of weightlessness came over her before she could answer.
“My angel talked to me today, she said I am as fat as a watermelon.”
“My angel smiled at me. She laughed at my singing, saying that it sounded like a duck.”
“For the sake of making her laugh, I quack, quack, quack…”
Accompanied by the singing voice of the teenage boy, her surroundings turned blurry. Once the song slowly disappeared, her vision slowly became clear, she stood in a messy room.
There were people in uniform walking around her.
A few teenagers in uniform walked towards her and asked, “Mu Er, are you getting your eyes tested first or height measured first?”
The room was huge, there were not only students in it, there were several people in doctor’s coat as well. Beside every white coat was an instrument, there were instruments for eyesight tests and instruments for heart and lung tests. There were queues of varying length in front of the different instruments, the students in the queues were whispering to one another, everyone had a piece of paper in their hands.
Ning Ning looked down and saw that she was also holding the same piece of paper, the heading was ‘physical examination form’, the bottom part was already half filled, including her name, age, height, heart and lungs (test result).
“I’m going to do the eyesight test.” Ning Ning raised the physical examination form in her hand. “I have already measured my height.”
“Then I’ll go with you.” The uniformed teenager said.
The two of them arrived at the eyesight test. Ning Ning handed over the physical examination form to the doctor. The doctor looked at her with a weird look before asking, “Didn’t you just get your eyesight tested?”
Ning Ning was taken aback, “No, I didn’t.”
“You did, I remembered it very clearly.” The doctor looked quite young, he seemed to have graduated from school not long ago as he was full of the aura of a student. He smiled at Ning Ning and said, “165cm tall, weighing in at 90lbs, chest 88cm, right?”
Ning Ning compared her results to what the doctor said. She was surprised to find out that written on the physical examination form was height 165cm, weight 90lbs, chest 88cm…he was actually right about everything.
“…eyesight 2.0.” The doctor said in the end.
“Ning Ning looked up and said, “Impossible.”
After a series of tests, the results of her eyesight was revealed—0.2, the digits were exactly in the opposite places.
A person with 2.0 eyesight could become a pilot, but her? Any person who was at a little distance away would become a mosaic in her eyes, that was why she was very sure that it was impossible when the doctor said 2.0.
Ning Ning treated this incident as a brief interlude and was about to leave with her form. The doctor muttered behind her at that moment, “That’s strange, there really are two identical people…”
There were not just two identical people, there were two identical scripts as well.
The uniformed teenager invited Ning Ning to go home together after the examination. Ning Ning did not reject the offer, because she didn’t even know where she lived. It was when the other party sent her to her destination that she looked at a dirty little restaurant dazedly with a bag of snacks in hand. The entrance had a sign which read—Friendship Bistro.
The door opened and a little fatty wearing the same uniform walked out.
The uniforms in this era were hard to look at, all of them looked oversized on a student regardless of the actual size, they would be as baggy as a glove puppet, but that was not the case for this fatty. He made a large uniform look small.
The little fatty took a look at Ning Ning, then looked at the comely uniformed teenager behind her before he suddenly turned back and said, “Mom, Mu Er brought a customer back.”
Not long later, an equally fat woman came rushing out, she forcibly dragged the teenager inside and sat them down, his mother smiled widely. “Aiya, dear customer what would you like to have? I will give you a twenty percent discount seeing that you were brought here by Mu Er.”
In the end a plate of fried rice was charged at fifty yuan2.
A kid wouldn’t have that much money on them, the expression on the Fat Woman’s face immediately changed, she forced the teenager to call their parents to come over, then used some obscene language to force the other party to pay up before letting them go.
Ning Ning attempted to help but she was treated with a slap. She held her face and stood at the original spot. She looked at the little shop which had a foul atmosphere in front of her while in a trance, she watched as the uniformed teenager leave in tears, watched the face of the Fat Woman as she licked her fingers while counting the cash.
She read out a line in her mind, “What are you looking at? Why don’t you quickly go and wash the dishes?”
The Fat Woman suddenly stopped counting the cash and turned around to stare at Ning Ning, “What are you looking at? Why don’t you quickly go and wash the dishes?”
Ning Ning stayed silent for a moment, she grabbed the remaining snacks on the table and walked towards the kitchen, she read out in her mind, “Hold on, where did you get the money to buy snacks?”
“Hold on.” The Fat Woman’s voice rang out from behind her, then a fat arm snatched the snacks out of her hands, “Where did you get the money to buy snacks?”
“Someone bought it for me.” Ning Ning answered.
“Oh, go wash the dishes then.” The Fat Woman sent her away casually, then opened the bag of snacks herself and put a handful into her mouth, then grabbed another handful to give to the little fatty.
“I don’t want it.” The little fatty turned his face away as he said in a muffled voice, “I have been losing weight recently.”
“Why would you need to lose weight? Only girls need to lose weight, boys look better the way you are. The more portly the more stylish.” The Fat Woman seemed to have a different perspective on attractiveness, or maybe he would be attractive in his mother’s eyes no matter what. She smiled at the little fatty and said, “That’s right, your birthday is coming up in a few days, do you have anything you want?”
Ning Ning had already entered the kitchen when the two of them were conversing. There was a stack of chopsticks in the water-filled basin. She rolled up her sleeves and started washing the dishes, muttering softly as she washed them, “Why would you need to lose weight? Only girls need to lose weight, boys look better the way you are. The more portly the more stylish…”
She knew whatever the Fat Woman was saying.
To be more precise, Ning Ning had seen them.
“What was the next line?” Ning Ning frowned and thought as she washed the dishes, a few minutes later she her brows unfurrowed and she mumbled, “I remember it now, it was Mu Er, you should stop attending school…”
The door behind her suddenly opened, the Fat Woman walked in and shouted at Ning Ning, “Mu Er, you should stop attending school. I will do the procedures for you to drop out in a few days, stay home and help out and look after your brother Mu Gua while you are at it.”
Ning Ning turned back and looked at her and the little fatty behind her.
She had transmigrated as Mu Er, the supporting female character of <<The Trial of the Witch>>—the film adapted from a true story she was about to take part in—a girl who dropped out of high school then worked at her family restaurant. In front of her was her mother Chen Ju and her little brother Mu Gua.
A vicious mother and a vicious little brother, the two of them tormented the little girl very badly…
“It is roughly the year 1997.” Ning Ning turned back, she thought to herself as she washed the dishes, “It is the beginning of the plot.”
“You brat, did you hear me?” Chen Ju shouted from behind her.
“I heard you.” Ning Ning lowered her head and ducked from the bowl that was thrown at her from behind. It was only after she had managed to dodge that she realised that it was wrong for her to have dodged that. According to the script, she should have been hit dead on by the bowl thrown by Chen Ju, causing her to faint. When she woke up she would find out that she had been withdrawn from school.
Would it affect the plot now that she did not faint?
Ning Ning turned around and was preparing herself for Chen Ju to throw another bowl, but she saw that Chen Ju was angered by the fact that she did not hit her target and walked to the side of a cabinet, reaching out to grab the feather duster that was on top of it.
“…Watch out!” Ning Ning shouted loudly.
But it was too late. The cabinet shook for a while before suddenly falling on Chen Ju, the cabinet fell flat on her as she screamed. Below the cabinet were her outstretched limbs that were twitching ever so slightly.
“…Mom! Get yourself together!” Two of their voices shouted in unison.
October 1997, the first day of the beginning of this story, Chen Ju who was originally an important antagonist in the film got injured and fell unconscious. Outside of the emergency room, Ning Ning and Mu Gua slowly turned their heads and looked at each other with a bewildered look.
…How should…she carry on acting in this movie?
“Who would torment me?” Ning Ning thoughts were in disorder. “Who would spoil him?”
1We had previously translated it as “even as a last resort” which was the mistake, this is the correct translation, apologies for the error.
2This equates to $7 usd approximately.