“Anyone who wants to hurt you, Mama will…get rid of all of them.”
What did that sentence mean?
Like a dream, on the next day, Ning Yu Ren had reverted to what she was usually like—noble and elegant, graceful and poised, she had even forgiven Xu Rong. She held up Xu Rong who was almost kneeling in front of her as she said with a smile, “Forget about it this time, never again.”
“Thank you, thank you.” Xu Rong cried as she covered her mouth, “Then, Xiao Yu…can she continue to act?”
“Of course.” Ning Yu Ren smiled, “She has nothing to do with this.”
Xu Rong breathed a sigh of relief, Ning Ning on the other hand were having goosebumps.
Because Ning Yu Ren was acting.
She was acting as her own usual self—every facial expression, every move—they were seemingly flawless, other than the wound hidden by her gloves, the scab on the back of her hand.
Just before she left the house, Ning Yu Ren hugged Ning Ning and whispered into her ear, “Don’t worry, she would not dare to lose you for a while.”
Ning Ning abruptly wanted to do something, but Ning Yu Ren quickly let go of her. She gently caressed Ning Ning’s cheek with a gloved finger, then she walked out of the door with a smile.
The smile on her face disappeared the moment she got into the car.
“Hello.” She gave a certain person a call. “Did you receive it?”
Outside the car window, Ning Ning and Xu Rong came out of the house, Xu Rong was holding Ning Ning’s school bag in her hand, waving at Ning Yu Ren from a distance. Ning Yu Ren waved back at her while maintaining her smile, but her tone was cold, “Help me investigate what that medicine is exactly.”
After they watched the car leave, Xu Rong told Ning Ning who was beside her, “Alright, it’s time to go to school.”
Ning Ning held onto the last strand of hope and asked, “Can I not go?”
Of course not, she was four years old as of now, the age of someone who was supposed to attend nursery.
Ning Yu Ren put a great emphasis on Ning Ning’s education. She originally studied in the best nursery, furthermore, she was a member of the dance team. She was recently rehearsing a dance titled ‘Dance of the Duckling’.
A few little girls were in yellow fluffy dresses, wearing paper duck bills on their mouth. They tossed their heads and tails in a silly manner on stage… Ning Ning was expressionless during the entire process for what felt like an eternity.
Ning Ning finally made it through the school day, but Xu Rong was already waiting by the school gate.
Maybe she was trying to make up for her past mistake, or maybe she was trying to redeem her own image in Ning Yu Ren’s eyes, she had started to obey the rules again. Xu Rong woke up conscientiously every morning to send Ning Ning to school on time, ensuring that she picked Ning Ning up from school on time in the afternoon. She accompanied Ning Ning to watch cartoons and do homework on schedule at night.
She would only be willing to bring Ning Ning out to play on the weekends or when there was not much homework.
Sometimes they would go to the zoo, sometimes they would go to the playground, but no matter where they went, whenever they were on the way home, Ning Ning would drag her to the same place for food.
Jade Rabbit Restaurant.
They ordered a tableful of dishes. Ning Ning ate without paying much attention to the food, her eyes were locked on the staff members who were walking about. That wasn’t her, that wasn’t her either…she could not find Mu Er again today.
“You really like the food from this restaurant.” A man’s voice rang out from behind her. She turned back and saw Pei Xuan taking a seat at the table beside hers. “Can we put our tables together?”
Ning Ning’s instinct told her to shake her head, but she nodded eventually.
A waiter handed Pei Xuan the menu. He did not look at it, listing off a few dishes like it was on the back of his hand instead, before returning the menu to the waiter. “Alright, that’s all.”
“Uncle.” Ning Ning looked at him. “Do you always eat here?”
“That’s right.” Pei Xuan smiled. “Uncle really likes the food here as well.”
The waiter left with the menu, the mobile phone on Pei Xuan’s waist suddenly rang, he apologised and answered the phone.
“It’s me,” Pei Xuan said, “it’s nothing much, I just want to ask if you are free in the near future, I have a person that I want you to teach… That’s right, it’s the things you are good at, make up, coordinating clothes, etcetera…”
The dishes he ordered were already served when he got off the call.
“Try this.” He gave a pig-shaped steamed bun to Ning Ning. “Cream custard bun, children love these.”
She found it hard to reject in the moment, Ning Ning could only take a bite out of the steamed bun.
It turned out to be really delicious!
A plate was pushed towards her, full of custard cream buns. Looking at Pei Xuan’s seemingly smiling face, Ning Ning suddenly thought that the steamed bun in her mouth started to taste bad…
It was a good thing that Pei Xuan did not bother with Ning Ning anymore after he gave away his steamed buns. He turned around and started to have a conversation with Xu Rong instead. Within a few sentences, Xu Rong had told him her age, her family situation and her monthly salary. Good Lord, why aren’t you working in multi-level marketing scheme?
Xu Rong could not bear to bid him farewell as they went their separate ways. When she went to fetch Ning Ning from the nursery on the next day, she even proactively asked whether Ning Ning wanted to go out to play and eat.
“Don’t wanna.” Ning Ning shook her head with disinterest.
They didn’t have to go there anymore.
Pei Xuan’s phone call proved that he was already a step ahead of her and had already taken Mu Er away. Next, Crossdresser Li, no, Teacher Li would go to his house to guide Mu Er. His lessons were in a semi-enclosed style, she would be at Pei Xuan’s house from eight in the morning to seven or eight in the evening. In this period, Ning Ning would be locked in his house for more than half the time.
She was already unable to meet Mu Er at Jade Rabbit Restaurant anymore.
The last place where she would be able to meet the Mu siblings would be the rented apartment they live in right now.
“I could say that I like the food for going to the Jade Rabbit Restaurant.” Ning Ning thought, “A rented apartment…what reason could I have to stay there in the middle of the night?”
She thought about it on her way home.
There was a car parked in the courtyard, Ning Yu Ren had returned.
“Mama.” Ning Ning opened the door. She looked around but could not find her slippers, so she ran barefooted towards the living room.
Ning Yu Ren was seated on the sofa in the living room, holding her head up with one hand as she leaned to one side of the sofa. A copy of a script was on her legs, beside her laid a little girl who was sound asleep.
Ning Ning walked past the little girl and recognised who she was, “Why is Big Sister Xiao Yu here?”
“Shh, don’t wake your Big Sister Xiao Yu up.” Ning Yu Ren shushed her. She reached out to bring Ning Ning into her arms then smiled at Xu Rong who was walking towards her with Ning Ning’s schoolbag in hand. “Xiao Yu has been exhausted recently. She has caught a little flu and fever, I gave her the leftover medicine you fed to Ning Ning.”
The school bag fell to the ground with a thump out of Xu Rong’s hand, the look on her face changed drastically. “Which bottle?”
“I forgot,” Ning Yu Ren said, “I took a bottle at random.”
Xu Rong frantically turned around and walked in her room hastily. There was a big wooden cabinet in her nanny room which was filled with different kinds of common drugs—fever medicine, flu medicine, cough syrup, iodine, Yunnan white medicine1 powder and bandages—they were available in all kinds of variety.
She pulled open the glass door of the cabinet. In front of her was a row of flu medicine, there were all kinds of brands, arranged in a slightly messy manner, looking like someone had just messed with it. A trace of anxiety flashed across Xu Rong’s face. She parted the pillboxes in front of her and reached out to the deepest part of the cabinet, feeling around before she finally breathed a sigh of relief.
The instant she turned around, she saw Ning Yu Ren standing behind her with Ning Ning in her arms.
“What’s wrong?” Ning Yu Ren smiled like she usually would. “Is there a box of flu medicine that should not be taken in there?”
Xu Rong exclaimed, sweat was rolling down her temples.
“Look at you, sweating so much.” Ning Yu Ren said to Ning Ning, “Ning Ning, do you bring a handkerchief?”
The nursery would inspect their handkerchiefs everyday, Ning Ning naturally had one on her. She took out a handkerchief that had her name sewn on from her pocket. Ning Yu Ren said gently by her ear, “Help your Nanny Xu wipe her sweat.”
Her young and tender fingers pinched the handkerchief as she slowly wiped Xu Rong’s forehead.
“Nanny Xu and I were primary school and middle school classmates, the two of us grew up together. I tried to make a living for myself one step ahead of her, she started looking for a job one step behind me. Even though we have not met in many years, we never stopped writing to each other, we even promised each other in our letters.” Ning Yu Ren smiled gently as she held Ning Ning. “She would treat you well, and I would also treat Xiao Yu well.”
She was clearly smiling so gently, as she usually did, like the Virgin of the Rocks2, but Xu Rong started sweating from her forehead even more.
“Mummy…” A weak voice rang out from outside the door.
Xu Rong turned around and looked at the door, “Xiao Yu, how are you feeling?”
Xiao Yu rubbed her eyes, walking over drowsily. She tugged at Xu Rong’s sleeve, “I am a little sleepy and a little hungry.”
“Children are all like that, they would feel sleepy after taking flu medicine.” Ning Yu Ren said with a smile, “Alright, you should quickly cook, don’t let Xiao Yu go hungry.”
Xu Rong looked at Ning Yu Ren with guilt for a while before leaving with Little Yu in tow. The mother and daughter pair went to prepare the meal together. On the other hand, Ning Yu Ren went back to her room with Ning Ning in her arms. There was still a while before mealtime, Ning Yu Ren laid out a stack of drawing paper on the table, then took out Ning Ning’s twenty-four colour crayons and placed it by the side.
“Ning Ning.” She sat by the table and placed Ning Ning on her legs, her voice rang out from behind Ning Ning’s neck. “Before our dinner, let’s play a game.”
Ning Ning turned around and looked at Ning Yu Ren. “What game?”
Ning Yu Ren opened the box of crayons and took out the black crayon. She started drawing on the paper.
“This is you.” She first drew a small person, then added a hat on the small person with a yellow crayon. She drew a bigger person beside the small person, the bigger person had long hair, it was a woman.
She swapped to another piece of paper, on that piece of paper she drew a long set of tracks, she wasn’t sure if the tracks were not in use yet or if it was abandoned, there was no train, there was no one around, there was only weed.
Ning Yu Ren added a few strokes of green on the paper, then used the white crayon to continuously colour it.
It looked like it was snowing heavily.
“Ning Ning,” she asked as she drew, “if someone were to leave you here, what would you do?”
“I will find someone to help me.” Ning Ning said.
“But what if there was no one nearby?” Ning Yu Ren said, “Look, it is snowing so heavily.”
She coloured ferociously on the paper with the white crayon. Her stroke was getting faster and heavier, finally with a rip, the paper was torn, underneath the crayon was a black hole.
Ning Yu Ren did not speak.
Ning Ning did not speak either.
Honestly, she felt a little creeped out. She could not help but grab onto Ning Yu Ren’s thumb. “Mama…why is your hand so cold?”
Ning Yu Ren’s finger was very cold, like a frozen corpse, it suddenly shuddered when held by Ning Ning’s soft fingers. After a moment, she carefully closed her fingers, like she was holding an illusory snow that would melt anytime.
“Ning Ning…” She hugged Ning Ning tightly from behind. “Don’t worry, Mama will protect you, this time Mama definitely would not let you…”
1Yunnan Baiyao (or Yunnan Paiyao; simplified Chinese: 云南白药; traditional Chinese: 雲南白藥; pinyin: Yúnnán Báiyào; lit.: ‘Yunnan White Drug’) is a proprietary traditional Chinese medicine marketed and used as an alternative hemostatic product with use in both human and veterinary alternative medicine. Wiki article
2The Virgin of the Rocks (Italian: Vergine delle rocce; sometimes the Madonna of the Rocks) is the name of two paintings by the Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci, of the same subject, with a composition which is identical except for several significant details. Wiki article