“Dee laoshi, wanna hear me tell you about the meaning behind this tattoo” A client sat cross-legged on the bed as he waited.
The tattoo artist, Dyer, not done preparing yet, didn’t utter a word.
“Listen up! Then when you geddit, you can breathe life into it!” The client reached out to grab Dyer, who retreated a step back in fright.
The eyes revealed above his mask were wide with alarm.
“Geez, watcha lookin’ all shook for I only want you to listen to me.” The client was slightly on the chubbier side.
When he sat there with his legs crossed, he resembled a giant lump.
Dyer was young, twenty-five this year, an outstanding tattoo artist who had entered the trade just the year before.
His tattoos were strongly imbued with his style and were highly recognisable.
However, this also made him very inflexible and unreceptive to being told what to do.
“Go on.” Dyer’s brows were creased.
I’ll set you off with a bit of background.” The client began to ramble about someone he met about seven or eight years back.
A short distance away, one of the European tattoo artists made eye contact with Tao Xiaodong, and the corners of their lips immediately quirked upwards.
Among them, Dyer hated stories most.
People who came to get tattooed more often than not brought stories with them.
They’d be more than happy to write an essay about the meaning behind it if given the chance, carrying a remembrance of the past, a self-exploration, and a warning for the future.
There was nothing wrong with this.
Tattoos meant something different to everyone.
When it came to Tao Xiaodong, he didn’t mind his clients recounting these.
Injecting heart and soul into a tattoo was serious business; stories worked well for him, but some tattoo artists, like Dyer, disliked it.
They felt that stories weighed them down, limiting their freedom of expression when tattooing.
Dyer started even before that guy was done speaking.
He showed the other the artwork one last time, asking him, “Are you sure that you have no issues with this design Why don’t I stencil it on your body first for you to see”
“I’m not done yet, aren’t ya gonna listen” This big brother hadn’t had enough of hearing himself yet.
Dyer said, “You can keep going.
But is there a problem with the design”
Dyer nodded, sat down, and got to work.
Tao Xiaodong was forced to follow the story narrated in extreme detail.
After an hour of this, Tao Xiaodong told a boy in work attire passing by, “Fetch him a glass of water.”
The boy nodded and went to pour some water.
Tao Xiaodong’s client over here was a young lady.
She said softly, “I feel thirsty just listening to him.”
He asked her with a smile.
“Want some water”
“It’s fine, I’ve got some.” She was bracing her calf to make it easier for Tao Xiaodong to tattoo.
As she listened, she drank water as well.
After hearing the story, she began to admire her unfinished tattoo.
It was a black and red tribal design that was particularly vivid when inked on her fair skin.
She clicked her tongue.
“This leg of mine has instantly elevated into a work of art.”
Without lifting his head, Tao Xiaodong said, “Your legs were already pretty to begin with.”
She immediately laughed at this, asking, “Really I used to think that they weren’t long enough.”
Tao Xiaodong said, “They’re good enough as they are.”
These words weren’t simply made to please her.
Her complexion was fair, her leg hair was so fine that they were practically invisible, and the contours of her musculature were smooth, neither hard nor flabby.
To tattoo artists, a swath of skin this good was a rare find.
The tattoos for both calves were completed that day.
Sighing non-stop in admiration, Huan Ge whirled around the young lady snapping pictures, thereafter also towing her to the photography studio on the third floor to take better ones.
It was through tribal tattoos that Tao Xiaodong first rose to fame.
He used basic geometric shapes and lines to create many designs that, until now, still hang in tattoo artist collections.
This set of photos was briefly retouched by Huan Ge before being posted to the various social media accounts.
When put together, the tattoos on her calves were symmetrical, yet when apart appeared as standalone pieces.
Rich colours cloaked the skin beneath her knees to her ankles, and the visual contrast between the geometric shapes’ cold apathy and a young lady’s slender ankles was impactful.
When walking, tendons on the instep faintly plucked up the connecting ankles in a duality of sharpness and softness.
The photo collage that Huan Ge uploaded started to be shared in droves, afterwards even going viral beyond tattoo enthusiasts.
There was some standoffish studio elsewhere which, atypically, shared it as well.
That account rarely shared such posts from within the circle.
It wasn’t clear who was the one managing the account, but when it was shared they’d commented “dope”.
This wasn’t the first time that Tao Xiaodong’s tattoos had gone viral.
His fans had gotten used to it by now.
Some saw the high traffic and started to put up collections of Tao Xiaodong’s artwork again.
Huan Ge was on cloud nine, busy keeping a constant eye on the social media accounts that he managed.
Insiders who disdained Tao Xiaodong, however, still had their favourability level yanked up by his designs every time.
But it was impossible for him to waste this surge of popularity.
Huan Ge deftly sent out advertisements and all types of promotions, causing that budding favourability to plunge back down again.
Nevertheless, Tao Xiaodong was aware of none of these.
While his name resounded across the glamour of the online world, in reality, Tao Xiaodong was no more than a brother in slippers and pyjama trousers who cut fruits for his brothers.
They were departing tomorrow.
The two brothers had finished packing their luggage.
It had been too long since Tao Huainan last travelled out; he had said that he wanted to come along, but now started to worry that he’d cause Tao Xiaodong trouble.
Chi Cheng and Tao Huainan were sitting on the couch, whereas Tao Xiaodong was cutting fruits in the kitchen.
Chi Cheng asked him in a low voice, “Are you sure you don’t want me to go”
Tao Huainan nodded.
He said, “You have school to attend.”
Chi Cheng’s brows furrowed.
“Your brother won’t have time to take care of you when he’s busy.”
Tao Huainan shook his head, softly saying, “It doesn’t matter.”
The next day, before Chi Cheng went to school, he slipped the children’s lotion that Tao Huainan used on his face into his bag, saying to him, “Remember to apply it yourself.
The fierce winds will crack your skin.”
Tao Huainan, whilst brushing his teeth, vaguely mumbled an okay.
And so Chi Cheng put on his shoes and left.
Tao Huainan turned over to feel for Tao Xiaodong, then felt that his brother’s arm was constantly lifted before the washbasin.
“Shaving again, Ge”
Humming in assent, Tao Xiaodong smoothed his hand over his chin and neck.
Tao Huainan laughed brightly, and the laughter crinkled his eyes slightly.
Tao Xiaodong asked him, “What’s so funny”
Tao Huainan said, “You really like to shave lately.”
Tao Xiaodong flicked the boy’s head.
He inclined his head down marginally and said, “Check if I’ve shaved it clean”
So Tao Huainan reached out to slide his hand up and down along his brother’s neck and chin, saying with a playful lilt at the end, “It’s clean.
Silky smooth and slick.”
Because he had to bring Tao Huainan, he had packed more with him this time.
Tao Xiaodong pulled his luggage and also carried a backpack.
As the sponsor, his status was high, so many from the hospital had to come over to greet him when they saw him.
Those familiar with him knew Tao Huainan as well, after all, Tao Huainan frequently went to the hospital for his eye check-ups too.
On the plane, Tao Xiaodong took Tao Huainan by the hand to find seats, then got Tao Huainan to sit by the window on the inside.
Tao Xiaodong sat next to him, and after a while, someone sat down beside him.
Before Tao Xiaodong could speak, Tao Huainan laughed and softly exclaimed, “Dr.
Tao Xiaodong laughed, praising him, “Incredible.”
Tang Suoyan greeted him and, reaching past Tao Xiaodong, petted his head.
Tao Huainan smiled guilelessly.
“I can smell Dr.
Due to his blindness, Tao Huainan’s other senses were sharper.
He liked the peppermint scent on Tang Suoyan’s body, though what exactly this fragrance was, Tao Xiaodong hadn’t smelled it before.
His nose wasn’t that sharp.
Tang Suoyan was sure to be wearing a dress shirt, and Tao Xiaodong deliberately wore a dress shirt today as well.
Tang Suoyan smiled slightly, saying to Tao Xiaodong, “Both presentable today, aren’t we”
It took Tao Xiaodong a moment to process that he was referring to the last time, when only Tao Xiaodong was in a button-up.
He said in a low voice, “I can only put on airs for one day, from tomorrow I’ll still go back to short sleeves and slacks.
It’s uncomfortable for me to dress so stiffly.”
“You don’t have to.” Tang Suoyan glanced at him, and his gaze swept down, scanning his dress shirt.
“It’s fine to just do you.”
Tao Xiaodong cracked a joke, asking, “Do I look good dressed up”
It was awkward for two men to talk upfront about attractiveness, and the corners of Tang Suoyan’s lips hooked up.
“It’s all good as long as you’re comfortable with it.”
The places that they were headed to for this trip were dispersed.
They had to go to a few county hospitals, during which they’d have to change locations several times.
Tao Xiaodong had always been generous in these affairs, arranging for several trucks to supply the remote and medically backward areas with basic medical equipment.
Tao Huainan couldn’t see anything.
This was precisely the reason that many blind people never left their house, for they couldn’t even see the most exotic and beautiful scenery.
Knowing that Tao Huainan liked him, Tang Suoyan took him along throughout, sitting in the same car as them every time they switched locations.
The first day after leaving the airport, Tang Suoyan got the driver to stop en route to the county town, leading Tao Huainan out of the car with him.
Across, a shepherd tending his flock unhurriedly walked over.
Tao Huainan inhaled.
“What is this smell”
Tang Suoyan didn’t respond.
After a while, as the flock approached, upon hearing the bleating of sheep, Tao Huainan said with a smile, “It’s sheep.”
Tao Xiaodong watched them from the car.
He saw that when the flock came over, Tang Suoyan held Tao Huainan’s wrist, leading him by the hand to feel the alpine sheep, to feel their thin fur coat, the two pouches hanging under their necks, and the rod that the shepherd carried.
“It doesn’t smell very pleasant, right” Tang Suoyan asked him from the side.
A small lamb nuzzled its head against Tao Huainan’s calf.
It was ticklish.
Tao Huainan laughed, ducking away, and nodded.
“It smells like mutton.”
After the flock moved on, Tang Suoyan took a bottle of water from the car and the two of them washed their hands together.
Tao Xiaodong didn’t speak.
He heard Tang Suoyan tell Tao Huainan, “Remember this smell, the fur you just touched, and the shepherd’s rod.
You can also remember the wind just now.
Here, the sky is very blue, and the earth is yellow.”
As he spoke, Tao Huainan nodded along, pursing his lips lightly.
“This is the first day that you’ve arrived in Gansu with your brother and Dr.
Along the way, you encountered a flock of sheep.” Tang Suoyan’s voice was very gentle and steady when he spoke.
It was a calming and reassuring voice.
Tao Huainan said, “I’ve memorised it.”
Tang Suoyan chuckled, and he continued, “We’re going to do something that isn’t quite great but is still meaningful.
Your brother is an amazing man.
I might not be able to help you find memorable points again during the remaining time, so you must remember to seek them out yourself.
Every place that you’ve been to is different.
Experience them, and commit them to your memory.”
Tao Huainan nodded again.
His fingers curled loosely into his palms, and he said—”I will.”