For this trip, they were staying in two small guest houses in the county, which just barely managed to accommodate all of them.
It was two people to a room; they didn’t have the luxury to provide single-person rooms.
Tao Xiaodong was originally supposed to share a room with the doctor with whom he was more familiar, but the junior doctor said that he had a tendency of snoring.
Afraid of affecting Tao Xiaodong’s sleep, he requested a room change.
This guy had a special standing.
Not only was he a sponsor, but he was also Consultant Tang’s friend.
With such a distinguished status, no one was willing to room with him.
Tao Xiaodong chortled.
“I might as well get off if this goes on.
Are you guys shutting me out”
Logically, Tao Xiaodong and Consultant Chen should room together due to their similar age and standing.
However, that would only be the case if both men were straight—they were not.
Tao Xiaodong’s rejection was instant.
This consultant was someone that his doctor back home had deliberately singled out.
So, he had to keep his distance.
There was another intern doctor on the same coach, young and taciturn, who would smile from time to time when conversing with others but would seldom take the initiative to speak up.
At this time, while several of the doctors on the coach were elbowing each other, he said, “I can room with Director Tao.”
“Sure, Xiao Lin doesn’t snore.
He’s a junior from the same med school that Consultant Tang graduated from.” The doctor from before introduced with a smile.
Tao Xiaodong looked back at the tall and skinny doctor in the back row.
When doing introductions after getting on the coach earlier, he had mentioned that he was also a former student under Professor Xu, if memory served, called Lin He.
Tang Suoyan usually took extra care of him.
Smiling at Tao Xiaodong, he took off his earphones and slowly coiled up the cord.
Actually, it didn’t make a difference to Tao Xiaodong who he roomed with.
Any doctor or volunteer apart from Consultant Chen would do.
They were rather busy during the day, so it was enough to have a place to sleep at night.
Lin He didn’t speak much.
There was basically no unnecessary dialogue between them in the room, a handful of sentences at most.
Tao Xiaodong would usually sit at the roof for a while, making calls to Tang Suoyan and Tao Huainan, and by the time he came back down, Lin He was turning in for the night.
Tao Xiaodong was wearing his earphones with his hands stuck into his pockets.
He sat on the concrete of the rooftop, talking to Tang Suoyan over the phone.
Tang Suoyan asked him if he was tired.
Tao Xiaodong said that he wasn’t.
“I heard that there are many people over there,” Tang Suoyan chatted with him, his voice through the earpiece carrying a hint of mirth.
“I even heard that no one wants to room with you.”
“Yeah, they’re shutting me out.” Tao Xiaodong chuckled as well.
The evening breeze was comfortably cool.
In the south, even the spring winds in the evening were warm.
“Why didn’t you tell on them I can make you the boss there, don’t you know” Tang Suoyan asked him.
“I’ll collect the names and hand them over when I get back.” Tao Xiaodong particularly enjoyed listening to Tang Suoyan quietly chat with him over the phone like this.
He really liked his voice.
“I’d thought that there would be less patients this year, it surprised me to see that there are even more than the past two years.” Tao Xiaodong recalled the packed waiting area in the morning and frowned.
“It shouldn’t be that bad over here.”
“There is poor health insurance and a lack of awareness of primary care,” said Tang Suoyan.
Tao Xiaodong told him about a few of the patients in the day and Tang Suoyan said with slight regret, “They put it off for too long, their eyesight can no longer be restored.”
“They are all common diseases yet still get put off like that.” Other than regret, Tao Xiaodong also felt a bit of anger whenever he saw such cases.
How could they keep dragging it out like that without filing for insurance or seeking treatment
But this was old news to Tang Suoyan, who could even composedly console him, “It is already much better than before, and it will get even better with time.”
Tao Xiaodong sat there sighing, and Tang Suoyan went on to divert him with other topics.
The phone was placed on the ground and set to loudspeaker.
Tang Suoyan took the scissors, cutting each stem individually.
After that, he also had to change out the water.
Tao Xiaodong had to tend the flowers on the balcony daily when home.
He adored them with a passion.
Now that Tao Xiaodong wasn’t home, Tang Suoyan helped him tend the flowers.
Tao Xiaodong brought along a sketchbook on this trip.
Whenever there was nothing he could help with, he would find a corner to sit down and draw, staying there for hours on end without eating or drinking, filling page after page with art.
Within several days, he had filled most of the book.
Inspiration flowed powerfully through him and the pencil in his hand never stopped.
When Lin He returned from outside, Tao Xiaodong had already taken a shower.
He was sitting on his bed, drawing still, and Lin He greeted him with a “Tao ge.”
“You’re back” Tao Xiaodong looked up at him.
His fingers didn’t stop moving; he offered a smile before lowering his head again.
Lin He took off his coat and draped it over the back of the chair, making an answering noise before inquiring, “Have you had dinner, Tao ge”
Tao Xiaodong said that he had.
Lin He nodded, then took fresh clothes into the bathroom, also washing the clothes that he wore today in the shower.
They had essentially completed half of their routine conversation for the day, the rest of it for later on when Lin He was done getting ready for bed, he’d say “Tao ge, I’m going to sleep first.”
He was a tall and handsome guy with monolids.
He wasn’t an instant knockout, but the type that would make people do a double take—the only shortfall being his extreme introversion, which worried Tao Xiaodong as to how he would fare when seeing patients in the future.
Since he was back, Tao Xiaodong stopped drawing for the day as he didn’t want it to affect the other’s rest.
He kept his things.
Lin He’s phone rang from the opposite side, the vibrations never stopping.
After a while, Lin He emerged from the bathroom, and Tao Xiaodong informed him, “Your phone rang.”
Lin He glanced at it, and his phone happened to ring again just then.
He picked it up immediately, asking gently, “What is it”
Tao Xiaodong’s eyebrows flew up.
He’d never heard him use such a soft tone when speaking during the few days that they had shared a room.
He couldn’t tell what was said over the phone, but the other walked towards the door and replied, “Nothing happened, I was in the shower just now.”
Lin He went out to talk on the phone.
Tao Xiaodong, comparing that earlier tone of voice with how he was usually, smiled at the difference.
Translated by luckykoi
The clouds outside were threatening rain.
It was humid in the room, which didn’t abate even after opening a window.
Tao Xiaodong checked the time.
It was half past eleven.
Lin He, on the bed on the other side, was a quiet sleeper.
Unable to go back to sleep, he took his coat to the rooftop.
There were several small lamps on the roof, as well as the lighting under a plaque, which were kept on the entire night.
Mosquitoes buzzed around the lights in a circular pattern that was simultaneously chaotic and lonely.
The humidity built in the air and only started to drizzle near daybreak.
Tao Xiaodong raised his chin and looked up, standing there for a while more.
Once the rain came, it persisted for three days, causing their flight to be delayed by a day.
Nothing much happened on that last day.
Some of the doctors headed to the hospital while the others rested in their own rooms.
Lin He and Tao Xiaodong both stayed in.
They watched the rain outside, chatting.
Lin He asked, “Do you mind if I smoke, Tao ge”
Tao Xiaodong didn’t mind, naturally.
Lin He lit a cigarette and stood beside the window, smoking, before Tao Xiaodong requested one for himself.
Then, the two men smoked at the window.
Lin He said, “I didn’t peg you as a smoker.”
“I don’t smoke much,” Tao Xiaodong smiled.
“I’m not addicted to it.”
Smoking was to men the same as socialising over drinks.
Standing side by side smoking together seemed to close the distance between them, removing a layer of unfamiliarity.
“Tao ge,” Lin He called him.
Tao Xiaodong looked over.
Lin He asked, “What are you doing this for Why donate so much money for all these people you don’t know”
He was gazing outside when asking the question.
Every drop of rain that fell pounded down powerfully, splintering as it crashed to the ground.
Tao Xiaodong said, “I don’t know, either.”
Lin He looked at him.
Tao Xiaodong smiled, musing, “It also pains me to see so much money going out.
I regret it, sometimes, when I donate larger amounts.
But it’s addictive.
Once you start, there will always be a next.”
“I know another guy that’s like you.” Lin He took another drag of his cigarette.
“Life is hard enough for him, but he still keeps hoping to become Mother Teresa.”
He was obviously thinking of someone else as he said this, but upon uttering them, realising that they were not that appropriate, amended, “I’m not referring to you, Tao ge.”
Yet Tao Xiaodong smiled and said, “I’m pretty much the same.”
Perhaps feeling minutely awkward, Lin He didn’t continue to speak.
Likewise, Tao Xiaodong lapsed into silence, mind heavy with thoughts.
After finishing his smoke, Tao Xiaodong said, “This might be the last time I’m donating.
People have their own fates, there’s not much I can do to help.”
Lin He looked back at him, and Tao Xiaodong said, “Well, there.
May everyone have a carefree life.”
The wish, whether said or heard, sounded like a fool’s dream.
A seventy-something grandfather had come to the hospital with his eleven-year-old grandson the previous day.
The grandfather was already half blind and his vision was deteriorating still.
They walked over step by step, tightly holding hands, and departed the same way they came.
The elderly man’s son had passed away in a mudslide and for the past five years, it had just been the two of them in the rundown house.
One slowly growing up, and the other swiftly gaining in age.
The elder’s vision was incurable.
The grandson should be leaving to study in the city soon, but their family couldn’t afford the school fees.
Even if they could, travel expenses were another issue.
Tao Xiaodong withdrew two wads of cash from the hospital ATM and stuffed them into the elderly man’s pocket, who waved his hands and tried to give it back, but Tao Xiaodong pressed down his hand.
Wiping his eyes, the elder spoke in dialect to Tao Xiaodong, who couldn’t understand a word of it anyway.
The two wads of cash seemed to solve a lot of problems for these two people, yet also seemed unable to solve anything.
However, Tao Xiaodong was incapable of offering more help, nor did he have the time.
Everyone suffered hardships in life, with each their own trials and tribulations.
On his return, Tang Suoyan fetched him from the airport with a bouquet of flowers.
It was a day later than expected due to the rain.
Most of those on the trip back were Tang Suoyan’s colleagues.
Tang Suoyan didn’t offer anyone a lift, driving off right after picking up Tao Xiaodong.
Tao Xiaodong said smilingly, “It would have been so awkward if anyone saw your car.”
“Then we can only hope that none of them saw it.” Tang Suoyan smiled as well.
“I can’t take all of them back, there are too many of them.
I selectively took the most important person home.”
Tao Xiaodong held the flowers in his hands.
He fiercely loved this shade of vivid orange.
He had lost weight during this one week trip.
That night, as Tao Xiaodong sorted his clothes for the laundry, Tang Suoyan watched him from behind.
His hair had grown out slightly; he should get a hair cut soon.
It was still a little damp from the shower.
Tang Suoyan stretched his hand down to fiddle with it.
Tao Xiaodong, sitting on the ground, looked up at him, and when Tang Suoyan returned a smile, Tao Xiaodong leaned back against his legs.
Tang Suoyan asked him, “Do you need me to help you tidy up”
Tao Xiaodong said, “You can help me take the clothes to the wash.”
Tang Suoyan, “All right.”
He sat down next to Tao Xiaodong, where they sat next to each other.
Tao Xiaodong didn’t bother tidying up anymore, simply leaning on Tang Suoyan’s back.
Tang Suoyan took an article of clothing and asked whether this should go into the wash.
Later, Tao Xiaodong turned around and held Tang Suoyan, pressing his face onto his body.
Tang Suoyan looked over, asking softly, “What’s wrong, Xiaodong”
Tao Xiaodong didn’t speak.
He stayed there silently, the region of his eyes covered by Tang Suoyan’s shoulder.
Tang Suoyan reached back and stroked his hair.
The damp strands that wet Tang Suoyan’s neck were slightly chilly.
“Yan ge,” Tao Xiaodong called him.
Tang Suoyan answered, “I’m here.”
With suppressed emotion and a dependence he didn’t even notice in his voice, Tao Xiaodong said with shallow breaths, “I don’t feel so good.”
Tang Suoyan’s fingertips gently scraped the crown of his head.
Tao Xiaodong felt suffocated.
His mouth parted and the words came out slowly.
“I’d rather not say yet.”
Tang Suoyan hummed and patted him, calming and steadying.