Chapter 15 – Returning to the Starting Point

The weather cooperated and we got our wish the next day since the sailors were back at work again. The ferrymen were back to operating their rides again. We managed to get on the earliest ride after paying our fees and saying goodbye to the innkeepers, plus the friendly waiters. In a way, this inn was the best so far that we’d been through. For some reason, I felt so attached to them. Maybe it was because they’d been so nice to have run out in that stormy night to look for me. After many thanks and greetings exchanged, we finally departed and continued on our way.
“I wonder how Granny Yang will react when she sees us,” Roger said as we settled down at a corner of the boat.
I was actually surprised that Roger ass returning to his past considerate self again. Maybe this trip had driven everyone’s nerves to insanity? And now that we were closer to home, our nerves were returning to normal again?
“Hopefully the medallion works so we don’t have to stick around too long,” Jing Jing said, half whining.
“If it doesn’t work, I’ll just strangle someone,” CJ said, diverting his attention toward Ting Wei.
“We agreed to stop all fights, remember?” I turned to CJ.
“All right,” CJ said reluctantly.
It took several hours before we arrived at the other side. Maybe we didn’t seem to pay attention the last time or maybe we were anticipating it more and more this time that it seemed to be longer this time around. Luckily, we finally made it across so our nerves were reassured once again.
“Where should we go now?” Roger asked. “It’s already half a day. We wouldn’t be able to make it to Granny Yang’s house before dark.”
“Let’s head to Lao Shi’s inn for a rest and then we can go back to Granny Yang’s house tomorrow,” I said, looking around at different stalls nearby.
“Good idea,” Ting Wei said, giving me a smile.
I ignored Ting Wei’s smile and began to make my way into town.
“I wonder what they will say when they see us back here,” Roger said aloud.
“Probably curious,” Ting Wei said.
I walked the rest of the way in silence, only half-listening to their conversation. When we arrived, the first person who spotted us was Xiao Lin. He looked happy to see us. Actually, more like beyond surprised.
“Whoa!” He exclaimed, instead of a “hi” or something along those lines.
“A normal greeting would be enough,” CJ teased him, walking toward his direction.
“I didn’t expect you guys to come back,” Xiao Lin admitted.
“Oh?” CJ said. “What do you expect then?”
“Thought you would be going back to your home country by now,” Xiao Lin said.
I almost forgot what version of the story we gave him before we set off. Luckily, CJ jumped in to answer for all of us.
“Apparently,” CJ continued. “We decided to stay around some more.”
“Oh,” Xiao Lin said.
“By the way,” Ting Wei jumped in. “Have you been visiting Granny Yang and Ah Xiang lately?”
“Quite a few times,” Xiao Lin said. “She misses you guys. Lucky you’ve decided to come back for a visit again.”
“Actually, we got a letter from Ah Xiang about a month ago,” Ting Wei admitted. “So we’re back to see them.”
“They should be happy to see you,” Xiao Lin said, smiling. “I’ll take you there tomorrow.”
“We know our way, you know,” Roger reminded him.
“I’m just looking for an excuse to hang around their house,” Xiao Lin confessed.
“Then let’s go together tomorrow,” CJ said.
“All right,” Xiao Lin said. “That’s a deal.”
We walked together to Lao Shi’s inn at that time.
“How have things been these past months?” Ting Wei asked casually.
“Strange, but not bad at all,” Xiao Lin reported.
“Strange?” CJ asked, looking at Xiao Lin.
“Yes, strange,” Xiao Lin repeated. “Maybe it’s just the weather. It’s supposed to rain right now but it hasn’t poured a drop.”
“That’s strange, it has been raining across the way,” Ting Wei said. “We were expecting another storm, except it didn’t happen.”
“Oh?” Xiao Lin asked, his turn to look curious.
We took turns to tell him about the weather condition we’d experienced this past week.
When we arrived at Lao Shi’s inn, Xiao Lin acted as waiter to lead us to our rooms since the others were quite busy at that time. It was funny that most people in this town took turns helping each other without collecting some sort of fees – unlike our time, everything was about money.
Xiao Lin must be a rumor mill of the town or something since only about half an hour later that some of the usual citizens piled into the inn as we settled in to greet us, asking us of our journey these past months. We spent the rest of the afternoon catching up with them and their daily life activities. I couldn’t help but felt somewhat teary since these friendly people were the most rewarding thing during this whole journey that I’d met and known throughout all these times. It was probably one of the reasons that I could find to stay behind if things didn’t work out. But in the end, I always reminded myself that I didn’t belong there. I needed to come back and face reality – the real reality that the five of us belonged in.
Instead of just staying for a night at the inn like planned, we ended up staying two more days since the townspeople insisted. It was a relationship we must maintain, considering we were so closed. It was a good way to rest too since we were so worn out from fatigue and other problems.
When we finally left, Xiao Lin joined us like he insisted the other day.
“This is it,” Roger said under his breath – a tad too loud again – when we set out toward the more ancient side of Huang Tu City.
“What?” Xiao Lin asked, puzzled.
“Nothing,” CJ covered for Roger. “He just can’t wait to see Granny Yang.”
“Liar,” I mumbled, walking next to CJ.
“Thanks for the compliment, jie,” CJ said sarcastically, pasting on an annoying sibling’s smile.
“You two are too funny,” Xiao Lin said, noticing our little fight.
“That’s what siblings are all about,” CJ said.
“I wish I have a sibling or two,” Xiao Lin said.
“Believe me,” CJ reassured him. “You don’t want that.”
“It seems fun though,” Xiao Lin persisted.
“You wished you were the only child IF you ever had a sibling,” CJ said in an as a matter of fact tone.
“In fact, you wish you weren’t born with such a loud mouth,” I snapped, staring at CJ still.
“Here we ago again,” Roger said, catching up to us, walking on CJ’s other side. “Are you two sharpening up your argument skills again?”
“Maybe,” CJ and I replied at the same time.
“If I didn’t know you guys are siblings, I would have guessed that you guys are a couple,” Xiao Lin commented.
CJ and I shivered at the same time.
“Sorry,” Xiao Lin apologized, sounding apologetic enough. “Didn’t mean to freak you guys out with that image.”
“It’s okay,” CJ said.
After that, I tuned them out as we stepped closer and closer toward Granny Yang’s house. We decided last night that we would stick around for several days to visit Granny Yang and inspect the haunted house at the same time. Then we would leave after that.
Our plan didn’t exactly work out since we were surrounded by the villagers for the next several days with less time to explore on our own. Granny Yang as expected was happy to see us. In fact, we were all so busy catching up on old times that no one noticed my attitude toward Ting Wei or we were less and less like a couple than before. I guess I had to thank those ancient time traditions since it would be appropriate not to act so close in front of others even if you were married.
We stayed about a week before anyone of us could sneak out to explore the haunted house. We heard from others that they planned on tearing the house down. Luckily it was still there since everyone was still somewhat undecided and scared of what might happen if they tore it down.
I stepped out to greet the morning’s fresh air after managing to sneak out. I scanned around the area to make sure no one was around before stepping toward the haunted house. I reached out to take the door handle but for some reason I stopped in mid-air. Maybe I was getting influenced by the villagers there and had developed some sense of superstition toward the house itself. Stop it, Zhang Shao Han, I scolded myself. I reached out to take the handle again after exhaling deeply. Suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder.
“Aaahhhh…” I screamed out.
“It’s only me, you big chicken,” CJ’s voice said behind me.
“You scared the world out of me!” I yelled, turning to face CJ.
“Didn’t know you have such a small liver,” CJ teased.
“Zhao Jia Le!” I shouted, somewhat annoyed.
“All right, all right,” He said, putting up his hands. “Let’s drop it and explore while we still can.”
“Definitely,” I agreed, looking around the area again.
I let CJ do the honor of opening the door this time. Half because I did not want another tap on my shoulder and the other half was CJ’s impatient.
“Let’s hope this will work,” CJ said after he swung the door open.
“Where are you two going?” A voice said behind us.
We turned around in alarm.
“You scared us half to death!” CJ and I exclaimed at the same time.
“You guys are such big chickens then,” Roger said.
“Don’t trust us?” CJ asked, regaining himself again.
“You have the medallion, remember?” Roger said, eyeing us suspiciously.
“We’re just exploring the place,” CJ said.
“Sure you are,” Roger said, looking doubtful.
“Let’s look around before the others wake up,” CJ insisted.
“What if we end up going back without the other two?” Roger asked.
“It would serve them right,” CJ said.
“CJ,” I interfered, seeing Roger’s fear.
“Okay then,” CJ said. “We’ll wait for tonight all right?”
“Sounds better,” Roger said, sounding a little more reassured than before.
“All right, let’s go back then.”
Roger nodded.
CJ had no choice but to close the door of the haunted house again.
We joined the others inside for breakfast without another word regarding the matter. However, it seemed like we kept a good watch on each other during the day, making sure no one made a move. Or maybe we were just all so nervous and also afraid that we were being left behind. I didn’t blame anyone this time around since it seemed too scary and risky if we shall be left behind. Even if one or more of us had harmed one another in the past, but none of us deserved to be left behind at this place – even if they had the friendliest people in the world. As stated many times before, we didn’t belong here. If we needed to settle any scores, we had to wait until we were all back to our time.
Another delay happened again as the night went on with many other activities since fall was beginning to creep its way back. We promised to help Granny Yang and Ah Xiang to get ready for the cold weather before leaving. We’d been dropping hints the whole time that we would only be there for a short time so if we left one day, it wouldn’t be impolite or so abrupt to them.
We stayed another month to help as fall finally arrived. Granny Yang was happy that Ah Xiang had some help this time and she was more than happy that they’d survive the winter. We were here for almost a year now and I could almost anticipate the upcoming year and see how they celebrate New Year, but I constantly had to remind myself of our sole purpose coming back to Huang Tu City this time around.
“It’s almost a year now,” Roger began one night when we were getting ready for bed like many times before. “I think we’ve stay long enough already, don’t you guys think? Let’s get out of here.”
“What if we don’t succeed?” Jing Jing asked timidly.
I looked over to her side of the room to see her face all pale. I didn’t blame her. It had been in all our minds since we came back to this place. It seemed too good to be true. We’d been patient and waiting. But our patients were just a cover up for our fears.
“We can’t turn back now,” CJ reminded her. “The worst is we’re stuck here forever.”
I suddenly felt bad for Jing Jing. I walked over to her and placed a hand on her shoulder.
“We’ll be okay,” I said.
Jing Jing suddenly leaned into me, making me not knowing what to do aside from patting her shoulders gently, trying to calm her down.
“Maybe you could live with both after all if this thing doesn’t work,” Roger whispered to Ting Wei.
I turned to give Roger a look.
“It’s not funny,” CJ warned him. “And your whispering skill sucks. Stop trying to whisper next time.”
“I’m just trying to make light of the situation,” Roger said defensively.
We could see some tint of fear in his eyes too so I gave CJ a look not to attack him too harshly.
“Whatever happens,” I said, “we will all face it together.”
“Definitely,” CJ reassured the others.
That night was the closest to us bonding like a group once again. Maybe this fear would bring us together once again – or not. I was not sure, but I knew that I couldn’t hold the past against them. At least not at that crucial moment.
© Saturday, October 4th, 2008
Posted: Saturday, March 13th, 2010