Chapter 8 – The Token of Happiness

I lost track of time as we waited for the storm to end. It was very ruthless as it progressed on. We went back to the window and checked on it once every while as we waited. We ended up spending the time playing senseless games. When the storm was finally over or it seemed to be over, we made sure it was safe to go out before opening the door. Some people from other houses also came out to check. The place looked quite pitiful since most front yards were ruined. We turned to check on Mrs. Yang’s house to find the roof partially ripped off. CJ and I turned to look at each other with alarmed. We rushed toward the front door. I rushed inside the house as soon as CJ opened the door. Seeing that no one was in the front part of the house, I felt relieved again.
“Ting Wei!” I called out.
“Roger!” CJ continued.
“Jing Jing!”
We headed toward the back part of the house, calling out everyone’s name. We found them hiding in the hallway of the bedrooms. Jing Jing was the first one to see us.
“Shao Han!” She ran to me as she called out my name.
I hugged her back, knowing she was scared right now so I didn’t want to act cold toward her. Before I could pry her hands off me to check on the others, someone pushed her aside and grabbed hold of me. I realized it was Ting Wei so I hugged him back. As soon as we separated, I could see his face beyond mad.
“What were you thinking?!” He blurted out. “You know you could have been killed in that crazy storm?”
“I’m not dead, am I?” I said lightly.
“That’s not funny!” He shouted.
“Enough!” I heard CJ’s voice behind me.
I turned around to see him coming closer to us.
“We were just trying to find some clues, okay?!” CJ shouted at Ting Wei. “Unlike someone who doesn’t even bother to pay attention these past days! You forgot what happened that night?! Yeah right!”
As CJ’s voice’s raised louder and louder, I could see the frightened expressions on Mrs. Yang and Ah Xiang’s faces as well.
“Jia Le, stop,” I said calmly. “This is not the time for it.”
I gestured casually toward Mrs. Yang and Ah Xiang.
“Fine,” He said. He turned to Mrs. Yang. “I’m really sorry for the outburst. I just can’t stand him yelling at my sister.”
“It’s all right,” Mrs. Yang said. “Everyone’s just worried. This is one scary storm after all.”
After that, we all headed out front again.
“It looks like we need to patch up the roof soon,” Ah Xiang said as he saw the hole above us. “Although the storms are gone, but snow will still be around until next month.”
“Don’t worry,” CJ said. “We’ll help you patch it up.”
I looked at him with an expression that said, “Why are you making false promises? We’re getting out of here soon.” He gave me back an expression that went somewhere along the line of, “We’re not going anywhere until we can explain our disappearance right in front of their eyes, are we?”
Good point, I thought to myself.
After that, we got ready for lunch – more like early dinner so we could turn in early and wake up tomorrow to help with cleaning up.
The next few days passed by dully again. Unfortunately and to our disappointment again, Ting Wei didn’t have the token on him. So much for being the token of happiness, I thought. I came to name it that because it could be our only hope to returning home again. Home meant happiness to us, didn’t it?
The guys helped Mrs. Yang and Ah Xiang with patching their roof again as well as the neighbors’. Us girls helped with the housework as usual. We managed to earn some money also – ancient coins, of course. We would need it later since we didn’t know how long we would stay there until we find the medallion.
One day after dinner, we gathered around for a meeting again in our room.
“We should leave like tomorrow or something,” CJ began.
“What?!” Roger exclaimed. “But we don’t know this place. And…”
“We managed to get by these past two weeks, right?” CJ said. “Besides, we need to go out farther and search for some information. Maybe the token landed in some other places. We can’t rule out the possibility.”
“I agree,” I said. “It’s better than sitting around here and wait.”
“You would agree with him,” Ting Wei mumbled.
Since we were sitting so close together, I could hear him. But then I chose to ignore it since I had enough from his attitudes these couple days.
“Let’s scatter, everyone,” CJ ordered.
We all looked at him, wondering who died and gave him the permission to command us.
“I hear someone coming,” He explained.
We could hear it too by now. We all jumped from our seats and headed for our beds. CJ put out the oil lamp as we headed towards our beds also. We were pretty used to travelling around in the dark by now, so we weren’t annoyed at all by his action.
The next day, we announced that we would be leaving. Mrs. Yang and Ah Xiang looked somewhat disappointed.
“We’ve been here for so long,” CJ said. “We don’t want to be a bother anymore.”
“You’re no bother to us,” Mrs. Yang said. “It has been nice having you all around. It’s more cheerful around here.”
“Thank you for your sincerity,” CJ continued. “But we must be on our way since we have to reunite with our group again.”
“Oh,” Mrs. Yang said, getting it. “I guess I couldn’t hold you all back.”
“We’ll send words here once we find our people,” CJ said, smiling. “Don’t worry.”
Mrs. Yang smiled, but she still looked disappointed. We continued our meal in silence after that.
Half an hour later, we were packing in our room and were ready to leave. It was a good time to leave also since the snow had finally stopped and cleared way for us. I looked around the room, reminiscing all the times we spent there. I couldn’t help but felt like this was my second home.
“Angela,” I heard someone called me.
I turned around to see CJ, not Ting Wei.
“What?” I asked.
“Are you ready? Let’s go. The others are outside already.”
I nodded.
I grabbed my little bag and followed CJ back to the front of the house.
“You have everything?” I heard Mrs. Yang say as we entered the living room.
We nodded at the same time.
“Take care. If you happen to run into other problems or couldn’t find your people in time, just come back here,” Mrs. Yang said.
“Ma,” Ah Xiang said. “You shouldn’t say that.” He turned to us. “I wish you all luck with finding your way.”
“Thanks,” CJ said.
Somehow, CJ had become the voice for our group these past days.
“Remember to be careful,” Mrs. Yang said.
We nodded again.
Mrs. Yang finally stepped away from the doorway to let us by.
I took in a deep breath as we were finally outside.
“Left or right?” Ting Wei asked.
“Left,” CJ and I said at the same time.
“What’s with you two and harmonizing lately?” Roger asked, puzzled.
“We’re siblings,” I said.
“A likely answer,” He scoffed.
“Let’s get out of here already,” CJ said.
We managed to travel the whole way to the other part of town without a rest. This was the same place that CJ and I found when we went exploring on our first time sneaking out in the early morning. We bumped into Xiao Lin as we were looking for a place to stop for a rest.
“Hi!” He said to us. “How have it been?”
“Fine,” CJ said.
“Want to go to Lao Shi’s inn for a drink?” Xiao Lin asked with a smile.
I gave CJ a look that said, “You’re not getting drunk!”
“Uh…” CJ uttered. “Maybe just resting a bit before we continue on our way again.”
“We’ll see,” Xiao Lin said.
We followed Xiao Lin to Lao Shi’s inn after that. We all walked in silence, except for CJ who was chatting away with Xiao Lin.
When we arrived at the inn, I realized it was the same one that CJ and I were at that one time also.
“Two bottles of wine and three plates of your usual,” Xiao Lin shouted to Lao Shi as he walked by the front counter.
We followed him to a table on the second level. He chose the table closest to the door. It had a nice view of the city itself. As we were chatting casually, just barely maintaining a polite conversation with Xiao Lin, I began to ponder why there was such a distance from this part of the city from the rest. This side of the city seemed more lively and extravagant while the other part was more simplistic. While I was lost in thoughts, I heard CJ ask Xiao Lin the same question I was pondering.
“Why is this part of town separated from the other side?” CJ asked.
“The others didn’t tell you?” Xiao Lin asked back.
We all shook our heads at the same time. I tuned in again as Xiao Lin cleared his throat.
“I guess it’s hard for them still,” Xiao Lin said. “That empty place was burned down by a fire. Some of the relatives from the other side died there, so they want to keep it like that forever to remember them. After collecting the bodies and burying them at the other end of town, they separated themselves from us as well, maintaining a simple life. It’s like they’re trying to remember the hardships their relatives went through.”
We all stayed silent after that, not realizing such a tragic story lied behind it.
“So…” Xiao Lin continued. “Now you know why. And…”
We leaned in a little closer to hear his next words since he had lowered his voice somewhat.
“Mrs. Yang’s husband died in that fire also,” He finished.
“Oh,” CJ said.
“Yes,” Xiao Lin said. “Anyway, let’s eat.”
The guys continued to talk about random topics with Xiao Lin again to ease the situation as I returned to my thoughts. Jing Jing had always been quiet since the start and kept to herself so I didn’t want to bother her at the moment.
As the guys continued their conversation, I suddenly heard something about a “gold coin.” I snapped my attention toward that side of the room. CJ seemed to have heard also. He turned to look at me. I nodded, indicating we should listen in.
“That’s strange,” A man in blue outfit said to a man in brown outfit. “How did he make it out of there alive though?”
“I guess he’s lucky,” The man in brown said.
“But it’s the famous haunted house,” The man in blue said, still not believing.
“You guys haven’t heard?” Xiao Lin’s voice boomed over us.
CJ and I turned around to face him again.
“What?” CJ asked.
“Xiao Bai wandered into the haunted house on the other side of town like half a month back and found a gold coin. People are still talking about it since he made it out alive. And it’s at night too, can you believe it?”
“What?!” CJ wrinkled his face.
“I know. Unbelievable, right?” Xiao Lin said, scooping some more food into his bowl.
“When did it happen?” I urged. “I mean what day was it?”
“I can’t remember exactly, but I think it was the night before I met you guys.”
I looked at CJ. He turned to Xiao Lin again.
“Do you happen to know what the coin look like? Did he share his fortune with you?” CJ managed a smile.
“It looks sparkling like any other gold coin,” Xiao Lin said.
My hope fell since I knew if it looked like “any other gold coin” to him, then it couldn’t be the medallion.
“But…” Xiao Lin continued.
I looked up again, feeling hopeful.
“It looks kind of big to be one,” Xiao Lin said. “I think Xiao Bai must have dyed it with some gold colors to trick us or brag about his luck in that haunted house. Come on, how unbelievable is that?”
Yes! It could be it! I almost jumped up and down with happiness, but I restrained myself.
“Where is Xiao Bai now?” CJ asked. “The way you put it, I want to see if it’s real or not.”
“He went back home.”
“Oh, sorry,” Xiao Lin said. “I forgot to tell you that he’s from out of town. He just came here to visit some relatives, but then he got caught in the snow storm. He just left this morning.”
“Where is his hometown then?”
“I think he said it’s Hangzhou. But I’m not quite sure.”
“Hangzhou? You think?”
“Well, you can go ask his relatives if you want.”
“Where do they live?”
“Down the road,” Xiao Lin said. “You can actually see it from here. Come here, I’ll show you.”
Xiao Lin stood up and grabbed CJ’s hand to go with him. The rest of us stayed behind to reduce suspicion.
Half an hour later, we arrived at Xiao Bai’s relatives’ house. We knocked several times before someone came to the door. We saw an old man in his seventies in front of us. He was using a log cane to get around.
“I’m sorry to bug you, Gramps,” CJ began. “But could I please see Xiao Bai?”
“What for?”
We must look suspicious all piling in front of his house.
“I borrowed something from him and want to return it,” CJ explained. “If he’s not around right now, I can leave it with you.”
“Oh. You’re too late. He left this morning,” The man said.
“But…” CJ said, sounding panicked. “I really want to return it to him. He said he will wait for me. I didn’t know that he would leave so soon.”
“If it’s that important to you,” The man said. “Why don’t you try to catch up with him? His hometown is in Hangzhou. If you go out to the end of town and take the right path towards the river. You might catch him there before the boat takes off.”
“Thank you so much, Gramps,” CJ said, displaying his gratitude and somewhat happiness expression.
“You’re welcome,” The man said.
We said our goodbyes and left him.
“Good job,” I complimented him.
“I’m not a reporter for nothing, jie,” He said, smiling.
I half wanted to take his name off the mantel again, but decided against it since I didn’t want to clean it up later again.
We traveled the rest of the morning – or whatever was left of the morning, trying to catch up to Xiao Bai. It was not too hopeful, but we still had to try.
As predicted, when we arrived there, the boat had already left. We asked around at some stalls set out near the area to find out that Xiao Bai had taken the early boat. He must be long gone by now. Our only chance was traveling straight to Hangzhou to find him. We could take the late afternoon boat across and travel a bit more before we had to stop for the night.
Hopefully, we could find some place to crash. I honestly didn’t want to be sleeping in some woods. I was not afraid of the woods since I went camping once too many times in the past, but this was unfamiliar territory and not to mention the ancient time. I didn’t want to be carried away by some animal or worse – get captured by some triads running around in the middle of the night.
As we were sitting under a tree to wait for the afternoon boat, CJ tapped me on the shoulder.
“What?” I turned to him.
“Don’t worry,” He said. “We’ll probably find an inn or some resident to take us in for the night.”
How in the world did he know what I was thinking? He smiled out of nowhere again. I didn’t have to guess this time, because I knew I look very shocked right now.
“I always wanted to know what ancient Hangzhou looks like,” He said. “This is a great opportunity to find out.”
If anything else happen to us, I would take his name plate off the mantel.
© Wednesday, July 16th, 2008
Posted: Saturday, March 13th, 2010