Chapter 5 The Family
Returning to the hotel under the vigilant surveillance of Mr. Tang, I packed my things and went home.
When I finally made it to the front door of my house I put the key in the lock and froze. I clearly remembered that although I wanted to get away as fast as possible, I had locked the door on my way out.
Now, however, the door was obviously unlocked. Before I could come up with a potential explanation for this, the door quickly opened. A middle-aged woman appeared in the doorway with a garbage bag in her hand.
"AHH!" she screamed, startled by my presence. The garbage bag flew in a high arc over my head and scattered all over the ground.
She placed her palm on her chest and exclaimed, "You should knock before barging in like that!"
It took me a moment longer to recover, "Mom, what are you doing here?"
"I came to see you. By the way, you haven't been home these past few days. Where have you been? Hurry up and put the garbage by the door after you pick it all up and come in as soon as you're done."
"I didn't go anywhere, my company just arranged for me to go on a short business trip." I couldn't tell Mom that I had been fired.
See, my mother was a single parent. My father died in a car accident when I was in high school. To make things worse, my brother and sister-in-law had also died, leaving only my mother, Li Cui, as well as my brother's infant daughter, Wu Xue'er to fend for themselves.
It was my mom who supported our tri-generational family with her meagre income from working in a restaurant. When I got the job I used to have, the situation began to improve. Naturally, I didn't want my mother to worry about me.
My mother examined me carefully and looked at the various pieces of luggage on the ground, displaying a trace of doubt. She became concerned, "Wu Rui, are you uncomfortable? If your job is exhausting you, you can get another one."
"Mom, I'm fine. By the way, where is Xue'er?" I interrupted her. When I saw my mom about to help me pick up my luggage, I hastily snatched it up in my hand.
Mom picked up the bag behind her and said, "There's no one who can free me from worry. She's in bed with an IV drip in her arm."
"Why does she need an IV drip? Is she alright?"
At that moment, a high pitched child's voice came out of the bedroom, "Uncle! Uncle!"
I hurriedly went into my room and saw that Xue'er was lying in bed, looking at me with a pitiful look.
I took a few steps forward, conveniently dropped the bag on the ground by the bed. I put my hand on Xue'er's forehead and could immediately tell that she was burning up. "Xue'er, why do you have a fever?" I asked her.
Xue'er replied unhappily, "You don't love Xue'er anymore. I came to see you but you weren't here."
"Xue'er, listen to me. I had to go to work."
I looked at Xue'er with pity, just as I was about to speak again my mom entered the room and said loudly, "If your uncle has to work, he can't be like you every day. All you know is playing around. It seems you've grown up, but you don't even change your own clothes when you get wet! I really don't know who you learn this nonsense from!"
I laughed and made faces at Xue'er, who shrank her neck and dared not speak, making her giggle.
Mom also couldn't help but laugh before saying, "Why haven't you unpacked your things yet?"
It occurred to me that my bag contained the strange letter I received at the hotel and the interrogation receipt I got after going to the Public Security Bureau. I didn't want to let my mom see it, so I picked the bag up from the ground, slowly opened it and said, "Mom, could you wash an apple for me?"
"You're an adult and you still make me wash apples for you? You're too lazy, you know that? I wonder what else you're unable to do on your own⋯" Although my mom's sounded exasperated, I knew she always loved an opportunity to feed her son. She was a mother, after all.
I crouched on the ground, took out the receipt and the envelope from the bag, and began looking for a place to hide them.
Suddenly, mom's voice came from the kitchen, "Do you want me to peel it, too?"
I looked back towards the kitchen, Mom was standing at the door, "No, thanks." I felt like a thief who had been discovered, trembling in fear.
"OK," she said shaking the water droplets off the apple and coming towards me.
I looked at my mom with a smile as I tossed the receipt and the envelope under the bed with my hand.
"Uncle! I'm finished! I'm finished!" Xue'er screamed on the bed. I hurriedly got up and looked. There was no solution left in the IV bag, so I skillfully pulled out the needle from her arm. There were only three people in my family, so I had to learned how to do a little of everything.
After I pulled out the needle, Xue'er felt renewed and full of energy again. She suddenly seized my hand and began to shake it, "You were not home. You were not home!"
My mom came up to the bed, handed me the apple, and said to Xue'er, "Looks like someone's full of energy again! I but you're ready to act crazy again, huh?"
Xue'er shrunk her head, still holding my hand and looked at my mom saying, "I want uncle to press on my arm, or the blood will come out."
I had no choice but to use one hand to hold the apple and the other to press on the place which had been pierced by the needle.
Mom was about to say something when she saw the bag on the ground and bent down to unpack it. I was a little nervous, but relieved that I had already thrown the envelope and the return receipt under the bed.
However, when my mom took the bag over to the bed, she was holding the white envelope in her hand. I was horrified to find that the envelope had not landed under my bed.
As I was trying to find an excuse to get the envelope back, the photos in the envelope dropped neatly on the bed, showing a 5 or 6-year-old boy making a funny face.
My mom was startled and quickly realized that she had accidentally picked up the envelope upside down.
I put the apple on the bed right away and reached for the photos, but mom picked them up first, leafed through them and then looked at the second one longer than I felt comfortable with.
I prayed she couldn't see it. She can't see it. She can't see it. Although part of me knew that the contents of the photos couldn't be seen by anyone else, I still pleaded helplessly in my mind.
However, fate is a cruel comedian that put me on a path of which I could not return...
My mom shrieked in fear and the photos fell neatly on the bed. Her trembling voice could hardly get the words out, "What is with those photographs? They're terrifying!"
"Mom, you can see them?" I felt my heart tighten and the hair on the back of my neck began to rise.
My mother's mood shifted to anger and said, "Do you think I'm blind? What's the deal with these photos?! Tell me the truth!"
I tried to explain by taking Wu Jian's business card out from my pocket, "It's a friend of mine who's a cop. Last time he came over, he forgot to take them with him. He's been looking for them since, but they were here all along!"
Fortunately, my mom hadn't seen the third photo. I don't know what I could have possibly said to her if she had.
Xue'er's spoke up, "I want to celebrate Children's Day, too!" She was about to reach for the photo.
"Don't touch it! Xue'er!"
My desperate cry scared her away. I didn't care why Xue'er could see these photos as well. I just hurriedly put them back in the envelope and held it in my hands.
I hesitated and said, "Well, Mom, I'll send him these photos as soon as possible. He's probably looking for them."
My mother relaxed a bit but was still visibly upset. "Then go and be quick about it. It's got to be bad luck to have these photos in your house."
It seemed that my mom's first impression of Wu Jian had become the same as mine: distressing.
I quickly rushed out of the house.