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Seeing the inspector slowly taste it, Xu Zhao, Da Zhuang’s father, and even Xu Fan and Da Zhuang all held their breath in anticipation, waiting for the inspector to speak.
However, the inspector didn’t speak and continued to use the grooved pole to poke each of their sacks one by one. Afterwards, carefully inspecting and tasting it before speaking without even lifting their head. “Go weigh it.”
What does that mean?
Without waiting for Xu Zhao to reply, Da Zhuang’s father happily said, “We passed! Xu Zhao, come on. Let’s carry them onto the scale to weigh it.”
“We passed the inspection?” Xu Zhao asked with surprise.
“We did! Hurry up!”
Xu Zhao and Da Zhuang’s father hastily carried each sack of wheat onto the scale to be weighed. Xu Zhao originally only needed to hand in 125 catties of wheat, but he was worried that the large scale at home would have an error, therefore, he brought 140 catties with him. As a result, the grain supply station returned 5 catties of wheat to him and received his and Father Xu’s grain tax, and gave him two grain tax forms to verify that they had already handed in their grain taxes.
Xu Zhao’s whole body relaxed as he pushed the ox cart away from the grain supply station. He spoke a few words to Da Zhuang’s father to notify him that he needed to visit Father and Mother Xu before taking Cui Qingfeng and Xu Fan away to head to the county town hospital.
When they arrived at the entrance of the hospital, Cui Qingfeng especially stopped by the small stalls to buy two watermelons for Father and Mother Xu. When they finished visiting Father and Mother Xu, Xu Zhao carried one of the watermelons out. He originally wanted to give it to Cui Qingfeng, but Cui Qingfeng said he didn’t want it. Therefore, Xu Zhao could only hold onto it and when they arrived on the streets, he said to Cui Qingfeng, “My family has already handed in our grain taxes so, starting tomorrow, I can put my whole heart into selling popsicles.”
“Your family won’t plant soybeans?” Cui Qingfeng asked.
“We will, but we need to wait for it to rain before we can or else the soybeans won’t sprout,” Xu Zhao said.
“Alright, I’ll head to the grain supply station again tomorrow,” Cui Qingfeng said.
“Are you guys walking home? How about I have my youngest uncle drive you two? Or I can bring you two back on my bicycle.”
“No need. I might bump into Da Zhuang’s father and Da Zhuang later.”
Cui Qingfeng could only reluctantly drop the subject.
After separating with Cui Qingfeng, Xu Zhao carried the watermelon with one hand and held Xu Fan’s small hand with the other as they walked basked in the light of the sunset. Xu Fan would turn his head to look at Xu Zhao’s hand from time to time.
“What are you looking at?” Xu Zhao asked.
“Daddy, are we going to eat watermelon when we get home?” Xu Fan asked.
“Mn, we’ll eat it once we get home.”
“I want a big piece.”
“Sanwa! Sanwa!” At that moment, Da Zhuang’s excited voice called out from behind.
Xu Zhao and Xu Fan turned their heads and saw Da Zhuang’s father pushing the ox cart with Da Zhuang sitting on top of the cart.
“Da Zhuang, let me sit too!” Xu Fan immediately called.
“Come on! Come sit!” Da Zhuang said.
Xu Fan hastily padded his small legs as he ran to happily sit with Da Zhuang, asking, “Da Zhuang, why haven’t you gone home yet?”
“I went shopping with Daddy,” Da Zhuang replied.
“What did you guys buy?”
“Meat,” Da Zhuang said. “My Daddy bought a lot of meat.”
“Can I go to your house and eat it with you?” Xu Fan asked.
“No,” Da Zhuang directly refused.
In that instant, it felt like the boat of friendship was flipped.
Xu Fan refused to admit defeat and said, “My family has watermelon. I won’t let you eat it.”
“I won’t eat it. I’m going home to eat meat,” Da Zhuang said.
“My Daddy will buy meat tomorrow and I won’t let you eat any,” Xu Fan said.
“If you won’t let me eat any then I won’t eat any,” Da Zhuang said.
“The watermelon is big and sweet. I won’t let you eat any,” Xu Fan said.
Listening to Xu Fan and Da Zhuang, these two children, Xu Zhao didn’t know whether he should laugh or cry.
When Da Zhuang’s father pushed the ox cart forward, Xu Zhao placed the watermelon down. As soon as it was placed down, Xu Fan immediately tightly wrapped his tiny arms around it, afraid of Da Zhuang stealing it. Da Zhuang stared at the watermelon for a long time, his heart stirring, and finally, he couldn’t help but open his mouth to say, “Sanwa, if I invite you to eat meat, will you invite me to eat watermelon?”
“Yes,” Xu Fan curtly said.
“Then come to my house to eat, then I’ll go to your house to eat watermelon later, okay?”
The two little ones finally reached an agreement, sitting side by side.
Xu Zhao didn’t keep looking at Xu Fan and turned to chat with Da Zhuang’s father instead. He had a purpose since he knew Da Zhuang’s father knew how to build buildings. When someone in the village wanted to build a thatched hut, they would usually ask Da Zhuang’ father for help. When Xu Zhao built the wall earlier, he had also asked Da Zhuang’s father to help as well. However, Xu Zhao wasn’t looking for him to build a wall this time, but a building.
“Build a building?” Da Zhuang’ father asked in surprise. “What kind of building?”
“A tiled building on an intersection in the county town. How much would it be?” Xu Zhao said.
“Who’s building it?” Da Zhuang’s father asked.
“Me,” Xu Zhao said bluntly.
“How would you have that much money? Constructing a building isn’t a small matter. You need tiles, bricks, cement, as well as labor costs. You’d need at least 200 Yuan.”
“Can we use clay or wheat bran instead of cement? And we’ll make the house a bit smaller. When I split the family with my elder brothers, I got just under a hundred bricks. Won’t that help me save a bit?”
Da Zhuang’s father thought for a moment before saying, “It will. But no matter how much you try to save, it’ll still cost at least 100 Yuan.”
100 Yuan wasn’t too much and it was still within Xu Zhao’s ability.
“Then, Brother Li, can I invite you to build a building? I’ll pay you,” Xu Zhao hurriedly said.
“You really want to build a building?” Da Zhuang’s father asked in surprise.
“Really,” Xu Zhao said.
“Do you have 100 Yuan?”
“Yes.” Actually, he didn’t have it yet.
“Well alright then. I know some tilers, so I’ll help you ask around when I get back. Speaking of which, what do you need a building for?”
“I’m going to sell things with a friend. Thank you, Brother Li.”
While speaking, they arrived at Xu Zhao’s home. Xu Zhao carried the watermelon and had Xu Fan get down.
Xu Fan stretched his little legs and obediently sat on the ox cart, unmoving. Even when Da Zhuang’s father inclined the ox cart, Xu Fan still didn’t get off.
“Xu Fan, we’re home,” Xu Zhao called again.
“I’m not getting off. I’m going to Da Zhuang’s house to eat meat,” Xu Fan said.
Loving to eat so much. How embarrassing.
“There isn’t any meat at Da Zhuang’s home,” Xu Zhao said.
“We have meat at home too,” Xu Zhao said.
“Do we?” Xu Fan asked.
“Yes. Come down and I’ll cook some for you.”
Hearing that he could eat meat tonight, Xu Fan immediately got off the cart and said goodbye to Da Zhuang.
Once at home, Xu Zhao made dried meat for Xu Fan. Once they ate, he cut open the watermelon and sent half of it to Da Zhuang’s house, making Da Zhuang’s mother and father super excited. Once he returned home, he ate his own watermelon with Xu Fan. Xu Fan’s small belly ate so much that it rumbled. At that moment, they heard Xu Zuocheng and Xu Youcheng still filtering wheat next door. They heard that in order to hand in less wheat, Xu Zuocheng and Xu Youcheng intentionally mixed in sand and wheat that wasn’t fully sundried at the bottom of the sack. It was immediately discovered by the inspector. Not only were they harshly reprimanded, they were forced to re-sun and filter the wheat.
They really deserved it!
Xu Zhao didn’t care about them. He led the two chickens and two ducks into the two coops, then sprinkled some water in the yard to disperse the heat. Afterwards, he pulled the bed from inside the thatched hut into the yard all by himself.
“Daddy, why aren’t we sleeping in the room?” Xu Fan curiously asked.
“It’s hot. It’s cooler outside. Do you want to sleep in the room?” Xu Zhao asked.
“I want to sleep with Daddy,” Xu Fan said.
“Alright. Let’s wash up then sleep. However, go outside and pee first so that you don’t wet the bed tonight.”
“I don’t wet the bed. Da Zhuang is the one who likes wetting the bed. Da Zhuang peed all over his sheets yesterday,” Xu Fan tried to defend himself.
“How do you know that?” Xu Zhao asked.
“He told me,” Xu Fan earnestly said.
“…” He really couldn’t understand their friendship.
After they bathed, the father and son laid on the bed that was in the middle of the yard. The mosquito net was hanging over the bed to separate them from the mosquitos. However, it didn’t block the slight chill or comfort.
Xu Fan leaned against Xu Zhao while they laid inside the mosquito net, looking at the sky full of stars, his small hand pointed to the sky and said, “Daddy, look, stars. There’s so many stars. Wow.”
“Xu Zhao looked at the sky and said, “Mn, the sky is full of small stars.”
After a while, Xu Fan said again, “Daddy, Grandma said there are deities in the stars. Many many deities.”
“Yep,” Xu Zhao replied.
“It’s the big white… Big white star,” Xu Fan said.
“It’s not a big white star, it’s the Great White Golden Star1Great White Golden Star, or Taibai Jinxing, is a deity in Chinese folk religion and Daoism. The reason Xu Fan is having such difficulty saying it is cuz ‘jinxing’ is a bit of a tongue twister,” Xu Zhao said.
“Great White Goldy Star,” Xu Fan said.
“Great White Golden Star.”
“Great White Stary star.”
“Great. White. Golden. Star.”
“Great. White. Golden. Star.”
“Yes, Great White Golden Star is a deity in the sky. The sky has…”
Xu Zhao’s gentle voice slowly flowed through the silent night. It was like they were soaked in the spring of moonlight, bringing along silence and beauty.
While Xu Fan listened, he gazed at the vast sky, his eyes glistening, shining brightly. His eyelids started to droop, and not long later, he fell into dreamland. Since he moved around too much during the day, he made soft breathing sounds as he slept.
Xu Zhao patted Xu Fan’s small face, his gaze fixed on the vast sky full of stars, and he didn’t feel that sense of sadness. Instead, he was pragmatically thinking of ways to earn money. With the flow of time, summer will soon pass, and once summer was over, the popsicle business will reach the freezing point. He couldn’t stop making money at this time, so he had to think of something in advance. That was why he wanted to construct a building. He would construct the building on the intersection first, and while using the popularity of the popsicles to slowly transition, since once summer was over, he and Cui Qingfeng would immediately have no business anymore.
However, where would he get the 100 Yuan to construct the building? He already owed Cui Qingfeng 200 Yuan, so he couldn’t borrow anymore from him.
As a result, Xu Zhao thought of Sister Yun from the steel factory. He remembered that they still owned 315 Yuan for the popsicle contract. Once he settled things, he went over everything in his head once more, then fell asleep.
The next day, Xu Zhao woke up early as usual. After making breakfast and eating breakfast with Xu Fan, he packed a breakfast box, fed the chickens and ducks, locked the doors to the hut and main gate, then rode the bicycle to take Xu Fan to the County Town Hospital Center. Afterwards, he rode to Cui Qingfeng’s house, made the popsicles, then he brought Xu Fan to the steel factory.
After the popsicles were delivered, he specially gave Sister Yun two specialty popsicles.
“Why didn’t you come to deliver the popsicles yesterday?” Sister Yun asked with a smile.
“I had to hand in the grain taxes yesterday. And my dad was hospitalized,” Xu Zhao replied.
“Your dad was hospitalized?” Sister Yun asked.
“Mn, he had a stroke,” Xu Zhao replied honestly.
“Oh, no,” Sister Yun cried out, then said, “How is he now?”
“He’s still in the hospital.”
“That’s really unfortunate.”
Xu Zhao mulled it over for a bit, then opened his mouth to say, “Sister Yun.”
Sister Yun looked at Xu Zhao and asked, “What is it?”
Xu Zhao slightly lowered his head, still thinking of how to phrase it so that he wouldn’t be rejected.
“Did you want to get an advance on part of the popsicle money?” Sister Yun directly asked.
Xu Zhao looked at Sister Yun with shock.