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Cui Qingfeng’s smile froze. The doubts that had disappeared for a few days rose again, and he couldn’t help but ask, “Youngest uncle called you? Why?”
Xu Zhao answered honestly, “Because of the greenhouse vegetables.”
“The greenhouse vegetables?”
“Mn.” Xu Zhao shook the boiled hot water in his hand to help it cool down faster, then said, “Youngest uncle saw that the greenhouse vegetables in the imperial capital had already hit the market and thought that our greenhouse vegetables should also hit the market soon. That’s why he specially called to remind me.”
That was all—However, this still wasn’t enough to dispel Cui Qingfeng’s concerns. On the contrary, it made him even more doubtful and confused. His brows furrowed. His heart swayed, full of lingering depression and frustration. He couldn’t help but look at Xu Zhao and called, “Xu Zhao.”
Xu Zhao looked over and asked, “What?”
Cui Qingfeng asked, “Does Youngest uncle call you often?”
“No. He only called me once recently.”
“Mn, what’s wrong?”
“N-no. It’s nothing.”
Cui Qingfeng stuttered his response. His entire body fell into a “did he or didn’t he” question again. His expression was conflicted, but Xu Zhao didn’t see this. The boiled hot water in his hand had cooled down enough, so he called Xu Fan, who was in Mother Cui’s embrace, over to drink water, then expressed his gratitude toward Mother Cui. In order to reward Da Zhuang’s father and Da Zhuang’s grandpa’s hard work, he prepared to treat them to a meal at a restaurant. However, the two people had always been frugal and were unwilling to eat at a restaurant.
Xu Zhao had no choice but to say goodbye to Mother Cui and Cui Qingfeng.
Cui Qingfeng looked back and asked, “Are we selling the same way again tomorrow?”
Xu Zhao replied, “Just about.”
Cui Qingfeng said, “Okay. I’ll wait for you guys at the shop tomorrow.”
Xu Zhao carried Xu Fan to the front handlebars of the bicycle, then waved goodbye to Mother Cui and Cui Qingfeng. Along with Da Zhuang’s father and Da Zhuang’s grandpa, who were pulling the empty ox cart, they walked toward the intersection toward South Bay Village. Since the greenhouse vegetables were sold out, they were extremely happy. The three talked and laughed the whole way back, and in the blink of an eye, they had arrived back at South Bay Village and saw Xu Zuocheng, who was at the entrance of the village.
Xu Zuocheng sat under a tree holding a rice bowl. He was eating and chatting with a group of people. When he saw Xu Zhao, his expression turned ugly, but he didn’t stir up trouble. He stood and held the rice bowl and let out a “hmph” to express his disdain toward Xu Zhao before turning to head back to his own home, completely ignoring Xu Zhao.
Xu Zhao, not expecting Xu Zuocheng to act like this, smiled and greeted the other village before they all returned to their respective homes.
When Xu Zhao and Xu Fan arrived home, Mother and Father Xu were currently cooking in the kitchen. Xu Fan quickly ran over and asked, “Grandma, what are you making?”
Mother Xu replied, “I’m rolling flat noodle pieces.”
“Flat noodle pieces,” Xu Fan’s watery eyes stared at the thin noodle pieces on the chopping board as he asked.
“T-then is there any meat?”
“No, just eggs.”
“I want to eat an egg. My daddy also wants to eat an egg.”
Mother Xu smiled as she replied. She raised her gaze as she watched Xu Zhao come in. She quickly told Xu Zhao to sit down by the stove near the fire and asked Xu Zhao how selling the vegetables went. After finding out the vegetables sold very well, Mother Xu was extremely happy, and her speed at rolling the flat noodle pieces became even faster.
After a while, the half a pot of fragrant Chinese cabbage, eggs, and flat noodle pieces were cooked. It was cold, so the entire family crowded around the chopping board inside the kitchen as they ate the flat noodle pieces. Amongst them, Xu Fan stood by the chopping board eating flat noodle pieces with his chopsticks. Since he was short, he couldn’t reach his bowl if he sat on the stool.
“Is it delicious?” Xu Zhao asked.
“So delicious.” Xu Fan’s tiny mouth munched on the food.
As the family was eating, Da Zhuang’s family came over. Da Zhuang’s father was very energetic as he expressed that he wanted to start harvesting the vegetables in the big greenhouse.
Xu Zhao quickly stopped him by saying, “Don’t. Don’t harvest now.”
Da Zhuang’s father said, “If we don’t harvest now, we won’t have enough to sell again tomorrow.”
“If we harvest now, it will affect the vegetables’ taste and appearance.”
“Then what should we do?”
“Everyone is tired today,” Xu Zhao said, “everyone should go home and take a nap and rest. Once we have rested enough, this evening, we will harvest a portion of the potatoes and tomatoes, potatoes, and other vegetables that can be stored. Tomorrow morning, we’ll wake up early again to harvest the garlic shoots, cucumbers and the others. It will be a bit faster. When the time comes, we can harvest as we load up the vehicle. Do you think this will work?”
“Yes, yes. Of course it will work.” Da Zhuang’s father listened to Xu Zhao. He admired him from the bottom of his heart. It didn’t matter that he was tall and robust, he was actually very obedient to Xu Zhao. And so, he happily responded in the affirmative, before turning around and leading his family members home.
Xu Zhao continued to eat the flat noodle pieces. After eating, since his entire family was quite frantic and tired today, after resting a bit, they all returned to their rooms for an afternoon nap so that they could harvest vegetables in the evening. However, Xu Fan couldn’t sleep. He lay by Xu Zhao’s side, his small mouth moving nonstop, talking about this and that and the Great Sage the Equal of Heaven.
“Xu Fan,” Xu Zhao couldn’t help but call.
Xu Fan immediately replied, “Daddy, what’s the matter?”
Xu Zhao asked, “You’re not sleepy?”
Xu Fan replied, “I’m not sleepy.”
Sure enough, he wasn’t sleepy. Xu Zhao thought before saying, “Since that’s the case, you should recite a poem. Recite a poem for Daddy to hear.”
“Recite a poem?”
“Recite the one I taught you the other day.”
“Recite it,” Xu Zhao tiredly said.
Xu Fan immediately added, “You have to clap for me.”
“…Okay. I’ll give you a round of applause.” Xu Zhao sleepily clapped his hands, expressing that Xu Fan could start his performance.
It was only then that Xu Fan opened his mouth and started reciting with a milky voice, “The grass abundantly flourishes on the plain, Year after year it rithers and glows. Wildfier cannot bwurn it down, For the spwring wind is its swource of rewiwal.”1Poem is “Grass” by Bai Juyi.
Xu Zhao didn’t correct Xu Fan’s four sentence poem. Three of the sentences were incorrect, so there was no use in correcting them. This was how three year old babies talked, instead, he perfunctorily said, “Okay, very good. Recite another poem.”
Xu Fan asked, “What should I recite?”
“You can recite whatever you want. Pick a poem you can recite.”
“Then I will recite the white sun sets behind the mountains, and the Yellow River flows into the cow… into the cow…2Poem is “Climbing White Stork Tower” by Wang Zhihuan” Xu Fan couldn’t remember anymore and turned his head to ask, “Daddy, how does the rest go? Daddy, I can’t recite the rest. Daddy!”
Xu Zhao had closed his eyes and didn’t respond.
Xu Fan raised his small head and looked at Xu Zhao. His milky voice then said, “Ai, Daddy fell asleep again. T-Then I’ll play by myself.”
Xu Fan lay in bed looking left and right. He didn’t know how he should play by himself. His small lips muttered nonstop, and after finally muttering enough, was sleepy. His lids opened and closed as he fought to keep them open before finally falling asleep.
Xu Zhao, who had seen everything, hugged Xu Fan and closed his eyes with a peace of mind and fell asleep. When he woke, Xu Fan wasn’t beside him. He turned his head to look and saw Xu Fan holding a pencil. He was laying on top of the bed and was doodling on a piece of small cardboard. As he drew, he recited “One, two, three, one hundred…” And as he recited, he lifted his head and saw Xu Zhao. He was immediately shocked as he said, “Daddy, you’re awake! I’m writing my letters!”
Xu Zhao glanced at the cardboard, which was beyond recognition, and asked, “When did you get up?”
Xu Fan replied, “I-I got up early!”
“Did Grandma dress you?”
“No, Grandpa dressed me. I-I even talked to Second Grandpa Cui on the phone.”
“Your Second Grandpa Cui called?”
Xu Fan crisply said, “Mn, Second Grandpa Cui s-s-said he missed me.”
Cui Dingchen missed Xu Fan?
Xu Zhao asked with a face full of surprise, “Really…?”
“Really. Second Grandpa Cui said he missed me and Daddy.”
Xu Zhao couldn’t believe that Cui Dingchen would miss Xu Fan. After asking Father Xu did he find out that Cui Dingchen did indeed call to ask how the greenhouse vegetables sold. In fast, it wasn’t anything big, so Xu Zhao didn’t ask too much.
Not long after getting up, Da Zhuang’s father came over again to urge them to harvest vegetables. He was too energetic. Xu Zhao could only bring the two families to the small greenhouse to collect potatoes, then back to the big greenhouse to collect tomatoes and the like. After they finished harvesting, they brought everything inside the courtyard. Xu Zhao specially filled up another bamboo basket full of vegetables to give to the families of the village chief and village secretary. This was to express that he wanted to borrow the tractor.
The poor South Bay Village only had one tractor, and it had been subsidized by the government. The village chief and village secretary were the ones in charge of it. Therefore, Xu Zhao went to find the village chief and village secretary, and not too long later, under their guidance, he drove the tractor back into his courtyard.
The Xu and Li families were very happy. They never expected that Xu Zhao could borrow the tractor so easily. Xu Fan and Da Zhuang stared blankly, wanting to ride it. Xu Zhao carried the two children onto the tractor, letting them have their fun, before the two families returned to their homes to sleep.
Four o’clock the next morning, Da Zhuang’s family came knocking on the door to urge them to harvest vegetables again. Xu Zhao’s family quickly came over and entered the big greenhouse to start harvesting. They gathered sackfuls and basketfuls and placed them on the tractor. After six o’clock, the tractor had become full. As Xu Zhao was about to lead Da Zhuang’s father away, Xu Fan ran over.
“Daddy, I want to ride too.”
Xu Zhao turned to look. Xu Fan was wearing thermal underwear and pants. He was drowsy-eyed, his small meaty feet red and bare as he stood at the main hall entrance and said, “Daddy, I also want to ride!”
Xu Zhao immediately stepped forward and carried Xu Fan to the west wing. He brushed off the mud from his small meaty feet and stuffed him inside the blankets. Seeing Xu Fan’s adorable appearance, Xu Zhao couldn’t get angry at all and said instead, “Daddy is very busy today and doesn’t have time to watch you. Stay home with Grandpa, okay?”
“I want to go with Daddy.”
“Daddy needs to go sell vegetables.”
“I will also sell vegetables.”
“It’s very cold.”
“I’m not cold.”
Xu Zhao had brought Xu Fan to the county town and city many times already. It wasn’t only once or twice, so he quickly dressed Xu Fan and wrapped him up in clothes, before placing him in Da Zhuang’s father’s embrace who was sitting in the vehicle’s cart. He started the rumbling tractor, sat in the open driver’s seat and drove it out of the courtyard and into the village where they attracted all the villager’s attention.
If they were amazed to see Xu Zhao using the ox cart to sell vegetables, they were surprised to see him use the tractor now to sell vegetables. Moreover, that mu of land was actually able to produce this many vegetables. It was really amazing!
The villagers were all extremely envious.
The village chief and village secretary was happy for Xu Zhao, since South Bay Village truly was too poor. They could be considered the poorest village in Jiang Ping County. They haven’t installed a phone even now. They hoped that the village could produce one or two capable people. If they did, the government would take care of South Bay Village, and their life in the future might be better.
However, Xu Zuocheng felt differently from the others. He went up to the village chief and village secretary and said, “Isn’t this tractor public property? How can anyone drive it around like that? If they break it, would it be considered breaking public property? If this was the past, they would be gravely criticized!”
The village chief glanced at Xu Zuocheng but didn’t say anything.
The village secretary said, “Xu Zhao gave us oil and rental money and even signed a damage agreement. He gave the village 200 Yuan in one shot. Do you have anything else to say?”
Xu Zuocheng’s face immediately reddened. He huffed as he looked at the main dirt road.
On the dirt road, Xu Zhao was steadily watching the tractor.
Da Zhuang’s father happily sat in the cart of the tractor. The happiest person there was Xu Fan, who was sitting in Da Zhuang’s father’s embrace. Xu Fan really was crazy about any kind of vehicle. The cold wind blew against his Lei Feng hat and his small chubby face, yet he didn’t find it cold. Instead, he excitedly laughed out loud before turning his body, his small meaty hand grabbing the rail of the tractor’s cart. His small milky voice sounded against the tractor’s rumbling, “Daddy! Daddy!”
Xu Zhao shouted, “What?”
Xu Fan happily said, “Daddy, you’re so cool! So cool!”