Chapter 276: Xiao Qiudong
Xiao Luo had already packed his bags in anticipation of his journey back home with Zhang Dashan and was about to leave his rented apartment at the Gong Village. They had planned to head back to their respective villages after the annual meeting at Luo’s Workshop.
They both hailed from the West District, in the same city, but from different counties. The counties were more than a hundred kilometers apart. The two had visited each other’s home quite frequently back during university, and their family members were quite acquainted with the other.
“How much f*cking longer will this d*mn traffic jam last?”
Their car was caught in the highway crawl, and Zhang Dashan was getting very annoyed. “And they call this a highway, huh! Even walking would be faster,” he complained.
Xiao Luo was much calmer as he reclined his seat, leaned back comfortably, and said, “It’s the peak of the Spring Festival travel season, everyone’s returning home, isn’t it expected?”
“Old Xiao, I was just pushing my luck, but had I known that there’d be so many cars on the highway like this constipated shit, I would definitely have taken the plane. Anyway, I wanted to drive this car back to show off, let my neighbors know that I’m doing well, and feed my ego a bit, hehe. But now I really regret it,” Zhang Dashan replied. It was typical of him, and being an impatient man by nature, he couldn’t tolerate such a long, endless wait in traffic.
Xiao Luo didn’t bother with a response, so he closed his eyes to get some rest.
After waiting for four to five hours, the cars finally started moving again.
Zhang Dashan cursed all the way, and when he got to the next toll station, he opted to get off the highway to take the country roads.
And it proved to be a wise decision. The next stretch of highway was choked entirely for more than ten kilometers. As Zhang Dashan drove along at a leisurely pace, he couldn’t help casting a sympathetic glance at the poor souls stuck on the elevated bridge.
“Old Xiao, look at those fellas, they are stuck like poor dumbasses, hahaha…”
Zhang Dashan seemed sympathetic at first, but eventually, he couldn’t help gloating. As he continued laughing, it helped keep him in a cheerful mood.
But when he turned to look at Xiao Luo, he realized that his friend was fast asleep. It aggravated him so much that he brought his hand down hard on Xiao Luo’s thigh. “F*ck, sleep your head! It’s your turn to drive now. I’ve already driven for more than six hours, it’s a long way past the threshold for driving fatigue,” he cried.
Only Zhang Dashan would ever treat Xiao Luo this way.
Xiao Luo opened his eyes and stretched lazily, then asked Zhang Dashan to pull over to the side so that they could switch seats.
Xiao Luo intended to arrive sooner than later to their destination and hit the gas, making the Range Rover surge forward with a roar and maintained that speed. The country roads were in no way comparable to the highway, and many sections of the roads were full of potholes. On several occasions, he drove over large potholes without even braking, causing Zhang Dashan some frantic moments. In the end, he could take no more and asked Xiao Luo to stop. It was too heart wrenching for him to watch his vehicle subjected to such a grueling test. Although it was sturdily built, it wasn’t supposed to be driven this way.
“F*ck, stop now, stop now! You really don’t care about the car just because it’s not yours! Believe it or not, I will beat you up cruelly,” Zhang Dashan hollered, unable to contain his exasperation.
Xiao Luo just shrugged, he didn’t disagree.
Zhang Dashan refused to let Xiao Luo drive for the rest of the journey. The next afternoon, feeling just like they had gone through a journey depicted in the classic tale, Journey to the West , they finally arrived back at Zhoukou City of the West District.
Xiao Luo did not want to trouble Zang Dashan any further and decided to find another a ride back to his home village.
They duly parted ways and promised to meet up after the new year celebration.
Xiao Luo dismissed the idea of taking a bus back as the station was already crowded, and the ride on the bus was not something anyone looked forward to. Xiao Luo then opened the application in his phone to check if he could hitch a shared ride back to his county. He was in luck, there was indeed one, so he quickly booked it.
After about twenty minutes, a white Chevrolet stopped in front of him. He looked at the license plate and confirmed that it was the ride he had booked via his phone.
As the window rolled down, both the driver and Xiao Luo were pleasantly surprised.
They both shouted out each other’s names at the same time. The driver was a young man about the same age as Xiao Luo. He wore a checkered shirt and kept short, neat hair. He had thick brows, a rather long face, and a rather unique characteristic — a short neck; he truly appeared like he did not have one. Because of this, everyone gave him the nickname “Winter Melon.”
The young man’s name was Xiao Qiudong, and they were both from Luo Village. Growing up together, they could be considered childhood friends.
They were both very close, from the time they attended primary school all the way to lower secondary school. They were accepted into different upper secondary schools but still kept in close touch. But after Xiao Luo attended university, they contacted each other less frequently. Xiao Qiudong had entered the workforce by then, and every time they reached each other, he would end the call after a brief conversation saying that he was busy at work or was pressed for time.
After Xiao Luo graduated from university and joined the workforce, they effectively lost contact with each other. He tried to call Xiao Qiudong several times before that, but the latter had changed his phone number and didn’t provide Xiao Luo with the new one. Then the previous year, when Xiao Luo had returned to celebrate the new year, they met again at a gathering. For no apparent reason, he made fun of Xiao Luo in the presence of everyone, and Xiao Luo could still remember those words vividly.
“So you’ve gone to university, what’s the big deal? At the end of the day, you still have to work for others once you graduate, and maybe receive a fixed salary of four to five thousand dollars per month. That can’t even afford you a house or a car. It’s better to join the workforce earlier on, job experience is more important than any degree.”
Xiao Qiudong had already bought himself a car back then, and having just graduated, Xiao Luo couldn’t compare to him. He seemed fixated on questioning the real value of an education in terms of material gains, but it was apparent that he was indirectly belittling Xiao Luo to raise his own esteem.
Xiao Luo had always thought that Xiao Qiudong was someone he could form a deep connection with, but after the incident last year, he realized that their friendship would never be the same again.
For a brief moment, Xiao Qiudong was startled when he saw Xiao Luo again, but he promptly hid it with a warm smile. “So, you are the one hitching the ride! Well, it’s such a coincidence. Have you just returned from some other city?” he said.
Xiao Luo said, forcing a smile and responding with a nod. The relationship between them had cooled, but he still wanted to keep it friendly enough.
He glanced at the passenger’s seat, which was occupied by a woman. She was rather comely, and in her arms, she held a child three to four months old.
Xiao Qiudong made the introductions in a forthright manner. “This is my wife, Li Honglian. Darling, this is my childhood friend, Xiao Luo. We grew up together, and we are very close,” he said.
Li Honglian greeted Xiao Luo politely.
Xiao Luo nodded and glanced at her quizzically because Li Honglian’s accent was unique, and she sounded somewhat coquettish.
Seeing his expression, Xiao Qiudong laughed and said, “My wife is from Taiwan, such is their accent, you’ll get used to it after a while, Haha.”
“Oh, I see.”
“Don’t just stand there, get in,” Xiao Qiudong said, “eh, you brought a lot of stuff for your family, how filial. Okay, just put them all in the trunk.” He bent forward, reaching for the latch to unlock the trunk.
Xiao Luo opened the trunk and starting stowing the gifts one by one.
“Can it fit?” Xiao Qiudong asked.
“It should be alright, I just need to rearrangement some of the items here.”
Xiao Luo rearranged the items that had already been in the trunk, placing them to one side, and finally managed to fit everything in.
Then he pulled open the door to the backseat and got in the car.
Other than checking if Xiao Luo was done stowing his things, Xiao Qiudong remained in his car the whole time, whistling and playing with his child.
 Journey to the West: a Chinese novel published in the 16th century based on the legendary pilgrimage of the Tang dynasty Buddhist monk Xuanzang who traveled to the “Western Regions” to obtain Buddhist sūtras and returned after many trials and much suffering.