The whole Qiao family stayed with Fu Shizhou at the hospital late into the evening. Fu Shizhou called his own family's housekeeper and asked for a delivery of some things that Old Man Fu would need while hospitalized.
At six o'clock, Old Man Fu blearily opened his eyes. He looked at Fu Shizhou, who was still sitting vigilantly at his bedside, and he suddenly called out, "Wanggui."
This sort of thing, being mistaken for the wrong person, was something Fu Shizhou had experienced very often while visiting Zhou Wanggui. But hearing it from Old Man Fu scared him out of his wits. He instantly leapt to his feet to look for a doctor, but Old Man Fu smiled bitterly and took his hand to hold him back.
"I haven't gone senile… I was just disoriented, for a moment."
Mama Qiao poured a cup of water for Old Man Fu and passed it over to him as she said, "Uncle Fu, you really gave Shizhou a scare."
Old Man Fu accepted the cup, but he didn't drink from it. He looked at Qiao Luo, who was sticking close to Fu Shizhou's side like a clingy little bird. Hazily, as though unintentionally, he began to speak: "I've made you all worry… Shizhou actually isn't my real grandson. You folks have already started to guess as much, haven't you?"
Old Man Fu was a very proper man. When he suddenly brought this matter to light, no one in the room understood what he was really trying to say.
However, the old man continued to speak like he was simply incapable of keeping these thoughts and feelings buried any longer. He began to tell his own story.
"When I was young, I loved someone. We were a pair of zhiqing, and we were close right from the start. We had a lot in common, and we spent every day together. Gradually, we started to think of each other constantly. Every minute of every day.
"Notions of romance and love were frowned upon during that era, but the two of us knew how we felt about each other. That person, ah… he was wonderful. Considerate, mature, steadfast. And he would always sneakily do my work for me.
"But when we returned to the city, when his family found out… they weren't happy. And he said he wanted to elope with me.
"In that era… things were nowhere near as progressive as they are now. The thought of eloping scared me half to death. But when I held that train ticket and stood on the platform, I felt like I was brimming over with an endless fount of courage. Who cared where we would go? As long as I had his hand in mine, I would bravely go anywhere.
"But I waited… and he wasn't the one who arrived. His mother came, holding a knife. She said she'd already locked him up, and if I didn't agree to end our relationship, she would kill herself right in front of me.
"How could I not agree? If I caused his mother's death, how could I ever have faced him again? I could only take my ticket and leave.
"A big old man like me, sitting on that big green train, crying his eyes out… it was a disgrace.
"I left, and his family sent him away as well. He had so much potential. He started his own business, and he made it big. He'd promised to want only me for the rest of his life, so I waited for him to come find me. Even if I had to wait until he was forty or fifty, that would have been fine. But when I was thirty-one, that year… I received an invitation to his wedding.
"I'd written him several hundred letters. Every time I thought of him, I wrote a letter. I'd always imagined I would give them to him, one by one, when he came to find me…
"On the day of his wedding, I burned them all. From then on, I never received another letter from him."
At that point, Old Man Fu turned to Fu Shizhou and continued, "Until fifteen years ago."
Fifteen years ago, Fu Shizhou had been exactly seven years old.
Qiao Luo had never known that such sorrow could exist in the world. His tears fell, pitter-pattering down his cheeks. At that point in the old man's story, Qiao Luo's eyes suddenly went wide—he remembered only then what Fu Shizhou had once said, about Grandpa Fu adopting him from his blood-related grandfather.
Old Man Fu had started telling this story just for himself, but at that point his heart started to ache again. He slowly continued, "He fell ill and wrote me another letter.
"It was only then that I learned he had been forced to get married. A shotgun wedding. When their child was three years old, they divorced. He started looking for me right away, but when he finally found me, he was too ashamed to face me.
"He had a difficult life too. His daughter-in-law struggled with her own pregnancy and had a difficult birth. Because of that, his son was in a bad, disoriented state. His son ultimately got into a car accident, when his grandson was only one-and-a-half years old. He experienced too much of a shock and fell seriously ill, which very possibly became the root of his future illnesses.
"Later, he raised that grandson alone. When that child was seven, he couldn't do it any longer.
"It was light cerebral thrombosis, and he could no longer walk so well anymore. He started forgetting things too. He was reluctant to contact me, but he had no choice. He asked me to take the child, to let that child grow up as my grandson, to let that child care for me in my old age and make the arrangements when I pass…"
Old Man Fu wasn't even aware that his own voice had started to tremble.
Everyone already understood who that child was. Mama Qiao couldn't stop her eyes from reddening. She held Papa Qiao's hand tight, gazing at Fu Shizhou with heartache written plainly on her face.
Old Man Fu took a long, shaky breath. Fu Shizhou was afraid his emotional state would become too unstable, so he took the cup of water from the old man and helped him take the medicine that had been prescribed earlier. His own eyes were reddened as well as he took the old man's hand and gently urged, with a hoarse rasp in his voice, "Grandpa, that's enough. You don't have to say anything else."
Though bedridden, Old Man Fu had a surprising amount of strength in his hands. He turned his hand over and tightly clutched Fu Shizhou's as he finally began to cry. "You can't not send him off. You're his very own grandson!"
The one who had passed away was named Zhou Wanggui.
Fu Shizhou's own grandfather.
The person Fu Weiyuan had waited for. For a lifetime.
Fu Shizhou patted the old man on the back, deathly afraid that he would become too choked up to breathe again. He did his best to soothe him: "Grandpa, I know. I'll go out there tomorrow. It's just that you're unwell. I can't not worry, I can't… leave you to anyone else."
But Old Man Fu said that was nothing, and he asked for a pen and paper right afterwards. "I have something to say to him," he continued. "Burn this for me so that he receives it, then buy me a grave next to his."
No one could find any paper in the hospital room. Mama Qiao stepped out to ask for some from the nurse's station. Old Man Fu waved his hand and said, "Shizhou, you and your uncle Qiao go ask for me. Find out how long it'll be before I can leave the hospital."
Fu Shizhou quickly said, "I can go by myself…"
"Go, both of you," Old Man Fu interrupted. "Let me have some peace and quiet."
Qiao Luo instantly stood up as well, sticking close to Fu Shizhou to leave with him. But he was called back by Old Man Fu.
"Luoluo, you sang a song for Grandpa when you were three years old. Can you sing it for me one more time?"
Fu Shizhou understood. The old man had something to say to Qiao Luo.
Originally, he hadn't even wanted Qiao Luo to hear about this piece of history. He furrowed his brow and said, "Grandpa, the hospital doesn't allow singing."
Old Man Fu glared at him, and Papa Qiao pulled him out of the room while saying, "Let Luoluo stay. Patients should always have someone with them."
In truth, Qiao Luo was the only one who didn't understand what all this meant. He foolishly, naively asked, "Grandpa Fu, which song do you want to hear?"
Old Man Fu reached out to him and pulled him closer. It was only then that he slowly said, "Luoluo, Grandpa has something to ask of you. I beg you, in the future, be brave. Be as brave as you can be. Don't let Shizhou go through such an agonizing life."
Qiao Luo froze, staring blankly for a few seconds before he managed to react. He fished the jade pendant out from under his shirt and pressed it to Old Man Fu's hand, the one that still held his own.
"Grandpa," he whispered. "I'll always wear it."
He stretched out his pinky finger and linked it with Old Man Fu's, giving it a shake. "I swear to you, so Grandpa—swear to me too. That you'll get better soon."
After finding some paper and a pen, Mama Qiao returned with Fu Shizhou and Papa Qiao. The old man and the little one were in the middle of reciting a solemn pinky promise oath, with their pinky fingers linked. It was like they'd reached some secret agreement that no one else was allowed to know.
Fu Shizhou furrowed his brows faintly. He passed the paper and pen to Old Man Fu, then took Qiao Luo's hand and drew him back to his own side.
Of course, in front of Papa Qiao and Mama Qiao, he could only quickly release Qiao Luo's hand again.
Old Man Fu didn't pay any attention to Fu Shizhou's little movements. He spread the paper on the tray over his hospital bed and began to write.
His handwriting was extremely confident and fluid. A smoothly flowing sort of cursive. He wrote:
Zhou-ge. In this lifetime, I waited for you, but you didn't find me. In the next lifetime, I'll be the one to find you. Just wait. Wait for me.
As an inscription, he wrote:
Fu Weiyuan, widowed.
He had one more thought after that, but he decided to keep that to himself. He thought, I won't tell you this part. But my grandson is so much more capable than you, you old bastard. He and his little lover will spend their whole lives together, happy and well.
Ummm, regarding the grandpas of the secondary couple, they were set for a definite BE from the start. But actually, they've already resolved their past between them, and they spent a Chinese New Year's together. We can say they fulfilled their heart's desires. And Grandpa Zhou has been ill for a very, very long time. He's at peace now.
'他' (male, or gender-neutral/gender unknown) and '她' (female) are Chinese pronouns. But when spoken out loud, they're pronounced the exact same way (tā). So in Fu Weiyuan's story, there's actually no clear indication of Zhou Wanggui's gender.
I drafted up a version of this chapter using they/them pronouns in Fu Weiyuan's story, but the end result was that, in English, it felt like Fu Weiyuan was very deliberately hiding Zhou Wanggui's gender. Reading the original text, I didn't get the sense that he was deliberately hiding this; he didn't volunteer the information outright, but he didn't seem overly concerned with keeping it a secret either.
Ultimately, I went with the version you see above to better preserve the 'mood' of the original text. But please just keep in mind that there is absolutely no audible distinction between pronouns in Chinese, so it would be very easy for listeners of this story to assume Zhou Wanggui is female.