They returned to Lu Chu’s house from the village chief’s place.
The old lady had already made dinner and was waiting for them, although the meal wasn’t a particularly rich one. Generally, villagers, would only cook one vegetable dish per meal, which was enough for them to fill their stomachs. However, since they had guest around for these couple of days, the old lady had cooked more dishes. While it wasn’t that fancy, or contained that much meat, it still tasted pretty good.
While they were eating, the old lady looked at the meat on the table then at Lu Chu, and her heart ached for her grandson. If it wasn’t for the guests, their family would only eat meat during New Year’s Day, since with one old and one young in the house, life really wasn’t easy.
Halfway through the meal, Song Gui and the elderly woman started to talk. As they chatted, he ended up asking about the buildings and activities in this village, and if there was any place for them to pray or burn incense for Buddha.
The old woman nodded, “of course, there are quite a few religious sects here, and people often come here to let Granny Wang tell their fortune, do a pilgrimage, and ask for peace in their lives. I see that you’re making a movie or something, why not go to the temple to burn some incense, and ask for a smooth journey.”
The few of them quickly nodded and agreed, since they were thinking about doing it in the first place.
The old woman said again, “just nice, I’m going to Granny Wang’s place for my legs, I’ll bring you guys along with me.”
Without waiting for the rest to answer, Lu Chu immediately asked, worried, “Grandma, what’s wrong with your legs?”
The old lady loving patted Lu Chu’s head “nothing, it’s just that its getting cold, so my calves have been hurting recently.”
“Then let’s go and have a look quickly.” Lu Chu frowned. He was a little worried about the old lady’s legs.
Seeing that Lu Chu’s concern was real, Song Gui seemed a little thoughtful, 7 was the same as always, and the other three nodded in agreement.
After everybody had finished eating, Lu Chu went to wash the dishes, and they were led by the old woman to Granny Wang’s house.
At dusk, the sun had started to set, and the village became very quiet. Occasionally, there would be a few cawing crow and barking dogs that broke the silence. Only the widest road in the village had some streetlights, and since it wasn’t considered dark at this time, none of the streetlights were on. The old lady held a worn and old flashlight in her hand and walked at the front, “I’m getting old, my eyes aren’t good, so I have to turn on a flashlight even before it gets dark.”
Ever since this ‘game’ started, Lu Chu had heard about this Granny Wang several times. Apparently, the crazy Wei Rong often went to Granny Wang’s place, and she wouldn’t make any noise or trouble, simply sitting there the whole day. Lu Chu had wanted to see this person for a long time, and now, he had the chance – of course, helping the old lady with her legs was also important.
As if he had seen through Lu Chu’s thoughts, Song Gui slowed down and ended up walking side by side with Lu Chu.
“How old are you this year?”
Lu Chu didn’t say anything.
Seeing that other people weren’t paying attention to them, Song Gui leaned down and whispered in Lu Chu’s ear, “don’t start caring about the people in the ‘game’, we’re the only ones that are actually real.”
Lu Chu’s footsteps paused a little, and Song Gui walked away casually as if nothing had happened.
Lu Chu looked at Song Gui’s back, and knew that this was in response to him truly caring about the old lady.
But ‘actually real’?
If only the chosen players were real, then what was ‘Lu Chu’?
People such as Song Gui might not pay attention to the people from the ‘game’, but Lu Chu was different, simply because he was from inside the game.
Lu Chu raised his feet and continued to walk forward, and 7 silently followed behind him.
Finally, they arrived at Granny Wang’s house. The old lady went forward and knocked on the door, “is Granny Wang in?”
“Creak—” The wooden door to the yard opened from the inside, and a little girl poked her head out, looked at the people outside, then opened the door.
Granny Wang’s yard was really small, and the courtyard’s ground was filled with ashes from burnt paper, and there was the scent of incense throughout this cramped courtyard that made people feel as if their head was swelling.
Obviously, this wasn’t the first time the old lady came to this place. She went into the main house and knocked on the door, and after a while, a hoarse voice sounded from inside, “come in.”
The old lady went in first, then everybody else followed behind.
The atmosphere in the room was even more depressing. The lights were dim, and the scent of burning incense was even stronger. The room was smoky, with there were countless yellow ribbons with charms drawn on them hanging from the ceiling. Affected by this atmosphere, everybody’s attitude unconsciously became serious and solemn. Bowing down slightly to avoid the hanging ribbons, they walked into the room, where they saw an old woman sitting on a mat. This extremely old-looking woman was Granny Wang, and she had rough and dry skin, with a body so thin it was as if only her skeleton was left, covered by a bag of skin. However, her eyes were extremely bright. Behind Granny Wang were strange statues with various movements, and they looked awe inspiring. In front of the mat was a long table, with burning red candles on it, and the yellow glow shone against the old woman’s skinny face, making everything seem extraordinarily scary.
The old woman sat down on Granny Wang’s opposite side, and said that she had gotten cold lately, so her legs hurt. When Granny Wang heard her, she slowly stood up, walked towards the back room, and soon after, she came out carrying a handful of things that looked like dead grass.
Granny Wang’s voice was hoarse and she spoke slowly, giving her voice a particular type of charm, “dry some garlic sprouts and boil it with some vinegar when you go back, then fumigate your legs with the smoke from the boiling water.”
Lu Chu hurriedly went over to help his old grandmother to take the withered grass, and thanked Granny Wang.
When Granny Wang saw this, she turned to look at Lu Chu, somewhat thoughtful.
The old lady laughed, “this is my grandson.”
Granny Wang nodded, “quite good. Come by yourself tomorrow night.”
Lu Chu didn’t understand why, and the old lady first said her thanks, then turned to explain to Lu Chu, “Granny Wang is going to help tell your fortune, many people in the surrounding villages couldn’t even get a chance if they begged. Quickly, thank Granny Wang.”
Lu Chu put on a gentle smile, “thank you.”
Granny Wang made a sound of acknowledgement, sat down cross-legged, and asked the other people, “is there anything else?”
Song Gui stepped forward, “hello, we’re planning to film a movie here, and we’ll like to ask for it to be peaceful and burn some incense, so that the movie can be shot smoothly.”
Granny Wang narrowed her eyes and nodded, then placed several amulets and different types of incense on the table, “charms that have received the divine light are a hundred, ordinary ones are fifty, wooden ones are double the price, the ones with jade inlays are ten times, whole jade ones have to be discussed; ten for a small incense stick, twenty for a medium, fifty for a large.”1This is in Renminbi/Chinese Yuan
Everybody fell silent.
Yang Cheng, who hadn’t spoken much, couldn’t help but open his mouth to speak, but ended up being stopped by Song Gui. Song Gui smiled and said, “there’s no need for the charms then, just a stick of incense of each person, and give us the best one.”
After lighting the incense and exiting Granny Wang’s house, Yang Cheng and the other two started to discuss about Granny Wang, and said that he originally though that she was really great, but it turned out that she was only a fraud that cheated money.
They didn’t shy away from her name, and the old lady heard it, and almost immediately, she frowned and said in a serious manner, “young people, even if you that you came from the city and don’t believe in it, but even the monks need oil to light their lamps.2In this case, an idiom meaning that even the religious-based organisations need money to run their activities. You asked to go, and she has no reason to help you for free, not to mention that Granny Wang has real abilities.”
When Yang Cheng and the rest heard it, he quickly apologised, and said that he didn’t control his loose mouth.
When the old lady saw their sincerity, she gave some earnest advice, “now look, that Qi young boy isn’t bad, he’s calm.”
She was talking about Qi Li, or 7. Although the old lady was quite old, but her memory wasn’t bad, and she remembered their names within the day.
She continued, “such a young man is dependable.”
Lu Chu thought so too.
At Granny Wang’s house.
Granny Wang sat on the mat, and looked at the incense that Song Gui and the rest had lighted, deep in thought.
The doors and the windows of the house were closed, yet, there was a wind that blew through, blowing the yellow fabrics hanging from the ceiling. After some time, the wind stopped, and the sparks on the incense that Song Gui and the rest had lit flashed, before they all went out, leaving behind nothing but a wisp of pale smoke curling in the air.
Granny Wang took out a bamboo strike kit3an ancient Chinese tool of lighting a fire, with a bamboo tube, some paper/tinder, and a whole lot of skill. More information here. with a charm inside it that was drawn with cinnabar, tried to light it a few times, but didn’t manage to light it.
She sighed, and shook her head.
Couldn’t be avoided, couldn’t be avoided.