T’s Story: I’m Not Turning Back Part 1
The first time Xie Lu held a gun was on a summer day when he was 10 years old.
He was off school for the summer holidays. His dad was busy running the restaurant, and his mom was gone all day and night. As usual, he was sent over to his Grandpa’s home at the countryside and wouldn’t be picked up until the school year started again.
But this was Xie Lu’s happiest time of the year. At the countryside, there were little fishes and shrimps, and many eggs. There was also his grandpa, who accompanied him all the time. The countryside was barren, but Xie Lu ate happily and fully at every meal. At night, he and his grandpa would lie on the bamboo bed. Xie Lu would recite his favorite hero story from his books to his grandpa. His grandpa would smile listening, praising his good memory, intelligence, and ambition.
Only the gossips that he heard from the neighbors every now and then made him upset.
“Xie Lu, Xie Lu. His dad’s surname is Xie, and his mom’s surname is Lu. What a shame. His dad isn’t capable of making money, and I heard that his mom is always seeing someone outside.”
“No wonder they drop him here at the countryside whenever it’s the holidays.”
On a certain beautiful sunny day, Xie Lu was woken up by his grandpa, “Lu Lu, Grandpa will take you to hunting today.”
Xie Lu had always been a non-talkative child. The moment he heard this, he immediately rolled out of bed, “With a real gun?”
Seeing his glistening eyes, Grandpa smiled, “Silly boy, where would we have a real gun. More like an air gun!”
But it was enough to make Xie Lu excited. In the past, he always saw Grandpa carrying a gun to go hunting. Grandpa said that he was too little, so he never brought him along. But now he could finally go.
The outcome of the hunting was a surprise to Grandpa.
The peak of the mountain was where all the wild birds gathered.
Other than the first few shots being fired without any skills and hitting nothing after Grandpa gave him some advice, Xie Lu fired his gun like an experienced hunter——
He could hit seven to eight targets with ten rounds.
“I can’t believe our Lu Lu is a sharp shooter!” Grandpa was extremely happy. He was an exceptional veteran hunter to begin with. He didn’t mind that Xie Lu was young and that it was his first time shooting. He didn’t care whether or not Xie Lu understand him or not and told Xie Lu all of his experiences, tips, and tricks.
Xie Lu listened to him quietly.
By the time they left the mountain, Xie Lu could already hit a wild bird’s head on every shot.
That night, the grandpa and grandson pair lay down on the bamboo bed as usual. Grandpa said to him in a very serious and gratified voice, “Lu Lu, when Grandpa takes you back this time, I’ll tell your mom and dad to send you to shooting training. Old Zhao who lives at the front of the village has a grandson who’s in a sports school practicing shooting. Once he graduates, he will be able to join the army, become a police officer, or participate in the Olympics. His future is all set.”
Xie Lu sat up on the bed right away, “Grandpa, really? You’re going to tell them?”
“Of course. Grandpa promises you.”
That night, Xie Lu didn’t sleep. He kept imagining himself holding a gun, standing at the top of the podium at the Olympics.
It was actually quite hard for a ten-year-old boy to have a clear life goal. But once he had a big dream, it was enough to ignite all the passion and desire in his heart in the shortest time——
Until the dream was shattered easily by the harshness of reality.
Grandpa’s promise went down the drain.
When he sent Xie Lu back to the city, Dad was calculating his income in his sparsely occupied little restaurant. Grandpa told Xie Lu to take a sit on one side while he went to talk to dad.
Not long later, he heard Dad shouting at Grandpa, “Where do I have the money to let him learn a specialized skill? It’s already not bad that he can go to school! I’m already hoping that once he graduates from high school, he can come and help me out at the restaurant!”
“But Lu Lu is born to be……”
“Dad, don’t bother about it. He’s my son.”
“You also know that he is your son. This is regarding his future!”
“Dad, this is definitely not possible. Just hurry and leave. There will be no more buses if you wait too late.”
That day, the last thing that Xie Lu remembered was that he was leaning forward at the window of the narrow attic on the second floor of the restaurant. He watched Grandpa walk farther and farther away in the darkening sky. His back was crooked. When he came, he was holding Xie Lu’s hand on his left while carrying a chicken and many vegetables on his right. And now both of his hands were empty as he walked with his head down. Xie Lu felt as if Grandpa had aged a lot suddenly.
Grandpa waited for the next bus at the stop. He waited for almost an hour, and Xie Lu also watched him like this for an hour.
The stop was getting more and more crowded before the bus finally arrived. Xie Lu watched Grandpa walk quickly towards the door, but he was pushed to the back by a group of people. And then, he fought his way to the front like a fish swimming between the cracks of a river stream. He made it on the bus in the end. Xie Lu couldn’t make out his figure in the crowded bus.
During the winter holidays for the next few years, Xie Lu continued to stay with his Grandpa in the countryside. But regarding going to shooting training, neither of them mentioned it. Only one time when Xie Lu was lighting up the stove to cook, he saw Grandpa’s most precious and old air gun being broken in half and tossed into the pile of wood.
Xie Lu stared at the gun’s “corpse” for a long time before throwing it into the stove and letting it burn.
The money that Grandpa earned from selling chicken eggs were given to him as allowance, which he couldn’t bear to spend a single penny of it. He also didn’t spend the very little money that his dad gave him to buy lunch meals. He drank water when he was hungry.
When he saved up forty to fifty dollars, he went to the market and bought the cheapest imitation toy gun, which used plastic bullets. But Xie Lu was born with a sharp sense in guns. He could pick out the best quality and aim out of a big pile of imitation guns.
And then he would stay in the attic and shoot at the building across from him. He shot at the preserved meat their neighbor was hanging outside, chilies, wormwood……On the weekends, he would take the gun with him to the mountain. The plastic bullets were no good for shooting animals, so he shot at the leaves, ants, and ladybugs.
One time, he brought his own “diagram” to the blacksmith and asked for it to be made into a real gun. The blacksmith took a look and refused immediately waving his hand, “You little kid sure have guts. Who would dare to make it into a real gun for you? Where did you steal this diagram? Hurry and leave!”
The second time, Xie Lu had learned his lesson. He took the different parts of the gun, broke them out into several diagrams, and took them to different blacksmiths to make them. He spent almost his whole year of savings. A few months later, he finally owned his first gun. He used lead beads as bullets. They couldn’t kill people, but they were enough to cripple someone and definitely enough for shooting birds and small animals. The first time he fired his gun, he hit a wild chicken. He finally felt a certain impulse and happiness buried deep down in his body released and liberated.
This gun was his secret. He didn’t tell anybody, not even his Grandpa. He started going home later and later each day and started skipping a lot of his classes. Sometimes, he would spend the whole weekend on the mountain——no one noticed anyway. He took the wild animals he shot and sold them to restaurants in the city. The money he got in exchange was enough for him to make a living.
A fourteen to fifteen-year-old boy was living like a real hunter. He was even starting to make a name for himself at the skirts of the mountain. It was because the animals he killed were always shot right in the eye.
Only one in a million sharp shooter could do that.
Xie Lu also had a feeling.
Whenever he left the mountain and returned to the city to his home or to school, he always felt out of place to everything that was there. But he knew very well that he couldn’t rely on hunting for life. His dad’s half thriving little restaurant still depended on him.
But at the same time, he didn’t know what his path should be.
The year he turned fourteen, his Grandpa died. He died from falling ill. His Grandpa probably didn’t want him to be sad, so he didn’t let him or his dad know until he was so ill that he had to lie in bed and could barely move.
The father and son pair rushed to the countryside at night. They stared at Grandpa lying in bed and cried. But Grandpa smiled. He first grabbed Xie Lu’s hand and said, “My child, you have to live your life well. Grandpa will watch you in the heavens.”
Xie Lu was crying so much that he couldn’t speak.
Grandpa then called dad over. He pointed to the closet on the side, “There are ten thousand dollars that I saved in there. Promise me. Let Lu Lu go take the sports school’s entrance exam to specialize in shooting, otherwise, I won’t die a peaceful death.”
Dad walked over, took the money out, counted it, and nodded his head in tears, “Okay.”
Following Grandpa’s wish, his body was cremated three days later.
People in the countryside were more accustomed to burial, so the old man from the Xie family became the one and only exception. No one told Xie Lu this, but he understood that Grandpa insisted on being cremated so that they could save the money for him to become a specialized student in shooting.
Half a month later, Xie Lu graduated from junior high school. The provincial sports school also posted their new student enrollment announcement, which included three spots for the shooting program.
Xie Lu told his dad about registering for the enrollment, but his dad was in the middle of scrambling to find money to pay for the restaurant’s rent. Every time he spoke, his dad would wave his hand at him impatiently, “Let’s talk again when I’m free.”
Xie Lu didn’t want to lose the opportunity, so he went and registered himself and completed the physical and written exam……and the day for the shooting exam came.
The province’s sports school was pretty high up on the national list. Therefore, on the day of the exam, it was filled with people. Xie Lu sat among the candidates and around him were either top students from the local sports school or champions of national shooting competitions. The teacher was full of doubt when calling his name, “Xie Lu? No shooting training records or achievements?”
“No,” he answered. It was the first time in his life that he felt his palm sweat due to nervousness.
During the ten minutes that Xie Lu took his exam, he captured the attention of all of the teachers and students from the sports school. Apparently, even the principal who was busy working, rushed over to the shooting range to take a look at the shooting skills of this refined looking yet unknown young boy.
“Move the targets back 30 meters! Candidate can start shooting when ready.”
“10 ring, 10 ring, 10 ring……”
“Move back 30 meters!”
“10 ring, 9. 9 and 7 ring, 10 ring…..”
“Change to moving targets!”
“10 ring, 10 ring, 10 ring……”
When the exam was over, Xie Lu put down his gun and turned around. When the examiner reported his scores, everyone was quiet. The principal announced on the spot, “Give him the recruiting letter. With his mental state and his shooting skills……I have to recruit this boy!”
Xie Lu carried the freshly delivered recruitment letter home. On the way, he calculated the tuition amount he needed. From the money that Grandpa left him, it would be enough to pay for two years of tuition and his living expenses. As for the final year and other fees, he could find other ways to pay for them.
The fifteen-year-old Xie Lu felt for the first time that he was so close to reaching his dream.
It was also his grandpa’s dream.
It was also the day that he felt for the first time what it was like to have his dream torn apart by someone and how deeply it hurt.
When he gave the letter to his dad, his dad kept quiet for a long while.
Xie Lu said, “The money that Grandpa saved for me to study shooting, I have to have it.”
His dad was outrage.
He grabbed the letter and ripped it apart. Xie Lu pounced forward in fright, but he could only retain the letter in pieces. And then, he saw his dad’s incredibly angry and scornful expression yet showing a bit of embarrassment. He stood up and said coldly, “I’ve said it long before that you have to come help your old man out at the restaurant once you graduate from high school. Your Grandpa was sick and his mind was unclear before his death, yet you got carried away with his dreams as well? Do you know how much money it costs to send you to become a specialized student? Where would old man here find that kind of money? Your grandpa’s savings have already been used to pay the rent. Do you think that old man here doesn’t need to spend any money to raise you? Have you not read the news? Those Olympians don’t even have money to pay for their own living and have to go work at the bathhouse. Don’t even think about it!”
Xie Lu didn’t understand what made his dad so angry that day. Did he hate his own son?
No, he had always been living in anger. Living made him become angry at all things and people——Xie Lu knew this ever since he became sensible.
Xie Lu gathered the pieces of the letter and stood up, “If you don’t want to give me the money, I’ll go find a job and will go to the sports school. We will not have any more ties with each other from now on.”
“F–k the sports school!” his dad kicked him, making him fall to the floor, “Old man here won’t approve! You even dare to sever your ties with me? Your household registration booklet is still with me. Whatever school you want to go to has to be approved by me. If old man here won’t approve, which school will accept you? Do they dare to? I’ve never heard of anyone who would dare to force someone to send their children away!”
Xie Lu kept quiet for a long while before getting up from the floor and going upstairs. His dad thought that he got a good scare, so his dad left him alone and continued calculating the restaurant’s loss and profits.
After a while, Xie Lu came down carrying a backpack and wearing a baseball cap.
His dad didn’t bother to look at him.
What his dad didn’t know was that his son wasn’t going to return again.
It was after three months of living on the mountain when Xie Lu met that man.
It was a sunny afternoon. He was sitting beside the river washing a golden pheasant. There was also a pile of bamboo shoots——it was his dinner for the night.
That man walked out of the forest just like that. Behind him were two men who were just as tall as him.
But in contrast to the cold and buff bodyguards behind him, the man was wearing a white shirt and dark casual pants and was surprisingly young. He was carrying a smile on his face, which made him look rather like a young master of a wealthy family who was out for a picnic.
He squatted beside Xie Lu and used his long and fair white fingers to stroke the dead golden pheasant. He then asked, “So you’re Xie Lu? The Xie Lu who surprised everyone at the provincial sports school’s entrance exam but disappeared overnight and has no place to go but to live on the mountain?”
Xie Lu glanced at him and didn’t say anything.
He then took a look at the gun on Xie Lu’s back, “Let me see your shooting skills.”
Xie Lu kept quiet for a moment. He was still holding the golden pheasant in his left hand when he suddenly fetched the gun on his back, lifted it up and put his finger on the trigger. He finished all of his movements in one breath. His speed was super quick. He could see that the man was still squatting in the same place with the corner of his eye and was not the least bit scared. On the other hand, the expressions of the two bodyguards behind him changed immediately. They pulled out their guns right away and pointed them at Xie Lu.
Xie Lu had never seen those shining black guns before.
They were real guns.
As if he didn’t see those two real Browning guns (brand name) pointing at his head, Xie Lu looked up into the sky, raised his hand and pulled the trigger.
A kingfisher that was just flying above their heads fell down. It landed right between the man and Xie Lu.
Xie Lu placed the gun back on his back and continued scrubbing the golden pheasant. The two bodyguards behind them also retrieved their guns slowly.
The man stood up with both hands in his pockets.
“Xie Lu, come with me.”
Xie Lu raised his head, “Who are you? Why should I?”
The man smiled again. He held out his hand to one of his bodyguards, and the bodyguard handed him the gun that was on his waist. He lifts his hand upwards and the heavy Browning gun landed on Xie Lu.
“What you’re carrying on your back can’t even be called a gun. This also isn’t the way that you should be living,” he said, “A talent has his destined fate and way of living. I can give you that kind of life.”
Xie Lu stood up as well, “Why should I believe you?”
The man kept quiet for a second and smiled slowly, “Because I can understand you. That fated feeling of being out of place in this boring world. That impulsive feeling of wanting to chase after your desires no matter what it takes, even if it means burning out everything. It’s because I’ve been chasing after mine and I’ve submitted due to its attraction.
Come with me, Xie Lu. It’s because it’s only when you’re with me that you will be welcomed, accepted, and never be let down by others. You’re fifteen right now. I promise you that within five years, I’ll let you become the most incredible shooter in the world.
Of course, you’ll be my shooter exclusively.”
T’s Story: I’m Not Turning Back Part 1