I suspected that I’d just ushered in the greatest crisis of my life.
A 20,000 yuan camera just ended up ‘lost’ right before my eyes.
Everyone seemed worried, but no one could say anything. It wasn’t a small number after all. But also, would such a grave matter affect the atmosphere of the event?
When we stopped to rest, everyone looked over at me with concern in their eyes.
Zhong Yuan, on the other hand, looked entirely relaxed. He rested a hand on my shoulder and his fingers started tapping. He nearly started humming a song. I stood there nervously, under the demon’s claws, awaiting my trial.
Zhong Yuan told everyone, “This is between me and Mu Er, so don’t worry about it. Right, Mu Er?” He squeezed my shoulder.
At a loss, I barely managed to smile as I replied, “Right…”
Everyone around us seemed to let out a sigh of relief all at once. Then they looked at me with eyes of pity.
The team leader was a kind and sincere person. He hesitated a moment, but finally said to Zhong Yuan, “As the team leader, I should bear some of the responsibility.”
Zhong Yuan shook his hands in front of him. “No, it’s not necessary. You guys don’t have to worry about it. It’s not like I can do anything to her.” Then he looked at me with a smile.
Suddenly, everyone’s expressions became strange. It scared me. I didn’t understand what Zhong Yuan was planning.
After we returned from the camping trip, everyone joined in on a wild banquet. It was crazy because everyone was in high spirits, but also because everyone was very hungry. By everyone, I mean everyone but me. I had no part in it because I had no appetite after losing Zhong Yuan’s camera.
Zhong Yuan, however, ate with gusto. He tried everything on the table. And then he grabbed a fish head and put it into my bowl. He smiled slyly and said, “What are you worried about? You don’t have any money to pay up anyway; you just have your life [to repay with].”
I jabbed at the fish head with resentment. What the hell was he saying?!
What made it worse though was that, however unpleasant his words, they weren’t untrue…
It was late when we left. A giant group of students made their way back to school. Senior Ling Ling and the others had fed Zhong Yuan some alcohol, so he was a bit tipsy as he walked. I considered that if I discussed the matter of the camera with him while his thoughts weren’t entirely clear, he wouldn’t make things too difficult for me.
And so, I quietly pulled Zhong Yuan off to the side and we found a place to sit.
I put Zhong Yuan down onto a bench and got to the point. “Zhong Yuan, how should I pay you back for the camera?”
Zhong Yuan leaned against the back of the bench and squinted to see me. The streetlights around us cast a dim glow on his face. He looked very placid, like an herbivore grazing. Cute and harmless. I sighed. It’s good that he was drunk. His attack power was at its weakest right now, wasn’t it?
I looked at that entirely harmless face. And I sighed again. How was this kid’s skin so nice? I was jealous!
Zhong Yuan stared back at me awhile, and then he suddenly cleared his throat. “How much do you think is suitable?” His voice was clear and his pronunciation was accurate; he didn’t seem drunk at all.
I looked at him with wide eyes, disbelieving.
He seemed a bit embarrassed by my staring, so he turned to the side, his expression a bit uncomfortable, as if he were trying to hold something back. “If I hadn’t pretended, they would have never left me alone.”
I scratched my head. Well, that was true. I’d already placed the arrow at the bow, so I couldn’t turn back now. I mustered up my courage and said, “Look, although your camera was pretty good, it was second-hand, wasn’t it?”
Zhong Yuan nodded. “It was. I just bought it a week ago, and this was my first time using it.”
I had no words.
I toughened myself up and said, “Still, it was second-hand, and that means that it’s not worth as much!”
Zhong Yuan didn’t comment on that, but instead asked, “Then how much do you think it’s worth?”
I braced myself and said, “Maybe… 10,000?”
“OK.” Zhong Yuan nodded. “So, are you going to pay me back 10,000 yuan?”
I was at another loss.
Fine, I couldn’t do that. Zhong Yuan continued, “So then, what was the point of saying all of this? You negotiated a price, but you can’t pay it. You weren’t planning on getting out of it while I was drunk, were you?”
When he said that, I felt really guilty. I lowered my head because I didn’t dare look at him. “That’s not what I was trying to do…”
Zhong Yuan asked, “Then what were you trying to do?”
I mustered up my courage again and looked at him. With clenched teeth, I said, “I… I don’t any money. All I have is my life…”
Zhong Yuan smirked. “Good. So you’re saying that you’ll devote your life to me?”1
I was speechless.
Zhong Yuan, stop making people speechless!
At this point in the negotiations, my leveraging power was all but gone. I could only reply feebly, “That’s not what I meant. Um… How about we say I owe you that much, and I’ll slowly pay you back…”
Zhong Yuan frowned. “Blockhead, think about it from my perspective. I’m really poor too. I need money too…”
You, poor? You? If you were poor, why did you buy a 20,000 yuan camera? If you’re poor, why does your meal card have multiple times the amount of money that I have in my bank account?
Of course, I only dared to think those words to myself. What if this crazy guy suddenly decided he wanted to cut off my finger as reimbursement…?
I asked feebly, “Then what should we do?” I really don’t have any money. My dad doesn’t have any money either…
Zhong Yuan thought about it for a moment, and then he said, “How about this? I need a training partner, but I haven’t found anyone suitable yet. Why don’t you do it? I just won’t pay you for the work.”
I swallowed. I thought I’d misheard. “T-training partner?”
Zhong Yuan raised a brow and looked at me. “You don’t want to do it? That’s fine. Pay up then.”
I quickly shook my head. “No, no. Of course I’ll do it. But why do you need a training partner? And what are you training for?”
Zhong Yuan answered, “Running, sports, and stuff like that. I can’t play tennis by myself, right?”
I silently nodded, unsure of what to say.
Zhong Yuan asked, “Do you have any other questions?”
“I just want to ask. Zhong Yuan, do you really think you’re poor?” I’d never seen someone calling themselves poor in such an arrogant way like this. Training partner?!
Zhong Yuan’s expression remained unchanged. “Of course I’m poor. Otherwise, why would I need a training partner who I don’t have to pay?”
I felt that there was definitely something wrong with the logic in his question.
Zhong Yuan and I discussed the details of repaying this debt with labor. Finally we came to an agreement: All the money in my bank would go to Zhong Yuan. Every month, he would give me a 200 yuan allowance, but I retained the right to use his meal card until my debt was repaid. Taking into consideration the price of the unlucky camera and the current market wage for laborers, our contract was set tentatively for 15 months. Of course, if I performed well, that time could be renegotiated.
Aside from the contract period, which made me angry, the other stipulations weren’t bad. There was barely any money in my account anyway. And I wouldn’t have to worry about staying fed either.
But that came at the price of 15 months. 15 months…