Chapter 24 – Price of growth

I have already left that old neighborhood far behind. I walked on the streets of the city with my luggage for a long time before finding a stone bench in a square where I could rest.

I placed my luggage on one side of the stone bench, lit a cigarette, and sat down, looking at the neon lights flickering on the tall buildings. A wave of panic surged in my heart, unsure of where to go.

Hastily avoiding the lights and shadows of the city, I looked up at the sky, searching for the “Sky City” that had already been separated from my body.

I don’t know when, a group of square dance aunties with fans arrived at the square. The music immediately overwhelmed me, and I couldn’t see the “Sky City” clearly anymore. Maybe it was already hidden behind the moon, or maybe it had been blown away by the passing wind…

But tonight, I still had to find a place to rest in this city.

I took out my phone from my pocket and dialed Robben’s number. He lived near the train station, and since I was going to Hengdian by train tomorrow, I decided to stay at his place for the night.

Amidst the noise, Robben answered the phone, “Zhao Yang, do you need something?”

“Are you still performing at the bar?”

“Yeah, our band is about to go on stage.”

“Oh… well, I want to stay at your place for the night, is that convenient?”

Robben smiled and said, “There’s no inconvenience, why don’t you come to the bar? Wait for me to finish work, and we’ll go back together.”

“I’ll just go directly to your place, I won’t go to the bar.”

“Alright, I’ll treat you to a drink. I still have several drink vouchers left.”

“I really won’t go.” I hung up the phone, leaving Robben wondering why I didn’t want to go to the bar.

After leaving the square, I took a taxi directly to Robben’s place. It was still early, so I went to the train station and bought a train ticket from Suzhou to Yiwu for tomorrow morning.

It was almost midnight when Robben returned from the bar, and I had already fallen asleep in the hallway, leaning against my luggage.

Robben woke me up, complaining, “You’ve changed recently! You didn’t want to go to the bar, so you’d rather sleep in the hallway like an idiot!”

I just smiled and didn’t say anything.

As Robben opened the door, he asked me, “Did you move?”

“Yeah, I haven’t found a suitable place to live temporarily. I have to go to Hengdian on a business trip tomorrow, so I thought I’d crash at your place for the night!”

“Sure, you can stay as long as you want!” After saying that, he looked at the luggage on the floor and asked, “Where’s your awesome guitar?”

I felt a bit down in my heart. After all, it was a guitar that had accompanied me for several years. But I casually said to Robben, “I used it to pay off a debt!”

Robben widened his eyes and sighed, “Paid off a debt? You’re really in a tough spot! I’ve borrowed it from you a few times before, and you treated it like a treasure and didn’t lend it to me. But you actually used it to pay off a debt!”

“Forget about it, help me move the luggage inside.”

Robben lived in a small attic on the top floor. There was only one narrow room, but there was a relatively large balcony behind the room. The balcony had a shared bathroom and a clothesline. The living environment was not good.

Turning on the light, I first saw a few leather jackets hanging on the hanger, a guitar in the corner, several pairs of Martin boots on the shoe rack, and a few suitcases. There were no other decorations except for the beer cans scattered on the table, which didn’t look too messy.

After arranging the luggage, Robben took out two buckets of instant noodles from a box and made one for each of us as a late-night snack.

After a short while, the empty instant noodle boxes were placed upside down on the abandoned flowerpot under the balcony. There were several cans of beer next to us as we sat on the balcony railing.

We opened a can of beer each, clinked them together, tilted our heads back, and half of the beer went down our throats.

“Zhao Yang, you seem quite depressed recently. Did something happen? You don’t even go to the bar anymore?” Robben asked.

“I’m living carefree. What could possibly make me depressed?” I said, finishing the remaining beer in the can in one gulp, but I looked absentmindedly into the distance.

In the distance, the lights on Maxwell’s giant billboard were still flickering in the early morning of this quiet night.

Robben didn’t ask any further questions and followed my gaze into the distance. After a long time, he patted my shoulder as if he understood, and we were both struggling on the edge of this city. Some pain was shared, and there was no need to explain too clearly.

The wind, carrying the chill of the night, whistled past us. We continued to sit on the railing of the balcony, looking into the distance, and drank another can of beer.

In the quiet night, people tend to think more. Robben seemed to think of someone and opened another can of beer, but I stopped him. Drinking too much alcohol was never good. I almost jumped into the moat yesterday because I drank too much.

“Missing a woman?” I smiled and asked Robben.

“Yeah, I think of one when I drink.” Robben said straightforwardly.

I knew that Robben had once had a girlfriend whom he loved deeply. I pushed him and said, “Do you still have a photo of your girlfriend? Show it to me.”

Robben took out his wallet from his pocket and handed me a photo from the compartment. I looked at the woman in the photo, her features were good, and she was a very intellectual and elegant woman.

Robben seemed a bit absent-minded and said to me after a long time, “We broke up almost three years ago. She should be married by now!”

“Why did you break up?”Robben gave a wistful smile, “She was born into a family of educators, both her parents are university professors. I’m just a musician with no stable income, living day by day. I didn’t want to hold her back.”

“So you ran away from Beijing to Suzhou without telling her?”

Robben nodded, after a long pause, he said, “Actually, she followed me to Suzhou later, and we lived together for another half a year…”

“Why did you break up then?” I asked, puzzled.

“Her parents came to me, they had arranged a job for her at a university in Beijing, they asked me to let her go back.”

“You really let her go, you fool?”

Robben nodded, “I did. I told her I was seeing someone else.”

“Did she believe you?”

Robben chuckled, “She definitely didn’t believe me…”


“I hired a prostitute, right in this room, in front of her…” Robben didn’t continue, his face still wore a smile, but beneath it, I saw a heart that was already dead.

I sighed heavily, “Why did you have to be so ruthless?”

“If I wasn’t, she wouldn’t leave. Better a short sharp shock than a long-drawn-out agony…” Robben tilted his head back and drained the beer can, some of the liquid trickling down his neck into his shirt.

I fell silent. Despite Robben’s casual tone, I saw a heart-wrenching love story born out of helplessness. I knew Robben would never forget that woman in his lifetime.

“Enough about me, show me a picture of your girlfriend.” Robben nudged me.

I pulled out a photo of Jian Wei from my wallet and handed it to Robben. We were both reluctant to forget the past because it was too precious!

The light from the opposite side was dim, Robben lit a lighter, examining Jian Wei’s photo in the flickering flame.

“Your girlfriend is beautiful, not just ordinarily beautiful!”

Hearing the word ‘beautiful’, the face of my female tenant suddenly appeared in my mind. But it didn’t surprise me, because I had never seen a woman more beautiful than Mi Cai in my life. In just a moment, I was back to reality, looking at Jian Wei’s familiar yet strange face in the photo by the dying flame, my heart ached. I thought: It won’t be long before she marries Xiang Chen.

Robben returned Jian Wei’s photo to me, and asked, “What about you guys, why did you break up?”

I recalled, after a long while, I said, “She called me a year after she went to America and proposed the breakup.”

“Why did she want to break up with you?” Robben asked further.

“I don’t know, she didn’t say.” I replied with a smile similar to Robben’s earlier.

“Didn’t you ask?”

I nodded, I indeed didn’t ask Jian Wei why she wanted to break up with me, because I thought: If Jian Wei wanted to tell me, she would, without me asking. Or perhaps, deep down, I didn’t believe we could make it to the end, that a breakup was inevitable. What’s the point of seeking an answer for something expected?

“Aren’t you afraid there might be some misunderstanding between you two?” Robben reminded me.

I was taken aback, “What misunderstanding could there be?… Love is just a fleeting cloud. Let’s not talk about this anymore! Go get the guitar, let’s play a song, forget all these mess!”

Robben fetched the guitar from the room, tested the sound and asked me, “Your key or mine?”


Robben strummed the guitar strings, a melody wafted into the night air, it was Jonathan Lee’s “The Price of Love”.

“Let’s go, let’s go, one must learn to grow up. Let’s go, let’s go, life is inevitably filled with pain and struggle. Let’s go, let’s go, find a home for your heart. There were times when I cried, times when I was heartbroken, that’s the price of love. Maybe I still think of her occasionally, inevitably missing her. Just treat her as an old friend, she makes me worry, she makes me care. But there’s no spark in my heart anymore, let the past go with the wind…”

The song floated out from our mouths, filled with vicissitudes. I didn’t quite understand if the price of love was just tears and heartbreak, but I knew: the price of growth was the love that had faded away with the passage of time.

In this deep night when I should have seen through everything, I still regretted the love that had passed away, for Robben and that Beijing girl whose name I didn’t know!

The next morning, I caught a train heading to Yiwu. After arriving in Yiwu, I had to transfer to Hengdian. I knew, I had to do something for myself. If Le Yao could agree to come back and shoot the opening poster for GUCCI, my career would take its first step forward.

Promoted to the team leader of the planning and copywriting team, my monthly salary would exceed ten thousand, perhaps life could stabilize.

Sitting on the southbound train, I said to myself for the first time, “Work hard, Zhao Yang!… Don’t let anyone look down on you!”

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