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During the Snowstorm

11.3

Tide of Fate

54

She felt a sudden deafening silence, and the congratulatory voices around her faded away.

 

Her hands turned cold as she read three more messages from Lin:

 

Lin: I'm on the plane.

 

Lin: Stay focused on the competition. My presence won't be of much help. I'll be busy for the next few days.

 

Lin: Switch off your phone for now. We'll meet when you return home.

 

Yin Guo leaned against the wall, her mind went blank.

 

Her grandparents were still alive, and she was only a few years old when her grandfather passed away, so she could only rely on intuition to sense Lin Yi Yang's pain. The closest experience she had with the loss of a loved one was when Meng Xiaodong's mother passed away, and during that time, Meng Xiaodong remained silent for three days.

 

Lin Yi Yang definitely belonged to the same category as Meng Xiaodong. Some people express their pain outwardly, seeking solace by sharing their emotions with others, while others internalize their suffering, repeatedly stabbing themselves in the heart without uttering a single word.

 

......

 

"I really want to go back and be with him," Yin Guo said, her voice sounding congested as she pressed the phone to her ear.

 

The incoming call brought her back to reality. It was Meng Xiaodong.

 

"Brother..." she greeted him, her voice filled with a hint of nasal tone.

 

Meng Xiaodong provided a brief explanation of the situation. It had been a sudden passing—just that morning, Teacher He had been walking around the room seemingly fine. While the family members were busy with their daily activities, preparing meals and watching TV, they later discovered the old man had already passed away when they went to call him for dinner.

 

"I've already booked your ticket for this afternoon, at 2 p.m.," Meng Xiaodong quickly conveyed the information. "There are no available flights today. Even if you manage to catch the earliest flight tomorrow, you will only arrive in China three hours earlier. And even if you do come back, he won't have any time for you."

 

Not hearing Yin Guo respond, her cousin called out to her, "Xiaoguo?"

 

"Um," Yin Guo replied, pressing the back of her hand against her eyes.

 

"Finish the competition first. Whether it's a gold or silver medal, you must bring one back."

 

Meng Xiaodong's performance had been deteriorating throughout the year, affecting Beijing's reputation. As the focus of Nine Ball shifted to the women's division, Yin Guo stood out as the top-performing player among the new generation in Beijing. Meng Xiaodong also recognized her as the successor in Nine Ball, making every public competition crucial.

 

"I know," she whispered, her voice growing more congested.

 

"Don't cry at the venue; it will affect other players' matches," Meng Xiaodong reminded her.

 

Yin Guo followed Meng Xiaodong's advice and hurried to the restroom as instructed.

 

After Meng Xiaodong's call ended, Yin Guo's cousin, unaware of the situation, sent her a screenshot.

 

Tian Tian: What happened to Yang Ge???

 

The screenshot showed Lin Yi Yang's Moments (a social media post).

 

His Moments appeared empty, but three minutes ago, a new post read: "Time is ruthless."

 

Accompanying the post was an old photo.

 

The photo captured a simple office, with a kindly elderly man seated in the center, wearing a warm smile. Surrounding him were six men, easily recognizable as Lin Yi Yang and Jiang Yang among them.

 

It was taken in He Wenfeng's office in Dongxin City several years ago.

 

In the photo, He Wenfeng, who was over sixty at the time, stood alongside a youthful eight-year-old Lin Yi Yang and a fourteen-year-old Jiang Yang.

 

......

 

On the plane, Lin Yi Yang deliberately chose to disconnect from the internet, avoiding condolences or distractions. Chen An'an accompanied him, their early morning departure a secret from Yin Guo.

 

Once they settled into their seats, Lin Yi Yang remained silent, not engaging in conversation with anyone. He kept the network on standby solely to exchange a few words with Yin Guo after her match concluded.

 

At this moment, he had completed all necessary tasks, soaring at an altitude of 10,000 meters. There was little else he could do that would hold any significance.

 

With the remote control in hand, he watched as a series of movie posters flashed across the screen before him. Numerous fleeting images intertwined in his mind, insignificant fragments from the past...

 

When Lin Yi Yang first arrived in Dongxin City, he chose not to mention his younger brother at home out of fear that his coach would believe he lacked sufficient time for practice.

 

However, the truth eventually came to light.

 

After the Lunar New Year, the teacher's office was furnished with a new DVD player, accompanied by a collection of animated movies. Playfully, some people inquired if Teacher He was expecting a new grandchild. It was widely known that Teacher He's daughter had become a young mother, and no young children in the family would typically watch animated films.

 

As time passed, Teacher He made a mysterious visit to the kindergarten to pick up Lin Yi Yang's younger brother, intending to bring him to the billiard room. Unexpectedly, an elderly man suddenly appeared outside the kindergarten gate, prompting the teachers to take swift precautions. By the time Lin Yi Yang arrived at the kindergarten that evening, only two unfamiliar individuals had remained—the first was a teacher enduring the chilly winds outside, and the other stood eagerly inside the gate, waiting for Lin Yi Yang's little brother.

 

Only after confirming the teacher's identity did the security and teachers let the elderly man go.

 

After being snubbed, Mr. He joked about it for a long time, then took Lin Yi Yang and his brother back to the billiard hall—one to play pool and the other to watch cartoons.

 

Reflecting on the incident, the teacher's wife, still alive then, remarked, "You claimed he was his grandfather. But then, what should that little boy call you?"

 

"Indeed, the generation gap doesn't fit," Mr. He considered seriously, "But saying I'm his father seems too old, doesn't it?"

 

......

 

Upon reflection, Lin Yi Yang realizes that he and his teacher had a bond akin to that of a genuine grandfather and grandson. When he first arrived in Dongxin City at the age of eight, his teacher was already in his sixties. While it is often said that a teacher is like a lifelong father figure, in his case, the teacher resembled more of a grandfather figure, displaying even greater forgiveness and understanding than a father.

 

In the past, I believed I had committed a grave mistake, one that seemed irreparable, and I convinced myself that the distance between us would persist throughout our lives. Yet, as you approach the twilight of your years, all that remains in your memories is my childhood, those initial years in Dongxin City—the things I liked to eat, my preferences, and my dislikes. All I yearned for was to come back home, to return to our shared abode so that we could spend a little more time together.

 

The most forgiving individuals are often those from different generations, while ironically, those who can't wait to leave are also from various generations.

 

The cabin lights brightened, and the flight attendants had already begun preparing breakfast.

 

Overwhelmed by the sudden brightness, Lin Yi Yang felt uneasy. He reached for his toiletry bag on the plane, retrieved his dental care items, and made his way toward the lavatory.

 

He closed the door behind him inside the confined space of the lavatory.

 

As he stared at his reflection in the mirror, he gazed into his own eyes, maintaining eye contact for a full two minutes. Then, placing both hands on the edge of the small sink, he gripped the unopened dental care items. His left hand provided support while his right hand unexpectedly weakened.

 

The narrowness of the lavatory suffocated him, intensifying his discomfort. A faint scent of toothpaste lingered in the air, a reminder that someone had used the lavatory before him, and now it stung his eyes. A tear escaped, and he could no longer hold back his emotions.

 

Pressing his forehead against the mirror, the plastic case of the dental care items in his palm became distorted. The sound of the plastic shell breaking filled the cramped lavatory.

 

Attempting to calm himself proved futile. His left hand clenched into a fist against the mirror then released, and finally, with a heavy impact, his forehead struck his palm. He resorted to pain, using it to exert all his strength, a desperate attempt to break free from this overwhelming sense of powerlessness.

 

......

 

Just as he had experienced years ago, squatting outside the gates of Dongxin City, a familiar sense of abandonment and powerlessness enveloped Lin Yi Yang. It was as if a soaked cloth had been pressed against his face, suffocating him and depriving him of even a trace of oxygen.

 

Both instances were eerily similar. The first time was when his teacher told him to leave Dongxin City, saying he no longer wanted him. This time, the feeling was even more definitive—he had indeed departed and no longer desired his presence.

The lights of Dongxin City, the office's illuminating glow, had been extinguished forever.

 

......

 

As Lin Yi Yang emerged from the restroom, the tips of his short hair were slightly damp, but there was no trace of water as he had already dried it. His face appeared clean, save for the reddened eyes and a bruise on the back of his left hand—otherwise, nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

 

On the opposite side of the restroom, Chen An'an leaned, patiently waiting. While he couldn't offer solace, he could offer his unwavering presence.

 

A flight attendant maneuvered a breakfast cart, preparing to take it out. With a smile and a nod, she acknowledged the two men. Lin Yi Yang glanced at the steaming dishes arranged on the cart and, in Chinese, asked Chen An'an, "Why are you just standing there?"

 

Yet, within a mere twenty minutes, Lin Yi Yang appeared as though he had endured several sleepless nights. His voice grew hoarse, almost unrecognizable, and each word he uttered carried the weight of blood in his throat. "I'm...fine."

 

Within a span of a single day, news of Mr. He's passing reverberated throughout the industry, even reaching the Chinese lounge. While most of the players belonged to the new generation and lacked a deep emotional bond, the coaches were profoundly saddened by the loss.

 

Before Yin Guo took the stage, her coach asked, "Are you alright? How's your mindset?"

 

Yin Guo nodded, tightly clutching her cue, and moved away.

 

Inside her mind, a ticking stopwatch urged her to hasten to the airport, return to her homeland, and reunite with Lin Yi Yang.

Little did she realize that she was merely human, not a deity, and her performance on the stage wasn't exceptional.

 

Unexpectedly, her Chinese opponent made two major errors, handing her the championship. Despite being in subpar condition, Yin Guo astonishingly secured her first-ever title in an open tournament.

 

"This championship rightfully belongs to you," Yin Guo said, grasping her opponent's hand amidst the applause. "I won it solely due to your mistakes."

 

The seasoned veteran, nearing thirty years of age, smiled and replied, "There's no such thing as 'should' or 'shouldn't.' The championship is rightfully yours."

 

"See you at the World Championships," Yin Guo responded.

 

Her opponent smiled in return and expressed concern, "Is your speech prepared?"

 

Yin Guo nodded and pulled out a piece of paper from her pocket. The opponent also smiled and revealed her own script.

Neither of them possessed Lin Yi Yang's eloquence in spoken language. They had diligently crafted their speeches the previous night, agreeing that the winner would conduct the post-match interview.

 

Yin Guo wasted no time and proceeded directly to the interview venue.

 

Amidst applause from the audience, she bowed and took her seat.

 

The stopwatch ticking in her mind continued, counting down the minutes and reminding her: she had only fifteen minutes before she had to leave.

 

The first question followed the standard format, congratulating her on her championship win and asking for her victory statement.

 

Then came a series of six open-ended questions.

 

As the final four minutes approached, she clung to her script, even though she had already memorized it flawlessly. She simply awaited the opportune moment to conclude the interview.

 

Sensing her nervousness, the coach whispered in Chinese, "Don't be too nervous."

 

Yin Guo gently shook her head and smiled back at the coach.

 

"First and foremost, congratulations, Miss Yin," a seasoned journalist near the corner managed to secure the microphone. "I have a more personal question, and I hope you don't mind. The fans present here today are curious as to why Lin isn't here on this momentous day. Do you have an alternative way of celebrating?"

 

Laughter echoed throughout the entire venue.

 

Yin Guo adjusted the small microphone towards herself, pausing momentarily.

 

Once the laughter subsided, she spoke softly, "In yesterday's semi-finals, a Chinese player withdrew from the men's division. His name is Chen An'an, and he is one of this year's top four. I believe many of you are wondering why he suddenly withdrew."

 

The room fell into a hushed silence as everyone eagerly awaited Yin Guo's response.

 

"He is Lin's junior brother, and they both hail from the same training facility," Yin Guo spoke softly. "Yesterday, Lin accompanied him and returned to our home country after receiving the news of their coach's passing."

 

Gradually, the camera flashes subsided, and a sense of unexpected and poignant news lingered.

 

"He was Lin's mentor. For eight years, from the age of eight until sixteen, Lin grew up under the guidance of a teacher named He Wenfeng in Dongxin City, where he learned the art of playing snooker. Perhaps his name may be unfamiliar to you as he has never participated in international competitions or achieved a world ranking. Snooker emerged relatively late in China, denying him the chance to gain widespread recognition. However, this teacher had numerous disciples, many of whom became prominent figures in the profession. Lin is one of those disciples. Since my youth, I have held deep admiration and respect for him. It is a profound loss that I will not have the opportunity to see him again."

 

While reflecting on her conversation with Lin Yi Yang at the airport, Yin Guo realized her profound excitement upon learning about meeting his esteemed teacher.

 

Her excitement stemmed not only from Lin Yi Yang's connection to him but also from He Wenfeng's reputation as a revered figure in the industry—a selfless mentor who had left an indelible mark.

 

"As a nine-ball player, I hold immense respect for this light of the industry. It is not solely due to his role as Lin's teacher but also because he laid the foundation for our profession. He was the one who ignited our dreams, an ordinary elder."

 

While contemplating her original script, intended to pay tribute to the teacher, Yin Guo hesitated for a few seconds. However, she made a spontaneous decision and altered her statement, saying, "...should rightfully belong to the runner-up. Even now, I firmly believe that. She displayed exceptional skills today, surpassing my own performance. Thank you all for listening. As I must now catch a flight back to my home country, I bid you farewell again. Goodbye, everyone. See you at the next open tournament."

 

Yin Guo placed her hands on the table, stood up, and faced the reporters gathered before her.

 

It being her first interview, she had crumpled the paper in her hands, overwhelmed by her emotions. Initially, her instinct was to flee, but her coach held her back, and they posed for a few more photos together.

 

Afterward, Yin Guo quietly slipped away from the sports arena, making a beeline for the airport. With ten minutes remaining until boarding, she anxiously sat outside the boarding gate, waiting.

 

Suddenly, her palm vibrated, and she glanced at her phone to find a message from Meng Xiaodong.

 

M: Get off the plane. I'll pick you up and attend the memorial service together.

 

M: Jiang Yang is deeply affected by this loss.

 

M: Also, Lin Yi Yang has taken charge of Dongxin City today.

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