Autumn of 2022.
Tiny raindrops sprinkled down from the gray, mushy sky, gently landing on the city streets.
In the autumn afternoon, one can see pedestrians without umbrellas quickly passing by with their hands over their heads.
In the narrow Junmin Alley, a seventeen-year-old boy was sitting across from an old man under a canopy next to a small store’s outdoor tables.
Outside, the world was made dark and gloomy by the rain, leaving only the small patch of ground under the canopy dry. It was almost as if this was the very last piece of land left in the entire world.
In front of them was a dilapidated wooden chessboard, and on top of them was a red sign with the words “Fulai Supermarket”1.
“Checkmate,” said the boy as he stood up, leaving the old man, who was almost bold, staring at the chessboard2in a daze.
The boy, Qing Chen, glanced at the other side and calmly said, “There’s no point in struggling anymore.”
“I can still…” said the old man unwillingly, “it’s only been thirteen moves into the game…”
In his words, the old man was embarrassed at how badly he was beaten in chess after just thirteen moves.
Qing Chen didn’t explain anything. The murderous intentions were clearly revealed from the placement of the chess pieces, and it would only be a matter of another move before a giant massacre.
The boy’s face was clean and his eyes were clear. He was wearing a plain school uniform as if he was purifying the world around him to be a little more transparent.
The old man threw the chess piece in his hands onto the chessboard, admitting his defeat.
As if he was the only one here, Qing Chen walked behind the store’s counter and took out a 20 yuan bill3from the change basket, placing the money into the pocket.
“I lose 20 yuan because of you every day! This morning, I just won 20 from Lao Li, and now it’s in your pocket already!”
After taking the money, Qing Chen returned to his seat next to the chessboard and started placing back the chess pieces, “If it isn’t because none of them are willing to play with me again, I won’t be coming to you so frequently. You want your reputation, and I need my money. It’s fair and square.”
“So you are determined to hunt me down, aren’t you?” murmured the old man, “The fortune teller said that I can live to seventy-eight years old, and I’m only fifty right now. If I lose 20 yuan to you every day, how much money will that be?”
“I don’t just take your money for nothing,” replied Qing Chen calmly, “You get to keep your reputation, so it isn’t a bad deal.”
“But all the ones you taught for the past few days are useless,” complained the old man.
Qing Chen glanced at him, “You don’t have to be so harsh to yourself.”
Old man: “???”
The old man irritably re-arranged the chessboard and then eagerly said, “Fine, let’s just do the replay.”
Suddenly, Qing Chen lowered his head.
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