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A scene Mao Lu never expected to see came into view as he was swept through the door.

A woman with gorgeous silky black hair and clear eyes that sparkled like diamonds was tiptoeing around a room.
She nimbly jumped behind a large black leather sofa, her eyes darting left and right as she searched for something. When she couldn’t find it she slowly walked around a large glass coffee table, her hands on her hips, and a playful expression on her face.
With her cherry lips, she grinned mischievously and yelled, “Hmmm I wonder where Xiao’er[1] is hiding hmmm. I really can’t find you. What should I do, you’re too good at hiding. Where are you Lu?”
From behind a large white curtain, barely disguised giggles could be heard. The curtain shook slightly and a small figure could be seen hiding inside it.
Just as the small figure tried to quieten their laughter, the gorgeous woman jumped towards the curtain and snatched him into her arms. Immediately all kinds of shrieking and laughter filled the room.
“I found Zhang Lu!!!” the woman yelled in victory as she spun the little boy in her arms. He squealed in uncontrollable laughter.
“My little Lu is so good at hiding that mummy thought she lost you for a second there, but yay mummy found you.”[2]
Zhang Lu stared at her with his large warm black eyes. “Mummy again, again!!!” he chanted.
“Oh so my Xiao’er wants to play again.” she laughed. “Then we shal-“
“What are we playing exactly?” interrupted a deep voice from the other end of the room.
The moment she heard it, Zhang Zi’s[3] face became impossibly brighter, her eyes sparkling madly as she ran to the tall handsome man holding a briefcase and wearing an expensive suit.
Zhang Hou[4] laughed as he took Zhang Lu from her and hugged him. “Have you been a good boy today, not giving your mother any trouble I hope?”
“He’s been brilliant as always Hou.” Zhang Zi smiled.
“Is that so.” Zhang Hou grinned back at her as he placed Zhang Lu gently on to the ground and embraced Zhang Zi.
“And how has my wife’s day been?”
Zhang Zi blushed pink, “It’s been fine.” she mumbled into his chest.
Little Lu grabbed onto Zhang Hou’s trouser leg and tugged it. “Let’s play. Daddy, let’s play.”
Zhang Hou scooped up Zhang Lu and spun him around, “Alright alright!” and more laughter and happiness filled the room.

Mao Lu couldn’t bear to watch, he felt tears threatening to spill from his eyes.
He was so young back then, it was such a distant memory, but now that the scene was right before his eyes he could remember this day clearly. This was before his Father got so busy with the company that he barely had time to come home. This was before they got really strict about his education and obviously, it was before everything went to shit.
“We used to be so happy!” Mao Lu muttered to himself.
Of all the things he thought he would see, he had definitely not expected this.
“I thought you were going to show me time, how is this time exactly?” he asked. But there was no response from Gates.
Where was Gates? Mao Lu looked around him but there was no doorway anymore, he was now just standing in the living room of his old house like a ghost as he watched his parents chase a younger him. Laughter and happiness all over the place.

“In what way was this time exactly? Was it saying time only exists in your memories” he wondered, “Or is it saying that time is when you’re happiest?”
As he thought this the scene changed.

It was a hot sweltering summer, the sound of insects buzzing amongst the heat and the casual chatter of students sitting in the fields could be heard.
“THWHACK WHACK WHACK” was the dull thudding sound of arrows continuously hitting a wooden target.
On a wooden platform with a bunch of other archers in traditional uniform, stood a teenage Zhang Lu. His silky black hair was slightly long and tied in a bun behind him. He had a firm grip on his bow and perfect posture as he strung another arrow, pulling his arm back with professional form. As he let go of the bowstring it hummed slightly as the arrow embedded itself in the centre of the target.
The other archers on the platform clapped.
“Do you see Zhang Lu” the instructor pointed towards him, “His form is perfect and to the textbook, you should all be following his example.”
“Yes teacher!” the other boys on the wooden platform chanted.
When the teacher turned his back they all glanced between each other and gave Zhang Lu dirty looks.
On the grass nearby some female students were eating their lunch. “Isn’t Zhang Lu just dreamy!” one of the girls exclaimed loudly, her voice carrying to the wooden platform. Making some of the boys’ frown.
The group of girls burst into laughter and squeals. “Oh my god Ou Mai, what if he heard you omg!!!”
“I don’t care, let him hear me!” Ou Mai brazenly proclaimed.
“Hey don’t say that.” One of the girls near her nudged her and pointed to a very pretty girl sitting beside them, “Don’t you know Zhang Lu and Lee Heri have been betrothed to each other by their parents since they were young, you can’t say that in front of his future wife.”
Ou Mai paled, “Sorry Heri, I was just complimenting him.”
Lee Heri was reading a book and didn’t bother even looking at Ou Mai. “It doesn’t matter. It’s not like I’m interested in Zhang Lu, and I’m sure the marriage agreement will be called off soon anyway.”
“What really? How comes, what’s happening?” Many of the girls asked at once, leaning forward in curiosity.
Lee Heri put her book down. “His family went bankrupt recently, didn’t you hear about it? He can’t even afford to pay his school tuition any longer. The board are only letting him stay due to his outstanding grades, he’s basically on scholarship. Someone like that is basically trash. He’s far below me now Ou Mai, so if you want that trash you are very welcome.”
She said this rather loudly so it carried to the wooden platform. Causing the other male archers around Zhang Lu to smirk a little. Zhang Lu’s expression turned ugly and his next arrow missed entirely and hit the tree next to the target.
He clenched his fists but he didn’t shout or complain he just reloaded again, calmed his breathing, and began to shoot.

Mao Lu remembered this. It was a week after his family went bankrupt. A lot had happened in that first week. Rumours spread across the school, Zhao detong and Fei Bing Bing were too ashamed by their parents’ actions to face him.
He suddenly became entirely isolated.
Mao Lu watched as his younger self continued shooting arrow after arrow, pretending that he wasn’t aware of what was being said around him.
Mao Lu stared at the bow nostalgically. He had gotten many awards in archery in his youth, he’d started young and had had a very good future in it. However, when things had gotten hard for the family he started working part-time to make ends meet and he couldn’t make it for competitions. When he’d been trying to impress a potential sponsor, due to his lack of sleep and all the stress he’d been going through due to the bankruptcy, his hands began to shake uncontrollably. He couldn’t shoot at all, and he ended up losing his only chance of joining a team and going pro. Also paying for equipment and classes weren’t cheap. In the end, he just couldn’t do it anymore and gave up archery.
He regretted it. It had been a long time and he knew that if he tried now he’d be very rusty, but he still wished he was on that wooden block, and he wished he was shooting.

“Is time made up of my regrets? Or is it my desire? Or..perhaps are you trying to tell me that my time revolves around me.” Mao Lu muttered, the only things these two memories had in common was that they both revolved around him.

As he muttered this the scene changed.

On the corner of a quiet street the road was rather dark, only lit by one lamp, it was evening. In this rather empty street, heartfelt sobbing could be heard.
“I was a bad brother to you Lu. I’m so sorry I avoided you. I don’t like any of this” Zhao Detong cried. “I tried to talk to my Dad but he just told me to ignore you..and…I couldn’t look you in the eye…the way my parents betrayed your family. I’m so sorry Lu…I’m so sorry!” Large tears slid down the handsome and young Zhao Detong’s face as he held Zhang Lu’s shoulders.
“I’m sorry Lu!”
Zhang Lu leaned in and hugged Zhao Detong and wrapped his arms around his waist.
“I thought you had abandoned me like everyone else because I’d become trash.”
“What! Of course not. Do you think I was best friends with you just because of the money? We’ve known each other forever Lu, you’re more than family to me.  You trash? you’d never be trash to me.”
Tears began to slide down Zhang Lu’s face. “Good. I’m relieved.” he squeezed Zhao Detong tighter in his arms, he didn’t want to let go.
“I should never have left you behind when you were at your worst Lu.”
“It doesn’t matter, I forgive you.” Zhang Lu muttered.
“You shouldn’t forgive me so easily Lu, you should at least get mad.” Zhao Detong stepped back, “Come on, punch me! Kick me! Get it out of your system!”
“Why should I? It’s not like you did anything wrong Detong. The mistakes of your parents aren’t your mistakes, why should I hate you for something you didn’t do? All is forgiven okay.”
“Just like that.”
“Just like that.”
A bright smile came over Zhao Detong’s face and he put his arm over Zhang Lu’s shoulder. “We’re men though, we should really punch this out.”
“No, we shouldn’t.” Zhang Lu laughed.

Mao Lu also remembered this. He’d been so happy that Zhao Detong hadn’t abandoned him that nothing else had mattered. At that very moment, he really wanted to confess to him. “I love you.” but the words had never been able to come out. The current Mao Lu was glad they hadn’t if they had maybe he really would have lost Zhao Detong that day.
Mao Lu knew now, unlike the foolish him of the past, that he never would have had a chance romantically with Zhao Detong.

“What are you trying to tell me? Is it that Time keeps going on like this, and I’m helpless to stop it, only able to observe these past events. Or is it that time is only reflected through my experiences?”

As Mao Lu asked this yet again the scene changed.
It was raining and Zhang Lu was crying as he sat next to a tombstone in a graveyard.
“Mum! Mum! Mum!” he yelled “What am I going to do? Mum!”

Mao Lu knew this moment too. After his Dad killed his Mother and was sent to prison, he had to arrange the funeral all by himself. His Mother was an orphan and his grandparents on his Dad’s side died only a few years prior, and most of their money had been used to pay off the debt.
Despite the hardship, he was able to give his Mother a proper burial ceremony.
Barely anyone showed up though. Some of his Mother’s close friends came and gave their condolences but they didn’t really want to get sucked into the messy debt situation. So they’d left quickly after.

Zhao Detong and Fei Bing Bing came to give him some support but they were only there for a bit before their parents who dared show up, made them leave.
So Mao Lu had been at the grave all alone.
His mother had been his only strength and with her gone he became lost.
He cried for hours in the rain. He confessed to her grave everything he’d kept in his heart. In the end, he was sick in bed for two weeks after.
Unable to forgive his Father for what he’d done and in an attempt to avoid the gangster debt collectors, he then changed his family name to his mother’s, Mao. Becoming Mao Lu.

As Mao Lu watched this scene he slowly realised the one consistent thing around all of them. All these events were things that had shaped him as a person, they were small points in the journey of his life. All of these events had led to the current him, whether they were happy, angry, or sad.

An ancient croaky voice echoed. “Time is relative to you. Your time will never be the same as someone else’s. Your past is yours alone. Understand that you own your time as much as it owns you.”

“I own my time.” It was such a simple phrase yet the moment it rang through his head he felt a dramatic change in him.
He was suddenly able to see dancing rays of light that were swimming around him. The moment he saw them he felt like they were staring back at him as if they were talking with him.
He then heard Gates whisper, “You have now awakened and can now see the essence of time.”

[1]Xiao’er means this little child/son. It is a Chinese expression or rather honorific that one would give their little child.
[2] I’m British so I’m writing it as Mummy or Mum. For those who have learnt American English or are American, please cope with by my spelling, thank you.
[3] Zhang Zi, Zi 子 means child, Zhang 张 to stretch like a strong bowman.
[4] Zhang Hou, Hou 侯 means lord or nobleman

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Alexia

September 2019
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