There were a few small stores close by his apartment. He had gone there several times in the last weeks since he returned to China and much preferred them to the bigger stores further away.
He wasn’t sure what exactly about them it was that he liked. They didn’t have as many items in stock so sometimes when he was looking for something specific, he’d have to go to several of them or even somewhere else entirely. They felt more familiar though, with fewer customers that tended to return almost on a set schedule. Even though he hadn’t lived here for long, he was already somewhat familiar with a few of them.
This time when he walked into the first store, he immediately came face to face with an older woman. Remembering the face, he smiled and nodded at her. “Madam Zuo.”
“Ah, Xiao Fang!” The old lady’s face melted into a smile when she finally noticed him. “How are you doing today? Lacking some groceries? You should buy more! Seeing you today, you seem even thinner than the last time we met. Aren’t you eating well? You know, my grandson …”
Mo Fang moved slightly to the side so he wouldn’t block the door in case anyone else wanted to enter the store but he continued to listen to her go on about her grandson.
The first time he saw Madam Zuo, she had been chatting up a rather flustered young man, clearly thinking that he was her grandson while the man continuously insisted that he wasn’t. He had also been on his way to a store that time and had originally simply smiled and passed by.
When they still stood there by the time he got out of the store, the man seeming even more anxious by now, he went over and introduced himself. Madam Zuo’s attention had been pulled away and the young man rushed to get away before she could notice. Well, she barely had but she used the opportunity to latch onto him and tell him all about this grandson of hers.
Since then, he had seen her around the neighborhood so she likely didn’t live far away. He stopped to speak to her each time and on more than one occasion, he had chanced upon her speaking to other men his age in the same way as that first day.
To be honest, he didn’t quite buy her act of the senile old lady. After all, each time she spotted him, she let go of these men and came over, chatting to him instead. Most likely, she was simply lonely and used this act to make people talk to her whether they wanted to or not.
Many were too embarrassed to just walk away as long as they were dubbed a close relative so they stayed, hoping for somebody to save them, or accompanied her to the door of her place where they would surely be asked to come in and forced to drink some tea before they were finally let go. He hadn’t watched that play out until the end but he was sure that Madam Zuo wouldn’t let a polite young man go that easily.
Well, he didn’t mind talking to her or rather letting her do the talking. After all, Madam Zuo would usually go on and on about whatever was going through her mind, not requiring him to do much other than stand there, listen, and nod every now and then.
In a way, maybe this was exactly what he needed. He didn’t feel as alone in these moments and he had something to focus on but wouldn’t be asked any uncomfortable questions. It really was a win-win situation.
He smiled when he thought of that and waited until she finally paused for once to motion over to a bench standing at the side of the road. “Madam Zuo, why don’t we sit down? It must be uncomfortable standing on the spot for so long. Or maybe you’d like to take a few steps while we talk?”
Madam Zuo forgot what she had just wanted to say. She looked at the bench, then at the door to the store behind her, and sighed. “Ah, you wanted to buy groceries, didn’t you? Why don’t I accompany you then?”
She hadn’t needed anything herself and just gone in to have a chat with the nice girl working as the cashier so it wasn’t like she’d have to lump around anything. She didn’t want to keep Mo Fang from getting what he needed either. After all, this young man was nice enough to give her a bit of his time. She didn’t want to annoy him too much!
Mo Fang nodded. Actually, this old lady was still rather hearty so following him around a small store shouldn’t be a problem. In the worst case, he could still go back to the bench with her. “Let’s go then.”
The two of them slowly walked inside and Mo Fang started to look around for the groceries he needed while he continued to listen to Madam Zuo. If things continued like this, he likely wouldn’t be able to get lunch. Instead, he might only be back in the middle of the afternoon. But then, he didn’t mind. As a model, he had skipped a meal here and there more than once or twice.
Madam Zuo next to him continued talking but couldn’t help but take a closer look at what Mo Fang was buying. “You, ah! Didn’t I say you should buy more? You’re much too skinny! How are you going to find a girlfriend this way?”
Mo Fang could only give a pained smile but he did grab a few more vegetables while he was at it. Anyway, it wasn’t like he had to use everything today or tomorrow. He’d just keep it. It was worth it if it meant so much to her. Not that he really needed to worry about finding a girlfriend or anything like that. If it was up to him, he wouldn’t even have to think about it.