Being stuck in the hot and humid air was sure to irritate anyone. A few months have passed since Xia Lian moved into the QíPán Checkerboard Estate, and the weather has warmed up considerably. Holding the toothbrush and mechanically brushing back and forth, Xia Lian’s mind was still fogged from sleep, his gaze wandering and settling on the mirror above the sink.
Anyone could see how old the mirror is with a single look at it. Its sides and corners all have some sort of damage or cracks, while the mirror surface didn’t shine the way new mirrors do. Under the sickly yellow overhead lights of the bathroom that needed to be turned on even though it was still daytime, its ageing is even more visible.
Xia Lian’s line of sight slowly focuses on one part of the mirror, specifically the area that was reflecting what was behind him– An old white bathtub that could barely fit one hunched up adult, a warped yellowing translucent shower curtain next to it drawn up and sticking to the white wall,
nearly brushing against the bathtub corner that has a patch of mold growing out of it.
Xie Lian’s drowsiness disappeared, turning around to walk to the side of the bathtub. He bent down and carefully observed the mold near the corner of the wall. It was around the size of an adult palm, spread in a semicircle shape, with grey mold spots speckled around the edge and some irregular, tan-colored water marks. Looking at it caused him discomfort, and his head felt numb.
“This… When did this mold grow?” Xia Lian raised his hand towards the piece of mold, though he quickly withdrew his hand halfway through after remembering how disgusting it would be. It looks like he’ll need to buy a bottle of mold remover on the way home after work today. As he expected, houses with cheap rent will always come with headaches.
Originally, he thought the blindingly gaudy pink lady wallpaper in the bedroom and the constantly dark and damp interior would be the worst of it, but even the walls had mold? There weren’t any problems like this a few months ago. Whatever, considering the rental price, Xia Lian got up and took a deep breath. He went back to brushing his teeth, needing to rush to work soon, there was no time to think about this thing.
Xia Lian is a fresh graduate that had just entered society’s working world, both his identity and name are nothing special. A normal family, a normal school life, and a normal graduation. His eyes are similar to his mother’s, both of them having that indifferent gaze that always led others to think that he was a cold and unfriendly person. All through his life, everyone around him always commented how he was a young old man, lacking any youthful vigor.
Although actually, he’s not as difficult to approach as it seemed, he always willingly participates in social gatherings. Though he was fundamentally always someone inconspicuous  in crowds, so much so that he has never received any love letters or confessions from girls.
If one looks diligently for his strong points, he remembered someone had praised his fingers for being long and slender, suitable for playing the piano or even becoming a hand model. But of course, he had no interest nor passion for those career paths. He chose to move into the big city for university, and settle there to work instead.
Regarding work, he has always been a quick learner on the job. Though he tries to make friends with his coworkers, he struggles to be earnest about it. So, until now, the basis of his coworkers’ relationship with him only extended to a few nods and greetings.
Xia Lian found out about the property he was currently living in through an agent. As soon as he entered the house, he felt something a little strange about the place. He couldn’t exactly where it felt wrong, perhaps the lights were a little too dim? But the landlord offered a few hundred yuan discount after negotiations, and he eventually chose to rent this place. After all, for a house near his work for this price, he would need to share the space with another tenant. But in this case, he gets to have the privacy of his own room, and have a living room all to himself which really was a better deal.
The past few months of living in the house had been fine, but the mold spots that suddenly showed up in the bathroom would ruin anyone’s mood.
Xia Lian had a habit of cooking for himself at home, and needed less social interaction than others, so by nightfall he was carrying his newly purchased groceries and some mold remover back home. His first task was to go to the bathroom, and wipe hard with all his might at the mold spot on the wall to remove it. The results weren’t as good as he expected. Even though he scrubbed really hard, the grey mold became a grey clump instead. No matter how much he went over it, the colour only lightened up a bit, but the shape of the spot remained stubborn in the bathroom corner. Finally, using a strength level that could have nearly ripped the top coat layer of the wall, there was only a little bit of grey left.
Xia Lian raised his hand and wiped away the sweat trailing down his chin. Working half a day in this stuffy, poorly ventilated bathroom, it would be stranger if he wasn’t drenched in sweat. In his mind he pondered over buying a bucket of paint to cover up the wall. But he remembered his bank balance and immediately dispelled his thoughts. He would rather spend it on more important things.
He finished cooking dinner and tomorrow’s lunch at the same time and placed the lunch in a clean lunchbox. He brought his dinner to the dining table beside the window in the living room and finally ate. Outside the tightly closed window, cicadas chirp endlessly, heartbreakingly announcing that the intensely hot weather was still underway.
That night, Xia Lian had a dream. In this dreamscape that seemed to be dyed in ink, he could faintly hear a soft rustling. This sound seemed to crawl and rumble in his ear, as if something was trying to drill inside. The darkness before him seemed to disperse, the rustling sound accompanied by a static white noise from old TVs surrounded around Xia Lian to be in its center. By the end of his dream, he still couldn’t understand what it really meant. Just when he woke up in the morning, he was shocked to find his entire body drenched in sweat. Clearly, his AC wasn’t turned off, and the temperature wasn’t even that high.
The most annoying thing happened when he walked into the bathroom to wash up and cool himself off, he discovered that the wall he struggled to clean last night, now had new mold spots growing in again?!
The mold spots that grew overnight, grew fast indeed. So much so that it was already growing bigger than the area that was scrubbed off yesterday night. From its original size of a palm, it has spread into the size of a basketball, small greyish-brown mold spots dotting around its sides spread out and already growing upwards towards the ceiling.
dàn jīběn dōu zài rénqún de biānyuán tòumíng huà
The direct translation describes Xia Lian as an invisible person here.