Perhaps this was the first time that Xue'er noticed how callous people were to people other than their families. There were even some who treated their own family members this way.
Unfortunately to her, teaching verbally and experiencing firsthand was very different things.
Perhaps one day she would be as cynical as Gan Tian Chi, wandering around the world, taking on the role of an observer in this chaotic era…
But that would be a long way from now.
Xue'er heard footsteps running behind her as she turned around, she saw two small children running. They were about her age, perhaps younger. They were running along the side of the road. Are careful, not to bump into anyone and cause them to get any unwanted attention. They were also nimble and quick, it did not slow them down a bit.
Seeing them scramble so quickly, Xue'er got curious and decided to follow them.
No one noticed the young girl following the two running little children. Although she was only walking at a normal pace, it seemed as if she was catching up to the two children at their running speed.
She silently followed them, it was as if it did not matter if she was walking, or running. In the end, she still caught up.
She realized that she had followed them to the police bureau when she looked up at the wooden plaque that stood above the entrance.
The words were inscribed with large bold letters, from a deep, concentrated ink. The plaque was sealed with a varnish that prevented the elements from discoloring it, but that seemed to have been done long ago.
Xue'er stood there for a while and contemplated for a while.
When she saw more children enter, she decided to follow in, to see where it would lead her.
She entered the police bureau and was met with the children in a vast area, there were at least 30 children sitting around the ground, and eating bread.
[Is this an orphanage?]
Xue'er looked toward the people who were handing out free food to the young children. Although there was only a crude bread being handed out, the children still took it excitedly and stuffed it into their mouths.
Xue'er also decided to give it a try as well.
She got some bread from the person handing it out and inspected it, it seemed to be freshly baked. She took a small piece and placed into her mouth.
"Ke Ke" Xue'er fell into a coughing fit.
[It was so dry.] Xue'er looked around to see the children munching on the bread like it was a gourmet meal.
[How are they doing this?]
Someone came to give her some water, "Here." A gentle voice said.
Xue'er had long stopped her coughing fit to take a sip of water to calm herself down. This was the first time such a thing happened, confusing her.
She looked up to see a woman in her forties, dressed in brocade clothes, but there was a kindness to her smile. One that could only be found in a mother's smile to her own children.
But, why was the woman smiling so kindly towards her?
Xue'er found herself staring at the woman in a daze, before realizing that she made a mistake and moved her eyes to stare at the ground.
"Thank you," she spoke so quietly, her voice was like that of a small ant whispering to the wind. The woman saw her mouth those words and gently patted her head.
"Eat slowly, don't choke." The woman said as she walked away to attend to other children.
Xue'er nodded and placed a large piece of bread into her mouth. This time, she did not choke, nor fall into a coughing fit, but made sure the bread was fully saturated with water, before swallowing it. The dry and flaky texture from before really made her throat itch.
After everyone was gone from sight, she gently squeezed it, turning it into a fine powder.
[This should not exist in the world.
Well, at least, it won't go to waste and feed the little insects.]
Sitting down by a wall, she let her eyes wander around. Sitting there, like a stone statue. She had more patience than any child. Looking at the calmness that was like a veil in her dark obsidian eyes, one wondered if she was the child that she passed off as.
But there was no one that noticed.
"Hi, I'm Xiao Ya." A young girl's voice said.
Xue'er looked up to see a girl that seemed to be a little older than herself. The girl was wearing clothes that seemed to belong to an adult. It was patched up in many places, that the original fabric was no longer showing.
"Xue'er." She said with a word.
Xiao Ya unceremoniously patted her clothes and sat down next to Xue'er, leaning her back against the cold wall.
"Haven't seen you around, are you new?" Xiao Ya said enthusiastically as she turned to Xue'er and bent her head sideways, her bright eyes seemed to be twinkling gemstones in the darkest of frigid nights.
Xue'er nodded her head, looking towards the girl.
[Why did she suddenly appear?
I didn't attract any attention to myself, did I?
Oh, is this normal, coming to sit and talk next to a stranger?]
Xue'er had a million thoughts rummaging through her mind.
"Ohh! Where did you come from?" Xiao Ya was a curious little child.
"You wouldn't know if I told you."
"Hm…" Xiao Ya was gloomy for a while, it was true, she had only ever known this place her entire life, she wouldn't know any other place besides here. So, she ceased her curiosity.
But Xue'er, on the other hand, asked: "Who was that nice lady from before?" she pointed toward the kind lady who was helping arrange the food and water for the children.
"Oh, you mean madam Li?" Xiao Ya looked toward where Xue'er was pointing and immediately said.
"Who is she?"
"She's the wife of the magistrate. Madam Li is really kind, it was her idea to open such a place." Xiao Ya answered.
Xue'er nodded her head and resumed looking at the dirt ground.
Just when Xue'er thought that Xiao Ya would stop talking, she took out half a piece of bread and asked: "Do you want some, I still have some."
Xue'er nearly choked again.
[Oh dear, wasn't once enough?]
"No thank you." Xue'er shook her head. After she had gotten rid of one, another one made it to her again.
Surely you must be joking.
"Okay, see you around, you can find me near the marketplace." Xiao Ya stuffed the bread back into her pocket and ran off, yelling behind her.
Only when she left, did Xue'er let out a sigh. That dry and crumbly bread was a nightmare, it was even worse than swallowing powdered herbs without water.