“Sure thing. Take it,” responded Uncle Wang, as he lay on the sofa with his eyes closed and dozed off.
“Alright.” Zhang Yang easily picked up the antique phone from the desk. He marveled at how incredibly old the thing was. It practically resembled a toy; it was linked to an electric battery for a power source, and it took way too long to do anything. And without the battery, the phone, at the very least, would lose everything but the most basic functionality. Apparently, Uncle Wang chose the phone precisely because it was old. Before he had gotten this, his phone had been stolen over and over again – as if each replacement was meant solely to be stolen again. Only after switching his cell phone to this antique collector’s item did the thefts stop.
Zhang Yang considered the idea a bit further. If that story were true, shouldn’t the old man have simply switched to a landline?
It didn’t really matter, and Zhang Yang didn’t really care. He didn’t really care to inquire about these unrelated matters. All he knew was that ever since Uncle Wang had gotten this phone, the call had always connected. This time was no exception.
“Ah, Liu Biao! Help!”
“What?” A slightly thick, lazy voice answered.
“I don’t have any more money,” Zhang Yang explained. “I haven’t eaten all day, please, come help me.”
“What? Are you serious?” The response was almost incredulous.
“Yes, yes. I’m starving, to the point where I can’t move,” wailed Zhang Yang miserably.
“Give me 20 minutes, I’m coming over soon. No, wait, 30 minutes.”
“Why must it be so long? I’m gonna die of starvation!” Zhang Yang pleaded. He felt starved, as if he could eat a horse.
“Come on, don’t be melodramatic. You’re not gonna die in half an hour.” Before Zhang Yang could respond, he heard a soft click as the call ended.
Zhang Yang carefully set the phone back onto the table with a heavy face. Every time he called Liu Biao, without fail, the man would be here in person, within 10 minutes. And now, today, just when Zhang Yang needed the man the most, he was 30 minutes away.
“Oh you poor child. Open the first drawer,” said Uncle Wang weakly as he raised his hand and waved in its direction.
“Do you see that black plastic bag?”
“Eat,” offered Uncle Wang.
“Bread..?” Zhang Yang opened the bag, his eyes lit in anticipation. But he blanched in worry as soon as he opened the bag, and stared at the grey-black bread. “How old is this? Did it expire?” He couldn’t help but ask.
“Bread still has expiration dates?” Uncle Wang sat up in astonishment.
Zhang Yang coughed. “Yes, bread still has expiration dates. When did this expire?”
“Hmm…” the old man thought aloud, “maybe…2 weeks ago?” His voice was hesitant. He obviously couldn’t remember the exact date.
“Two weeks ago?” Zhang Yang’s voice was incredulous.
“What, you can’t eat it? Let me tell you, back in my day… -” 
Zhang Yang cut him off before he could finish. “I’ll eat it, I’ll eat it.” He winced and held back tears of disgust as he took a bite of the old bread. It was awful, but still, he would rather try to eat the moldy bread than listen to the old man talk about “how tough it was back in the day.” Physical discomfort was bearable. The old man’s lecturing was a mental torture.
Uncle Wang had, technically speaking, participated in the Vietnam War, but, in reality, by the time the old man had deployed, the war was nearly over. Indeed, in truth, the old man hadn’t even known what a Vietnamese person looked like until he was discharged. However, although the war had nearly ended, there had still been occasional firefights when he was deployed, and, consequently, when he was discharged, he was technically considered a combat veteran. As a matter of fact, even now, he drew veteran’s compensation from the state each month.
Of course, all this had been told to Zhang Yang by others, in secret. The old man himself boasted of himself as if he was the greatest man who had ever lived in China. To hear him tell the story, if he hadn’t joined the war, China would have certainly lost. At first, Uncle Wang had managed to trick many students, the ones who worshiped war heroes, with his self-aggrandizing lies, but, over time, his lies became readily apparent. By now, the old man’s glorious facade had been torn down completely, exposing the dull reality behind it – at least to the students themselves. Uncle Wang himself still seemed to think that he was thought a legend.
“Say, how do you think I can make Professor Li’s wife fall for me?” the old man suddenly asked, turning to Zhang Yang. Seeing him appear to nip at the bread, he lay back down on the sofa in satisfaction and shut his eyes.
“Well…” Zhang Yang hesitated, before answering, “You should wait a bit. Her husband just died. Her heart must be filled with grief and not love.”
“Ah! I’ve thought of this too!” responded the old man. “But I have to do something now!”
“What?” asked Zhang Yang.
“That damned fatty from the dining hall – I see him running to the old Professor Li’s house every day. If I don’t do something quick, someone else might swoop in!” The old man’s face was etched with worry.
“I see.” Zhang Yang coughed, and continued, “Then you go directly to her house, and tell her, directly. At your age, there’s no point in beating around the bush. Time is money, right? You’re already more than 60; your time is limited. Grasp your opportunities when they come.”
“Pah! Whose time is limited?” the old man spit back.
Zhang Yang decided, tactfully, not to answer.
“Still, you’re right. Alright then! As soon as I get off work, I’ll go over to her house and tell her.” The old man shot up from his seat, seemingly reinvigorated. Zhang Yang nearly jumped back at the sudden movement.
There was a brief pause, as Zhang Yang stared at Uncle Wang, who now wore a determined expression on his face. Zhang Yang cringed painfully inside. The woman’s husband had died a month ago, and now, this man, out of nowhere, was going to run to her house in the middle of the night and confess his love for her. He silently offered a desperate prayer to Buddha for the old man not to be run out of the house with a broom.
“Hey, Zhang Yang, hurry up!” A rough, thick voice sounded through the door.
“Ah, Uncle Wang, Liu Biao has arrived. I must leave now.” Zhang Yang could barely hide his relief as he hastily got up. Right now, Liu Biao’s voice was like the voice of an angel here to save him.
“Hm. Be careful. Tell that youngster not to hang around near the doorway all day with a bunch of hooligans just because he has nothing to do.”
“Of course, of course.”
“Go on then.” As he watched Zhang Yang leave, the old man appeared to become slightly despondent again. Zhang Yang noticed how lonely Uncle Wang seemed to look, laying on the couch.
“I’ll be leaving then, Uncle Wang. Don’t let this fan blow on your stomach too much, you’ll catch a cold.”  Zhang Yang watched as the old man rolled over on the couch.
“Go, go,” Uncle Wang seemed to half mumble, as he waved his hand and shut his eyes and began to fall asleep.
Without making a sound, Zhang Yang set the fan to its lowest setting, before tiptoeing out of the guard’s room and slowly closing the door.
“Hurry it up! You’re slower than my grandmother, yeesh.” The voice came from the man standing at the gate. He wore a clean suit and a striped tie over a white dress shirt. His eyebrows were thick and furrowed like a leopard’s, with steely eyes. Even his appearance gave the impression of a simple minded fellow. Next to him was parked an old, beaten-up Yamaha 25o, covered in grease and oil.
“What are you doing?”
 Back in my day, we used to walk 5 miles barefoot uphill both ways to school!
 God this is one of the most annoying Asian mother myths in the world.