Chapter 44 - Abu Lizi
In Tang Can’s memory, he could not recall seeing Xiao Chen the day “he” and Shen Yu arrived at Hami city. But Shen Yu had insisted then that Xiao Chen was with her that day. However, given that Zhang Fei also agreed that there was nothing wrong with their people here, Tang Can was willing to let the matter drop.
Under Old Mr. Yun’s direction, they finally found an old guide in the village who had known the old geezer twenty-some years ago. When the old man saw Old Mr. Yun, he became quite emotional. Unfortunately, his body was not as sprightly as Old Mr. Yun, even though he was younger than the old geezer by at least a decade. He required someone to help him walk around. Judging by his appearance, someone could easily make the assumption that he was the older man.
At this moment, Shen Yu realized that they had another problem on their hands. Old Mr. Yun had to be in his sixties. No matter how healthy his body was, it would still be difficult for him to travel to Lop Nor through a desert. Would the old man survive such a journey?
In the end, Tang Can had to explain the situation to her. Apparently, the old geezer would not be going with them through the desert. The only reason why the old fox was here in the first place was because he refused to let his half of the map out of his grasping hands. Additionally, Old Mr. Yun had many former acquaintances here. Generally, a lot of problems could be solved with the help of the local army division. However, this was a special trip with special requirements. Finding a guide and camels to ride was not something the army had much experience with. Old Mr. Yun was the perfect person to help make those arrangements. Furthermore, traveling to the deadly Lop Nor was a risky thing at best. If they could not find someone trustworthy to rely on, their chances of survival would plummet deeply.
The old geezer brought them to a man called Abu Lizi. Tang Can said that this man was known as a “living map”. Twenty years ago, he had guided many expeditions safely into Lop Nor.
Shen Yu didn’t quite understand the need to find a person to guide them. Hadn’t technology advanced enough such that they didn’t need to use people anymore?
Tang Can shook his head and smiled ruefully, “Lop Nor is a mysterious place. Birds flying through there will often lose their way. Airplanes have the same problem. Many years ago, people said that spirits haunted the area. Now that we’re in a more scientific age, we know that Lop Nor has a special magnetic field that surplants the earth’s own magnetic field. It interferes with scientific instruments. Under these circumstances, a person is more reliable than navigation machines. Furthermore, in a desert, the most important thing is to find water and shelter from sandstorms. Our current instruments can’t help us with either of those!”
Shen Yu finally understood their situation after hearing his entire explanation.
Without much effort, the group was able to find the correct person. The guide they found looked to be in his mid-forties under Shen Yu’s assessing eye. He was of middling stature but his eyes were alert and full of energy. Tang Can secretly told her that apparently the man had looked exactly the same back when Old Mr. Yun first came here. Shen Yu was incredibly shocked and thought that he was pulling her leg. How could it be possible that someone could look the same after twenty-odd years had passed?
She asked him suspiciously, “How do you know about events that happened twenty years ago?”
Tang Can laughed with amusement and pointed his hand at a picture hanging on the wall. “I looked at this photo from that time period!”
Shen Yu followed his hand and looked up. The photo was encased in an old-fashioned frame with other old photos, and they were all yellowing with age. She was standing too far away to clearly make out all of the details. From this, she could tell that Tang Can was not nearsighted. However, it made her start to wonder why he didn’t see Xiao Chen the other day.
The young woman wanted to walk closer to the wall, so she could get a better look. Before she could, Tang Can grabbed her arm and told her, “Wait a second.” He then respectfully asked Abu Lizi if they could see his picture frame.
The other man nodded in assent. His expression was solemn and serious. In fact, not a single smile had crossed his face the whole time they had been here. At first, Shen Yu thought that the man was displeased with them. Later on, she observed how he interacted with everyone else. The man had actually prepared a platter of fresh fruit and candy for them. When Abu Lizi talked to Old Mr. Yun, his eyes showed signs of tearing after talking about past events. It was then that she knew that the other man wasn’t unhappy, he was just someone who didn’t laugh very often.
A feeling of familiarity arose when she saw the pictures. People who grew up in rural areas all had great love for their own families. Photos were often taken right in front of their homes. Shen Yu carefully inspected every single image in the frame. She noticed that the house in the background of the photos slowly changed from old to new. Abu Lizi’s clothes were different in each photo, but his physical appearance stayed constant.
While Shen Yu was looking at the pictures, Old Mr. Yun was negotiating something with Abu Lizi. They were speaking in the Uyghur dialect, which she didn’t understand. However, she wasn’t curious about the topic of their conversation. She focused on looking at the pictures and noticed that the man had taken a few pictures with some people from the military. There was even a date written on the border of the photos. Although there were quite a few copies, the photos were all old and slowly losing their image. It was easy to spot Abu Lizi from his clothing, but the rest of the people were all in military uniform. Under their helmets, it was difficult to tell even the male and female soldiers apart.
Shen Yu felt disappointed. The object she wanted to find wasn’t here. She sat down again and unconsciously moved some hair way from her face. When she raised her hand, the bell on her silver bracelet chimed gently. It sounded pure and sweet. The sound caught the attention of Abu Lizi. His eyes, normally dull and lifeless like a dead fish, focused on her bracelet and rounded with shock. In fact, he opened up his eyes so wide that she thought they were going to fall out of his head.
The expression on the man’s face frightened Shen Yu and she could hear her heart pounding from anxiety. Subconsciously, she scooted closer to Tang Can.
Old Mr. Yun was not surprised by the other man’s reaction to her bracelet. He looked contemplative and used a hand to smooth his scraggly beard.
Who would have guessed what happened next? Abu Lizi suddenly twisted his body to face due south and started chanting something. He flung his body into a deep kowtow.
Tang Can was unnerved by the other man’s odd display and was just as unsure as Shen Yu on what to do. The leisurely air around the old fox had disappeared too. In its place, his face had during sallow and grey, as if he had just seen a ghost.
A woman who had been hiding in the other room also came out after hearing Abu Lizi’s shouts. Similarly, she started to kowtow in the same direction.
Old Mr. Yun sat there, shocked for a long time, before he finally hollered at them to leave the man’s house.
They all left hurriedly, as if they were running away from something. After they were outside, Mazha couldn’t help but swear in fright, “What the hell! Did they all go crazy? No one had died, why did they need to start kowtowing?”
Old Mr. Yun leveled a glare at the soldier and used the end of his pipe to rap Mazha on the head. “You little bastard, what the hell do you know?” he snarled.
Mazha looked at him with innocent looking eyes. He muttered to himself, “What did I say wrong?”
Next to him, Shen Yu suddenly asked him, “Aren’t you from the Mongol tribes? I thought Mongols followed the same religion? Don’t tell me you don’t know what’s going on.”
Mazha suddenly felt as if he had put his own foot in his mouth. His face reddened in embarrassment.
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