With watchful and apprehensive eyes, Xia Mo clutched her bag tightly to her chest as her gaze trailed after the numerous customers entering and leaving the Starry River bar.
Fidgeting hands pronounced the nervousness and curiosity she harbored upon standing before the new and unfamiliar environment. This day would mark the first time she comes in this kind of establishment, and after taking a much needed breath to calm her nerves, she finally mustered up the courage to walk inside.
Looking around, she came to a realization that the bar was not as brooding and dark as she had initially expected. On the contrary, its exquisite interior decorations exuded warmth—the dim and soft lighting emphasizing the aura of sweet romance engulfing the space.
Xia Mo followed the muffled sounds of music. It gradually grew louder the more she walked towards its source, bewitching her to arrive at the sight of an elevated stage where it originated. Her eyes sparkled with wonder as she appraised Mo Na from where she confidently stood on the platform, all dressed and dolled up in a backless dress with heavy makeup painted on her face. She was singing soulfully with her eyes closed, the lyrics seeping into Xia Mo’s core, “I hug the Night Jasmine. I kiss the Night Jasmine. Night Jasmine, I sing a song for you. Night Jasmine, I become thoughtful for you…”
Mo Na had a heavenly voice!
If only Xia Mo was not so anxious and worried about her mother right now, she would have loved to leisurely spend the night here while listening to the entrancing music.
Xia Mo knew that Mo Na was good at singing, but she had no idea how amazing she sounded on stage. Her performance brought the girl to vividly envision Shanghai in the 1930s, where Mo Na would have undoubtedly became the diva in the Babylon of the orient.
Mo Na’s act ended after a while. She took a bow to the audience when a sweeping glance noticed Xia Mo amidst the crowd, seemingly uncomfortable and totally out of place from her spot.
She walked to Xia Mo and linked arms with her, smiling, “Hey, what brings you here?”
Mo Na’s stare travelled down her figure and noted the school uniform Xia Mo was wearing, “You didn’t skip the class, did you?”
“Nana, it’s really urgent,” Xia Mo answered restlessly. “Do you have time now?”
“What’s wrong? You look so worried.” Frowning, Mo Na took Xia Mo to the counter and asked for a cocktail for herself and a glass of milk for her old friend.
“Just tell me what I can to do help,” Mo Na smiled reassuringly.
At the prompting, Xia Mo could not help but burst into tears the moment she opened her mouth to talk, “It’s about my family.”
The fit took Mo Na by surprise. Her brows furrowed in worry before she stood up, clearly alarmed, and dragged Xia Mo to the locker room hastily to freely discuss the matters at hand within its quiet confines. Mo Na grasped her tightly by the shoulders and asked again, “It’s not the time to cry yet, tell me what happened.”
Xia Mo nodded weakly and sniffled, attempting to silence her emotions while she told Mo Na the whole story.
“Your father is such a jerk!” Mo Na cursed, “Leaving you and your mother behind like that? What an asshole!”
Xia Mo could not restrain her feelings anymore and started bawling.
“Don’t cry now!” Mo Na interrupted angrily, coaxing her to focus, “How much does he owe to the loan shark?”
“My mom said that it’s about one million in total…”
“One million?!” Mo Na exclaimed, dumbfounded, “Is he taking drugs?”
“He lost money in the stock market and borrowed more from the loan shark, but it was only going to be a vicious cycle of lending and taking,” Xia Mo bit her trembling lower lip and continued on remorsefully, “I can’t just leave my mom there—anything can happen to her. I heard that those loan sharks commit all sorts of crimes in order to get their money back. What if they kidnap my mom?”
“But what can you do now?” Mo Na paced uneasily around the room, “I only have fifty thousand. Where can I get you one million? That’s impossible.”
Xia Mo blushed at her statement due to embarrassment and quickly waved her hands to refute her declaration. “Nana, I didn’t mean to borrow money from you. I just hope that you can help me find a job. Do you know any jobs with high pay that I can take? I want to pay off the debt as quickly as possible.”
“You want to make quick money? There’s no easy way except prostitution!” Mona abruptly shut her mouth the second her last words slipped past her lips. The crestfallen look Xia Mo sported made Mo Na feel that she had been too harsh on Xia Mo, so she changed the topic swiftly instead, “Aren’t you going to school?”
“I can’t. My mom’s afraid that they might track me down there, so she wants to me hide for the meantime.” Xia Mo looked at the brightly lit buildings outside of the window forlornly and explained, “But I have to save my mom.”
Hearing this, Mo Na felt sympathy for the poor girl. She knew that Xia Mo had always been a top student with a good conduct to back her records, so it must have been an incredibly hard choice for her to abandon her studies.
“Come with me. I’ll introduce you to someone who might be able to help.” Mo Na said with a tone of seriousness, a new plan forming in her head as she pulled Xia Mo out of the room.
The brisk action caught her off guard and made her almost drop her schoolbag. Confused, she queried, “Who?”
“Just follow me!” Mo Na turned around and paused upon seeing the bag she was cradling in her arms, “You’re not even going to school anymore. Why are you still holding that schoolbag?”
“There are sanitary pads inside. My mom gave them to me…”
“Sanitary pads?” Mo Na was puzzled, “Are you sure?”
“My mom secretly put a thousand inside the pads.” Xia Mo responded softly, looking down as she did so.
Mo Na grit her teeth and almost shed tears for this vulnerable individual in front of her.
Xia Mo was only a year younger than herself, but she was nothing more than an innocent child. For her, a thousand was already considered as a huge amount of money, but her father had the guts to owe a million!
Leading the way, Mo Na presented Xia Mo to the owner of Starry River, Cho. “You want to sign a fifteen-year contract with Starry River in exchange for one million?” She repeated back incredulously, not believing what she just heard. “I don’t even know if this bar will still exist fifteen years from now. Why would I sign such a contract with you two?”
“I’m sure it still exists! Starry River is the best bar ever, right? Trust me boss, Xia Mo has a beautiful voice. Please sign us. We’ll sing for you for the next fifteen years.” Mo Na begged, “We really need your help, please!””
“How old is she?” Cho looked at the timid lady behind Mo Na, “Is she a student?”
“Eighteen,” Mo Na hurried to introduce Xia Mo. “Xia Mo is both smart and beautiful. She can also sing well and—“
“I see,” Cho hummed in acknowledgement and walked to Xia Mo. She lifted her delicate chin and took a closer look at her face, “She is pretty, but if she’s a good student like you had mentioned, why is she dropping out of school?”
“Her family’s drowning in debt, they owe about a million to the loan sharks. She has to work for the money.” Mo Na explained, “There’s no other option.”
Their conversation made Xia Mo’s heart bleed.
Nobody would ever understand how heartbroken she was upon being forced into the reality she was facing at present. She had to give up her long-awaited dream.
She had been studying hard for years to achieve her goal of being admitted to a good college, but now she had to put an end to that fantasy. It was a painful decision; one that she had no choice but to accept.
She had no other paths left to trek.
“One million is a big number,” Cho murmured. After a brief contemplation, her eyes lit up in sudden epiphany before saying, “Actually, I do have an alternative for you. It will only take you one year rather than fifteen years to earn one million.”
“What is it?” Mo Na frowned in bafflement
while Xia Mo only looked at Cho, eagerly waiting for her answer.