He is so excited to go. Mother brushed his hair and made sure his robes were all in order, securing his warm overcoat. It's still a little worn but it's the nicest thing Meng Yao owns and it does a good enough job in keeping him warm.
Little Meng Yao is practically vibrating from excitement. He's already memorised the route he is supposed to take and effortlessly repeats it one more time to his mother when she asks him.
He gathers his manual and paper in one hand and his brush at the other. It's nothing fancy, cheap wood with a simple engraving, but his mother had worked so hard and been so happy to gift it to him.
He lets his mother kiss his head goodbye as he smiles and waves at her.
The weather is beginning to cool. Meng Yao pulls his thin coat closer, but his excitement is far too great to be deterred by a little cold. Even when his fingers are feeling stiff.
The building is so much bigger than Meng Yao expected and he stands in awe in-front of it for a few moments.
He hasn't really gotten the chance to pass by the library before. It's far away from the market where he would often be sent on errands, to excuse taking a detour. He would certainly be scolded.
It's even more amazing on the inside. He has never seen so many scrolls and books before, in his life.
There are rows and rows of books and scrolls and Memg Yao can feel his heart beating in anticipation imagining himself to one day brag that he has read them all.
Meng Yao takes a book from one of the shelves and sits down. He is extremely careful not to damage it in any way, slowly turning the pages as he reads.
There are many characters he still doesn't understand, so he makes sure to meticulously write them down.
He feels as if he wants to spend every moment of his day right here. Tucked away in the corner reading through book after book.
He feels so proud for understanding even some of the more complex characters.
Meng Yao might've just had a few moments of genuine joy before the world deems it enough and decides to remind him of his place.
The boys mustn't be much older than he is. Their robes are clean and the material looks good, so they definitely must be from a good family.
They surround Meng Yao's seat, in the corner of the library.
At first they only stand there. Meng Yao tries to ignore them. That seems to have been a grave mistake. Because now the young masters seem to feel wronged.
One of them picks up his book only to start tearing it, Meng Yao pleads for him to give it back, but they don't seem to care all that much for what he wants.
He tries to grab at it, which turns out to be an even greater mistake. Meng Yao gets a fist to the ribs and almost doubles over in pain. Even if the boys aren't that much older than him, they are certainly bigger, no match for scrawny little Meng Yao.
They hold him down as the boy continues to tear out page after page from Meng Yao's precious book. One boy says that he's seen him around the brothel, they ask him what the son of a prostitute is doing here, what he needs books for when someone like him couldn't possibly ever hope to even know how to write his own name.
Meng Yao tries to free himself. Mother had worked so hard to get him the manual, she had been so proud, if he comes back without it she'll certainly be inconsolable. Meng Yao doesn't want to be the cause of any more of his mother's tears.
It's still no use. No matter how hard he tries, how much he wants to, he only ends up pushed down again and again.
A punch to his stomach almost has him throwing up, but he swallows the bile back down because he doesn't want to dirty this place.
One of the honored teachers seems to be alerted by the commotion and comes their way.
Meng Yao almost cries in relief when he sees the prestigious scholar approaching, with his long robes and stern look.
But if he eyes the boys with contempt, he eyes Meng Yao, with his patched old robes and now messy bun, with even greater disdain.
The other boys are quick to point their finger at Meng Yao:
"He came here to steal" they say,
"We caught him tearing the book", that was mine, Meng Yao wants to cry, it was mine and now it's ruined.
"What would you expect from the son of a prostitute"
Meng Yao tries to deny it, tries to tell the honored teacher that he didn't steal anything. He was just reading, he just wanted to read. But the backhand he receives has his ears ringing and his face numb.
Meng Yao doesn't try to defend himself again.
The man continues to yell at him as he drags him by his hair outside the library.
He doesn't dare lift his gaze, or slow his pace, lest the honored teachers ends up ripping out his poor aching scalp. He has the perfect view to see his precious brush crack underneath his foot.
Meng Yao is thrown out, as people murmur and gossip around him. His knees are scraped and his pants have torn. His warm overcoat is still inside the library.
The honored teacher warns Meng Yao not to step foot inside the library again or he'll have him beaten to death. Meng Yao can only bow respectfully.
Meng Yao doesn't lift from his bow even when the honored teacher steps back inside the library. Even when the crowd of onlookers has grown tired of the sudden spectacle and leaves to continue with their daily lives.
It's easier to hide his tears and the shaking of his shoulders like this. Besides he fears that if he were to try and stand back up now the pain in his ribs would send him to the ground.
Meng Yao doesn't dare begin for home that night. He doesn't know how he can possibly face his mother like this.
He huddles inside an alleyway, curls his arms around his knees and let's himself cry.
He eventually falls asleep like this. The weather is still not too bad, thankfully, but the absence of his warm coat is ever-present.
By daybreak Meng Yao has no more tears to spare. He wipes at his face with his sleeve, dusts off his dirtied robes and begins his long way home. Without his coat, or his book, or his brush this time.
He doesn't bother to wonder why, to mourn the loss of what he could've had, of those precious happy moments. He knows why.
Meng Yao knows the world isn't kind.
Perhaps when his father finally comes for them...then Meng Yao will get to read all the books and scrolls in an even larger library. With his own pristine robes and expensive brushes.
For now, the aching of his ribs is there to remind him that all people in this world have a certain place. And Meng Yao's is undoubtedly below them.