First Published on Chaleuria
024b – All the other kids have gone to play basketball.
In the school doctor’s office.
The school doctor was very familiar with He Zhao and even knew him by name. He wore a white coat and sat at his desk, writing out a prescription. When he saw He Zhao walk through the door, he said, “Yo, what’s the matter today?”
Half of He Zhao’s weight rested on Xie Yu’s body as he greeted the school doctor: “Morning, Lu-ge.”
Xie Yu walked He Zhao over to the bed and helped him sit.
Tang Sen was the only one who looked worried: “Dr. Lu, you’d better take a look. Seems like a serious sprain. Do you think it’s better to prescribe medicine or to go to the hospital for a diagnosis?”
Dr. Lu looked gentle and scholarly, but he also wasn’t to be trifled with. Many students faked sick every day and if he had been a pushover, the school doctor’s office would have become a shelter for students playing truant.
He finished the prescription, tore it off, put it neatly to one side, then put down his pen and stood up. “Don’t worry. This lot, especially this one from your class, He Zhao, are really good act–”
Dr. Lu bent down as he spoke. When he touched He Zhao’s ankle he swallowed back the words ‘good actors.’ “Really twisted it, have you.”
The injury didn’t reach the bone. After a cold compress to reduce the swelling, the school doctor also sprayed some White Yunnan medicine on the ankle.
“Rest for a few days, no vigorous exercise,” Dr. Lu said. “If there are any complications or you don’t feel well, come over. Be careful, and don’t dwell on it and go out and start a fight. If you fight any more you’ll become a cripple.”
He Zhao’s ankle attracted a crowd the moment he returned to class.
Liu Cunhao lay on the table and looked He Zhao over from top to bottom, saying thoughtfully, “…Looks pretty real.”
The gym rep, Luo Wenqiang, had also come to join in on the fun. He was a very enthusiastic promoter of sports activities and was very familiar with common injuries. He could tell at a glance: “It’s real. Class rep, he really twisted it.”
Recently, they had been practicing basketball in gym class. Luo Wenqiang was trying to get a team together. Although there wasn’t a tournament coming up, his sports-loving heart was constantly on the move.
The first person he had intended to invite was He Zhao.
It was rather a pity that He Zhao now had a twisted ankle.
Liu Cunhao said, “Ah, it’s real? What happened?”
Xu Qingqing came over to collect the English assignments from yesterday. He Zhao looked for his paper as he replied, “You’ll have to ask my deskmate.”
Xie Yu said calmly, “I kicked him. Sorry.”
Xu Qingqing took the paper and was surprised. “You’re not handing in a blank sheet today?”
“That’s the work I did seriously,” He Zhao said. “I scare even myself when I get serious. It’s definitely good.”
Xu Qingqing gave the first page a cursory glance, then flipped to the reading comprehension questions in the back. “……” Based on what she knew of these questions, none of his answers were right.
But she worried that saying this aloud would be a blow to He Zhao’s confidence, so she was instead about to give some words of praise when she heard Xie Yu say in a lukewarm voice from the side, “Good, my ass. You might as well have handed in a blank paper.”
Very well said.
Xu Qingqing almost applauded.
They had gym class in the morning. Dr. Lu had given He Zhao a note and Luo Wenqiang let him stay in the classroom to rest.
He Zhao said rest, but he really meant sleep.
He Zhao lay on the desk and one could only see the back of his head from any angle. Although he was wearing his school uniform neatly, he radiated a languid air. The corridor was noisy and he couldn’t sleep well, so he turned his head and changed his position, his arm lining up with the edge of the table.
“He Zhao and Xie Yu, this pair of deskmates… I don’t even know what to say.” When the class dismissal bell rang, the English teacher returned to the faculty office and got water from the cooler. “The English papers they turned in today had identical answers. Neat and tidy. Don’t know who copied from who… but what’s the point of copying, anyway? Not a single right answer. All wrong.”
The Math teacher was currently correcting assignments. Aside from the two words, ‘Xie Yu,’ written neatly on the cover of the workbook in big letters with a sharp and cold handwriting, the contents were a terrible sight. He frowned and shook his head. “With these grades, how did he even get into high school? Even his middle school knowledge is wrong.”
Another older teacher counselled them, “As long as they don’t make trouble, it’s all right. If I do say so myself, the two of them have actually improved some this term. They’re more restrained. Looks like this seating assignment was actually quite useful. As for their grades… grades can’t be rushed, anyway.”
The teacher continued, “Look at Old Tang. He’s so calm. Not worried at all.”
Tang Sen had transferred over from a top-tier school. Although he had taught for nearly twenty years, they didn’t know him very well. They only knew that he was old friends with Dean Jiang; they had over ten years of friendship between them.
Dean Jiang was an ‘overbearing’ person, but his friend, Tang Sen, had a good temper.
Tang Sen was looking down and fiddling with his phone, and seemed not to hear. He only looked up when the teacher called him a second time. “What? Sorry, sorry, wasn’t paying attention.”
“What are you doing?” The English teacher had gotten her water. As she passed by she stopped, bent down, and looked. “…A game?”
On the screen was a long-haired cartoon girl wearing a dress. To the side was a list of various types of clothes.
Tang Sen immediately exited the app and returned to the home screen, not sure how to explain. “Ah… that…”
Thankfully, the English teacher had just taken a passing glance and hadn’t looked too closely. The class rep knocked on the door, asking for the corrected exercise books from the English teacher. She turned around, the little interlude from just now already forgotten. “Class 8, right? The vocab exercises are marked. They’re on the table. The assignments from three of the classes are all over there—find your class’s yourself.”
Gym class was basketball practice, as usual.
The girls had more academic class time in their schedules and, as a result, hadn’t participated in this kind of activity before. When the ball flew over their first reaction wasn’t to catch it, but to hide their faces in their hands and dodge or duck. The gym teacher took them aside to practice on their own while the guys took the basketball and were allowed free activity time.
Xu Qingqing wasn’t worried about getting hit. And after practicing for a while she felt bored and ran over to the guys to play.
“Qiangqiang, I hear your team still needs players.” Xu Qingqing walked over, bouncing the ball. “What do you think about me? Can I join?”
Luo Wenqiang was currently practising shooting baskets. His muscles were tanned bronze and he looked like a bodybuilder. He jumped, tossed the basketball, wiped off his sweat, and said, “Qing-jie, are you being serious?”
Xie Yu had his back to the chain-link fence of the basketball court. He sat under the shade, an earbud stuffed in one ear.
Music drifted through his ear.
He suddenly lifted his hand to the volume control. The music grew quieter and quieter until, finally, it was muted.
Xu Qingqing: “Very serious. Think about when our class joins a tournament.”
Before she finished, Wan Da came up from behind and took the ball from her. He ran off as he laughed, “If that time really comes, our class will definitely be in last place.”
As Wan Da ran away, he crashed into Liu Cunhao and knocked the ball in Liu Cunhao’s hand flying.
Liu Cunhao immediately exploded. “You get over here! I was preparing to shoot a three-pointer, do you know?!”
As Xie Yu was watching them, he felt something ice-cold suddenly stick to his face. He turned to see He Zhao at his side. At some point he had limped up next to Xie Yu, two bottles of chilled soda in his hand.
“Little friend,” He Zhao stuffed the soda into Xie Yu’s hand and said, “All the other kids have gone to play basketball. Why are you sitting around here on your own?”
The soda was peach-flavored and the condensation on the side of the can wet Xie Yu’s hand.
Wan Da caught sight of He Zhao. Wan Da, who was currently being pursued by both Xu Qingqing and Liu Cunhao, yelled from afar, “Zhao-ge, why are you here?”
He Zhao said: “Came down to see my suave deskmate.”
Wan Da tripped and nearly fell.
He Zhao twisted open the bottle cap and the smell of peach emerged alongside a cold mist. “It’s too boring in the classroom and that group of girls is chittering outside. Couldn’t even sleep.”
“That lot wasn’t there to see you,” Xie Yu said.
“Why wouldn’t they be here to see me… I still don’t understand this logic. Wan Da said that last time, too.”
The whole year knew about He Zhao’s twisted ankle. This group of girls was so worried they couldn’t pay attention in class.
“What do you think they stand in the corridor every day during class to do?”
He Zhao lifted his head and took a drink of the cold and refreshing drink, then said, “How would I know? To see the scenery? To get some sunlight and vitamin D?”
Going by EQ, this person was an idiot.
Now that Xie Yu was thinking about EQ, he paused for a moment. He poked He Zhao with the sweating bottle. “Hey, cripple, have you been in a relationship before?”
He Zhao was currently watching Luo Wenqiang and the others play basketball. Aside from Luo Wenqiang, who was passable, the others were, frankly speaking, terrible. It seemed like they were only there to mess things up. But he wasn’t stingy with his praise: “Good throw! Hao-zi, you’re damn good at the snake dodge.”¹
Liu Cunhao turned his head and made a ‘Cool!’ hand gesture, looking full of confidence.
He Zhao felt something cold against his forearm and then reacted to what Xie Yu said. “I just twisted my ankle. Surely you don’t have to call me a cripple?”
“To be frank.” He Zhao rested his arm on Xie Yu’s shoulder and pointed to the basketball court’s metal gate like he was bragging. “You could line up big bro’s exes back to back from over there to Gold List Restaurant and back.”
Without a second word, Xie Yu smashed the soda into He Zhao’s face.
“I was joking! Joking.” He Zhao raised his hand to his face and it came away wet. “…Little friend, your temper is rather hot.”
After gym class let out, they discovered that He Zhao and Xie Yu’s English practice papers had been put up on a little noticeboard beside the blackboard. A public shaming.
Beside theirs was posted the paper with the highest score in the class, Xu Qingqing’s 120-point paper, a stark comparison.
Class 2.3 trickled back from the basketball courts.
Liu Cunhao came over to rubberneck and was stunned speechless for a long time. “The two of you… the two of you… why did you copy from each other?!” Even if they really had to copy from someone, copying from each other of all things? Weren’t they aware of what their grades were like?
“Because I believe in my deskmate.” He Zhao was sitting in the last row, very close to the noticeboard. He turned around and sat with his legs to either side of the chair back, extremely eye-catching. “And my deskmate believes in me.”
For a long time, Liu Cunhao wasn’t sure what to say. He wiped away the sweat from playing basketball just now and said, “You two sure are brave.”
The reality was that Xie Yu hadn’t intended to write his paper like this.
But after observing last evening, He Zhao’s answering ability was frankly terrifying.
Xie Yu finally understood why, in his first year, although he had put in so much effort and thought into lowering his score in order to fail all his subjects, he had still only been second-to-last in the year.
The precious throne of ‘last in the year’ was claimed firmly by He Zhao.
So Xie Yu intentionally avoided picking the right answers while doing questions. He resolved that he’d outdo He Zhao and take first place in the monthly exams.
First place from the bottom.