First Published on Chaleuria
027 – The Monthly Exams
The group walked carefully down the stairs.
Halfway down, Wan Da’s hand suddenly tightened on the railing. “Fuck it, there, there, there really is…”
“What did you see?”
“—There’s a ghost.”
Xie Yu lifted his wrist and glanced at the time.
The minute hand was over the 12; it was exactly 1 a.m..
At the end of the corridor on the second floor, the audio sensor light hadn’t turned on. There was a vaguely human shape slowly moving towards them, but its limbs couldn’t be discerned.
‘Its’ footsteps were very light, like the scene was being played back in slow motion.
Only the moonlight and the streetlights that shone in from the window shed some faint illumination onto this mysterious scene.
Xie Yu clenched his hand around the Ghost Seal. He suddenly wanted to comfort this giant idiot next to him. He was about to say, “You don’t really fucking think that someone wearing a bedspread and moving around is something supernatural, do you?”
But he saw He Zhao pull another piece of paper from his pocket; the sigils and yin-yang symbol were nearly identical to the one in Xie Yu’s hand. He Zhao looked remarkably calm: “Don’t worry. I have one more.”
“Now what?!” Wan Da asked.
He Zhao retorted, “You made so many battle plans. Didn’t you think of this scenario?”
Wan Da lowered his voice: “Actually, I didn’t think we’d really meet it…”
Xie Yu leaned against the wall and said, “…What else can we do? Shall we go up and say hello?”
Wan Da was silent.
“Actually, I think that for a man’s quest we need to be braver.” Wan Da began speaking, then his attitude made a 180 degree turn. “Shall we go back and…” And sleep.
Before he could finish speaking, Ding Lianghua, who had been silent the entire time, shot out from beside them!
Ding Lianghua’s time for the 100m sprint must have been great. During the next sports meet, they must get him to participate. He ran like a whirlwind. He even remembered to grab the fire extinguisher standing in the corner as he passed it and brought it down on the blob of something with a thunk.
Wan Da: “……”
“What is going on?”
“Are your school dorm lives so exciting?”
“A rich nightlife, certainly.”
Monday morning, when Shen Jie set foot into the classroom, he hadn’t even put down his schoolbag before he heard the strange rumors. He turned in his work, not even bothering to revise, and ran straight to class 3.
He leaned in through the window and stuck his head in. “I heard Mad Dog almost exploded from rage. What on earth did you do?”
The students were currently moving their desks around and the atmosphere was rowdy. Xu Qingwing had finished moving her own desk and was helping the others alongside Liu Cunhao: “Luo Wenqiang, you go behind Wan Da, and then your row should line up with this side… there are 32 people taking the exams in our classroom. If there aren’t enough tables and chairs, go borrow from the class next door.”
They had to pull their desks apart and arrange them into the examination regulation format: single seats.
Later, when the bell rang, they’d have to go to their separate examination venues to take the test: this was the first formal exam period of the first semester of year 2.
The monthly exams.
Wan Da attentively positioned the desks and chairs. He didn’t really want to answer Shen Jie: “This… come to speak of it, it’s hard to explain in one sitting.”
Shen Jie: “Xiao Wan, are you really still the Know-It-All I first met, who gossips even when passing notes and giving answers to me?”
Wan Da shook his head and said, “People grow up, don’t they?”
Shen Jie’s grades weren’t good. In his first year, there was one end-of-semester exam where he really wanted to get a good grade so that he could go home and pass the New Year happily without his family’s nagging. Before the exam invigilator came around, he’d knocked on the shoulder of the person in front of him and said, “Friend, do you want to have a good New Year?”
The guy in front just happened to be Wan Da.
The two hit it off instantly.
At first, they only passed answers. After two or three rounds, Shen Jie used his arm to knock his eraser to the floor, then picked up the little note on the ground as he bent to pick up the eraser. Aside from the answer, there was an additional line: You’re from Class 5? Do you know He Zhao? I heard that he fought with a teacher a few days ago?
By the end, the note passing had become a huge gossip session.
They hadn’t copied that many answers, but the contents of their chats covered pretty much the entire year’s students.
So Shen Jie turned his eyes towards He Zhao.
His eyes swept the room once and finally locked onto their target.
He Zhao and Xie Yu’s desks were divided rather awkwardly; they went to whichever row still needed bodies.
He Zhao was in the last seat in the innermost row.
The lighting in the corner wasn’t very good. He Zhao’s back was to the wall, one hand in his pocket; his whole manner was leisurely as he played with his phone.
“Zhao-ge—” Shen Jie raised a hand and shouted.
He Zhao heard his name and looked up. He took the plastic bag on the desk and tossed it in the garbage as he walked over. “Exam’s about to start. What are you messing about for?”
Shen Jie: “Your dorm building…”
“I’ll summarize it in three words for you. A man’s quest,” He Zhao said.
Shen Jie wore an expression of total confusion.
Xie Yu was sitting right there, and he was currently lying on the desk, sleeping. He Zhao patted the back of his head and said, “Right, Old Xie?”
Xie Yu: “……”
He didn’t even lift his head. He fumbled about to one side, grabbed something, and threw it.
It was a calculator. He Zhao feared it’d break if it hit the floor, so he took two steps backward and caught it. “Little friend, your temper’s pretty hot today.”
Shen Jie didn’t want to ask any more.
He Zhao cut his thoughts off. “Tell you later. Scram back to your own classroom. The exam’s about to start.”
Before, the exam seating charts had been computer-generated and the students couldn’t tell who’d be taking the exam in the same classroom as them. This semester, they changed the setup and arranged the seating chart according to the end-of-semester exam scores. The top 30 were in one classroom, the next 30 in the second classroom, and so on.
Perhaps they were trying to divide the students into classes this way in order to arouse their fighting spirit. One must always look ahead. Likewise, one must always strive towards the higher examination venues.
Dean Jiang’s original words: “You must have ambition! To be ambitious while studying is nothing to be ashamed of. For example, if I was taking the exam in division 5 today, the next time, I want to be sitting in division 1 taking the exam! I hope that all of you will have that kind of fighting spirit!”
Shen Jie very reluctantly left.
Wan Da cautiously came over. “The study rep isn’t coming to take the test?”
He Zhao: “He’s already like that… can he still take the test?”
“Heard his mom came to bring him home to sleep. Sleep deprivation. Every day he only slept two or three hours. No wonder he had a breakdown.”
Hearing the two words ‘study rep,’ Xie Yu’s sleepiness fled, too. The sound of chairs being dragged reverberated through the classroom, and it was very noisy. He sat up and glanced toward Xue Xisheng’s seat.
That night, Ding Lianghua had rushed out with incomparable bravery. The fire extinguisher had sprayed out dry powder, covering the entire corridor. When they dragged the blanket off the ‘ghost,’ they saw Xue Xisheng lying quietly on the ground.
“Who would’ve thought it was sleepwalking,” Wan Da said. “This is the first time I met someone who sleepwalks that far. If the school dorm didn’t lock its front doors, would he wander outside the school with his eyes closed?”
The commotion they’d made in the middle of the night had disturbed Mad Dog and Old Tang who lived in the faculty dormitory next door. The two had rushed over in a hurry, and one of them hadn’t even pulled up the zipper on his pants. Old Tang even wore his slippers on the wrong feet. “What’s happening? What’s all this noise in the middle of the night? What on earth are you doing?”
The preparation bell for the exams rang, and everyone brought their examination materials to their respective classrooms.
Xie Yu hadn’t brought anything but a black pen.
If he could, he wouldn’t even have brought the pen. He really didn’t know how else he would surpass He Zhao. Even if he shut his eyes and did the questions blind he’d score higher than this guy.
“We have to fill in scantrons, you need a 2B.” He Zhao was walking behind Xie Yu and stuffed a pencil into his hand, even sharing his own experiences. “Even though it doesn’t make a difference if you shade or not, you can at least get a few random points.”
“Seven or eight.”
Before, when Xie Yu took exams, he’d strictly control his answers to get an average grade. Although he always maintained low grades, he wouldn’t make them too low, to avoid giving the impression that he was an idiot.
He always scored within the range that let people think, “This kid’s mind is quite sharp, but he refuses to study properly.”
Even Madam Gu thought that there was still hope for her child.
Even though her child skipped class and his scores were among the lowest in the exam, that was all because he didn’t pay attention in class. If he studied seriously, he certainly wouldn’t get the grades he did now.
Xie Yu took the green pencil. In order to calibrate his score a while from now, he asked He Zhao, “What did you score at the end of last semester?”
They had walked past classrooms 1 through 8 and still had to climb a flight of stairs to get to their exam venue, for the very last division. According to Dean Jiang’s exam seating arrangement, this exam venue was the gathering place for students with bad grades.
He Zhao: “Last semester? Don’t really remember. I think it was pretty good. I performed pretty well.”
Xie Yu: “Mm?”
He Zhao: “English I scored about… 40 marks?”
Xie Yu: “……”
The slackers’ gathering place only contained about 20 people, each of them a character who posed a headache to their teachers. They really were something; with their own strength, they managed to drag their whole class’s average down. One person’s score could more or less determine their class’s placement in the year.
He Zhao walked in and several people waved to him: “Hi, Zhao-ge.”
He Zhao glanced around the room and noticed many people he knew. He stood in the doorway, one hand stuck in his pocket, and looked like the big bro of the slackers. “Ah, long time no see.”
Tang Sen was invigilating the slackers’ classroom. He faced the computer, adjusting the watch on his wrist, and all the other teachers worried for him. “Old Tang, your class average this time around probably won’t be good.” Mr. Tang had just transferred in, and if he didn’t produce results…
“Ah?” Tang Sen was still concentrating on adjusting his watch. “No problem, I’m not worried about that. Exam scores aren’t the measure of everything.”
Considering this way of splitting seating arrangements, there really was one significant impact on these slackers—there was no one good to copy answers from.
Who they picked to copy answers from… it was six of one, half a dozen of the other.
But there was still a difference between ‘six of one’ and ‘half a dozen of the other.’
The first student in the first row—that is, the guy in the slackers’ exam hall who’d gotten the highest score in last semester’s exams—had everyone’s eyes on him.
“I heard you scored a 60 in the math exam. Wow, you can get 60 marks out of 150.”
“What, a 60? Are you that good?”
This was probably the first time in this bad student’s life that he’d experienced anything like this. He said with a little embarrassment: “That… no, not really.”
Xie Yu rested his forehead on his palm, his head lowered, trying not to listen to this group of people talking.
This was really too…
Xie Yu’s thoughts made many complicated twists and turns and, for a moment, he couldn’t find the right words to complain. Then he heard He Zhao, sitting behind him, also join the hot air contest: “60 points, bro, that’s really strong, bro.”