First Published on Chaleuria
028 Can’t accept it. High grades don’t suit me.
“My friend, what about language? What did you score?”
The guy with the best grades in the classroom scratched his head and said with embarrassment, “About 80…”
Everyone in the slackers’ division seemed to have found their saving grace and rushed up to him in a horde. Someone even shoved a cigarette into his breast pocket: “Big bro, a little token of my regard. Please accept it and don’t stand on ceremony.”
“80 points for language! I’ve only seen it in my dreams. How does someone with grades that good end up placed in this exam venue? You’re really a buried talent. An ace among wastrels.”
“You’re really impressive. When I make eye contact later, throw me the answer.”
“Relax. I’ve walked the streets for a long time. Zero risk. I’ll swallow the paper before I let it fall into the clutches of an invigilator.”
The boy, surrounded on all sides, was on cloud nine. He thought to himself that he must get placed into this exam division again next time… the feeling of being a big bro was very nice.
He felt his whole body charge with energy!
No one had praised his failing grades like this before!
Xie Yu sat in his seat, twirling a pen, and waited for the invigilator to enter the classroom.
Three of his fingers were pressed around a black ink pen, twirling it negligently. Round and round. His eyes slipped slightly closed; he was getting tired of waiting.
He Zhao tapped Xie Yu’s right shoulder with a pen. “Little friend, want the answers?”
The pen in Xie Yu’s hand fell to the table with a clatter. His hand, with its long and narrow fingers and prominent joints, maintained its position without moving.
“You?” Xie Yu put one hand to his head and twisted his body to look back at He Zhao. “Forget it.”
He Zhao knew that Xie Yu had misunderstood. He leaned back in his chair and held out one hand with a smile, his index finger crooked. He lightly tapped Xie Yu’s forehead. “What are you thinking? Not mine, of course. It’s that guy’s, the one who scored 60 in math and 80 in language…”
It really was a light tap, barely touching Xie Yu’s forehead as it swiped across.
Xie Yu was viscerally repulsed by this contact.… Instead of ‘repulsed,’ perhaps ‘unused to’ might be a more suitable descriptor. He braced one hand against the desk and stood up, body leaning forward, wanting very much to split He Zhao’s damn head open. “I told you before. Don’t touch me.”
He Zhao sat in the very last row, but his seat was still some distance from the wall. He moved back several paces, chair and all.
“Your temper’s pretty hot,” He Zhao said. “…All right, all right. I won’t fuss any more. Calm down.”
Their quarrel had caused a stir, and others were glancing towards their corner, not sure what they were doing. It didn’t quite look like they were fighting.
“What are those two doing?”
“I heard someone from Class 3 say that Xie Yu and Zhao-ge… the two of them are a little bent.”
“I didn’t really believe it at the time either…”
“Which person from Class 3, Know-It-All? What he says is maybe half true at best. Just take it with a grain of salt.”
The bell rang again.
Dean Jiang’s voice came from the intercom: “Students, the exam starts in five minutes. Please return to your designated exam room. The first exam will be language.”
Up to this point, the announcement had been very somber and delivered in a gentle tone, probably intended to soothe the students’ exam anxieties. But Dean Jiang suddenly stopped halfway and his tone changed. His voice suddenly got much louder: “Student, which class are you from?! The exam is about to start and you’re still messing around here? Stop right there! Get over here! You brat, stop running…”
The announcement cut off halfway. An alert student heard the sound of high heels clacking in the corridor and warned everyone: “Shh. The invigilator is here.”
The noisy classroom quieted in an instant.
The word ‘quiet’ wasn’t in He Zhao’s vocabulary. He poked Xie Yu with the pen again: “I’ll pass the answers to you later.”
Xie Yu calmly said, “No need.”
“Why not? 80 points for language.”
Xie Yu thought, Want the answers, my ass. I might accidentally score higher than you.
“Can’t accept it.” Xie Yu found a reasonable excuse. “High grades don’t suit me.”
The two invigilators were Tang Sen and Xu Xia.
What a coincidence: both of them had ties to Class 2.3.
Xu Xia was probably assigned to this classroom at the last minute. When she got to the door, she even asked, “Is this the room?”
Old Tang replied, “It is.” He held a cup of herbal tea with medicinal properties, the same as he always did. When he entered the classroom, he put down the cup, opened the sealed package of examination booklets, and started to count them.
Xu Xia had brought a chair and a book. She glanced around the classroom. When she saw He Zhao, her face froze into an unnatural expression for a second before she averted her gaze.
“It’s Xu Xia.” Someone recognized her.
“Don’t know her. What’s she like? A strict invigilator?”
“She was the homeroom teacher for Class 3 before. Then she was transferred… Ask Zhao-ge. He probably knows more.”
Someone sitting close to Zhao-ge really dropped his voice and asked. After all, how strict these two invigilators were was directly correlated to their fates. “Old Tang, I know him. But this lady teacher, is she strict?”
He Zhao smiled and tossed his pen on the table. “She…”
He Zhao didn’t continue.
That guy rubbed his head, not understanding. But he did think He Zhao’s smile seemed a little cold.
Regardless of whether the invigilators were strict or not, the requisite cheating still had to be carried out.
This lot didn’t have respectable grades, but they all had a lot of courage and played for the thrill of the game. When the time was right, they wouldn’t hesitate.
The action in this room really resembled that of a blockbuster movie.
“Half an hour left to the end of the exam. Use it well and answer the questions. If you haven’t started on the essay, you need to manage your time better.”
Xu Xia made several rounds of the classroom, then stopped walking, sat down, and started reading her book. Tang Sen held his cup and walked around the room. “Pay attention. In school, we learn more than knowledge. More than doing questions, it’s more important to learn how to live properly…”
As Tang Sen spoke, he turned around, and a balled-up piece of paper flew across the room behind him.
“I hope none of you will cheat. Show your true ability. If you don’t know the answer, that’s fine. It’s nothing to be ashamed of… as long as you work hard to learn it in future, that’s fine…”
The wadded-up paper hit the corner of He Zhao’s desk perfectly.
No matter what subject He Zhao was studying, he followed his principle of ‘Give up and go to the next question’—with the exception of language. With language, at least he understood the question; he wasn’t illiterate, after all. So, during language exams, he always completely filled the answer booklet to make up for his regrets of not being able to do anything in his other subjects.
He finished the questions in front and started on the essay question. He wrote with overflowing passion and his writing was so messy even the grid couldn’t contain it.
Seeing that Tang Sen was about to turn around again, He Zhao calmly reached out and took the wad of paper.
Tang Sen did indeed turn around. He stared at He Zhao’s exam booklet for a long time with a complicated expression, but didn’t say anything in the end. He held both hands together behind his back and walked off, muttering as he went: “…basic requirement is legible writing. These are the points you really shouldn’t lose. Please, pay attention to that.”
More than twenty people all shared the same set of answers. They had discussed it for a long time and finally decided on a pipeline model of passing answers: the answers would move from the front of the first vertical row to the end, and then from the end of the second vertical row back to the front.
The classmate who passed the answer to He Zhao motioned to him to finish copying and pass it along.
He Zhao leisurely made an ‘OK’ handsign to reassure him.
Xie Yu planned to score about 40 or 50 points in this language exam. He had left half the booklet empty; for the questions he didn’t intend to get points for, he simply didn’t write the answers in.
He Zhao’s incredible ability to blindly answer questions with his eyes wide open—he really couldn’t do it.
In the language class before the exam, Old Tang had handed out two reading comprehension mock exams to be collected at the end of class. Xie Yu had watched He Zhao attentively answer the questions, but all his answers didn’t make sense. His answer sheet had been passed around the class and became the laughingstock of Liu Cunhao and the others who surrounded it and treated it as a big joke.
This time, the essay topic was ‘SilhouetteBackground.’
Xie Yu was doing his best to stray from the topic, and thinking about how to do it made his head hurt. Now he heard He Zhao calling him softly from behind.
Then he felt something tap his back twice.
“Old Xie,” He Zhao whispered. “Hand. Underneath.”
“The answers. Give me your hand.”
He Zhao held the wadded paper in one hand and leaned forward, his left hand under the desk. Very subtle. If Xie Yu reached back, he’d be able to grab it.
Xie Yu calmly nudged his chair back. He held the edge of his desk with one hand and closed the distance between them, lowering his voice: “I said, I don’t want it.”
“Even if you don’t want it, the guys in front are waiting.” He Zhao tapped the underside of the desk with one finger and urged, “Their fates are in your hands. Do a good deed today. Build your karma.”
The big fan suspended from the center of the ceiling creaked as it turned, covering the sounds of their conversation. A breeze, slightly warm, swept in from the open window. It was very quiet in the classroom and there were several extra exam booklets on the podium, weighted down with a box of chalk. The corners of the pages lifted in the breeze, and the booklets looked as if they’d fly away any second.
Xie Yu reluctantly lowered his arm and reached backwards, but after feeling around for a while, he didn’t find anything.
“It’s there. Feel around a bit.”
Xie Yu wanted to discover his adversary’s secrets and as he felt around he asked, “Did you copy them?”
“Me? I didn’t copy them.” As He Zhao spoke he remembered Xie Yu’s, “Can’t accept it,” and continued, “…I thought about it, and I can’t accept it either.”
Xie Yu was frustrated beyond bearing. He leaned back another few degrees, thinking that if he didn’t manage to get it this time, he’d just forget it. Leave the others to their fates; what did he need to copy? If he didn’t know, he’d leave it blank… as he thought this, he caught He Zhao’s fingertip.
Both of them froze.
The fan creaked as it turned.
The chalk box held only several stubs of chalk and it couldn’t hold the exam booklets on the podium any longer. The wind swept them away and Xu Xia hurriedly closed her book to pick them up.
Xie Yu didn’t let go. He Zhao didn’t retract his hand, either.
After several moments with both of them at a standstill, He Zhao moved his hand. He crooked his index finger up slightly, in just the right position to touch Xie Yu’s palm.