First Published on Chaleuria
032 A wild 800-word boast
Six exam papers were placed on the desk. Xie Yu thought Old Tang was going to briefly go over the monthly exam with them.
But Tang Sen asked instead, “You like to play video games?”
In order for the pretense to seem genuine, even though they didn’t really like them, they had to nod.
Xie Yu: “Mm.”
He Zhao: “Yup. I like them a lot.”
“I gave it a try, too. That very popular game, He Zhao, that I heard you’ve been playing.” Tang Sen didn’t mention the exam papers. He took out his phone. “I didn’t expect your taste to be so… innocent and pure.”
“Innocent and pure?”
He wasn’t sure how Old Tang had come to the very strange conclusion of ‘innocent and pure.’
While Old Tang was looking down at his phone, He Zhao nudged Xie Yu with his arm. “Is he saying I’m childish?”
“I don’t know, and I don’t want to know.”
“Then how am I innocent and pure? A man like Old Tang probably likes to play chess, drink tea, and birdwatch in his free time.” The more He Zhao thought, the more he wanted to know what this was about. “He probably doesn’t play King of Guns or Planet Terror.”
As Tang Sen opened the game, he said, “It’s not that I think video games are bad. There are two sides to everything. The good side is it lets people relax and have fun, while also exercising one’s self-control…”
He Zhao ignored the rest and nodded in agreement. “Yes. I agree. You make a lot of sense.”
Xie Yu saw a very familiar pink flash across Tang Sen’s phone screen.
But he’d only glimpsed it. As Tang Sen got excited, he put his phone away and continued talking. “This self-control and willpower is very strong. There are many temptations in the world. For example…”
He Zhao got a little sleepy while listening and secretly stuck his hand in front of Xie Yu.
Xie Yu looked down. “What are you doing?”
“Pinch me,” He Zhao said. “I’m having trouble staying awake.”
Xie Yu had just touched the back of He Zhao’s hand and hadn’t yet had time to pinch when Tang Sen changed the subject from self-control to studying, and then from studying to games. Then Tang Sen slid his phone over and, after seeing the pink game interface, He Zhao was suddenly wide awake. “……”
Tang Sen talked for another half an hour and the class bell rang before he let them go.
When He Zhao left, he forgot his manners and didn’t even say, “Goodbye, Mr. Tang.”
Xie Yu wanted to laugh very much but held it in.
He Zhao walked quickly. He took several steps then stopped again. Seeing Xie Yu, he reminded him, “Don’t laugh. I’m this fucking close to exploding.”
The first afternoon class was history. When they returned, the history teacher was already in the classroom.
“Quick, come in. Class has started. Why are you still dawdling?” the history teacher said, opening a book. “The bell has rung, so quickly get to your seats and sit down.”
Just now in the faculty office, Tang Sen had shown them his score in the dressup game and explained some of his thoughts on the game. At the end, he’d compared the game to studying and hoped it would ignite some interest in them for studying.
“The game gives you a dressup theme every level and the player has to think about it… Take a look at this reading comprehension question. Actually, doing questions is very similar… Why not this skirt? Why is this answer wrong? You have to think about it and solve the question.”
Xie Yu could understand Tang Sen’s intentions. He was trying to tell He Zhao, using this method, that studying could also become an interesting and fun ‘game.’
But the way he delivered his message was really too shocking.
At the podium, the history teacher was starting a new chapter.
The more Xie Yu thought about it, the less he could stand it. He was about to lie down and go to sleep, but then he put his face in one hand and his shoulders started shaking.
He Zhao’s mind was still entirely occupied by Tang Sen’s words, “this skirt or that skirt,” and he turned, about to ask Xie Yu if Old Tang had gone mad, when he found Xie Yu holding his face, laughing.
“……” He Zhao paused and then said, “If you’re a loyal bro, don’t mock me now.”
Xie Yu very clearly chose not to be a loyal bro.
He Zhao could only turn back. This little brat. No conscience. If He Zhao didn’t see, he wouldn’t be troubled.
Several minutes later, He Zhao couldn’t help scooting closer and telling Little Mr. No-Conscience: “Actually, I have one more question.”
“How is Old Tang’s level higher than mine? I’m a true blue Renminbi player…” He Zhao cut himself off halfway. “Old Xie, you’re too much. Terrible. You’re still laughing?”
He Zhao really wanted to go to the toilet, squat, and smoke a cigarette, but all he could do was pull out a piece of candy.
“I bet fifty cents. It’s definitely Wan Da, that grandson.”¹ He Zhao glanced over the people in class. “Who would it be, if not him? Wind whistles through his mouth even when it’s closed.”
Wan Da had inexplicably been saddled with blame and he didn’t even know it.
The monthly exams were quickly graded. The next morning, when students trickled through the school doors, the class rankings were already up on the bulletin board. Names densely covered the whole board, black ink on white paper.
The live-in students had not yet gotten accustomed to the wake-up bell of ‘Loyalty to the Country’ and the radio station’s DJ Jiang’s twenty-minute speech every morning: “We must fight hard! Bring forth all our effort and don’t let our future selves regret!”
Xie Yu was accustomed to being woken up. Outside his door, the hot-blooded live-in students were doing their morning complaint exercises.
And He Zhao from the opposite dorm room had sent him a text. He had probably been woken up, too. There was only one word in the text: Day.
Several minutes later, another text arrived.
Little friend, are you up?
Me neither. I endured the twenty minutes and then went back to sleep.
You’re not going to morning classes?
First period is Old Tang’s class. Let me dawdle.
He Zhao didn’t go to first period, but his exam paper was passed around the class again.
“If we made Zhao-ge’s literature exams into a booklet, it would be a veritable fountain of entertainment,” Liu Cunhao said. “I’ve never seen more impressive thought processes than his. He even curses the question-maker… damn it.”
“Have you seen his essays? For the silhouette topic, he writes about his own silhouette. The first sentence—I think my silhouette is especially suave. Then it becomes a wild 800-word boast.”
“Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha I’m going to die laughing. Yu-ge, have you seen it? Come over here and look at it with us.”
Xie Yu had never realized as clearly as in this moment that in the short month since school had begun, his life had undergone a big change.
Suddenly, there was much more noise.
These noises had tyrannically forced their way into his life, little by little.
Very noisy, and very annoying.
He Zhao timed his arrival well and slipped into the classroom right as as literature class was letting out.
Xu Qingqing was distributing the English exam papers and she reminded him, “You haven’t turned in your English homework.”
He Zhao had just gotten to the door. “What English homework?”
“Copy the vocabulary words from the next chapter, four times each.” When Xu Qingqing finished explaining, she stuffed two English exam papers into He Zhao’s hands. “These are yours and your deskmate’s. You scored 30, your deskmate 25.”
Though the two of them got very similar grades, most teachers preferred grading Xie Yu’s exams compared to He Zhao’s. Xie Yu’s handwriting was nice, and they wouldn’t end up staring at the exam for a long time without being able to figure out what was written on it.
He Zhao wasn’t concerned about his score and the questions he got wrong. He rolled the two exam papers into a cylinder, walked over to Xie Yu, bent down, and knocked at the side of his desk. “What are you looking at?”
Xie Yu didn’t even lift his head. “Your essay.”
He Zhao: “……”
“It’s been passed around all class period. It just got back from class 8,” Xie Yu said. “Right. You have a new nickname. Silhouette Bro.”
Shen Jie had specially slipped out of class midway, using going to the toilet as an excuse. He’d snuck over to class 3 and squatted outside, telling Wan Da to pass He Zhao’s exam paper through the window. He said Class 8 was very interested in the 0-point essay.
It went all the way to class 8! He Zhao didn’t need to ask to know which bastard son of a goat had done it. “What on earth? That sounds so bad. It doesn’t reflect my talent at all.”
He Zhao was explaining how the nickname should have been ‘Literary Genius’ or something like that when Wan Da rushed through the door. Every time he went to the bathroom during class time, he couldn’t keep himself from listening at the faculty office door and bringing some half-true strange news back. “Big important news! Zhao-ge, this is very bad.”
He Zhao tossed the exam paper in his hand onto the table. He didn’t really take it to heart, but he still played along. “What’s the matter? Don’t rush. Talk it through slowly.”
“Class rep took your exam paper to go see Old Tang. He said that, in order to pull up the class average, he wants to counsel you two, one on one.” Wan Da expertly summarized what he had heard at the faculty office. “He said he needs to bear the heavy responsibility of study rep. Old Tang is still thinking about it.”
“He’s for real?”
The rumor that Xue Xisheng didn’t sleep and only studied had been dispelled several days ago. One fire extinguisher from Ding Lianghua had shattered both the dorm ghost talk and the panda rumors.
The study rep did like to study, but not to the point where he didn’t value his life. This was his first time sleeping away from home. He wasn’t used to his new bed, so he had developed insomnia and couldn’t sleep enough. Because his learning attitude was so proper, people found him hard to get to know and didn’t realize what was happening.
When Xue Xisheng returned from the office, he didn’t say anything. It looked like Old Tang hadn’t agreed.
Almost every morning class was spent going over the exam papers. There were two periods of math back-to-back and after going over the paper the math teacher asked, “Do you all understand?”
He Zhao joined in the fun: “Understood.”
The math teacher aimed the chalk he hadn’t put down and tossed it at the last row. “Student, don’t think so highly of yourself that you think you understand.”
He Zhao had been much more attentive in class as of late, and he hadn’t spent much time playing games. Old Tang’s lecture might have put a shadow in his heart.
But now that He Zhao wasn’t playing phone games any longer, he was especially annoying. He had learned palm-reading from Wan Da and asked Xie Yu to hold out his hand, saying he’d learned everything there was to know and that his reasons were very accurate.
Xie Yu endured all the way to evening self-study before he couldn’t hold it back any more. “What about your stinking man? You’re not playing any more?”
He Zhao was stunned.
“Ah.” Who knew what sore point the words ‘stinking man’ had hit. He Zhao leaned back and said, after a pause, “That… I’m not playing any more.”
Right up until the dismissal bell rang, He Zhao didn’t bother Xie Yu about palm-reading again.
After evening self-study let out, they were walking down the road when He Zhao suddenly said, “Can’t keep chasing that stinking man any more.”
Xie Yu didn’t quite understand these sudden words. “What?”
Even though the streetlights had come on, the surroundings were still dark.
“My sister changed her account password.” He Zhao took two steps forward and said calmly, “…Actually, I stole the account credentials.”