First Published on Chaleuria
036 – Yu-ge, you’ve changed.
Xie Yu got up early. He changed into his school uniform and had a breakfast of congee and vegetables with Madam Gu. Then he glanced at the time and got ready to take the bus back to school. “I’m leaving. If anything happens, call me.”
Gu Xuelan put down her chopsticks, got up, and said, “Let the driver send you back.”
Xie Yu walked to the entryway and bent down to change his shoes. He hadn’t brought anything back with him, and now he didn’t take anything with him either. He didn’t look like he was going back to school, but instead, going out to play. “No need. I’ll go back on my own.”
“You’re going just like that? You’re not even taking a backpack?” Gu Xuelan wasn’t sure what to say to him. “Did you do the homework your teachers assigned this weekend?”
Xie Yu said, “I’ve done it. I did it in school.”
This excuse was too fishy. There was no way Gu Xuelan would have believed it. “I think you didn’t do it at all.”
“There weren’t many questions I could do, anyway.” Xie Yu placed his slippers neatly to the side, pulled open the door, and went out. A gust of humid wind blew in from outside, brushing past his face. “It’s the same whether I submit it or not.”
Gu Xuelan was about to say, “It’s getting cold, take care of yourself,” but Xie Yu had already walked out.
The Zhong family’s house was in a rather remote location and it was half an hour’s walk to the nearest bus station.
A family on a morning jog was currently running laps in the nearby park. Towels hung around their necks and they panted as they ran.
Actually, not everything here was a source of frustration.
For instance, the glow of dawn that rose from the horizon, or the trees and blades of grass he had passed on the way here. Or the couple in front of him, running with their children; they had deliberately slowed their steps and looked like a slow-motion replay of a recording.
Xie Yu put in his earphones as he walked and put a song on, then stuck his hands back in his pockets.
Fresh air and a new day.
The time it took for Xie Yu to get back to school was determined by how smooth the bus was running. Sometimes, he was more unlucky—this time, for example, the bus broke down on the way.
The driver smoked a cigarette, examining the bus for a long time before he patted it with a hand. “No can do. You all wait for the next one.”
The busful of passengers exploded.
Little friend, what time are you getting back to school?
What do you want
Did you miss me? I’ll come meet you at the school gates
Are you sick?
Can we just have a proper conversation? Thank goodness I have a good temper… ah, when you get to school later don’t rush to class. I’ll wait for you in the bathroom.
He Zhao had probably gotten to the classroom early and had nothing better to do than bother him.
Xie Yu chatted on and off with him for a while; one of them wanted nothing more than to end the conversation while the other did their best to revive the dying tree.¹
The next bus arrived quickly. It stopped with a shudder, the ‘91’ plate indicating its route hanging in the glass window.
When Xie Yu got to school, there were still ten minutes before class began; he wasn’t late yet. Mad Dog couldn’t do anything to him and could only glare from the school gates. “Hurry up! Start running! Every second counts!”
Mad Dog continued, “You don’t know how to use your time well at all! You’re almost in year three, do you think this is your first day? …Remember to ask your deskmate. At first, he’d try to climb the wall every morning, and every morning I’d catch him. I would just wait by the wall.”
Xie Yu maintained the same pace and walked past Dean Jiang, neither quickly nor slowly. He was not that interested in listening to Mad Dog’s war stories. “Sorry for the disturbance. Goodbye, Dean Jiang.”
Xie Yu went upstairs and saw someone walking to and fro in the corridor outside Class 2.3. Wan Da had his head stuck out the window, looking out with one hand on the windowsill. Xie Yu wasn’t bothered and was about to walk over when someone grabbed his wrist from behind and dragged him in the opposite direction.
Xie Yu hadn’t been prepared. He took two steps backwards and was dragged along, and by the time he realized what was happening, he had already been pulled into a stall in the boys’ bathroom.
“I told you not to go to class.” He Zhao let go. Two people in a stall was really a little cramped and they were very close together. “Didn’t you see the class rep hanging around the corridor?”
He Zhao wore a light jacket over his school uniform. It was a loose vest, black, a sharply drawn set of wings on the back. His white uniform shirt stuck out past the bottom of the vest.
Xie Yu had not taken He Zhao’s words, ‘I’ll wait for you in the toilet,’ to heart at all. “What’s he hanging around there for?”
“He said he’d explain trigonometric functions to us.” He Zhao scratched his head and said helplessly, “…The moment I stepped into class this morning he started reciting formulas at me.”
Xie Yu: “……”
He Zhao: “Didn’t expect that, did you? I’m really impressed. He’ll definitely do great things in the future.”
Over the weekend, Xie Yu had almost forgotten that there was someone in class trying madly to save the class average.
Xue Xisheng’s focus and endurance was far beyond that of an ordinary person’s. Just look at the post-it notes all over his desk, and the reference books stacked in his drawer, on the desk, on the floor, and even in a corner of the classroom because he had nowhere else to put them.
For the past two days, aside from finishing his own homework, Xue Xisheng had been thinking about how to lead everyone to study well.
The two of them had been squashed in the toilet stall for a while and Xie Yu was starting to find this very stupid. Why were they hiding in a toilet stall so early in the morning? Listening to Xue Xisheng recite formulas might be more exciting.
So the two of them started quarrelling.
“You can’t abandon me here.”
“Don’t block the door.”
“Old Xie, if you walk out this door, we’re not brothers any more.”
“We never were.”
When the bell was about to ring for class, the student on duty carried a cloth and a bucket to the bathroom. After cleaning it, he turned off the tap and wrung out the cloth, and was about to walk out when he heard a faint noise from a toilet stall, so he stopped and glanced around.
In the stall.
He Zhao’s back was to the door, blocking it so Xie Yu couldn’t open it.
Xie Yu’s arm went around He Zhao’s waist and went for the door handle; he had just twisted it open when He Zhao pushed him inward again.
The two forces opposed each other, and although the range of movement wasn’t large, when Xie Yu stepped back he accidentally kicked the trash can and the whole thing overturned and crashed onto the ground.
He Zhao was worried he’d fall and reached out to catch him.
Xie Yu’s balance had been fine, but now that He Zhao had pulled him, he fell backwards. “…Fuck.”
The student on duty probably hadn’t looked at his horoscope for the day or he’d definitely have found the words, ‘you’ll have bad luck in the bathroom.’
The door of the last stall slowly opened and he saw, very clearly, Xie Yu slumped on the toilet seat and He Zhao bent at the waist with one hand on his neck.
Their positions were really quite suggestive.
“I, I… didn’t see anything…” The student on duty walked backwards out the door. “I really didn’t see anything.”
Xie Yu maintained a chilly expression and said nothing.
He Zhao straightened. “Hey, friend.”
The student on duty was probably shell-shocked because he even said as he retreated, “Don’t kill me.”
Good news doesn’t get past the front door; news of a gay affair spreads a thousand miles.²
At the end of the first period, Wan Da came over to ask, “So what were you two doing in the toilet this morning?”
“Doing nothing.” Xie Yu finished copying his homework and said, “Are you itching for a beating today?”
Wan Da said, “I’m mischievous, but not itchy.” ³
He Zhao saw Xue Xisheng follow Tang Sen out and lowered his guard then joined in the great conversation. “News spreads so fast?”
“My elementary school classmate’s classmate from last year is a good friend of the next door’s class chair’s cousin.” Wan Da finished reporting his grapevine’s points of contact, then asked, “But back to the topic. Zhao-ge, you really stripped Yu-ge of his clothes?”
Xie Yu put the cap of his pen back on and finally looked up. He stared intently at Wan Da. “What?”
Wan Da couldn’t tell if Xie Yu’s expression was a little upset or very upset. After thinking on it a little, he concluded that he wasn’t in that much danger. “I don’t know what the initial version of the story was, but by the time it got to me, that’s what they said. The two of you had a terrible fight in the toilet and your clothes were in disarray… anyway, it was very exciting.”
Rumors… one person spread it to ten, who spread it to a hundred, and could create chaos out of nothing.
Wan Da asked, “Is it true? Come, come closer and say it quietly. I promise I won’t say a word.”
Xie Yu moved his chair back; he had no interest in dealing with this.
He Zhao, on the other hand, secretively leaned closer. “Do you want to know?”
Wan Da: “Yes.”
“Actually, that isn’t all we did,” He Zhao said. “We did things that are even more thrilling…”
Wan Da narrowed his eyes craftily, now attentive. “Oh?”
Taking advantage of Wan Da’s moment of weakness, He Zhao calmly rolled up a student newspaper by his hand and knocked Wan Da’s head with it. “You—even—dare—spread rumors—about me! I gave you freedom and you let it get to your head?” ⁴
Wan Da seemed to have been knocked stupid. He held his head, looking tearfully at Xie Yu, and written across his face was: Your deskmate’s bullying me.
Xie Yu was initially frustrated, but seeing them horsing around like this he didn’t feel the need to quibble further.
“How can you,” Xie Yu began, and Wan Da nodded furiously, barely restraining himself from yelling, ‘From today on, you’re my real bro.’ But then Xie Yu picked up an English textbook and continued, “…how can you use newspaper? It’s so light. You playing around?”
He Zhao laughed out loud.
Wan Da looked at the thick English book, turned, and ran. He felt very aggrieved: You’ve changed, Yu-ge, you’ve changed…
Luo Wenqiang, hoping for the stars and the moon, had impatiently waited for Erzhong’s official autumn sports meet. He finally got the signup form from Tang Sen’s office, returned to class, and yelled enthusiastically, “Classmates, I want to announce something!”
Wan Da and Liu Cunhao stood in front of him, fighting to imitate Old Tang. They talked slowly and actually did quite a good impersonation. “For the autumn sports meet, Luo Wenqiang, you make the groups… make sure everyone enthusiastically signs up to showcase our class spirit.”
Luo Wenqiang had been interrupted and now he stood on the stage awkwardly. “Why are the two of you like this? Trying to put me out of a job?”
The classroom was noisy.
Xie Yu lay on his desk, shut his eyes, and rested. He had been staring at his phone all morning and now his eyes were tired.
He Zhao thought his deskmate was asleep. Xie Yu, lying down, felt something warm touch his right ear; it closed over his ear and shut out the sound of Luo Wenqiang and the others talking.
—It was He Zhao’s hand.
Then he heard He Zhao shush them. “My deskmate is sleeping. Be quiet.”
Actually, Xie Yu wasn’t the only one lying down. Several girls in the row in front were also sleeping and thought it noisy but didn’t want to say anything.
Xie Yu moved his fingers and thought about opening his eyes, but he kept the same posture and didn’t move.
He hadn’t been sleepy at all, but now that he had closed his eyes… he really ended up falling asleep.
 revive the dying tree: bring [the conversation] back to life
 A play on an idiom ‘Good news doesn’t get past the front door; bad news spreads a thousand miles’, meaning that people are more likely to hear about your dirty laundry than the good things that happen to you
 ‘itching for a beating’ is a phrase up of the two words ‘mischievous’ and ‘itchy’
 The slang expression He Zhao uses is ‘you dare bite my tongue’