First Published on Chaleuria
046 – Want to hug you.
The note He Zhao had left was still on the desk. During evening self-study last night, Wan Da had passed it around the class, and all the live-in students had indicated that they couldn’t decipher anything. After a round of guessing, not only could they not tell how many words there actually were on the note, some even thought they were bone script.¹
Compared to this, He Zhao’s exam handwriting could be considered meticulous. At least it was only ugly, it couldn’t be mistaken for bone script.
Xie Yu saw it and suddenly remembered, then tossed the wad at He Zhao. “What the hell did you write on this?”
He Zhao smoothed out the note and glanced at it. “Not coming back to evening self-study,” he read out, then added, “You couldn’t read it?”
“……” Xie Yu really wanted to shove the paper in his face.
He Zhao admired the note a little longer. “How come you couldn’t read it? I wrote it very attentively. Look at these words…”
Xie Yu was terrified He Zhao would start up with an expansive analyses of his artistic aptitude again and said, “All right, shut up.”
Aside from mustering up a little energy when talking to Xie Yu, He Zhao either slept or was on his phone all morning. Old Tang made him go up to answer a question and all he said was, “I don’t know.”
“What’s up with Zhao-ge today?” Liu Cunhao and the others all looked forward to hearing He Zhao answer questions: he always came up with unexpected surprises. Class was boring, after all. “Something’s not right.”
Wan Da glanced backward and saw the back of He Zhao’s head. “Probably tired from the all-nighter.”
He Zhao was bent at the waist, his forehead on the edge of the desk.
He held his phone in his hand, between his legs, and tapped into the chat window. I went to look for Erlei.
Then he deleted it character by character and looked at the words Your Grandpa Jun in a daze.
Lei Jun had gotten one thing right: no matter what he did, it was no use now.
It had already happened. Because of him. Nothing he could say would change anything.
After Erlei withdrew from school, he hadn’t kept in contact with anybody.
He was definitely angry, He Zhao thought. If it were him, he wouldn’t be able to bear it, either.
He had asked many people, including everyone in the area Erlei used to live, and had eventually arrived at his hometown.
He still remembered every word and every sound from Erlei’s mouth.
“Zhao-ge, this isn’t entirely your fault. But I can’t help resenting you.”
“But I don’t want you to do this, either. You… you’d better go back and study. Can’t just skip class like this.”
“Me? I’m not studying any more, and I’m not going to look for a new school… My family found a training course for me. I’ll start working and earn money.”
He Zhao threw his phone into his desk and shut his eyes.
During the midday break, Luo Wenqiang and Liu Cunhao carried a cardboard box through the door. It was three blocks from the faculty office to the classroom, and class rep Liu Cunhao didn’t exercise much so, by the time he reached the doorway, he was almost done for. His breath came shallowly as he said, “Classmates, the prizes have arrived… the prizes from the sports meet. Make way, make way.”
Erzhong was efficient. The sports meet had only just ended and the prizes had already arrived.
“What prizes?” Some people crowded around curiously to see.
“Dean Jiang personally picked out the sports meet prizes. Very unique. You definitely…” Liu Cunhao paused, then continued, “Won’t like it.”
Liu Cunhao cut the box open with a knife, revealing a neat stack of supplementary class material. From After-Class English Reading to Entering the Wonderful World of Physics, every subject was represented.
“Come on and pick what you want. Feel free,” Liu Cunhao said. “First place gets dibs. Who’s first?”
The athletes who had participated: “……”
Liu Cunhao said, “Zhao-ge, stop sleeping. You’re our push-ups champion. Come over and pick?”
“Don’t want to.” He Zhao didn’t even look up, his voice muffled. “Whoever wants it can have it.”
Then Liu Cunhao asked, “Yu-ge?”
Xie Yu said, “Pretend I didn’t participate.”
Certainly worthy of last place and second-to-last place, respectively. They’d rather die than read textbooks and do practice questions.
Eventually, Xu Qingqing picked two classic novels, Luo Wenqiang picked a book of physics practice questions, and the other athletes were very put on the spot. Only Xue Xisheng looked on with envy and said, “Gym rep, next sports meet let me join in too. Any event is fine.”
As the class was in an uproar, Wu Zheng walked in with a stack of mock exam papers under his arm.
“Don’t think that school has only just started! Count on your fingers! There isn’t much time left!” Old Wu put the practice questions down and pulled out half a stick of chalk from the box. As he spoke, the chalk landed with perfect accuracy on the head of a certain student in the last row. “Midterm exams are coming up! Let me see what grades you can come up with.”
He Zhao didn’t react to the blow. His fingers twitched, he shifted his position, and he kept sleeping.
Xie Yu saw that Old Wu was giving out test papers and kicked He Zhao. “Pop quiz.”
In-class test—a more advanced form of the monthly exams as well as a preview of the upcoming mid-term exams.
They didn’t have to split their desks for the pop quiz that lasted two class periods.
With several minutes to go, before handing out the papers, Wu Zheng said, “If you need to go to the toilet, go now. Don’t complain about needing to go later. I won’t care. You can hold it.”
The students filtered out to the toilet in groups, their spirits low. “Pop quiz? Why another test? Endless tests.”
In the few minutes before the test started, Xue Xisheng came over and fervently explained the important content to them, making use of every second. He was talking so much He Zhao couldn’t sleep at all.
Xue Xisheng pushed up his glasses as he spoke, expression completely serious. “Do you remember now? This question will definitely come up. Just use the formula I gave you just now. Recite it back to me. These few points are very easy to get. If you get it right then our class average will go up by half a point.”
He Zhao: “……”
Xie Yu: “……”
This nap would not happen.
He Zhao went to the bathroom and washed his face, preparing to face the test on his return. When the papers were handed out, he discovered that he couldn’t find the black gel pen he had used to write the note yesterday.
After hunting for a while, he gave up and asked his deskmate for one to borrow. “Old Xie, do you have an extra pen?”
Since discovering that bad students had a habit of not bringing writing implements, Xie Yu wanted to try it out once to show off his professional skill. Now, during this pop quiz, he got his chance. He said, “I don’t have a pen either.”
The “so poor their house is empty” deskmates, who couldn’t produce a pen no matter how they searched, stared at each other for a while. Then He Zhao tapped the shoulder of the student in front of him. “Friend, can we borrow two pens?”
The student in front hunted through his pencil case. “I, I only have one.” He had a lot of mechanical pencil lead refills, but only one extra writing utensil.
He Zhao thought about it, then said, “One is fine. That’s enough. Thanks.”
Xie Yu asked, “One is enough?”
“You use it first.” He Zhao handed the pen to him. “I haven’t found a question I can answer yet, so I don’t need it for now.”
Xie Yu: “……”
Xie Yu blindly answered a few questions, thinking about He Zhao’s level and how he would need to answer the mid-term questions in order to knock this idiot off last place.
Xie Yu adjusted his own score according to He Zhao’s answers and had no idea that his last-place deskmate had also been observing him.
After completing the paper, Xie Yu estimated that he would score about the same as He Zhao on this math test.
After finishing the paper, He Zhao put it under his textbook, then lay on the desk and stealthily watched Xie Yu.
Xie Yu had no idea why He Zhao was staring at him. “What are you looking at?”
Perhaps he was exhausted from last night’s all nighter, but he did look a little tired. After a pause, he said, “Bad mood.”
It’s a little better when I look at you.
If possible… I want to hug you too.
As He Zhao continued thinking, he suddenly very much wanted to ask the cripple next to him, Do you want to climb the wall and go to the internet cafe again tonight?
He Zhao had the faint impression that his thoughts toward his little friend were going in the wrong direction, and he jumped from shock at the thought ‘I want to hug you.’
The dismissal bell rang and Wu Zheng called out from the podium, “Turn in your tests. Stop writing. Stop looking back and forth! …Too bad if you didn’t finish! Turn your papers in!”
“Big bro flirt, your paper.”
Xie Yu was checking his score again and held out his hand for He Zhao’s paper without looking up, but He Zhao still hadn’t done anything after a while. He looked up and said, “What’s the matter?”
He Zhao had already left through the rear door and proceeded to skip the next two class periods at that.
But Shen Jie, attending class as usual, got a text from his Zhao-ge, an inexplicable six words. Have you ever been in love?
Shen Jie thought hard for a while and really couldn’t discern the intent of the question. He replied, Does a crush count?
Then his Zhao-ge went radio silent.
Shen Jie still didn’t understand. He scratched his head. He didn’t understand the world his big bro lived in.
He Zhao went back to the dormitory, intending to catch up on sleep, but he couldn’t fall asleep no matter how hard he tried. He endured till school let out, then couldn’t take it any more, got up, and went back to the classroom for evening self-study. From afar, he saw Wan Da leaning out of the window, peering left and right, looking terribly suspicious.
He Zhao walked over and stopped in front of the window. He crooked a finger and tapped at the brick beneath the window. “What are you doing?”
“Beware fire, beware thieves, beware Mad Dog,” Wan Da said. “Qing-jie and the others are playing Dou Dizhu and told me to keep watch.”
He Zhao looked in through the window and saw his little friend, toward whom he was starting to have very strange thoughts, also in the Dou Dizhu lineup.
Wan Da summarized the battle situation. “Yu-ge is like the God of Gambling incarnate. He won every round. 30 thousand bucks right now. Qing-jie is about to cry.”
He said Dou Dizhu, but the cards were all made from A4 paper with some ugly red and black pips drawn on them. A thin stack was clutched in their hands, and it was difficult even to draw cards.
It looked like a last-minute decision—someone had come up with the idea of a round of Dou Dizhu so they had started playing. After Class 3 had gotten to know each other, they got up to all sorts of mischief.
Xie Yu had the situation in hand.
He had indeed won 30 thousand. On a sheet of paper, in black gel ink was a 3 followed by four zeroes.
He Zhao stood in the corridor, leaning against the windowsill, and watched with interest for a while.
One of the players, Xu Qingqing, felt that she couldn’t keep playing. There was no fun at all in playing cards with Xie Yu, only bitterness. She really wanted to go back in time half an hour and strangle Wan Da to death before he could ask, “Yu-ge, in for this game?”
She looked at the cards left in her hand, then left and right. Seeing He Zhao outside the window, her eyes lit up and she said, “Zhao-ge, come and take your deskmate away!”
Xie Yu: “……”
After the previous experience, the word ‘take’² seemed to have become a sensitive topic. He couldn’t quite describe the feeling.
He Zhao didn’t even have time to react.
“Your deskmate is a walking Dou Dizhu hack,” Xu Qingqing said. “This is a terrible gaming experience.”
Xie Yu put down the cards and tried to salvage his own dignity before leaving. “You play too badly.”
Xu Qingqing wanted to send away this Buddha,³ so she admitted to her bad card skills. “Yes, we suck.”
He Zhao said, “Then you’re missing one player now.”
“Me,” Wan Da raised a hand and said. “I want to play, too.”
Xu Qingqing was worried she’d just sent one menace away to have another take his place, so she asked carefully, “How are your card skills?”
“I’m terrible. Played since I was little and never won money,” Wan Da said. “When I play Dou Dizhu I only play on the low-level end. I don’t even dare think of playing with someone with skills like Yu-ge.”
 Oracle bone script: Chinese characters inscribed on bones used for divination, from around 2nd millennium BC.
 ‘take’ = the ‘hold’ in holding hands
 Sending away a buddha: getting rid of an unwanted presence in one’s house