First Published on Chaleuria
055 – Considering buying you a treatment plan.
There were many threads on the topic, and Xie Yu clicked into a recent one.
This question had been asked three days ago.
The poster had gone off on a long tangent, praising his boyfriend so excessively he didn’t even seem human anymore, before he got to his point: But his grades aren’t very good. He places second to last in every exam. How can I improve his attitude toward studying?
The most popular reply: How about setting a goal? For example, an improvement of a number of points or setting a target university to get into.
The OP had replied, It doesn’t need to be all that great. Tsinghua or Peking U is fine.
The words ‘second to last’ made Xie Yu’s eye twitch, and he felt like the OP’s tone was somewhat familiar.
He didn’t think more on it, scrolling down instead to the topics with subjects like, ‘What to do with a child who doesn’t like to study.’ The parents in these threads were all anxious, resulting in the conversations eventually turning into parenting discussions.
Where are you working now?
State-owned enterprise. There’s a lot of competition. It’s tough.
“Dinner’s ready.” Gu Xuelan carried the last dish from the kitchen to the dining room before removing her apron and saying, “Put down your phone. Don’t carry it everywhere…”
Xie Yu hit the off switch and the screen immediately darkened. “Got it.”
Four dishes and a soup, all common home cooked dishes.
Zhong Guofei ate at home if he got off work on time. He was probably out entertaining tonight, so Xie Yu and Madam Gu were the only ones at the table.
Xie Yu ate a lot of every dish then put down his chopsticks to go upstairs. But Gu Xuelan was still staring at him.
“You ate so little.” Madam Gu always felt her son didn’t eat enough. “Are you full? How about another bowl of soup?”
Every parent probably fed their children like they were raising pigs.
Xie Yu took another bowl of red date and egg soup. When he was nearly finished, he said, “Mom, I’m going to Aunt Mei’s tomorrow.”
Gu Xuelan’s hand stilled on the soup ladle, but she did not comment further. “Be careful and don’t make trouble. Come back early.”
Gu Xuelan didn’t like him visiting Black Water Street so often.
From her perspective, they had only lived under those conditions out of necessity and had been fortunate to meet good people. But their outlooks on life were not the same. Lei’s mom and Aunt Mei showed affection through scolding and yelling, and the two even sometimes smoked together outside.
Gu Xuelan had imagined that after moving away, after one or two years, or two or three, their ties to Black Water Street would fade.
But Xie Yu, a child of few words who seemed to care about nothing, had developed feelings.
In the evening, Xie Yu searched again for ‘what to do if you don’t like to study.’ After digging through the internet, he didn’t find any good ways of fostering a love for studying, but he did find a lot of questionable ways. For example, injuring one’s head in a car accident or getting struck by lightning. Some were even selling quack medicine.
—Miracle knowledge pill! New high-tech product. Increase your intelligence, develop both the left and right brain, and easily raise your grades. No need for car accidents or lightning strikes! One thirty-day course!
Xie Yu stared at it for a while, thought about He Zhao’s grades, and actually considered placing an order.
Xie Yu kept scrolling, looking for the pill’s ingredient list. Before he could make sense of it, he received a phone call from He Zhao.
He accidentally hit the speakerphone button while picking up the call and He Zhao’s words rang in the air. “Little friend, what’re you up to?”
Xie Yu thought, Considering buying you a treatment plan.
“Nothing.” Xie Yu had just finished showering and his hair was still damp. Talking about the knowledge pill was definitely off the table, so he asked, “What about you?”
He Zhao said, “Thinking about you.”
His voice was both serious and sentimental as it echoed in Xie Yu’s ears.
The next moment, He Zhao’s hard-won EQ immediately crashed again when he said, “This is the correct answer. Remember it.”
“……” Remember, my ass.
Actually, He Zhao had held back for a long time already. He Zhao had wanted to call Xie Yu the moment he left. He had endured until the time he thought Xie Yu’s family would probably be done eating supper.
He Zhao thought of Xie Yu’s stepbrother, the one who acted like a lord tyrant, and said, “Did that low-IQ bully my little friend?”
“He’s not here.” It took Xie Yu a moment to figure out who He Zhao was talking about. As to who was bullying who, it might even be the other way around. “He can’t beat me in a fight, anyway.”
All these years, Zhong Jie had never been able to take advantage of him. Not in a fist fight or in a verbal fight.
The two kept chatting, on and off.
“Right, Old Xie. Did you mute the class group chat?”
“No, I check it sometimes.”
“I thought the study rep might have driven you away. That math formula he pinned, n=c*v, has been up all day to the point I even memorized it.”
What was the use in memorizing it? That was a physics formula.
Was he hoping to get formula points by writing a physics formula down on a math exam paper?
Xie Yu felt helpless. “Then you’re doing very well.”
Class 3’s secret group had quietly disbanded a long time ago. Since discovering that their school tyrants didn’t actually beat people up, and that the teachers were all very reasonable, they didn’t see the need for their own private group chat any more. It seemed contrary to team spirit.
And their homeroom teacher was an old man who went to bed early and didn’t hover over them.
The nighttime life was for young people.
Class 3’s group chat was very active. The study rep changed his status every day to a different formula, and he never forgot to slip them some tidbits of knowledge even while chatting and having fun.
Every time Wan Da appeared, the chat became a gossip circle—you could practically see everyone’s little stools and melon seeds.
The classmates who participated in the group chat all had active personal lives. On the weekends, Xu Qingqing had to accompany her mother out shopping, and often vented in the class group chat while standing in the entrance of a clothing store with her arms full of bags. I! Hate! Shopping!
Then Liu Cunhao and the others would console her. None of us guys like going shopping. You really are our Qing-ge.
Xie Yu didn’t know what to say. He was a conversation killer, and he very rarely spoke in the ‘Don’t fight’ group chat, either.
There was nothing to talk about, but the two still chatted late into the night. He Zhao was a seasoned jokester, and even mundane things became interesting when he spoke about them.
Xie Yu was a little sleepy.
Night had completely fallen and the only light in Xie Yu’s room was from his phone screen, glowing softly.
He Zhao heard his little friend’s voice grow quieter and his replies become monosyllabic. His tone seemed soft and surprisingly obedient, and He Zhao couldn’t help softening his own tone, too. “You fell asleep?”
There was no response from the other side.
But even through the phone, he felt their breathing entwine.
He Zhao couldn’t bear to hang up the phone.
He was satisfied, yet somewhat dissatisfied.
“Recently I’ve noticed…” Even though Xie Yu couldn’t hear him, He Zhao still whispered, “…I might be getting addicted to being in love with you.”
Xie Yu’s thoughts were not nearly so romantically inclined.. But perhaps at night one dreams of what one thought about during the day, because that night, he dreamed about He Zhao.
It was a very strange dream. He dreamt that He Zhao finished the college exams and became an excavator operator.
What a nightmare.
He woke up and tried to calm himself for a long time but failed.
Xie Yu got up, washed his face, then couldn’t keep himself from cursing at the mirror. “Fuck it.”
The early morning bus wasn’t crowded. Xie Yu put his earbuds in his ears, intending to sleep on the bus.
The bus tilted from side to side, especially when making turns or when emergency braking.
Xie Yu dozed for a long time, but didn’t fall asleep. He was terrified that when he shut his eyes he’d see He Zhao smiling at him from an excavator’s cabin. He opened his eyes and saw the endless flow of traffic outside the bus window, as well as the roadside stalls selling breakfast.
He got off the bus at his station, then looked down and sent Dalei a text. Had breakfast yet?
Nope. Meet you at Wang-ma’s?
Get me five meat buns. Be right there.
Wang-ma had originally opened a roadside stall selling breakfast before buying a small shop after accumulating some savings. The children here had all grown up eating her food and missed it when they couldn’t have it.
Xie Yu found a spot, sat down, and waited for a while before sending a text to hurry Zhou Dalei along. The moment he sent the text, he looked up to see a bowl of piping hot beancurd placed in front of him.
“Saw you from afar, kid.” Wang-ma put down the beancurd. Her hands were still damp and she wiped them on the apron around her waist. “The buns are still steaming. Nearly done. Have this first to fill your stomach.”
“Wang-ma.” The shop’s condition wasn’t great, and puddles of water and mud covered the floor. The shop didn’t have space for all the tables and chairs, so some were placed outside. Xie Yu held the spoon, smiled, and said, “I haven’t ordered yet.”
Wang-ma said, “How would I not know what you and Lei-zai want to eat? I can take your orders with my eyes closed.”
In the time it took for her to say this, Dalei arrived, wearing slippers, his eyes still bleary. He scratched his head as he walked through the shop entrance, then stretched out a hand to signal. “Wang-ma, give me five.”
Aunt Mei was still busy at Guang Mao and would be free around noon. Xie Yu played video games in Dalei’s room all morning on a red and white Famicom console and an old tube TV they hadn’t yet thrown away. “You still have this?”
“Nostalgia,” Zhou Dalei said. “Most importantly, it still works! I can’t believe how sturdy it is.”
As Xie Yu played, he recalled some things from the past, too. “When you were small, your mom bought that—what was it— for you. Did it help after you ate it?”
Zhou Dalei scratched his head. “What thing?”
Xie Yu said, “The thing for improving memory and intelligence.”
For the sake of Zhou Dalei’s grades, Lei’s mom had tried all the sketchy things, and had even made him drink couplet water. But none of it had been of any use in the end.
For a while, broadcast TV had aired a commercial selling a miracle health product for children. Change their life and change their fate. Give your child a headstart in life. It had been an extended commercial lasting half an hour. Lei’s mom had instantly called the sales hotline and ordered two big boxes.
Zhou Dalei remembered now. “Oh, that. Look at me now. Does it look like it worked?”
Xie Yu: “……”
Xie Yu thought, Yeah, that’s true. I’m an idiot.