First Published on Chaleuria
098 – Steady. We can win.
Wan Da didn’t give them a chance to speak. He kept repeating, “Please, wake up,” the whole way back to his seat.
Xie Yu stood in the doorway, his feelings complicated. “…We’re wide awake.”
He Zhao was still in the same pose, one arm hooked around Xie Yu’s neck, stunned by Wan Da’s words. “…Really, we’re awake.”
He yelled at Wan Da’s departing back, “Trust me! A perfect score isn’t hard to get…”
Now Wan Da was not the only person breaking down. Liu Cunhao nearly threw his English vocabulary handbook at the two of them. “Trust what? There’s no trust between us! If you get a perfect score, I’ll eat my mid-term test!”
The bell rang to signal the start of morning self-study and the various classrooms gradually quieted.
The English teacher walked out of the faculty office holding a stack of books and saw two figures standing in Class 3’s doorway. “—What are you two doing standing in the doorway? Get back to your seats. Class is starting, don’t you know?”
Xie Yu internally sighed and didn’t keep quibbling with them on the topic. He walked to the last row and pulled out his chair.
“Class 3’s studying hard today.” The English teacher stepped into the classroom and immediately felt the unusual atmosphere. She bent over the computer and adjusted the listening comprehension file. “You’re memorizing vocabulary so intently. Are you feeling the pressure of the midterms?”
The English teacher increased the volume, then said, “You don’t have to be so worried. Just take the midterm exams like you usually do. Adjust your expectations…”
She could never have imagined that Class 3 just wanted to compete with Class 4 next door. They’d sworn an oath to get their own back.
Xie Yu did one of the listening comprehension questions.
He had gotten up at five something a.m. to catch the bus and started to get sleepy after two questions. He lay down on the desk, pen still held between his fingers, and the English letters he wrote grew messier and messier.
He Zhao turned and saw his little friend with his eyes half-closed, looking very sleepy. Xie Yu did questions very quickly and ticked off his answer before the test finished asking the question.
As Xie Yu ticked the answers off, he was thinking. He admitted to himself that he had left himself some wiggle room since entering high school. Sometimes, he would do half a question and give the subject teachers a little surprise. “Look at this question. Didn’t you figure out how to solve it? You should memorize the solution steps properly. Then you wouldn’t get stuck after writing the beginning…”
But these careful little surprises had not left much of an impression on his classmates or the teachers.
“Do you have an extra pen?” He Zhao asked.
“I got used to… not bringing one.”
The outcome of having acted for so long and gaining experience enough to be a pro at slacking off… was that Xie Yu went through the entire interior of his desk and did not find a second pen. He was still as poor as before.
They stared at each other in silence. “……”
Xie Yu looked away and nudged the student in front of him with his pen, about to ask if he had extra pens, but the student—who was usually respectful of the two big bros in the back row—was now being obstinate.
Although he and his deskmate had sat in front of them for a long time, they still had an inexplicable feeling of respect and fear for the back row. At first, it had been fear of the bad reputation of the school tyrants. Now, it was gay panic.
They really couldn’t get any gayer than this.
The guy in front didn’t even turn around when Xie Yu poked him. “Big bro, please don’t disturb me while I’m listening. This is a matter of life and death for our class. I can’t get distracted.”
Xie Yu pressed a hand to his forehead and fully gave up on the lot of them.
The English teacher was very satisfied with Class 3’s studious attitude, even if it seemed like a spell had been cast on them. After class, he packed up his things and walked out, but not before saying, “I don’t know if you’re possessed or what, but I hope Class 3 can continue like this…”
Throughout the class period, aside from some students who put their heads together to discuss the questions, Class 3’s classroom had remained very quiet.
Several people lined up in front of the study rep’s desk like they were visiting a clinic.
Xue Xisheng calmly pushed up his glasses and helped Wan Da complete a solid geometry question. Pen still in hand, he said, “Next.”
Xu Qingqing respectfully walked up and placed her chemistry exercise book on Xue Xisheng’s desk. “Mr. Xue, page 68, question 3. Could you help me?”
Luo Wenqiang, behind Xu Qingqing, used the wait time to memorize a few more math formulas.
Xie Yu’s thought process was simple. Since no one believed them, they might as well talk less and let their exam results speak for themselves.
But He Zhao still refused to give up. With a languid air, one leg cocked, and looking very idle, he raised a hand and yelled to Luo Wenqiang, “—Gym rep.”
Luo Wenqiang looked up. “Huh?”
“Which question is it?” He Zhao asked. “I’ll teach you.”
Luo Wenqiang had wondered what He Zhao was going to say. When he heard this, he nearly choked. A feeling of suffocation engulfed him and he didn’t let out that breath for a long time.
While he was still trying to breathe, He Zhao added, “If you don’t believe me, bring it over here and I’ll do it for you to see.”
Luo Wenqiang: “……”
Anticipating Luo Wenqiang’s reaction, Xie Yu pulled on He Zhao’s hem and said, “Forget it.”
He Zhao whispered, “I think I can still do some emergency resuscitation.”
Xie Yu said, “…If you keep talking, I can’t be sure who will need resuscitation.”
Luo Wenqiang really needed an ambulance right now.
Bombs seemed to be going off inside his mind, exploding one after the other. You’ll do it, my ass!
Eventually, Luo Wenqiang took a deep breath and declined. “Zhao-ge, it’s like this. My time is very precious right now, and I can’t waste even a second of it. Do you understand what I mean?”
He Zhao said, “Why don’t you believe me? Qiang-qiang, can’t we give each other a chance?”
His response was Luo Wenqiang’s resolutely departing silhouette.
When Luo Wenqiang left, his footsteps were unsteady. He felt as if he were in a dream. Who am I? Where am I?
Luo Wenqiang’s strong reaction left an impact. Xie Yu let go of He Zhao’s hem and leaned to one side. He couldn’t help smiling.
“……” He Zhao scratched his head, and forgot about ‘emergency resuscitation.’ He wasn’t sure what to say. “Is it really so difficult for this lot to trust us?”
Xie Yu said, “Ge, I think you need to learn when to give up.”
Next to the words ‘Change our fate!’ on the blackboard, they had even added a countdown to the mid-term exams. The whole class was getting more and more nervous because of the countdown.
Old Tang tried to advise them to put down their textbooks and go outside more. “Work and leisure accompany each other. Study, but to a point. You go on like this every day and don’t even want to go to gym class any more. What are you doing?”
But Class 3 now had iron determination and Old Tang couldn’t move them though he tried.
The only sounds on the day of the mid-term exams were of Mad Dog yelling over the intercom to the students to ‘arrange the furniture in their classrooms and to proceed to their exam venues in half an hour,’ and of chairs and tables being dragged.
After two weeks of intensive studying, everybody in Class 3 looked tired.
Liu Cunhao took a cloth and rubbed out the ‘1’ on the blackboard, then gravely wrote down a 0 by the countdown.
“Everybody, steady.” The bags under Liu Cunhao’s eyes had been steadily growing over two weeks of late nights. Although he was tired, his eyes still resolutely shone. “We can win.”
As Xie Yu moved his table and chair, he thought that this was less a last stand against the odds and more like they were riding in a small, broken-down boat, still trying desperately to row even as they were about to be drowned by a flood.
Xie Yu and He Zhao had improved a little over the last two exams, but still had not escaped the fate of being assigned to the very last exam venue.
The corridor was packed with people going to their exam venues, so crowded that even water might not be able to flow through between them.
“Like we said before, first place from the top.” The stairwell exit was crowded. He Zhao stopped and looked at him. “Let’s compete?”
The first exam was literature and Xie Yu had only brought two pencils and nothing else. He hadn’t even brought an eraser. He didn’t even consider that if he shaded the answer sheet wrong, he wouldn’t be able to erase it.
Xie Yu glanced down at his phone. When he looked up again, Liang Hui and some others were walking out of the bathrooms.
Liang Hui had at some point dyed his hair. Several locks of red by his temple were striking and he smelled of cigarette smoke. His gaze was dark and inscrutable and he carelessly stuck his hands in his pockets.
The intercom played exam announcements on repeat.
The two groups of people watched each other, and in the end, they both ignored each other.
“Students, please proceed to your designated exam venues. Students, please proceed to your designated exam venues. The exam will start in ten minutes. Please note the time.”
“The first exam is literature.”
“The exam will start in ten minutes.”
For this round of mid-term tests, all the public high schools in A City wrote the questions together and the resulting test was more difficult than those of previous years.
Before the exam started, someone in the poor students’ gathering grounds had already put his head down and fallen asleep. By the time the invigilating teacher arrived, he had even started snoring.
Several slow and long snores stopped the invigilating teacher’s footsteps in its tracks.
The invigilating teacher was a new face and he clearly had opinions about this exam venue. As he counted the exam papers, he frowned and looked around the classroom. “……”
People were doing all sorts of things. Some more daring students even messed with their phones, thinking they were being discreet.
Unfocused with poor grades. Those were the monikers of this exam venue.
The exam bell rang. The invigilating teacher passed the exam papers down column by column, from the head of the column to the end.
The bell finally woke the snoring student, who rubbed his mouth and forced his eyes open.
This room did not feel like an exam venue at all and did not have an atmosphere of tension.
But Xie Yu felt his throat go dry.
He took the paper and immediately rested his elbow on the paper to write his name. With his other hand, he passed the remaining exam papers backwards.
Two strokes into the word ‘Xie.’
He Zhao reached out and took the exam papers from Xie Yu’s hand.