First Published on Chaleuria
100 – Quick-Acting Heart Reliever Pills
The teachers graded papers all morning and thick stacks of papers lay next to everyone’s hands. The highest grade anyone had received all morning was 138.
This exam had been difficult and anything above 130 was already considered a good score.
But the answer sheet before Mr. Wang was beautifully written, fully grasped the concepts being tested, and had impeccable logic. From start to finish, he couldn’t find a single error.
A perfect score.
Mr. Wang’s eyes grew bright.
“Wow.” As he finished grading, he put down his pen, seemingly forgetting the one last paper he had not yet graded. He flipped through the perfect-score paper and looked it over several times, exclaiming to himself, “A perfect score. That’s wonderful. I wonder which school they’re from.”
The rare perfect score not only surprised him, it also washed away the exhaustion of grading all morning.
The teachers sitting next to Mr. Wang also leaned over to look. “A perfect score?”
“Look on the package. The school name is written there…”
A teacher flipped the package of answer sheets and looked. He was surprised and raised his voice. “—E-erzhong?”
Wu Zheng was sitting some distance away from the group of Shisizhong teachers.
The more he graded, the more worried he grew about the little brats from his school. He thought, Look, some other school has already produced a perfect score. He sighed and stopped for a break.
But the moment he twisted open the cap of a bottle of mineral water, he unexpectedly heard the word ‘Erzhong.’ “……”
“Ah, Mr. Wu, he’s from your school!”
Wu Zheng screwed the bottle cap back on. “You read it wrong, right?”
“Nope. It’s Liyang Erzhong.”
Wu Zheng was completely stunned. He stood up, nearly tripping over the table leg. “That’s impossible. Erzhong’s students couldn’t score above 130 if their life depended on it.”
Mr. Wang had to rest for a while to recover from the joy of finding a perfect-score paper. Then he remembered there was one last paper he hadn’t graded. He turned the perfect-score paper over, then his hand stilled again.
This time, not only did he pause, his fingers started trembling slightly.
Wu Zheng walked over to Mr. Wang. Before he could pick up the perfect-score paper, his gaze followed Mr. Wang’s shaking hands and disbelieving gaze and caught sight of the answer sheet which had not yet been graded. It was an incredibly brazen answer sheet.
Next to the grade sheet, the owner of the answer sheet had already written a striking figure in black pen: 150.
The handwriting was carefree and the strokes were energetic.
Wu Zheng: “……”
“What a farce.” Mr. Wang took two deep breaths, then said, “Mr. Wu, the students from your school sure have character. Giving himself a perfect score?”
Wu Zheng said, “No…” He wanted to say, surely this moron isn’t a student from our school?
How could our school turn out a student like this?
And he had no recollection of this handwriting, either.
Before Wu Zheng could continue, Mr. Wang cut him off. “Fine. I want to see if he actually gets a perfect score.”
This anonymous student had not only pre-given himself a perfect grade, he had filled up the whole exam paper, as if he was showing off his skills. For every long-answer question he had written down three or four ways of solving it.
Sometimes, on the side of the question was written a note, as if the test taker had too much free time. This question won’t do. What was the question setter thinking?
Mr. Wang, who was the question setter for the combined exam: “……”
Xie Yu still had no idea what a ruckus his and He Zhao’s math papers had caused for the exam graders. He also did not know that the teachers had nearly had to call an ambulance right there in Shisizhong’s grading area.
In the morning, Xie Yu paid a visit to Black Water Street.
When he got off the bus, he remembered that Aunt Mei had mentioned in the group chat that she had a cough, so he visited a pharmacy on the way to pick up some medicine for her.
Class 3 was still calculating scores in their group chat. Since the previous night, the chat had not stopped vibrating with updates.
[Wan Da]: I’m finished. No matter how I look at it, I’m only getting a 90+ for math.
[Liu Cunhao]: @LuoWenQiang, Qiang-ge, what are you posting on your dash? It’s flooding my screen.
[Luo Wenqiang]: I heard that if I reblog it a miracle will happen.
While the pharmacist was ringing up the bill, Xie Yu tapped into Luo Wenqiang’s profile and glanced at it.
Luo Wenqiang had reblogged a lot of strange things. ‘Reblog this stone.’ ‘Reblog this magic restaurant napkin.’ ‘Reblog this lucky talisman.’
[Liu Cunhao]: Does this stuff really work?
[Luo Wenqiang]: Cure a dead horse as if it’s alive,¹ right? Look at the comments. Someone said he ‘struck it rich and is coming back to return the favor.’ Looks pretty legit.
[Wan Da]: I reblogged.
[Xu Qingqing]: I reblogged.
Xie Yu paid and walked to Guang Mao with complicated feelings. He thought to himself, Class 3 really is trying.
Xu Yanmei was currently in a conference room holding a meeting. Although she ran a clothing wholesale market, she ran meetings like a mob boss.
Cigarette smoke circled through the room.
“What on earth! Sell, my goddamn ass. Did I not make it clear enough or is there something wrong with his brain?”
Xu Yanmei stubbed out her cigarette then pulled another one from the box. Holding it between her teeth with the ease of practice, she lit it one-handed, then slammed the lighter onto the table with a crash. “Who’s up to settle this score with me!”
She was yelling so loudly that she did not notice the extra person standing in the conference room doorway.
“What are we settling?”
Xie Yu, several boxes of medicine in hand, watched her from the conference room doorway. He didn’t look too happy. “You’re smoking pretty happily there.”
Everyone knew that the Big Sis of Guang Mao was scared of neither heaven nor earth, but the one thing she feared was her godson. Everyone else had the self-awareness to walk out. “We’re going, Mei-jie. We’ll go settle the score with you. If there’s anything, just call and we’ll be there.”
Xu Yanmei had nowhere to hide the cigarette. “About this, I can explain…”
Xie Yu frowned. He had no patience to listen. “Hand over the cigarette.”
Xu Yanmei shut up.
Xie Yu stubbed the cigarette right out.
They hadn’t seen each other for a while. The kid seemed to have grown again.
Xu Yanmei was now a head shorter, and Xie Yu had claimed the moral high ground the moment he arrived. She paused for a while, then remembered the matter of grades. “Wait a minute, brat. I haven’t settled the score with you. If Lei-zi hadn’t told me—”
Xu Yanmei grabbed the plastic clothes rack at her side and brought it down, and Xie Yu endured several hits.
Xie Yu said, “Of course you’ve settled it. How many times have you settled this with me?”
Over winter vacation, Xu Yanmei had exploded in the Weixin group chat. Then she had called and sent him videos. If he had not stopped her, she might have gotten a cab and come over from B City overnight.
“You’re still talking back?”
“Fine, it’s my fault.” Xie Yu pushed open a window for air and put the medicine he held on the table. Then he said, “I’ll score first place in the mid-term exams for you.”
The top places on the grade sheet for each year were always the same people. Everyone else wished that grades would never be released, only this group wanted them to be released quickly so they could see who had scored first place this time.
But this time, the people waiting for grades to be released quickly consisted not only of these good students, but also the dozens of people in Class 3.
All of Class 3 arrived early. After entering the classroom, they didn’t even wait to put down their schoolbags before getting together and discussing grades.
Occasionally, someone from Class 4 next door walked by.
The two groups stared silently at each other for a while. Class 3 had no confidence, but they wouldn’t lose in attitude. They quietly straightened their backs.
“Do you think grades will be out by today?”
“Probably. All the papers were graded over the weekend, right? Everything else about Erzhong aside, our school is top-notch at grading things quickly. During the last monthly exam, I hadn’t even prepared how I was going to meet my death and the grades were already out.”
“Old Tang said before it might be a few more days.”
“Wan Da, how about you go to the faculty office and suss out the situation?”
Wan Da, bearing a heavy responsibility on his shoulders, crouched at the door of the faculty office for several minutes.
The atmosphere in the faculty office felt slightly amiss, but he couldn’t put his finger on what it was. Perhaps it was too quiet. But he still hadn’t found out anything and was wondering if he should keep listening when Old Tang pulled the door open and walked out.
Wan Da swiftly sneaked toward the toilet.
Old Tang said in a low voice, “…Stop hiding. Come here for a minute.”
It was rush hour and people thronged through the school gates. The whole street was jam-packed with parents’ cars so tightly even water couldn’t flow through.
Xie Yu leaned against the bus window, the cord of his earphones snaking out from his uniform pocket. The English listening comprehension test he was listening to was just wrapping up and entering the answer phase. But it was drowned out by the sound of cars honking from the intersection up ahead.
He glanced down to adjust the volume and saw several texts He Zhao had sent.
Are you on the way?
I’m waiting for you at the bus station.
He Zhao sent the text and waited for a while, then someone unexpectedly tapped him on the shoulder from behind.
Xie Yu had one hand stuck in his pockets and hadn’t removed his earphones. People milled about and the street was a sea of school uniforms. Xie Yu was wearing the same thing as everyone else, but he was still eye-catching. “Let’s go. What are you just standing there for?”
He Zhao had not seen the bus come this way. He asked, “You walked over here?”
Xie Yu said, “The front way was too jammed.”
“Was it jammed or did you want to see me?”
“Please, be less shameless.”
“I’m going to give my boyfriend one last chance.”
“It was jammed.”
Xie Yu was walking in front, but now he slowed his footsteps and replied again, “I came to see you, all right, ge?”
They walked to the base of the classroom building and had just rounded the corner into the stairwell when they bumped into Wan Da.
It was early in the morning but he was already up to something. He was squatting in the stairwell entryway and he gave He Zhao a fright. “Fuck, what are you doing?”
Wan Da had squatted in the stairwell entryway for nearly ten minutes precisely so he would be able to catch them.
“Old Tang told me to wait here for you.”
Wan Da had squatted for so long his legs were numb. He pulled himself up using the railing, then said, “He told me to tell you to go to the office immediately. Did you two do something?”
They hadn’t done anything, per se.
At most, they had given the subject teachers each reasons to take a few Quick-Acting Heart Reliever pills.
Wu Zheng was standing by the water cooler. He got his water, but still felt like he couldn’t catch his breath. “Mr. Tang, do you still have any? Give me two more…”
In front of Tang Sen were placed Quick-Acting Heart Reliever pills and several exam papers. These exam papers all hadperfect scores, or near-perfect scores.
He flipped open each exam paper again and took a second look. At the upper right corner, where the name box was.
Student’s name: Xie Yu.
Student’s name: He Zhao.
When the papers were done being graded, he and Wu Zheng stayed in the Shisizhong classroom and sat face to face in silence for more than half an hour.
In all the years since Erzhong had been founded—the school had never seen such grades.
Not only did they easily beat out the rest of the four schools, this was a rare sight even in the top-tier school Tang Sen had taught at before.
Xie Yu and He Zhao left and didn’t return for a long time.
Wan Da was so unbearably curious he couldn’t sit still. “Does this count as skipping class in broad daylight? Where on earth did they go? What are they doing?”
Liu Cunhao, whom Wan Da had nagged at all morning, was getting a headache. “Instead of sitting here, why don’t you go and do your professional duty during lunch?
Wan Da said, “Hao-zi, that’s a good idea.”
The whereabouts of the two big bros were still a mystery, but Wan Da unearthed an unexpected piece of news.
Wan Da had many friends and knew people in every class. When he went to Class 7, someone was carrying a stack of homework on the way back from the faculty office. He tapped Wan Da’s shoulder and said, “Do you know what your class average is?”
Wan Da looked back, hands still on the windowsill. “Ah? Our class average?”
“Yeah. Fucking impressive. I wondered if my eyes had gone bad.”
The guy hadn’t seen the details, but he had glanced at the class averages on the teacher’s screen. He was still in shock now. “Higher than the year average by 4-point-something points.”
Wan Da said, “…Your eyes are bad, surely.”
After thrice-verifying that this piece of information was accurate, Wan Da walked on cloud nine all the way back to class. In his mind, all that remained was the thought, I must have done very well this time around!
No! Our Class 3 surely all did very well this time around!
We’ve changed our fate!
“His eyes are bad.”
When Wan Da returned to the classroom, his terrible grades for every subject were there to welcome him. The subject reps had distributed the exam papers. Liu Cunhao’s face was pale as he slammed down the papers Wan Da had failed. “His eyes are definitely bad. Look for yourself. Four-point-something, with scores like this? You’re dreaming.”
Wan Da refused to give up. Staring at his awful grades, he sank into thought. “…What about everyone else in class?”
Liu Cunhao waved his own papers. “About the same.”
Luo Wenqiang said, “My ability is average and my performance is the same.”
“It’s true.” Xu Qingqing passed the English papers out and heard them discussing the class average. After hesitating, she said, “It’s true. 4.6. I saw it, too.”
Right up until the class bell rang, Class 3 couldn’t make heads or tails of where the 4.6 had come from
No one discovered that two exam papers had been held back and not distributed.
Luo Wenqiang’s horizons had been broadened and he decided he was now a believer in mysticism.² “Did my good luck reblogs really work miracles?”
“Think more rationally, will you?” As Liu Cunhao spoke, he immediately began a new train of thought. “Can we think about how badly the other classes did this time?”
The two people whose whereabouts Wan Da was unbearably curious about were currently re-taking the exam in an empty classroom.
Xie Yu wasn’t surprised by this turn of events at all. Anyone would find it hard to accept that the two students with the lowest grades in the year suddenly scored highest in the year, and that their total score across all subjects was far ahead of all the exam-taking students in the four schools, forming an uncrossable gap.
When they were told to retake the test, Xie Yu didn’t outwardly react much. He said, “Sir, there’s one issue.”
Old Tang was considerate of them and feared that their young souls had been hurt. He hurriedly explained, “It’s not that we don’t trust you. This is because…”
“The exam duration is too long.”
Xie Yu said, “I don’t need that much time. Half an hour is enough.”
He Zhao had no objections to retaking the test, but he had one concern. “Why did I only score 148 on the math paper?”
Wu Zheng quietly grasped the bottle of Quick-Acting Heart Reliever pills tighter.
“The two points deducted were for handwriting.”
Wu Zheng steadied himself, then said, “…Brat, you criticized the question-setter on the paper itself for not setting good enough questions and you thought you’d score a 150?”