First Published on Chaleuria
053 – What’s there to review? Might as well offer incense and prayers.
In Xie Yu’s seventeen years of living, he had never felt that he had very much youthful ardor.
Before, Zhou Dalei and the others had secretly rented R-rated DVDs, hidden them from Madam Gu and Dalei’s parents, and locked their doors, not even daring to breathe loudly.
The young Dalei had watched the tapes red-faced without averting his eyes. Xie Yu had glanced at the screen twice, then booted up an old tube TV to the side and played on his Famicom game console.
What had Dalei said back then? He had said, “Boss Xie, you aren’t asexual, are you?”
“What’s so special about it,” Xie Yu said. “It’s just sex, isn’t it?”
Zhou Dalei: “……”
Da Mei: “……”
But he was in a relationship now, right?
It was just drinking from the same bottle of water.
Why did his heart speed up?
A sharp whistle signalled the end of gym class.
The gym teacher walked out of the stadium and waved to Luo Wenqiang. Liu Cunhao, who was holding the ball, used the last few seconds to jump and toss the ball into the basket.
“Class is over. Dismissed.” The gym teacher instructed the gym rep to pack up the equipment.
Gym rep Luo Wenqiang couldn’t carry the whole class’s gym equipment, so He Zhao jumped down from his perch next to the flowerbed and went to help. “I’ll take the rackets. Old Xie, lend a hand?”
Xie Yu took half the rackets and the group walked in a line toward the equipment room. Liu Cunhao was still holding the basketball, refusing to let it go.
“It’s all the fault of those two classes from last year. Idiots, the lot of them. They even fought. What’s there to fight over?”
“I was there. It was really intense. In the end they just threw away the ball and started fighting with their fists. Even the referees were stunned silly.”
The equipment room was big and divided into sections according to the types of sport. The badminton rackets went on the innermost shelves. He Zhao lifted them up and stuffed them in, then moved to one side to make space for Xie Yu. “I was at last year’s basketball match.”
Xie Yu said, “Oh, no wonder your class didn’t make it to the finals.”
“Class 2 plays too dirty. No fun at all. We were eliminated in the first round.” He Zhao thought back to how he had dragged the team down. “Compete on skill or not at all.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’re good.” Xie Yu put the rackets back, straightening them somewhat obsessively, and said, “You’re very good.”
The space between the shelves was narrow and could barely fit two people. At some point He Zhao had moved to occupy the space opposite him, so when Xie Yu finished and turned around he was nearly in He Zhao’s arms.
He Zhao laughed. “Little friend, is this an offering?”
“Offering what?” Xie Yu said. “A good dog doesn’t block the way. Move aside?”
He Zhao’s hand rested on Xie Yu’s waist, gently pushing through the thin fabric, nudging him into a corner. They were both tall, but the corner was secluded, and Luo Wenqiang and the others were busy chatting over by the basketballs and didn’t notice them.
The incident with the water bottle on the basketball court surfaced again in his mind as a result of their covert actions.
“I’m not a dog,” He Zhao said. “I’m not moving.”
The atmosphere was just right and they had picked a good location, too. Xie Yu slowly closed his eyes and saw He Zhao’s face drawing closer to his when he opened them again. He gave He Zhao’s head a slap in reply. “Idiot. Cameras.”
He Zhao: “…..”
There were cameras, more than one, in the equipment room. It was a lot to manage so the school relied on the students being aware the cameras were there. When equipment was borrowed and returned every class period the gym rep had to register it on a form.
Xie Yu looked over and found that there was one facing them.
He Zhao internally cursed ten thousand times.
Luo Wenqiang and the others filled in the form, then came over. “Zhao-ge, are you done?”
Aside from Luo Wenqiang’s loud voice, Xie Yu could still hear He Zhao cursing under his breath. The gist was Screw young love, I’m in a right and proper relationship.
He Zhao kept cursing. The gym rep was nearly to their corner and He Zhao was about to let go but Xie Yu suddenly leaned forward and kissed him at the base of his ear.
It was warm, and very soft.
From the camera’s vantage point, it would look like one of them leaned closer to say something, and one wouldn’t be able to tell what they really were doing.
He Zhao had been about to curse but the words got stuck and he said ‘Fuuuuu–’ for very long and didn’t continue.
Xie Yu stepped away again, leaning back, and narrowed his eyes at He Zhao.
Luo Wenqiang walked over to the equipment racks, not noticing anything out of the ordinary. “Done putting the rackets back? Let’s go back to class? Hao-zi and the others are waiting outside.”
Xie Yu kicked He Zhao, who said, “Ah, going back to class? Then shall we go?”
The mid-term exams were nearing. Class 2.3 got a lot quieter and stopped horsing around in class. Everyone was hugging the Buddha’s leg,¹ clinging onto the hope that cramming in these last few days would unexpectedly result in good grades.
A line had formed in front of Xue Xisheng’s desk to ask questions, so he had no leeway to catch Class 3’s two repeat offenders.
Wan Da, at the end of the line, realized he probably wouldn’t get his questions answered during this class break. He sat in the empty seat in front of Xie Yu and groaned and sighed. “The two of you… even have the free time to be playing video games.”
Xie Yu was very calm in the face of Class 3’s unprecedented atmosphere of anxiety. “What’s there to review? Might as well offer incense and prayers.”
He Zhao was even more calm. “A few days ago, I bought a few couplets that guarantee passing the exam. They should get here before the mid-terms. A master has blessed them. Shall I give you two when they arrive?”
Wan Da: ”……”
These two… weren’t human at all.
Even got goddamned couplets that had been blessed.
Wan Da kept these thoughts to himself. Out loud, he said, “Then… then give me two.”
He Zhao’s couplets arrived the day before the exam. There were ten in a packet, each with a red paper base and bold words written in gold. They looked extravagant and in one of the lower corners in small print were the words Master Ling Hui.²
All of Class 3 sighed with amazement at seeing them. They all thought their creativity was too weak. To go to this extent…
It rained the entire day before the exam. The next morning, the roads were still damp.
There was no more time to prepare. They studied all night, but didn’t even have dark circles to show for their hard work of the last few days before the exams.
“Students, the weather is getting cold. Remember to wear a jacket! Welcome today’s exams with a warm heart.” Mad Dog freely gave care and concern during his normal daily broadcast. “As the saying goes, an army will train for a thousand days for a single battle. Don’t have any regrets! Fight hard, students!”
They had ten minutes to move between exam rooms. Tang Sen pasted a seating chart onto the podium, and Class 3 used every last second to memorize poetry and formulas. When the bell rang, everyone picked up their writing materials and went off to their respective rooms.
Xie Yu and He Zhao were still in the last division, in the exact same classroom as the monthly exams.
There was basically no change to the group of people who assembled at the poor students’ gathering grounds. Some students’ positions were swapped, but that was all.
Even if they had cheated in the previous exams, the student they had copied from was in this exam venue, too, so their grades wouldn’t be much higher. Six of one, half a dozen of the other. Climbing several places from the bottom was already worthy of celebration.
Xie Yu sat in his seat and He Zhao sat behind him. The two put their heads together. “Old Xie, I feel like I’m in good form today. I feel like I’ll get a good score.”
“Keep feeling,” Xie Yu said. “Feelings are all you have.”
He Zhao said, “Second-from-last, you have a superiority complex?”
Xie Yu: “I’m better than you, at any rate.”
He Zhao lifted a hand and patted the top of Xie Yu’s head.
After a while, He Zhao asked, “What do you want to eat when the exam is over?”
“Anything’s fine. Don’t ask Shen Jie along.” Xie Yu idly twirled a pen and said, “Every time he comes along we end up fighting.”
He Zhao remembered their previous two dinner outings, slid right past the thought of reflecting on his own behavior and that of his little friend, and came straight to the conclusion that Shen Jie was the problem. “All right, let’s not ask him.”
The mid-term exams were much more important than the monthly exams—they were a matter of life and death. After the grades were released, their parents would be waiting for them. This time, the students in the poor students’ gathering ground were no longer content to copy from each other and came up with new and creative methods. “I’m… selling answers. Take one less beating. Anyone need them?”
The others swarmed him. “What answers? How much are you selling for?”
“Two hundred a set. I’ll send it to your phone. Instantly.”
“Two hundred? Robbing a house while it’s on fire,³ are you?”
The student selling answers said, “Yeah, exactly.”
The students in the poor students’ gathering ground had backbone. Due to the expense, no one bought it.
“The first subject is literature. Your handwriting should be neat and you must answer the questions according to guidelines. The exam duration is 120 minutes.”
The invigilating teacher was Old Tang from their class and the history teacher from the class next door. If not for Old Tang, probably no one would be willing to take on the task of supervising this exam group.
In the words of the other teachers, even if they copied answers, no matter who they copied from the result would still be about the same.
“Analyze the question carefully, and don’t stray off topic in your essay.” Tang Sen fixed his gaze on He Zhao. He was really a little worried; he wanted them to do these two things right, if nothing else. “And watch your handwriting. If we can’t read it, we can’t give you points.”
Xie Yu looked at the essay question first. While he considered how to answer, he also wondered how a certain idiot would run away with the topic.
The zero-point ‘Silhouette’ essay was, to this day, still circulating amongst the students in their year.
Erzhong’s papers were not as difficult as those of other schools. The questions were usually very conservative and followed the standard format. Xie Yu finished answering, estimated he would score about 50-60 points, then slumped on his desk to sleep.
The moment he laid his head down he heard He Zhao calling him.
He Zhao called his name quietly twice more, then tapped the underside of the desk with a finger. “Old Xie.”
Rain started to drizzle against the window outside. Wind blew in through the crack in the window, slightly chilly.
Xie Yu remembered the monthly exams and stretched his hand out behind him. “Passing answers again?”
He Zhao said nothing.
But the hand which Xie Yu had stuck under the desk hadn’t had time to more than grasp at the air before He Zhao caught it. He grasped Xie Yu’s fingertips first, then moved upwards to hold his hand.
 ‘hugging the Buddha’s leg’: last-minute prayers. Part of an idiom that tells a story of someone who doesn’t bother burning incense during the day-to-day, but then when they urgently need help, come to the Buddha statue and hug its leg while praying for help
 Ling Hui: a name consisting of the characters for ‘spiritual’ and ‘wisdom’
 Robbing house while it’s on fire: taking advantage of a bad situation