First Published on Chaleuria
091 – I didn’t make a wish.
The 3rd solar term¹ approached and the weather gradually grew warm again.
The food street outside Liyang Erzhong hung banners even more celebratory than those they had over New Year’s. From a distance, the whole street was filled with the words, ‘Welcome back to school.’
After having run wild all vacation, many people were hurrying to finish their homework near the end of the winter break. With no regard to day or night, they did homework for several days but still didn’t manage to finish. In the end, they had to accept their fate, and planned to return to school early and struggle a little more.
Xie Yu had just walked up the stairs when he heard pained shouts from Class 2.3. “We need to turn this in too?”
“There was English homework?!”
“Has anyone done their math homework? I’ll trade you the literature mock paper…”
When Xie Yu passed by the rear window, he crooked his finger and tapped on the glass twice, neither forcefully nor gently.
Liu Cunhao, as the class rep, was leading the charge of copying homework. He was still shouting and holding up several literature mock papers when he heard the tapping on the window. He nearly jumped from fright. “Fuck!”
It was windy outside and Xie Yu had his hood up. He entered briskly, then remembered to pull his hood off.
They had all thought it was Mad Dog come to inspect the classrooms. The class went silent for two seconds, then continued like an exploding pot. “I was nearly scared to death… Yu-ge, you’re not the Yu-ge I know any more.”
“That bit of mischief makes you happy?”
“How could you bully your weak, pitiful, and helpless classmates?”
He Zhao had gotten there early and was catching up on sleep in the classroom. He heard a noise and half-opened his eyes.
He Zhao had returned to school a day early.
All the live-in students who came back early had underestimated Mad Dog’s enthusiasm for broadcasting. Before six a.m., their esteemed Dean Jiang had already started shouting, “A new school term! A new starting point!”
He Zhao sat up straight and watched his little friend walk over.
Mad Dog’s platitudes had not struck a chord with him. But when his gaze landed on Xie Yu, he finally felt it. A new school term.
A new day.
He Zhao smiled and greeted him. “Morning.”
Xie Yu walked to the desk, bent down slightly, reached out, and pulled the zipper of He Zhao’s jacket, currently situated at his chest, upward. “Morning.”
Sunlight shone through the window and brightened the classroom several degrees.
Liu Cunhao was still looking for someone willing to swap homework with him.
He Zhao pulled his math exercise book from under his desk. He had picked a few questions from the book to do, but following his previous plan of steadily, gradually increasing his score, he still had a high ratio of wrong answers. “Hao-zi, I’ll swap with you.”
Liu Cunhao looked at him for several seconds before silently turning away and asking again, “Anyone else?”
He Zhao said, “What, you’re looking down on me?”
“I wouldn’t dare. You scored 49 points.” Liu Cunhao was worried he would damage He Zhao’s confidence and awkwardly praised him, then couldn’t hold it back any longer. He had to make him face reality. “But, Zhao-ge, you can’t be too sure of yourself either. Do you get what I mean?”
“Hao-zi, you ignore me now.” He Zhao tossed the exercise book on the table. “—But in the future, I’ll climb so high you can’t reach me.”
Liu Cunhao’s expression read ‘Who am I? Where am I? Our class big bro seems to have gone mad.’ “……”
Xie Yu had just pulled out a gel pen from a side pocket on his schoolbag. When he heard this, he nearly threw it.
The class bell rang and the classroom gradually grew quiet.
It was the first day of school and every subject teacher delivered the same lecture: ‘It doesn’t matter if your end-of-term exam grades weren’t as good as you wanted. Start working hard from this term onwards.’ The subject teachers hoped that the students would clean up their acts after having played all vacation and correct their attitudes towards studying immediately.
Their Old Tang did one better and made their literature class period into a lecture period. He did not go over much new content and focused on counselling them instead.
Xie Yu was getting sleepy listening to it. He propped his chin on his hand and glanced at He Zhao, who had been on his phone all class period. “Video games?”
He Zhao calmly exited back out to his home screen and said, ‘Ah,’ in reply.
Xie Yu didn’t mind. He closed his eyes and napped for a while.
Only now did He Zhao open his chat window with Shen Jie again and reply, What’s wrong with you?
For the last few days, He Zhao had been racking his brains about how to celebrate his little friend’s birthday. He thought about it over and over and didn’t know what to give him, so he asked Shen Jie, but after waiting several minutes, he received the reply: No comment.
[Shen Jie]: I think that, the two of us… we should chat outside of class.
[Shen Jie]: Don’t think of getting me in trouble again!
[He Zhao]: …..
Shen Jie was still living under the shadow of the previous very awkward scene in the faculty office. He remembered the blood, the tears, and the reflection essay he had to write. After that, when he secretly played games in class, he never made make the mistake of joining He Zhao’s team again.
In the same vein, he avoided chatting as much as he could.
Shen Jie propped up his textbook on his desk and hid his hands underneath. Halfway through typing, he glanced up to make sure the teacher was still turned to the blackboard writing notes, then continued tapping on his phone. Zhao-ge, please listen in class! Don’t chat with me!
There wasn’t much time left until Xie Yu’s birthday in mid-March.
He Zhao had to catch Shen Jie during the ten-minute break between class periods and they chatted for a while in the stairwell. “Do you have any ideas or not?”
Shen Jie wanted to say, If it were anyone else, I might be able to help brainstorm, but when it comes to your Xie Yu…
Xie Yu was more unreadable than most, and even though Shen Jie was a little closer to him now, he still didn’t know what he liked. He was still a mystery.
“What should you give him…” Shen Jie racked his brains and finally said, hesitantly, “…A human head?”
He Zhao wasn’t sure whether to praise his bro for having such a vivid imagination. “Damn it, something more normal, all right?”
Shen Jie was helpless. Even if he were to scratch his head bald, he couldn’t come up with a second idea. “He’s your Old Xie, so you should know better than me. Think about it on your own. What is he interested in?”
He Zhao sat on the stairs and thought for a while, then said, “Me.”
Shen Jie said, “…Ah?”
He Zhao said, “Me. He’s interested in me.”
Damn it, this conversation was going nowhere.
Shen Jie looked down and dragged his hands down his face in despair. “Anyway, there definitely has to be a birthday cake, so we can start from there—”
The stairwell was very close to the corridor and Shen Jie had said the word ‘cake’ very loudly. Wan Da was on the way back from the faculty office. He had not seen anybody in the stairwell, but when he heard the sound, he stopped and backtracked several steps. “What birthday cake? Who’s having a birthday?”
He Zhao: “……”
Since school had started again, He Zhao, Wan Da, and the others were always putting their heads together discussing something. Xie Yu thought they were acting strange. Still, he couldn’t put his finger on what it could be.
Every time he passed by, Wan Da would immediately change the subject awkwardly. “I love my country…”
When Wan Da knocked on his door in the middle of the night and asked if he wanted to take a walk around the dorm building, Xie Yu finally found a reason for how strangely Wan Da was acting. “Are you sick?”
Wan Da stood in the doorway and said with some melancholy, “I can’t sleep. Been too stressed lately. Could I chat with you?”
Xie Yu leaned against the doorframe and glanced down at his phone to check the time.
Half past eleven.
The lights had long gone out and the dorm was so quiet it was surreal.
Erzhong’s dormitories had six floors. The top floor, the rooftop, was locked year-round and students were not allowed up. Wan Da, who had said he wanted to walk around the dorm building, now took Xie Yu upstairs.
“I’ve been very confused recently,” Wan Da said as they walked. “I can’t find a direction in life. I toss and turn in bed every night.”
Xie Yu: “……”
Usually, Xie Yu would say, ‘What business is that of mine?’
But Xie Yu thought of how Wan Da had been acting oddly recently, and in a short few minutes, many thoughts went through Xie Yu’s mind. When Wan Da pushed open the iron door to the rooftop, he was about to say ‘Don’t dwell too much.’ Then he was suddenly hugged from behind and a hand covered his eyes.
Pitch darkness in front of his eyes.
—A bony, warm hand forcibly blocked his line of sight.
Xie Yu was led several steps forward and the rooftop wind blew in under the hem of his clothes.
Then the hand slowly let go. In the pitch darkness, Xie Yu saw fragments of glittering light through the gaps between the fingers.
Suddenly, everything lit up in front of Xie Yu’s eyes.
The rooftop was not large. Looking downward from the top floor, there were pinpricks of streetlights like stars, the sound of cars honking from the surrounding roads, and wind blowing noisily from all directions.
Someone had gotten a folding table from somewhere and a birthday cake was placed on it. They had quickly decorated the rooftop and several bags of things lay to the side.
There was more than one voice.
Nearly everyone from Class 3 who lived in the dorms was there. They made a raucous bunch. “Happy birthday, Yu-ge!”
Xie Yu didn’t remember his own birthday.
If not for Madam Gu reminding him every year and asking him if there was anything he wanted, the concept of ‘his birthday’ would have been tossed to the back of his mind.
Several days ago Madam Gu had reminded him of it once. Xie Yu had been on a call with her while doing practice questions and by the time he finished the big problem set, he had already forgotten what Madam Gu had said on the other end of the line.
“You were joking with me just now? Where did you find the key?”
Xie Yu glanced at them and said, “Wan Da, what were you saying about the road of life and losing your way and getting confused?”
He Zhao coughed lightly. “We forced the lock.”
Wan Da tried to change the subject. He lit the candles and urged Xie Yu to make a wish. “Yu-ge, the wind… Damn it, hurry up and blow out the candles or they’ll all go out.”
Several of them made a circle, trying to block out the wind. “Hurry up! We can’t block the wind much longer.”
The more they urged, the more Xie Yu’s mind went blank. The candles went out and he still had not thought of a wish.
The others cheered and waited for the cake to be cut.
He Zhao rummaged around through the knives and forks in the bag, and discovered that the bottom of the bag was all cans of beer. “Know-It-All, we told you to buy snacks. What did you get so much beer for?”
Wan Da didn’t admit he wanted to drink it. “We’re all men here! When we gather on the balcony…”
Beer cans lay haphazardly in every direction on the balcony.
A wind blew and the cans rattled around on the ground.
While everyone was drinking, He Zhao asked, “What wish did you make just now?”
Xie Yu said, “I didn’t.”
Seeing he didn’t believe it, Xie Yu smiled and repeated, “I didn’t make a wish.”
He had not made a wish, but right now he felt that anything could become a reality.
 Jingzhe: the 3rd of 24 solar terms in the East Asian calendar, when the Sun is at the celestial longitude of 345°. Usually begins early March.