First Published on Chaleuria
093 – The burden of slackerdom is too heavy.
Xie Yu was woken by a noisy electrical sound.
At 6 a.m. in the morning, Mad Dog was already shouting enthusiastically over the broadcast. “The morning is when we are at our most energetic. We can’t be lazy! Wake up, all of you. Welcome a new day and new challenges.”
“Students, I believe you are all ready!”
Before Mad Dog even finished, the corridor was already growing noisy. “Ready, like hell!”
“This is abuse of the flowers of our homeland!”
“Brothers, don’t stop me. I’m climbing up there to cut the cord. I’m taking down this crap broadcast today. Between it and me, only one can live! I can’t go on like this.”
Xie Yu closed his eyes and rested for a while. He moved to reach for the alarm clock at the head of the bed, even though he usually just ended up throwing it.
When he moved his hand he noticed that he ached all over.
Xie Yu half-opened his eyes and the first thing he saw was He Zhao’s profile. Two people in a single bed was a tight squeeze and they had to lie on their sides to make room.
He Zhao had not woken, but his sleep had been disturbed and the arm around Xie Yu’s waist tightened reflexively.
Xie Yu’s gaze moved downward from his face and landed on the faint red marks on He Zhao’s throat. Only now did the memories of last night return, little by little.
He had scratched those marks himself.
Xie Yu buried his head in his pillow and closed his eyes again. Images of the previous night played in his mind like a movie.
He had no strong feelings on the subject of who was on top. He was cold by nature and if not for He Zhao—if not for him—Xie Yu might not even have had these sorts of thoughts.
And he had drunk a lot last night. Even though his head had been clear, he had not been in control. He Zhao had held him down and done it to him.
When Mad Dog started on his second topic, He Zhao finally woke up. He scratched his head and whispered, “Morning. What time is it?”
Xie Yu wanted to say, ‘Shut up and look for yourself,’ but his throat was dry and he couldn’t say anything.
He steadied himself and, in the end, said nothing at all. He threw aside the covers and got out of bed. When his bare feet landed on the ground he let out a hiss and breathed in sharply.
He Zhao knew that he had been rather rough last night. But Xie Yu had been stubborn and kept challenging him. “Can you or can you not?”
When He Zhao finally went at it, he couldn’t take it. His body had gone taut and he was both reluctant and unwilling when he finally asked for mercy.
At this point, He Zhao half sat up and asked, “Does it still hurt?”
Xie Yu was a little annoyed.
He bent down and picked up the clothes on the floor, one garment at a time. His head ached from a hangover and discomfort enveloped his whole body. “What do you think?”
He Zhao said, “Next time I’ll…”
“There is no next time.”
Xie Yu pulled the door open and said, “You’re too bad at it.”
Neither of them had experience. He Zhao had been crude and untried, and he hadn’t controlled himself. He had no skill to speak of.
But the emotional thrill outweighed the biological one.
This person is mine.
Every part of him.
Xie Yu had planned to pack up and go to class early, but he had overestimated his physical ability.
He slept till noon. By the time he woke up, it was lunch break.
He Zhao pushed the door open, lunch in hand. Xie Yu was still curled up in the blankets.
“Get up and eat something before going back to sleep.” He Zhao put the takeout box on the desk, then walked to the bed. He reached out and ruffled Xie Yu’s hair, which was sticking out. “Be good.”
In response, he received a pillow Xie Yu had thrown.
Xie Yu sat up after tossing the pillow. The blankets slid to his waist. His shirt was a little messy, the collar askew.
He Zhao looked once and didn’t dare look more.
Xie Yu got out of bed, bent down, and took out two changes of clothes from the closet.
He Zhao leaned against the door of the en suite bathroom, listening to the sound of running water inside. He said, out of the blue, “A few people were late this morning. Old Tang pulled them into the corridor and questioned them, but the lot of them found one excuse after another…”
Several people were late that morning. All the live-in students who had drunk and talked about life on the rooftop last night nearly couldn’t get out of bed, and six or seven of them stood in a straight line in the classroom doorway.
Although Old Tang was good-tempered, this was the first time he had seen a whole string of students arrive late. “What happened to you? What were you all doing last night?”
Ding Lianghua hemmed and hawed for a long time, then said, “…Sorry, sir, I overslept.”
Old Tang questioned them from the head of the line to the end, one by one.
They all had to find excuses and they couldn’t repeat themselves. The further Old Tang got, the more he challenged their imagination.
In the end, someone even said his pants had ripped halfway while walking here. They really even came up with such excuses.
“Sir, when I got to the math building, I suddenly heard the sound of fabric tearing down there… in that moment, I felt that time had stopped. The world around me turned from color to black-and-white.”
He Zhao acted it out quite well.
Xie Yu pushed the showerhead lever and complained, “Is his brain broken?”
The sound of running water gradually stopped.
“How do you feel?” He Zhao asked again. “…Don’t go to afternoon classes, either. Sleep a little more. I’ll go tell Old Tang for you.”
Although Xie Yu still didn’t feel too well, he wasn’t so bad off as to need He Zhao’s concern.
Xie Yu put on his clothes, pulled open the door, and said, “I’m not crippled.”
“Was I really that bad?” He Zhao stepped aside to let him pass, but he was still fixated on the topic from this morning. “But you sounded so satisfied.”
Xie Yu really wanted to say, That was from goddamned pain.
After they had eaten, lunch break was nearly over. When Xie Yu and He Zhao returned to the classroom, they collided with Wan Da who was just walking out.
“Yu-ge, you’re finally here? I really shouldn’t have bought beer. I nearly didn’t get up in the morning, but my roommate kicked me out of bed…”
Wan Da felt that something was not right. He looked again and caught a glimpse of Xie Yu’s neck. Near his shirt collar, there was a red mark.
Xie Yu was pale and, up close, Wan Da could see the pale blue veins lying beneath his skin.
The red mark was very obvious.
“Right.” Wan Da didn’t remember until Xie Yu had already passed. Then he slapped his forehead. “Old Tang came by just now and said you should go to his office to see him.”
This term, Xie Yu had not skipped class much, and he had not fought or made trouble either. He was much less worrying than before.
All the subject teachers often discussed the two ‘students of the moment.’
“He Zhao did quite well in last term’s end-of-term tests.” A female teacher had finished grading homework and now reclined her chair, intending to take an afternoon nap, and murmured. “Old Wu really can teach. 49 points. That’s quite all right. I remember he used to score 10 or 20 points…”
During the lunch break, there weren’t many students in the faculty office and the teachers would chat, a couple sentences at a time.
Old Tang had not joined in the discussion, busy tidying some things at hand. Only when Xie Yu knocked on the door and entered did he look up. “You’re here? Have a seat.”
Xie Yu had thought Old Tang was looking for him to talk about him skipping class that morning. He was about to say, ‘I won’t next time,’ when he saw Old Tang push a thick stack of papers towards him.
On the very top sheet of A4 paper was printed Exam Content Outline and Summary.
It was all foundational material. It started with a summary of junior high content and the first line was, ‘Ways to Write an Analysis Essay.’ The critical points were printed in red.
Xie Yu stared at it, stunned, and for a while he wasn’t sure what to say.
“I took some spare time during vacation to put this together, though it’s not very comprehensive. Take this back and look at it with He Zhao. Or make a copy, that’ll do, too.”
Old Tang twisted open the cap of his water bottle and poured out some wolfberry tea. “Your issue right now is that you usually don’t memorize a lot. Read this a few more times and memorize it. That way, when you do practice questions, you’ll know how to approach the questions…”
He said he ‘took some spare time to put this together,’ but looking at the stack, Xie Yu could tell he had spent a lot of time on it.
Then Old Tang continued thoughtfully, “With how your grades are now, the college exams are still a little dangerous.”
Xie Yu had no idea what he was talking about. “……”
“It’s all right if you don’t know the answer. But you still have to try doing the homework the teachers give you.” Old Tang sighed, then continued, “And don’t keep reading comics in class.”
Since school had started up again, Xie Yu had not continued his act of being a bad student, but he still gave off an air of not being serious. Someone whose future prospects were dismal.
Erzhong was not a tough school. The homework given after class was too easy, and neither he nor He Zhao did much of it. They only needed to look at it and they knew the answer, without even moving a pen. Instead of spending time on these questions, they could do a few more challenging ones instead.
It was the same in class. When he heard something interesting, he would look up and listen for a while. The rest of the time, he was looking at the set of Olympiad questions he had bought on his own.
The school term had only been in session for half a month and they had not yet had tests. For the first time, Xie Yu felt the burden of slackerdom. It really was heavy and he couldn’t throw it off if he tried.
Xie Yu opened his mouth. He nearly said, Sir, I’m not. I didn’t.
“Right, and there’s this, too.” Old Tang took two sips of tea, put his cup down, and pulled out another folder from a drawer.
Inside the folder were his and He Zhao’s exam papers.
He and He Zhao never did corrections on their exam. But now, beside every question they got wrong, Old Tang had made markings in red pen. Not only the right answer, but the solution steps and a model answer were placed next to them on post-it notes.
Xie Yu was completely speechless.
He felt that the burden of slackerdom might crush him to death.
Xie Yu had never met a teacher like Old Tang.
Previously, on Black Water Street, his grades had been outstanding and the homeroom teacher had let him participate in academic competitions. Aside from that, he had not interacted much with the teacher. After coming to Erzhong, the subject teachers only wanted him to lay low and not cause trouble.
Looking at the study guide, Xie Yu finally understood He Zhao’s words, ‘I’m worried I’ll scare them.’ Class 3’s homeroom teacher really did think of him and He Zhao as students who needed help.
And the study rep, who also often worried about their studies and their grades.
He Zhao had only raised his exam scores by a dozen points or so at the end of the term and Class 3 was even happier in the group chat than if they themselves had gotten good grades.
The study guide in his hand grew heavier and heavier.
Old Tang looked at the time and saw lunch was about over. He waved a hand and said, “All right, go back to class.”
When Xie Yu brought the stack of notes back to class, Class 3 was in chaos. The school was probably about to hold another sports meet. Luo Wenqiang held up a flier and shouted, “—Anyone else? Anyone else want to join?”
He Zhao, sitting in the back, had joined in the shouting. He stopped when he saw Xie Yu coming.
Xie Yu tossed the study guide onto the desk. He Zhao reached out and turned a couple pages. “What did Old Tang need you for? What the hell is this?”
“Study guide.” Xie Yu silently sighed, hesitated, then asked, “That plan of yours… where is it? Let me see.”
Xie Yu said, “The gradual improvement plan.”
Luo Wenqiang was still at the podium asking if anyone wanted to join.
Someone had just come back from outside and asked, “What event is this?”
Luo Wenqiang said, “Basketball tournament! Excited? Do you feel the burn of a man’s hot blood?”
“Wasn’t it cancelled?”
“I heard from Wan Da that Mad Dog asked the higher-ups many times and finally got approved…”
Last year’s basketball tournament had nearly ended in a fight and Mad Dog had reprimanded the whole school for it. He had scolded them harshly and proclaimed that he was going to axe this event, then told them to all go kick shuttlecocks.¹
But it was also Mad Dog who had gone to the school board in private, asked for mercy, and gotten their basketball tournament back.
The class bell rang, but they didn’t want to stop talking about the basketball tournament. When Old Wu came in, he scolded them. “You’re holding a meeting? Did you hear the bell?”
During the first class of the afternoon, Old Wu introduced a few new content points, then made them do practice questions in class to cement the knowledge.
The only noise remaining in the classroom was the soft sounds of writing implements making contact with desks and several students quietly discussing the question.
Xie Yu held his pen. On the desk was the book of Olympiad questions all the teachers had mistaken for a comic book.
He felt some despair.
He Zhao was slumped on the desk, but he was not asleep. He reached out and pulled Xie Yu’s pen from his grip, little by little. “What are you thinking?”
Xie Yu suddenly found his hand empty. He closed the book of Olympiad questions and thought, What could I be thinking? The burden of slackerdom is too heavy, that’s all.
“I’m thinking of leaving everyone else a way out.”
 Kicking shuttlecocks: This