First Published on Chaleuria
110 – “With courage, go off to even further places.”
After a period of silence, Xu Qingqing wiped away her tears and reached out a hand first. With confidence and assurance, she yelled, “Fight on!”
One after another, the people around her stacked their hands on top of hers.
Palms against the backs of hands.
Wan Da said, “That’s my Qing-ge! Tough!”
Liu Cunhao said, “Fight, fight, fight!”
He Zhao sat up and reached out to join in the fun. “Fight on.”
Xie Yu was the last. He didn’t say anything as he put his hand on the back of He Zhao’s.
His fingers were slender and long, with prominent joints.
He Zhao couldn’t help staring at them for a while, then he looked up at Xie Yu.
The two locked eyes for several seconds. For a moment they both imagined they saw themselves from Year 1, when they had just joined this school. At the time, He Zhao always had a cigarette in hand, his reputation disorderly and his expression full of disdain. He had caused a lot of trouble.
And Xie Yu, as the Big Bro of the West—even fewer people dared provoke him.
Who would have known that so many things would happen after that?
It was pure coincidence that he had joined Erzhong and he had had no hopes… but, in Old Tang’s words, there were ‘endless possibilities.’ Like a miracle, a possibility had linked them together.
There would still be, in the future.
There would still be even more miracles.
Who knew which of them started smiling first. Then Xie Yu looked away. He couldn’t help the corner of his mouth lifting in a smile, too.
Liu Cunhao and the others had started learning from He Zhao and began to brag. “I… my future is limitless.”
“I… will definitely become someone who does great things. When that time comes, I’ll give you each an autograph, too. When I make a name for myself, then—”
“Sign it bigger. An A4 piece of paper is too small and you can’t express yourself properly.”
After they bragged for a long time, the noise level died down again.
One after the other, everybody lay down on the track. They lay down in several groups, bodies facing all directions. They spread their arms out to the wind blowing over them and shut their eyes.
They had intended to shut their eyes to relax, but, after a short while, many of them had fallen asleep. Luo Wenqiang had even started snoring.
The snores were accompanied by the faint sound of insects chirping.
Xie Yu half-opened his eyes again and glanced at the night sky.
In his mind, there weren’t any other thoughts… he just thought it was very bright.
After taking a walk and having a heart-to-heart talk with a middle-aged man, the atmosphere of Class 3 had relaxed some.
Facing half a summer vacation’s worth of intensive studying, each of them adopted a very proper attitude. They got used to their status as ‘Year 3 exam takers’ and rushed to complete the first round of revision before the vacation ended.
Conversely, on the day school formally started again, they didn’t feel a sense of novelty for the ‘new school term.’
A big batch of new Year 1 students had joined the school. The school broadcast welcomed them for a long time. The new students were confused, and just having joined the school, they were curious about everything.
The other school buildings also regained their former energy and were noisy all the time.
Their school building was indeed for Year 3 students only. No matter how noisy it was outside, it never caught up to them. But, occasionally, groups of girls would sneak over to look at the two ‘legendary figures’ of Class 3.
Wu Zheng was especially troubled by this. On many occasions, he opened the door to chase them away. “Which class are you from—”
But every time, before Wu Zheng could finish yelling, they would immediately run downstairs like scared animals.
Wu Zheng could only close the door and scold them. “Xie Yu, He Zhao, the two of you, fool around a little less. They were from Year 1, right? It hasn’t been long since school started and they’ve already found their way here.”
Xie Yu had been doing questions when, for no reason, he was accused of ‘fooling around.’ “……”
He Zhao was even more incredulous. “Ah?”
Wu Zheng said, “Don’t ‘ah’ me. Did you solve that question from just now? Come up and do it at the podium.”
He Zhao had been about to say, “What’s it got to do with me and Old Xie,” then he thought back to how the girls at the window had pointed in their direction, and had a rare—correct—epiphany. Holding his scratch paper, he stood up and whispered, “I didn’t fool around. There’s only you.”
Xie Yu smiled and said, “Get lost, you.”
This question wasn’t difficult and He Zhao solved it quickly. But his solution was very novel and Wu Zheng had to watch until he was halfway through before understanding how on earth he had solved it. “Classmate, could you solve the problem according to a normal person’s thought process?”
He Zhao said, “Normal thought process? There’s no fun in the normal process.”
Wu Zheng said, “You’re having too much fun. Is one side of the blackboard enough for you to write on?”
The class erupted into laughter.
Wu Zheng had learned his lesson. In future, when he called on someone to solve questions, he had better not call this one. He was too wild and uncontrollable.
“Yu-ge, I didn’t fully understand that question from just now.” After class was dismissed, Wan Da came over carrying his exercise book. “I got to this step, then drew the function diagram. I understand that much, but after that…”
The several homework questions Wu Zheng had left for them at the end were a little difficult. Wan Da had struggled with them for a long time, but in the end he still had not found the solution.
Xie Yu took the book and glanced at it. “What did you understand? Your diagram is wrong.”
Wan Da corrected the question in several strokes. When he closed the exercise book, his nosy heart was ignited again. “Do you know that our school is hosting a coming-of-age ceremony next month?”
All the schools in A City held coming-of-age ceremonies the same way.
It was a rather formal event and the selected location was far away. All in all, they would be gone for two days and spend one night at a hotel.
If they were looking forward to this so-called ‘ceremony,’ they wanted to go out to play even more.
Xie Yu said, “Coming-of-age ceremony?”
Wan Da said hopefully, “I don’t know what it is, either. But, either way, it’s true that we’re going out to play… and we’re staying over for a night. It just sounds carefree.”
They had just not played enough over the so-called spring and autumn school trips. This time around it was no different from going on holiday.
The more Wan Da talked, the more he became immersed in his own fantasies. Xie Yu elbowed He Zhao in the waist. “Ge, attending a coming-of-age at your age isn’t fitting, is it.”
He Zhao reached out to hook an arm around his neck, but found only air.
“…Get over here. What do you mean by that?”
“Was I not clear?” Xie Yu said. “I mean you’re old.”
Halfway through Wan Da’s vivid musings he looked up and saw that the two of them were entangled together again.
These two would often get handsy for no reason. Out in the open. They had no sense of how they were affecting others at all.
But this time the situation was a little different. Their usual roles were reversed and Xie Yu was now the one being chased and beaten.
He Zhao was not really going to use force and was only playing with him. He took two steps and couldn’t hold it any more, then stood in the doorway and smiled as he beckoned to Xie Yu. “Don’t run. Come back.”
Xie Yu stopped and leaned against the window, looking at him.
He Zhao said, “I won’t mess with you,” and walked into the corridor. But when he got close, he still caught hold of Xie Yu and wouldn’t let go. “I’m old?”
People came and went in the corridor.
They were both tall and long-legged, clad in uniforms, and just looking at their shadows stacked nearly on top of each other already made people’s imaginations run wild.
Wan Da shook his head. He was used to it. He thought, anyway, the reputations of these two have already been wrecked so badly not even dregs are left.
The detailed agenda of the coming-of-age ceremony seemed to have grown wings. Within a few class periods it spread throughout the year.
There would be three locations: the history museum, a famous person’s former residence, and then a temple fair in the evening.
“You’re all very excited.”
Old Tang didn’t want them to be distracted and planned to take some class time several days before the event to talk with them about the coming-of-age ceremony. He endured it with much difficulty until the week before the event, then discovered that, before he could say a word, this lot had already found out about it. “Prepare all the things you want to bring… at 8 a.m. we’ll board the bus and go to the People’s Memorial Museum first.”
They didn’t know what to prepare, so they followed the pattern of the spring and autumn school trips. Aside from several simple changes of clothes, they brought a big bag of snacks.
Before they set off, Liu Cunhao said with a troubled conscience, “I didn’t bring my homework. Am I too much?”
“What’s this about bringing homework? Leave your homework in your dorm,” Luo Wenqiang said. “It’s very responsible. It’ll take good care of itself.”
The weather was hot and the bus was full of the smell of formaldehyde.
Xie Yu had just taken off his mask. When he got on the bus and got a whiff of the smell, he put his mask back on.
He Zhao adjusted the angle of the air-conditioner over his head so that the cold air was blowing toward Xie Yu. “Is it bad?”
“It’s a little stuffy.”
He Zhao continued, “Ge will lend you his shoulder to lean on.”
Xie Yu said, “What damn use is that?”
But after Xie Yu looked down and sent Madam Gu a text reporting his situation, he still leaned against He Zhao’s shoulder and fell asleep inside the gently rocking bus.
He Zhao lifted a hand, his fingers coming to rest lightly by Xie Yu’s ear. He caught hold of the black string behind his ear and undid one side of the mask for him.
He couldn’t help staring a few moments longer.
Then He Zhao recovered, pulled out his own phone, and sent a text to his own Old He for propriety’s sake.
He thought Old He would probably just respond ‘Got it,’ but after waiting several minutes, he got a different set of words: You’ve grown up.
The bus ride would take about two hours. At the beginning, this lot made some noise and yelled about wanting to sing songs.
“What? No, don’t sing.” He Zhao motioned to them not to make a racket. “My deskmate is sleeping.”
Someone yelled from the back row, “—Zhao-ge, you’re doting on Yu-ge too much.”
After this emerged, everyone else began to blindly make noise about it, too.
He Zhao had no intention of denying it, but Liu Cunhao, Wan Da, and the others reacted even more strongly than him, the person involved.
“Of course good bros must dote on each other,” Liu Cunhao said, throwing an arm around Wan Da’s shoulder. “Right, Da-zi? Do I dote on you?”
Wan Da grit his teeth. “Yes! A lot!”
They were making too much noise and Xie Yu was a light sleeper. He half-opened his eyes and the other side of his mask fell off, too. “Doting on what?”
“Nothing. Just don’t ask.”
He Zhao said, “These two seem to have a problem with their brains today.”
When the Year 3 group reached the People’s Memorial Museum, it was nearly noon. Before beginning the formal tour, Erzhong’s administration had set up a simple ceremony nearby.
Old Tang stood at the front of the line.
Mad Dog had changed his style and was wearing a sharp suit with leather shoes. Under the burning sun, he didn’t look hot in the least. “We didn’t bring you on this coming-of-age ceremony to play. Students, you’re 18. You’re adults now.”
When he said the word ‘adults,’ the audience quieted down.
They thought about the young faces of Erzhong’s new year 1 students, just like theirs when they had first joined the school. Then they thought about how, in the blink of an eye, they were here now.
“You are adults now and must learn something very important. Take responsibility and have a character that is moral and upstanding. Study hard and train hard, and plant both feet firmly on the ground. I feel happy and proud of you, from the bottom of my heart…”
“No matter where you go from here, and how far you go, do not forget—a heart of innocence! That is the motto of Erzhong!”
“Our Erzhong spirit!”
Halfway through his speech, Mad Dog’s voice paused for a second.
Then he turned around and raised a hand to wipe at something. Xie Yu, to the side, clearly saw Dean Jiang wiping away tears. But he was worried he’d be found out, so he then wiped his forehead pretending that he was wiping away sweat.
It was a very official and formal speech. The weather was hot and he was burning up under the sun.
Nobody around him showed a hint of impatience.
Eventually, Dean Jiang showed a rare smile. His voice lowered and, different from his usual imposing severity, he showed a little gentleness. “Congratulations. You’ve come of age.”
“With courage, go off to even further places.”