3. Haven’t Even Dated, Already Out Of Love
I can lock my diary, yet I can’t lock my heart.
I can lock my heart, yet I can’t lock love and sadness.
I can lock love and sadness, but I can’t lock my gaze that follows you.
Many years later, like a clear sky, I can smile and shake your hand, then lightly say goodbye.
Whereas that year, those words I had no time to say, you will never know about them,
They have been locked and cast to the bottom of the surging river of time.
Under the recommendation of the book renting store’s owner, I started wtih Qiong Yao’s books and plunged right into the world of romance novels. In the Taiwanese romance novels of that period, it wasn’t popular to talk about how beautiful the female leads were, instead, the authors liked to describe how much class they had and how different they were from everyone else. I knew that my looks weren’t outstanding so I often thought about what class was. I secretly longed to have class and be like those female leads in romance novels who were also ordinary and had an average family background yet depended on some kind of inexplicable elegance and class to capture the male lead’s attention. But the words “class” were too abstract. When I observed the popular girls around me, I felt that perhaps the way they looked and dressed were different but they all had one similarity, they all truly looked really pretty. I didn’t see any girl with ordinary looks who still had boys like her due to her manga character like smile.
When I remained perplexed over the word “class” despite much thought, God placed the answer in front of me along with a blow. I think that I’ve had an inferiority complex all along, but the arrival of Teacher Gao caused my world to suddenly be thrown into the sunlight; Zhang Jun’s friendship tempted me to desire more, I even wishfully dreamed about fate’s arrangements. Why did Teacher Gao decide to choose me and him? Why was he the only one receiving tutoring classes with me? Why did he help me find stones? Why did he speak to me today? Why didn’t he ask his desk mate for an eraser, why did he borrow it from me? When he walked past my desk today, why did he look back at me? Why…..
Through the countless ‘whys’, I analysed all the daily trivial matters, things with no significance were analysed to become significant. I kept feeling that these were a sign, they were implications of the future, it seemed as if fate was trying to tell me something. I vaguely hoped for the fantasies in my heart to become true. I liked to used playing cards to tell fortunes. I calculated my fate with Zhang Jun again and again. If it was a good, I’d really happy; if it wasn’t good, I would reshuffle the cards, thinking that it was definitely because the cards weren’t shuffled well so the calculations weren’t accurate.
Perhaps the answers to these countless ‘whys’ are very simple, when he walked past my desk and looked back at me, it was because I had ink on my face, he asked to borrow my eraser because his desk mate’s eraser had disappeared…. However the me that year didn’t think like that, so, everything that was in my wishful fantasies were signs coating on to my expectations.
Just when my heart was restless, when I was carefully observing, carefully hoping and carefully getting closer to him, a girl transferred to our class and changed everything.
When she walked in the classroom with the Chinese teacher and stood on the podium, gracefully smiling, I finally understood the word “class” in the romance novels. The teacher said that she was called Guan He*, the person was truly similar to her name, a lotus flower.
*[The He in her name stands for lotus]
Later, I walked through many cities, I saw many countries, met lots of beauties, but every time I recalled the beauties, little Guan He would always be the first to pop into my mind.
She wore a violet coat, and had a purple plastic butterfly hairpin clipped on her head. Her raven black straight hair draped over her shoulders. Her features weren’t prettier than the pretty girls in our class, but she had an aura about her that captured my attention. Facing the unfamiliar class, she didn’t nervously try to hide, nor did she eagerly try to blend in. She only stood there, slim and gracefully.
In the days after, Guan He exhibited an inexplicable charm. Her grades were outstanding, she got first in the class just on her first test; she was talented, in the New Year’s Day class party, she sang while playing the erhu to ‘Night on the Grassland’, causing the teachers and students to be greatly surprised; the blackboard bulletin she wrote turned around our class’ embarrassment of losing to class (2) throughout the year. *[They are in class (1)]
However, she was never the slightest bit arrogant, unlike the other girls. Her smiles were always kind, her voice was warm, she was neither haughty nor humble to the teachers, and she treated other students polite and modestly. No matter if it was male or female, a good student or a bad student, they all greatly admired her graceful demeanor.
They say that friendships between girls are hard to keep. The girls in our class are always proof of this, one moment they are really close and inseparable, the next, they’re saying bad things behind each other’s backs. However, Guan He became the exception, not only did all the boys in the class like her, even all the girls in the class liked her, to the extent that if a girl said bad words about Guan He, the other girls would break off their friendship with that girl. Gradually, even the most arrogant and envious girls started to Guan He, whereas Guan He treated everyone the same. She was good to everyone, as long as her help was needed, she would definitely do it. However, she also kept a distance from everyone and had no true ‘best friend’. But it was just this close yet distant attitude that made the girls crazy. All the girls wanted to be good to Guan He and become best friends with her, they even boasted that actually, they were even closer to her, as if the people who were in Guan He’s good graces were ranked one notch higher.
I was dumbstruck as I watched the incredible Guan He conquer the hearts of all the boys and girls in our Year 6 Class (1) at lightning speed. In all fairness, I also liked her as I believed that through the chatters of the gossip girls in our class, the bad things I’ve done would have all traveled to Guan He’s ears, yet she still treated me the same as the other students, not close yet not distant. Once, when I spilled ink on my clothes, she saw and advised me to smear grains of rice and gently rub it into the stain so that it will be easier to wash off.
In this ‘craze’ that swept through the whole class, Zhang Jun was unable to excape. I often saw him with a few other mates going to look for Guan He, I often saw him volunteer to help Guan He do her duties and I often saw him and Guan He talking and laughing together. After carefully looking at Guan He then closely examining myself, I quietly shrank back into my shell.
Once, after maths tutoring, he asked me, “if a guy wanted to chase a girl, what should he give her? What do you girls usually like?”
I stared at him blankly, the heart in my chest hurt so much that it felt like it was going to coagulate, yet it continued to beat, peng peng, peng peng, peng peng….the sound grew larger and larger, as if it was going to jump out of my chest. However he wasn’t able to hear any of it. He worriedly scratched his head and asked, “girls on television all like flowers, do you think giving flowers is good?”
I lowered my head, hugging my books, I left a “i don’t know” then swiftly walked back to the class.
Not long later, I heard that Zhang Jun confessed to Guan He and Guan He politely rejected him. The girls in the class described it in vivid detail, it was as if they were there watching the whole thing. Guan He was described as a graceful swan, whereas Zhang Jun was said to have overestimated his abilities, although he wasn’t as bad as a toad, but in the mouth the girls, Zhang Jun getting rejected was simply for granted.
I had not the slightest interest, my heart was filled with sorrow. I felt sorry for him and also felt sorry for myself. In that period of time, I was often in a daze in a corner of the game room. Thinking about Guan He’s brilliance, I couldn’t help but feel a lump in my throat. If she was the prettiest lotus flower in the lotus pond, then I was the little blade of grass that grew in the mud beside the pond, no matter how you compare, I didn’t have one aspect that was ebtter than her.
Wu Zei was too used to me always having a book in hand. Nowadays, I unexpectedly didn’t read anymore, that even Wu Zei was a little unused to it. He would ask me again and again, “Four Eyed Panda, what’s wrong? Is it because you don’t have any money left? Do you want brother to support you?”
I ignored him, he was joking carelessly like usual but this time, the blind cat actually caught the dead mouse, he shot right at the center of my pain, “Is the Four Eyed Panda developing feelings of love? Has the Four Eyed Panda fallen out of love?”
I grabbed my bag and ran out of the game room. It was only midyear, the sunlight was still dazzling bright, but what I thought was the start of my long vacation* was already over.
*[She made a reference to the Japanese drama ‘Long Vacation’ at the end of the Chapter 2 Part 1]
Tonight, the drizzle of rain swirled outside the window. Under the light, gently flipping through the classmate book, the appearances I thought I would never forget, have become fuzzy. The note I thought was thrown away long ago, was placed between the pages.
Tonight, the drizzle of rain swirled outside the window, exactly the same as that year when we waved and parted. The rain are all singing the same tune, the one we didn’t understand that year. Hurriedly, too hurriedly.
There were many primary schools in the city. Our school only had 5 spaces for competing in the maths competition. Quite a few teachers had other thoughts about me and Zhang Jun occupying two of the spaces. For the sake of letting me and Zhang Jun join the competition, Teacher Gao carried a lot of pressure, she was pretty much using her career as stake. However, she kept telling us to try our best, the competition was only a learning process, getting an award wasn’t important, as long as we felt that we gain something out of it.
Who would let their friends die!
*[Proverb: A true gentleman will sacrifice his life for a friend who understands him.]
I didn’t mind being a bad student and didn’t care whatsoever about that maths competition but I was very, very afraid of letting Teacher Gao down. I was even more afraid of allowing others to hurt Teacher Gao due to my incompetence so I was bursting with energy, thinking that I would only be able to repay Teacher Gao’s kindness through getting an award.
A month before the competition, everyday, I had to study together with a boy who I liked, yet who didn’t like me. Teacher Gao also required us to get to know each other well and try to open up as much as possible.
Not long ago, this was the sweetest thing to me but now, hopeless pain gnawed at my heart at all times. I gritted my teeth and tried hard to clearly listen to every word he spoke, telling myself that I must win that award!
Everyday, I studied like crazy and gave up everything else in my life. Every morning, when I opened my eyes, I thought of the maths competition. Every night, when I closed my eyes, I thought of the maths competition. In that period, I couldn’t even dream peacefully, if my dreams weren’t of the omnipresent maths questions, then they were about Zhang Jun and Guan He. In my dreams, they were always talking and laughing, whereas I was like trash and didn’t usually appear.
On one hand, I was putting in all my efforts whereas on the other hand, I had no confidence in myself at all. I didn’t know if I would be able to get an award and I dreamed for three days straight that I failed and the entire world laughed at Teacher Gao and I. I often woke up seized with terror. To me. this competition wasn’t just a test, it contained my gratitude and it was a way to certify my strength, it was the end of the world if I didn’t get an award. My pressure was hard to imagine for outsiders.
One day, I felt that I wasn’t able to go on anymore so I ran to the game room. Wu Zei was looking after the store and Xiao Bo was playing games lifelessly, he was preparing for the high school entrance exam and clearly wasn’t relaxed either.
Wu Zei laughed, “you two are sure like siblings, when you don’t come, you both don’t come, when you come, you both come.”
I said to Wu Zei, “give me a bottle of beer, I don’t have any money right now so I’ll buy it on credit.”
Wu Zei was dumbstruck for a moment then without saying anything, got a bottle of beer, pried open the cap and handed it to me. I took it over and drank a few large gulps. Xiao Bo called me over, “play games with me.”
I walked over with the beer. He asked me to play with him but in actual fact, it was him teaching me to play. In the past, the games looked boring to me but today, they became a little interesting. I vent it all out by fiercely pounding the buttons, every time I killed a monster and saw the blood spurt out in the screen, I felt a little more relaxed. After playing a round, my heart which felt like exploding at any minute, relaxed. Xiao Bo took the rest of my beer and after drinking half the bottle in one gulp, he asked me, “what’s wrong?”
I watched the game machine’s flashing screen as I said out my fears, “I keep having nightmares that I’ll fail my test.”
“Dreams are opposites.”
“Why would I lie to you? Dreams are opposites, the worse the dream, the better the reality will be!”
I was skeptical but my entire body was suddenly filled with fighting spirit. I clenched my fist, turned around and ran outside. Wu Zei called after me, “how come you’re leaving after you just got here? You’re not drinking any more beer?”
“I’m not drinking anymore, I’m going back to do maths questions.”
“Don’t forget to return the money.”
After the competition ended, I walked out of the testing site with Zhang Jun. Teacher Gao didn’t ask how the test went, she only asked to treat us to a meal. I wanted to reject but the invitation came from Teacher Gao so I couldn’t not go. During the meal, thinking that I actually endured through it all, the suppressed breath I had in my chest disappeared and my brain became very heavy, suddenly I started having a nosebleed.
Flustered, Zhang Jun rolled up a paper napkin and handed it to me. I unexpectedly wasn’t able to control myself and hit away his hand with force. The action was too outright, too intense, not just him, even Teacher Gao was stunned. I yet calmly stretched my head back, rolled up a paper napkin and stuffed it in my nose.
After the competition, I alienated Zhang Jun and deliberately avoided him.
Zhang Jun wasn’t an idiot, he could definitely feel that I was ignoring him but he still often came to talk to me, occasionally after school, he would wait for me, wanting to walk with me but I always rejected him.
Zhang Jun’s temper was of a boy, every time I ignored him, don’t say comfort me, he wouldn’t even say another word, he would angrily turn his head and leave. But not two days after, he would appear before me again and then angrily turn his head and leave.
After some time like this, Zhang Jun also started ignoring me and suddenly disappeared from my life. Everyday, he would come to class right as the bell rang and hurriedly leave after school. He rarely stayed in school. Sometimes, I would occasionally see him on the streets, he would always be hanging out with a group of students much older than us. Although we were in the same class, it seemed like we were in two different worlds.
Later, I heard that during the New Year festival, Zhang Jun pried open a store with two others and stole lots of cigarettes. After the situation was revealed, the parents gave the store owner lots of money and tried to cover up the event.
Zhang Jun still stuck to his old ways but the parents of the other two sternly warned them not to hang out with Zhang Jun anymore. Their parents thought that it was Zhang Jun who was a bad influence on their children. The situation spread through the parents and pretty much all the parents of the guys forbade them from playing with Zhang Jun.
Zhang Jun didn’t know all this in the beginning and still ran to other people’s houses to play. However, the parents who opened the door wouldn’t even let him in. Afterwards, his best friend, Gao Feng told him the reason. After Zhang Jun understood what was going on, he immediately stopped playing with the students in our class and started to hang out with people in society who wouldn’t turn their back on him.
I guess he definitely also thinks that it was due to this reason that I alienated him so he never came to find me again.
In the second half of our second term in Year 6 , the results from the maths competition came out. I was two points off the score for first division and received the prize for second division. Zhang Jun’s score was lower than mine but he also came in second division. During the flag raising ceremony, the Principal announced our school’s outstanding performance at the maths competition. He didn’t mention Zhang Jun at all and only praised me.
My highly strung heart could finally be at peace. There were only five award winners in the entire city and our school had two. Teacher Gao had only just started working but she had already gained glory for the school and for the school which only looked at teaching achievements, these results were enough for the other teachers to have nothing to say.
Due to the maths competition, I gained my first certificate in my entire life. It was only a thin piece of colored paper with the words Luo Qi Qi gained second division in the Maths Competition in calligraphy but to me, this certificate even more precious than one written in gold.
After arriving home, I shyly showed the certificate to mom and dad. Dad stuck my certificate on to the wall while encouraging me to continue working hard. Little sister watched on the side, pouting. My heart continued much excitement and anticipation, I liked this dad, his eyes were focused on me the whole time. If possible, I wanted to bring home certificates every day for dad to stick.
At night when it was time to sleep, I was still staring at the certificate on the wall while secretly smiling with excitement.
The next day after I woke up, I found out the certificate had been scribbled on with a crayon by someone, crossing out my name and the second division.
I flew into range and without even bothering to dress, I barged into little sister’s room, jumped onto her bed and started hitting her whilst sitting on her. She started loudly crying.
Mom and dad hastily rushed in and pulled me away. After understanding what had happened, they were both amused and angry about it.
Little sister hugged mom’s neck wailing. Mom and dad didn’t bear to blame her, dad said, “Qi Qi, isn’t it just a certificate! Even if little sister was wrong, you can still nicely talk it out, why are you hitting her? Quickly get changed and prepare for school…”
I glared at them, it wasn’t just a mere certificate! It wasn’t just a mere piece of paper! But dad had already hurriedly rushed off to eat breakfast and mom was busy comforting little sister to get her to change clothes.
I slowly walked back to my room and tore down the certificate on the wall with force. I ripped it into shred and threw it in the rubbish bin. No one cares about it anyway, so why should I care?
I don’t care, I don’t care at all!
I’ve always been confused about the definition of childhood, before what age would you count as a child exactly? Later, I decided to differentiate based on whether or not you celebrate Children’s Day. Our city held an arts show on June the 1st, Children’s Day. Up to Year 6, June 1st was always a holiday, and students who could sing and dance participated in the show. Every Children’s Day, the teacher would give everyone a pencil cased filled with hard gumdrops so whenever I thought back to Children’s Day, I would remember the taste of the cheap gumdrops.
This was our last Children’s Day. The middle school exam was gradually getting closer. After the exam, students with good results will advance to key middle schools whereas the ones with bad results will go to ordinary middle schools. With parting right in front of our eyes, sadness and fear filled the air of our class. However, I didn’t have any feeling, instead, I checked the calender every day to see how many days left until graduating.
I was a child with no confidence, when faced with my pain and inferiority, the path I chose was to run away and hide, so I saw middle school as a brand new world where I could start all over.
The students all brought memory books* for each other to write in, it asked for your ideal future, what you wanted to do the most, the place you wanted to go the most, I generally wrote “none”.
*[A book where you got your classmates to write their details and comments etc. when you graduate to remember them]
I bought a beautiful memory book but I didn’t ask anyone to write in it. At the very, very last moment, I don’t know what exactly my subconscious mind was thinking, but I actually asked Guan He to write in it. Guan He flipped open my memory book and laughed surprised, “I’m the first!”
I smiled and didn’t say anything, she didn’t know that she was also the last.
Finally, we were going a graduation ceremony!
Many students performed, there was singing and dancing. As it was close to graduation, the students went a bit overboard with their performances, a few guys wore track pants with narrow hems and large pant legs, and black leather gloves to break dance. The three mates who were close with Zhang Jun wore a white uniform that they borrowed somewhere to sing The Little Tiger’s song, ‘Love’.
My mind kept wandering off. The girls in the class were crying in a group and one of two of the guys were also using their red scarves to wipe tears. I felt very uncomfortable inside but my sadness was engraved in my heart and the tears wouldn’t come out.
After the Principal and teachers finished speaking and distributed the graduation photos, the students left one after another. I still sat in my seat next to the window and looked outside, my mind wandering off. I always thought that I hated this school the most and couldn’t wait to excape from it but unexpectedly, at the very last moment, I was reluctant to leave.
“Luo Qi Qi.”
It was Zhang Jun’s voice. I needed to prepare myself before I dared to turn around, “what is it?” He stood in front of me not speaking. The sky blue curtain behind him was rising and falling, like blue waves. The sun shone in from the large glass windows, reflecting on his white shirt to make it appear dazzling white. There were a few students talking on the podium and there were shouts of students mucking around in the corridor but all the sounds were blown away by the warm breeze of summer. It was as if I was in a different space with him, the stillness would make people afraid and uneasy.
My nose became oddly sour, I asked again, “what is it?”
He fixed his eyes on me and said, “there’s something I want to tell you.”
Under his focused gaze, I felt my heart beat faster and faster.
“Zhang Jun.” Guan He and a girl from a different class called from the door.
Zhang Jun looked at them and suddenly became uncomfortable*, he took a big step back. I looked at him then looked at the lotus flower by the door, Guan He. I suddenly didn’t want to listen to anything, I hurriedly stood up and walked out the classroom with my head down. When I passed by Guan He, she very politely gave me her best wishes, “I hope you successfully get into a key middle school.”
I was impolite however, and walked off without a sound. Whether or not you were able to get into a key middle school depended on your own hard work, not someone else’s well wishes. After walking out of the classroom, I started running, eagerly wanting to leave my unhappy childhood days behind me forever. The warm breeze of summer blew past my face, perhaps it really could blow a lot of things behind me, but in that cold wind, the youth rushing me forward was quietly still engraved deep in my heart.
In my eagerness to hide from the past and my longing to rush forward, I didn’t even have the confidence to wave farewell, and like this, I hurriedly sent off my childhood years.
End of Chapter 2
“Whereas that year, those words I had no time to say, you will never know about them,
They have been locked and cast to the bottom of the surging river of time. “
The Little Tigers performing a medley of their hit songs at the 2010 CCTV Spring Gala Festival: