Ableism from side characters.
It all started late one night.
Zhou Luoyang realized that Du Jing hadn’t posted to this Weibo side account for nearly half a month now. Whether this was a good or a bad thing he wasn’t sure.
Had Du Jing found out that he’d been spying on it? Zhou Luoyang knew that what he was doing wasn’t right. After all, secretly reading his roommate’s personal posts, which were practically diary entries, was verging on a violation of privacy. Many times he told himself he would quit and stop opening that webpage, but then he would sometimes see Du Jing sitting and staring off into space, and he would just feel so worried.
Ever since he was a child, Zhou Luoyang had never been the type to be terribly curious. When he discovered that side account, what had gripped him wasn’t the desire to stick his nose into a new novelty. At first, he’d only been frightened by the words “I want to die more and more.”
The arrival of winter meant that the weather was getting colder and colder. Temperatures dropped sharply across all of eastern China. Perhaps because of the changing of seasons, Du Jing’s behavior became a little strange, as if his speech and thoughts had been frozen by the plummeting temperatures. That night, Zhou Luoyang didn’t look at Du Jing’s Weibo. At eleven, he left a lamp on for Du Jing as he always did, put on an eye mask, and went to sleep.
Some time later, the sound of knocking startled Zhou Luoyang awake.
“Who is it?” After being woken up with a start from his dreams, Zhou Luoyang’s heart was ready to pound right out of his chest.
“It’s me!” It was the class monitor’s voice. “Zhou Luoyang, are you sleeping?”
Bewildered, Zhou Luoyang got up and discovered that the light in the dorm had been turned off, and his eye mask had been taken off by someone—he didn’t know when.
The other bed was empty. All of a sudden, Zhou Luoyang felt like something was off. He quickly got up and turned the lights on, and sure enough, Du Jing’s bed was as empty as anything. He opened the door and let the class monitor in.
“On the way back from the internet cafe, they found your roommate by the lake. That Du Jing guy…”
At that, Zhou Luoyang suddenly heard a loud rumbling in his skull, but fortunately the rest of the class monitor’s sentence allowed him to keep calm.
“…He was sitting by the lake and wouldn’t talk to anyone. Is everything okay? Did you two have a fight? Would you go talk him around? Is anything wrong?”
Zhou Luoyang quickly got dressed and followed the class monitor downstairs. He apologized to the dorm supervisor and wondered how Du Jing had gotten out. Had he climbed down from the second floor? When did he leave? Why would he go to the lake all by himself in the middle of the night?
It was two in the morning. Strong gales swept through Hangzhou, and in the winter night that continued to grow colder and colder, pitch-black darkness blanketed the lakeside. On their way back to school, some male students from the mechanical engineering class happened upon a lone figure sitting by the lake and received quite a fright. After approaching the figure and asking some questions, they discovered that it was Du Jing, the guy who never spoke.
All Du Jing did was nod silently and dispassionately. He was always like this, day and night. But in the eyes of the other students, it seemed extremely strange.
They didn’t know how to deal with the situation either, so they knocked on the class monitor’s door to let him know about it. The class monitor called Zhou Luoyang, but the call went unanswered, so he went looking for him to ask him to resolve the situation.
When Zhou Luoyang arrived, there were still a couple of male students keeping watch nearby.
They did not think well of Du Jing in the least. For the most part, they were doing this out of consideration for Zhou Luoyang. Of course, they also couldn’t just turn a blind eye to a living, breathing person who was clearly in some kind of trouble.
Zhou Luoyang quietly thanked them. He indicated that he could take care of things himself and that they could head back since it was so terribly cold out. Athletic pants and a thin jacket did nothing to fend off the wind, and his teeth chattered.
“Du Jing?” Zhou Luoyang didn’t dare get too close.
When Du Jing heard Zhou Luoyang’s voice, he suddenly turned around. Zhou Luoyang couldn’t see his face clearly in the darkness.
“Luoyang?” Du Jing asked, puzzled, and walked toward him.
Zhou Luoyang nearly sagged in relief at this reaction. “Why aren’t you sleeping?”
Du Jing could hear the tremors in Zhou Luoyang’s voice. He quickly took off his coat and gave it to Zhou Luoyang. “It’s too cold! Go back, quickly!”
“I didn’t see you in your bed…” Zhou Luoyang said. “What are you doing at the lake all by yourself in the middle of the night?”
Zhou Luoyang only felt a little bit better once they returned to the dormitory. His hands were so cold they’d turned red. Du Jing wrapped a hand around Zhou Luoyang’s without so much as a by-your-leave. His other hand held a glass bottle filled with mud. This was Zhou Luoyang’s first time holding hands with a man, but Du Jing’s palm was warm, driving away his worries.
Zhou Luoyang glanced at the bottle of mud Du Jing was holding and asked, “You went down at two in the morning to dig for this?”
Du Jing hummed in agreement. “I remembered to do it all of a sudden. I couldn’t sleep anyway, so I just sat by the lake for a while.”
“Insomnia again,” Zhou Luoyang noted, caught between laughter and tears. “You couldn’t have gone in the daytime?”
The two returned to their room. Zhou Luoyang sent the class monitor a text to let him know everything was fine—it was just a false alarm. Du Jing poured the wet mud into their heated turtle tank, smoothed it out, then washed his hands. They’d picked up this Chinese pond turtle off the side of the road when they were walking past Leifeng Pagoda once.
At the time, this little guy had crawled its way past the guardrails and was peering this way and that, trying to avoid being stepped on by pedestrians. Someone had clearly bought it to set it free—who knew how it had slipped out?
Zhou Luoyang picked it up and put it in his bag. He was planning on releasing it back into the Freeing Pond, but Du Jing stopped him, his reason being that there were a lot of yellow-bellied slider turtles in the Freeing Pond, and he was worried it would get bullied.
So Zhou Luoyang brought this ownerless creature back to their dorm and ordered a heated tank online. But it always refused to eat, perhaps because of its new environment. So Du Jing said, “Let me think of an idea.”
The idea he came up with was to create a miniature imitation of its natural environment and add in some plants, and perhaps that would soothe some of the little pond turtle’s fear of this unfamiliar new world.
After sorting everything out, the two went back to bed. Zhou Luoyang could still see Du Jing’s phone screen aglow over on his bed, casting its light onto Du Jing’s handsome, transfixed face.
“Can you fall asleep? Want to sleep over here?” asked Zhou Luoyang.
“I can.” After posting on Weibo, Du Jing turned off his phone screen.
Before going to sleep, Zhou Luoyang couldn’t resist taking a peek at the first Weibo post on Du Jing’s side account in half a month.
[I hope this little guy can keep hanging on tenaciously, just like me.]
The next morning, Zhou Luoyang was still wondering about the meaning behind that Weibo post, as well as Du Jing’s frame of mind when he’d sat all alone by the lakeside in the cold wind. Was he just an unconventional person, or was he feeling unwell and couldn’t control himself?
In his mechanical engineering class, a classmate sat down next to him and asked, “Was everything okay with your roommate last night?”
Zhou Luoyang recognized him as one of the people who’d found Du Jing sitting alone by the lake and quickly nodded. “How about I treat you guys to lunch? Last night, Du Jing was just…”
The student glanced at the podium, where their professor was going over key topics for the final exam. This was the last class before New Year’s. Du Jing had gone to participate in his archery org’s activities. At noon, the org was going to hold a group lunch, and at night, Zhou Luoyang had invited him out to celebrate New Year’s with him.
“Take a look at this.” He interrupted Zhou Luoyang and sent him a BBS article on his phone.
[Is someone with such serious mental illness allowed to attend university?]
Zhou Luoyang found himself at a loss all of a sudden. He looked at his classmate, and the classmate beckoned for him to keep reading.
Zhou Luoyang’s first thought was: Did Du Jing post this? But as he kept on reading, he realized that it fortunately was not.
The poster was an ordinary student who’d remained anonymous. They described “someone with a mental disorder” who lived below them in their dorm building:
Thought something was off about him ever since military training, because he would wash a kettle over and over again. He would spend nearly twenty minutes every day washing that kettle. Some people have also unintentionally caught sight of him taking large amounts of medication every day.
It’s said he always sits in the last row and won’t talk to anyone. He’ll flip through his book from the first page to the last page at lightning speed, then go back to the first page. He often has an eraser wedged between his ring finger and little finger. His gaze is gloomy and chilling. He’s fully dressed when he comes to class, but he always carries an extra coat. Some people have watched him—they say he brings that coat to class for no reason, that he leaves without ever putting it on.
Rumor has it that the window seat in the last row is his designated seat. In the drawer of that seat, they discovered neat rows of pull-tab cans that had their tops cut off with a box cutter. Some people have inspected them and found that the rims of the cans are razor-sharp and bloodstained.
He’s always the first one to pack up and leave, whether the professor is finished with the lecture or not. When there’s only one open door in the classroom, he’ll walk out the door up front as everyone watches.
Whenever he’s not in class, he’s in his dorm room. He never comes out to group dinners and never replies on WeChat. Earlier on, you would see him and his roommate coming to communal classes together, but both stopped showing up later on.
Some people later noticed him awake in the middle of the night on multiple occasions. He’ll pace aimlessly outside the dorm building sometime past three in the morning. At around three of four, he’ll start talking to a tree.
Or in the dead of a winter night, he’ll simply sit on a bench by the lake.
People say that when he started school, his records said he has bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression. When this type of disorder acts up, will its patients self-harm or commit suicide? How frightening.
Zhou Luoyang knew that this had to be describing Du Jing.
Underneath it, there was a comment from the Office of Academic Affairs: [The student’s feedback has been received. We will carry out an investigation and provide a fair response as soon as possible.]
Further down, there were more anonymous comments: [I know who you’re talking about. I think there’s something wrong with him too. Walking around in the middle of the night is just too scary.]
Anonymous comment: [Automation, right? I know him too. Maybe he’s sleepwalking?]
Anonymous comment: [Is it that scar face?]
Anonymous comment: (Comment removed by administrators)
Anonymous comment: (Comment removed by administrators)
Zhou Luoyang: “……”
Zhou Luoyang was well and truly furious when he read the last couple of comments, and he was unable to speak for a long while.
“That bottom comment was asking if his name is Du Jing,” the student said. “The mods deleted it. But quite a few people are asking if he got depressed last night and wanted to try something.”
For a moment, Zhou Luoyang didn’t know how to respond. Finally, he settled on: “He wasn’t. It’s not like he’s affecting anyone’s daily lives. Why do they have to go on the BBS to gossip about this?”
“I agree, I completely agree,” the student said. “No one knows who the original poster is. I’m just worried about you. Is it true he’s on medication? What’s his disorder anyway?”
At first, Zhou Luoyang wanted to say, “I don’t know, he didn’t tell me.” But then he thought better of it and said instead, “I didn’t ask him. I didn’t want to ask about someone else’s private business.”
“He hasn’t done anything to you, has he?” the student asked. He was one of the people in the class who got along quite well with Zhou Luoyang. “Do you wanna change dorms next semester?”
“No need, he’s very normal. We use those cans to plant plants in our dorm,” Zhou Luoyang said stiffly.
His classmate patted him on the shoulder sympathetically and nodded, dropping the topic. Incensed, Zhou Luoyang logged into his own account and reported each and every comment on the grounds that they violated student privacy. Then he typed out a long string of “other reasons for reporting,” but after some thought, he deleted it all. Five minutes later, he was still just as heated, and so he clicked report again and typed out an additional reply to the post. After reporting it five or six times, he finally felt a bit better.
After his first and second lectures ended, Zhou Luoyang decided he might as well not attend his next one. Everyone was resting in their seats. He stuck his book under his arm and headed out the front door without taking his leave.
“Who posted this?” Zhou Luoyang arrived at the door of the automation classroom and held up his phone for Du Jing’s class monitor to see.
All the classes that day were going over what was going to be covered on their final exams. The class monitor took the phone and gave it a glance before quietly replying, “No clue. I’ve kept an eye on everyone, and I don’t think it’s anyone from our class. Even though everyone feels like he doesn’t get along with the rest of us very well, it hasn’t gotten to the point where anyone would do something like this. Some of these statements are only rumors. I’m not sure if you noticed, but it’s all hearsay. I trust that it’s not anyone from our class.”
They had obviously all seen this post. Zhou Luoyang was silent for a beat. Then he asked, “Has he offended anyone else?”
“You would know better than us. We hardly ever interact with him. Why didn’t Du Jing come to class today? Was everything okay with him last night?”
“He’s still sleeping in our dorm.”
Zhou Luoyang walked past the class monitor and made his way to an automation student he knew. He stuck his phone out in front of him, showing him the webpage on the screen.
The student only glanced at it briefly before looking back at Zhou Luoyang. He furrowed his brows and shook his head. What he meant was: Zhou Luoyang, the professor’s still up at the podium.
“I don’t know,” he said. “At first we were wondering if it was you who posted it.”
Zhou Luoyang truly didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. He sighed.
This was a large class. The two automation classes took it together. Everyone noticed that Zhou Luoyang had come, and they all subtly raised their heads, looking up at him.
“Zhou Luoyang, if something’s the matter, why don’t you wait to ask once class is over?” the professor said.
The class monitor texted him, Luoyang, the counselor’s looking for you. He wants you to go to his office. You should probably go.
In the meeting room, the counselor, the university’s vice president, and the old professor that Zhou Luoyang’s grandfather knew were all present. When Zhou Luoyang walked in, he nodded at the old professor and greeted, “Grandpa Qi.”
“Hello, Luoyang. How’s your grandfather’s health?” asked Professor Qi.
“He’s alright,” Zhou Luoyang said. “He’s been recuperating ever since his stroke the year before last. Now he can walk around again, although he can’t do anything too strenuous like taking the stairs.”
He and Professor Qi weren’t very close. When he was younger, they’d met a handful of times, but that was the extent of it. After coming to this school, he’d never paid him a visit at his home, either, since Professor Qi didn’t really like people going to his house.
The only thing Zhou Luoyang really knew was that he and his grandfather had been kept in the cowsheds together. But this retired professor had high seniority in this school, and he typically wouldn’t be summoned over nothing. That meant only one thing: they really had planned on holding a meeting today to discuss Du Jing. Zhou Luoyang had only been called over in passing.
“Since they suggested it,” said the counselor, “I invited you as well.”
The counselor had a doctorate in engineering, and he looked just the way one might expect of someone with a doctorate degree. He was in charge of the two mechanical engineering classes and the two automation classes. In total, these four classes amounted to a little over 140 students. Zhou Luoyang had received a special favor and roomed in the Tingpu building, so he rarely ran into him. In fact, he hardly ever came into contact with any faculty; the university had quite a laissez-faire attitude toward its students.
The vice president, on the other hand, was a severe middle-aged female professor. She asked, “What were you up to just now, Luoyang?”
Zhou Luoyang had only ever seen her at general assemblies, and they’d never spoken before. But the vice president called him Luoyang, which clearly meant she was shortening the distance between them on account of Professor Qi.
The counselor thought for a moment and asked, “Has Du Jing’s recent situation worried you?”
Zhou Luoyang was still thinking over his answer when Professor Qi said, “Du Jing’s grandmother was once a very good friend of mine. Later, she left the country for a period of time. His mother eventually got ahold of me through some acquaintances and hoped that I could look after him on her behalf. This child is very stubborn inside.
“I asked the faculty heads to have you two live together,” Professor Qi continued, “but I didn’t tell you about his pain. Please forgive me for that, Luoyang. You’ve always been a kindhearted person, ever since you were a child. My motive was that I believed you and Du Jing could become friends.”
“I just don’t understand,” Zhou Luoyang responded. “He hasn’t gotten in anyone’s way, so why would anyone go onto the BBS and complain about him to the university? If he doesn’t like the collectivist life, then he shouldn’t live it. Must everyone become one with the collective and live in perfect harmony? What decade are we living in? Why haven’t the administrators deleted the post even after I reported it so many times?”
“That’s not what we meant,” the counselor said. “You misunderstand. Zhou Luoyang, he has a certain degree of impairment, psychologically speaking. Has he told you about his disorder?”
“I never asked.”
“He has a condition called bipolar disorder. It’s a mood disorder. But when he was admitted to our school, I looked over his case history and saw that he generally doesn’t have any issues living day-to-day life,” the vice president said.
“BP is very highly heritable. Research on this disorder is still in its early stages, both domestically and internationally. It’s not considered schizophrenia—of that you can be reassured,” Professor Qi added.
“I wasn’t not reassured,” Zhou Luoyang responded. “He’s been taking his meds every day, a lot of it. His mood has never gone out of control before, and he’s never attacked anyone.”
The counselor said, “Yes, that’s right. I looked at his case history—he’s currently in the observation phase and needs to keep up with his medication and treatment. It’s just that his running out in the middle of the night is indeed a little bit…”
“Jianlan,” Professor Qi called out to the vice president.
The vice president nodded and assured, “Sir, you don’t need to worry.”
“He often has insomnia,” Zhou Luoyang said. “A lot of the time, he’s unable to sleep all night. I’ll be sure to remind him not to go out. If the other students feel that he’s disturbing them, I’ll ask him about renting a private apartment with me.”
“Is it that serious?” The counselor’s specialty wasn’t in psychology, and he was startled by his words.
“Bipolar disorder is a disorder that involves both mania and depression,” the vice president, Li Jianlan, explained. “It requires medication to keep it under control. With our current standard of treatment, if all goes according to plan, patients will need to take medication for their entire lives. He’s in a particularly difficult situation, one in which he experiences mixed manic and depressive episodes.”
“I’ve never seen him have an episode,” Zhou Luoyang said. “He just doesn’t seem to like interacting with people very much, that’s all.”
“He’s likely staying very vigilant as well.” Professor Qi took off his glasses, and the vice president handed him a cloth lens wipe so that he could clean them.
“Luoyang,” Professor Qi began after a moment of contemplation. “The human heart is very complicated. Perhaps the poster has never had any interaction with him. Perhaps they’re complete and utter strangers. Maybe there wasn’t even any reasoning behind all this. But if you had experienced the era we did, you would understand that many condemnations arise for no reason at all. They’re born from the most insignificant passing thoughts.”
The counselor immediately added, “To tell the truth, a student climbing over the gates and walking aimlessly back and forth outside the dorms in the middle of the night really tends to unsettle people. Also, the box cutter and the cans really are a bit…”
“I understand,” Zhou Luoyang said.
In fact, those who knew Du Jing were the least likely to talk about him behind his back. Zhou Luoyang understood this as well, and he believed Du Jing’s classmates. Even though everyone maintained a respectful distance, he could tell from military practice that everyone was nonetheless accepting of him.
“Do you chat with each other in your dorm?” the counselor then asked. “Does he have any peculiar tendencies? For example…”
“We do,” said Zhou Luoyang, “all the time.”
Zhou Luoyang didn’t tell them about the Weibo side account, nor did he further elucidate Du Jing’s “ordinariness”. After all, the three people in front of him were all brilliant, and repetitively emphasizing this point would only make him seem lacking in confidence.
The vice president said, “I’ve considered whether we should have Du Jing live alone, but if he doesn’t get any human interaction for long periods of time, perhaps…”
“I like the way things are right now.” Zhou Luoyang wasn’t at all angry that they’d hid Du Jing’s disorder from him. If he were to decide for himself, he would’ve requested to live with Du Jing after getting to know him anyway.
The counselor asked the vice president and Professor Qi, “Why don’t we have him move in with me and move Zhou Luoyang into a different dorm room?”
“That’s not necessary,” Zhou Luoyang said. “I like him. I really like him.”
beansprout: hi welcome to my soapbox (: so uh typically you don’t want to actually pick up wild turtles and keep them as pets or set captive turtles free, because that’ll transmit diseases between captive and wild turtles, mess with native and invasive turtle populations, and cause all sorts of other nasty problems. but theirs is a unique situation. also, thanks yunyun for the emotional support :>
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Cat.