“Is your brother a camel? Doesn’t he need to drink water?”
Ever since leaving the house, Yaoyuan’s ears have been stuffed with the earbuds from his CD player; whenever Tan Ruikang said something, he just nodded superficially and didn’t respond. He wore the strap of his school bag diagonally, while Tan Ruikang wore his on one shoulder, so every once in a while he needed to adjust it by lifting it up. Yaoyuan pulled the strap of his satchel over Tan Ruikang’s head so that it hung diagonally instead.
Tan Ruikang smiled, gentle and without any aggression, and said something. Yaoyuan mn-ed, not having heard it at all.
Yaoyuan almost never lets Zhao Guogang or the company driver drive him, although getting driven would let him sleep more, it took out a lot of the fun. There was a minibus that stopped in front of their home that went directly to the school, and there were lots of seats in the early morning, so there was no need to crowd.
To get up every morning and bus for half an hour while listening to some music was a very pleasant thing, you could look at the scenery of the passing streets in between the changing southern seasons, get lost in thought in the music, and even review some lessons on the way if you’re behind.
In the south, the parasol trees lose a lot of their leaves; autumn was a beautiful season.
They arrived at school just about on time, the Guidance Director was on duty at the front door, greeting the students. Tan Ruikang didn’t have a uniform, so as soon as he entered he became a target, everyone’s gaze lingering on him.
Yaoyuan took Tan Ruikang to see the Guidance Director, a guy who had accepted money from his dad, and after talking to Tan Ruikang he told them to go find the Grade Leader, another guy who’d accepted his dad’s money.
Finally they went to the class office to find the homeroom teacher. The homeroom teacher was a woman who had also obviously accepted a gift from Yaoyuan’s dad—a gift card or something.
The homeroom teacher said: “Tan Ruikang, is it? The Grade Leader has already told me, you did very well on the entrance exam.”
Tan Ruikang said: “Hello, laoshi, I will study well.”
The homeroom teacher said: “Yaoyuan, go bring a desk and chair from the empty classroom on the sixth floor. You didn’t get the textbooks and uniform, go ask the Guidance Office this afternoon.”
And so Tan Ruikang started going to school. Yaoyuan threw his bag at someone, the classmates in the hall greeting him one after another.
Yaoyuan had originally planned to get someone else to go up and get the desk and chair, but on second thought realized that he probably shouldn’t be too cocky in front of Tan Ruikang, and said: “This is my brother, he’s new, everyone take care of him.”
A clamour sounded, everyone in the hall was excited, it was the first time in three years that there has been a new transfer student in the top class. Tan Ruikang was a little awkward, and smiled a little at them. Yaoyuan went up to get the desk and chair, and soon someone came to strike up a conversation.
“Milk Boy!” somebody shouted.
Milk Boy was Yaoyuan’s nickname, Yaoyuan smiled and greeted them, looking for his deskmate Qi Huiyu. His deskmate wasn’t here yet.
“Milk Boy! Why didn’t you come out with us when we asked?” the Sports Representative came up to help Yaoyuan, his name was Zhang Zhen. He carried the desk while Yaoyuan took the chair and said: “My brother’s at home, I can’t come out with you guys to hang out. Let me see, have him sit there.”
The number of people in the class just happened to be even, now with one extra Tan Ruikang, who could only sit alone in the last row.
“Your biological brother?” Zhang Zhen asked, shocked.
Looking at his expression, Yaoyuan could tell that he must’ve misunderstood and connected it to some melodramatic long-lost brother or illegitimate son drama, so he said: “My second cousin! Don’t you see that we don’t even look similar… ah, Tan Ruikang, sit here. Ask Zhang Zhen about it if there’s anything, he’s my good friend.”
So Tan Ruikang the new student sat in the last row, all alone, without a deskmate. On the right hand side there was a window, and behind him was the trash can.
Homework flew all around the classroom in a clamour, everywhere you could hear conversations such as “let me copy yours” and “go find someone else.”
Yaoyuan shouted up front: “Where’s my homework? Give it all back, it’s time to hand it in!”
Yaoyuan’s mock tests were borrowed all around until there was one book to the west and one off towards the east, each of the subject representatives got up to collect the homework. When they got to Tan Ruikang they merely greeted him and left.
In the morning there was the raising of the flag, Yaoyuan saw that Tan Ruikang followed when everyone left and thought that he was pretty smart. But after everyone had lined up, a uniform-less Tan Ruikang kept wandering around looking for someone, and seeing this the vice principal on the stage shouted: “What class are you from! Why aren’t you wearing the uniform!”
The middle school students roared with laughter. Yaoyuan had gone to the bathroom and came late, and seeing Tan Ruikang getting laughed at made him wish that he could find a hole to bury himself in. He could only run over and shove him into the last place in line before dashing to return to his own spot.
After the flag was raised the principal gave a speech, nothing else but some official talk. Following that, he began to talk about the acceptance rate from last year’s gaokao, saying that the school had produced a top scorer in the liberal arts, encouraging everyone to study well.
Then afterwards it was the donations for flood and disaster relief, every class and grade had to sign up.
The weather was already a little hot at 8 AM, the Grade Leader was walking back and forth on the path around the field, trying to catch those whose hair was too long or dyed and those wearing earrings. He caught four girls whose skirts were too short, two girls with dyed hair, and one boy with piercings.
The students stood until they were all drenched in sweat, cursing out the principal a thousand times over in their hearts. After the principal finished the vice principal came on to add some more things, so the target of their curses became the vice principal.
It ended a full half hour later, then all the third years in middle school went to the multi-purpose auditorium, and continued to listen to the Grade Leader giving a speech. And so the target of the curses once again switched, this time to the Grade Leader.
The Grade Leader’s face was drawn in displeasure, and began lecturing them on their work ethics on the first day of the school term. After criticizing the few who had dyed their hair, he began to talk about high school acceptances, and Yaoyuan immediately perked up his ears.
The Grade Leader said: “In the following two semesters there will be a total of four rounds of exams, in addition to the usual scores each of your subject teachers give you, this whole section will account for 60%. For the first mock zhongkao we will conduct a regional ranking, and after the regional ranking we’ll do a grade ranking, and those who rank towards the top will have the chance to be directly recommended for admission into the top class of the high school division.”
“What’s the advantage of direct recommendation? No exam!” The Grade Leader said: “This means that even if you flunk the zhongkao, your middle school alma mater will still have a place for you in its high school division. The three years of your high school tuition will also be waived, of course you will still have to pay the incidental fees…”
Behind Yaoyuan, Tan Ruikang said to the person next to him: “How much is a year’s tuition?”
“I think 600.” A female classmate said: “Are you a local? If your registered residence isn’t local, you have to pay an extra two thousand for the temporary schooling fee.”
Tan Ruikang: “!!!!!!”
Yaoyuan thought, how gossipy… he leaned against the chair and looked back, saying: “We’re school choice students, we don’t have temporary schooling fees.”
Tan Ruikang then asked: “What’s school choice?”
“Yaoyuan!” the Grade Leader called him out directly.
The entire grade burst into laughter. Yaoyuan was someone who was infamously unafraid to be bold in his grade, he’s been in a lot of trouble and was well-liked by his classmates. But still, his grades were high and he was favoured by several of their teachers.
“Your hair is too long.” The Grade Leader said: “Boys, pay attention! The front of your hair cannot reach your eyebrows, girls’ hair cannot reach the shoulders. Go back and get a haircut, tomorrow each homeroom teacher will check, those who don’t get it cut will have their parents called.”
The entire grade buzzed with chatter, unbothered just like how dead pigs don’t fear scalding water.
Many people were napping comfortably in the air conditioned auditorium, and as soon as they left the heatwave hit, eliciting one miserable shriek after the other.
Class finally officially started. Yaoyuan kept looking back at Tan Ruikang from time to time, not sure if he could understand the lesson.
“Is that your brother?” Qi Huiyu, his deskmate, asked.
“Is he a half-brother?” The girl in front turned her head to say: “Now that Milk Brother is here, Milk Boy’s position as the best-looking boy in the class is in danger.”
Another girl said: “Milk Brother is chocolate milk.”
The girls laughed quietly. Tan Ruikang’s skin was a bit darker, a huge contrast from Yaoyuan’s skin tone, and so he was categorized into the milk family like that.
The math teacher turned around, glanced at them, then continued lecturing. The students ignored the teacher and continued to chat. The girls in the front row laughed and talked for a bit, then turned around together to look at Tan Ruikang next to the window in the last row.
Tan Ruikang had his two hands under the desk and no textbook, head tilted to look at the blackboard. His seat was in the corner of the classroom, he had to tilt his head when he listened to the lesson, looking just like an idiot.
Qi Huiyu copied Tan Ruikang’s expression and actions, putting two hands under the desk and tilting his head, staring straight ahead at the blackboard with his tongue out.
The girls laughed until they were bent over on the desk, trembling.
Yaoyuan unexpectedly stuffed his whiteout into Qi Huiyu’s mouth, Qi Huiyu pushed on the back of his head and hit him in return. The two looked at the faraway Tan Ruikang, Tan Ruikang listened for a while then took out a crumpled, straw paper-looking notebook with little animal prints on the cover out of his bag. He spread it out and began taking notes.
This time the people around Yaoyuan began laughing even harder, almost spasming. The math teacher coughed, and said: “Now let’s extract (a+b), using the difference of squares formula…” Then turned back towards the blackboard and stuck a thumb in his nose, picking around.
Qi Huiyu was laughing like crazy, Yaoyuan felt embarrassed as hell. Didn’t they buy new notebooks for Tan Ruikang over the break? Why is he still using a crumply straw paper notebook?
Tan Ruikang hadn’t noticed at all that many people in the class were curious about him, his attention concentrated on listening to the lesson and taking notes. The math teacher said: “Now open your textbooks to look at the problem on page seventy-six.”
Tan Ruikang had no textbook, he could only copy it down and try to solve it. After a moment a book came passing down one row to another from the front of the classroom, all the way until it got to Tan Ruikang’s desk.
“For me?” Tan Ruikang asked. He opened the math textbook and found that it was packaged very well, Yaoyuan’s name was written on it, the notes neat and nice-looking.
For the entire morning, Tan Ruikang used Yaoyuan’s textbooks for each class, while Yaoyuan used Qi Huiyu’s textbooks. At lunch, Yaoyuan was going out to eat, but Tan Ruikang said he would stay and eat at the school cafeteria.
Yaoyuan didn’t force him and went out with Qi Huiyu to eat a meal of roast duck with rice for ten yuan from a fast food place, while Tan Ruikang stayed behind in the classroom.
“Is your brother a camel? Doesn’t he need to drink water?” Qi Huiyu asked Yaoyuan in the afternoon before class started.
Yaoyuan said: “He probably drank some, how would I know. Why do you care so much?”
After two classes in the afternoon the homeroom teacher brought Tan Ruikang his uniform and textbooks. Tan Ruikang stood in the hall to talk to her, probably something about school. Yaoyuan took Tan Ruikang’s new books for himself and gave him his old books instead.
They couldn’t leave right after school, the teacher had brought more quizzes to test them. Yaoyuan felt like he was going crazy, the workload for third year was extremely heavy, and adding on the two sessions of evening self-study starting from 6:40, they couldn’t go home until 8 o’clock.
“Where’s Tan Ruikang?” After school Yaoyuan found that Tan Ruikang had disappeared, his bag wasn’t at his desk either. After looking for a long time, Lin Zibo came over to say: “He’s in the office asking the physics teacher some questions.”
Yaoyuan thought how inconvenient, and didn’t say anything. After waiting for a long time Tan Ruikang still wasn’t back, but the classroom was closing its lights. He didn’t want to go to the teacher’s office in case he ran into the Grade Leader and got yelled at, so he could only go downstairs to wait.
The autumn evening was a lot cooler, Yaoyuan heard Lin Zibo shout from the second floor: “Tan Ruikang, Yaoyuan is waiting for you downstairs! Hurry up! Don’t keep your brother waiting!”
“Let me give you a ride home, Yaoyuan.” Zhang Zhen patted the back of his bicycle and said: “Smoke a cigarette, go for a walk, and come with me to buy something for Junya on the way.”
Yaoyuan remembered that it was Zhang Zhen’s girlfriend’s birthday soon, she was in her first year of high school. He said: “I can’t, I have to wait to go home with Tan Ruikang. Do you need to borrow money?”
Zhang Zhen said: “No need, I saved some, I wanted you to help me pick a watch for her. Give me a smoke.”
Yaoyuan gave him a cigarette, and said: “Buy her a Swatch.”
Zhang Zhen put the cigarette behind his ear, and Yaoyuan said: “Be careful, the ghost woman hasn’t left yet.” —Ghost woman: the nickname of the homeroom teacher who liked putting on thick foundation.
Zhang Zhen waved and rode away on his bicycle. Yaoyuan felt impatient all over, decided not to wait anymore, and walked directly towards the school entrance.
“Xiao Yuan!” Tan Ruikang finally caught up.
Yaoyuan glanced at him, annoyed, and decided they should each walk on their own from now on. Tan Ruikang kept apologizing; the two exited the school gates and found Zhao Guogang’s BMW parked outside, honking at them.
Yaoyuan’s heart made a loud thump in his chest. He can’t smoke today again! Damn it.
Displeasure clearly written across his face, Yaoyuan got into the passenger seat. Tan Ruikang climbed in the back in a move of self-awareness. Zhao Guogang asked: “How was the first day back? Can Ruikang keep up?”
“It’s a little difficult.” Tan Ruikang said: “The math is very high level, the teacher also explains it well.”
Zhao Guogang said: “If you don’t understand, ask the teacher. Try to aim for the top 100 in the grade, even without direct recommendation you can still get into the high school division of Sanzhong.”
Tan Ruikang mn-ed, and Yaoyuan said: “Donations for flood and disaster relief.”
Zhao Guogang turned the steering wheel and said: “How much did you donate?”
“Two hundred, one hundred for each.” Yaoyuan said.
Tan Ruikang: “!!!!!!”
Zhao Guogang said: “Our company just donated.”
Tan Ruikang asked: “When was this? How come I didn’t hear about it?”
Yaoyuan said: “I donated for you.”
Tan Ruikang: “Ah, why didn’t you say?”
Zhao Guogang laughed, and said: “There’s no need to distinguish so clearly between brothers.”
After returning home Yaoyuan didn’t want to move at all, after a shower he laid on his bed and took a nap. Right after coming home Zhao Guogang had to go out again for business, taking his clients for a massage. Tan Ruikang continued to study in the room across the hall.
Yaoyuan tossed and turned on his bed, and called Qi Huiyu. After calling Qi Huiyu he called Zhang Zhen, and after Zhang Zhen he called Lin Zibo. They saw each other everyday but still had endless things to talk about at night, chitchatting until 11 o’clock and not getting any studying done before turning off the lights and heading straight to bed.
The start of a new term was always boring and endless. Going to class, finishing class, lunch, tests, dinner, night study… rinse and repeat. Tan Ruikang kept embarrassing himself in class, Yaoyuan felt as if he had lost all his face but couldn’t do anything except to continue looking after him. Fortunately, Tan Ruikang only messed up once each time, he was also typically very careful. He also felt embarrassed when he was laughed at, so he never made the same mistake twice.
The thing that made Yaoyuan want to break down the most happened on Tuesday.
After finishing his run during gym class, Yaoyuan went to play basketball, while Tan Ruikang joined another group to play soccer. Their classmates welcomed Tan Ruikang for the sake of Yaoyuan’s face, but Tan Ruikang has never had a proper gym class before, so he played the match with much difficulty.
After class all the boys, sweating buckets, went to buy water, and just as Yaoyuan was buying his classmates things at the snack counter, two girls with their arms linked came up to him and said: “Milk Boy, why is your brother drinking the tap water, isn’t he afraid of getting diarrhea? Not even a hundred toxins can penetrate his body?”
Yaoyuan’s expression convulsed a little, then ran immediately to find Tan Ruikang. Tan Ruikang had just finished filling his own stomach with tap water in the corner of the field and was wiping his mouth on his way back to the classroom when he saw Yaoyuan’s dark expression and asked: “Xiao Yuan, what’s wrong?”
Yaoyuan: “You… I….”
Tan Ruikang: “?????”
“You can’t drink the tap water…” Yaoyuan said: “You’ll get diarrhea!”
Tan Ruikang realized the problem, and rushed to ask: “You can’t drink the tap water here? Everyone drinks it in my hometown, even the well water and spring water are drinkable…”
“You can’t!” Yaoyuan said: “You’ve been drinking tap water for two days? I… ugh, buy bottled water, it’s only one yuan.”
Yaoyuan’s expression was like he had seen a spectacle too horrible to endure. Tan Ruikang rushed to assure him: “Okay, I won’t drink it anymore.”
Yaoyuan had on a dark expression the whole way back. Qi Huiyu was waiting at the stairwell entrance and handed him and Tan Ruikang each a bottle of Xianchengduo, after which Yaoyuan was able to relax a little. He threw his arm around Qi Huiyu’s shoulder as they went up the stairs, he really was not in the mood to talk to Tan Ruikang anymore.
During class Yaoyuan kept thinking about it, and thought that maybe his words had been a bit harsh. At dinner when they went to the milk tea shop, he brought back a lemon slushie for Tan Ruikang.
Tan Ruikang said: “Thank you, Xiao Yuan.”
Yaoyuan mn-ed, Tan Ruikang then put the lemon slushie on the window sill next to his desk. Yaoyuan looked back at him every once in a while and saw that the drink remained untouched.
The slush had melted, the outside of the plastic cup was full of condensation.
Yaoyuan felt a little uncomfortable on the inside. Why isn’t he drinking it? Really…
After the evening self-study started, the girl in front of Tan Ruikang brought back a cup of milk tea from the same shop. Tan Ruikang observed for a little, and only then did he take the slushie and put it on his own desk, pressing the straw against the plastic top.
He could almost imagine the scenario of Tan Ruikang crushing the plastic cup and having it explode in his face, and was ready to bury his own face in his desk.
The girl in front of him was very understanding, and took over the straw in his hand before poking it through the top of the slushie for him. A little pop, and it was in.
“Thank you.” Tan Ruikang’s face was red.
“Milk Brother, how do you do this question?” The girl asked quietly: “Did you do the booklet they assigned this morning?”
Tan Ruikang taught her to solve the problem quietly, noticed the name Juanxiu on her mock tests, and the two got to know each other.
The author has something to say:
Passing through as someone who’s stabbed through the milk tea cup multiple times before…
There seems to be a movie called “Only Yesterday”
If anyone’s confused, Yaoyuan’s school has a middle school and high school division that are on the same campus, but are technically separate in that you can’t go directly from the middle school division to the high school division unless you get in through the zhongkao or get a direct recommendation like they said in the chapter. Many people also choose not to go to the high school division of their middle school if they score high enough on the zhongkao to get into a better high school.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Kapsoura.