Chapter 16: When big words become a joke
The next day, despite the opposition of Mr and Mrs Xu, Xu Tingsheng insisted on returning to school. He knew that if he did not return today on the 17th, his parents would subsequently be even more against his return.
On 18th April, that suspected SARS patient would jump down from a few floors up, escaping from quarantine in the wee hours of the morning. The entire Libei County would descend into pandemonium.
Mr Xu sent Xu Tingsheng to school on his bicycle.
Sitting behind one’s father on his bicycle are the childhood memories of many. Xu Tingsheng had not sat like this for a long, long time. He swayed his legs, leisurely surveying his surroundings.
A tall tower that was currently under construction appeared within his line of sight.
Golden City Tower. Although it did not really live up to its name of ‘tower’, it was still Libei County’s first ever building which held more than ten floors. Eventually coming into being here would be Libei County’s first world-class hotel, along with its first large scale supermarket.
The running of a hotel required expenses in many additional areas, including networking, establishing contact with external parties and food-related company expenses. These were significant sources of revenue for hotels during this period, but Xu Tingsheng lacked the necessary resources for such.
But as per Xu Tingsheng’s memory, all the way till 2015, this supermarket remained one of the mere two large scale supermarkets of Libei County, its business booming.
In such a small county like Libei County, and the other eight counties of Jiannan City as well, perhaps because the market was not large enough, all the way till 2015, no large scale chain supermarkets like Walmart or RT-Mart had yet entered the area.
That was to say that it would be a continually egg-laying golden chicken that would flourish for a long time, which furthermore had space in the markets of the surrounding counties to expand its economic dominance and monopoly.
This thought left Xu Tingsheng excited for a moment. Still, upon recalling his father telling him that the household only had about 30000 yuan in total, his heart cooled back down.
“Dad, looking at such a big tower, what do you think might be a good business to start at its ground floor?” Xu Tingsheng asked with feigned nonchalance.
Mr Xu thought for a moment before replying, “How on earth would I know? No matter what, it’s not like I can set up a brick firing kiln here, right.”
Xu Tingsheng smiled, “I think that a supermarket would be great. During those few days I was away, I saw a large scale supermarket which sold all sorts of stuff. Customers pushed shopping carts around, choosing all their items before going to the counters to pay. The business was booming; the few cashiers were all overloaded. At our side, there is still no supermarket of this sort. If one could be set up, it would definitely boom.”
Mr Xu eyed the tower ahead, did some mental calculations, and shook his head, “How much capital will that require! Our family lacks the ability to start such a business.””
“That’s true,” Xu Tingsheng considered it and did not pursue the topic.
“No wonder people always say that the first pot of gold is the hardest,” Xu Tingsheng felt a little vexed.
In his previous life, he had had no interest in the lottery. How good would it be if he could remember some powerball numbers!
Mr Xu sent Xu Tingsheng to the school gates.
On the way from the school gates to Grade 12 Class 10’s classroom, what Xu Tingsheng felt to be very unusual was this: the gazes and whispers directed at himself were way more than there were usually, almost reaching the level of the day he did his self-reflection on the stage.
Some of these gazes and discussions were filled with sympathy or incomprehension, while others were filled with ridicule and mockery.
Along the way, there were even some people who were familiar with Xu Tingsheng coming up to console him, “Don’t be discouraged, there’s still time. Keep on at it.””
There were also people who said helplessly, “We already said long ago that goals should be kept to oneself, but you… Still, don’t take too much notice of it. No matter what others say, just focus on yourself; take it easy.”
“From the looks of it, could it be that I flunked the tests?” Xu Tingsheng was doubtful, for by his own reckoning, entering the top 20 should not have been a problem.
Xu Tingsheng entered the classroom, returning to his seat the focal point of attention. Huang Yaming and Fu Cheng came up to him with guilty expressions on their faces, answer scripts in their hands.
“Sorry, the two of us have tutored you down,” Huang Yaming said miserably.
“What happened? Stop playing up the drama, it really rather makes me nervous,” Xu Tingsheng responded.
Fu Cheng placed the answer script on Xu Tingsheng’s table.
Mathematics, 62 marks.
Xu Tingsheng entertained the notion of fishing out that eraser-turned-dice from under his desk and giving it a kiss. This luck of his truly was heaven-defying.
Xu Tingsheng was very satisfied, but Huang Yaming and Fu Cheng did not see it that way. From their standpoint, although Xu Tingsheng’s Mathematics could not be considered good, he was usually still able to score around 90 points. This time, however, after having been tutored by the two, his score had dropped to 60 points. The two of them felt rather guilty at this.
“What about you guys? How did you do?” Xu Tingsheng excitedly inquired.
The two ‘teachers’ had tutored themselves up whilst tutoring their friend down, thus feeling somewhat even more guilty at this.
“How about the other subjects?” Xu Tingsheng asked.
“Not yet released….”
The duo explained the situation, and Xu Tingsheng was finally able to figure out what was going on.
Due to SARS, this time, the exam papers had not been sent to the city for unified grading, but had been marked internally with the help of school teachers from the 10th and 11th grades.
Xu Tingsheng himself had taken part in plenty of exam paper gradings before. Having done so, he knew that the duration required to mark each subject differed greatly. For instance, history, the subject he taught, was the slowest. Comparatively speaking, amongst exam papers of students of the Humanities stream, Mathematics as well as geography were the fastest.
This time was no exception. The marking for Mathematics and geography had been completed the earliest, but due to geography being part of Combined Humanities, the results for it could only be released together with politics and history, after they too had been graded. This was the reason Mathematics had been the sole paper returned yesterday evening.
Afterwards, due to Xu Tingsheng’s previous big words on making it into the top 20 in the entire year causing many to take notice, news of his 62 marks for Mathematics had frenziedly spread, from Grade 12 Class 10 to the four Humanities classes, onwards to everyone of the entire twelfth grade, and then to a whole half of the school and beyond.
A 150 mark paper, 62 marks.
“What was he saying? Wanting to enter the top 20?!”
Thus the discussions, derision and sympathy all came.
“Are the two of you feeling very guilty?” Xu Tingsheng asked Huang Yaming and Fu Cheng.
The two didn’t reply, but their expressions revealed a definite answer.
“Treat me to lunch then, I want to eat fried food at the third floor.”
Just when Xu Tingsheng was jubilant at having swindled away some free fried food, Yao Jing came over.
Although Yao Jing was rather tomboyish, usually appearing very straightforward and uncaring of the minor details, she was still a girl at the end of the day, furthermore a girl who was about to embark on her first love. So, ever since that day when she had promised Xu Tingsheng, she had instead become uneasy, no longer daring to casually join in conversation with him, Huang Yaming and Fu Cheng in class. Even speaking to them in class had become rare.
Under a sea of watchful eyes, Yao Jing sat down beside Xu Tingsheng.
As the class bell rang and Xu Tingsheng’s tablemate returned, Yao Jing blanked out for a moment before asking embarrassedly, “For the next period’s self-study, can I change seats with you? I…I want to sit here.”
“Woah,” Their classmates began to hoot.
The Xu Tingsheng prior to his ‘rebirth’ had fancied Yao Jing for close to two years. While Yao Jing had not agreed back then, she had never rejected him either. As a result, in the eyes of their classmates, the relationship between the two of them had been like an unofficial ‘unrealised sweetheart’ state of affairs, while this latest development seemed somewhat like an official acknowledgement of their relationship.
The tablemate winked, gathered some books and changed seats.
A few ‘shameless’ classmates even ran over to congratulate them.
“What’re you all looking at, go and study!”
Yao Jing finally unleashed her ‘heroic’ temperament in a yell. Their classmates burst out in laughter before finally turning back and burying their heads in their books.
After her ‘heroism’, Yao Jing looked at Xu Tingsheng, rather lost for words, “Don’t, don’t be discouraged. A single failure does not mean anything. I can see that you’ve been working very hard.”
Xu Tingsheng nodded, smiling. Truth be told, he felt rather touched at this moment. Yao Jing wasn’t the type of person who was good at expressing tenderness and care. For her to be doing so now, there was no doubt that she had put in the greatest effort, the meaning behind her actions self-evident.
Xu Tingsheng knew that this was very difficult for her.
“I took a look at your paper; let me explain it to you. Although the teacher will go through it as well, if I am doing it, you can stop to ask me questions anytime,” Yao Jing offered.
“Sure, thanks,” The situation before Xu Tingsheng was such that however much he did not want to study Mathematics, he also did not have a choice.
Yao Jing patiently and meticulously explained for the entire period. Not wanting to let her good intentions go to waste, Xu Tingsheng listened earnestly throughout the period, asking questions from time to time.
Xu Tingsheng discovered that he was actually able to understand some of it.
In the eyes of their classmates, this scene of this ‘little couple’ striving hand in hand was really heartening and moving.
“Shall we have lunch together? Huang Yaming and Fu Cheng are treating; let’s go to the third floor to eat,” Xu Tingsheng invited after class as show of his thanks.
Yao Jing was a little hesitant on this, even though she was usually on rather friendly terms with Huang Yaming and Fu Cheng. Despite that, faced with the prospect of eating with them today, she just couldn’t shake off the feeling that it would be like her meeting Xu Tingsheng’s good friends as his girlfriend.
To go or not to go?
“Together, together,” Fu Cheng came over and said.
“Uh, okay,” Yao Jing agreed dazedly just like that.
Lunchtime was always when the path from the classrooms to the cafeteria was the most packed. For breakfast, some ate it at home while some skipped it entirely. For dinner, the buffer of extracurricular activities dispersed people about somewhat. There was only lunch which was signified by the bell signalling the end of morning classes, after which everyone collectively moved out together.
They passed many people along the way.
Xu Tingsheng felt like a circus monkey walking in a crowd of humans.
Thanks to the free advertising by Class 7’s form teacher, Mrs Zhang, Xu Tingsheng’s big words had already long since spread. After that, he had just happened to ascend the stage around the same period of time as well. The singing on the roof, this world is so vast, the fighting for a girl – as these things were spread and discussed, Xu Tingsheng’s big words about ranking top 20 in the entire year had also attracted the attention of more and more people.
Many people had been looking forward to such an outcome.
From his current Mathematics grades, it appeared that those big words were about to become naught but a joke.
As Xu Tingsheng walked amidst a crowd, stares could be ignored, but sounds could not be cut off.
“Hurry, give way. The great deity is here.”
“That guy is that Xu Tingsheng. This world is so vast, I wish to experience it-looks like he really will be going home to look at sweet potatoes.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Don’t you know? He got 62 marks for Mathematics.”
“Some people really throw their face away, all for the sake of some limelight.”
“You guys saying stuff like this in front of him-isn’t it a bit too much?”
“Third Bro, I remember you bet the last time round that he would win. How about that? When will you treat us to lunch?”
“That’ll have to wait till next week, when I have money. Still, can you guys stop talking about this here? What if he hears it?”
“Gosh, he caused you to lose already, yet you still feel sorry for him?”