SWFM3: Youth & ‘First’ Meetings
Xu Tingsheng had brought forward his first meeting with Xiang Ning by 8 years, but nothing had developed from this. Still, this was the most normal, logical situation, and also the best situation.
“You glanced at me, but didn’t say anything. I am a stranger.”
“You certainly don’t know why this person was crying out of the blue; he has surpassed life and death for you. Once, you glanced at him for the final time; he is already dead. Now, you glance over again, and he is alive once more. Coming back to life and glancing at you once more; one glance, one life.”
She had glanced at him. His previous life. His current life.
Only with this glance was Xu Tingsheng truly ‘reborn’ into this life.
This night, Xu Tingsheng did not sleep.
“Perhaps not interfering with her life too early on is the right choice; she will follow her original footsteps, growing into that Xiang Ning whom I love.”
“However, she will be in a relationship in senior high…it seems like it started when she was in eleventh grade. What should I do about that?”
All men were petty in this area. It was fine when Xu Tingsheng had been unable to do anything about in his previous life, but what about this time? Watch on as she engaged in a two-year relationship with ‘Wang Lihong?’ That would be intolerable!
Xu Tingsheng’s fate was virtually destined to change in this life.
“What about the relationship between me and Xiang Ning? Will she still fall in love with me as she did before? After all, even though she is still the same her, I might no longer be the me I once was?”
“Her growth — to what extent should I be involved in it?”
In his previous life, because of the age difference between them, Xiang Ning had once joked:
When I was still in twin braids and flicking rubber bands about, you had already fallen in love with me, right?
When I was bullied and crouched in the corner crying, you didn’t come to protect me.
When I left home after a spat with my parents, and instead discovering that there was nowhere I could go, why didn’t you tell me where you were?
When I was sick and had a stomachache, you were definitely shopping or watching a movie with another girl.
When I was hesitating over whether or not to get into a relationship, why didn’t you jump out to stop me, telling me that my boyfriend was just you?
When I was worried over the entrance exams for high school and university, why didn’t you appear and help me to revise?… Xu Tingsheng, Mr Xu?… Just knowing how to care about other girls, hmph.
Most pairs of lovers would not have participated in each other’s pasts. In the moments she had been saddest, perhaps when you just happened to be in the prime of your life, when she had been the most helpless, you were not by her side. Yet today, her sorrow is your worry, her joy is your happiness, sorrow and joy shared as one.
“What about this time then? I have the chance to participate in all of this, just that I don’t know if I actually should.”
The second day after seeing Xiang Ning, Xu Tingsheng visited all of the places she had once brought him to in Yanzhou City. Some of the restaurants in which they would eat had not yet been established; some of the parks they had walked through hand-in-hand had not yet been built; the Chinese parasol tree whose leaves scattered the street had just been planted not long ago; the person whom he had once held hands with still wore a single skyward plait, asked to stay back by her teacher.
Xu Tingsheng went to the established noodle restaurant Xiang Ning had once brought him to at the height of their love. Sitting in the same position, he ordered the same type of noodles. If things still developed according to how they had originally, eight years later, Xiang Ning would bring him to this noodle restaurant renowned for its seafood, bombarding him endlessly with introductions on how abundant the variety of seafood here was, as well as how great it tasted.
At that time, he would not say, “Oh, I’ve eaten this before.”
The third day, Xu Tingsheng embarked on the return journey.
Five hours later, Xu Tingsheng arrived at Jiannan City, hurriedly eating his lunch before getting onto another bus, spending another 3 hours before he finally arrived back home at Libei County.
Because it was already a little late upon his arrival, Xu Tingsheng gave a call at the public telephone booth to report his status to his family before directly heading to school, entering the classroom along with the late self-study bell.
When he had left, it had been on a weekend. He had slipped a note through the gap under the door of the student affairs office, considering that as having applied for leave.
Therefore, this was the first time he was returning to his previous classroom.
Xu Tingsheng was slightly disorientated for a moment. Those fresh, youthful faces in his classroom-he had not seen some of them after graduation, and his next meeting with some others had been more than ten years later.
Youth and meetings, amidst renewed adolescence.
Whether he had been friendly with or had had disputes with them, in his previous life, when a mishap had happened in Xu Tingsheng’s family with his father’s sudden accidental death, these classmates of his had all provided him with much warmth as well as encouragement.
Seeing them once again, Xu Tingsheng was filled with emotions.
Huang Yaming and Fu Cheng led the applause, “Freaking cool, the world is so vast, I wish to experience it… dude, wanting to leave and leaving just like that.”
These two were his best friends back in high school, their friendship having continued long after, till the end.
Their other classmates laughed alongside them, those smiles pure beyond compare.
Only now did Xu Tingsheng remember. In his unstoppable urge to see Xiang Ning, not even having thought of an excuse in applying for leave, he had hurriedly written in the ‘reason’ bracket that sentence which would be greatly popular in the future: The world is so vast, I wish to experience it.”
Having left, he had been gone for an entire week. During this one week, this sentence had already become widespread, coming to be a popular topic of the entire student population.
Appearing at the door of the classroom, their form teacher, Zhou Xueyin, waved his hand, “ Xu Tingsheng, come to the staffroom for a bit.”
In his previous life, Xu Tingsheng had not been called over to the staffroom much. He had been one of those higher-than-average students, one of those who would be easy to overlook as he simply passed his days just like that.
Having been called into the staffroom by Old Zhou now, Xu Tingsheng was neither nervous nor afraid, instead being happier at that.
Old Zhou was a very peaceful person. The last time Xu Tingsheng had seen him in his previous life was at the time of Huang Yaming’s wedding. At that time, he was already close to retiring, his hair turning white and his steps getting slower.
But currently, the Old Zhou before Xu Tingsheng was still middle-aged and handsome, standing straight and tall.
Zhou Xueyin had the appearance of Lu Zhishen, yet just possessed a warm personality. Xu Tingsheng’s deepest impression of him came from during the evening self-study sessions back in twelfth grade. Old Zhou had worn his weathered cloth slippers every night, carrying around an electric kettle, soundlessly adding water to the cups of all the students. Many a times, a student would suddenly raise their head, only to discover that their cups, somehow, were already full.
In that generation when classrooms had still not contained water dispensing machines, Old Zhou’s water had been the cool breezes of spring.
Xu Tingsheng felt a little like he wanted to see what a fuming Old Zhou would look like, because from what he remembered, he had never seen Old Zhou get mad before.
Sadly, his wish would not be fulfilled.
“Firstly, the world is so vast, I wish to experience it. This sentence is very profoundly meaningful; as your form teacher as well as your language teacher, I am very glad at that.” Old Zhou said.
“Next, I will go pour some water for your classmates. You can think first on how to account to me on this matter. After all, I helped to shield you against the school, saying that it was with my consent that you left. I have also not called your family… do as you think fit, based on your brotherhood…heh.”
Old Zhou returned after roughly fifteen minutes, holding an empty kettle as he looked at Xu Tingsheng smilingly.
“In the next monthly tests, in the entire year’s ranks, I will get for you…the top 20, I guess.” Xu Tingsheng smiled, speaking mildly.
His voice was not loud, but the gazes of all in the staffroom were drawn over. His tone here was a little strange, giving one an uncertain feeling. Just hearing it, it might feel like a joke which had not passed through his mind. Still, thinking back on it for a bit, it would feel as though he had truly meant such, his mildness being due to his confidence, not having to accentuate it.
What was so obtrusive was the number 20. These were the greatest big words that all the teachers here had ever heard. Currently, Xu Tingsheng was ranked somewhere between the 20th to 30th positions in the twelfth grade’s Class 10, a normal class. As for the entire year, of the four Humanities classes, with one of them being a special, more proficient class, Xu Tingsheng was definitely ranked around the 140ths or worse.
In his previous life, Old Zhou, Zhou Xueyin, had always loved to tell his students of a legend. That legendary student had attained the 37th rank from around the 140th ranks over the final month before the university entrance examinations. He was none other than Xu Tingsheng.
And for that legend to return, he currently seemed to be at a rather more advantageous position.
In the junior high entrance examinations, Xu Tingsheng had ranked second in his entire district. Afterwards, it was his rebelliousness as well as obsession with football that had caused his grades to fall behind. He possessed a very, very good memory. In his previous life, after his father had passed away and he had finally grown to be mature and diligent, Xu Tingsheng had raised his proficiency in the three Humanities subjects to a very high level in not even a month’s time. In the mock exams as well as the university entrance examinations themselves afterwards, his Humanities results had been one of the top ranked few in the entire city. As for Language, it had always been one of his stronger subjects. Ever since tenth grade, he had been publishing essays in newspapers like the Jianhai Youth Newspaper. He had also always possessed the habit of reading.
In his previous life, his mathematics had always been of around average standard. The only thing restricting him had been his English.
For the current Xu Tingsheng, Language was also not a problem. He would only have to revise the memorisation questions for a bit.
As for the three Humanities subjects, firstly, he had been a history teacher in senior high for four years, and secondly, he had relied on home tutoring for his living fees when in university, having taught all of these subjects together in a ‘package’. Even after having become a teacher, he had also had the practice of helping the students in his class in revising on politics and geography. In other words, he had great foundation and talent in these three subjects.
For the English that had once held him back, because he had had a girlfriend in his second year of university in the English course, he had been forced to study English with her frequently, accompanying her in practicing her intonations, helping her to memorise vocabulary…he had achieved Level 4 English that year, having then achieved Level 6 a year later. Afterwards, having become an importer of construction materials, his proficiency in it had risen even further. Currently, he only needed to solidify his grammar and vocabulary foundation, and his English standard should preside over almost all of his peers.
Xu Tingsheng was confident enough of raising up all of these subjects within the month. The only thing that currently held him back was mathematics. Xu Tingsheng felt that his mathematics was basically at the junior high level now, this not being something that he could remedy even if he so desired.
It was precisely considering his weakness in mathematics that he had said that his goal was to be ranked amongst the top 20 of the entire year. The teaching standard of Libei Senior High could not be considered high, with only just a few who were able to make it to the special class every year. Even if there was mathematics holding him back, Xu Tingsheng was still confident of making it all the way up into the top 20.
If it were the university entrance examinations, Xu Tingsheng would have given even bigger words. While so many years had passed, with those after all being one of the most significant milestones of one’s life, Xu Tingsheng could still remember many of the questions up to this day.
Old Zhou raised his brows, smiling, “50 is fine. 50, I’ll brew tea for you.”
Xu Tingsheng smiled knowingly at Old Zhou. He knew that Old Zhou was helping him to extricate himself from the grasp of his earlier words before the other form teachers.
Returning from the staffroom, Xu Tingsheng spent the next three periods frenziedly flipping through various textbooks, at same time taking out a blank notebook to note down stuff, a Chinese composition, two fill in the blanks questions of sentences of Classical Chinese, an English essay, a comprehension passage related to Maradona, a major political question, a combined Humanities question related to all the three Humanities subjects, a major geographical question, a few multiple choice questions, as well as the entire history exam paper which Xu Tingsheng had analysed countless times afterwards as a history teacher in senior high…in its entirety.
These would already be sufficient to secure him assured victory in the upcoming university entrance examinations.
As for mathematics, Xu Tingsheng didn’t remember anything at all.
In the university entrance examinations in his previous life, the person who had sat beside him had been the girl known as the number one math princess of their class. Because this girl had been secretly in love with Xu Tingsheng, having just risen up like a figure of legend, Xu Tingsheng had not done even a single question himself, instead ‘borrowing and referencing’ it all. Sadly, that girl had performed greatly below standard that year, herself only scoring 84 marks, with Xu Tingsheng having copied out 73 marks, eventually entering a normal second-rate university.
Having been reborn now, due to his advantage in the other subjects, Xu Tingsheng felt that 73 marks was actually already enough, not intending to spend any more effort on mathematics.
Looking at the crazed-seeming Xu Tingsheng, Huang Yaming and Fu Cheng both thought that he had suffered some great injustice in the staffroom as they did not dare to interrupt him. When a recess between classes arrived, the both of them came over together, patting his shoulder, shooting him a sympathetic glance.
“What? Go and study properly, why don’t you; the university entrance examinations are already not far away. Studying, taking the exams-you have already spent more than ten years on this; if you can’t show some results now, won’t you feel ashamed?” Xu Tingsheng said, this being a series of phrases that he had frequently used to scold his students with as a teacher in his previous life.
Looking at Xu Tingsheng who had always been the laziest, most uncaring of the trio, the two were rendered wide-eyed and tongue-tied as they thought: this guy has been possessed by the devil.