My balls are busted, I no longer exist in this world.
Author: Wu Zhe, Translated by Ami <3
Jiang Cheng had his arms crossed and legs stretched out in front of him. He was a little displeased.
The guys who were playing before were only mediocre at best; if he was wearing the proper shoes today, he could even partner up with Pan Zhi and take them on two against five easy. However, it was kind of fun watching them play, he enjoyed the feeling of superiority, as though he was standing at the highest peak looking down.
But once Gu Fei and his friends went on, the whole atmosphere changed.
Because Gu Fei…… was very good. If this was at his old school, he would definitely be the kind that got all the girls screaming during the citywide tournaments. Beside him, the “A” and “Bird” of the “Not A Good Bird” also played pretty well. Unlike the way they slouched and slumped like hooligans all over the chairs in the convenience store, their on-court teamwork was exceptionally polished, almost making the remaining two players on their team seem redundant.
Therefore to Jiang Cheng, watching this kind of game didn’t give him a sense of superiority at all.
He didn’t harbour any particular dislike toward Gu Fei, though neither did he have a very good impression either. At this moment, his mind was torn between thinking heyyy this fucker’s pretty good at this and forcefully correcting himself with pretty good my ass it’s all surface level showing off……
“This guy’s pretty good huh,” Pan Zhi said without a slightest bit of synchronicity. “How do you know him?”
“He’s just about average compared to our old team.” Jiang Cheng said.
“Ooh, you’re on the basketball team?” Before Pan Zhi was able to answer, Li Yan spoke up beside them, his voice taunting. “How about we get one of the guys on the other team to switch off, and you cango on?”
Jiang Cheng turned and gave him a look, “No.”
“No?” Li Yan blinked, probably assuming he would for sure rise to the challenge, he didn’t expect him to say no. “Why?”
“Guess.” Jiang Cheng stood up and walked toward the exit.
Pan Zhi raised his arms up in a stretch, then stood up and followed, leaving the others sitting there in confusion.
“This mood of yours certainly came out of nowhere,” Once outside the gymnasium, Pan Zhi drew his neck back in the cold. “You got beef with that guy?”
“This is my third day here.” Jiang Cheng said.
“True, it hasn’t been long enough for you to make any enemies.” Pan Zhi sighed. “Although right now, you’d get pissed at anyone who crossed your path.”
“You’re alright.” Jiang Cheng glanced at him.
Pan Zhi laughed, “Ay, for real, how do you know that guy? Is he also a junior?”
“…… A neighbour.” Jiang Cheng said.
“Same building as you?” Pan Zhi asked.
“The next street over.” Jiang Cheng answered simply.
“Ah.” Pan Zhi said.
He felt like Pan Zhi might not be able to immediately grasp the concept. They both grew up in gated residential communities, wherein there were only two types of neighbours: those who lived in the same building, and those who lived in the same residential community. The first type you’d nod to in passing, and the second type you’d spare only a glance. 
The next street over. They’ve never even met neighbours like that before.
Jiang Cheng sighed softly. He felt a little like he was here to film an urban-country exchange show.
“You got mountains here? Let’s go look at the snow.” Pan Zhi clapped his hands together.
“Hiking on a day as cold as this? Aren’t you afraid your brain would freeze over, not that it works that well normally.” Jiang Cheng said. “It’s not as if you haven’t seen snow before.”
“But there’s more snow here than where we were,” Pan Zhi slung an arm around his shoulder. “Cheng-er, my dude, let me take you out to get some air. So you’ve had a change of setting, what’s the big deal. So you’ve had a change of parents, what’s the big…… ok that’s kind of a big deal, let’s see how I should phrase this……”
“Alright, let’s go hiking.” Jiang Cheng couldn’t help but laugh. He flung his arm up and said, “Hell, what’s the big fucking deal.”
After the game was done, Gu Fei felt like his whole body had been warmed up. The lethargic feeling that’s been plaguing him for the last couple of days was finally gone. He put on his jacket, and looked back at the guys on the court, their eyes were shining with joy because he finally decided to leave, “Thanks.”
“Done playing?” Someone asked, out of habit.
“Did you wanna go again?” Gu Fei said.
They all went quiet, wearing the same awkward expression.
Gu Fei laughed and zipped up his jacket, “Let’s go.”
After they walked out of the gym, Liu Fan jumped up and skipped for a few steps, “No fun. I suggested we go rent a court in the sports centre, but you had to come play at your school.”
“How much more fun were you looking for exactly.” Gu Fei said.
“What’s the point of playing with highschoolers.” Liu Fan said.
“You’re only two years away from a highschooler yourself.” Li Yan gave him a side eye.
Gu Fei extended a middle finger in front of Liu Fan’s face, “If you can beat me one-on-one, you can keep saying this all you want.”
They all laughed at that.
“Shit,” Liu Fan slapped his hand away. “Let’s go eat something, I’m hungry.”
“Count me out,” Gu Fei glanced at his phone. “I’m gonna head home.”
“To the store?” Li Yan asked. “Isn’t your mom watching the store today?”
“I have to take Er-Miao for a physical exam, we have a requisition from before, and the appointment’s today.” Gu Fei said. “Every time she goes to the hospital I have to coax her for a while, it’s real time-consuming.”
“We’ll come over and hang out tonight.” Liu Fan said.
“We’ll see,” Gu Fei pulled his keys out. “Bye now.”
“Don’t you usually just get up and leave,” Li Yan said. “What’s with all this affection today, I’m not used to it.”
“You’re just asking for it.” Gu Fei turned and walked away.
When the days were meaningless and bleak, time passed slowly. But once it was imbued with even the slightest meaning, time passed like the crashing of a waterfall, utterly unstoppable.
The happiness and ease Pan Zhi brought with him quickly came to an end.
“You’re really not gonna take the pile of snacks back?” Jiang Cheng stood in the lobby of the train station, watching the departures and arrivals on the giant screen.
“If I said yes, will you go back to the hotel right now and retrieve them for me?” Pan Zhi said.
“Don’t take it seriously, I was just making conversation.” Jiang Cheng glanced at him.
“I brought those snacks here for you anyway, I was worried you won’t be able to find the places to buy them here yet.” Pan Zhi sighed. “So, will you be going back for May 1st, or should I come over again?”
“I’m not going back,” Jiang Cheng said. “I said I’m not going back there again.”
“I don’t know what the hell you’re being so stubborn for.” Pan Zhi said. “I’ll come here then, and bring those fuckers from our class too, how about that?”
“We’ll see when the time comes,” Jiang Cheng leaned against the wall. “It’s not like we were all that close to begin with. After a few months, who knows if anyone is willing to come all the way here, not like this is a tourist spot or anything.”
“Mn, we’ll talk about it then.” Pan Zhi nodded.
The two of them were quiet for a moment, then Pan Zhi, who had been sitting this whole time stood up abruptly, staring face to face with Jiang Cheng.
“What the!” Jiang Cheng was startled, and pointed at him. “Keep your mouth to yourself! Or I’ll smack you.”
“Give me a hug.” Pan Zhi opened his arms.
“Shit.” Jiang Cheng didn’t know what to say, though he opened his arms and gave Pan Zhi a hug.
“Don’t forget me,” Pan Zhi said. “I’m serious.”
Jiang Cheng let out a quiet sigh, “Come visit me for May 1st, and I won’t.”
Pan Zhi laughed out loud, “Alright.”
In the days before the start of the new semester, Li Baoguo cooked a total of one meal. He was away during all the other meal times.
Jiang Cheng had originally thought he would try to make some noodles on his own, but his motivation died as soon as he walked into the kitchen and saw the mess of pots and pans, along with the various seasoning bottles covered in a thick coat of grease.
Over the last few days, he tried all the interesting looking names within a kilometer radius in the food delivery app, and finally made it to the first day of school.
The day before school started, his new head teacher called, which was something Jiang Cheng didn’t expect.
“Nobody’s been answering on your dad’s number.” The head teacher said.
Now that wasn’t a surprise, since Li Baoguo’s hearing wasn’t the greatest, and he was preoccupied with mahjong all the time. Jiang Cheng passed by the building in which Li Baoguo played, and every time he did, he could hear the raucous from all the way downstairs.
The head teacher’s surname was Xu. Judging by his voice, he was of uncle age, and very warm. It alleviated some of Jiang Cheng’s feelings of unease of facing a brand new environment.
Snow had started falling from the dawn of the first day of school. It was just as Pan Zhi said, he’d never seen snow like this before.
It was rather satisfying.
Jiang Cheng paid a little more attention to the students around him as he walked through the gates, and thought they all looked pretty much the same. However, despite the fact that they were all highschoolers, despite the fact that he didn’t recognize these faces any more than the faces at his old school, still, the sense of foreignness was undeniable.
He even took special notice to see if Gu Fei’s face was among them. It was not.
“Jiang Cheng, not a bad name.” The uncle-like head teacher was indeed an uncle. Apparently, he was also an uncle who’s had something to drink in the morning. “My surname is Xu, full name Xu Qicai, I’ll be your head teacher; I teach Language Arts. My students all call me Lao-Xu, or Xu-zong.”
“Lao-Xu…… zong.” Jiang Cheng bowed ever so slightly as he acknowledged him, but couldn’t help feeling that something was off with this name.
“Let’s chat for a bit, the first class after the morning self-study period is Language Arts, I’ll walk you over.” Lao-Xu gestured to a chair nearby. “Have a seat.”
Jiang Cheng sat down.
“It’s pretty rare to see transfer students in junior year.” Lao-Xu smiled. “Especially to a place like this…… I took a look at your old report cards, you got pretty good grades eh.”
“Not bad I guess.” Jiang Cheng said.
“Not just not bad, they’re very good! No need to be humble.” Lao-Xu laughed, then sighed. He said in a quiet voice. “It’s too bad you transferred here.”
Jiang Cheng didn’t respond, just looked at Lao-Xu.
His old head teacher had said the same thing: it’s too bad, the teaching resources and quality of education aren’t good there…… Jiang Cheng didn’t expect Lao-Xu to say this too.
“I noticed that your science subjects are stronger than your liberal arts.” Lao-Xu said. “Why did you choose to go into the Liberal Arts stream?”
It wasn’t an easy question to answer for Jiang Cheng. The answer that it was because both his parents wanted him to pick the Science stream was so bursting with immaturity he couldn’t bear to speak it aloud. Even though he’d done exactly that, saying it would still make him feel like a colourful glistening dumbass.
After a lot of hesitation, he finally said, “I liked our head teacher, he led the Liberal Arts class.”
“Ah, so that’s why,” Lao-Xu blinked. “Then I hope you will also like me, it’ll be a whole lot of hassle to transfer to the Science stream now.”
“Oh.” Jiang Cheng stared at him.
Lao-Xu stared back at him for a while, then started laughing, and Jiang Cheng laughed along. This head teacher was kind of interesting.
After the warning bell for the first class sounded, Lao-Xu stuck a briefcase under his arm and a USB key into his pocket, “Come on, I’ll take you to class.”
“Mhm.” Jiang Cheng slung his backpack onto his shoulder, and followed Lao-Xu out.
According to Lao-Xu, Fourth High as a school was nothing to write home about, but it had a pretty big campus. Only, the buildings were organized in a rather strange manner. All other classes were grouped by grade levels, except for junior and senior classes in the Liberal Arts stream, which were singled out and placed in an old three-story building. The stairs in the center served as a divide; to its left were juniors, and to its right were seniors.
Jiang Cheng felt like he was quickly becoming a believer of destiny. Even on the matter of transferring school, he still managed to end up in a run-down building. The floor turned out to be all wood, it was so old and worn that the original colour was no longer recognizable, it made one worry that a couple of hard stomps were all it would take to fall straight from third floor to ground level.
“This building’s old,” Lao-Xu explained. “But don’t look down on its age, it’s very well designed. In these classrooms, the teachers don’t have to use a mic or raise our voice for students to hear us in the back.”
“Oh.” Jiang Cheng nodded.
“Our classroom’s on the third floor,” Lao-Xu continued. “The height doesn’t grant you a great view, but at least we can look out onto the field.”
“Mhm.” Jiang Cheng continued to nod.
“So our school……” Lao-Xu kept talking as they walked, then after a turn in the stairwell, suddenly yelled in a hushed voice. “Gu Fei! You’re late again!”
The name made Jiang Cheng’s eyebrow arch up instinctively, as he lifted his gaze. Ahead of them, someone who had been slowly walking upstairs turned around, a bag of milk still dangling from his mouth.
Even though the light was behind him, Jiang Cheng still recognized that it was indeed Gu Fei, not just someone with the same name.
“Morning Xu-zong.” Gu Fei mumbled around the bag of milk, and swept his eyes over Jiang Cheng’s face. He was probably as unsurprised as Jiang Cheng at this point about their impromptu meetings.
“Why are you still loafing around when you’re late, why don’t you just crawl up the stairs!” Lao-Xu pointed at him. “School only just started and already you’re slacking off!”
Gu Fei didn’t speak, just turned and ran up the stairs in a few strides, then disappeared down the third floor corridor.
This Fourth High really could not compare to Jiang Cheng’s old school. The second bell had already rung, and the teachers had already gone inside, yet the corridor was still filled with students leaning against the railing and chatting, showing no intention of going inside.
There were a whole bunch of slackers on the juniors side, meanwhile, Jiang Cheng looked toward the seniors side, it was the same picture of idleness. He looked a little harder, but didn’t see the newly arrived Gu Fei among them.
Lao-Xu entered the classroom right by the stairs. As Jiang Cheng followed behind him, he checked out the nameplate on the doorframe: Year Two (8).
Eight, not bad. Finally a good omen to get him by, even though he didn’t know how the “8” was going to make him a fortune.
There were quite a few people standing outside Class-8 too, they didn’t stir when they saw Lao-Xu walk into the room, but only when Jiang Cheng also walked in, did curiosity spur them to finally go inside.
Lao-Xu stood at the lectern looking down at the dozens of students who couldn’t seem to quiet down, and waited patiently for everyone to be quiet.
The whole time, Jiang Cheng stood there beside him, on the receiving end of all the different looks and hushed discussions.
He felt uncomfortable, even though he’d usually stare back at whoever was staring at him. The typical “whatchu lookin at” never did have any effect on him. However, right now with all these eyes on him, he was a little at loss for what to do. There were too many targets, therefore it was easy to lose focus, all the faces blurred together.
Irritation wriggled around inside of him. He suppressed his temper and glanced toward Lao-Xu, who was still standing there with a peaceful expression, looking out at the students who could never be at peace.
He suddenly realized his judgment of this head teacher might have been a little off. He’s not merely affable, he must be the kind of pushover who had no sway over his students at all.
Another short while later, the noise in the room still showed no sign of stopping. Struggling and toeing the line on the edge of an outburst, Jiang Cheng finally couldn’t help but ask, “So we’re supposed to wait till all of them are quiet?”
Lao-Xu turned to him.
At the same time, the dozens of people who had been buzzing away like some kind of demonic chanting suddenly went silent together.
It was a little difficult for Jiang Cheng to control his temper once it flared. Normally, he tried to suppress it before he got really enraged, but if that didn’t work then it sucks to be whoever’s on the receiving end of it.
And right now, being left here standing like a fool for at least three minutes, with all these people’s eyes staring and blatantly discussing him, to him this was like setting off a pack of dynamite right between his legs.
My balls are busted, I no longer exist in this world.
“Alright, let me introduce……” Lao-Xu smiled and clapped his hands.
“Jiang Cheng. Transferred here.” Jiang Cheng interrupted him in a dark voice. “Can I sit down now?”
Someone in the room whistled, suddenly setting off another round of noise. A few louder ones broke through the din, “Cocky, isn’t he!”
“Have a seat then, you sit……” Lao-Xu shifted his gaze toward the last row. “Right there. Gu Fei, raise your hand for me.”
From the first row to the last row, the heads swiveled around one by one like the passing of a baton, and Jiang Cheng’s eyes also followed them all the way to the back.
And landed on a desk in the last row, where Gu Fei had his foot propped against his desk drawer, with half a fried dough fritter still between his teeth.
Jiang Cheng suddenly felt like there was a powerful force screaming inside of him, loudly encouraging him to write a novel, the title of which would be “King of Tropes——Every Coincidence On This Planet Belongs To Me”.
Gu Fei lifted a hand halfheartedly.
Jiang Cheng used to sit in the last row in his old school. Every week the seats in the class would rotate to ensure everyone had a chance to sit in the front row, but he always managed to switch back to the last row.
He liked it there. It was quiet, often with no one to disturb him. It was also easy to take a nap or sneak out the back door.
But sitting here the last row here was a little annoying.
None of the desks and chairs were lined up properly, and each seat had very little space; his back was almost pressed up against the wall. On top of that, nobody was quiet.
There were people chatting, playing on their phone, not to mention the person sitting beside him slowly and leisurely munching on a fried dough fritter.
Jiang Cheng didn’t know what to make of it. Despite the fact that in his old school, aside from his grades, nothing about him was acceptable to his teachers, at the end of the day he was still in a place that battled with other key high schools for graduation rates and elite acceptance rates. He had truly never experienced an environment where class time felt like attending a tea party.
He took out his textbook. The moment he flipped it open and prepared to listen to Lao-Xu talk, he could almost feel himself becoming akin to a freak in these people’s eyes.
Gu Fei wasn’t chatting with anyone, nor did he sleep. He only took out a pair of earbuds, stuffed them into his ears, and started listening to music.
A guy in the row in front of them started leaning back and pushing their desk, every time he bumped it he would turn and call out, “Da-Fei.”
The desk swayed.
The desk swayed.
The desk swayed again.
Jiang Cheng stared at the words on the page, pondering the answer to the multiple choice question of whether to smack this guy’s head with his hand or with a book. At last, he reached over and yanked out Gu Fei’s earbuds.
Gu Fei glanced at him. He stared back without a word.
“Da-Fei, hey, Da-Fei.” The guy started pushing the desk again.
“Mn.” Gu Fei answered, still looking at Jiang Cheng.
Jiang Cheng looked back at him expressionlessly.
“Let me borrow your camera yeah? I’ll give it back to you tomorrow.” The guy in front of them said.
“No.” Gu Fei turned away.
“Shit, don’t be stingy, I just need it to take a couple of photos.” The guy said.
“Go away.” Gu Fei said simply, then put his earbuds back in and continued to listen to music.
“Just one evening,” The guy bumped the desk again. “I’ll return it first thing tomorrow.”
The desk swayed.
“Fucking hell, Da-Fei, Da-Fei……” The guy continued to bump the desk.
Jiang Cheng couldn’t understand why the guy must talk about this during class, why he must do it while bumping his desk, and why he was so persistent even after being told no. He also couldn’t understand why Gu Fei refused to lend out a camera, why he was so cold, and why he was able to tolerate the desk having a seizure.
He lifted a leg and kicked it hard against the guy’s chair.
It made a rather loud noise. “Whump!”
The kick made the guy fall forward abruptly and slam against his own desk.
“The fuck?” He whipped his head around.
All the eyes around them were suddenly drawn this way.
“Please don’t bump against the desk,” Jiang Cheng looked at him, and spoke in a level voice. “Thank you.” The guy must’ve been a little shook, he opened his mouth, but no words came out.
 Residential compounds [小区]: Most city dwellers in China lived in apartment/condo buildings, which were usually developed and built in a cluster of 3-10, called residential compounds. The buildings within often share the same management, security (if applicable), and sometimes have a committee made up of home owners. Often times these communities will have some sort of enclosure around them, with one or more gates.
Note: this is obviously not the case in the Steel Works neighbourhood. ↩
- Raw character count: 5526
- TL word count: 3882
- TL time: 4:40:05
- Edit time: 1:16:14
- Curse words: 5x fucks, 3x shits, 2x asses