Solution B

Fiction
Zixu Fan


Photo credit: Chris Spiegl/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

“Damn it! God damn it!” he shouts out as he scratches his pen hard on his paper. The hour hand has already turned to twelve but the last geometry problem on his exercise book remains unsolved.

“Stop doing your math, Ian,” his mother says and barges into his room. “You’ve spent two hours on this question. Have a rest now. Don’t run into a dead end every time.”

“Get out of my room! I’ll solve it out in five minutes,” he yells at her, like a mad lion.

She frowns, but still follows his words, and says, “Only five more minutes” before she steps out of his room.

He looks at the clock, which shows 12:10 a.m. He still hasn’t started his Chinese and English homework, as he always does his math exercise first after coming back home. Finishing math gives him a sense of security, so he will study other subjects more calmly and efficiently. But it seems that something has gone wrong with his exercise today: he fails to prove one side length of the triangle in the last question is 5 cm, though he is quite sure it should be 5.

As Mr. King has collected all the key pages from them, there is no way to consult the answer and get any new ideas. He cannot imagine what will happen if he doesn’t work out the last question this evening. Will Mr. King force him to stand outside the classroom again, which he did when Ian just entered the school two years ago, because he was only one minute late for class? Will Mr. King rip his exercise book into pieces, like he did to Laura’s notebook, since she fell asleep in his class? Will he throw out one question after another to him in class every day and ask him to copy the questions and answers one hundred times if he can’t answer them, the way he did to Bryant, the student who doesn’t like to study?

He thought Mr. King looked like a frail scholar the first time he met him, as he had a short and thin figure and wore a pair of black-framed glasses. He doesn’t remember exactly when he became a tyrant to them. As both the class and math teacher, he always said they should study harder, as they are one of the elite experimental math classes. Always delayed his class, sometimes not finishing until the next Chinese class or English class begins. Often liked to add a math class when school finished early in the afternoon. Each time before their monthly test, mid-term or final, he would grit his teeth and point at them with a strained face. “Write your paper carefully. We must achieve the highest score among the whole grade. The highest.”

Fortunately, the class lived up to their teacher’s expectation every month, not as a result of hundreds of classes he taught and lots of homework he gave, but of the high pressure and the fear, the fear that he may treat them like Bryant if they drag down the class average. As the lowest student, Bryant always sat in the corner, as Mr. King arranged their seats according to their ranks. “Top students sit in the front, while low-level students sit in the back. The lowest is also in charge of throwing out the garbage every day.” So he named Bryant “The Garbage King,” to warn everybody if you fall behind, you cannot escape the same punishment.

But even though they were the top class, Mr. King was still not satisfied with it. “Don’t feel too proud. Don’t think you become a somebody simply because you get a high score. You should keep working hard and try to compete with other excellent middle schools in Beijing one day. Never get slack. Arrogance may destroy you.”

Ian knows Mr. King really hates conceited people. When Lemon, the math genius, questioned one of his statements in class, he asked him to sit down, boiling with anger. “You know all of them, so you think you’re number one? That you’re qualified to challenge me? Let me give you a university-level axiom. Prove it, and hand it to me after class.”

Five minutes have passed, and Ian is still struggling with the question. As a middle-level student, he dares not make a mistake when doing homework, having classes, or taking exams, though he doesn’t like math. Mr. King is content with what he does most of the time. But what’s wrong with today’s homework? It is not the Olympic math Mr. King gives them on Friday, which is often unsolvable; it is only the exercise book they do every day. It should be easy enough. It should be.

He tries to organize his thoughts again as he begins to sweat. Maybe I have made a mistake when proving it. Maybe I lost a condition when writing the deduction. Maybe. I’ll try it one more time.

“Fuck,” he says several minutes later, tossing the book on the floor.

“You’ve promised me five minutes, and now it’s over. Come out and have some fruit,” his mother says with a more serious tone this time.

“Shut up.”

“Don’t think you’re allowed to speak like this only because it’s your math assignment. Your father and I are doing our best to assist you. We are not your servants, and you’re not Mr. King. If you don’t come out for rest now, I will not help you with anything from now on,” his mother says and places the fruit plate on the table before she leaves.

Being silent for a while, Ian throws his pen to the corner of his desk, rushes into the living room, grabs all the grapes on the table and stuffs them into his mouth. As he is munching hard, he hears his father’s hoarse voice from his study.

“Don’t hurry me. I’m trying to solve the assignment with all my strength. I’m almost sixty and must work all day for the family. I know what time it is. Don’t blame me. Isn’t it you who chose this school for him? Other middle schools in Beijing may also have lots of homework and exams, but they don’t have such an insane teacher. Now I must pick up middle school geometry and work out the problem, just so the teacher doesn’t punish him. It’s all your fault so don’t blame me.”

Ian pricks up his ears but can only hear his mother’s mumble. When he finishes the fruit a few seconds later, his mother returns, “Your father will solve it out for you. Now go to bed. It’s already 12:30.”

“Impossible. I haven’t done the Chinese and English homework yet,” he says as he walks into his room again.

“What can I say? Why don’t you do the easy work first? You’re almost fourteen and still act like a little boy? Finish them immediately.” She slaps the table, wipes it, and takes the empty plate to the kitchen.

His Chinese and English assignments are quite simple today: to copy the new characters and new words and make some sentences. He sits down and takes a deep breath, trying to calm down. He writes down the Chinese characters and the English words fast, but still tries to keep them legible. Their Chinese and English teachers are also easily angered if they do not do their work well. Miss Jiang, their Chinese teacher, is probably undergoing her menopause these days because she always bawls them out like a shrew when they don’t finish her homework or get a bad grade in exams. “You all love to do your Mr. King’s math, and never learn my lesson?” is what she often groans. Their English teacher is an eccentric old lady, who never shows her temper in front of the class, and would go to tell their misbehavior to Mr. King instead, which is the most frightening, as Mr. King would never spare them and give them detention and lots of homework on that day.

Because of the punishing homework, Ian has stayed up late many times, and learned to yawn with his lips closed during class, in case that Mr. King may find it out. Like last Friday afternoon when they were having an extra class, he got extremely sleepy but still hid his yawns, and tried to straighten his back on the seat. The temperature in the room kept rising as the door and windows were all closed. He could feel his face glowing, as hot as a fever. Staring at the blackboard, he didn’t know what Mr. King was teaching and writing but kept nodding to him. When his eyelids were about to meet each other, Mr. King suddenly threw his chalk towards someone in the back, and before everybody realized what was happening, he threw his textbook hard in the same direction, with wide and burning eyes.

“Ouch!” One girl sitting in the back put her hand over her mouth when everybody turned around. It seemed like the book had hit her teeth.

But this was not enough for Mr. King. He dashed toward the back of the classroom and roared, “What the hell are you doing?”

Ian dared not look back. He only heard Mr. King overthrow a desk, and then saw Luke, the boy who often dozes off in class, flee out of the front door in panic. Mr. King also ran to the front, trying to catch him.

“Do… do… do not… do not come… to my… class tomorrow!” he shouted at Luke again before he shut him out.

That was the first time when Mr. King, such a quick-witted man, stuttered. His aim was so bad that he hit the girl by mistake. It was amusing but everybody was too frightened to laugh. His temper seems so unpredictable that their hearts raced every time he exploded. He had no bias. Anyone can be his target. Anyone who does not study well, anyone who feels too proud, or anyone who is disobedient. Ian was lucky that he wasn’t one of the victims, but he should still be careful, careful enough. At the beginning of the semester he forgot to write down the counting process in his algebra assignment, and Mr. King caught him. He asked him to copy the whole paper ten times, a way to teach him to write all the details when doing homework.

After finishing other assignments on that day, Ian became crazy because he could not find his math paper anywhere. Maybe I have left it in the classroom? But it is locked now… No. It can’t be. It can’t be. He threw everything out of his schoolbag and freaked out since there was still no paper.

“Don’t run into dead ends. That cannot solve any problems.” His mom came to him and said, “You must have left it in school. Call Elizabeth and go to her home to pick her paper up.”

He lives in the suburb and only their class leader, Elizabeth, lives nearby. The class leader was supposed to be voted by the students, but Mr. King chose Elizabeth himself because her father is a famous math teacher. Nobody in the class liked her as she looked down upon everyone. Ian didn’t want to call her but had no other options. She answered the phone and agreed to lend her paper to him, reluctantly. He doesn’t know how he completed the two-mile run within fifteen minutes, as he was not all that athletic. He only remembered he was out of breath but hardly stopped to have a rest after coming back home. He copied everything from the paper nervously and carefully, and hardly knew what time it was when going to bed.

Time passes quickly, and the math exercise book still lies on the floor. Looking at it again, Ian stops copying English words. He goes to pick the book up, checks if it is damaged, and cleans it with tissues several times. I’ll try to solve it out again. He flips the pages gently, and copies the question word by word. He is not in a rush. He does not get crazy. This is the most careful and peaceful time he’s ever had.

“Shit.”

“What have I told you? What have I told you? Why are you struggling with that question again?” His mother rushes into the room.

“Get away,” he says in a strong and low voice.

“How can I get away? The whole family is staying up late with you, don’t you know?” She sighs and is about to leave the room, “I really have to talk to your Mr. King one day. Why does he always give you such difficult assignments?”

“Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare talk to him.”

She stares at him, with shocked eyes. Without saying a word, she storms out.

He’ll never let his mother go to school and complain about Mr. King. Never. He cannot forget that afternoon before they finished school, when Mr. King went into the classroom to give them assignments as usual. Nobody noticed the changed expression on his face.

“Well, from tomorrow every row of desks will move one unit to the right. The rightmost row, you move to the left side,” said Mr. King after pointing out some problems in yesterday’s homework.

“To be honest, I don’t think changing your seats is a good idea. But one of your parents suggested it to me on the phone today.”

That would be my mom, thought Ian. His mom often worried he might develop exotropia because he always sat on the leftmost side of the class.

“This parent also complained I gave too much homework to you. You think it’s too much? Hmm?” Mr. King started to glance around them, trying to discover the culprit.

That also sounds like what my mom would say. Ian started to quiver.

“The assignment is far from enough. Do you know what time other school’s students go to bed? 12 a.m. or 1 a.m. is not uncommon for them. Since we are the elite experimental math class, it’s reasonable to give you a little more to do every day. So why don’t you study hard and get a good grade, instead of complaining about our homework?”

Glaring at them a few seconds, he suddenly banged on the lectern and broke out, “Fuck off if you can’t be the top student! You only know to tell your parents. What else can you do? You think you are God, so everybody should listen to you and have less homework? A coward! Why didn’t you get a high mark during the mid-term? Why didn’t you enter the top ten? Why didn’t you achieve a prize in the Olympic math? Shut the fuck up if you can’t do any of this! The whole class is working hard for the final, and they face all the difficulties, like you. They never cry out; they never say the homework is too much. Only you can’t stand it. You think you are the most pitiful one? Let me tell you everybody is much more hardworking than you. You are nobody compared to them.”

With a deathly pale face, Ian stared at the floor. He dared not look up again.

“And the parent is also ridiculous. Why don’t you tell your child to study hard? You only know to complain about me. Then you go. Go to the headmaster to complain. You think I’m afraid of you? Let me tell you, I don’t like fucking teaching anymore. Especially teaching your lazy child.”

When all the children’s nerves stretched to the breaking point, Mr. King paused, and sneered at them. “Well, you think we got too much homework. Then I’ll show you what is too much today. Juliet. Come and hand out the papers to them. Remember three double-sided papers for each person. This is the Olympic math. Don’t hurry. It’s extremely difficult.” He left and slammed the door behind him.

“Who did this? Who the fuck did this?” As soon as Mr. King went away, almost everyone in the room exploded.

“A stupid jerk. Fuck you. Fuck your mom and dad,” the boy sitting behind Ian blurted out.

But Ian said nothing. He pretended to be calm and tried to pack up his schoolbag as quickly as possible. I’ll go home right now. I’ll blame my mother. She has ruined my entire future.

He can’t tell how many times he was about to fall on his way home, because he never stopped shivering. Maybe it’s not my mother. Then I won’t become the whole class’s enemy. I’ll make sure right now. I’ll make sure.

The one-hour bus ride should have been the longest time in his life, and he doesn’t remember how he summoned up the courage to ask his mother and hear the truth.

“Why are you so frightened? I never called your teacher. But what the parent said is right. You should change your seats regularly. And the homework is too much.”

He felt a great sense of relief. He thought his life came back to normal again. He was still that hardworking and obedient boy. Nothing changed. It felt so great, so great that he was about to laugh out loud. It didn’t matter that he was going to spend the whole night with those Olympic papers. It really didn’t matter.

As his mother leaves, he tries to cool down and do the proving again. “Holy shit.”

“Do not curse, Ian. I’ve worked it out! Worked it out!” With sleepy eyes, his father comes to his room, “I’ll tell you my solution. It’s a little long. Listen.”

*

After finishing all the assignments, Ian has a sound sleep late at night, so sound that he almost forgets everything the next day he gets up. He grabs the glass on the table, swigs down the milk in a few seconds and carries his schoolbag. His mother is saying something about eating his bread as he walks out of the house and closes the door behind him.

When he arrives at school, many of his classmates are discussing yesterday’s homework. The boy sitting behind him, who usually likes to copy others’ work, asks almost everybody coming into the classroom, “Have you solved out the last geometry question?”

Lots of them reply no. And what a pity he just misses Ian. Then he turns back to discuss it with Elizabeth and Elizabeth turns back to discuss it with the math genius, Lemon. While the whole class seems to be discussing the problem, Ian just sits silently on his seat, and starts to review his textbook, one chapter after another. He imagines one of his classmates comes to him and finds out he has solved the problem out, and how surprised they may be. But it cannot be possible. Nobody thinks he can solve the problem. Only the TA, Juliet comes to his seat to collect his assignment, so he hands it to her grudgingly, feeling a little desperate.

The first two classes slip by, and Ian quickly forgets about the assignment. During the break before the third math class, some of his classmates become a little fearful, as they say they haven’t worked out the last problem, so they worry that Mr. King might torture them in class. But at least it will not be me, thinks Ian, so he takes out the textbook and notebook calmly, ready for the new class.

Mr. King is late for class. Five minutes after the bell rings, he walks fast into the room with an exercise book under his arm. Ian thinks he may teach a new chapter, but he just opens the exercise book, and begins to talk about yesterday’s assignment.

“I apologize, that I didn’t realize yesterday’s last geometry problem is a very difficult one.” Looking at them, he pushes up his glasses with his index finger. “I shouldn’t have let you do it if I had known it. But still, it’s an interesting question, and I’d like to discuss two solutions in class.”

Mr. King starts to write his Solution A on the blackboard and the class is busy copying it in their notebook. “This is my solution, which uses trigonometry,” he says and explains each step slowly and clearly. The whole class jots it down and listens to him simultaneously, trying to keep up with his thoughts.

After Mr. King finishes teaching the first solution, he turns back from the blackboard and says, “Now I’m going to show you the second solution. This is a very smart way because it doesn’t use trigonometry.”

As Mr. King is writing down Solution B, Ian notices that it’s the same answer his dad taught him. He never knew it was a smart way. He just keeps copying all the lines from the blackboard.

As soon as Mr. King finishes the blackboard, he turns around, places his book on the rostrum and asks, “Ian, did you figure out this solution yourself?”

Ian is speechless. He didn’t know Mr. King was teaching his answer, his answer, as the standard answer. While his teacher is staring at him, Ian’s heart begins to thump. His teacher’s eyes seem to be so sharp and keen, that they are going to debunk something, something hiding deep inside Ian’s heart. But he still tries hard to conceal it, and nods at Mr. King, repeatedly, with his innocent and blank eyes.

“This Solution B is not mine. It’s worked out by Ian Cheng. Let me show you how clever it is.”

Staring at the blackboard, Ian gradually loses his concentration. He doesn’t have to listen to Mr. King since he already knew the proving steps. He feels attracted to something else, something very light, very slow, and very cozy. It’s like someone is massaging him, that every inch of his skin feels so cool, so sensitive and so relaxed. He imagines a lover is kissing his body, his forehead and lips, that he cannot move even a millimeter. Time is frozen, the whole classroom is frozen, and only he is enjoying this silent and static world.

“Before the class ends, I want to say Ian has done a great job this time. I’ve learned a lot from his solution. I strongly encourage everybody to share your thought or solution, if it is new or different from ours.”

Ian peers at Mr. King, who still looks quite serious, that he cannot tell if his teacher is genuinely happy this time. Then he casts a glance at his classmates sitting around him, who turn out to be preoccupied with class, never giving him a look of praise. But he can imagine what they think of him, and how envious they are of his success. He is lost in his own world again, where he grows out a pair of wings, flies up to the sky, and lies on the cloud, which feels as soft as a marshmallow. He is having fun with the birds, the winds, and the sunshine. So much pleasure that he wishes he would never come back to real life again.

He realizes the class is over as the bell rings. Mr. King leaves the class on time, but nobody moves out from their seats in the first minute. Ian doesn’t look around, but he knows they will scatter and chat as usual, they will take out snacks to eat as usual, and they will talk about him. Which is unusual.

Several students leave their seats and start talking. The classroom becomes louder and louder. As nobody comes to interrupt him, Ian continues to linger on the soft cloud, float on the sunny sky and flirt with the warm breeze, until Elizabeth calls him.

“Mr. King wants to see you, outside the door,” she says without any expression.

His heart beats a little faster, not knowing what else Mr. King will say to him since he has already praised him in class. So he stands up, adjusts his uniform, and goes to the corridor, where Mr. King is standing, arms crossed.

Turning to Ian, Mr. King narrows his eyes and says, “Don’t be arrogant. I praised you only because this solution is great and special. I know you didn’t work it out yourself. I did not expose you in front of everybody because I like this solution very much. But remember don’t play with me.” He points at Ian, frowning, “No matter where you copied it from, don’t play with me again. I won’t be as patient as today.” He points at him one more time and then disappears down the hall.

Returning to the classroom step-by-step, Ian falls into a trance. He feels so dizzy that he puts his hand on the wall to seek support as he enters, while other boys and girls are gossiping and chasing each other like any other day.

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Since she was a little girl, Zixu always wished to be a writer. She wrote her first Chinese novel, The Falling Flowers at the age of 14 and chose to study Chinese Literature in college. However, none of the professors there taught literary writing, so she came to join the MFA program in the U.S. in 2016 and started to write in English. Email: zf4059gs[at]cnr.edu

Secret Admirer

Creative Nonfiction
Zixu Fan


Photo Credit: Chris JL/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Kids in China do not call elderly people “Mr.” or “Mrs.,” but “grandma” or “grandpa” instead. As there were lots of neighbors living in our old apartment, I got many chances to call “grandma” and “grandpa” every day I saw them during my childhood. I still remember one of our neighbors, Grandma Duan, who lived on the third floor with her grandson, Hao, in our apartment. She was a very nice lady, and often liked to share some parenting experiences on Hao with my mother each time they met in the corridor. As Hao was 5 years older than me, mom told me to call him Brother Hao. Since I was the only child in my family and seldom met my own grandma, the more “grandma” and “brother” my mother taught me to say when seeing these two neighbors, the more I felt they were my own grandmother and brother.

When speaking of Brother Hao, almost all my neighbors could not stop praising that he was such an excellent student in my primary school. As a straight-A student and the leader of Young Pioneers at school, Hao also developed lots of hobbies and got numerous awards in academic competitions.

Every morning, Hao would walk to school from our community, wearing a clean white shirt and a bright red scarf* on his chest. I often liked to follow behind him, thinking he looked really handsome and full of energy. I could not bring myself say hello to him, as I considered myself such a nobody in school.

I could never forget that Monday when Hao was chosen to be the flag-raiser during our flag-raising ceremony. His hair was cut smooth, his uniform tidy, and his figure tall and straight. When the national anthem started to play, he threw the red flag highly in the air and saluted, like a loyal soldier. After the ceremony was finished, Hao came to our audience and started to introduce himself in a loud and clear voice. Hearing he had such a great academic performance and won so many competitions, I came to think it would be mission impossible to become as successful as Brother Hao, let alone greater than him, as I still couldn’t recite all the pinyin in class.

When I gathered with other six- or seven-year-old girls at school, we usually liked to talk about our family members. By showing off our talented, strong or handsome brothers or cousins, we could be admired by everybody in the group. I couldn’t tell when I first began to brag that Hao was my brother, but some kids remembered it very well and spread it out quickly, until one day my dear friend, Lan, even told it to my science teacher in class.

“Mr. Miao? Mr. Miao is Zixu’s brother?” our science teacher Miss Liu asked us as she also taught Miao’s class.

“No, no, no, Mr. Miao is my brother. Zixu’s brother is Mr. Duan Hao,” Lan corrected it to Miss Liu.

“Mr. Duan? Mr. Duan Hao is your brother? You are not kidding, Zixu?” Miss Liu no longer cared about Miao any more, as this news was no doubt unbelievable. Her small eyes sparkled with excitement, as if she was going to think highly of me from then on.

Then everybody at school changed their attitude to me as the whole world came to know I had an outstanding brother. Even I became proud of myself and held my head high when passing other kids. But nobody actually knew Hao was only my neighbor, not brother, and what’s more ironic, I never had the courage to speak to him even once.

One afternoon after we finished our art class, I was playing paper airplane with Lan on our way home. We raced to see who could fly the plane further, but I did not take it seriously enough until I noticed Hao was walking behind us. I was quite sure he was watching us, so I suddenly stopped messing around and tried to show off in front of him by flying my plane as hard as I could, but to my disappointment, it flew nearer and nearer. Damn that paper.

When I failed many times and wanted to give up, the miracle finally happened. This time my plane flew out of our sight, and when we rushed up to catch it, we found it was lying peacefully on the roof of one apartment’s basement, so high and far that we could not reach it.

Lan and I tried to use a nearby broom to sweep it down, but in vain. As I lost my plane, we did not enjoy our game any more and headed home instead. Lan arrived at her apartment first so we joked outside the gate for one or two minutes and said goodbye. Then I continued to walk on my way, but found Hao disappeared without any trace.

Thinking I could go home and fold a new plane, I did not feel disappointed at losing the old one and walked happily towards home. When I finally reached the lawn in front of our apartment, I found Hao was waiting on the stone step, with my lost plane in his hand.

Before I came to realize what happened I had already gone to him. Looking at me, Hao took out the plane and handed it to me: “Here, your plane.” His voice was loud and clear as usual.

To my surprise, he had swept my plane down! I was too exited and nervous to say anything, so I just took the plane from his hand and ran away quickly.

It was a pity that I did not say “thank you” to him on that day, but it didn’t matter as he had already become a hero to me.

I don’t know why I was braver and braver later, that I started to send him one present after another. One of my hobbies in the first grade was pottery, and every weekend after I came back from the art center I would ask our cleaner to give my masterpiece to Hao when she went to work at his home on Monday. Almost all the pottery I created was sent to Hao, and later I even began to make some watercolor paintings for him.

However, my happy days didn’t last too long. One noon before having lunch, our music teacher Miss Yang gave my deskmate and me detention as we quarreled in her class. I didn’t think I’d done anything wrong, since it was this annoying boy who bullied me first, so I tried to explain the situation and put the all blame on my deskmate when Miss Yang questioned us. Though she didn’t seem to believe what I said, I still spoke with great confidence until our science teacher Miss Liu, who worked in the same office, came to interrupt.

After hearing what happened between me and that boy from Miss Yang, Miss Liu looked at me, and sneered, “You know she’s told me Mr. Duan Hao is her brother!”

“Aha?! Are you serious?” Miss Yang immediately turned to me. “You mean the straight-A student in the sixth grade?! The Young Pioneer’s Leader… is your brother? But why are you so different from him?” she said it so disdainfully that I blushed again and again.

Miss Yang still let us stay for ten more minutes, but I didn’t say a word this time, as all I wanted was run out of the office and never return.

It was such a shame so I determined to hide my admiration for Hao deep in heart, without mentioning to others that he was my brother from then on.

When I rose to grade two, Hao already graduated and went to the best middle school in our neighborhood. Seeing him dressed in a dark blue and white striped uniform, riding a bicycle to school as fast as the wind every morning, I decided to study hard and go to the same middle school when I graduated. One day before I realized my dream, Mrs. Duan finally called my mom in the corridor and told her not to let me send any presents to Hao, as my kindness was too much for them. She sent some Japanese stationery to me in return, which was brought from Hao’s parents who worked in Japan. I still remember there were some beautiful tissues with famous cartoons printed on its wrapping paper, which I liked so much that I never used it. When I opened it many years later, those tissues already turned yellow.

After graduating from junior high, Hao went to No.4 High School, one of the top high schools in Beijing. At the same time I also came to be a top student and won many competitions at school. I worked hard step by step, and came to realize he was not beyond my reach.

I got enrolled into another top high school in Beijing, though it was not the same school Hao had attended. We seldom met as he went home much less frequently, and I almost forgot him when my school life turned busier and busier. Aside from studying, I also made lots of friends in class who were also talented, hardworking, and attractive. Once my mother said she met Mrs. Duan on the third floor, who told her Hao was rejected by his dream school, Peking University, so he decided to prepare Gaokao for another year.

After going to college for two years, I came back to our old home with my father one afternoon. I found Mrs. Duan was standing outside the gate, together with one middle-aged man and one young man. My dad went straight to say hello to them, which confused me for a second. When I went further, I finally recognized that grey-haired man was Hao’s father, and that chubby guy with a round face and a pair of round glasses was actually Hao!

To my surprise, he didn’t look like the standard good boy he used to be.

Seeing I was coming, Mrs. Duan began to praise to my dad that I studied very well and went to a top university, that I grew into a beautiful girl she even didn’t recognize. When my dad said thank you in return, I took a glance at Hao, and found he was peering at me at the same time.

Feeling a little embarrassed, I forced a smile to him, and he also smiled shyly to me in return.

 

*All primary students are supposed to wear red scarf, which is the sign of Young Pioneers.

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Zixu Fan is a Chinese student studying fiction writing in the MFA program at The College of New Rochelle. She published her first Chinese novel, The Falling Flowers, in 2012, and came to join the MFA program in the U.S. to further sharpen her writing skills, as there are few programs to train creative writers in China. The prose “Secret Admirer,” tells about her secret admiration for her neighbor, a straight-A and talented boy in her primary school. Email: zf4059gs[at]cnr.edu