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Published at 16th of April 2016 10:45:02 PM

Chapter 2

Chen Nian was greeted with cigarette fumes the moment she exited her toilet cubicle . Chen Nian turned away and started coughing . When the fumes finally cleared, Wei Cai’s arrogant face entered into Chen Nian’s vision field . Remnants of make up were still left on Wei Cai’s youthful face, the overly mature makeup looking extremely out of place on such a young face .


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Chen Nian, too, wished that she would be able to age tremendously within a single night . Only then would she be able to successfully escape the ferocious and cruel colosseum, and avoid being preyed on by the merciless vultures .

However, she was unable to escape her youth no matter how hard she tried .

Chen Nian started towards the door of the toilet . However, before Chen Nian could even take a single step, Wei Cai abruptly slammed her onto the cubicle door . Chen Nian hoped from the bottom of her heart that this would simply be an one-off incident, and didn’t serve as a signal of the start of Wei Cai’s war on her .

Wei Cai slowly moved her cigarette towards Chen Nian’s stiff face, before finally pressing it against the cubicle door . She closed the distance between her and Chen Nian, “What did the police officers want from you?”

Chen Nian replied calmly, “They…they asked the same…… same few questions . ”

“Sa…same… . same…” Wei Cai mimicked Chen Nian’s stutter . “Why is your mouth so stupid? Can’t it speak properly? Just look at you – the police would still suspect that you’re lying even if you’re speaking the truth . ”

Chen Nian shook her head vigorously .

“So, Chen Nian . Tell me – where was I when Hu Xiao Die jumped from the school building?”

The sunlight shone on Chen Nian’s face, highlighting her pale complexion; Chen Nian glanced at Wei Cai, trying her best to complete the sentence in a single breath, “School……” Wei Cai stared at Chen Nian viciously, and was about to slap Chen Nian when Chen Nian finally finished her sentence, “Outside school…” .

That day, Chen Nian was on her way home when she saw Wei Cai and her friends surrounding a female student from High School . They were extorting money from her .

Wei Cai looked at Chen Nian coldly, “You stuttered this to the police?”

Chen Nian lowered her head . On spotting some slight movements from Wei Cai’s hand . , Chen Nian immediately shook her head and replied, “I wrote . ”

However, the slap still found its way onto Chen Nian’s face .

Chen Nian’s head was tilted to the side, her long black fringe serving as a cover for her flushed facial expression and her shame .

“I knew you wouldn’t dare to speak about rubbish . ” Wei Cai spat at Chen Nian . Just then, the bell rang, signaling the start of lessons . Xu Miao, who had been standing guard at the door, started to urge Wei Cai, “Come on, let’s go . ”

Wei Cai walked closer to Chen Nian, and grabbed a few strands of hair from Chen Nian’s neat ponytail . She coiled the hair strands around her finger, and gradually pulled on the strands till they broke, “Chen Nian, you better keep your mouth shut tight . ”

……

Every class is like a miniature society . There’s people whose personalities are bright and extroverted, there’s people who’s busy all the time, and there’s people who’s quiet and reserved . There’s also people who are individualistic and independent, people who are simply normal and ordinary, and people who are simply invisible .


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Chen Nian belonged to the final group .

Chen Nian managed to hurry back into the classroom before the bell stopped ringing . She took a look at the teacher and the students who were bustling about, only to find that nobody had noticed her . She walked back to her table and seated herself down .

Hu Xiao Die committed suicide . She repeated internally .

Although she was initially distracted by the pain that remained on her cheek, calmness gradually descended upon her . She lowered her head and started solving the mathematics problems, her mechanical pencil making rustling noises as it moved across the paper .

The Mathematics teacher walked past her, observing how she solved the problem . Finally, the teacher nodded his head, and walked to the front of the classroom before calling out, “Chen Nian . ”

Chen Nian raised her head .

“Tell us the answer for this problem . ”

Chen Nian slowly put down her pencil, and straightened up . She replied in a small voice, “A……A……Alpha plus 3 Beta . ”

“A……A……A……” Wei Cai mimicked Chen Nian’s stutter in a breathy voice, her eyelashes fluttering rapidly, and an ambiguous expression forming on her face . The classmates found Wei Cai’s little interruption rather hilarious, and burst into laughter . To them, classes were only interesting with such interruptions; it didn’t matter whether Wei Cai possessed any malicious intent when interrupting Chen Nian .

Chen Nian calmly remained standing upright . She had grown up surrounded by a sea of mocking laughter, and was used to people laughing at her by now .

The jeering and the disdain had started since she was in Kindergarten . Whoever said that man’s nature at birth is fundamentally good? Whoever said that it’s only a ‘children’s game’? It is precisely the collective disdain and bullying of children that is the cruelest and rawest form of human nature . Unlike adults, children have no idea how to cloak themselves with layers of pretense . As such, children often displayed their hate and disdain for others openly without any shame . They bullied her, mocked her, isolated her, and jeered at her – all without experiencing any sense of shame .

“Silence!” The Mathematics teacher hit the table in his rage . “The rest of you may be able to laugh now, but how many of you would be able to laugh after the Mathematics exam?” The teacher’s power is always limited to mocking the students’ uncertain futures .

“Wei Cai, stand in the corridor as punishment . ”

Screech . The chair scratched against the floor of the classroom, the sound ringing out loud and clear, arrogantly challenging the teacher’s authority . Wei Cai stood up lazily, and nonchalantly walked out of the classroom whilst chewing her gum . Before she left the classroom, she turned back, giving Chen Nian one final stare .

Chen Nian sat down on her seat . Her deskmate and good friend Xiao Mi squeezed her hand encouragingly, and looked at her with an apologetic expression . Chen Nian shook her head, indicating that she was fine .

As the final exams neared, everybody suffered from the stress of having to get into a good new school . To them, feelings of happiness and sorrow dissipated as quickly as the wind, and they didn’t expend any effort in taking anything to heart . Rather, they preferred to focus their entire energy on studying and preparing for the examinations .

Physical Education classes were now allocated to the students as free time . Those who wished to study could remain in the classroom, whereas those who wished to relax, or those who had long given up on studying, could head to the field for some exercise .

The basketballs and badminton rackets that were originally in the basket were long gone, having been snatched by the enthusiastic and eager students . Chen Nian picked up the lone skipping rope that lay at the bottom of the basket .


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“Chen Nian, do you want to play badminton together?” Li Xiang’s voice rang out . Li Xiang was the tallest boy in class . Although he broke the district’s record for the 100m race, he as not merely an athlete . Indeed, he also excelled in his academic studies . Thus, he had already been offered a spot in an extremely prestigious university .

Chen Nian shook her head, the ponytail at the back of her head bobbing in the process .

“Chen Nian, you really don’t like to talk, do you?” Li Xiang lowered his head and smiled at her .

Chen Nian had to raise her head to look at him due to his height . Whilst majority of the students had to wear spectacles, Li Xiang’s vision was extremely good; indeed, his eyes shone brightly, and was radiating with vigour .

“There’s no…… . nothing much to sa……say . ” Chen Nian’s throat clammed up naturally . It was a pity that she had such a good voice .

Chen Nian had an extremely delicate and pretty appearance . Her eyebrows were rather pale, whilst her eyelashes were extremely black and long . She also had a rather small mouth, which made Li Xiang think of the description ‘small cherry lips’, which was often utilised in novels . No wonder she had so little to say .

Li Xiang said, “Chen Nian, there are a few students in class who are rather annoying, but don’t pay them any attention . Just work hard and focus on your studies . Once you’re done with your examinations, you will be able to leave this place once and for all . ”

The comfort offered by the youth was careful and encouraging, and sparked a small hope in Chen Nian . Chen Nian nodded her head .

“So… How about playing badminton together?”

Chen Nian shook her head .

Li Xiang smiled, and found a way to defuse the situation, “We could always play together in the future . ”

He left . As Chen Nian turned around, she saw Wei Cai sitting on the ledge and staring at her coldly through her narrowed eyes . Or rather, she was staring at something behind Chen Nian .

Chen Nian looked back, and saw Li Xiang engaged in a conversation with Zeng Hao . He handed a badminton racquet to Zeng Hao, and the both of them went off to play badminton together .

With her jump rope in hand, Chen Nian went off in search of an isolated corner that was separated from the crowd . As she concentrated on the jump rope, she gradually moved from the isolated corner which was exposed to the blazing heat of the afternoon sun into the cooling shade of the mulberry trees . The song of the cicadas surrounded her .

“Hey . ” A low male voice rang out emotionlessly .

Chen Nian halted her jump rope, her heart beating like a drum . She surveyed her surroundings but not a single soul was in sight – the students were all gathered on the faraway field, exercising .

The youth smirked coldly, “Here . ”

Only then did Chen Nian turn her head in the opposite direction . The boy who had been in the white t-shirt the previous night stood outside the school gates, under the blazing heat of the afternoon sun . He donned another white t-shirt today, along with a pair of school pants . As his jacket hung loosely from his waist, Chen Nian was unable to tell whether he came from a vocational school, or a technical school…

He had an unlit cigarette in his hand, and his fingers played with the cigarette slowly .


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The cicada’s song pierced the azure blue sky .

A thin sheen of sweat had formed on Chen Nian’s nose, and her usually pale face had turned into a healthy shade of red; perhaps because of her exercise, her heart was trembling rather violently . Subconsciously, Chen Nian pressed her lips together, and took a step backwards .

The school gates served as a boundary – one side was shrouded in darkness whilst the other was bathed in light .

His extraordinarily bright eyes swept across the boundary dividing the darkness from the light, “How much money did they take from you?”

“Sev……”Chen Nian took a deep breath and continued, “Seventy dollars . ”

He fished around in his pockets, and managed to produced two brand new fifty dollar notes . His arm reached across the school gates in an attempt to pass the money to her .

Chen Nian refused to take the money, shaking her head, “No……”

He waited for a few seconds . On discovering that Chen Nian hadn’t continued her speech, he replied in a distant tone, “You don’t have to give me any change . ”

Stunned, Chen Nian shut her mouth, swallowing the word ‘change’ that had been lingering on the tip of her tongue . At a loss as to how to respond, Chen Nian simply opted to continue shaking her head .

His arm was still hanging in mid-air . The youth narrowed his eyes and stared at Chen Nian for a few minutes before letting out an abrupt, cold laugh, “Are you going to take the money, or not?”

Gripping the jump rope in her hand, Chen Nian turned away and was about to leave when the youth suddenly retracted his arm and stepped away from the school gates .

Astonished, Chen Nian turned back to look at him – only to see the youth break out into a sudden run towards the school gates . Using both his arms and his legs, the youth managed to clamber up onto the school gates; and without breaking the momentum, the youth leapt off the school gates, easily landing on the grass patch before Chen Nian .

The youth lowered his head, sweeping off the dust that had gathered on his hands .

Chen Nian’s heart had leapt into her throat . Speechless, she could only stare at him with widened eyes .

His face was rather clean and pale, and several bruises had already formed above his eyebrows . Standing under the shade of the mulberry trees, his eyes seemed to be even darker and even colder than before . He walked towards her, finally standing in front of her . He was much taller compared to her, and his forceful presence overpowered her . As Chen Nian had been gripping the jump rope tightly in her refusal to take the money, the youth simply stuffed the notes into her fist through the gaps in between her fingers .

It was newly minted notes, causing Chen Nian’s hand to hurt .

The youth turned around immediately and left . Chen Nian stared at his silhouette; it appeared to be rather thin and cold, and radiated an air of youthful decisiveness .

Having taken a few steps, the youth suddenly turned back .

He stared at Chen Nian with the same unreadable gaze . “What’s your name?”

Chen Nian hesitated for a moment, “Chen……Chen Nian . ”

Mildly bewildered, he asked, “ Chen Chen Nian?” Due to his Southern accent, Chen Nian’s name sounded like an old type of wine that was clearly lacking in youthful vigour .

Chen Nian neither nodded her head nor shook her head, hoping that by doing so she’d be considered to have silently admitted the truth of his statement . If so, the youth would finally leave the school compound…

The youth gazed at Chen Nian speculatively . He didn’t leave . Instead, he picked up a nearby twig and returned to Chen Nian’s side . He pointed the twig towards the ground before passing it to her, and instructed, “Write it out . ”

Chen Nian squat down and wrote her name in the sand .

“Chen Nian . ” He voiced aloud before continuing, “What does Nian mean?”

Belief (Xin Nian), Reminiscence (Nian Jiu), or Diligence (Nian Shu)?

Chen Nian tried her best to explain, “It mea……” She expended a huge amount of effort, but the words were still as soft as ever . “means being……being true to one’s heart . ”

The youth looked at Chen Nian out of the corner of his eyes, finally understanding why she had said “Chen Chen Nian” the first time round .

Chen Nian knew that the youth had discovered her habit of stuttering . She looked at him calmly and peacefully, waiting for him to laugh at her and to mock her . However, his cold face betrayed no sign of any emotion .

Chen Nian could hear shouts originating from beyond the school walls . They were calling out a single name .

White t-shirt walked to the school gates and stepped onto a clump of mud . With his height, the youth simply needed to raise his arms in order to grab hold of the arrowheads on top of the school gates . With the exertion of a small amount of force, his thin body easily defied gravity as he leapt onto the gates .

Chen Nian thought that the arrowheads would scratch the youth, but they did not . They didn’t even manage to touch the school uniform that had been hanging from his waist . Like a sparrow, the youth easily landed on the ground beyond the school gates .

He left . This time, he didn’t look back .

Chen Nian emerged from the shade of the mulberry tree, and took a glimpse at the crowd outside . A group of male students were waiting at the opposite side of the road, all of them armed with wooden bats and sticks .

Chen Nian placed the crumpled notes into the pockets of her exercise outfit . She coiled the jump rope up, deciding to return to the classroom to study .

Li Xiang had managed to voice out her innermost thoughts . “Just work hard and focus on your studies . Once you’re done with your examinations, you will be able to leave this place once and for all . ”

All the hard work that she put in, all the effort that she expended – it was all so she could escape her present predicament .

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