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

Chapter 7

Chen Nian startled awake from her dream, her heartbeat throbbing loudly in the silence of the night .

Last night, just as Wei Cai flung herself towards Chen Nian, Chen Nian managed to find her keys amidst the flurry, hurling herself into the house before locking the door shut .

Lightning flashed across the dark night sky . Wei Cai kicked Chen Nian’s door ferociously, the loud echoes reverberating throughout the entire house . Chen Nian leaned her entire body against the door, scraps of paint falling from the walls every single time Wei Cai kicked the door . Some paint fell into Chen Nian’s eyes, causing her eyes to sting with pain .

After some time, Wei Cai left . Chen Nian could vividly recall Wei Cai’s haunting words before she left, “Chen Nian, you have a death wish . ”

Even though the rain had stopped, the air was still terribly warm and stuffy . Chen Nian turned over and looked at her mobile phone . It was only 5 in the morning .

Chen Nian wiped the sweat off her neck and switched the electric fan on before returning to her bed and falling into a daze .  The sky gradually grew lighter with each passing moment . When 6:45AM finally arrived, Chen Nian picked up the phone and called her mother who was currently faraway in Zhu Hai .

“Hello? Is this Nian Nian? You’re not in school yet?” The slightly raspy voice of her mum rang out . Chen Nian could hear sounds of communal showering from the other end .

Chen Nian lowered her head and rubbed her eyes, “Mummy . ”

“Eh? There’s no more toothpaste! Big sister, could you lend me some toothpaste?” Her mum appeared to be very busy, and only managed to continue the conversation after getting some toothpaste, “Nian Nian, is there something wrong? Why aren’t you heading to school yet?”

“Mummy, could you……come home……to take care……care of me? At least, until… . . until after……examinations, end?”

Chen Nian’s mum rinsed her mouth before responding, “I can’t even take a single day of leave now, as it’s currently the peak production period for the factory . If I tried to take two month’s worth of leave, I’d definitely be fired . Nian Nian, be good and persevere for two more months – you can do that, can’t you?”

Chen Nian fell into silence .

Having received no response from Chen Nian, Chen Nian’s mum gradually quietened down and went to a more secluded corner, “Nian Nian, are you missing mummy?”

Chen Nian nodded her head, before responding in a low and quiet voice, “Yes . ”

Chen Nian’s mum coaxed her gently, “Our Nian Nian is going to enter University soon, so mummy needs to earn sufficient money required to pay for University . If mummy stops working, who else would be able to provide for Nian Nian? We can’t possibly beg, could we?”

Chen Nian wiped the sweat from her face, and asked in a muffled voice, “Are there……electric…… . fans at your… . . dormitory?”

“It’s not hot over here . ” Chen Nian’s mum replied, “Don’t worry about me . Nian Nian, focus on your studies . Mummy would only be able to enjoy life when you start University . ”

Chen Nian’s feelings gradually returned to some degree of normalcy and calm .

Even if her mum returned, she could do little else except comfort Chen Nian . Furthermore, her wish was rather extravagant in nature, and was in actuality a luxury that her family was unable to afford .

When Chen Nian opened the door and stepped out, she was greeted with a huge expanse of the azure blue sky . Chen Nian could already feel the heat from the glare of the morning sun .

Chen Nian cautiously made her way to school, and succeeded in arriving at her classroom in one piece . Zeng Hao’s seat was still glaringly empty .

The entire classroom was engaged in a hearty discussion .

Xiao Mi began to tell Chen Nian what little that she knew, “Chen Nian, something shocking happened in school yesterday . ”

“Oh?” Chen Nian put on a clueless expression .

“Yesterday, the cleaner was about to clear the rubbish from the toilet yesterday when she noticed that huge chunks of rubbish were strewn on the toilet floor . As she cleared the rubbish, she started to rebuke the students for their irresponsible actions . All of a sudden, she heard someone crying for help from a toilet cubicle . When she peeked into the toilet cubicle, she discovered numerous red stains, and nearly fainted in shock!! It turned out that there was someone inside the cubicle that was locked for the whole of yesterday – that person is Zeng Hao!” Xiao Mi paused appropriately upon reaching the suspenseful climax .

Chen Nian continued looking at Xiao Mi, a calm expression on her face .

“Of course, she wasn’t dead . ” Xiao Mi continued, “However, her clothes and shoes were removed, and she had red paint splashed over her entire body . As she was afraid of the gossip that would ensue if she was seen by her classmates, she didn’t dare to come out from the cubicle, and only pleaded for help when she heard the cleaner come into the toilet . ”

Chen Nian turned back to look at Wei Cai’s chair, only to find it empty .

“Hey, listen to me!” Xiao Mi protested, and turned Chen Nian back to face her . “Zeng Hao sad that Wei Cai, Xu Miao and their group of friends are responsible for her plight . ”

Chen Nian: “Ah?”

“She was bullied by Wei Cai and her group of friends, so all of them are currently at the police station . Most importantly, Zeng Hao claimed that the reason why Hu Xiao Die committed suicide was because of Wei Cai and her friends! – Ah, so it really was Wei Cai and her group of friends . I know that I’m not the only person who thought this way, everyone else had the same thoughts as well!

Indeed, the entire class was engaged in a heart discussion, every single classmate detailing when and where he/she saw Wei Cai and Hu Xiao Die entangled in some form of conflict when Hu Xiao Die was still alive .

The dam that had suppressed the flood had broken . The situation was irreversible .

Chen Nian felt as though she was trapped in the vortex centre of the rushing flood, sinking into the mud with each passing minute .

Li Xiang walked over to Chen Nian and Xiao Mi, a bright smile plastered on his face . Waving the exam scripts from the High School Affiliated to Beijing Normal University, he asked, “Chen Nian, Xiao Mi, how are you two going to thank me?”

Chen Nian took one glance at him, not saying a single word .

Li Xiang noticed that Chen Nian’s slightly dark facial expression, and instantly changed his tune, “I was just teasing you guys! Here, you guys can have the exam scripts . ”

Xiao Mi retrieved the papers and thanked Li Xiang in a loud voice .

Before Li Xiang could even respond, the bell rang, signaling the start of class . The teacher strode into the classroom, and the students returned to their respective seats . However, even before the Mathematics teacher had the opportunity to announce the start of class, Chen Nian’s form teacher appeared at the entrance of the classroom, waving his hands at Chen Nian .

“Chen Nian, could you come out for a minute?”

The bustling classroom fell into a deathly, eerie silence .

Chen Nian exited the classroom calmly, and quietly followed the form teacher out of the school building .

“You have to make a trip to the Public Safety Bureau with me . ”

Chen Nian nodded her head .

Whilst they were on their way to the Public Safety Bureau, her form teacher spoke up, “Zeng Hao insisted that you told her that Wei Cai and Xu Miao……” Her form teacher paused, scrambling for an appropriate word to use, “That they had a conflict with Hu Xiao Die . ”

Chen Nian hesitated . After some deliberation, Chen Nian finally decided to say yes, and was about to do so when she raised her head and saw the form teacher’s intense and direct gaze, an indistinct pressure settling over her . Carefully, Chen Nian swallowed the words that had already begun to form at the tip of her tongue .

“Did you truly say that? You do know that our school is the best in the city, don’t you? We’re also one of the top ten schools in the province . Our school has never ever experienced problems relating to conflict amongst students . ”

Chen Nian pursed her lips together, “Zeng……Zeng Hao was also……also bullied . ”

“What about Hu Xiao Die? She was probably only bullied once, wasn’t she?”

Chen Nian was unable to discern the meaning behind her teacher’s words, and cautiously studied his facial expression .

“If she was frequently bullied, I wouldn’t be totally clueless about it – I’m her form teacher after all! And if she was indeed frequently bullied, the other teachers would have also picked up various hints and put sufficient measures in place . ”

“The entire……class talked…… about……the incidents . ”

“Those incidents which the class talked about were merely small, ordinary conflicts that commonly occurs between classmates . I’m referring to something more serious in the present case – bullying . ”

Chen Nian fell into silence . After some time, she lowered her head and answered, “Yes . ”

Chen Nian had only confessed to Zeng Hao the truth about Hu Xiao Die’s suicide on the sole condition that she would not drag Chen Nian into Hu Xiao Die’s matter . Since Zeng Hao didn’t keep her word, Zeng Hao couldn’t blame her for subsequently denying or retracting her confession . Chen Nian told herself internally .

The moment Chen Nian entered the lobby, she heard a piercing cry ring out . Hu Xiao Die’s parents were tussling with the parents of Wei Cai and Xu Miao, whilst the government officials were trying their hardest to separate them to no avail .

“Murderer! Criminal!” Hu Xiao Die’s parents were extremely emotional . Hu Xiao Die’s mother even wailed aloud, “They caused my daughter’s death!! They caused it!!”

Wei Cai’s mother rebutted in a shrill voice, “All accusations must be backed up by evidence! It is common for children to engage in some form of verbal arguments or minor conflict with their schoolmates . If you commit suicide the moment I scold you, then all those who squabble on the street ought to be rounded up and shot to death!”

“Your daughter beat my daughter up! They were bullying her for a long period of time . ” Hu Xiao Die’s mother shook Wei Cai’s mother violently, “Murderer! Criminal! You gave birth to your child but you didn’t bother raising her properly!”

Wei Cai’s mother was about to retort when Xu Miao’s parents stepped in . With tears flowing down her face, Xu Miao’s mother pleaded, “Nobody wanted things to turn out this way . It’s our fault for failing to take our children in hand, and I admit that I’m at fault . But please, please do not place all the responsibility on our children . They’re still young, and they have a long road ahead of them . Even if they were at fault, we have to give them a chance to change . ”

Wei Cai’s mother refused to admit fault, and continued squabbling with the other parents . The Public Safety Bureau descended into chaos once more .

The form teacher led Chen Nian into the elevator .

A police officer was waiting for her at the entrance of the interrogation room – it was the young police officer who had previously questioned her in school . He was attired in his work uniform, and looked especially handsome and bright . A smile formed on his lips when he saw Chen Nian, as though they were close acquaintances . He had just graduated from school, and wasn’t much older than Chen Nian . When he looked at Chen Nian, his gaze was always gentle yet sharp, as if he had the ability to peer into the inner depths of her heart .

The form teacher patter Chen Nian’s shoulders, “Don’t be afraid . Take your time to tell the police officer what you wish to say . ”

Chen Nian followed Officer Zheng into the interrogation room . The door closed shut .

“Did Hu Xiao Die tell you anything the day she committed suicide?”

Chen Nian shook her head .

“Are you certain about that?”

“Yes . ” Chen Nian knew about the importance of consistency in testimony .

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“Zeng Hao testified that you previously told her the following: on the day before Hu Xiao Die committed suicide, you had seen Wei Cai and her group of friends……” Officer Zheng paused momentarily, his dark eyebrows gently creasing, “abusing her . ”

The term “abuse” caused Chen Nian to startle .

Chen Nian didn’t respond . She wanted to deny the testimony presented in front of her, but she couldn’t open her mouth no matter how hard she tried .

“Chen Nian, if what you said was the truth, the persons who inflicted the abuse would suffer the corresponding punishment . ”

Chen Nian felt as though a heavy brick was weighing on her throat . She met Officer Zheng’s intense and firm gaze . A tag hung proudly from his chest, his name inscribed on the tag: Zheng Yi[1] .

Officer Zheng softened his voice, “Chen Nian, trust me . ”

There was only the two of them in the interrogation room . The atmosphere gradually froze . In his eyes, Chen Nian could see a tolerant and understanding love for the bigger world and its civilians .

After an internal struggle, Chen Nian finally nodded her head .

“Could you describe the scene that you saw in more detail?”

Wei Cai had initially picked on Hu Xiao Die because she simply didn’t like her . Or perhaps it was because Hu Xiao Die was too pretty . Alternatively, Wei Cai might have picked on Hu Xiao Die because Hu Xiao Die was extremely friendly with all the males in class, or perhaps it was because Hu Xiao Die was smitten with the basketball player Li Xiang, and openly evinced her desire to get closer to him . At this point in time, the initial reason Wei Cai picked on Hu Xiao Die was no longer something that could be deciphered . In any event, Hu Xiao Die frequently suffered from cynical taunts and verbal insults whenever her classmates were around, and was often unintentionally “bumped” into and accidentally “hit” by numerous objects . Conversely, when her classmates were no longer around, in locations such as the balcony, the toilet, the library, and the corner in the canteen, Wei Cai and her group of friends……

Of course, it would be impossible to assert that the surrounding classmates failed to detect any signs of the ongoing bullying activities . However, due to various reasons, everyone simply chose to remain silent and to overlook the bullying activities – they convinced themselves that it was merely an ordinary conflict between classmates; after all, everyone had people they disliked .

Wei Cai and Hu Xiao Die’s conflict didn’t concern them in the least;

The stress from studies already left the students battered and weary;

In addition, they weren’t familiar with Hu Xiao Die . Who would truly take the problems of strangers to heart?

When the strong engages in a confrontation with the weak, the situation inevitably devolves into one whereby one party is isolated whilst the other party enforces the isolation; or where one party is bullied whilst the other party inflicts the bullying . In such situations, organisms would subconsciously turn away from the party who was being bullied and isolated .

People fear straying from the group, and this was especially true for children . Compared to adults, children were often more afraid of being non-conformist, as they were frequently classified as the weak .

Chen Nian had seen Wei Cai, Xu Miao, and their group of friends insult and assault Hu Xiao Die, and when she saw them tear Hu Xiao Die’s clothes and strip her naked, she left the scene immediately . Chen Nian was afraid – she feared that she too, would become part of the bullied, part of the hunted .

The form teacher was detained for further questioning . By the time Chen Nian exited the elevator and stepped into the lobby, the chaotic group of parents had already been dispersed . The marble floor was extremely empty and clean . It reflected the vibrant glare of the summer sun, causing Chen Nian’s eyes to water .

On her way back to school, Chen Nian felt an indistinct sense of trepidation . However, at the same time, she felt extremely relaxed .

There was always a solution to one’s problems . She was extremely grateful that she had managed to rein herself in at the brink of the precipice – she hadn’t resorted to seeking protection from that person who was her total opposite; she didn’t step onto a path she knew would definitely leave her with infinite regrets .

Just as these thoughts were running through her head, she saw him .

Ah, the Heavens were being so deliberate .

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Bei Ye was seated on a roadside bench, a cigarette in his hand . One of his legs was propped up on the bench, whilst his other leg was stretched outright, appearing to be extraordinarily long .

The white cast on his arm was especially obvious .

There was a group of lax and undisciplined people surrounding him, all of them breathing out cigarette smoke as well . They were joking and ribbing each other . Chen Nian could hear words such as “F***”, “Bi***”, “Dam***” and other forms of profanities being spewed around .

Bei Ye’s head was lowered as he smoked; thus, he hadn’t seen Chen Nian . One of his companions had slung his arm over Bei Ye’s shoulders, and was talking to him about various rated matters . His companion was in an extremely gleeful mood, and was laughing uncontrollably . As a result, Bei Ye was also swayed from side to side, causing Bei Ye to smile in response .

Raising his head, Bei Ye instantly spotted Chen Nian, who had been passing by . Her white school uniform and her white school shoes stood out in the crowd .

Chen Nian shot him a quick glance, which did not go unnoticed by his companions . His companions challenged, “What are you looking at?”

Chen Nian immediately turned her face away .

Bei Ye lowered his head and tapped his cigarette on the bench, causing the cigarette ash to fall away .

His companion turned back to look at Bei Ye . On discovering that the rest of the group were still chatting, he interjected, “Bei Ge[2], look – the female students from First High School are all so pretty . ”

Bei Ye didn’t respond . However, a yellow-haired person laughed at the companion, “Lai Zi, all females are beautiful in your eyes . ”

The person called ‘Lai Zi’ lowered his voice, “Ah, why are the wrists and calves of females all so slender and graceful?” As he spoke, he started to estimate the size of Chen Nian’s wrists with his fingers, “Her wrists and calves are only about this thick – a mere twist would cause them to break!”

After looking at Lai Zi’s rough estimation, the entire group turned back to look at Chen Nian . Her slender and pale wrists and ankles were glowing under the afternoon sun .

Just then, Bei Ye pressed his cigarette into the bench and put it out . Placing his feet on the floor, he straightened up, “Are we leaving or not?”

“Alright, let’s go! Let’s go grab some tea first . ” The entire group of people swarmed into the nearby convenience store .

Bei Ye strolled behind the group in an unhurried pace . He didn’t look at Chen Nian as he brushed past her . Neither did she .

Having walked past her, Bei Ye stopped in his tracks . Running his tongue over his teeth, he ultimately turned back to look at her .

“Hey . ”

Chen Nian turned back to look at him .

“What are you doing running around on the streets? Shouldn’t you be in school studying?” Ah, look at the way he chided her – as if he himself possessed the requisite qualification to chide her .

Chen Nian didn’t reply . Although the apology in her eyes was evident for only a mere second, the very next moment, his gaze had already drawn a clear boundary between the two of them, “I’m leaving . ”

The moment he turned his back to her, Bei Ye was overcome with a sense of deflation; the secret happiness that he experienced a few seconds ago on seeing her no longer existed . Between them, there were simply too many insurmountable differences to overcome .

He waved his hand nonchalantly, indicating that she could take her leave .