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The first day in Songzi High School, Ming was struck speechless when he found town boys never speaking to girls on campus. But why this weird school tradition? he wondered aloud. 

A couple of weeks later, he learned from Kang, his newly-made and best-informed friend, that nobody actually knew the reason. Nor anyone could tell when it came into practice, but there had always been an invisible and insurmountable wall between the two sexes, which was taken for granted and respected by everyone in the school. They all knew that anyone seen or known to have contact of any kind with the opposite sex would be crashed into pieces under the enormous peer pressure.   

Though Ming and Kang didn’t dare to speak to girls either openly or secretly, both enjoyed talking about them between themselves. Whenever they hang around, they would readily share their opinions. To Kang, Jing was the prettiest girl in their own class while Ling looked like a dead fish. Among all the seven classes in their grade, each consisting of at least fifty students, quite a few girls were good looking, but to Ming, none of them was comparable to Chiung, his former girlfriend from his village. In fact, he didn’t find any girl really attractive in his new school, not even in the entire town. Naturally, he’d never really looked at them, let alone bother to remember their names.

Nothing happened until during a school-wide meeting, which took place on an early summer afternoon in 1973. Sitting on the dirt floor in the auditorium, Ming found himself turned on the moment he saw a girl supposedly from Class 2 coming to stop and sit right before him. “Gee, there was a beautiful girl in this school after all,” Ming said to himself. He wished to know her name at least, but alas, given the sexual taboo, he could not make any inquiries about her identity. All he could do was wait for a stroke of serendipity. “I’ll meet her again if we really have a connection,” he assured himself.    

As karma would have it, he did see her again on the volleyball training ground shortly before summer vacation started. However, though he’d developed a crush on her, he was keenly aware that there would be no chance to go closer to her than watch her serving the ball from a distance. Neither tall, nor rich, nor handsome, with no sports or music talents, he thought that the only way to attract her attention lay in academics.   

Motivated by this unspeakable desire, Ming soon distinguished himself as a top performer in maths, physics, chem and even Chinese in his class. He meant to become a straight A student in the grade level, but for lack of textual material and tutorial help, he just couldn’t catch up with others in English, a subject which he never studied in Lotus Village. Even after a tremendous effort, he scored only 30 percent and had to give up this fancy course. Unable to fulfill his dream to strike up a relationship with his ‘girl-in-heart,’ he forced himself to forget her by turning his attention to something else. 

As his last year in high school began, he initiated a literary magazine called “2/5 Wall Journal,” meaning a poster-based presentation of writing by Class 5, Year 2. Originally, he planned it as a quarterly publication featuring poetry, fiction, prose work and English content, to be contributed respectively by himself, Kang, another top composition writer and the English class representative. When they finished the editing process, they clean-copied all the textual contents with brush pens and posted them on the exterior wall of their classroom. For the first few days, the wall zine attracted a lot of students from other classes, who found the idea brand new and inspiring. But while he was still hoping that his crush would somehow notice him as the chief editor of its inaugural issue, he and his friends were ordered to remove it because as the founder, he had been called to the principal’s office, where he was severely rebuked for having “derailed from, and even contravened the mass revolutionary movement against Lin Biao and Confucius.”  

To try his luck, he visited the volleyball ground several times in hope of seeing her there again, but with no success. Even during the school sports meet, he didn’t sight her. “Perhaps she has been transferred to another school,” he thought. To make sure of that, he went out of his way to make a couple of friends from Class 2. On several occasions, he was tempted to ask them what her name was, but each time he beat about the bush, they would ask him in a heavily suspicious tone, “Who are you talking about? Why do you want to know a girl’s name?”  

As a result, he never raised this sensitive topic to Kang throughout high school, even though he believed that his best pal knew the girl well. 

Unable to do anything, Ming decided to explore his new interest in literature. To improve his writing skills, he challenged himself by writing a novella, titled A Bunch of Flowers for Wisdom, in which he imagined himself leading a group of high school boys in a revolutionary tour to Mt Shao, the hilly village where Chairman Mao was born and brought up. Along the way, the group overcame a variety of obstacles and experienced many exciting but dangerous incidents. 

   When he told his friend about this novella, Kang strongly suggested him adding the recent rumor about a girl from Class 2 having been stalked and sexually harassed by one of her classmates. While Ming had no idea about who the victim was, every boy on campus was deterred by the fact that the offender was arrested and imprisoned for “indecent activities.”

“It was no other than myself,” Hua told Ming when they finally joined each other in body as in spirit nearly half a century later. 

[Author’s note: This story is inspired by Helena Qi Hong (祁红).]

bio :: Yuan Changming edits Poetry Pacific with Allen Yuan in Vancouver. Credits include 12 Pushcart nominations, 15 chapbooks (most recently Sinosaure) and appearances in Best of the Best Canadian Poetry (2008-17), BestNewPoemsOnline and 2,019 other literary outlets across 49 countries. A poetry judge at Canada's 2021 National Magazine Awards, Yuan began writing and publishing fiction in 2022.  


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