Audio drama ep 1 00:00 – 04:20
It is often said that “when men are born, all are free and equal”. But the truth is, from the moment we are born, we are doomed to be unequal, and we can never be considered equal.
This kind of inequality is now reflected in this conference on “how to deal with student Yu Hao for ‘taking’ other people’s things”. The attendees are the counsellor, the vice principal, and the Secretary of the College’s League Committee1.
Everyone centered on the topic of this problem student as they launched a heated discussion with the aim of clearing his name and discovering the truth of the matter.
Of course, the party concerned had not been invited to participate in their discussion.
“Everyone has arrived, so I’m going to start. Firstly, let’s briefly talk about student Yu Hao. Male, local. When he was five, some unforeseen events occurred in his family. His parents left him and he was raised by his grandmother. He has no other relatives.”
“During his third year of high school, Yu Hao’s grandmother was sick in bed and passed away after his college entrance examination. He sold their house, arranged her funeral and paid off several debts. Then he tidied up the rest of his belongings and enrolled in our college. His high school results were average, or else he wouldn’t have enrolled in our college.”
“I observed him briefly during military training, this kid barely talks to anyone. After military training ended, his life was indeed tough. He went to the Student Affairs Department to sign up for their work-study program and obtained the opportunity to work as a part-time tutor, and tutored a sixth-grade student in English.
“…….but what happened in the end? He hadn’t even tutored the kid for two months before her parent came to the college and said that during one of his tutoring sessions, he had taken away a watch that they had left in their study room while his student wasn’t paying attention.
As the vice principal listened to the counsellor give a brief overview of the situation, he wiped his glasses with a piece of flannel cloth. Yu Hao’s file was placed in front of him. He stared at it intently and said, “I’ve looked at his files. This student even has a criminal record?”
“Yeah, he had taken his classmate’s wallet once when he was in junior high, it’s written in his files. But because he was still underage, that incident was left unresolved.”
The vice principal put on his presbyopic glasses, picked up his files, then slammed it against the table in a fit of fury to express his dissatisfaction.
“Last Friday, the kid’s parent brought the police over so that they could conduct an investigation. Ai——yo! My God! All the students in the department were pointing fingers at them. At that time, I was interrogated at the entrance so harshly I couldn’t even come up with a single reply! A watch that costs sixty thousand yuan, sixty thousand! If he were to receive a sentence, he’d be sentenced to jail for at least a few years! The dean had said that this matter must! Must be investigated thoroughly! Must be dealt with seriously! No one can take this matter lightly!”
The counsellor answered with an ‘un’, and didn’t have much hope in trying to trivialize this matter anymore. He probably can’t escape a deduction from his bonuses either.
The league committee’s secretary was a young girl. She was very absorbed in using WeChat before she raised her head and asked the counsellor, “How’s his life on campus? Does he have any friends? Maybe we can understand him better from these other aspects?”
“Yu Hao lives in dormitory 405. There are seven people who live in that dormitory — three are from the sports classes and four are from the psychological classes. They had all said that this Yu Hao has a slight hatred for the rich. He seldom hangs out with them, and usually says that it’s because he’s poor. After their military training ended, there had been several minor conflicts between the roommates in that dormitory.”
“His roommates all don’t like him?”
“He lives a tough life, so he can’t play with them. He’s not being isolated, he’s just a bit on the quiet side.”
At this moment, there was a knock on the door. A boy entered the conference room — sports department, about 1.8m tall, dressed in sportswear, had just ended training, short red hair, and drenched in sweat. The secretary passed him a bottle of water. The boy accepted it and downed a few mouthfuls.
The secretary asked, “Didn’t we ask Xiao Fu to come? Why is it you?”
All the leaders in the conference room looked at the red-haired boy with disdain.
“Zhou Sheng, you still haven’t cut your hair.” The counsellor pointed at the red-haired boy he called Zhou Sheng and said, “Dye it back!”
“It’ll be fine when it grows out.” Zhou Sheng said impatiently, “Fu Liqun has a match in the afternoon and asked me to attend the meeting in his place.” As he talked, he was about to put his foot up2 when he noticed the counsellor’s fierce glare, so he could only put his foot back down and ask, “What’s up?”
The secretary said helplessly, “We wanted our college’s basketball team captain to come, he’s the errand runner for the league committee and the Student Affairs Department. Yu Hao’s work-study schedule was recommended by him…….Zhou Sheng, do you know Yu Hao? Talk about him to the teachers?”
Zhou Sheng thought about it, then shook his head.
“Yu Hao? Our dormitory isn’t familiar with his ba? Fu Liqun recommended him because he once saw him drinking tap water by the basketball court. He had guessed that his finances were a bit tight, so he asked him to go find a part-time job. He asked him what he could do, and he said that after he had graduated from high school, he had tutored primary school students. Coincidentally, Fu Liqun was the errand runner for the Student Affairs Department, so he helped him get a form and got him to fill it in……that should be it ba? That’s what I heard.”
The secretary said, “What do you think of him as a person?”
Zhou Sheng gave the secretary a suspicious look and casually said, “We’ve never spoken.”
The conference room was dead silent for awhile. Zhou Sheng thought for awhile more and added, “But he looks okay. Fu Liqun said that his English is pretty good, but his science is seriously weak.”
The secretary motioned that he could go. After Zhou Sheng took his bottle of water and left, the counsellor asked again, “At that time, this watch was taken from his bag?”
Counsellor, “The first person to discover it was his roommate. Last Thursday, he saw him fiddling with the watch in their dormitory.”
Vice principal, “He openly wore it on his hand?”
The counsellor wasn’t sure either, so he could only shake his head.
“Mr. Shi’s house has no surveillance cameras.”
“I meant, when it was taken from him.”
“There’s a surveillance record. We were in my office, and when I asked him about it, he immediately took it out to give it to me.”
The secretary nodded and said, “At least he didn’t deny it.”
The vice principal helplessly said, “This can be denied? How can it be denied? Has he admitted his mistake?”
The counsellor regretfully answered, “He doesn’t admit it. He said that someone had framed him. But according to his student’s report, she had seen Yu Hao turn around from facing the bookcase where they had kept the watch with her own eyes.”
Secretary, “Could it have been the student’s prank? For example, she wanted to play a joke on him by placing the watch in his bag?”
“We won’t exclude that possibility. But that Yu Hao……how do I put it? He’s quite materialistic ba, he had applied for financial assistance but he’s using an iPhone. On the second day, he had gone to the shop where gold and mobile phones were recycled at the back of the school to get some information on the watch. He let the store’s owner look at the watch cause he wanted to get rid of it, but in the end, he didn’t sell it. He might have regretted his actions then.”
The secretary stopped talking.
The vice principal fumed, “Horrible! He’s really too horrible! Is there a record of him trying to sell the watch? Was there any surveillance camera around?”
The counsellor helplessly said, “The police made a voice recording of the store owner’s statement, it’s in the files.”
Vice principal, “Xiao Xue, I’ll ask you just one question. He’s your student, do you think that he has been wronged? Just tell us the truth. When we leave this conference room, we won’t tell anyone about what you say here.”
The counsellor thought to himself ‘I’m not shouldering this blame’, then said in an obscure way, “Even if he hadn’t taken it, the fact that he tried to get rid of it is a bit, un, a bit……Miss Li, what do you think?”
The secretary said, “Usually, when people realise that there’s a random valuable in their bag, their first thought would be to return it. This kid…….ai……”
The vice principal appeared to have suddenly thought of something, then anxiously asked, “The other party’s parent didn’t look for the media did they? Who has the details of this case?”
“They didn’t.” The counsellor immediately clarified, “Witness testimonies and evidence are all with the police. No one wants this matter to blow up, but if the college doesn’t give them an answer, then we don’t know what they might do.”
Vice principal, “This matter must be dealt with as soon as possible in a decisive and peaceful manner. Or else, it’ll have a negative influence on our college.”
The secretary asked, “Xue Laoshi3, when the parent came to the college’s doorstep, based on your observations, did Yu Hao show any sign of shame?’
The counsellor hesitated, and didn’t know if he should say what he was thinking.
After a short moment, the counsellor said, “He looked very calm, but it could have been because we hadn’t come to a final conclusion on the matter? I had promised him that I would definitely help him investigate this case thoroughly, and had even arranged for his roomates to carefully observe his every move.”
The secretary muttered an ‘un’ and said, “After he returns to his dorm, his attitude might be different.”
The counsellor pondered for a long time before he decided to just say it anyway.
“After the first time Yu Hao went to tutor the kid, he had said in dormitory 405 that this family was very rich. Why did he need to be so poor when there were people who were that rich? And he had even suspected that their family had an illegal source of income. Yesterday night after the lights went out, he chatted with his roommate on the upper bunk and complained that he had been wronged, and that he wanted to kill that father and daughter pair. His roommates had taken a screenshot and sent it to me, take a look.”
The counsellor unlocked his phone to let them see the screenshot. The vice principal took off his spectacles, held the phone in one hand and clicked his tongue.
The counsellor then replayed the surveillance video that he had downloaded to his phone. However, the office’s surveillance monitor was very blurred. Yu Hao’s back faced the camera, and he had only stood rooted to his spot quietly without any over-the-top reactions.
The vice principal suddenly got very agitated and said, “These are the signs of Antisocial Personality Disorder! Look at this, look! Especially when he handed the watch over, that attitude of his! He’s obviously a dead pig who doesn’t fear boiling water anymore, he doesn’t even care if he’s caught!”
Secretary, “If he was wronged, it’s reasonable for him to have said things out of spite……”
Vice principal interrupted, “He has a previous record of stealing his classmate’s item, so this can be considered as him having recidivated. We’ll see how the case progresses. If it really can’t be settled properly, then we’ll persuade him to withdraw ba. After we persuade him to withdraw, send him to the police station and they’ll deal with him. Don’t agitate him.”
The counsellor thought that this method of handling the situation was a bit too simplistic and crude, but he also felt quite relieved. Actually, the vice principal had just said what he wanted to hear the most.
If the school can’t discipline him, then let society do it. After entering society, he’ll understand how tolerant the school is. Or else, if another Ma Jiajue appears4, it’ll get even more troublesome.
The counsellor continued, “Tomorrow, the police will come here again. I’ll fill in the application form first according to the results of their investigations, and I’ll try my best to be as detailed as possible. After I attach a copy of the police’s records to the form, I’ll pass it to Yu Hao to confirm the details then get him to sign the document.”
Originally, the conversation should have ended with on this note, but the secretary couldn’t help but ask one more question.
“Why do his roommates dislike him? Is it really just because he’s poor?”
The counsellor thought for a long while before he answered.
“They said that, Yu Hao is gay.”
The secretary wanted to continue to ask “how did they know that?”, but, the question never left her mouth.
“Times are different now.” Vice principal said, “There is still this type of discrimination. Boys have their own rules, we can’t ask everyone to treat this matter kindly. But, no matter if he’s a homosexual or a heterosexual or whatever sexual, I don’t think it concerns the case at hand.”
The counsellor quickly agreed with the vice principal, and thus the three of them ended their meeting.
Ying City had been selected as one of the top ten most beautiful sceneries in Central China during the spring and autumn seasons, and had even made its way to the cover of National Geographic. When spring came, cherry blossoms could be found everywhere, while gingkos would litter the streets during autumn. Huazhong Institute of Science and Technology was located in the more desolate northern part of the city. This third-class independent college had been around for almost twenty years, and a few years ago there were many people who would take their wedding photos at the Gingko Valley located at the mountains behind the college.
A wall separated the stadium from the back mountains. Teachers would often bring their kids to the stadium to fly kites. During the late afternoons in autumn, the skies were usually clear and the blazing sun would shine brightly. When you wake up from an afternoon nap surrounded by the noise of kids running about chasing one another, it would really make you feel like you had forgotten to keep track of time.
Yu Hao carried a bulging backpack. He wore a technical jacket, and both his hands were stuffed into his pockets as he left the dormitory building. Then, he walked in a straight path right through the sports field.
His face was as white as a sheet, and his lips looked pale because of his long-term vegetarian diet. His hair was in a mess as he didn’t have the time to trim it when it had grown out. The strong winds blew and revealed the side of his gloomy face, while his eyebrows looked like willow leaves that fluttered in the wind. The thin figure that hid underneath the technical jacket shrank slightly as it withstood the cold, autumn breeze.
Recently, he often had a strange dream. He would dream that he was standing on top of the Great Wall as he looked down, and below his feet appeared to be an endless abyss. Someone who would be pushing him from the back, urging him into the abyss.
He continued along his straight path and passed by the back of his campus. This path divided the back campus into two parts: on the left were six basketball courts, while on the right was a soccer court. There was a period of time before this when he would sit by the soccer court to memorize words after school as he watched a group of big guys train.
There was a guy who often trained for Triathlons here who was very eye-catching. His red hair appeared to reflect the person’s arrogance and vitality in the midst of this bleak winter. Aside from training for Triathlons, he was also the college team’s forward. But today, Yu Hao didn’t see him around.
After he paused for awhile, he left the field. He stood facing the wall that surrounded his campus for a moment, then walked along the wall towards the fence at the back mountains. After he made a turn around the equipment room, a voice called out to him.
“Hey, do you have a lighter? Lend me one.”
A clear, male voice sounded. Yu Hao couldn’t help but tremble.
He was that redhead who trains for Triathlons that Yu Hao often saw!
At this moment, he was hiding behind the equipment room while he tossed a lighter around in his hand. He had short, dyed red hair, wore a set of blue sportswear that was quite filthy and his trousers were rolled up above his knees. Evidently, he had just ended his training.
This was the first time they spoke face to face. Yu Hao suddenly realised that this guy looked a bit like a delinquent up close.
Delinquents were a dime a dozen in this third-class independent college. In this institute, most didn’t have the heart to study. Those who wanted to spend their time dating would be dating, those who liked internet cafes would hang out at internet cafes, those who wanted to gamble would gamble — they lived their lives like they were constantly in a drunken stupor. Yu Hao passed him the lighter in his pocket, red hair lit his cigarette and the back of the equipment room began to reek of cheap cigarette smoke.
Delinquent passed him a stick, Yu Hao waved his hands to signal that he doesn’t smoke and only took back his lighter. He scrutinised this person: Delinquent actually looked quite handsome, he can’t be considered fair, but he has good skin and was half a head taller than Yu Hao. Yet, his figure wasn’t excessively tall nor straight. He had a sloppy air about him, and there was a faint scar near his eyebrow. You wouldn’t think that he was someone who was very particular about staying clean: the stench of sweat from his body assaulted one’s nostrils and his clothes had probably been left unwashed for days.
He had heard of his name before: Zhou Sheng from the Department of Physical Education next door. A genteel name and his clear and bright voice seemed to be in stark contrast to this appearance of his. Last last week, when Yu Hao went to the college to hand in his application for impoverished students, this guy was in the corridor enduring the earnest exhortation of the league committee’s secretary. She was asking him to dye his hair back and said that even cutting it short was fine too, so he got a buzz cut.
“You smell like hot pot.” Zhou Sheng sniffed, then said, “Ate hot pot just now?”
Yu Hao ignored him. He took his lighter, stuffed it back into his pocket and walked around the equipment room as he left. Zhou Sheng looked from afar, then went to the field as he held the cigarette in his mouth. He rolled his trousers to his knees and sat down to look at the others as they played basketball.
Not long after Yu Hao left, the basketball captain walked over and waved at Zhou Sheng, then shouted, “Redhead!”
Zhou Sheng extinguished his cigarette by pressing it against a rubbish bin, took off his shirt and exposed his well-built upper body, then walked forward to join them.
Yu Hao walked for about ten minutes before he reached the area between the Department of Physical Education building and the campus wall. After he found the hole that lead to the back mountains, he threw his backpack over the wall and climbed over it. Then he walked along the wall and reached the mountaintop opposite the stadium. There was an abandoned house there made from cement, and a net was placed near the door that was used to collect fallen leaves.
He pushed opened the metal door. There were a few boxes in the house, and in the middle sat a metal basket used for burning rubbish. An old mattress was spread out on the floor.
There were two windows in this house, both were covered in dust and they looked quite dusky. The sunlight streamed into the cement house through these dusty glass windows.
Yu Hao ignited one of the stoves in the house.
A small flame sprang up from the stove. He sat at a side and stared at it, lost in thought. If he had to say if he had any regrets in this short life of his, it would be that he had never had the chance to date —- even if it was only for a few days.
He never had the chance, and with the state that he is in now, he no longer expected to have a chance.
If you didn’t have the chance when you were younger, after a few years of struggling at death’s door, the chances of finding love would be even slimmer when you’re old.
He wore his earphones and played Li Ronghao’s “Life on a String”5 on his phone, took out a medicinal bottle, ate a few Diazepam tablets, gulped down half a bottle of water, then laid down on the mattress and closed his eyes.
Cheers from the basketball court travelled into the cement house. Someone might have thrown a three-pointer, or caught a rebound, or pulled off a handsome slam dunk……kids were laughing unbridledly, the gingko leaves that littered the ground were swept away by a gust of wind, then they danced about in the air.
In the face of death, everything was finally equal. You didn’t have a choice in being born, but at least you could decide, if you wanted to leave this world.
Yu Hao thought, this could be considered as a type of freedom and equality.
Within the darkness, his consciousness gradually drifted away from his body. The music started to fade, and his surroundings suddenly became clear. A huge, meandering city wall appeared that led to the horizon. Mountains towered over it, and the world was dark.
Before today, he had imagined what the afterworld would look like countless number of times. Ever since his grandmother passed away, he had searched for many legends regarding death. He didn’t believe that ghosts existed in this world, and didn’t believe in the so-called heaven and hell. There was once a pseudoscience explanation of one’s soul that said: people’s souls exist in a higher dimensional space; after one dies and their body is destroyed, their thoughts will continue to exist in this world.
He reluctantly accepted this explanation. Anyway, it’s not like he had any more hopes in the living world, so no matter what death offered or didn’t offer wouldn’t matter much to him. But he never, ever expected that his consciousness would be this clear at this moment, and that his surroundings would appear to be this real.
The Great Wall stood tall as it towered over everything else. Beyond the walls was a dark abyss, and from the abyss came deep and low howls that sounded like the roars of a monster. This world was extremely vast, and the surrounding mountain ridges had undulating contours. The insignificantly small him stood atop the city wall that was about thirty metres tall; he had turned into a small, black dot that existed between the heavens and the earth.
Yu Hao was suddenly at a loss. He looked down, and saw something that looked like a monster climb up the city wall.
The darkness made him dizzy, and he almost fell into the abyss.
“What’s wrong with living? Why do you want to die?”
Suddenly, an icy cold metal hand grabbed him from behind. Yu Hao shouted in surprise, then turned around and retreated instinctively. A man that was clad in full armour appeared in front of him.
1. This is the committee made up of students that oversees all kinds of school-wide activities. We call it the Student Union in my university↩
3. Laoshi = teacher↩
4. Ma Jiajue was a biochemistry major at Yunnan University who was convicted and executed for murdering his roommates.↩