It was autumn. The leaves of ginkgo trees had yellowed. When the wind picked up, those leaves drifted down and blanketed the school's bluestone paths.
A group of older boys sprinted down those bluestone paths. The ones at the front of the pack were fleeing, and the others were giving chase. Many other kids had crowded into the windows of the surrounding school buildings to check out the commotion. They squeezed as close to the window as possible, and the ones squashed between the wall and the throng of bodies behind them shouted, "You're squishing me! You're gonna kill me! Back up, back up!"
But nobody wanted to back up. Everyone was enthralled by the pack of boys running down below.
"Cowdung is done for this time, right?" someone said. "Look at him go! All he did was bully some younger kids, but now that Ming-ge is out to get him, he's running faster than a rat!"
"He can run as fast as he wants, but it won't make a difference," said another student. "Ming-ge said last week he was gonna take care of this guy!"
"He deserves it! Ming-ge should've taught him a lesson ages ago!"
"Yeah, exactly! Cowdung has bullied so many younger girls. He's even bullied me before."
There was an outdoor exercise area behind the school buildings, and beyond that was the fence that bordered the school. Niu Fen1 and his goons had nowhere left to run or hide. They could only scramble onto the exercise equipment.
But sixth graders were already too big for that equipment. They wound up clustered together, unable to spread out and escape their pursuers.
Du Hao stopped beneath the jungle gym they were climbing and started to laugh. "You think you can get away?"
He came up with the idea to wait right there. Those steaming piles of cow turds had to come down sooner or later. When they needed to pee, they definitely wouldn't pee in their pants.
But just as he finished proposing his idea, a figure flew past him in a blur.
That's right, flew. When Ming Shu ran, he looked like he was flying. In the blink of an eye, he raced past the others and started to climb. No one could have stopped him; he couldn't even have stopped himself.
"Oi, Ming-ge!" Du Hao shouted. But, without hesitation, he waved to their troops. "Alright, all of you, charge! What are we waiting for? Let's kick their asses and get it over with!"
As soon as he gave that order, all their allies surged forward.
But no one was as fast as Ming Shu.
Ming Shu had set his sights on Niu Fen that morning. This kid had been playing the part of a bully ever since their last school term. Because he was tall and broad, and because his family was rich, he thought he could proclaim himself the king of their school. In the past, he only bullied boys, but lately he'd even started bullying girls.
This was the sort of guy that Ming Shu just couldn't forgive. He'd already promised to trounce Niu Fen, and he always kept his promises. It was pointless for Niu Fen to hide now. Ming Shu had urgent matters to attend to that afternoon; he had to wrap this up fast.
Niu Fen scrambled across the exercise equipment, dodging as best as he could. But Ming Shu wasn't any shorter than him, and Ming Shu was much more agile. Du Hao's heart was in his throat as he watched his Ming-ge zip up the wobbly stairs of one structure. One misstep could have led to disaster.
In just a few seconds, Ming Shu had Niu Fen in his clutches. Niu Fen's eyes filled with obvious panic, but he still tried to keep up his bravado as he threatened, "I'm warning you…"
Ming Shu didn't even let him finish speaking before he grabbed hold of Niu Fen and dragged him down to the ground.
Niu Fen had the life scared out of him. When he landed on the ground, hard, he started rolling around in agony, shouting, "My leg! You broke my leg! It's broken!"
Ming Shu's leg swung out in a fierce kick, and Niu Fen instantly scrambled to his feet to dodge. But there was no escape. Ming Shu grabbed his collar and threw him back down onto the ground, straddling him to pin him down as he balled up his fists and started to swing.
Niu Fen's little goons were also caught one by one, and the outdoor exercise area soon filled with pained, mangled shouts.
Du Hao's voice was the loudest and fiercest. "Didn't our Ming-ge warn you?! If you wanna fight, fight fair! What's the point of locking girls up in the bathroom? How low can you guys get?!"
It was lunch break, and the gang of sixth graders were knocked down and thoroughly trounced by a group of fifth graders. It wasn't so strange that the sixth graders couldn't win that fight. Niu Fen and his lackeys were all bark and no bite, while these fifth graders were all from the soccer team. Two of them had even trained in martial arts.
Ming Shu was the de facto leader of the fifth graders. He'd checked in with the leader of the sixth graders before going after Niu Fen. That sixth grader had gotten sick of Niu Fen's antics too, and he'd given Ming Shu free rein to do as he pleased.
Niu Fen was already crying on the ground.
Ming Shu hauled him up again and threw him back down one more time. His face dripped with sweat as he demanded, "Are you going to keep messing with the girls?"
Niu Fen's whole face scrunched up. He was really starting to resemble a heap of cow dung. "I won't! I won't!"
Ming Shu finally straightened and took a deep breath. "Xiao Jincheng may be gone, but I'm still here. I'm watching you, and I'll be watching you until you graduate."
Niu Fen nodded frantically, as though he were chopping garlic with his chin.
Ming Shu wiped away the sweat on his brow, then checked the time. He frowned.
"Let's go, let's go! My treat today!" Du Hao exclaimed, running over to sling an arm around Ming Shu's shoulder. "Beef noodles on me!"
"I'm not going," Ming Shu said. He shrugged off Du Hao's arm. "Tell the teachers I'm not going to be in class this afternoon."
It was Friday, and they had gym that afternoon. Hearing Ming Shu wasn't going to be sticking around, Du Hao pouted. "Where are you going? I wanna go too! The arcade? The pool hall?"
Ming Shu gave him a blank, expressionless look, then answered, "First High."
Du Hao blinked. "You're gonna go look for your ge? He won't have time to see you, you know. Second-year high schoolers are super busy."
"There's a basketball game today," Ming Shu said.
Du Hao suddenly understood and quickly waved Ming Shu off. "Then get going! Have fun! I'll get your absence excused for gym today!"
They had been classmates for four years now, and it was the start of their fifth year together. Du Hao understood his Ming-ge perfectly by now. Nothing was more important to Ming Shu than Ming Shu's gege. Ming Shu's gege was the most important person in the world. If his gege had a basketball game, how could Ming Shu not go to watch?
Thinking back, Du Hao recalled that Ming-ge wasn't Ming-ge at all in first grade. He had been short, his voice had been soft, and he'd looked like a pretty, delicate girl. He'd even been bullied by the kids who sat behind them. If it weren't for Du Hao's vigilant protection, there was no telling how many times Ming Shu would have cried that year.
It was a good thing Ming Shu had had a gege who was a few years older than them, Xiao Jincheng, and a gege who'd already started junior high school, Xiao Yu'an. When the Ming Shu from first grade had been bullied for being an 'orphan', he'd fought. And when he had to call in a parent after fighting, Xiao Yu'an had come.
After that, Ming Shu wasn't so delicate anymore. He became stronger and fiercer in every way.
Later, Du Hao learned Ming Shu didn't just have these two formidable gege. He also had another gege and a jiejie. Ming Shu's three gege took turns teaching him how to fight, and when Xiao Jincheng had nothing to do, he even came by Ming Shu's classroom to patrol.
And who dared mess with Xiao Jincheng? That was the king of their upperclassmen.
By second grade, Ming Shu was no longer a weakling in any way. Once, a boy from their class was beaten up by a kid from the neighboring class. When the sports committee members from their class got a group together to get revenge, Ming Shu raised his hand and volunteered to join.
When Xiao Jincheng moved on to middle school, the upperclassmen thought Ming Shu had no one left to protect him. They decided to pick on him, but they never imagined Ming Shu would single-handedly hand their asses to them. After that, Ming Shu became known as Ming-ge.
Ming-ge had countless fans. Boys and girls alike worshipped him. The boys liked the way he fought, and the girls thought he was good-looking.
As Du Hao reminisced, he grinned happily to himself.
He was definitely Ming Shu's best bud. Back in first grade, he had fought alongside Ming Shu during Ming Shu's very first fight.
He was certain that, in Ming Shu's life, he was just a teensy, tiny bit less important than Xiao Yu'an.
Ming Shu didn't even eat lunch before rushing over to First High. He did a lap around the basketball courts and saw many people he recognized, but none of them were his gege.
He was very familiar with First High by now; he came there to play every other day.
After that fierce fight, Ming Shu was ravenous. He looked left and right and found a little shop where he could buy some bread. He picked up two loaves; as a growing boy, one wasn't enough to fill him up. He got one with a chocolate filling, and one with beef jerky. He bought three bottled drinks as well, saving them for later. He could give them to his gege during the game that afternoon.
Ming Shu knew his gege was probably taking his lunch break, so he didn't want to disturb his gege by looking for him in his classroom. Instead, Ming Shu wandered around the familiar campus to kill some time. He wandered and wandered, until he suddenly came to a stop.
There was a botanical garden below the second years' school building. His gege was there, and a long-haired girl was with him. She was holding two bottled drinks.
And she was talking to Ming Shu's gege.
1. 牛奋, pronounced Niu Fen, is this character's name. It's pronounced the exact same way as 牛粪, which means cow shit. Thus, his unfortunate nickname.