When God Says Let There Be LightChapters List
Chapter 13: Leaked Exam Questions
In the following days, Nie Qingzhou became the center of attention at school. Wherever he went, people gathered around, whispering comments like, "That's the top student of the grade..." "The one who was ranked thousandth before..." "The guy who used to fight and skip classes..." and so on.
He played basketball with Zhang Yukun and Lai Ning, bought snacks at the convenience store, had meals in the cafeteria at noon and evening – in all these instances, all for no apparent reason, he seemed to puff out his chest and walk with an air of authority, as if he were a majestic king surveying his mountains.
Nie Qingzhou felt like an exotic creature that had miraculously vaulted from 999th place to seize the top spot in the mid-term exams, and was in the free-range area for people to watch.
However, what puzzled him was that all the teachers of Class 13, aside from their Chinese teacher Zhang Zihua, were somewhat vague to praise his achievements. While they commended him, they didn't show that enthusiasm, and were even a bit hesitant at times.
"It's weird. Our regular class produced the top student in the grade who made a remarkable improvement. Isn't that worth celebrating with drums and gongs? Why are our teachers being so reserved? Even Lao Li doesn't seem too excited," Zhang Yukun sighed when bidding farewell to Nie Qingzhou after evening self-study.
Lai Ning speculated, "Maybe they're afraid Zhou-Ge will be too proud and then perform poorly in the next exam?"
"Fart. With Zhou-Ge's current level of fame at school, if they don't praise him, he won't be proud anymore?"
"Maybe they've never encountered something like this before and can't quite believe it," Nie Qingzhou concluded.
The topic came to a halt there, and Zhang Yukun and Lai Ning were sent away by Nie Qingzhou. Walking amidst the crowd of students from the regular class leaving school, Lai Ning belatedly said to Zhang Yukun, "I can't believe it either. How did Zhou-Ge suddenly get such good grades?"
Zhang Yukun patted him on the back of his neck. "Have you never heard the saying? The power of love is boundless, your potential surpasses your imagination. He's our Zhou-Ge, what can't he achieve for the sake of love!"
Nie Qingzhou sneezed loudly in the classroom.
Riding home on bicycles with Xia Yi, Nie Qingzhou couldn't help but let out a few sighs.
Looking at his furrowed brows, Xia Yi remarked casually, "Grade topper, why are you sighing?"
Nie Qingzhou turned his head to look at her, as if feeling wronged, "I'm thinking of three famous quotes."
"Tall trees are prone to windfall; the trees long for peace but the wind will never cease; the most beautiful (tall) trees are often the ones that get toppled by the wind."
[1. 树大招风 - If a person is famous or has money, it is easy to attract criticism and trouble; 2. 树欲静而风不止 - fig. the world changes, whether you want it or not. The original metaphor is that not everything bends to human will / objective reality will not be changed by subjective wills; 3. 木秀于林风必摧之 - Destruction pursues the great. It is a phrase that explains a common Taoist philosophy. The tree that grows tallest is considered the best in the forest. But because it is the tallest, it becomes more vulnerable to natural threats. So as a person, the greater your talent, the more likely you're going to attract jealousy, criticism, and hostility from other people. This idiom is basically warning people not to aim to be high profile. This is a quotation from a text written in the Three Kingdoms period (circa 220-280 CE) of the Han Dynasty by Li Kang, a literati of the time, in his book Of Fate (运命论, yùn mìng lùn). The original was: "If a tree is much taller than the rest of the forest, the wind will blow it down. If a mound protrudes from the shore, the water will corrode it. If you act superior to others, you will become the next target.” Link - https://actavictoriana.ca/culture/on-modesty-and-mediocrity/]
Did he just pick a fight with the trees and the wind?
"Being the top of the grade is too ostentatious, especially for me. I'll be under scrutiny until the next monthly exam and doubted until then as well. This month is going to be so uncomfortable for me," Nie Qingzhou explained, sounding disheartened.
After watching him for a moment, Xia Yi calmly said, "Were you doing well before this?"
"..." Nie Qingzhou increasingly felt that Xia Yi might be a subtle master of sarcasm with an imperceptible poisonous tongue.
Indeed, he hadn't been doing well before. People on the street would sometimes whisper about him, saying he was Nie Qingzhou, who had a very violent temper, got into fights and skipped classes every day. As for teachers, they treated him as if he were invisible.
Now he had transformed from a caged beast with a 'Danger: Do Not Approach' sign to a splendid ornamental bird.
Soon, the ornamental bird turned into a crow again.
On the following Monday, when Nie Qingzhou arrived at school, he noticed that the gazes of those who used to admire him had changed. He was a bit puzzled, but as soon as he entered the classroom, an excited Zhang Yukun grabbed him, saying, "Have you heard? The mid-term exam papers were leaked!"
At the mention of these words, before fully grasping their implications, Nie Qingzhou's heart skipped a beat.
Without waiting for his response, Zhang Yukun vividly explained the situation. Apparently, a few days before the mid-term exams, someone took photos of the test papers at the printing shop near the school gate. The owner of the shop happened to have a son in the experimental class of the first year of high school, and two days ago, while he was helping out at the shop, he stumbled upon those photos. The more he looked, the more he realized something was amiss, so he promptly informed the teachers.
"They say they checked the surveillance footage, the person printing the papers was a guy wearing a cap and a mask, so his appearance couldn't be clearly seen. The images were sent to the owner from a newly registered WeChat account, and they couldn't trace anything from it. Everyone's guessing who might have taken photos of the test papers and who had access to the exam questions beforehand," Zhang Yukun explained excitedly.
Suddenly, everything made sense to Nie Qingzhou. He now understood why everyone was acting strangely around him today. Was there even a need to speculate? It seemed like most people were convinced it could only be him and no one else.
During lunch break, as expected, Nie Qingzhou was summoned into the teachers' office, with the request to bring his mid-term exam papers. Upon entering the office, Nie Qingzhou immediately noticed Gao Juanmei sitting next to Teacher Li. She was dressed in a black suit, arms folded, with her usual imposing and enigmatic look.
When Gao Juanmei saw him, she extended her hand and said flatly, "Show me the papers."
Nie Qingzhou hesitated for a moment, then handed over the papers.
Their homeroom teacher, Mr. Li – the middle-aged, balding math teacher – took a sip from his thermos cup and looked at Nie Qingzhou kindly. He said, "Don't be nervous. I just wanted you to come in and understand the situation."
It seemed like they were going to sing the red face and the white face. (play good cop, bad cop)
Nie Qingzhou looked at Teacher Li and asked, "Teacher Li, what situation do you want to understand?"
"Have you been facing any issues recently, either in your studies or personal life, that you would like to talk to me about?" Teacher Li said with a warm smile.
Nie Qingzhou's face was full of sincerity: "Recently, many people have been suspecting that I have something to do with leaking the mid-term exam papers. It's been bothering me."
Teacher Li didn't expect Nie Qingzhou to make the first move. He cleared his throat, occasionally tapping the lid against the thermos cup he cautiously said, "Indeed, we've been investigating this matter lately, and your significant improvement this time might raise suspicions. Teachers are aware that you've been working hard lately, even staying for self-study after evening classes. What time do you usually go back?"
"On the 18th evening, did you go home at nine forty-five?"
"On the 18th? Yes."
"Didn't stay at school? Didn't go anywhere else?"
Gao Juanmei sneered. She put down the papers of Nie Qingzhou she had been looking at – and cut into their conversation. "Nie Qingzhou, after your evening study session, did you not sneak into the office to look at the mid-term exam papers? The surveillance cameras captured it all, and some students also pointed you out. Do you really have the audacity to keep up this façade? Just admit it."
Nie Qingzhou looked at Gao Juanmei, still maintaining his polite smile. But he felt that it was outrageous. "Is that so? How about we go to the surveillance room and watch the footage? Who are these students who pointed me out? Let's go over to confront them together."
Gao Juanmei's expression darkened, and she tapped her fingers on the table. "Are you trying to threaten the students? Nie Qingzhou, if it's not you, then who else could it be? In all my years of teaching, I've never seen such an exaggerated improvement in test scores. If you didn't steal the papers, how could you have ranked first? Tell me, how did you manage to achieve this?"
"Study hard, improve every day."
"Just by studying hard for a month, you can improve this dramatically?"
"Maybe I'm just a genius?"
Gao Juanmei was too exasperated to respond. She pointed to a math question on the paper, and said sharply. "Then, explain this to me. Why is your answer right but the process is wrong? Your process is fundamentally wrong, it doesn't lead to this answer at all."
Nie Qingzhou glanced at the question, then recollected before saying, "Because I solved it using integral."
He grabbed a sheet of practice paper from Teacher Li, took a black pen, and began to write out the integration process while explaining, "Integration is an advanced topic beyond the scope of high school mathematics. I was supposed to solve this question using an alternative method. But at that moment, I didn't think of that. I just calculated the answer first and then figured out the process."
He finished writing his solution process and placed it in front of Gao Juanmei. "If you don't believe me, I can redo the entire mid-term exam in front of you and explain the detailed solution process as well."
Pausing for a moment, Nie Qingzhou lifted his eyes to look at Gao Juanmei. "But if I manage to do that, shouldn't you, Dean Gao, apologize to me? You haven't apologized to me for what happened last time."
Gao Juanmei lowered her arms and said indignantly, "Why? The police can still investigate suspected criminals, so can't we suspect you?"
"No police officer would label someone a criminal before having concrete evidence and convicting them," Nie Qingzhou asserted, unyielding.
Just as Teacher Li was about to be plagued by more headaches, he noticed that Xia Yi was standing in front of his desk at some point, seemingly appearing out of nowhere. She was tall and slender, holding a stack of questionnaires. Her ebony eyes met Teacher Li's gaze, looking like a statue that had come to life before his desk.
Teacher Li, as if granted a pardon, inquired, "Xia Yi, is there something you need to discuss with me?"
"I can testify for Nie Qingzhou. On the 18th evening, after class, I saw him leaving the classroom building and encountered him at the school gate. We're neighbors, we went home together, and he didn't go anywhere else."
Xia Yi's speech wasn't hurried, but it was resolute. After finishing, she glanced at Gao Juanmei and asserted, "It is impossible for the camera to capture him. If any classmates saw him, they must have mistaken him for someone else."
While speaking, Xia Yi didn't look at Nie Qingzhou. She took a step forward, her shoulder half shielding Nie Qingzhou, with a hint of protection.
So just when Nie Qingzhou felt that the interrogation scene was absurd and really ridiculous, Xia Yi's slender figure suddenly stood in front of him. He gazed at the fuzzy outline of her head from behind, and a sense of gratitude blossomed as he realized what she was doing.
Xia Yi told Gao Juanmei that she could be approached if needed, then turned and walked out of the office with Wen Zhong. She didn't look at Nie Qingzhou from start to finish, which left him with a curious feeling—perhaps she wasn't comfortable performing such acts of kindness in front of others.
At this moment, Zhang Zihua walked into the office, carrying a bag of apples. Seeing the posture of Gao Juanmei, Teacher Li, and Nie Qingzhou, he raised an eyebrow and asked, "What's the matter? Planning a commendation ceremony for Xiao Nie?"
Gao Juanmei snorted coldly and said to Zhang Zihua, "Nie Qingzhou is the first in Chinese this time, what's your opinion?"
"What opinion? He certainly deserves it. The viewpoints, style, and reading comprehension strategies in the essay are all clearly Xiao Nie's work. I said it even before the papers' names were unsealed—this must be from our class. Lao Jiang didn't believe it!" Zhang Zihua placed the apples on the desk and took one out, handing it to Nie Qingzhou. He continued, "I'm telling you, I have made a reservation for the first place in Chinese for the next grade. What do you say, Xiao Nie?"
Nie Qingzhou, who had been frowning all the time, took the apple with both hands. He looked at Zhang Zihua's smiling face for a moment, and finally showed his first smile since entering the office. "Yes, thank you teacher."
The cameras did capture someone sneaking into the office, but due to lighting and angles, the face couldn't be clearly identified. Some claimed to have seen Nie Qingzhou, but Xia Yi's testimony supported him. Without solid evidence, Gao Juanmei had no choice but to let Nie Qingzhou go back.
However, even without concrete evidence, the power of collective voices is formidable. The accumulation of people's doubts can erode one's reputation to the core like a corroding acid. In the eyes of others, it was evident to Nie Qingzhou that he was now labeled as the person who had secured the top spot in the grade by stealing the test papers.
He walked out of the teaching office clutching his test paper, his steps taking him through the flowerbed and towards the main building. The wind rustled his paper loudly, causing the white sheets to tremble like butterflies captured in his grasp, unable to fly high.
Many people were watching him, and many were discussing him. He couldn't be bothered to listen and pretended not to hear. It wasn't until he reached the bulletin board and looked at his name perched at the top of the densely packed ranking list, that he recalled a weekend when he had just entered high school.
He was accompanying his parents and their friends for a meal. At the dining table, they congratulated him repeatedly, but in a deserted corner, they whispered, "It's nothing impressive. Considering Lao Zhou and Lao Qian’s connections, isn't sending their son into the No.1 High school a piece of cake?"
He wanted to say it wasn't like that. He had worked tirelessly, studied anxiously to the point of insomnia, and had even exceeded the entrance score for the No. 1 High School by ten points.
He had made it through his own effort, and has nothing to do with his parents.
He felt anger welling up, but in the end he didn't pierce or argue. In his parents' circles, leveraging connections for both big and small matters was a routine practice. He suspected he had also benefited from this. Even later, when he joined No.1 High School, his parents instructed him to accumulate connections wisely.
To become an esteemed person, a source of pride for his parents, he needed not only connections but also to serve as a qualified link for others.
This would turn him into someone whose path was unobstructed, who lived within the dignified web of relationships, a person who couldn't be moved easily.
Nie Qingzhou heaved a long sigh.
Turning his head, he was surprised to find Xia Yi and Wen Zhong leisurely walking not far ahead. Wanting to express gratitude for their earlier actions, he jogged a few steps to catch up with them.
The voice of their conversation became clear. Wen Zhong asked, "Why did you testify for Nie Qingzhou? Are you close to him?"
"I was just stating the facts I know," Xia Yi replied with her back turned to Nie Qingzhou so he couldn't see her expression.
"Do you really believe he didn't look at the test paper and earned his score by himself? Even if he didn't steal the paper, he must have peeked at it from someone else. He used to be a notorious slacker, his grades in junior high were a mess, he struggled with quizzes and monthly exams. It's been just a month, and he went from near the bottom of the class to the top, scoring full marks in three subjects. That's just not normal. Do you honestly think it's normal?"
Xia Yi turned her head slightly. From this angle, Nie Qingzhou could see her long eyelashes. Her eyes blinked a few times before she calmly responded.
"Well, it's not normal."
Nie Qingzhou was taken aback. His steps slowed down, then he came to a stop.
He watched the two figures ahead of him walk away, their voices gradually fading and finally vanishing at the end of the desolate path, surrounded by rustling fallen leaves.
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