November 26, 2005

Reposted: Jim's Better Luck -- by Bruce Lin

The Entrance Examination was just a few weeks away, and Jim, along with the rest of the classmates, was hopeless. The teachers already gave up on the whole class and about two-thirds of the students were absent. Jim didn't want to go to school but had no other places to go either. While students of other classes were busying themselves preparing for the big test, Jim and his classmates were doing all kinds of strange activities in the classroom: gambling, chatting, reading comic books, or listening to music. It was like a vacation.

One day, Jim asked his good friend Frank* to stay after school. Jim planned to steal some English reference books from other classes, because most students didn't bring their books home; they kept them in their desk drawers. Frank thought that was a terrific idea: he too was tired of gambling or doing nothing in school; it would be nice to do something different for a change.

They made sure no one was around and went through a few classrooms. Frank covered Jim while he was “working.” In just 10 minutes, Jim “collected” more than 100 reference books from those desk drawers. They carefully stuffed the books into their backpacks, sneaked out of school alleys, clambered up the wall, and got themselves safe into the street. They divided those books into two piles. Jim took the pile with many English books and Frank took the other. They smiled at each other with a great sense of accomplishment. It was a good day.

Days went by as if nothing had happened. No one reported burglary.

Jim didn't go to the Entrance Examination, and he didn't read those books he stole either – not even open any of them; he would have hard time reading them anyway. It was more than a decade later that he started to browse them because “English suddenly made sense.” He didn't know why; he just began to read a lot, and those stolen English reference books were a great help. And once he got started to read, he never stopped.


Now, Jim teaches English. I need to consult him about English whenever I have questions. I didn't know how he learned so much English; now I do after he told me the story. He didn't know why English suddenly became interesting to him at that moment. Nor did he know why he stole those books. Maybe it was his youthful frustration, or he just liked English, though he understood very little of the language then. This petty crime happened more than 30 years ago, but, make no mistake: Jim talked about it as if it was some kind of heroic deed.

I told Jim that now I knew his secret, I would rat on him. He paused for a second and said: “Oh…in fact…you should….after all, I was guilty of stealing those books, and I owe a lot to those book owners, whoever they were.”

*Jim and Frank are not their real names.

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