Proofreaders: happyBuddha, m@o
ONE CHILD PER COUPLE. QUALITY OVER QUANTITY FOR MODERNIZATION.
Xu Ping walked past the huge black letters on the bulletin board by the street while sucking on a popsicle. He was getting a brain freeze.
The sky had gotten darker, no longer a clear blue but a warm, fiery orange that burned the horizons.
People were heading home from work on their bicycles. Greetings were shouted and small talk quickly exchanged when two people saw a familiar face before their vehicles wheeled them apart again.
The blue and white coloured number four tram called “The Advancing Youth” came to a loud stop by the platform. The ticket lady poked her head out of the window and announced the next stop. Soon, passengers filled up the tram, and the doors slammed shut before the vehicle chugged along its path.
Xu Ping threw the remaining stick into the trash basket of a restaurant and took a big breath.
The mouth-watering smell of stir-fry was wafting in the air, entering his nostrils like magic.
He could almost hear his stomach rumbling.
Xu Zheng was probably done with playing with sand by now. He had better hurry back or else the popsicle was going to melt.
He ran for the courtyard with the cream popsicle in hand only to bump right into Mr. Zhang, his dad’s colleague. The man had black, square glasses and a white Dacron short sleeve shirt with a pen clipped on the breast pocket. He was parking his bicycle in the garage.
“Hello, Mr. Zhang.”
“Oh, Xu Ping, you’re out late. Where did you go?”
“I went to buy a popsicle for my brother.” Xu Ping held it up accordingly.
Mr. Zhang didn’t ask for more details and grabbed his black briefcase from the basket on the bicycle. “Come over later for dinner with Xu Zheng. Mrs. Zhang is making tofu tonight.”
“Yes, sir.” Xu Ping replied before racing off.
The sun had dropped below the horizon leaving only a dying glow.
Xu Ping stood by the deserted sandbox and scanned around.
Not a soul in sight.
He could hear the sound of frying pans and television. The seven o’clock news was going to start after the familiar melody.
Xu Ping’s voice echoed out only to disappear like the ripples in a pond after a pebble falls in.
The popsicle had melted and was dribbling down the stick and onto his hand.
There were thirty neat piles of sand in the sandbox beside which there was Xu Zheng’s red bucket, turned over.
Xu Ping threw the popsicle away and turned the bucket right side up.
Out fell half a piece of essay paper with a few scribbled words on it. Xu Ping read it in the dim twilight.
Xu Ping, come to the Informatics Centre!
That retard! I told him not to run off with strangers!
Xu Ping cursed in his head as he ran to the abandoned building.
God damn! What else is that brat good for other than causing trouble!
Xu Ping was writhing with annoyance but picked up his speed nonetheless.
The rubber soles of his canvas shoes slapped against the ground.
A tiny voice was saying inside:
You were the one who left your brother to read comics.
Xu Ping tripped and fell. His backpack flew a distance away and his palms were scraped bloody by the sand on the ground.
Ow! That hurt!
Xu Ping pushed himself back up, hissing in pain.
It’s not my fault! I told him, and he said he heard me!
If he’s so stupid that he’ll run off with anyone, he might as well just get kidnapped!
The voice inside slowly died down, not to be heard from again.
The sky got darker and darker. A slice of the moon and a few stars could be seen on the navy blue backdrop.
Mr. Zhang was going to come out looking for them if he didn’t go over soon with Xu Zheng.
With that in mind, Xu Ping sprung to his feet and sprinted for the worn-down red brick building, not even bothering to pick up his backpack.
Xu Ping never really figured out what kind of information the Informatics Centre researched exactly.
The kids had often debated on this issue regarding the mysterious building that didn’t even have an address. In the end, they were swaying between invading Taiwan and defeating the Americans.
It was a time when every boy had an army green beret with a five-pointed star on his head and a red flag in hand. Even his blood seemed to broil with passion.
Xu Ping wasn’t missing that burning passion, but he had to take care of that troublesome brother of his every day. What he was missing was the free time to play with friends and hope for a brighter tomorrow with that red flag in hand.
He entered the Informatics Centre. The China rose in the planter box had long dried out from a lack of care, leaving only dead, brown stems still standing.
There was broken glass everywhere, and every window he could see had a huge hole in it, from which the evening wind howled.
He heard Xu Zheng’s cry coming from one of the rooms, followed by boys’ snickering and talking.
“Hey, hurry up. The idiot keeps movin’. I can barely hold him down.”
“Shut up! I took this Seagull from my dad. He’d skin me alive if anything happened to it!”
“Just hurry up and take it.”
Xu Ping sped after the sound.
“Okay. Do a pose.”
“Make me look cool, eh.” Then he added, “I want it to look like The Heroes of Sui and Tang.”
“Alright, I got it. Don’t just stand there.”
The green paint was peeling off from the half-opened door. Xu Ping saw Xu Zheng being totally subdued by Lu Jia from behind. The light was behind them and he couldn’t see their faces well.
What the hell do they want? Xu Ping wondered. They want me to watch them take pictures of Xu Zheng?
Xu Ping was a bit confused.
He wanted to call out.
“Xiao-Zheng, big brother’s here.
“I told you not to run off with strangers!
“Xiao-Zheng, time to go home for supper!”
From a place he couldn’t see, a boy jumped out and kicked Xu Zheng in the face.
Time seemed to have stopped.
He saw his brother’s tiny body fly out like a kite that was cut loose. The red tank top and pale blue shorts. The hands and feet as white and soft as snow.
Xu Zheng, the most annoying, most hated brother in the world.
Xu Zheng fell to the ground.
Xu Zheng was the reason why he couldn’t participate in extracurricular activities, why he had lied to his teacher and classmates, ruining the fieldtrips every year.
Xu Zheng’s body jerked a little in efforts to get up, but he failed to do so.
“Yo, how was that? Just like Li Yuanba, right? ‘Cept for the two clubs.”
Xu Zheng would only bother him. He needed to be fed his food, accompanied to sleep and even scrubbed in the shower.
Xu Zheng moved again, propping his elbows up in efforts to get up, but he fell right back down again.
“Did you get it?”
“I think so.”
He was eight years old but was still so stupid that he couldn’t learn anything. He had been sent home by the elementary school teacher not even half a term in. “We can’t teach a child like this.” Then, everybody knew – the teachers, the students – the news spread quicker than the wind! “Hey, did you hear? Xu Ping’s brother is a retard.”
Xu Zheng finally managed to sit up. His face was swollen and still had the dirt from the bottom of the boy’s shoe.
“What do you mean, you think so?”
“You did it so fast. I don’t know if the camera caught it or not.”
“Then, let’s do it again. You’d better get it this time.”
This retard had a temper tantrum because Xu Ping was late but would only stand there like a dummy when he was truly being bullied. He was clearly in pain. Why didn’t he cry? Why did he not cry?!
Xu Zheng sat on the ground, still, as blood oozed out from a cut on his calf. He faced the window, listening for a while, before suddenly speaking. “Seven o’clock. I have to go home.”
Lu Jia dragged him up from the ground.
“Zhao Bo, you hold him down real good.”
“But my photo….”
“It’s my turn now.”
Xu Zheng was the most annoying, most hated brother in the world.
Xu Ping thought as he picked up a broken table leg from the ground, eyes red, teeth clenched.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
A model of Seagull camera
A live-action portrayal of Li Yuanba
ayszhang: Sorry for those who were waiting for Endless Rain. Ying is busy with university applications and haven't found time to translate the next chapter. I will post the date once she has actually completed the translation.
Brother - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.