Proofreaders: happyBuddha, m@o
I ain’t going no[where]…If I want to die, I’ll die right here.
–Muhammed Ali in Ali (2001)
“Didn’t you want to beat me up just now? What’s wrong, you wimp? Can’t take a few punches?
“Zhao Bo, pick this fucker up!
“You think I’d be scared of you and your little stick? In your fuckin’ dreams!
“Oh, what? You’re mute now? Cat’s got your tongue? I thought you’re so clever with your mouth, tellin’ on me to the teacher, sayin’ I’m always late and copying homework. It was you, wasn’t it! Say it! C’mon!
“You hit my brother, didn’t you?!
“Not talkin’? Zhao Bo, Liu Wan, you hold him real good for me!
“He’s only in year two, five years younger than you! You should pick on someone your own size! You think you’re a tough guy, yeah? Alright, let’s see what you can do!
“You think you can touch my little brother? You can’t afford to get him hurt! What, you think your retard brother is better?
“Zhao Bo, get me a brick.”
“Alright, Lu Jia. You beat ‘im good enough. Just look at ‘im.”
“Good enough? He didn’t think so when he was beatin’ up my brother!”
“You might kill him at this rate.”
“Yeah, and there’s a bleeding hole in my head where he hit me with that stick.”
“Just watch it, okay….”
“Better that he dies! His mom’s half a retard, and his dad wasn’t clean either. That’s why they got married, and their kid, Xu Zheng, turned out a retard, too!”
“My mom said so, that’s what everyone at work says! Retard is in the genes! So when Xu Ping gets married, his son’s gonna be just like his brother, all retards!”
“But Xu Ping looks pretty normal, though?”
“How should I know? His mom was stupid but really pretty. His dad’s a good-looking man, too. And Xu Ping doesn’t look like either of them.”
“What if he’s adopted?”
“Yeah, maybe! He knew he’d have a retard kid, so he picked up a normal brother to take care of the retard. See, Xu Ping plays at the sandbox with him every single damn day. He’s better than a child bride!”
“Alright, let’s go. Hurts my eyes just lookin’ at these two fucking piles of shit!”
Xu Ping lay on the ground in silence.
Blood dripped out from the crack in his head only to dry before reaching the ground.
The sky had completely blackened now. The stars were like streetlights of the night, faint silver bulbs in the dark blue sky.
It was late summer, early autumn. The bugs were having the last party of the year because once the first frost came to the city they would soon die and return to the earth as dirt.
Xu Ping did not bat an eyelash.
He couldn’t recall the last time he had the liberty of lying on a dusty floor. Was it when he was four? Or three?
The memories of childhood had become hazy, and even the face of his dead mom was blurry beyond recognition.
Dad, Xu Zheng, and himself were the only ones left.
The older he got, the more invisible restrictions were put on him. It was as though he was growing inside a box, year after year. Soon, his body had become square as well.
He could not roll around on the floor. He could not use his hands to eat. He could not whine, be cheeky or be scared of pain.
Dad was good to him but that “good” was different from the “good” that Xu Zheng got.
Even Xu Ping was shocked and envious of the unconditional affection that showed through his dad’s eyes.
No matter how hard he tried – he got full marks on the exam, he got praise for his essay or he was the flag raiser on Monday – his dad would reply with a nod and maybe sometimes “keep it up.” However, when Xu Zheng accomplished any tiny, insignificant thing, for instance, tying his shoes, his dad would shower him with hugs and kisses and rejoice as though he wanted to open the door and shout to the world: “My son knows how to tie his laces!”
Feeling that it was unfair, Xu Ping intentionally left his examination blank to get his dad’s attention, but all he got was: “You’ve grown up, Xu Ping.”
The moment his dad turned away, Xu Ping held the blank test paper with a bright red circle on it and broke out in silent sobs from the overwhelming shame, grievance and anger.
Not offering a word of comfort, his dad barked at him with his back turned, “Watch your behaviour! Don’t forget, you’re the older brother!”
Xu Ping wiggled his arms and legs.
Pain shot through his body. His limbs felt detached like a broken chair, creaking and moaning with every movement.
He let out a soft hiss.
A small figure crawled out from the corner and shuffled over to him.
“Seven o’clock. Supper time.”
Xu Ping didn’t speak.
Xu Zheng repeated after a pause. “Gege, seven o’clock, supper time!”
“Go eat yourself.”
Xu Zheng shouted as though he had not heard. “Gege, supper!”
Xu Ping lay there, motionless.
Xu Zheng shouted again and reached out for him.
Xu Ping shoved him away, yelling, “I told you to go back yourself! Did you not hear me?!”
Xu Zheng fell onto his butt and sat there staring at Xu Ping.
It suddenly became really quiet. The silver moonlight poured into the abandoned building from the broken windows. The bugs were chirping from some bushes outside.
Xu Ping bore with the pain as he propped himself up with the wall.
He mumbled to himself mockingly, “Hah, how did I forget you’re a retard? How would a retard know the way?!”
Xu Zheng stared at his brother with his big, round eyes.
The wound on his leg cracked open again, out from which trickled faint traces of blood.
He fumbled to get up and followed his brother out.
Out the green door, through the hallway painted greyish blue on either side, down the concrete stairs while holding onto the cracked wooden railing, one step, two step, three….
Xu Ping knew his brother was behind him without having to look back.
As they passed one streetlight after another, their shadows lengthened and shortened and at times crisscrossed.
He could see the lights from the residence of the Cultural Troupe.
Xu Ping stopped and said tiredly, “Okay, you know the way from here. Go home.”
“You’ll get supper when you go back.”
“How many times do I have to make myself clear?! If you’re hungry, you go back! Go back and eat your fucking supper!” Xu Ping screamed.
Xu Zheng stayed quiet for a moment before speaking again, “Gege, seven o’clock–”
But this time, Xu Ping interrupted him before he could finish.
“I’m not your brother!”
Xu Zheng faltered, possibly because he didn’t understand the meaning of this.
“Don’t call me that!” Xu Ping growled through clenched teeth. “I’m normal! I don’t have a retard for a brother!”
Xu Zheng stood there.
“How would you even understand? All you do every day is eat, sleep and play with your sand. You’re just an alien! Alien! An alien who doesn’t know anything! Do you know what it means to live?! Do you know pain?!”
Xu Ping swung his arm back and slapped Xu Zheng across the face. Xu Zheng held his arm up in defense.
“Why don’t you fight back when they hit you?! Fight back! Hit me back! Beat me up!”
“Don’t call me that! I hate you! I hate you!”
He punched and kicked his brother while tears streamed down his face as though he were in deep sorrow. Soon his brother’s face was covered with red handprints. Together with the other half swollen from earlier, he was a terrible mess.
“Cry! Why won’t you cry! Why don’t you ever cry? You weren’t even sad when mom died. You monster! You heartless monster!
“It’s all your fault. Everything. All of it. If it weren’t for you… If it weren’t for you–”
He couldn’t finish.
Xu Zheng was hurting so badly that he pushed Xu Ping away, causing the latter to trip over a rock and tip backwards.
The hole in his head opened wider and blood kept dribbling down his face.
Both of the boys were taken back.
Xu Zheng took a step forward and called softly, “Gege.”
Xu Ping was very dizzy and his breathing hastened.
He pushed his brother’s hand away as the blood and tears melted together on his face.
“Just go die. I don’t ever want to see you again.”
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
More information on the Chinese concept of "cleanliness"
There is a similar concept in North Korea (songbun).
This was a system reinforced by Mao Zedong to return equality to the proletarians by branding those who had wealth or owned private land. Private land was seized and made state-owned, their owners labelled "dirty," essentially anti-communist. Farmers, or proletarians, were encouraged and allowed to verbally and physically abuse those branded as "dirty", resulting in countless executions and suicides due to the social pressure. Later, this label was forced to be passed on to the family of those "dirty" citizens and written on their identification. Those who were discovered to hide their "dirty" connections were treated even more badly.
During these decades, there was an internal war between the different classes that caused much strife for the country. Almost comparable to the Jews during WWII, those who reported the secret "dirty" roots of others to the Party would be promoted or have an extra star on their file, per se. I've personally heard stories of husbands and wives betraying each other to stay safe.
This term is still used today for those who wish to be in the Communist Party (which still brings about many benefits in the Chinese society today). One must be "clean" in order to become a party member and stay "clean" to stay a member. However, the country is slowly adopting capitalist ideas, allowing private-owned property and such, and this "cleanliness" is not so much an issue unless you wish to pursue a career whose industry is still controlled by the state (all forms of media, politics, army, academia...).
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ayszhang: surprise post :D The progress for this story is much faster (chapter-wise) since they are shorter and easier to translate...so expect more of these surprises!
Brother - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.