Run, Forrest! Run!
–Forrest Gump in Forrest Gump (1994)
The first toy that Xu Ping had was a light beige cardboard kaleidoscope.
You put the lens up to your eye and twist the other end while facing the sun, and the dark blue patterns would keep transforming.
You might like this combination or hate that one, but you will find one for you as long as you are patient.
The most important thing, though, is that your favourite pattern won’t stop and wait for you. Every time you put it down, the shapes would go into hiding like a naughty child, so you can enjoy the fun of searching again.
But even this toy that seemed to be complex was nothing but a tube, mirrors and a piece of colourful paper.
The young Xu Ping had been extremely disappointed. He had thought that he would find countless pieces of patterned paper and he just had to pick out his favourite one, save it and never worry about searching again.
The mirror broke when he took the kaleidoscope apart. He could no longer see those beautiful shapes no matter how hard he tried to put it back together.
Xu Ping moped for a bit before tossing the kaleidoscope to the back of his mind.
A lot happened afterwards. His brother was born. His mother died. He entered elementary school. His brother also entered elementary school. His brother got kicked out. His dad almost got married with a woman named Li but the matter wasn’t heard of ever again….
Xu Ping had thought he would never think of the kaleidoscope again. As he was carried into the hospital by Mr. Zhang late at night, he saw the blue mosaic floor tiles rotate under the white light in his feverish state.
“What?!” Mr. Zhang was breaking out in cold sweat. “It’ll be over soon, Xu Ping. You’re a brave boy. Just hold on and the doctors and nurses will treat your wound. Just hang in there. Just a little longer.”
He mumbled as he hugged the man’s neck, “I want the kaleidoscope….”
“Okay, okay, okay, I’ll buy you a kaleidoscope when you get better!” Mr. Zhang was looking for the emergency room with Xu Ping in his arms. “You’re a good boy, Xu Ping, you’re a brave warrior. We’re at the hospital now so just hang in there.”
Xu Ping was very happy. Really, really happy.
It had been so long since someone granted his wishes unconditionally.
It had been so long since someone told him that he was a brave warrior, that he was a good kid.
He held onto this man’s neck tightly. The strong, warm embrace gave him relief. He didn’t have to be afraid anymore. No one could hurt him anymore.
He rested his head on the man’s shoulder. The patterns on the floor kept morphing like a thousand blue blooming flowers.
He couldn’t remember anything. It was as though he had turned into a baby again. Dad was listening to the radio in the living room. Mom was steaming white fluffy buns in the kitchen. He was lying on the chair by the balcony, twisting his favourite toy with it pointed at the sun. Xu Ping closed his eyes and mewled, “Dad….”
His reply was the gentle pat of a large hand on his back.
Xu Ping got seven stitches for his head injury. Half of his head was shaved clean for the CT scan, and results came back saying his skull was fine. He still got a shot for tetanus just in case.
Xu Ping had long fallen asleep when he was being bandaged up.
He had many strange dreams. All he saw were bits and pieces that he forgot by the time his eyes blinked open.
The first thing he saw when he woke up was Mr. Zhang nodding off in a chair by the cot. His glasses were hanging on the tip of his nose. His white shirt was all wrinkled.
The sky was hazy with the morning glow and there was still some bluish fog hanging in the air.
Xu Ping lay on the bed for long minutes.
Pain seemed to tug at his head and his brain refused to function like a machine missing its gears.
He sat up carefully and shook Mr. Zhang’s arm.
“Why am I here?”
Zhang Jinmin woke up too and answered while rubbing his sore neck. “Do you remember, I took you here last night to get stitches?”
Xu Ping had already gone back into his protective shell; he was no longer that child who screamed for his toys.
“Thank you, Mr. Zhang,” he said very politely.
Zhang Jinmin faltered before patting the side of Xu Ping’s head that still had hair. “Child, don’t act like such an adult!”
It took Xu Ping five seconds to react.
Was he talking about me? He thought, but I’m not a child anymore.
“Where’s my brother?”
Zhang Jinmin replied honestly stiffening. “I didn’t see him but I asked Mrs. Zhang to go look for him before I left. He’s just a kid, he couldn’t have gotten far. He’s probably home sleeping now.”
Xu Ping had always respected Mr. Zhang because he was first of all a good man. If not, Xu Ping’s dad wouldn’t have left him and Xu Zheng in his hands. Second of all, he was an honest man. Many good people were also good liars, but not Mr. Zhang. Every word he said to the elementary school student before him was truth. He spoke to Xu Ping as an equal and Xu Ping appreciated this greatly.
Eventually, Xu Ping grew easy.
He knew Xu Zheng, an idiot who didn’t like to wander around. No need to worry.
He pulled the sheets back and hopped off the bed.
A new day had begun.
With his head wrapped in white bandages like a casualty coming back from the battlefield, Xu Ping followed Mr. Zhang back to his home.
The half-bald look was just too silly. He was considering to shave it all off and wear a hat.
He didn’t even write a word for the assignment yesterday, and he didn’t know where his backpack was, either.
The worst thing, though, with going to school was that he would have to see Lu Jia every day.
All these worries and frustrations made his head hurt.
However, these were further down the road. There was a more urgent question at hand.
Xu Ping had disappeared for the entire night after beating him up and telling him to go die. Now that he was calm, he deeply regretted saying such reckless things.
But a bit of wishful thinking was mixed in with the regret. That retard probably didn’t even know what his words meant.
As he contemplated, he braced himself before walking into Mr. Zhang’s home.
There was a round table in the living room. Mr. Zhang’s spouse was setting the table for breakfast for their first grader daughter, Zhang Xiaojuan.
Zhang Jinmin scanned the room before asking his wife, He Mei, “Hey, where’s Xu Zheng?”
He Mei placed a bowl of rice congee on the table without replying.
When Zhang Jinmin asked again, she slapped the chopsticks onto the table. “I don’t know!”
Zhang Jinmin asked after her answer sunk in. “You don’t know if the boy’s here or not?”
“You’re asking me? Where did you go all night?!”
“I thought I told you when I left. Xu Ping hurt his head and needed to go to the emergency–”
“And taking him to the emergency took the whole night?!”
Zhang Jinmin was fired up too. “The kid needed stitches and scans. Lao-Xu left him in my hands, how could I just leave him and come home?!”
He Mei began to shriek. “Oh, you do know he’s Lao-Xu’s kid! What about your own kid?! Juanjuan had diarrhea all night and all she wanted was her dad. I didn’t have anyone to help me get her to the hospital. Where were you then?!”
Zhang Jinmin glanced at the spooked girl eating her congee. “Don’t yell in front of the kids. Come into the room with me!”
The two closed the bedroom door behind them.
The man’s voice wasn’t distinguishable, but the woman’s was sharp and pierced through the door.
“Alright?! Does she look alright to you?! She had diarrhea all night, her face is paler than a ghost!”
“Lao-Xu this, Lao-Xu that! You don’t owe him shit to be raising his sons for him!”
“Yeah, you’re the good guy! And I’m the evil villain! You’re such a good guy you forget about your own family and go raise someone else’s kids! Do you care about Juanjuan? Do you care about me? Do you even care about this family?”
“Oh, Lao-Xu has it hard? Yes! But who doesn’t have it hard?! I can cook a meal for him, but I can’t cook for him every day! I can’t father his children for him!”
“Xu Zheng ran away.”
“How should I know where that idiot went? Juanjuan had diarrhea. Was I supposed to leave my own daughter and go looking for his son?! I went out looking once and he should be grateful!”
“What do I have to explain to Lao-Xu?! He’s the one who’s always running off to some place instead of taking care of his kids. I’m here worrying he’s gonna leave for good and leave those boys to me!”
“What did you just say, Zhang Jinmin?! You say that again! Don’t think I don’t know about your dirty little secrets! I know what you’re hiding in that book of yours! Take it out, I dare you! You disgusting–”
The woman’s voice was stopped by a blunt sound.
After seconds of silence, the room turned into a popcorn pot as screams and sounds of things falling and shattering bounced off the walls.
“Go tell the Party you want a divorce! Go! I dare you!”
Xu Ping managed to get up on his shaky legs.
He said in a bare whisper to Zhang Xiaojuan sitting to his side, “Tell your dad I’m going to look for my brother.”
The frightened little girl nodded with wide-eyes.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
ayszhang: Just a hint for those who didn't get it, Mr. Zhang has stuck something between the pages of a book. My interpretation is that it's a photograph of Xu Ping's father whom Mr. Zhang has a secret love for, which is why He Mei calls him "disgusting." I guess she was going to say something like "you disgusting fag."
Brother - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.