Sunday, February 7, 2016

Brother - ch7

Translator: ayszhang
Proofreaders: m@o
Surprise! Chapter 7 of Brother!


What is important is always invisible.
–Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Xu Ping didn’t go to school.
He first went home. He stood at the entrance after he opened the door. For some reason, he was scared and his knees were weak.
Only after encouraging himself silently did he step inside.
The red bucket wasn’t under the table. Xu Zheng had always put his favourite toy there, but today it wasn’t anywhere in the room.
Xu Ping was standing in the smack middle of the living room. Every door in the house was wide open. The window in the boys’ room was opened and the light beige curtains were flapping loudly from the wind rushing in through the crack.
It was obvious that his brother wasn’t home but he still called, “Xiao-Zheng!”
No one answered.
He stayed in the spot for a moment and then went to the kitchen. He took a glass out from the cabinet, poured himself a full glass and gulped it all down.
He was really thirsty. 
He poured another glass. Halfway through, he felt sick and started dry barfing in the sink, but nothing came out.
He dumped the rest of the water and placed the glass back after washing it.
It was really quiet.
Xu Zheng never liked to talk but would make all sorts of noises. He was clumsy and would often bump into the table, making thumps and clunks, but never had Xu Ping heard him say ouch.
Xu Ping had to check on him every now and then as he did homework in the bedroom. At first, he would put down his pencil and go looking. Later, he simply called his brother’s name from his seat and Xu Zheng would pop into the room quietly. Regardless if Xu Zheng was in the middle of something or how many times he had been called already, he would show up obediently as soon as his brother called his name, like a dog responding to its owner’s command.
Sometimes when Xu Ping was bullied at school, he would keep calling Xu Zheng’s name to feel better. As soon as Xu Zheng showed up, he would get him to go away again. Even after Xu Zheng ran back and forth dozens of time between the living room and the bedroom and his forehead was glistening with sweat, he would still behave well, without complaint, like a dumb, loyal dog.
And it was also this dumb doggy who threw a temper tantrum at Xu Ping for being late. 
Xu Ping had to admit that he had no idea what was going on inside Xu Zheng’s head.
He always thought his brother was a retard who was slow to react and lacked emotions. Therefore, he never considered his own words and actions before doing them. He had not only beaten him up but also told him to go die.
Perhaps in reality, he was the asshole who had been bullying Xu Zheng this whole time.
Eyes red on the verge of tears, Xu Ping slapped himself across the face.
He was going to go out looking. He was going to find Xu Zheng and bring him home. He was going to apologize to him properly.
Even though Xu Zheng was a retard, he was his dear brother, his only one.
He grabbed his keys and locked the door on his way out.

The sun is white.
This thought popped into Xu Ping’s mind for some reason.
During his short elementary career, Xu Zheng had drawn one picture. The art teacher had assigned a theme like “Under the sky” or “A beautiful day” or something. Almost every other kid in the class drew a bright red sun in the top right corner, and under it were trees and flowers and a house and a road. A stickman family stood on the lawn holding hands. 
Xu Zheng’s drawing only consisted of a blank circle that took up two-thirds of the page while the rest of the paper was coloured blue. It looked like the Kuomintang flag.
Xu Ping was delivering homework to the staff room when the art teacher was yelling at Xu Zheng, slapping the drawing onto the table.
“What the hell is this?!”
Xu Zheng answered, “The sun. It is white.”
Xu Zheng got zero on the art assignment, and the teacher demanded a redo. Xu Zheng, being the retard he was, refused to redraw it. In the end, his big brother had to do it for him.
As Xu Ping worked, he scolded Zu Zheng. “Why are you so stupid?! What’s so hard about drawing a tree or a mountain? Why did I have to end up with a retard like you?!”
Xu Zheng contemplated for a while before replying, “No mountain. The sun is enough.”
Xu Ping took this as evidence for his brother’s retardation and remembered it very well.
On the way to the courtyard, the sun burned the skin on his arms.
The science teacher warned them not to be fooled by the colour of flames – the hotter the flame, the lighter the colour. When you turned on the gas stove, the tip of the flame was red and the lower parts slowly turned to a cool blue. There was also a kind of flame that was invisible – its light so strong that humans cannot look at it with the naked eye. White flame was the hottest of flames.
What colour is the sun?
The entire courtyard was empty. The red bucket lay forgotten by the sandbox.
The buildings in the complex were quiet too. Everyone had gone to work or school.
Xu Ping cupped his hands together in front of his mouth and shouted his brother’s name through it over and over again.
His voice echoed back after hitting the buildings, sounding like a million Xu Pings all calling out to Xiao-Zheng.
Who of course did not answer.
Sweat soaked through Xu Ping’s bandages and dripped down his face.

Have you ever lost something important?

Xu Ping meticulously searched through the courtyard three times but found no brother.
He even went to the school for the special and the teacher asked him first, “Why didn’t Xu Zheng come today?”
Xu Ping wanted to say his brother was missing but couldn’t get the words out of his mouth. He ended up lying, saying that Xu Zheng was sick.
The teacher was a kind person and told Xu Ping, “Make sure he gets good rest.” Then, she expressed concern for Xu Ping, too. “What happened to your head? It’s all wrapped up.”
“I tripped and fell,” Xu Ping said before running off in a hurry.
He kept searching until the afternoon until he was exhausted and starving. The wound on his head seemed to have opened again and it hurt as if someone was hammering a nail into his head.
He thought he would go home for some water and food before going back to searching again. Maybe Xu Zheng would already be home when he went back?
He dragged his legs up the stairs and when he pushed on the door, it swung open.
Xu Ping shouted with delight, “Xiao-Zheng!”
The air in the living room was filled with smoke. Mr. Zhang was sitting in a chair, smoking with his head down and cigarette butts piled around him.
“How did you get in?!” Xu Ping exclaimed.
Xu Ping’s appearance made Zhang Jinmin falter before he quickly squished the cigarette out. “Xu Zheng left his keys at our house so I used it. Where did you go?”
Xu Ping didn’t speak.
Zhang Jinmin followed the boy’s gaze to the cigarette butts on the ground and said embarrassingly, “Sorry, I didn’t even realize I’d made a mess.” He opened the windows to let in the fresh air and then went looking for the broom and dustpan.
Even after the ashes and cigarettes had been dealt with, Xu Ping was still standing there, not having said a word.
Even Zhang Jinmin felt awkward, but he was an adult nonetheless.
“You just had stitches, don’t go running around.”
The stubborn Xu Ping lowered his head.
“I’m sorry I lost your brother.”
Xu Ping’s head was racing with thoughts. He had always respected Mr. Zhang and thought he was a good man, but even good men had their problems.
He finally spoke, “It’s fine, sir. You can go back home.”
For the first time in his life, Zhang Jinmin began to feel bad in front of a child.
This morning, he had a fight with his wife and was feeling frustrated beyond description. He left He Mei sobbing in the bedroom, and when he came out to the living room, Xu Ping had already left.
His wife said a bunch of hurtful things in her mad state, and even he, an adult, couldn’t take it. He wondered how much Xu Ping had heard.
“Um…. Was it something you heard, Xu Ping? You know Mrs. Zhang is tough on the outside but she means well….”
“I understand.” Xu Ping interrupted. “My mom died, Xu Zheng is an idiot and my dad’s always away for work. We’ve always depended on you all these years and I feel very grateful. I’m young now, but when I get older, I will repay you.”
These words made Zhang Jinmin shake with fury. He slapped the table out of anger. “When did I ask for you to repay me?!” he barked, “Who do you think I am? How dare you, Xu Ping?!”
Xu Ping was confused and wondered what he did wrong.
He was only twelve and didn’t understand the secrets of adults.
Mrs. Zhang’s insults were aimed for Mr. Zhang but every word of it struck him in the heart.
He had also wanted to cry and scream and throw a tantrum, but when he took a look around, he realized it wasn’t his home.
No matter how good Mr. Zhang was, he was not his dad.
Xu Ping reached an answer.
Xu Chuan could beat him, scold him, raise him and feed him. Whatever he did, Xu Ping had to take it. Xu Chuan was his real father and was responsible for him. The other people were all outsiders. Their occasional kindness was extra and undeserved, and was a debt he would have to return for the rest of his life.
Xu Ping was speaking his true feelings when he had said he would repay Mr. Zhang.
He didn’t understand why the man was so angry so he just tucked his head in and refused to make another sound.

The frustrated Mr. Zhang reached into his pocket for another smoke only to find a flat box.
He scoffed at himself for acting up. No matter how mature Xu Ping seemed, he was only twelve years old and didn’t know anything yet.
He treated the Xu brothers so well partly because of that unspeakable secret and partly because he was a kind man. No matter which one, he couldn’t let Xu Ping treat his affection like a deal.
He did his best to suppress his rage. “Did you find your brother?”
Xu Ping shook his head. His eyes immediately turned red, but he held it in, his facial muscle taut like a string about to snap.
Seeing the boy like this, Zhang Jinmin couldn’t find it in himself to stay mad. He stood up and said to the boy, “You haven’t eaten, have you? I’ll make some noodles for you and we’ll go looking for Xu Zheng after.”

Xu Zheng still had not come back by the end of that long day.
Xu Ping had always thought that his brother was an idiot, but it was this idiot who had done something incredible.
He searched everywhere Xu Zheng might have hid – the garbage dump, the boiler room, the bushes out back, inside the cement cylinders – while calling his brother’s name, but Xu Zheng was nowhere to be found.
The last place he went to was the abandoned Informatics Centre.
It was sunset again and the ding-a-ling of bicycles rang through streets and alleys.
The sky was still light and the part right above the horizon was dyed bloody.
The past twenty-four hours had seemed to last a century. When Xu Ping stood once again before the dead China roses and shattered glass, he had the ridiculous feeling that everything had changed.
He had thought he was bearing the most pain a person could take, but after all this, he discovered that his life had only just started.
He went around the courtyard twice before climbing the stairs up. Every door that he opened only brought him disappointment.
The last room was in a corner by the stairwell on the fifth floor. The narrow white door fell in the shadows and was so dusty the white appeared grey.
It was Xu Ping’s last hope.
He stood outside the door, holding the doorknob in prayer – if Xu Zheng was inside, and if he would forgive him, he would gladly do whatever in exchange even if it meant getting beat up by Lu Jia every day.
After making this wish, Xu Ping took a deep breath and pushed open the door.
The room was very dark. There was only one window the size of a workbook that was completely clouded by dust.
All sorts of things lay on the floor. Broken chairs and desks, old newspaper and used cardboard boxes piled together to form a mess.
A poster hung crooked on one wall.
Xu Zheng was not there.
Xu Ping closed the door while the tiny voice inside repeated: he’s gone, your brother’s gone….
Behind the stairwell was a metal ladder that led straight to the rooftop. Xu Ping climbed up and pushed open the metal door.
The evening breeze brushed his face. The city was bathed in the vermillion sunset. He could see into the distance, past his home. There were the long railroad tracks, the factory chimneys pumping out white smoke, the old traditional building made of grey bricks and the countless power lines and poles connecting the city in a huge spider web.
In this place, so many lived like ants, being born, growing up, attending school, finding a job, going to work, getting married, having kids, growing old….
Their sadness, their joy, their encounters and their farewells were here; their love, their hate, their insanity and their rage were here. Their lives were here, and so were their deaths.
His brother was probably somewhere down below. Xu Ping just couldn’t find him.
He shouted towards the city and the setting sun, “Xu Zheng, you bastard! Come out right now!”
Only the wind replied as it blew over the railing.
Xu Ping had never been so afraid and desperate.
He had lost his brother.
At last, he hid his head between his arms and began to bawl.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
The Taiwanese jack

For more information:
Dazibao/propaganda poster
The Cultural Revolution (an experiment by the Communist Party that left the country in shambles; this sets the background for this story)
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
ayszhang: Another surprise! This time it's in celebration of the Lunar New Year :D By the time this chapter's been posted, I would have turned 21 in Korean years yay!


Creative Commons Licence
Brother - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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