All the stars will be wells with a rusty pulley. All the stars will pour out fresh water for me to drink…
–Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
Have you ever lost something important?
You know it still exists somewhere in this world, but you will never find it again, for your two paths are not meant to cross. You weep and you lament and you rage, but what has been lost will never come back.
Grownups always think children are silly. They think children have fits for nothing. They think it is bad behaviour.
For they have forgotten the love of their childhood and the heartbreak they had experienced as the price for growing up.
Xu Chuan stood outside the classroom of year six division three at Railroads No.1 Elementary. His hair was messy from the wind and his eyes bloodshot from the lack of sleep due to riding the hard sleeper.
It was recess and many children wearing their red scarves were running around and chatting in the hallway.
He watched as Xu Ping came out of the noisy classroom wearing a knit hat and carrying his army green canvas bag.
“Xu Ping,” Mrs. Li said, “Your dad’s here to pick you up. You can go home now.”
Xu Ping kept his head down.
Xu Chuan took the spotlight, “Thank you, Mrs. Li.” Then, he added, “How is Xu Ping doing lately?”
“He’s doing well in his coursework,” she replied, “It’s just that he hasn’t been getting along with another student in the class. They even got in a fight.”
Xu Chuan put an arm around the boy’s shoulders. “He’s a kid, after all. I will talk to him.”
Mrs. Li smiled. Xu Chuan nodded and left.
He led Xu Ping home in a hurry, and the two did not share a single word.
Three days ago, he received a telegram saying that Xu Zheng was missing and that he was to return as soon as possible. He asked for leave from work and rushed back from the wilderness in Qinghai. Even so, it was two days later by the time he arrived home.
He had barely gotten a wink of sleep these nights. The train rumbled through one tunnel after another, and the light and shadows whizzed over his face. Meanwhile, the other men in the carriage snored like the thunder. Xu Chuan could not sleep for his life. His eyes stayed wide open and watched the brown lamps flit past in the windows like shooting stars.
Sometimes it hit him that he led an exhausting life, working to the limit almost every day. He would wonder in the dark of night why his life ended up like this.
His father was sent to the Pigsty and their home was raided by the Red Guard. He was about to marry his girlfriend, but she quickly abandoned him. He married Liu Yu, who was not right in the head. His first son was born. His second son was a retard….
He had long been beaten down by reality. The dreams he used to have in his early days were nothing but mere scraps now.
All these years, he had his hopes for his elder son, Xu Ping. The boy was smart and responsible. His grades were good and even Xu Zheng, who was never close to him, would listen to the boy.
He was very strict on this son. He saw Xu Ping’s pains, but he never offered a word of comfort.
He was a selfish father. He loved his son, but he had no choice.
Yet, under this pressure, Xu Ping had taken care of his brother day in and day out without any mishaps. Even Xu Chuan felt grateful for this.
However, Xu Zheng had gone missing. The telegram couldn’t include the details, so he rushed back to ask Xu Ping in person how this happened.
Xu Chuan sat down in the living room chair and said to Xu Ping standing in front of him. “Alright, talk.”
Xu Ping didn’t know where to begin. The matter was so messy and complicated. Which one was the reason behind it all?
Two dark green rings hung under his eyes. He hadn’t been able to sleep ever since his brother went missing.
He had feared that this moment would come. All the effort he had put in to care for his brother was for show. If there was any meaning to his short, twelve-year life, it would have to be making this man, the most important person to him in this entire world, proud of him. But now he had to destroy this himself. He had to strip away his beautiful shell and expose the ugliness inside. He had to tell his dad that the vicious, venomous demon inside was his true self.
Xu Ping took a deep breath. “Six days ago, I came home late ‘cause the class meeting ended late….”
He told the story slowly and in detail, not missing a single thing. Like a flaying, the words sliced him open and blood oozed out from within. He described watching Lu Jia beating up his brother and taking pictures. He described being ridiculed and beaten with a brick. He described the argument he had with Xu Zheng, the slaps and the kicks and the scolding. He described being pushed by Xu Zheng and his wounds ripping open. He even repeated the words he never should have said.
“Just go die. I don’t ever want to see you again.”
It was as though his soul was hacked into two halves by an invisible axe. One half was chained inside him. The hurt, the disappointment, the fury and the guilt burned him like fire. He couldn’t budge at all; teeth clenched and muscle taut, he could barely feel half of his body. The other half was flying in the air like a kite. He had pretended to be a good brother for too long, and he should have known that this day would come, for the fake can never become real. He had finally let his dad down, finally exposed his ugly self to the most important person in his life. He would never shed any more tears for he had nothing else to cause him pain or fear.
He stood in silence before his dad, head bowed low, after he finished telling his tale.
He was wearing khaki pants and a blue top. His mom had made the knit hat on his head which was so worn that the threads were frayed.
“Take off your hat,” Xu Chuan ordered.
Xu Ping took it off and held on to it, revealing his pale scalp and white bandages.
Xu Chuan ordered again, “Come closer.”
Xu Ping took a step forward.
Xu Chuan brought his right hand back and slapped the boy across the face hard.
Xu Ping tumbled back from the impact and stayed standing only by holding onto the table. His ears began to ring.
His dad said something else, but all he could hear were trains chugging and chooing inside his skull.
He shook his head a few times.
He could make out a few words. “You…I…beat you….”
He didn’t even process the thought before he blurted out, “A father has every right to beat his son.”
Xu Chuan slapped him again.
This time he couldn’t hear anything.
He watched his dad’s wrath like watching a silent film. He felt no pain as his dad barked at him so fervently that spit was flying out. As he held the hat in hand, he wondered why he had ever been so afraid of upsetting and disappointing him.
He couldn’t think of a reason at all.
His mind began to wander. He recalled his mom when she was knitting this hat for him. So quiet and pretty, no one would have said she was a retard.
Dad must really love Mom, Xu Ping thought, he wouldn’t hit me until I took the hat off. He didn’t want Mom to know and weep from up above.
Xu Ping was really glad. He became certain that Lu Jia’s mom was lying. She was the mother of that son of a bitch, after all. His dad didn’t marry his mom because he was dirty or whatever, and he wasn’t some kid they’d picked up….
How nice would it be if the class meeting hadn’t gone overtime? Then Xu Zheng wouldn’t have gotten mad at him, and he wouldn’t have gone to the bookstand. He would have taken Xu Zheng home before Lu Jia got to him first. They would have avoided this episode and grown up without a pain.
He looked at his father. The man was in middle age but still very handsome. His perfectly chiselled face, tall build and solid shoulders would have gotten him a second marriage if not for his retard son.
If and when that happened, his dad would have another child – a healthy, active and clever child.
But they would not be Xu Zheng.
Mom had died. He would never have another brother.
With that in mind, Xu Zheng seemed awfully pitiful.
Xu Ping interrupted, “Don’t remarry, Dad.”
Xu Chuan stopped, angry and confused.
Xu Ping said, “Xu Zheng will come back and if he doesn’t, I’ll go look for him. If he dies, then I will repay him with my life.”
Xu Chuan had been through so much in his lifetime and built a full suit of armour for himself that he thought nothing could ever bring him down, but his son’s words easily punched through to his heart, leaving it shrivelled in a ball.
He glared at his elder son with a wild look of a madman. He wanted to scream at the boy: “You’re a disappointment. You’re a bad brother!” But he couldn’t find it in himself to say so anymore.
He clawed at his own chest. He needed to be alone for now.
Xu Chuan waved his hand, telling Xu Ping to get his sorry self back into his room.
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ayszhang: I had a friend stay over for the last few days and I got no translation done T_T Gonna try to work hard this weekend to make next week's update.
Brother - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.