Proofreaders: happyBuddha, Kai, Lee, m@o
You know, my flower… I am responsible for her. And she is so weak! She has four thorns, of no use at all, to protect herself against all the world…
–Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
The lights in the neighbouring buildings all lit up. The entire city was probably glowing with twinkling dots of light.
The family upstairs turned on their television and someone was singing the title sequence from the film, Red Guards on Honghu Lake.
Waters of Honghu, wave upon wave upon wave, my home lies on Honghu shores…
Xu Ping tugged on the closet door handle lightly and the door opened a crack before the person inside quickly pulled it back shut.
No one replied.
Not even Xu Ping was sure how much of what he had just said made its way to his brother.
He banged on the door. “Can you come out, Xiao-Zheng? You’re mad and I apologize. Don’t hide from me.”
His brother did not answer.
Xu Ping waited for a long time before trying again, this time with more power.
The door was about to come open when Xu Zheng started screaming with fear.
“No! I won’t see you! I won’t see you!”
Xu Ping froze, dumbfounded, until he began to lose hope.
There was a part of him that told him he deserved this, while another part of him became heartbroken.
He asked while fighting back his tears. “Why don’t you want to see me, Xiao-Zheng? Do you really hate me that much? Do you really feel that way?”
He didn’t know what to do to fix everything. He had heard the grownups say, a fault confessed is half redressed. But Xu Ping had learned long ago that not all faults could be forgiven and not everything could refresh and start again.
Flowers fell, never to return to their stems; Mom died, never to return to them.
It seemed to Xu Ping that he had accidentally broken a precious vase, and he was sad and helpless staring at the shattered pieces on the floor. Only a slight push out of anger was needed to break it, but to repair it could take months and years of careful piecing together and gluing. Even if he was lucky and could fix it, the vase would be full of cracks and never be as beautiful as it had been.
With his two hands on the closet door, Xu Ping began to weep.
He wanted to apologize but it could not get to his brother, so the apology had no use.
He had lost it all for good – the brother who only saw him; the brother who told him “The sun is enough”; the brother who would use his own tiny body to warm his older brother.
The world was big, and there was only one person, Xu Zheng, who only had eyes for him. The devotion that had no restraint suffocated him at times, but most of the time, it made him stronger. He couldn’t be weak because there was someone who needed him. He couldn’t admit defeat even if his legs were going to give in because there was someone who depended on him.
He had always thought that his efforts were to win the attention of his dad, but what was it that kept him strong in the countless days when his dad was away? A tiny voice inside gave him the answer, and only Xu Ping could hear it.
He slumped onto the floor and bawled his eyes out.
He felt as though he had lost the most precious thing to him.
He had tried so hard to hide and stubbornly refused to admit that perhaps he also needed his retard brother.
All the fairytales retold the same ancient story. Those who do not appreciate what they have will lose everything they have, and it will be too late when they finally regret it.
He had been abandoned by his one and only brother.
He had been abandoned by the entire world.
Xu Chuan was making braised pork in the kitchen.
He chopped the ginger, garlic, star anise, cinnamon and chili pepper, and added oil in the wok. Then, he added sugar and after it melted, he added the pork belly and the chopped ingredients to fry. After the meat turned a dark scarlet, he moved the contents to a pot to stew for an hour. During this time, he put on the rice, made stir-fry tomato and eggs, and cooked some baby bok choy. He even made a cold cucumber dish with soy sauce, vinegar, chili peppers and sesame oil, and served it in the big blue-and-white bowl.
The smoke was too much and he pushed open the window by the stove.
His left eye was still throbbing a little but he could still see. He could see all the stars in the night sky clearly. Some of them he knew but most of them were nameless as they sparkled in the darkness.
The sky was cloudless. It was going to be a clear, sunny day tomorrow.
He hummed along with the television upstairs as he worked.
The sun’s almost gone down the west; the Nansi Lake is quiet as I play my beloved willow pipa and sing that lovely tune…
He had a good voice and would sometimes fill in for his colleague and sing a few songs if they could not perform.
He had been too tired recently, and only after his younger son came home did he feel a sense of relief.
This family had become whole once again and life could go on. There was nothing better than this when one was his age, an age when one had been through all the challenges that life had to throw at him.
He brought the dishes to the table and set the table. He even took out the half bottle of Hongxing erguotou from the shelf. He was going to have a good meal with his sons.
He knocked on the bedroom door. “Dinner’s ready!”
The only one who came out was Xu Ping with his eyes red and puffy.
“Tell your brother to come out for dinner.”
Xu Ping stayed silent for some time.
Xu Chuan tapped his chopsticks against the table lightly.
“There’s no use, Dad. Xiao-Zheng won’t see me. He’s hiding in the closet ‘cause he doesn’t want to see me. He hates me.”
Xu Chuan sighed at the sight of his son’s lowered head. “He’s your brother!”
Xu Ping stayed quiet yet again.
Xu Chuan didn’t want to get angry and ruin the night. He got up to fetch his other son himself.
“Xiao-Zheng, dinner’s ready. I made braised pork.” He knocked the closet door. “Your brother’s gonna finish it all if you don’t come out soon.”
No sound came from the closet.
Xu Chuan knocked again. “Xiao-Zheng?”
He tried the handle to find the boy fighting to keep it closed on the other side.
When he pulled a little harder, Xu Zheng started to scream. “I’m not leaving! I won’t see Gege!”
Xu Chuan tried again patiently, “C’mon, Xiao-Zheng. Your brother misses you a lot. You haven’t seen each other for so long. Isn’t Xu Ping your favourite?”
But Xu Zheng only repeated. “I’m not leaving! I won’t see Gege!”
Xu Chuan persisted. “He already apologized. He knows he did the wrong thing. Why don’t you forgive him, yeah?”
Xu Zheng made stomping noises inside the closet.
A little angry by now, Xu Chuan yanked on the handle only for his younger son to start shrieking again.
Xu Ping watched as his dad walked out from the bedroom and took a seat at the table.
“Let’s eat,” his dad said weakly.
His dad picked up his chopsticks, lined them up on the table and took some bok choy. He left it in his bowl and pushed some rice into his mouth.
Xu Ping picked up his chopsticks unenthusiastically. He wasn’t hungry at all, but he had to eat.
The father and son ate in silence. No one moved towards the juicy, tender braised pork in the middle.
The rich maroon coloured meat was covered with bits of cilantro. After being stewed for so long, it would just melt on your tongue. A single whiff of the sweet sauce was enough to make anyone’s mouth water. A dish like this was almost impossible to come by except for Chinese New Year’s. Not only was pork belly expensive, his dad didn’t have the time to spend hours on one dish.
The delicious braised pork slowly cooled. After the steam disappeared, white bits of fat began to form on top of the sauce.
“Eat the meat,” Xu Chuan said to his son.
Xu Ping looked down as he stuffed rice down. “We don’t get braised pork that often. Let’s save it for Xiao-Zheng. He likes it.”
After a few moments of silence, Xu Chuan threw his chopsticks down and pushed himself up from the table.
Xu Ping gasped, thinking his dad was about to beat him, and raised his arms in defence only to see his dad storm off towards the bedroom.
CLUNK! The door was kicked in. His dad roared, “You get out here, Xu Zheng!”
The closet door hit the wall. His brother screamed, “No! No!”
Xu Chuan thundered, “What do you think you’re doing?! You leave home for a month without a peep. Who said you could do that?! You know how worried we were?! Then you come back and you hide in the closet. You can hide today, but can you hide forever?! You say you won’t see your brother?! Then you still know he’s your brother! So what if he hits you and scolds you? He’s already regretted it and apologized, and even if he doesn’t say a thing, he’s still your brother! He’s taken care of you ever since you were born, taking you to and from school, buying you things you like, taking you out to play, sticking up for you and getting into fights for you, carrying you to the hospital everyday for shots when you were sick. Are you telling you forgot all this in one month?! You won’t see him? What makes you think you can do that! What have you ever done for him?! You get out here! You get out here right now!”
Xu Ping left his meal and rushed in to calm his father. “Dad! Dad, don’t force him. He doesn’t understand….”
He saw his brother’s head buried in a heap of clothes while his small legs kicked around wildly. One hand was holding onto the frame of the closet while the other was being pulled on by his dad.
He cried, “No! I won’t see Gege!”
Xu Chuan was seething with rage now, his eyes bulging. “You get out here! You don’t think of him as your brother. Does that mean you don’t see me as your dad either?! What are you doing in my closet then?! Get out of here! Get out! I never had an ungrateful bastard like you for a son!”
Xu Ping heard his brother yell while fighting back. “I don’t like you! I don’t like you, Daddy!”
He wanted to leap over and cover his brother’s mouth but he was too late.
Xu Chuan froze at the young boy’s words and then his wrath took over. He let go of the boy’s arm and went looking for a stick, and when he couldn’t find one, he took the long wooden ruler on the desk and whipped it towards Xu Zheng.
Crack! The ruler broke in two.
Xu Ping was standing between his brother and dad. Blood trickled from the corner of his eye.
Time seemed to have slowed down. Xu Ping saw the ruler flying towards his brother and his body reacted before his brain. The place where he was hit felt cool at first like an ice cube rubbing against his skin. He saw an array of emotions appearing on his dad’s face: surprise, fury, heartbreak, regret and more. He had never thought that so many emotions could exist on one person’s face at one time. He kind of wanted to laugh, and then the pain hit him like a bullet.
He couldn’t keep his left eye open at all. Tears kept flowing out. He probably looked so ridiculous right now he’d better not let anyone see.
He heard his dad rushing over and asking, “Did I get the eye?! Did I get the eye?!”
He shook his head. “No, but the wind is making me cry. Just get me a cold towel and I’ll be fine, Dad.”
He heard Xu Chuan run out, stumbling.
It stung when the tears ran over the wound.
Xu Ping covered his face, not wanting his brother to see his bloody face.
He reached behind himself trying to find his brother. “Are you okay?”
Xu Zheng did not answer.
Xu Ping didn’t mind. “Dad was just angry. He didn’t mean what he just said.”
He paused before continuing. “Dad won’t disown you. Even if the day comes that he won’t take care of you, I’ll be with you. Even if you don’t like me or don’t want to see me, I’ll be with you forever as long as you still need me.”
Every word that came out of his mouth tugged at his cheek muscles, making more blood flow out. Every sentence was like a flower blossoming from a bed of flesh.
“Can you tell me,” he asked his brother, “Why you don’t want to see me?”
“Do you really hate me?” he asked again.
It was after a really long time before he heard his brother’s quiet response. “I’m sorry.”
Xu Ping’s heart began to fall, tumbling down to a deep, cold place.
When he was about to freeze over, he heard his brother’s slow confession.
“I can’t see Gege. I like Gege, but Gege doesn’t want to see me. I didn’t listen to Gege. Gege told me to go die. I didn’t die. I’m sorry.”
Xu Ping stood there dumbly until he heard a sobbing sound coming from somewhere. Was that Xiao-Zheng crying? He touched his own face to find it wet with hot tears.
He spun around and hugged his brother.
Xu Zheng struggled against it, but Xu Ping held him tight.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry….” He started to ramble in his brother’s ear. “Don’t die, Xiao-Zheng. You have to live on. I want to see you every single day. We’re going to spend every day from now on together.”
This time, this time he was going to tell his brother everything properly.
Xu Zheng’s movements died down but his eyes remained shut.
“Open your eyes and look at me, Xiao-Zheng”
Xu Zheng shook his head furiously.
“I haven’t seen you, Gege. I’m dead. I really wanted to die. I kept walking and walking and….”
Xu Ping slapped his hand over his brother’s mouth.
“You’re still alive, Xiao-Zheng. We’re both alive. Neither of us can die.”
“I’m sorry, Gege,” his brother apologized.
He cried with his brother in his arms. He felt that his heart was swimming in boiling lava and his skin and bones were melting.
There would never be another Xu Zheng.
This idiot was the most precious gift that destiny bestowed upon him.
He had almost lost him, but now he had returned to him.
He swore to himself. By his blood and his tears, he swore that he would always be good to his brother. He would use his everything to give his brother a happy life. He would do anything it took even if that meant giving up his own.
END OF BOOK ONE
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I hope you're not hungry 'cause...
Stir-fry tomatoes and eggs
Red braised pork
Baby bok choy
(usually stir-fried with garlic and oil)
Cold dressed cucumber_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
For more information:
Braised pork (English recipe of Shanghai-style)
Tomatoes and eggs
Red Guards on Honghu Lake
Clip from movie of the song Xu Chuan sang
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ayszhang: Hope you liked Book One :') that was an emotional but sweet ending if you ask me!
Brother - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.