Proofreaders: happyBuddha, Kai, Lee, Marcia
Important announcement at the end!
Important announcement at the end!
Power said to the world, “You are mine.”
The world kept it prisoner on her throne.
Love said to the world, “I am thine.”
The world gave it the freedom of her house.
–Rabindranath Tagore, Stray Birds
A blue and white tram revved its engine and drove past nearly a dozen bicycles waiting at the red light, whisking up quite a bit of dust in its wake.
A middle aged man waiting for the tram on the other side walked over. “Hello, young comrade. How do I get to the Municipal Party School from here?”
Xu Ping searched for the answer in his mind. “Take the No. 15 bus westbound for three stops.”
The light turned from green to yellow, then from yellow to red.
Xu Ping pushed the ground with one leg and rode through the intersection on his bicycle along with the crowd.
His brother was holding onto his waist tightly. The boy’s legs were too long, and he had to sit in a ridiculous, curled position.
His legs got sore after a while, and he had just put his legs down when his brother spoke.
“Lift your legs. Don’t rub your shoes on the ground.”
“Okay,” Xu Zheng replied like a good boy.
The younger boy was growing very fast this year, and Xu Ping was starting to have difficulty bringing him along on the bicycle. He flexed his fingers and proceeded to put all his strength into pedaling.
“How does baozi sound for breakfast?”
Xu Zheng considered as he played with a corner of his brother’s shirt. “Good.”
The breakfast vendors had begun business for the day. Soy milk, fried doughnut, tofu dessert and red date cake, the delicious smells hit them in the face as they rode by.
Xu Ping stopped to the side and walked to the shop with a mountainous stack of bamboo steamers that had become dark with use.
“Could I get a dozen pork and bok choy?” he said to the owner.
The Xus were long-time customers of this baozi shop, and the owner was a die-hard fan of Xu Chuan. Two things hung on the wall that was less than ten square metres, a portrait of President Mao and a signed poster of one of Xu Chuan’s movies.
The slightly chubby owner heard and came out from behind the curtain.
“Oh, it’s you, Xu Ping,” she exclaimed merrily.
“Good morning, ma’am,” Xu Ping greeted with a smile.
“Your dad ask you to buy breakfast?”
“My dad’s still filming out of town. It’s just me and my brother. We were craving your baozi this morning.”
A pitiful expression appeared on the woman’s face. “My, my. How could he just leave two kids at home? One of them’s about to take the university exam, too!” Then, she turned to her short and skinny husband. “Hey, where’s Xiao-Xu’s baozi? Give the poor kids a few more.”
Xu Ping waved his hand. “No, no. That’s fine.”
“No, it ain’t fine!” The woman replied passionately before yelling at her husband again. “Why’re you gettin’ the ones on top? It’s all cold! Get the fresh ones on the bottom!”
In the end, there were sixteen baozi in the paper bag. The woman wanted to put in two extra fried doughnuts, but Xu Ping quickly refused.
Xu Ping was touched by her generosity and reminded Xu Zheng to say thanks, too.
The woman looked the younger boy up and down. “Wow, you’ve grown quite a lot, haven’t you! Look at this, even bigger than your brother. You’re looking more and more like your dad. Gonna be one handsome fellow in a few years!”
Xu Zheng kept his head down and stayed quiet.
“He doesn’t like talking to people,” Xu Ping explained as he rubbed his brother’s back. “Don’t mind him.”
The woman knew about the boy’s condition and now felt even sorrier for these two brothers. She managed to get the doughnuts into the paper bag after all.
Xu Ping recognized the emotion in her face and accepted the gift with a smile. He pulled his brother along as he said goodbye.
“Is that your nephew?” asked a customer in the shop next door.
“Nephew? He’s my godson!”
Xu Ping unlocked the front door and placed the bag of baozi on the dining table.
“Wash your hands before eating,” he told his brother as he grabbed the kettle from the stovetop to boil the water.
It’s almost time to change the gas, he thought to himself as he struck a match to light the stove.
He lifted the short blue cloth dividing the kitchen and living room to see his brother already sitting nicely at the table.
Xu Ping placed on the table the soy sauce and vinegar that he had prepared. “Show me your hands.”
Xu Zheng flattened his palms in front of him. Xu Ping flipped them over and even inspected under the nails. “Okay. You can eat.”
Xu Zheng was always particularly hungry after exercising, and soon half of the bag was devoured. Xu Ping had only eaten two before losing his appetite.
He pushed the bag closer to the younger boy. “All yours. Eat up.”
He wiped the grease off his fingers and opened the curtains of the living room. The room immediately brightened up with dazzling light.
“Go take a shower after breakfast. You’re going to learn to take it yourself. I won’t be helping you from today on.”
Xu Zheng took a bite out of the baozi in his hand and began chewing, cheeks stuffed round. He did his best to swallow but could not finish the half still in his hand.
“No more, Gege.”
Xu Ping looked into the paper bag. “You only had seven. Are you sure you’re full?”
Xu Zheng put the remaining half back on the plate.
Xu Ping put his hand on his brother’s head, lips pursed in thought.
“All right. Go shower then, you smelly boy.”
He grabbed the half-eaten baozi and took a bite.
“Do you know how? The shampoo is in the blue container. The brown bar is soap. The left knob is hot water and the right is cold. I’ll help you get the temperature right. Wash your hair and then the rest of your body. The towel is on the rack. And don’t forget to close the curtains.”
Xu Zheng kept his head low and didn’t respond.
By the time Xu Ping finished eating the baozi, the water was boiled. The steam gushed out from the mouth and made a sharp whistling noise as it passed through the small hole on the lid.
Xu Ping closed the gas valve and poured the hot water into the green thermos on the counter.
He said seemingly casually to his brother, “Da-Zhi invited me to a game of basketball. Do you want to come with me?”
Xu Ping was sitting at the table doing a mathematics mock examination when he heard the water start splashing out into the tub.
He had his pen in hand for some time. The questions on the page seemed familiar, but his mind was blank.
He counted each line that the minute hand ticked past. Xu Zheng still had not come out after fifteen minutes.
He threw his pen onto the table and stood up so suddenly that the chair skidded back.
He ran to the bathroom and pushed open the door. The latch had been broken since this morning, and the door slammed onto the wall.
His brother was sitting on the ledge of the tub with his head down. The hot water behind him was emitting waves of water vapour. The boy looked up dumbly and called, “Gege.”
Xu Ping’s nerves settled down, but his anger was ignited.
He shut off the tap and smacked his brother on the back of the head. “I told you to shower, not just sit there! You could’ve called for my help if you didn’t understand something! You think water’s free? You let it run for fifteen whole minutes!”
Xu Zheng looked rather happy to have been hit. He said “okay” and began taking off his clothes.
Xu Ping stood there watching his clumsy brother take off his shirt, undershirt, pants, and underwear. He saw his brother’s wide, solid shoulders, strong arms, slim waist, full hips, long, muscular legs, and the sizable member lying limp in the bushes.
He whipped around to leave after standing dumbfounded.
He heard his brother calling him from behind and was determined not to be fooled again.
“Take your shower properly unless you want a beating!”
Just as he was about to step out of the bathroom, he heard the water start and a small noise from his brother.
His brain told him: “Don’t be stupid. Xu Zheng will be fine.” But he still turned to look.
His brother had opened the hot water. The scalding water was splashing onto his skin which had become red.
It was already too late when he pulled the younger boy away. Xu Zheng stared at his own arm dumbly as though he did not understand what the swelling bubbles on his skin were. He reached his right hand to touch it.
Angry and hurt, Xu Ping grabbed Xu Zheng’s right hand. “Who told you to open the hot water first?! How many times do I have to tell you?! The cold side first! Cold side! Why the hell can’t you remember that?!”
He twisted the hot side close and the cold side open before sticking his brother’s arm under the shower head.
Xu Zheng shuddered and held his brother’s hand tightly.
“You dumbass! Idiot!” Xu Ping couldn’t bear his frustration. “You’re so stupid! Can you be any stupider?!” Meanwhile, he blamed himself inside. It was all his fault.
He dragged his brother along out of the bathroom and to their father’s bedroom. He found the green ointment and plastered the burns with it, but even then he felt restless like a cat on hot bricks.
With his head tilted, Xu Zheng looked at his brother inspecting his arm in a nearly psychotic manner.
“What?!” Xu Ping shouted.
“It doesn’t hurt at all.”
Xu Ping looked up at his brother. His eyes were glimmering with moisture.
“You dummy,” he said with a forced smile. “You don’t even know what pain is.”
Xu Zheng didn’t care at all about his injury. He was just happy his gentle brother was back.
He waited in front of the kitchen sink for his brother to wash his hair for him like they had when he was younger. Only now, he was too tall to stand on the stool and had to bend his head down.
His older brother’s fingers were long and cool. They felt like snowflakes melting on his nape when they massaged his scalp.
The windows by the sink were open. The sun was high up in the sky. Xu Ping could see the pots of green onions and sunflowers on the balcony of the home in the next building. He heard the neighbour singing along to the Peking opera, Mu Guiying, playing on the radio.
“The war drums thunder and bellow, waking the will and power in me to break the Heavenly Gates. Once upon a time, I had ridden my glorious warhorse, wetting my skirt with the blood of my enemies….”
He slowly poured a bucket of warm water over his brother’s head.
The sunlight cut over the counter at a slant, casting the shadow of the window on the ground.
Xu Ping swished the towel in the water several times and wiped away the extra water on his brother’s face.
Xu Zheng flashed a wide grin.
Xu Ping felt his face getting red and looked away.
Xu Zheng only had on a pair of square boxer briefs. He was sitting on the stool, waiting for his brother to wipe him down.
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One brand of the green ointment mentioned in the chapter_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Live performance of Mu Guiying. The lines mentioned in the story are the first four (0:24 - 0:45).
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ayszhang: So, the important announcement is that I will be focusing on TDDUP until the translation is complete. This project will have to wait until I finish TDDUP.
I have several reasons for doing so. Firstly, I think TDDUP is a story that deserves more attention because its prose is very well written and the historical setting requires more time and research, whereas that of Brother is more on the simple side. Another reason is that I would like to have time for myself. I have decided to pick up French again because I want to move to Quebec after graduation. I have also decided to start learning Ukrainian for someone special in my life.
I haven't told you lovely readers that it takes me around 20 hours to translate a chapter of TDDUP and 8 hours for Brother. Considering the fact that I also have 18 hours of lessons each week, I really feel like I have no time for myself.
I am not stopping altogether, but I will work at a much slower pace than before.
Brother - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.