Proofreaders: JS, Kai, Lee, m@o, Marcia
The time that my journey takes is long and the way of it long.
–Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali
“I am a wolf from the North, roaming the boundless plains; the cold wind roars and the sand storm blows…”
The music woke Xu Ping making him sit up at his desk.
A few boys in the class had gathered around a desk in the corner listening to “Wolf” by Chyi Chin on someone’s cassette player.
It was break time between lessons. All the desks were piled with study material and mock exams. Looking down from the podium, they looked like fortresses built with paper. The course load in the final year of senior high was heavy, and many students were taking the opportunity during break to catch a few snoozes in their own book fortress.
“Xu Ping, the homeroom teacher wants to see you in her office.”
Xu Ping replied okay as he stood up rubbing his face.
Pushing open the wooden office door, he found Mrs. Li sitting at the desk in the corner marking the mock exam papers from yesterday.
“You were looking for me, Mrs. Li?”
Li Xiuyun pushed her glasses higher on her nose and said without stopping her pen, “Yes, you.”
She flipped through the pages counting the red minuses on each one and with her red pen wrote “76” on the first page and two lines under the numerals.
After she put the pen down, she looked through the stack of already graded papers to find Xu Ping’s. She laid it on the desk and stabbed at it with her finger.
“What’s wrong with you? How did you make such an elementary mistake?!”
Xu Ping picked the exam up and looked at the question circled in red.
“You solved the most difficult questions at the end, so how did you get the simple fill-in-the-blanks wrong?!”
Xu Ping put the paper back down and chuckled, “It was a careless mistake.”
“Careless!” Mrs. Li stabbed the paper again. “Careless won’t help you in the entrance exam! Do you know how many students in this province are trying to squeeze past the line? A one point deduction means you fall fifty, one hundred spots down the scale! You’re a smart young man, Xu Ping. Don’t let your future go to waste because of a bad habit like this!”
Xu Ping nodded and agreed profusely.
Li Xiuyun removed her glasses and hung them around her neck. “Let’s leave the exam for now. It’s Friday already. Almost everybody has turned in their application form, but I haven’t seen yours.”
Xu Ping did not respond.
“You can talk to me if you have any troubles. I know your family background is special, but the application is a very serious matter, and you must treat it with utmost care. I had a talk with your dad on the phone the other day. With your scores, you can go to a very good school, maybe even Peking or Tsinghua. But I get the feeling that you have no such ambitions. Other kids are doing everything in their power to get into university while you are here hesitating when you already have one foot in the door.”
Xu Ping rubbed his nose.
“Your dad told me about your situation, said you’ve been taking care of your brother since you were young. I was very touched by it. I’m fifty this year and have been teaching all my life. I’ve seen all types of students, and I have children of my own. I say this not as your teacher but as your elder, as someone with more life experience. Your dad spent all these years raising you not to become a good-for-nothing who only knows to care for your brother! Sure, you’re not wrong to do so, but if you give up your own precious future for your brother, then you are the biggest fool in the world!”
Xu Ping’s hands tightened for a moment around the side seams of his pants.
She pulled open the drawer and took out a stack of application cards. “I’m not supposed to show you this, but take a look at what Yang Qing wrote. His mock scores are lower than yours, but he was brave enough to put Peking as his first choice. What about you? Don’t you have any ambition in you?”
Xu Ping pursed his lips.
“I’m not asking you to try for Peking, but Xu Ping, as your homeroom teacher, I will not allow you to take your future lightly.” She slammed the drawer shut. “I want the application by Monday. Think about my words this weekend.”
It was a little late by the time Xu Ping ended school. Lessons ended late almost every day in the third and last year of senior high school. Both the students and the teachers were stressed and wanted more hours in a day.
Throwing his deadweight backpack into the front basket, Xu Ping hopped on his bicycle and rushed off. By the time he arrived at the gates of the City’s School for Special Education, the sky was pitch black.
Only a handful of windows still had light shining through. Xu Ping climbed the stairs two or three steps at a time to find his brother, back straight and knees together, sitting alone in the empty classroom.
Like a robot that was suddenly activated, his brother’s head slowly turned around.
Xu Ping flashed a smile. “I’m here to pick you up.”
Xu Ping took his brother by the hand and brought him to say goodbye to the teacher, Mrs. Cao, who was tidying up her materials in the office.
“Has your dad come back yet?”
Mrs. Cao pointed to the bench in front of her. “Not so fast. I have something to talk to you about.”
Xu Ping sat his brother down before joining him.
“How is it at home these days?”
“Fine. It’s just that I’m about to take the university entrance exam, and there’s a lot to do. My dad is still out of town filming and won’t be back for a few more days.”
Mrs. Cao nodded.
“Did my brother do something today?” Xu Ping probed.
“No.” Mrs. Cao smiled. “Xu Zheng has always been very well-behaved in school. He doesn’t like interaction, but he doesn’t cause any trouble for us.”
Xu Ping glanced at his brother, feeling slightly more at ease.
“Well, I think this is a matter I should discuss with your dad, but after some thought, I decided you should know, too.”
Xu Ping leaned in a little. “Yes, Mrs. Cao?”
Hands criss-crossed at the knee, Cao Xue began softly, “It’s been eight years since Xu Zheng came to our school. Have you considered what he will do in the future?”
Xu Ping fell silent.
“Xu Zheng is fifteen already. If he were a normal kid, he’d be planning his future after junior high graduation, whether that’s heading to senior high and university, or enrolling in a college and finding a job. The mandatory education in our country is nine years. Our special ed program doesn’t follow the same guidelines, but it won’t continue to available forever.”
“Mrs. Cao, is the school budget running low? I can talk to my dad about it.”
Cao Xue chuckled. “Our budget is never enough, and there are far more children that need special help than we can take in, but as of now we can still pull through.” She gazed at Xu Zheng warmly. “I remember Xu Zheng was only this tall when he first came. You and your dad brought him here. He was clinging onto your hand when you two left and wouldn’t let go no matter what. You told him you’d pick him up after school, so he sat by the plants in front waiting for you. It was raining hard that day. Mr. Zhang and I were trying to bring him into the classroom, but he bit anyone who tried to touch him, even made Mr. Zhang’s hand bleed. In the end, there was nothing we could do, so I got an umbrella and waited outside with him.”
Xu Ping patted his brother’s head.
“Sorry for causing you so much trouble.”
“Well, it wasn’t trouble, really. I was thinking at the time that this boy was a loyal and devoted soul. A lot of people think that children with mental disorders don’t understand a thing, but that’s not true. They have feelings, too. They can feel joy and sorrow. They can sense who is good to them and who loves them.”
Head lowered, Xu Ping gently rubbed his brother’s hand.
“That’s why I know Xu Zheng and I have a special connection. Our school isn’t open to the general public nor is it non-profit. Our monthly tuition is not low, and many families who truly need help aren’t able to send their children to our special ed program due to financial reasons. It’s not that we don’t want to help them, but we can only do so much.”
“Is the tuition increasing next month?”
Cao Xue shook her head.
“Xu Ping, your brother is the oldest kid here. It shames me to say this, but we special needs educators can’t do a whole lot. These kids mostly live in their own world, like a house with no doors. We can only do repairs from the outside, but we have no way of going in and turning on the lights.”
“No, that’s not true. You and the other teachers have done a lot, Mrs. Cao.”
Cao Xue smiled.
“I like Xu Zheng very much, but the school can’t become his parents. We can’t take care of him forever. There comes an end to every party, Xu Ping, and you need to start considering Xu Zheng’s future for him.”
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"Wolf" by Chyi Chin
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ayszhang: Early surprise :)
Chyi Chin *u* Man, if only my mom read (incest) BL, she'd love this story!!! She's actually one year older than Xu Ping (if he was real), so she would definitely relate to this story.
Brother - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.