Proofreaders: JS, Kai, Lee, m@o, Marcia
Chapter 21 of Brother!
It is the most distant course that comes nearest to thyself, and that training is the most intricate which leads to the utter simplicity of a tune.
–Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali
One hand on the bicycle, one hand holding his brother’s hand, Xu Ping ambled along the lightless street.
The night had swallowed up the last glow of twilight at the edge of the horizon, and tiny stars were twinkling weakly in the sky.
“What did you do at school today?” Xu Ping asked gently.
“What did you read?”
Xu Zheng answered after some thought, “The Little Mermaid.”
“Is that right? Would you tell me the story later?”
It was the last weekend of May. Spring was coming to an end. The crabapple flowers had fully bloomed and were quietly shedding their lifeless petals, letting them fall to the dirt. A new round of life was itching to burst upon the streets and alleys of the city. Baby oleander buds had formed, and the slender leaves seemed to have been coated with a layer of green fatty gloss in preparation for this year’s burning summer sun.
Xu Ping stopped in front of a knife-cut noodle house and looked at the menu on the wall.
“I didn’t buy groceries today, so let’s eat here, okay?” Xu Ping turned to ask in a slightly tired voice.
The shop was not large, but the seats were clean.
The enthusiastic owner was quick to act. Seeing the new customers sit down, he brought over tea and appetizers – a plate of peanuts and a plate of spicy cucumber.
“Two noodles with beef tendon. One spicy, the other not spicy with extra onion and cilantro.
After taking down the order, the owner went towards the kitchen in the back.
Xu Ping slid two pairs of single-use chopsticks out from the bamboo holder, split one pair and carefully picked off the wood splinters before passing them to Xu Zheng. “Must be hungry, eh? Here’s some appetizers for now. The noodles are coming soon.”
He pushed the two plates towards his brother.
Xu Zheng held the chopsticks clumsily and with wobbly hands picked up a single peanut, bringing it to Xu Ping’s mouth. “Here, Gege.”
Before Xu Ping could open his mouth, the peanut fell and bounced off the table to finally roll onto the floor.
Xu Zheng bent down to pick it up, but Xu Ping grabbed his hand and said, “It’s dirty now. We’ll leave it.”
He waved at the owner and asked for a soup spoon which he stuck into his brother’s hand. “A spoon’s easier.”
Xu Zheng filled the spoon with peanuts and held it up to his brother’s lips.
Xu Ping turned his head and rejected softly, “You eat it. I don’t like the skin.”
Xu Zheng paused for a moment before saying, “oh.” He then put the spoon down and started peeling the peanuts with those clumsy hands of his.
Xu Zheng had long fingers with nails trimmed close to the base. As he closed his fists, blue veins popped up on the back of his hands. He was wearing a white round-neck T-shirt that stretched thin around his wide shoulders. As he looked down, it did little to hide his slender, well-toned neck.
Xu Ping gazed at his brother in silence as a slightly bitter yet slightly sweet emotion filled him.
“Hm?” His brother looked up from the peanuts in his hand.
He started to speak but was interrupted.
“Xu Ping?” He felt a firm hand on his right shoulder.
Surprised, he whipped around.
A tall, skinny man stood behind him. Monolid, slanted long eyes. Average length hair. White shirt and blue jeans. His separate facial features were not very significant but when put together exuded a unique charm.
The man smiled. “I’ve graduated for how long now? I’m not the student council president anymore. Don’t be so formal, and just call me Huang Fan.”
Xu Ping quickly stood from his seat. “What are you doing here?”
Huang Fan nodded his head towards the back. “Here for dinner with some friends. We’re sitting further inside so you probably didn’t see us when you came in.”
Xu Ping looked in his direction and saw three people sitting at a square table in the back corner, one of which was the short-haired woman who was shouting chants the other day at the square.
With a hand on the younger man’s shoulder, Huang Fan took a good look up and down. “Haven’t seen you in two months. The review must be tough, huh? You look a lot thinner than when I last saw you.”
Xu Ping replied bitterly as he rubbed his eyebrow, “My friend said the same thing. But who doesn’t lose a few pounds before the entrance exams? It’ll be fine after July.”
Huang Fan patted his shoulder. “You’ll do fine. I have faith in you. Which school are you applying to?”
“I haven’t decided yet.” Xu Ping said crinkling his nose and casting his eyes down.
“Let me know if you want to apply to my school.” Observing the younger man’s expression, Huang Fan suggested, “I know the people in the school, and it’s close to your home. If you end up coming, it will be same as before. I can keep an eye out for you.”
Xu Ping pulled a smile but did not reply.
“Who’s this?” Huang Fan asked cautiously, moving his gaze to Xu Zheng.
“My younger brother.”
Huang Fan studied Xu Zheng for a second before smiling again. “It’s my first time meeting your brother. Your family is really good-looking. Needless to say, your dad’s an actor, but you two brothers stand out in a crowd like a flashlight in the dark, too.”
Xu Ping awkwardly pushed his glasses.
Huang Fan leaned in for a closer look. “Those aren’t prescription glasses, are they?”
Surprised, Xu Ping took off the glasses. “Great observation. It’s the first time anyone found out by themselves. I had an accident and hurt my left eye. When my vision started declining I started to wear glasses, and then I got used to them so I’m still wearing them even now that my vision has recovered.”
Huang Fan calmly stared at Xu Ping’s face for a while before nodding with a smile. “They’re nice on you.”
Xu Ping put them back on his nose. “Actually I saw you a few days ago speaking through the loudspeakers at the People’s Square. I was passing by but didn’t say hi because of the crowd.” Then, after a pause, he asked in a lower voice, “Aren’t you supposed to be on hunger strike?”
Huang Fan’s face fell. “We stopped. Everybody would starve if we didn’t. The purpose of the strike was simply to show the government our determination for our request for democracy.”
Xu Ping didn’t know how to respond.
“So you already knew.” Huang Fan cracked a bitter smile. “I hadn’t contacted you lately because I was organizing the protest.”
Seeing the man’s drained expression, Xu Ping inquired, “What is it?”
Huang Fan thought about it for a moment. “It’s a long story. It’s good that we all have dreams and passion, but we have nowhere near the amount of money required for an event this large. The student body might look big, but the infighting is severe. There are a few leaders all on different sides, and nobody would listen to anyone else. There are even those who are here to gain fame for themselves. The hunger strike wasn’t done in the name of the Union either, but in the name of individuals. A while ago, some even wanted to restart the lessons. I had to send in the disciplinary team to block off all the lecture buildings to stop them. If not, the group would have fallen apart.”
Somewhere deep inside, Xu Ping knew something was off, but he only frowned.
Huang Fan returned it with a smile. “No need to worry about me. I still have bigger dreams to achieve. An obstacle like this won’t get in my way.”
“Isn’t your dream for China to achieve democratization?” Xu Ping asked, “What’s more important than that?”
But Huang Fan did not answer. His friends got up and paid the bill, and Huang Fan waved at them.
“It was nice running into you. Unfortunately we can’t talk much today. I collected some test questions and mock exams from previous years from my classmates. Come pick them up when you have time, or I could deliver them to you, too.”
Now Xu Ping was truly touched.
“I’ll go get them. Don’t want to trouble you.”
Huang Fan squeezed his shoulder lightly. “I told you not to be like that with me. Prepare well for the exam, and we’ll celebrate afterwards.”
Without waiting for Xu Ping’s reply, he turned and quickly left the noodle shop disappearing into the night.
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Hall crabapple, malus halliana
ayszhang: My last month in Tokyo! I can't wait to go home *u*
Brother - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.