Proofreaders: happyBuddha, Kai, Lee, m@o, Marcia
That which has been is what will be,
That which is done is what will be done,
And there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which it may be said,
“See, this is new”?
It has already been in ancient times before us.
There is no remembrance of former things,
Nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come
By those who will come after.
Xu Ping thought he would lie in bed wide awake until the sun rose, but he fell asleep as soon as his head touched the pillow.
He did not dream. Like a robot out of energy, he lay on the bed with hands crossed over his stomach and did not move a muscle during the night.
When he awoke, he heard the sound of the street cleaning machine whirring by.
May was coming to an end.
Sunrise came earlier and earlier, and the temperature was also increasing. The moist spring had slowly disappeared like the sparrows fluttering among the trees while the young summer sun grew with intensity in the crisp southeastern wind.
There was always a lot to do on the weekend between the seasons. The long sleeves needed to be stored while the short sleeves needed to be brought out. The thick winter blankets needed to be taken apart and washed. The bamboo sheets and sandals needed to be taken out to the balcony to drive out the dampness that had collected during winter.
He stared at the old yet unfamiliar crack on the ceiling. Only after blinking a few times did he remember he had long ago moved into his dad’s room.
The sunlight shot in between the curtains. Regardless of what he wanted, a brand new day had begun.
Xu Ping slowly sat up in bed and instinctively reached out to the bedside table for his glasses. There was nothing there waiting for him. His brother had broken them yesterday.
Retracting his hand, he sat silent for a while before taking the clothes from the back of the chair and dressing himself. The door to his brother’s bedroom was still closed.
He walked into the bathroom, squeezed out some toothpaste, opened the tap and filled a cup with water. Then he began to brush his teeth.
In the mirror above the sink was a person with sickly white skin, a small pointed chin and bright eyes. Perhaps because of genetics, Xu Ping’s skin was very fair and did not suffer from pimples even when he pulled all nighters.
His neck was unusually slender for a man, and his jaw line from the side was elegant beyond description. Although he was not breathtakingly handsome like his dad or brother, there was a certain graceful purity that made him seem out of place in this mortal world.
Xu Ping spat out the foam and cupped some water to splash his face. It still hurt where his brother hit him yesterday. At the corner of his left eye was a bluish bump. The cut on his lips had not healed and was a deep purple today.
He gently dabbed his face with a towel and then looked into the mirror at himself. He froze for a moment before quickly looking away as though disgusted.
Eyes downcast, he pulled open the bathroom door and stepped out, bumping straight into a warm body.
For some reason his brother was naked standing outside the bathroom.
Xu Ping hurriedly took a few steps back.
Neither of them spoke.
Then Xu Ping broke the silence chuckling, “All right, hurry up and wash up. I'm going to make breakfast.”
Eyes pointed down, he nudged his brother aside and slipped away.
The breakfast menu today was rice porridge and other appetizers. A pot of golden yellow porridge stood beside a few small plates of cucumber, bamboo shoots and wheat gluten balls.
Xu Zheng had a big appetite and normally could eat every last morsel, but this morning he only stirred his bowl of porridge with the spoon, seemingly not hungry.
Xu Ping kept his eyes down at his food and finished breakfast before his brother for once. He stood up and gathered his dishes. “Take your time. I have something to do.”
He was passing by Xu Zheng when the boy caught his wrist.
Xu Ping pulled his hand free asking, “What?”
“You take me to run in the morning, Gege.”
Xu Ping pursed his lips. “Sorry. I forgot.”
He actually forgot. Somehow he had forgotten the long-observed routine.
Xu Zheng made to grab him again, but he stepped back and spoke flatly facing the kitchen, “Could we skip today? I’ve lots to do.”
With that he started towards the kitchen with his dishes in hand, but his brother shot forward and hugged him around the waist.
CRASH. The dishes shattered on the floor.
Both of them froze, shocked.
Xu Ping tore away from his brother’s grip and squatted down to pick up the broken porcelain, muttering, “Look at what you’ve done! Now the dishes are broken. Don’t run up to me and hug me like that again. Go drink your congee. We’re not going running today.”
Xu Zheng didn’t speak.
He knew very well that the younger boy was staring at him fixedly, but Xu Ping didn’t want to turn around.
He heard his brother sitting back on his seat and picking up the spoon.
He had to live on even if it was painful. The person behind him was his brother with whom he was connected by an invisible bond of blood. With that in mind, he felt the air in the living room thinning and scurried off to the kitchen with the broken pieces of porcelain.
The morning slipped by along with the tick tock of the swing clock.
Xu Ping locked himself in the room and completed two mock exams, effortlessly solving the question that had challenged him last night. The more troubled he was emotionally, the better he could focus, as though he were channeling all the unspeakable feelings out, as ink, through the tip of his pen.
His brother did not knock on his door. He breathed a sigh of relief, but at the same time his chest felt congested as if he had an asthma attack and could not get enough oxygen no matter how much air he was breathing through his gaping mouth.
Lunch was eaten in silence.
His brother sat across from Xu Ping in a white T-shirt, clumsily pushing rice into his mouth. Neither had lessons because it was the weekend, and so the day seemed to last even longer.
Some noises came in through the open window. One of the units had purchased a new refrigerator, and its tenants were hollering at the workers to carefully move the machine upstairs.
Xu Ping was leisurely washing dishes in the kitchen while his brother was sitting on the couch watching the noontime Animal World.
The topic of today’s show was the reproduction of lions.
“The lioness goes into heat only once every two years, and the male lion follows her like a shadow. Each session of intercourse lasts only a few minutes, but the number of sessions each day can easily exceed fifty…”
After cleaning his hands, Xu Ping took off the apron and hung it on the kitchen door.
Eyes pointed down, he straightened his sleeves while saying to his brother, “I’m going out for a bit.”
Xu Zheng’s head turned around and he asked slowly, “Where are you going, Gege?”
“A friend’s house to get some study materials.”
Xu Zheng stood up from the couch.
“I’ll go by myself. You don’t need to come.”
Xu Zheng paused and considered for a moment before letting his head droop. “Oh.”
Xu Ping pursed his lips but still reminded, “You stay home, all right? I’m taking the keys with me, so don’t open the door if someone knocks. I’ll deal with whatever it is when I come home.”
Xu Zheng showed his acknowledgement.
The expression on the boy’s face, like that of a dog abandoned by its owner, gave Xu Ping a pang. He quickly whipped his head around.
The river bank was lined with lots of weeping willows whose baby green leaves were swaying in the breeze.
The bicycle was broken. When he headed out, he noticed the chain on the back wheel had fallen off, so he had to walk to get anywhere.
Xu Ping stood on the rocky bank, the breeze sweeping across the river to rustle his hair and create golden ripples in the green water.
Behind him was a young mother pushing a stroller along the path, a couple snuggled together chatting on the bench, and a student from a nearby university rushing off with a backpack slung across his shoulder.
Xu Ping picked up a flat pebble and flung it. The stone skimmed the water three times before plopping into the water.
“Young comrade, could you take a photo for us?”
Xu Ping nodded and took the camera.
It was a family of three who had come out on an adventure on account of the good weather. The young boy had his arms around his mother’s neck as she carried him in her arms.
“Ready, one, two, three!”
When he reached three, the young couple began smiling on cue, but the two-year-old started causing a ruckus for some reason.
“What’s wrong? Are you feeling okay?” the mother cooed.
“Bingtanghulu!” the child screamed.
“Yes, yes, yes. I’ll buy you one in a bit,” the mother promised.
“No you won’t! You’re always doting on him! He can’t even take a walk without being carried. He sees something he wants to eat and starts crying right away. What’s gonna happen if this becomes a habit, huh?!”
“Oh, get outta here! You just don’t wanna spend that extra money! He’s a baby still! So what if he eats a bingtanghulu? I’ll buy it if you’re too petty to spend the money for your son!” The woman who was kind and gentle to her son suddenly turned and began scolding her husband.
“What do you know?! What do you mean I don’t wanna spend the money?! I just wanna set a good example for him! His mom only knows to spoil him, and we all know nothing comes out well from over-spoiling your kid! Do you understand?”
Just as the argument reached its peak, the son suddenly let out a piercing cry, and the two quickly turned to him and started to soothe him.
This trivial conversation completely filled Xu Ping with a sense of loneliness. He passed the camera back and continued slowly along the bank.
Telling his brother that he needed to retrieve some materials was an excuse for him to leave the house. It was as though a whirlpool formed wherever Xu Zheng was. It sucked away all of his emotions and energy, but the more he fought, the quicker he sunk. Gradually, it felt as if the space around him and the oxygen he breathed were being taken from him. But to whom in this world could he tell his pain?
He stood on the road, looking all around him, and found that he had nowhere to turn.
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Fried wheat gluten balls
Bingtanghulu sold on the street
For more information:
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ayszhang: We're past 40% of the story! ^o^ I'm flying home on the 29th, leaving Tokyo for good! Might take a few days to recuperate before translating again, so the next next chapter will be on Sept 3
Brother - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.