Proofreaders: happyBuddha, Kai, Lee, m@o, Marcia
And the plot thickens...
And the plot thickens...
The fly is thy brother. Do it no harm. The wild birds that roam through the forest have their freedom. Snare them not for thy pleasure. God made the blind-worm and the mole, and each has its place. Who art thou to bring pain into God’s world?
–Oscar Wilde, The Star-child
The red traffic light turned green. Huang Fan stepped on the pedal and zipped through the intersection among the flow of bicycles. After turning right onto a small road in front of the University of X’s back entrance, the number of bicycles on the road decreased substantially. The white flowers of the pagoda tree on either side of the street were on the verge of withering, and when the wind blew the petals swirled around in the air like snowflakes.
But Huang Fan was not in the mood to appreciate this.
Residential houses lined the road. Laundry and some plants could be seen from the fifth-floor deck.
He turned at a certain metal gate.
After parking his bicycle, he grabbed his backpack from the basket and ran up the stairs, taking multiple steps at once. Soon, the hand stopped rummaging in his pockets for the keys.
There was someone sitting in front of Room 302. Short, luscious, black hair. White shirt, black pants. Head buried between his knees, showing his slender, pale neck, it was like a crane landing in the yard on a snowy night.
Huang Fan held his breath for some time and then called softly, “Xu Ping?”
Xu Ping’s fingers twitched, and he slowly raised his head from his knees.
Seeing the younger man’s face, Huang Fan’s eyes narrowed, but he stopped himself, only smiling. “What a surprise. Why did you come all of a sudden?”
Xu Ping pushed on his knees and stood up, dusting off his pants. “Sorry, I didn’t even give you a heads up. I just wanted to grab the study materials from you, and I didn’t have anything to do on Saturday, so…”
Huang Fan fished out his keys to open the door. “You really should’ve told me beforehand. What if I came back really late? Then you would’ve come for nothing. You didn’t wait for long, did you?”
Xu Ping faced away. “Not long. I was just in the neighbourhood and thought I’d give it a shot. If you weren’t here, I’d have left.”
Huang Fan eyed the tiny white petals on Xu Ping’s shoulders, but he didn’t want to expose the lie.
The unit had one living room and two bedrooms and was very tidy. On the coffee table were many books on quantum mechanics and advanced calculus and a very thick English-Chinese dictionary.
Huang Fan closed the door behind Xu Ping and took off his dark jacket. “You picked a bad time to come. My roommate just so happens to have gone back home and wasn’t here the entire day today. Otherwise, he could’ve let you in.”
Xu Ping smiled a little stiffly.
Huang Fan gestured at the couch. “Sit. Anything to drink?”
Xu Ping shook his head. “No, thanks. You must be busy. I’ll get the materials and go.”
Huang Fan faltered for a moment. “We can’t have that. I’ve been looking forward for your visit this whole time.” He went in the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. “How’s beer?”
Xu Ping didn’t want to be picky since this wasn’t his house, so he nodded. “Sure.”
Grabbing two bottles of Tsingtao, Huang Fan easily uncapped the bottles and placed one in front of Xu Ping.
Xu Ping said thanks.
The dark green glass was icy to the touch. Holding the bottle, Xu Ping hesitated before taking a sip.
It was cold and bitter, and the smell of alcohol shot up his nostrils.
He couldn’t hold back a cough.
Huang Fan chuckled. “What, don’t tell me it’s your first time drinking beer?”
A little embarrassed, Xu Ping chuckled and nodded meekly.
Huang Fan stared steadily at the younger man from another couch on the side. “Nobody’s used to the taste at first, but you’ll learn to enjoy it after a few more sips. Some days when I get home and I’m stressed or tired, I just need a nice bottle of beer.”
Since it was a kind offer, Xu Ping could only oblige. The golden liquid slid down his throat, and if he ignored the bitterness, he did find a certain refreshing taste. He had sat outside the door for some time and indeed was thirsty. Before he knew it, he had finished the bottle.
Huang Fan pushed his own bottle towards Xu Ping.
Xu Ping felt self-conscious. “No, thanks. One’s enough.”
“No worries.” Huang Fan flashed a smile. “I don’t have much here, but I never get low on beer.”
He then slapped his own thigh and stood up. “Hang on a second.”
Xu Ping assumed he was going to fetch the study materials, so he nodded. Then he sunk into the comfy couch cushion, feeling his body relax. The room was very quiet. Outside the window, the gentle sunset shone on the green trees, and a tree sparrow was hopping on the balcony pecking at its food. He turned to the table and flipped through the books on the coffee table. Turning over the cover of Quantum Physics, he found the dedication page: I dedicate this book to my dear wife, Kathleen, for thirty beautiful years of my life.
“I could lend it to you if you’re interested.”
Xu Ping turned around. “No, it’s fine. I wouldn’t understand it anyway. Just looking around.”
Huang Fan put the stack of study materials down and took a seat beside Xu Ping. “You can skip the demonstration and proof. That part’s too complicated, but the part about quantum cosmology is interesting, though. Have you heard of Schrödinger’s cat?”
Xu Ping shook his head.
“Hypothetically speaking, you place a cat into a box with a poison-releasing contraption. In the box, there’s also a radioactive atom, and this atom has a fifty percent chance of decaying within one hour, thereby activating the poison contraption and killing the cat. When you open the box after one hour, there will be two possibilities: one, an atom that has undergone decay and a dead cat, and two, an atom that hasn’t undergone decay and a live cat.”
“That’s right,” Xu Ping said after some quick thought.
“The question is, then, what is the cat’s condition before you inspect it? According to quantum theory, the cat is neither dead nor alive before you open the box, but a state of overlap.”
Xu Ping considered it for a while. “I don’t really understand. What does a state of overlap mean?”
“It is indeed a little hard to grasp at first,” Huang Fan chuckled. “Because quantum theory discusses the world from a micro perspective. When the mass and qualities of matter become very, very small, to the extent of the sub-atomic particles, the movement pattern becomes vastly different. But I like one explanation in particular. Let’s say the box held not the cat but your fate. Before opening the box, you exist and you don’t exist simultaneously. The moment the box is opened, the world splits into numerous worlds, and you exist in the space according to your choices. And there are many more you’s living in parallel worlds because they chose differently.”
Xu Ping processed this for a moment. “So according to what you said, I am here in your house, and there are many more me’s, maybe lying on the road dying, or at home doing homework, or playing ball?”
“You could say that,” Xu Ping smiled.
“I still don’t really get it,” Xu Ping admitted after more thought. “But it’s an interesting way to look at things.”
“Fascinating, isn’t it? The ultimate stages of physics research turn into religion or something. Even a top scholar like Newton turned to God in his old age. But if you think about it another way, his life-long research was probably the will of God.”
“Are you in the faculty of physics?”
“No, I’m in maths. We place more importance on the rigorous process of mathematical proof, not the philosophical meanings of the results. But a lot of things have happened lately, and these books made me think a lot.”
Xu Ping asked in a soft voice, “How’s the student movement now?”
“It’s still going, but we face more and more challenges.” Huang Fan paused. “The hunger strike did not bring about our desired results, so now we’re holding meetings and discussing what to do next. Some student leaders brought up the idea of self-immolation.”
Xu Ping was a little tipsy and took a few seconds before fully comprehending. “Self-immolation?”
“Yeah, they want to use their flesh and blood to awaken the people’s conscience.”
“No!” Xu Ping exclaimed after a long silence. “That’s not right!”
Huang Fan fell silent for a long time staring at the other man before nodding. “I don’t agree either, so I voted against it at the meeting. If they insist on the idea, I will take my people and leave.”
Xu Ping nodded. “It’s better to stay alive. No matter what, staying alive is better.”
“Yeah, if only they thought about it with a shred of rational sense, they would agree to that truth, but when you’re standing at the head of the crowd, and one word from you brings back the echo of hundreds, thousands of people, you start having this illusion of invincibility. It becomes hard to control yourself then.”
“Do you feel that, too?”
“I do. But I’m calmer than they are. Because I have more I’m after.”
Xu Ping looked up. “What?”
Huang Fan thought about it before answering. “If I had to say, it’d probably be freedom.”
Xu Ping scoffed. “Why, you don’t think you’re free?”
Huang Fan smiled. “Not that kind of freedom.”
Xu Ping didn’t hold back and kept laughing. “Then what kind of freedom?”
Huang Fan kept his gaze on the other man and enunciated, “The kind of freedom where I can walk alongside the person I love in broad day light without people pointing and whispering.”
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
ayszhang: Someone has translated this story into Thai based on my English translations! Click here.
Next chapter is an intense one. Hold onto your seats!
Brother - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.