Proofreaders: happyBuddha, Kai, Lee, m@o, Marcia
No, I am not a child anymore; I have grown and matured through the adversity. But why do I yearn for the loving hands of my mom or any one of my family, or even of someone I know. Please come close to me in this lonely hour, please hold my hand tight and give to me love and power so I may overcome this arduous journey.
–Đặng Thùy Trâm, Last Night I Dreamed of Peace
Xu Ping’s hands would not stop trembling.
Only the top two buttons remained intact on his shirt, but he couldn’t even get those small, white plastic pieces in place.
The door to the bedroom opened and closed. Huang Fan walked over while slipping into a T-shirt.
“It’s okay. My roommate is in his own room now. You had your face in the couch. He shouldn’t have seen it.”
Xu Ping merely continued his attempt at the buttons with shaking hands as though he had not heard.
Huang Fan lit a cigarette and took a few puffs before rummaging through his closet and tossing a sweater to Xu Ping. “That shirt of yours is no good. Use mine for now.”
The white sweater fell on the younger man’s lap but soon slipped onto the floor.
Watching this, Huang Fan stubbed out the smoke and approached Xu Ping. “I’ll help you.”
Before he even got close enough to touch Xu Ping, the latter hissed loudly, “Don’t touch me!”
Huang Fan’s hand stayed frozen in midair for some time before dropping to his side and forming a tight fist, but his face showed none of it. He chuckled, “Why are you so scared? I’m not in the mood anymore even if you want to do it now.”
Xu Ping had finally conquered the first button and moved his shivering hands to the second one.
Huang Fan picked up the sweater from the ground, dusted it off and held it up before Xu Ping. “Wear this. The buttons on your shirt all broke off, and the fabric is thin. You’re going to catch a cold in the rain.”
Xu Ping kept his head down in silence.
Huang Fan slid his hands into the sweater from the bottom and stretched it out for Xu Ping. “Come on. Head first.”
Xu Ping slapped the garment to the floor.
He glared at the other man with something akin to hatred before slowly moving his gaze away. “I was wrong. I should’ve never come here.”
Huang Fan paused and then let his head fall back as he guffawed.
Then suddenly he grabbed Xu Ping by the collar and threw him against the wall. “Say that again, you motherfucker!”
Xu Ping looked up at him and enunciated clearly, “I should’ve never –”
But he didn’t get to finish because Huang Fan grabbed his neck.
Xu Ping’s neck was the most beautiful, most delicate part of his body. Sometimes Huang Fan could get lost just looking at a small tilt of Xu Ping’s head.
When he was on the student council, he did all he could to keep Xu Ping close to him. He organized numerous events every single term, not to promote extracurricular activities for all the students, but to spend as much time as he could with this boy. Their classrooms were on different floors, but he would take the long route for no reason and would look in, searching for his figure seemingly unintentionally. Sometimes the boy would be reading, or chatting with classmates, or lying on his desk snoozing, showing off a section of his fair neck. A trivial scene like that could keep him reminiscing all day long.
He quickly let go.
Xu Ping slumped to the floor, coughing violently.
After a very long time, he finally caught his breath. He spoke, hand on his neck. “Are you trying to kill me?”
Huang Fan clenched his teeth.
Xu Ping picked up his pants and put them on.
The other buttons on his shirt had completely come loose from the earlier episode, and he couldn’t cover himself fully even if he used both his hands to hold the shirt close.
“I’m sorry,” Huang Fan said in an undertone.
Xu Ping announced softly, “I have to go home. It’s late. My brother must be worried sick.”
Huang Fan grabbed him. “Forget your brother. You and him have no future. What can he do for you? All he will do is drag you down! He doesn’t even have the ability to survive in this world; he’s just an idiot! It’s the same as you loving a dog! Be with me, Xu Ping! We share the same interests and passions. I love you, and I am capable of taking care of you. Being gay is still taboo, but you will be ten times less stressed than now!”
Xu Ping peeled his hand off and replied calmly, “Thank you, Huang Fan. But if it weren’t for Xu Zheng, I wouldn’t even be gay.”
That night, the rain didn’t stop until the wee hours of the morning.
Huang Fan parted the curtains and watched the downpour hit the street lit by dim yellow lights. Other than the rings of light, everything else was black. This gave him the illusion that the water was falling not from the sky but from the streetlights themselves.
Xu Ping had left.
He had seen Xu Ping off to the lobby. The rain was going strong, and the raindrops bounced so high off the ground that his pant legs were wet.
He passed his umbrella to Xu Ping, but the younger man did not take it.
“Take it! Look at this rain! Do you want a cold?”
With his hands holding his shirt together, Xu Ping replied flatly, “You don’t understand. I don’t want to borrow anything from you. Borrowing it means I’d have to return it, and then we would have to meet again. What’s the point?”
Huang Fan paused, his hand nearly cracking the shaft of the umbrella. He smiled, “Are you worried my roommate will blab about what happened today? Rest assured, I have my ways of shutting him up. You won’t be involved.”
He grabbed Xu Ping’s hand, flattened the palm, placed the umbrella in it, and manually wrapped his fingers around it.
“Hold onto it.”
The moment he let go, the black folding umbrella hit the ground with a clunk.
Huang Fan bent over, picked it up and placed it in Xu Ping’s hand again.
And it fell to the ground again.
Huang Fan looked up at the ceiling for a few seconds before smiling again. “All right, you selfish boy. I don’t want this back. It’ll be a gift, okay?”
Solemnly, he placed the umbrella back in Xu Ping’s hand and wrapped his hand around the younger man’s hand, holding it in place.
He stayed like that for a long time, but when he slowly let go, the umbrella fell yet again.
He bent over to pick it up, but when he straightened his back, he threw it down in an explosion of fury.
“What the fuck do you want, Xu Ping?!”
Speechlessly, Xu Ping picked up the umbrella and placed it in the basket of a bicycle parked in the corridor.
“So you want to draw the lines after using me, and go separate ways from here on out?” He scoffed. “You wish!”
Xu Ping stuck a hand out into the rain, testing. “Whatever you want to think, I’m leaving.”
Huang Fan lunged and grabbed his arm, chest heaving roughly as he managed his frustration. “Don’t do this, Xu Ping. I had no idea he would come back all of a sudden. He told me he would spend the weekend at home. If he hadn’t interrupted, you’d be mine now! Think about it from my side. This isn’t my fault!”
Xu Ping faced away and didn’t speak.
A sliver of hope blossomed in Huang Fan. He wrapped his arms tightly around Xu Ping. “If there’s anything I can do, just tell me. My place is no good now, but if you want, there’s a motel nearby. We can go there –”
Xu Ping shoved him away.
“You still don’t understand, Huang Fan. I’m not angry with you. I’m not angry at all. I’m just disappointed – disappointed with myself. I did something very wrong. I shouldn’t have come here. The one I love is not you, and I don’t want anything to happen between us. The one I love is Xu Zheng. I was only able to get it up by pretending you were him.”
Huang Fan stayed quiet for a second before responding, “Yeah, I know. So what? Pretend I’m your brother, then.”
Xu Ping looked down and was momentarily quiet in contemplation. “No.”
Flinging the older man’s hand away, he walked into the rain. Instantly, his clothes became soaked.
As Huang Fan watched the figure under the streetlights, a shout escaped his lips. “XU PING!”
Holding his shirt together, Xu Ping turned his head. His wet hair hung in lumpy strands down his forehead.
It was raining so hard that his eyes could barely stay open.
In that moment, there were so many things Huang Fan wished to tell Xu Ping. That he was likely on the blacklist already. That he was going to be imprisoned as a political criminal – five years, ten years, or twenty years – and he would have merely a fraction of his life left after the sentence. That he hoped to have a taste of joy for just one night with Xu Ping even if that meant he would be treated as a substitute.
But the words that came close to a plea were not uttered.
Xu Ping gave him a slight nod before quickly disappearing around a rainy street corner.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
ayszhang: Early surprise for Chinese Moon Festival and Korean Thanksgiving :)
Brother - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.