Proofreaders: happyBuddha, Kai, Lee, m@o, Marcia
All is fate
All is smoke
All is a beginning without end
All is a search that dies at birth
–Bei Dao, All
“Senior high, third year division three, Ms. Li Xiuyun, senior high, third year division three, Ms. Li Xiuyun, please report to the infirmary immediately.”
When this announcement played on the screechy public address system, Xu Ping was lying, eyes shut, on the white cot in the infirmary.
“What in the world happened?”
“He got hit by a basketball.”
“No way? A basketball? Look at these bruises on his face!”
“It wasn’t me. His face was bruised when he came to school on Monday. I only hit the back of his head!”
“For goodness’ sake, the guy fainted. Don’t act so innocent!”
“There’s always bumps and scuffles in basketball. It wasn’t on purpose. Who knew he’d be that weak. I even asked him when I hit him, and he said he was fine. Then he took two steps and toppled over. I had to haul him all the way here.”
“Hey, hey. Out of the way. Out of the way. The nurse is here.”
“Sir, is he okay?”
“…nothing too serious. It’s probably because of stress and a lack of sleep. See these bags under his eyes? Oh, right. You are third year students, aren’t you?”
“Yes, sir. You have to take a closer look and tell me he is okay for sure. He’s the top of our class. The school’s looking at him to make Tsinghua or Peking. If anything affects his exam results, our homeroom teacher is going to kill me.”
“Don’t worry. It’s just over-exhaustion. A good diet and some sleep will do him good. He’s young; he’ll recover in no time.”
“That’s good. You hear that, Liu Wen? It wasn’t my fault.”
“Consider yourself lucky this time, you idiot.”
“Shut the fuck up! Quit jinxing me, you little shit!”
“Hey, if you don’t have any business here, get out, all of you. Don’t create more problems in the infirmary. The patient needs to rest.”
White walls. White curtains. White quilt. White ceiling.
Xu Ping opened his eyes just a crack before closing them.
Tired. Don’t want to move.
The air smelled like iodine tincture. There was someone humming what seemed to be Hou Dejian’s Descendants of the Dragon.
The door burst open.
“Mr. Chen, I came as soon as I heard the PA. Is Xu Ping all right?”
It was Ms. Li, the homeroom teacher.
“He’s fine. He fainted after being hit by a basketball during PE class. He’s lying back there.”
Xu Ping heard curtains being drawn. The two staff members stood by his cot to observe his condition.
“He’s asleep. Maybe he’s too tired.” The nurse lowered his voice low. “Let’s leave him to rest.”
“What happened? How could he be that reckless during PE?”
“The main issue isn’t PE. He doesn’t look well. He has very dark bags under his eyes. It looks like he hasn’t gotten much sleep for quite some time.”
Ms. Lee sighed.
“Here’s my two cents: It could be the stress of the examination. With these emotional issues, it’d be best if his teachers and parents provided some counselling. Otherwise, it’ll be hard for him to perform well.”
“I’ll speak with him when he wakes.”
“I took care of the injuries on his face, too. Was he in a fight? He has all these bruises.”
Ms. Lee sighed again, replying, “I also asked him about it a few days ago, but he insisted he fell down the stairs. See, this kid has a complicated background. His mother passed away many years ago, and his father’s frequently away from home for work. It’s just him and his younger brother at home. And his brother, well, he has some problems up here. He’s a retard.”
“It’s true. He’s very close with his brother. Initially, he didn’t even want to put down any schools outside the province because he wanted to go to a school here. I had to give him a stern talk in my office to make him consider otherwise. So, okay, he came in this Monday with his application filled out, but his face was covered with bruises. I asked if his brother beat him because the boy didn’t want him to go to Beijing, but he assured me that wasn’t the case. But let’s be honest here. I’m an old lady, and I’ve seen enough in my days. If you ask me, it was definitely his brother. A retard wouldn’t know boundaries. A retard only knows to vent his anger. And that’s why Xu Ping’s like this.”
“I know. I’ve seen his brother once. A scary giant of a boy. All muscle. He looks like a monster of sorts. And his retard brain is the worse problem. He might not remember you even if you gave him the nicest treatment. He usually looks nice and quiet, but you say one wrong word, and he goes crazy, hitting people – the works. Nobody can hold him down. If you ask me, someone like that in your family must have been sent by karma to repay the debt you owe from the previous life. What suffering that must be!”
“I had no idea.”
“I know. What a poor kid…”
Xu Ping’s lashes fluttered a few times before he slowly rolled over and fell asleep.
“We must follow the Three Rules of Discipline, and we must not forget the Eight Points for Attention. One, be polite when speaking. Respect the crowds, and do not act prideful…”
One by one, trucks loaded with soldiers drove past on the road. White banners stretched across the body of the trucks reading, “PEOPLE’S LIBERATION ARMY IS FOR THE PEOPLE.” The squad leaders led their soldiers in singing The Three Rules of Discipline and the Eight Points for Attention, their voices booming far and wide.
The passengers on the No. 18 bus all strained their necks to look. One was counting with her fingers, “One, two, three, four…”
“Why are so many soldiers heading into town?” Xu Ping heard another passenger complaining quietly.
The man sitting a row ahead of Xu Ping was shaking out a copy of People’s Daily to read. Xu Ping poked his head out and caught a glimpse of the headlines:
“The Necessity of Identifying the Nature of the Unrest and Enforcing Strict Punishment.” June 3rd, 1989. Xinhua News Agency.
Xu Ping frowned.
The vehicle jounced over a pothole, and the rough shake prompted him to grab the handle on the seat in front of him.
The brother grabbed his arm, but Xu Ping shook it off almost as soon as he did.
He turned towards the window to avoid seeing his brother’s reaction.
The sun was about to set, dyeing the entire river a gentle amber. To the left of the water was the newly built part of town with its lively, tall buildings. To the right were a few run-down factories with their giant red brick chimneys shooting for the sky.
It seemed that almost every day for the past few years there had been new things being born and old ones dying out. The city kept changing its face – road construction, tear-downs, new houses – slowly becoming a totally different entity. The new buildings were indeed tall and beautiful, but for some reason it saddened him to see the old buildings which housed his childhood memories being torn down.
Xu Ping carefully eased the window down a little. A gust of river air tousled his hair.
Xu Ping feigned ignorance.
Xu Ping heard but was too annoyed to bother.
Xu Zheng placed a hand on his brother’s lap but was roughly pushed away.
The bus came to a sudden stop, the momentum flinging all of its passengers forward.
The driver turned to everybody. “The road ahead is blocked off. I can’t get through.”
The passengers opened the windows sticking their heads out only to see the familiar road blocked off with road blocks and metal mesh. The shops were all closed, and there were armed police giving directions for cars and diverting the crowd.
“Does this mean we’re going under martial law?” Someone wondered quietly.
The wind blew the newspaper out of the man’s hands. Xu Ping bent over and picked it up.
Underneath the extra bold font on the front page was a smaller line:
“We must fight the unrest with a clear-cut stand.”
The paper flapped noisily in the wind. Xu Ping folded the pages and held the corners down before reading.
On the way home from the bus stop, neither of them spoke.
The clouds in the sky had turned a million shades of purple with the ones by the west horizon tinted in brilliant red hues. The brisk wind made his pants legs flap.
His dad had called the previous night asking about the situation at home. After hearing about Xu Ping’s university choices, he stayed silent for a while before expressing happy relief and encouragement.
When it came time for Xu Zheng to speak, the boy only held the receiver and stared straight at his older brother.
Xu Ping could guess what his dad said. It didn’t stray far from warning his brother not to disturb his study because he was aiming for a good university out of town and asking him to learn to be independent because his older brother would not always be there.
His brother held the phone without saying a word.
That night, Xu Ping locked himself in his room studying while listening to smashing and shattering coming from the living room. When he opened the door, he was welcomed by a huge mess.
Since that night of confused emotions, Xu Ping had been avoiding Xu Zheng constantly. Unless it was necessary, he didn’t want to say anything to him. As the dishes crashed and shattered on to the floor, Xu Ping clenched his fist and forced himself, stroke after stroke, to write the mock exam. In the end, he hit his head against the desk out of pure despair.
Just a while longer. Just a bit…
On that night of hopeless tears, he made up his mind to sever this twisted love. Perhaps his sense of love had become so muddied because he had stayed with his brother for far too long. If he could attend university somewhere far away, everything should return to normal after four years, shouldn’t it?
Xu Ping was suddenly stopped by his brother’s hug from behind.
The window of a grey sedan was rolled down, and a middle-aged driver popped out his head, roaring, “What the hell, you blind or what?! It’s red! You wanna die?!”
In a stupor, Xu Ping took a few seconds to respond. “Sorry about that. I wasn’t paying attention.”
“You need some help walking, boy?! How fucking old are you?! Even an elementary kid knows how to cross the damn street!”
The driver rolled up the window, cursing and spitting, before speeding off.
Xu Ping brushed his brother’s arms away. Xu Zheng wrapped them around him again. Xu Ping brushed them away again.
The light flashed green and the people began pushing forward, but quite a few cyclists were turning to look at these two.
Xu Ping hurried after the crowd and left his brother behind.
Xu Zheng faltered and stayed standing in the spot.
The light went from green to yellow, then yellow to red.
Xu Zheng looked up and saw his brother standing on the other side of the road. He had only lifted his foot when Xu Ping screamed at the top of his lungs, “Don’t move!”
Startled, Xu Zheng stayed in the silly position with one leg up.
Cars drove past one after another. The light went from red to green.
Xu Ping dashed across the intersection, grabbed his brother and stomped off.
The two of them walked like that for a great distance, the younger behind the elder, until their complex came into view. Then Xu Ping shoved his brother on the chest, scolding, “Who told you to save me?! Why are you trying to save me?! You can’t even cross the road yourself! You know nothing! Why don’t you learn to protect yourself first?!”
Xu Zheng stumbled back a few steps, hand on his chest, dumbly watching his brother, and eventually hung his head low.
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ayszhang: I'm getting the hang of squeezing in a few hours of translation in the midst of studying and working. Look forward to more steady releases :)
Also Happy Thanksgiving!
Brother - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.