All love is in the heart
All past is in a dream
–Bei Dao, All
One streetlight, and then another.
There was someone singing quietly somewhere in the night.
“In the ancient Orient is a dragon. Its name is the Middle Kingdom; In the ancient Orient is a tribe. They are all descendants of the dragon…”
The stars in the sky were blazing away from thousands of light years away in space. After a hundred thousand years, two hundred thousand years, what was left by the time their light reached this tiny, infamous planet was but a lifeless spark. Compared to the stars, the life of humans was as short as the life of a flower. A life could end in the blink of an eye. However, even the seemingly eternal constellations cooled and died after burning all of their energy and would eventually become space dust, defeated by the laws of time.
Xu Ping gasped for air as he leaned on a power line pole.
The pole was covered with ads and flyers of all colours. Beside the ad for psoriasis was a white notice with the word ‘democracy’ in huge font. Someone had torn off half of it, leaving the other half flapping in the night wind.
The People’s Square was just a right turn away. He could faintly hear the commotion from here.
The main road leading to the square was brightly lit. Military vehicles drove past one by one.
Xu Ping felt a burning anxiety, but his legs would not step forward as though they were lead-laden.
A quick rest. Just a quick rest, he thought.
He heard footsteps approach him from behind – slappity slap slap – and stop somewhere behind him.
Still holding the pole, Xu Ping looked up in surprise. “Xiao-Zheng?! How did you get out?”
His brother was still wearing a tank top, shorts and a pair of blue plastic slippers from home. It seemed like he had fallen along the way, as his top and knees were grey with dirt.
“So? How did you get out?! I locked the door!”
His brother hung his head low. “I climbed down from the balcony.”
His vision suddenly seemed to flicker in and out, and he couldn’t see very well for some time. He asked quietly, trying to ignore the discomfort, “How did you climb down from the balcony?”
“…along the pipe.”
There was indeed a pipe for the drainage of the rooftop nailed to the wall right next to the balcony and leading straight down to the gutter on the ground.
Furious and upset, Xu Ping kicked his brother. “Are you insane?! Do you know how much you weigh?! What if the pipe broke and you fell from up there?!”
The more he thought about it, the angrier he became, and soon he was using his fists as well.
His brother stood there and didn’t budge while taking the beating.
Xu Ping leaned on the pole, panting for a while before recovering.
“You go home.” He fished out his keys from his pocket. “Take the keys and go in through the door.”
“What about you, Gege?”
“I still have something to do, can’t go with you.”
“…I’ll go with you.”
Xu Ping barked, “What do you want with me?!”
Xu Zheng gazed at him dumbly.
Xu Ping gave him a shove. “Go home!”
His brother stepped back.
Xu Ping shoved him again. The boy backed up again.
“I’m telling you to go home. Are you deaf?!” Xu Ping snapped.
Xu Zheng straightened himself and diverted his gaze sideways to the road. “I’m not going home.”
“What did you say?! You say that again!”
Xu Zheng didn’t speak.
Xu Ping grabbed him by the tank top and shoved him back, but this time Xu Zheng flung him aside.
“I won’t go home!” The boy roared. “I know! You want me to wait at home and you go see that bad person! I don’t want to go home! You’re mine, Gege! Only mine!”
Xu Ping was pushed to the ground and stayed there for some time before staggering to his feet and dusting himself off.
He thrust his keys in Xu Zheng’s hand and held the boy’s shoulders as he instructed, “You listen to me now, Xu Zheng. You go home straight away. If I find you taking one step after me, I will disown you as my brother!”
He shoved Xu Zheng on the back, making the boy stumble forward. Xu Zheng turned to look at his brother to find a cold, hard frown.
After standing there with his head down, Xu Zheng eventually started walking. Every few steps or so, he would take a look back at his brother. His gege’s shadow under the streetlight seemed very drawn-out.
Only when Xu Zheng disappeared around the corner did Xu Ping hurry along towards the square.
When Xu Ping recalled this night many, many years later, he would feel as though it was all a dream. Everything seemed hazy. He thought he remembered but when he thought about it carefully, the faces and the words in the depth of his memory all seemed to dissipate like fog.
Of course, the Xu Ping many, many years later was an extremely different person from the current Xu Ping. Years of life trained him to endure and be wary. He began to believe in the evil of man, that humans could commit heinous crimes without any self-restraint. He began to doubt the sincerity of others’ words and didn’t display any joy even from being praised. He became a person not so different from the thousands of others in this society. Cold and cautious, he wrapped his precious things deeper and deeper in his heart, never said anything he shouldn’t have said, and didn’t do what he shouldn’t have done. It’s not to say that this Xu Ping was bad. It’s just that he had paid a heavy price to become an adult.
Each one of us loses the naivety in our heart as we grow up, some earlier than others. Some are like lemons being grated for their zest, slowly being ground into the shape of an adult’s by the forces of life. Others are like porcelain shattering on the floor into a gazillion pieces. They have to crawl back up and try their best to piece themselves back together, and in this process it’s not unusual to lose a piece here or gain a piece there. By the end of it all, each will have become a brand new person.
Our protagonist, Xu Ping, was now only eighteen years old, thirty three days away from the nation-wide postsecondary entrance examination. He was presently racing through the city street in the dark of night.
The sirens blared as the ambulance sped past him.
It was nearing midnight, but people still lingered on the street.
This street was brightly lit while the surrounding city was dim. The closest light source was an old, gloomy streetlight in an alley some way off. Its light only formed a tiny circle before the dark swallowed it. This gave Xu Ping a strange, illusory feeling as though he were not walking on a street but standing on a grand stage.
He passed by many people all of whose expressions were stranded between joy and sorrow as though they were marionettes. Their mouths were open in the midst of speech, but Xu Ping couldn’t make out what they were saying.
He was tired from running, gasping for air, but he couldn’t stop.
The ground was littered with shards of broken glass. The horizon appeared to burn in an unnatural red.
He watched as frightened people ran towards him, brushed past him and sprinted in the opposite direction as him.
He slowed his pace and plowed his way through the crowd.
There were fences and road blocks several hundred metres from the square, leaving only one section cleared for entry and exit. Beside it were a handful of police vehicles and numerous armed police on patrol.
Xu Ping walked towards the entrance.
“Oi, oi! What’re you doing?!” Someone in green uniform barred his way.
“I’m going in.”
The man eyed him. “You can’t go in here!”
“My friend is in there!”
The man scoffed. “You can’t even if your parents are in here.”
Xu Ping stared at the man.
“What’re you looking at?! Are you deaf? You heard what I said?!”
“My friend is hurt. I have to save him!”
“I don’t care who your friend is. We have orders, and no means no! Get out of here!”
“He’s going to die!” Xu Ping shrieked.
The man paused, momentarily stunned, before barking angrily, “Are you fucking stupid?! I said get out of here!”
Xu Ping glared at him for a second and then bolted for the entrance.
The man stopped him and threw him to the ground.
“You wanna die, punk?!”
Xu Ping pushed himself off and ground and lunged for the entrance again, but he was kicked in the stomach and fell with a flop.
He lay on the ground coughing, unable to stand up for some time.
He heard hurried footsteps behind him before he fell into someone’s arms.
He saw his brother’s fists. They were clenched so hard the veins on his forearms were popping out.
He clutched the boy’s arms.
The commotion had attracted the attention of a few more police officers who were now converging on them.
Their leader stomped towards Xu Zheng, shouting. “What’re you doing?!”
Xu Zheng’s eye went wide and his brows scrunched up tightly.
Wobbling, Xu Ping rushed to his feet to come between the two and pushed his brother back. “It’s nothing to do with him. He doesn’t know anything. He came looking for me.”
Xu Zheng maintained his intense glare.
The officer squinted, apparently disgruntled. “What the fuck are you staring at?!”
Only long after a colleague of his slapped him on the back did the undignified policeman avert his eyes.
“How many times have I told you now, no means no! But you still tried to enter by force. You were asking for it!”
He forcefully swept Xu Ping aside. “Out of the way! Go off over there!”
Xu Ping tumbled to the ground with a thump.
Time seemed to slow down as Xu Zheng watched his brother slowly fall to the ground and remain there motionless for a long time. He looked at the policeman leisurely chatting with the person next to him without a care in the world. His pupils enlarged in a split second, and he approached, picking up speed as he neared his target. The man caught sight of him in his peripheral vision and made as if to shout a question when Xu Zheng pounced, knocking him to the ground. The boy held him down and struck a punch with his right hand. Each punch was stronger than the next, and every one met flesh, drawing out blood in a matter of seconds.
The scene escalated very quickly. After an initial stupor, the handful of police officers rushed to restrain Xu Zheng, some grabbing his arms, other his legs, while the boy fought and struggled. Having had enough time to recover, the wounded policeman joined back in for a counterattack.
Xu Ping jumped in wanting to drag out his brother. He hugged the boy’s waist, shouting, “Xiao-Zheng, stop it! Stop it now!”
“You motherfuckers,” someone roared. “Get in here and help now!”
A baton connected with Xu Ping’s back, and he flopped to the ground.
The world before his eyes seemed to crack. All around him were flickering shadows and angry shouts.
He kept rolling around trying to dodge the flying arms and legs. He couldn’t see anything, but he knew the pain.
Time stopped working, too.
The last scene. He saw his brother holding him, shielding him underneath himself.
He heard the baton land on his brother’s back like a low, muffled drumbeat.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
ayszhang: Dun dun dun...!!! Hold on tight, guys. We're in for a tough ride.
Just to clarify, last week's release was replaced by a surprise chapter of CoER. Apologies to those who were waiting for Brother <3
Brother - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Post a Comment