Onto the final arc!
Onto the final arc!
One generation passes away, and another generation comes; but the earth abides forever.
The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it arose. The wind goes toward the south, and turns around to the north; the wind whirls about continually, and comes again on its circuit.
All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full; to the place from which the rivers come, there they return again.
“The pregame performance has been declared complete. We will now see the happiest twenty-two people in the world today, eleven from France and eleven from Italy meeting at the Olympiastadion in Berlin, the capital of Germany, for the most exciting final match of the 2006 FIFA World Cup.”
Xu Ping turned off the rerun and sat in silence on the couch.
It was eleven o’clock in the morning. The sun was sending its blistering beams down from the sky. The cicadas were chirping away on the trees. Cars drove to and fro on the asphalt that seemed to melt under the rays. The windows in the living room were open, but the curtains were still. Then, as though all this wasn’t toasty enough, the distinct sizzling of ingredients hitting boiling oil sounded from upstairs, followed by the crisp metallic clang of the spatula hitting the wok.
Xu Ping was wearing a black suit with a black tie. He sat zoning out on the couch.
The forecast said temperatures might reach as high as thirty-eight degrees and continue to rise in the following two days. This would become the hottest summer that this city had seen in a decade.
The house was becoming old after so many years of residency. The walls were yellowing, and thin cracks sprawled across the ceiling. The maroon paint on the balcony railing was peeling off, and even the furniture seemed duller in colour.
It was filled with shadows of life – the kitchen walls darkened by smoke, the bathroom door handle broken by his brother, the bamboo woven chair sunken down from Xu Ping’s weight, the corner on the coffee table blackened by his dad’s cigarette smoke.
Click. The bedroom door slowly swung open, and Xu Zheng shuffled out awkwardly in a black suit.
“How is it?” Xu Ping stood up from the couch, asking.
“Really tight.” Xu Zheng lifted his arms to show his brother.
Xu Ping flicked the man’s taut shoulders. “Did your shoulders get wider again? It should fit. I bought this for you just last year.”
He circled to the front and started buttoning the suit jacket. “Good thing your waist didn’t get bigger.”
Xu Zheng made to take the garment off, but Xu Ping held his hand down.
“You can’t take it off.”
Xu Ping slapped his shoulder. “Just don’t lift up yourarms. This is the only black suit in the house that will fit you, and there’s no time to go shopping now.”
Xu Zheng pouted.
“Put your head down. I’ll put on your tie.”
Xu Zheng obediently ducked his head down. Xu Ping took out a rolled up black tie and popped up the white shirt’s collar.
“Has work been tough these days?”
His brother took a long time to think but never answered.
Xu Ping didn’t pursue the question.
He took out a pair of polished leather shoes for his brother to wear.
One shoelace was untied, so Xu Ping bent down to tie it and also fix the pants legs while he was at it.
Straightening himself, he took a good look at his brother.
The man’s hair was newly trimmed and stuck up in short and stiff tufts. His brows were thick and his eyes deep-set. His jaw line seemed to have been chiselled with a knife. His shoulders appeared quite wide and his waist and thighs were strong and sturdy, perhaps because of the nature of his job. Usually it didn’t stand out when the man was at home in a worn t-shirt and shorts, but after donning the black suit, the quiet man suddenly had an aura of untamed charisma about him.
Xu Ping stood there, dumb.
“Gege, what are you looking at?”
What clashed with the incredibly handsome appearance of his brother was his immature language.
“Nothing.” He rubbed his brother’s hair. “Just thinking how much you look like Dad.”
Like a dog being petted by its owner, Xu Zheng let his eyelids droop. Sweat had formed at his hairline.
“Why are you so sweaty?”
Xu Ping touched his own forehead to find it drier than a desert.
“I don’t want to wear this,” his brother protested. “Too hot.”
“No. What did I tell you before? You have to bear with it no matter how bad it is. You promised me.”
Xu Zheng wiped the sweat on his neck.
“Yeah,” he replied. “I promised you, Gege.”
Xu Ping kept his eyes on him.
“When you get there, sit down on the chair. A lot of people will walk by you, but you don’t have to talk to them. You just have to sit there and not move around. Don’t go to the toilet. Don’t come talk to me. Doesn’t matter how long you’ve been sitting, you can only get up after everybody leaves, do you hear me?”
Hesitantly, Xu Zheng nodded.
Xu Ping rubbed his brother’s cheek and reassured, “Don’t be scared. I’ll be standing at the door, and you’ll see me if you just look up.”
Xu Zheng nodded.
“Now remember what I told you about what we’re doing today?”
Xu Zheng took a second before reciting it like an essay, “Dad is going to travel somewhere far, far away, and we are going to see him off.”
After a long silence, Xu Ping flashed a gentle smile at his brother.
A seventeen-inch black and white photograph hung beneath the black banner reading “Service for Comrade Xu Chuan.” Although he poured his own life into the big screen as an actor, Xu Chuan was not fond of having photographs taken of himself in private.
Xu Ping had to look through an old album that he dug out from a dusty box to find this photograph. It was so old that he couldn’t recall the details of it. His dad did not appear very happy. The man was sitting by a window showing his profile. His fully greyed hair was combed back neatly, and the creases on his forehead were long and deep, but his lost yet dark gaze was pointed off to somewhere unknown.
The staff at funeral home kindly suggested to Xu Ping that he should switch to a photograph of his father in a happier state. Xu Ping pulled out the album only to find that, of the numerous photographs it held, most were either official promotional images for films or taken on the set with Xu Chuan in various costumes, and thus did not capture the actor in daily life.
Xu Chuan had embodied many characters. He had played generals, beggars, millionaires and slumbags. He looked a hundred times better in those photographs, but none of those were truly him.
“You have my condolences.”
Xu Ping bowed robotically to the guests who came to offer their condolences.
In accordance with his dad’s wishes prior to passing away, there was neither music nor speeches at his service.
His body lay in the centre of the hall surrounded by flowers. The guests had to sign their names upon arrival and then proceed to walk around the body, take a deep bow, and place the lily provided by the funeral home before the body.
The hall that Xu Ping rented, Song He, was located in the northeastern corner of the funeral home and was not a very large one. The main hall named Long Bai was nearly four times the size of Song He, and a service was being held there too on the same day. It appeared the deceased had been rather important prior to death, as the procession was headed by five Lincoln limousines followed by dozens of luxury brand vehicles and caused a traffic jam at the entrance of the facility. A string of funeral wreathes overflowed the hall into the corridor outside and displayed the names of many high-ranking officials of the municipal committee and municipal government and the names of huge companies and corporations. Twenty monks chanted Buddhist hymns continuously, and professional hostesses were recording the endless river of guests and monetary gifts. The music never stopped but nevertheless could not override the deafening cries of sorrow.
In comparison, Xu Chuan’s service was as quiet as a silent film. Every guest arrived quietly, offered their flower quietly and then left quietly. Nobody raised their voice. Nobody burst out in tears. A signature book lay open for family and friends to write down their condolences, but there were many fans who did not wish to leave their name and simply left after bowing to the body.
Xu Ping bowed to every person who came. He had burst out in tears the night he was notified of his dad’s death, but somehow he didn’t feel any terrible pain at this peaceful funeral service.
His brother sat in a chair in the corner, hands flat on his knees.
Xu Ping walked over and sat down beside him.
“Most of the guests have come. The service will end in about half an hour,” he said. “Are you tired?”
His brother didn’t reply for a long time. “I can’t talk to you,” he whispered.
Xu Ping smiled.
He looked up at his dad’s photograph on the wall. Looking across the hall, his dad’s gaze seemed to pierce through time and space.
Xu Ping looked in the direction of his dad’s eyes. Outside the clear glass was the tranquil garden of the funeral home. On the green lawn were southern magnolias in abundance and neatly trimmed Chinese roses. The small pebble path was still wet from the automatic sprinkler and sparkled gold under the afternoon sun.
“Just hang on a bit more. I’ll take you to the noodle shop after this ends.”
Xu Zheng gave a serious nod.
Only a few people remained in the hall. Xu Ping slowly put his head on his brother’s shoulder as though he were exhausted.
“From now on it’s just the two of us,” he whispered.
Xu Zheng looked like he wanted to speak.
“What? What do you want to say?”
Xu Zheng scanned around before asking without moving his lips, “When is Dad coming back from his trip?”
Xu Ping faltered.
He looked down and thought about it. “Xiao-Zheng, Dad is–”
“Xu Ping!” Somebody on the far side interrupted him with a wave.
Xu Ping stood up and pressed a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Sit here and don’t move.”
The person who interrupted him was a reporter from City of X Evening News who was sent by the chief editor to report on Xu Chuan’s funeral service.
“Let’s get a picture,” he told Xu Ping.
He was to take the photograph with an actress who had worked with his dad. She was in the limelight now and was escorted by bodyguards, wearing a trusty hat and a pair of sunglasses to block the attention.
Without the accessories her face was beautiful like a piece of art. She took out her powder and brushed up her foundation before turning to the camera with a sorrowful expression. “I’m ready.”
The shutter went snap!
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
ayszhang: Now we're back to the very first chapter...
Some of you loyal readers might remember what today is... >u<
Brother - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.