Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?
Wang Zedong shared a look with his wife. She frowned and gestured with her eyes.
Starting, Xu Ping turned away from the window, his face sickly pale.
He jerked his lips to form a ghost of a smile.
“Sorry. Where were we?”
Wang Zedong had a quick temper, and he wanted to unleash a scolding upon the man whose mind was wandering elsewhere. His wife kicked him under the table.
It was Friday evening again, the sky dim. Outside the restaurant window was a busy road. The city centre was illuminated by the shops and streetlights. There were always people crossing the footbridge above bus after bus packed full of passengers. Farther off were the sparkles beaming from the top of the tall buildings. A smudge of crimson lingered in the navy blue sky. The sun had set, and the moon had risen, but its light was too weak, swallowed by the glaring red and green lights in the bustling city centre at night.
Xu Ping had on an indigo suit, a red silk tie and a pair of frameless, non-prescription glasses. His newly trimmed hair stood up in tiny spikes held up by the stylist’s gel. His forehead clean and his body slim, he appeared a lot younger than his age.
“Xiao-Fang was asking about your family,” Wang Zedong’s wife prompted.
“My dad passed away recently, leaving me and my brother,” Xu Ping answered.
“You probably know his dad,” Wang Zedong added. “He was a long-time actor who worked for August First, and he played He Long and got a Golden Rooster.”
The woman sitting across from him smiled. “That I remember. My high school arranged a fieldtrip to the theatre for us to watch it.” She turned to Xu Ping. “I wouldn’t have thought he was your dad.”
Xu Ping didn’t reply.
Wearing minimal cosmetics, Fang Guo was dressed in a white short-sleeved silk smock blouse and a dark blue skirt. Her facial features were not fair but gave off an exceptional, wistful air. This was enough to move many men, but apparently that did not include Xu Ping.
The square table was covered with a daisy-white cloth. The dishes had yet to be served, and each person had only a glass of ice water in front. Xu Ping was staring at his glass, mind wandering elsewhere. His eyes were unfocused, and his expression looked like a mask, muscles frozen stiff.
“Did you attend a local high school, Xiao-Fang?” Wang Zedong tried to save the situation.
“I’ve been here since I was born. I went to No. 3 Secondary.”
“The one in the old parts to the west?”
“Wow, then it’s quite close to Xu Ping’s school. He went to school in the old parts, too. Railroads No. 1, do you know it?”
“I do. It’s not far from mine. Our schools are old rivals. Singing competitions or speech contests or whatever it was, we would always go up against each other.”
“Hahaha, what a coincidence. I heard he was a very good student, the best in his class. He must have participated in many competitions. You two are around the same age, so maybe you’ve even met before?”
Wang Zedong received a glare from his wife. “That was so many years ago. Who still remembers their high school days? You’d have trouble with the names of your own classmates, let alone someone from another school. Ask yourself, how long has it been since you last contacted your high school classmates?”
“Well, there’s nothing wrong with me asking, is there? They might have known each other.”
The woman pursed her lips and stared back at him.
Only then did Wang Zedong catch the hint and laugh it off.
Fang Guo noticed the look but chose not to say anything.
Everyone has a skeleton in the closet, so did she.
Meanwhile the waiter was serving the food. Mrs. Wang had picked a rather well-rated Cantonese restaurant in the busy part of town. The waiter brought a steamed grouper on a blue and white china platter, lettuce with oyster sauce, and white boiled shrimp.
Every person received a bowl of white rice the size of a lady’s fists along with the complimentary daily soup.
Frowning, Wang Zedong picked up his chopsticks and tapped them on the table.
“Excuse me for saying this, but we Northerners are just more down-to-earth. Our wine glass is bigger than those Guangdong people’s rice bowl. I could finish this tiny pathetic bowl of rice in one gulp. Where’s the pleasure?!”
His wife couldn’t help roasting him. “Stop it right there, you tasteless oaf! You think this is the 80s?! Rice isn’t the principle food anymore, it’s the other dishes! Look at your own belly. You’re not young anymore, so you should eat less, eat blander foods. Don’t collect a bunch of problems for later!”
The man was about to retort when Xu Ping interrupted.
He threw down his serviette and stood up from his seat.
“I need to use to men’s room.”
Having eaten little the entire day, all he could puke up was clear fluid regardless of how sick he felt.
One hand on the wall for support, Xu Ping pushed down on the toilet lever.
While the water flushed, he unlatched the stall door and walked out.
He heard the energetic hum of noise coming from the dining area outside the door, merry and distant.
He stumbled toward the sink, took off his glasses and placed them on the counter before turning on the tap to wash his face.
The water hit the bottom of the white porcelain, splashing tiny droplets.
He cupped his hands and threw some water onto his face.
The water wetted his collar. He undid the top button and ripped the tie loose.
In the mirror was the reflection of a pale man. Bony face. Sickly grey lips.
Holding on to the counter, Xu Ping stared at himself panting, and the next moment he ducked down to rinse out his mouth.
The toilet in another stall started flushing, and a man walked out to wash his hands. He flashed a strange glance towards Xu Ping before leaving.
In that instant, the buzzing amplified before falling to a barely audible murmur after the door closed.
Xu Ping pulled out a good length of toilet paper from a stall to roughly dab at his face before throwing the wet ball into the trash can.
He stepped toward the door but then came back around, jerked the tie from his neck, rolled it up and dumped it.
He left the restroom.
Wang Zedong, his wife and Fang Guo were still chatting in a corner by the window about some subject. Fang Guo was smiling, hiding all the shadows of her past.
Xu Ping secretly observed them for a bit before walking in the opposite direction out of the restaurant.
The clerk at the front quickly glanced at him before returning to her work.
A blast of roasting air hit him the moment he pushed open the door.
The streets outside was filled with a different kind of noise: cars, buses and motorcycles driving to and fro, the lights turning red, green and yellow, street vendors selling t-shirts with strange prints, a sweaty Uyghur man with a curly beard fanning mutton skewers roasting over coals, a young woman hollering on a loudspeaker in front of an apparel shop about an insane sale. This city was invigorated with various forces.
Xu Ping stood in the dimming street for a while. The orange light from the Cantonese restaurant glowed through the glass door behind him making his expression a bit blurry.
He took off his suit jacket and held it.
He wasn’t sure where he should go. The streets to the left looked exactly the same to him as the streets to the right.
He looked up and saw only a slice of the moon. The environmental and light pollution had concealed all the stars. He recalled the Milky Way he used to see on midsummer nights in his childhood, and he had forgotten how long ago that was.
At the corner diagonally across from him was the orange, green and red logo of a 7-Eleven convenience store.
He took a step forward, ready to cross the road.
Xu Ping bought six cans of beer and some other things. The cashier took a look at him and asked if he wanted a bag. He shook his head.
As he walked past the automatic door of 7-Eleven, his cell phone began ringing in his pocket.
Caller ID displayed the name, Wang Zedong.
He looked at the device for a second before pressing the answer button.
Wang Zedong’s voice exploded like a volcanic eruption.
“Where the hell are you, Xu Ping?! A twenty-minute bathroom break? What do you expect me to say to the lady?!”
Xu Ping sniffed.
A taxi driver was trying to pick up a fare in the middle of the street, stopping traffic, and the drivers behind the taxi started honking their horns.
Wang Zedong caught on.
“Where are you right now?!”
Xu Ping thought about his answer. “Outside.”
“Outside?!” Wang Zedong’s voice jumped an octave. “What the fuck are you doing outside?! Don’t you know you have a blind date?! Get back here right now!”
Xu Ping replied calmly, “I’m not going back.”
Wang Zedong faltered for a moment but soon burst out in a vicious rant, “The fuck are you smoking! You–”
Xu Ping hung up without hesitation.
He stuffed his phone back into his pants pocket. Snapping one can free, he popped it open and tilted his head back drinking as he strolled along the street.
The phone rang for a long time, but he didn’t pick it up.
He could picture Wang Zedong so angry that his face was red and he was jumping. Rather than worrying, he started laughing.
He thought he had walked quite far, but he had not even left the city centre. He could see the giant signs of a department store nearby.
He had drunk more than half the beer, filling his stomach with a lot of fluid, and the sick feeling had crept back.
He held on to a tree and started barfing.
Many people passed by him with looks of disgust.
He slowly straightened himself and wiped his mouth with his shirt sleeve.
It was nine-thirty in the evening, and the streets were still lively with pedestrians. On Friday nights, many came out to shop. Young couples went to bar or went on dates to the movie theatre.
Staggering with his head down, Xu Ping accidentally bumped into the shoulder of a man in black t-shirt.
The man stopped and eyed Xu Ping with a menacing look.
Xu Ping straightened up and looked back emotionlessly.
It was the girlfriend who spoke first. “Let it go. He’s drunk. Don’t bother with a drunkard. Let’s go.” She hooked an arm around that of her boyfriend.
The man still gave Xu Ping a mean glare before swinging an arm around the woman and leaving.
Only after they both disappeared around the corner did Xu Ping wobble along his way.
He thought his head was very clear, but his steps were anything but straight.
At the intersection before a department store, he turned and shuffled his way up the footbridge.
A blonde Charlize Theron had half her boobs showing on a billboard. Her golden silk dress rippled like water. She held a slender, gold perfume bottle, and beside it were the English words, “j'adore Dior.”
Her face seemed familiar to Xu Ping, but he couldn’t recall in which film he had seen her.
He hung over the railings looking down at the road lit by the streetlights and shop illumination. It extended straight forward, and various types of automobiles whooshed by under the bridge. The traffic lights in the distance kept changing colours as though they formed some sort of secret code.
The stuffy, hot breeze brushed his face.
In the middle of the footbridge was an old, grey-bearded man seated on a mazha, wearing a traditional long tunic and playing the erhu. His voice was low and scratchy. There was a chipped white porcelain bowl in front of him, and beside it were a few lines written in white chalk.
Xu Ping suddenly felt dizzy, his ears started ringing and his legs felt weak. Unable to stand, he collapsed onto the bridge while holding the railing.
The phone rang in his pocket for two hours before finally returning to peace.
He grabbed another can of beer, opened it and began drinking.
For the first time he found what drinking beer on a footbridge looked like – bustling yet distant. The stream of cars flowed beneath him in a silver river.
Many walked past him, but none paid him even a glance. They thought he was a beggar.
He was hit with a pang of fear. He felt miniscule, like a grain of sand. Countless people walked to and fro, none of whom he recognized or recognized him. Nobody would notice even if he were to die in that very moment.
An empty can tumbled and rolled between the cracks in the railing and bounced a few times on the pavement below before being flattened by a truck into a thin piece of aluminum.
With shaking hands he clung to the railing and began sobbing.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Comparing the bowl sizes for restaurant course meals
in the North...
and in the South...
Possible billboard that Xu Ping saw...
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
ayszhang: Happy Holidays! :) This is the first of many surprises we have for you this holiday season
Brother - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.