I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
–William Butler Yeats, The Lake Isle of Innisfree
Xu Ping awoke naked in bed to see the sky outside the window. White clouds floated idly by, and the sky was a clear azure. He heard pigeons cooing from a neighbour’s balcony before flapping their wings and flying away.
The temperature was high, and he had sweated so much that he felt sticky and gross all over.
Ten o’clock, Monday morning. His brother had gone to work at the factory. Xu Ping was still asleep when he left, as he was dead tired. Other than to eat or to use the toilet, neither of them left the bed for a second the whole weekend. By the end of all the lovemaking, his brain was fried, and he couldn’t think at all. All he knew to do was pursue carnal pleasure, and he could not bear to leave his brother’s body as though he had acquired an addiction.
Xu Ping sat up rubbing his aching head. His groin was numb and sore. He didn’t want to move.
His brother might have said something to him when he was still asleep and even kissed him on the lips. He muttered back a vague reply, but he could not remember what.
Trying to ignore the headache, he shuffled slowly to the living room for a phone call. Only after he confirmed with the factory head that Xu Zheng had arrived safely did he feel at ease.
After he hung up, he found that the answering machine was full. There were more than a dozen missed calls, mostly from the chief editor, Wang Zedong. Only one was from an unfamiliar number.
Not wanting to listen to the messages, he redialed the new number and found it was the hospital’s reception desk. The lady receptionist asked him which room he wanted, and he paused before telling her he had the wrong number.
Without a stitch on, Xu Ping sat on the couch while the sun illuminated the entire living room. He had never tried walking around home without any clothing, but the feeling of the sunlight on his bare skin felt strange and new to him. It almost felt like countless pairs of small hands were scratching on him.
It was quiet, upstairs and downstairs. The neighbours had gone to work or school, and not even his brother was home.
For the first time he was left home alone, and it felt as though the whole world had become deserted under the sunlight.
He stood up and went to take a cold shower. The cool water gave him goose bumps, but his head gradually cleared up.
Piece by piece, he dressed himself, buttoning his shirt and fixing his hair in front of the mirror.
Only after he was impeccably clothed did he sit down once again beside the telephone.
The moment he pressed the play button, he could hear Wang Zedong’s thunderous roar through the machine.
“Xu Ping, do you still want your job, or what?! You don’t come to work without even a phone call! You were the only one missing at the company meeting this morning! Do you know you have to submit your corrected drafts today?! Don’t think for a second you’ll get a penny of the bonus this month! Call me back right now!”
Xu Ping pressed the skip button.
The next three messages were pretty much the same deal. Wang Zedong used various sentences and expressions to vent his ill-temper, threatening to deduct Xu Ping’s wages and bonus so Xu Ping would suffer this month.
Xu Ping didn’t even flinch.
The fifth message was from the hospital. It was a brief one advising him to come to the hospital to discuss matters regarding the surgery.
Xu Ping did not listen to the rest.
He deleted everything and left with his bag.
First, he went to the bank. The ICBC branch nearby was busy no matter what time of day. The queues were long, and the air conditioning was not functioning. This made everyone irritable. The old man at the front of the line was having an argument with the bank clerk for some reason, spitting very harsh words. The people behind him stood with their arms crossed or else fanned themselves with newspapers, remaining aloof spectators. Annoying noises were buzzing all around.
Xu Ping had to wait for nearly an hour for his turn. The clerk was the same one who had argued with the old man from earlier, and her tone and mood were just as bad. Xu Ping studied her face through the glass to find her eyes raw.
Everyone encounters unfortunate, unavoidable situations.
Xu Ping withdrew ten thousand yuan from the two hundred thousand or so in the bank account, wrapped it in a black plastic bag and stuffed it into his briefcase before leaving.
He hailed a taxi cab and headed straight for the People’s Hospital.
He sat in the gastroenterology drop-in room. Across from him was Doctor Zhang who had passed the verdict of cancer on him last Friday.
Through the floral print frames of his glasses, the doctor observed Xu Ping’s expression for some time. He took off his glasses, laid them on the table and crossed his hands. “Normally we should not be discussing treatment plans with you. The results are better if the patient does not know the details.”
Xu Ping considered for a moment. “My parents have passed away, and my brother has cognitive issues. He doesn’t know anything. I don’t have any other relatives.”
Doctor Zhang nodded.
“Do you have any questions for me?”
“Like what?” Xu Ping wondered.
“Usually patients have a hard time accepting the reality that they have cancer. They all hope it was a false positive and request multiple examinations and diagnoses. Some even visit other hospitals to double-check.”
Xu Ping nodded.
He stayed quiet with his head down but suddenly snapped up and asked, “Doc, is cancer hereditary?”
The doctor answered after a pause, “Although it has not been proven clinically, that has been the assumption. Especially for breast cancer and liver cancer patients – their relatives have a relatively higher likelihood of getting cancer.”
Xu Ping’s lips jerked upward in a wry smile.
“But higher likelihood does not mean one will get it. The key is the postnatal conditions like mental, environmental and dietary factors. An exhausting job, too much stress, irregular meals and so on can all be causes for cancer.”
Xu Ping looked down.
“The most important thing for the patient is to understand, cancer does not mean death. There is still a high probability that a patient will recover if surgery is performed in time. No matter what, do not lose hope or faith.”
Xu Ping nodded slightly.
“It would be best to arrange a date for the surgery. After that, there is chemotherapy, and you may need to stay in the hospital for some time.” He paused. “The operation, chemotherapy and living costs are not cheap. I’d say over one hundred thousand.”
The doctor let out a breath of relief.
“If you are on board, we will run another round of tests today and then transfer you to the oncology department in our hospital after we’ve confirmed your diagnosis. We should book a date for surgery as early as possible.”
Xu Ping looked up in surprise. “You’re not responsible for the surgery?”
Doctor Zhang shook his head as he filled out some forms. “The surgeon is another doctor. Rest assured, Doctor Zhao in oncology studied in Germany and has many years of clinical experience with this type of surgical procedure. His technique is exceptional.”
Xu Ping only felt dizzy and found it hard to breathe.
He grabbed the table corner. “Doctor Zhao Desheng?”
The doctor looked up. “You know him? He’s quite famous in this city.”
Xu Ping thought of the flowers that looked like a blanket of snow. He was reminded of his dad with tubes stuck in him as he lay, weak and frail, on the bed. He recalled the red light above the operating room and the sick, white hospital hallway. He remembered a doctor with glasses walking out, removing his mask and saying to him, “I’m sorry.”
He gasped for his breath until he could muster a reply and a miserable smile. “How could I not? My dad died under his knife.”
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
ayszhang: Short-ish chapter today :) The new school term has started this week for me! I have a big courseload this term, but I will try to work around it as much as I can >_< /
Brother - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.