When the lamp is shattered
The light in the dust lies dead–
When the cloud is scattered
The rainbow’s glory is shed
When the lute is broken,
Sweet tones are remembered not;
When the lips have spoken,
Loved accents are soon forgot.
–Percy Bysshe Shelley, When the Lamp is Shattered
As the automatic glass doors of the airport exit opened, Xu Ping was nearly toppled over by the strong, toasty wind.
The glaring sun reflected off the pavement, forcing Xu Ping to divert his gaze.
He faced another direction and blinked his eyes.
His brother stopped beside him carrying their luggage and used the back of his hand to wipe the sweat on his neck.
“Gege, it’s so hot.”
Xu Ping nodded with a wry smile.
He adjusted the bag strap on his left shoulder and grabbed his brother’s hand. “Stay close to me. Don’t get lost.”
Short and stout palm trees were planted on either side of the corridor. The top of the trees were bushy with slim, long leaves like a long-haired hipster. The planter boxes hosted purple, red and white flowers, and the median strip was neat with evenly cut grass. Automatic sprinklers were working and twirling in place. Perhaps because the lawn had just been mown, the air was thick with the fresh, bitter smell of grass.
White airport limousines and yellow taxi cabs were parked on the roadside. Young female clerks stood behind travel agency booths asking the passing travellers if they needed to book a hotel. Security guards in blue uniform patrolled around with batons on their belts.
Xu Ping stopped and scanned the scene.
Immediately, a local man approached him regarding a private shuttle. Xu Ping backed away with his brother’s in tow as he waved his hand dismissively.
The man would not give up and stepped towards them, yapping, “Are you here on vacation, sirs? I know the sights around here very well. I can be your guide, one hundred eighty a day. You get a car and a guide. My car is right over there. The white one, you see. It’s a great deal. Please consider it, sir.”
Xu Ping pushed the man a little. “No, thanks. We’ve already booked with a travel agency.”
The man paid no heed and continued in an obnoxious voice, “Which travel agency did you book with, sir? Some of them only reserve hotels for you, no transportation included. Even if they booked you a car, it’s probably not as good a deal as mine…”
Xu Ping pulled his brother close while he looked all around. Then he spotted a dark-skinned man in a red t-shirt holding up a piece of cardboard not too far off. The people going to and fro blocked his line of vision, and it took him a long time to discern his own name written in blue ink on the board.
Xu Ping held up his arm to fend off the rambling man. “Please, out of the way.”
He was stepping aside with his brother in tow when the man grabbed his wrist. “Sir, my car is right over there. Just take a look. It’s very clean. I’ve been doing this for a really long time. I’m not out to rip you off…” he said as he started to drag Xu Ping in another direction.
Xu Zheng gave the man a hard shove on the shoulders making him stumble and nearly topple over.
He steadied himself with a pillar and straightened up, ready to cuss out a storm when he saw Xu Zheng step towards him with an emotionless stare.
Xu Zheng was a tall, hunky guy, and he was wearing a white t-shirt, grey long shorts and a pair of sneakers, his muscular arms and legs exposed. He emitted a faint, overpowering aura as he glared downwards at the man.
Xu Ping grabbed his brother by the arm. “Don’t cause trouble.”
He looked at the man. “We don’t need a car. Our travel agency sent someone to pick us up.”
The man looked at him and then Xu Zheng and spat on the ground before strutting off grumbling.
The short, black man in red t-shirt stared at them dumbly for a while unable to speak.
“I’m Xu Ping.” He pulled his brother closer. “And this is my brother, Xu Zheng. We’re here for the island vacation.”
The man looked at his sign and then at them again.
There were five words written in block print. “Welcome Mister and Missus Xu.”
Xu Ping chuckled.
The man scratched his head before dropping the sign and shaking Xu Ping’s hand. “I’m Chen Zhiqiang. Meigui sent me to welcome you. Sir, you can call me Ah-Qiang.”82
While he was at it, he took Xu Ping’s bag as well. “The car’s over here.”
“Didn’t Ms. Liu tell you?” Xu Ping dragged his brother along.
Ah-Qiang smiled apologetically. “Meigui told me a guest has reserved the honeymoon cottage and asked me to prepare accordingly, so I thought it was for a newlywed couple.”
He slid open the van door and gestured Xu Ping in.
Xu Ping pushed his brother lightly so he would get in first, and then he hopped in, too.
Ah-Qiang jumped in the driver’s seat and started the car.
The van exited the airport boulevard and merged onto a highway headed southward.
The wind began to flap. The sun shone in from the left side of the car.
Xu Ping touched the patch of skin on his brother’s arm under the sun’s rays. “Does it burn?”
His brother nodded.
Xu Ping took out a light jacket from a bag and spread it over his brother.
“How far is the island from the airport?” he asked Ah-Qiang.
“The ferry is about an hour away, and the ferry ride is thirty minutes long.”
Xu Ping nodded.
“You must be a local.”
Ah-Qiang smiled at him in the rear-view mirror. “You can tell just from my skin, sir – black, not white like you Northerners. The sun here is deadly. Last time there was a couple who went to the island. The lady was so pale when she came, but when I went to pick them up after ten days, my god, I couldn’t even recognize her.”
Xu Ping began laughing.
“Is it your first time here, sir?”
“Yeah. We’ve always lived in X City. This is our first time in the south.”
Ah-Qiang grinned. “Then I’ll let my uncle know to take you around the island to all the good places.”
“Oh? You’re not our guide?”
“I don’t live on the island. I grew up there, but after my ma passed away my family moved over to the mainland. Only my uncle’s family lives on the island. After I help you guys settle in, I still have to catch the ferry back and go back to work at the fish processing plant.”
“I thought you were an employee of the travel agency.”
“Yeah, but the processing plant’s my main job. I just help Meigui out on the side.”
Xu Ping smirked. “You’re not afraid of your boss deducting your pay?”
“My older brother’s the boss. We’re all family.”
Xu Ping started chuckling.
He reached over and held his brother’s hand discreetly. Xu Zheng tilted his head to glance at him before returning to his study of the scenery outside the car.
Ah-Qiang dug out an old cassette and stuck it in. After a bit of static, a sweet, female voice began singing a love song in Min. Ah-Qiang followed along, eyes squinting, and began to hum softly.
The van sped forth on the highway. The talisman hanging from the rear-view mirror swung back and forth along with the movements of the vehicle.
Outside the windows, the sun was shining bright. Giant coconut trees zipped by. The road transformed into an S before entering a tunnel. It became pitch black all of a sudden, and after some time, a tiny spot of light appeared in the distance, growing bigger by the second.
At the end of the tunnel, Xu Ping saw an endless stretch of cobalt sky and sapphire ocean sparkling in gold.
A two-storey red brick house was built in an apparently foreign, Caribbean style – white walls, tall columns, round arches. A straight driveway paved with pale white concrete extended from the main entrance. On either side were palm trees and shrubs blooming with red flowers, and floral-patterned black metal fencing surrounded the property. There was a private swimming pool, and on one side of the pool was a small door that led to the pure white sand and peacock blue sea.
Xu Ping leaned against the window staring at the building until Ah-Qiang drove past without even slowing down.
The house became smaller and smaller.
Xu Ping sat up straight. “That wasn’t the place?”
Ah-Qiang laughed heartily. “Every one of our guests asks the same question. That house is beautiful, ain’t it? Pity that it’s private. We asked. It’s not open to public. The owner comes to the island in the winter.”
Xu Ping smiled.
He rolled down the window a little and let the moist ocean breeze blow in.
The sun was not as strong as it hid behind clouds from time to time. The water was no longer sparkly and gold but rather calm and so blue that it was green. The sky was also darkening, and soon twilight would set in.
Ah-Qiang cut the engine and turned to the brothers with a grin. “Here we are.”
Xu Ping jumped off.
Before him was a quaint, white cottage with green lawn in its front yard. In the centre was a small but neatly arranged garden. Bougainvillea was blooming brilliantly underneath the windowsills on either side of the entrance. There were two lounge chairs with rice coloured throw pillows on the long porch. There were two cups and a tea pot on the coffee table in front of the chairs. Spider ivy hung from the top of the porch, its thin ribbons swaying gently in the ocean breeze.
Holding his brother’s hand, Xu Ping did not speak for a long time.
Ah-Qiang got out of the car and stopped beside him. “It’s obviously not as grand as the one earlier, and the acreage is smaller, too. But I think this house is homier.”
Windchimes on the door tinkled quietly as a lean, elderly man pushed open the green mesh door holding two chains made of fresh flowers. He greeted Ah-Qiang, “What took you so long?”
“The ferry had some problems today, and departure was delayed by an hour.” He looked around. “Where’s Auntie?”
“Inside making supper. You know her. Nobody can disturb her when she’s in the kitchen.”
Ah-Qiang started laughing.
“Oh, right. Uncle, let me introduce to you our guest, Mr. Xu. This is my uncle.”
Xu Ping rushed to greet the man. “Mr. Chen.”
“Just call me Uncle Lin.” He draped one flower chain around Xu Ping’s neck and looked at Xu Zheng. “Where’s your wife?”
Xu Ping explained awkwardly, “This is my brother, Xu Zheng. We’re on vacation together.”
“Your brother’s tagging along on your honeymoon?” Uncle Lin wondered.
“No,” Ah-Qiang butted in. “It’s just the two of them. Mr. Xu hasn’t married yet, all right?”
Uncle Lin paused before nodding slowly. “Oh. Oh. That’s fine. That’s fine.”
He approached Xu Zheng to give him the other flower chain, so Xu Ping tugged on his brother’s arm, gesturing for him to duck down. Then Uncle Lin put the chain around his neck.
After this, Uncle Lin turned around and made to beat Ah-Qiang. “You little shit. How could you get that wrong?!”
Ah-Qiang howled while he dodged about. “It’s not my fault! It’s Meigui’s fault for not clarifying! She told me the guest booked the honeymoon package. How should I know it’s two men!”
“Still makin’ excuses, are you?!” The old man was furious. “Fine! Then you go tell your aunt about it yourself. She’s already bought the ingredients for the next ten days, and she’s already cooking inside.”
“So what? She can cook –” then he stopped looking as though he remembered something.
“We’re just two people,” Xu Ping remarked. “We’ll eat whatever Aunty Lin cooks. It’s no problem.”
“That’s not the problem, Mr. Xu!” Ah-Qiang cried out. “You don’t understand. Our guests are always newlyweds, so my aunt cooks these special things for them. You know. For men. To…y’know!”
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
ayszhang: Hahaha... XD
Brother - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.