I Cried For My Brother Six Times

(This is my translation of the Chinese piece, 我为弟弟哭六次 )

My home is in a remote mountain village. Both my parents are peasants who face the yellow soil with their backs to the sky. I have one brother, three years younger than I.

Once, to buy a handkerchief that all the girls had, I stole fifty cents from father’s drawer. Father noticed the missing amount that very day. He made my brother and I kneel before the wall. With a bamboo stick in hand, he ordered us to confess. I was stupefied by the situation, and kept my head down, too afraid to speak. Father heard no confession, so he said, “Well then, you both deserve this beating!” He raised the bamboo stick high. Suddenly, my brother clutched onto his hand and spoke loudly, “Dad, I was the one. It had nothing to do with sister. You can punish me.”

The long stick in father's hand fell ruthlessly on my brother’s back and shoulders. Father was so angry, that he kept on whipping until he ran out of breath. Afterwards, he sat on our brick bed and scolded, “Now that you've learned to steal from home, what disgrace will come of you later? The disappointment that you are! I will beat you to death! ”

That night, mother and I held my brother in our arms. Bruises covered his body, but he did not shed a single tear. Halfway through the night, I suddenly started weeping aloud. My brother covered my mouth with his little hand and said, “Sister, don’t cry now. The beating is already over.”

I’ve always hated myself for not having the courage to come forward. Many years have passed, but the incident remains fresh in my memory. I can never forget the way my brother shielded me from that bamboo stick. That year, my brother was 8 years old. I was 11.

When my brother was in his last year in junior high, he was admitted to a prominent senior high in the county. At the same time, I was accepted by a provincial university. That night, father squatted in the yard, smoking his dry tobacco, bag after bag. I heard him mutter, “Both our kids made such a good showing... such a good showing...” Mother wiped down her tears behind our backs, and sighed, “What use is it? How can we afford the expenses?”

Just then, my brother walked up to my father and said, “Dad, I don’t want to go to school anymore, have read enough books anyway.” Father slapped my brother on the face. “Why are you so short of spirit? Even if I must sell everything that stands in this house, I’ll get you two through your schooling!” Right away, he went to knock on every household in the village to borrow money. I passed a hand as softly as I could across my brother’s swollen face, and said, “A boy has to keep up his studies; otherwise he’ll never leave this poor ravine.” I, on the other hand, had already decided to give up university.

Who knew the next day, before the break of dawn, my brother left home with some ragged clothes and a few dried out buns. He sneaked by my bed and left a slip by my pillow: “Sister, getting into a university isn’t easy. I’ll go find a job and send you money.”

I held on to that slip on my bed, and wept until I lost my voice. That year, my brother was 17. I was 20.

With the money that father borrowed from the entire village, and the money my brother earned by moving cement in construction sites, I finally got to third year. One day, I was studying in my room when a classmate came in to announce, “There’s a villager looking for you outside!”

Why would there be a villager looking for me? I went out, and saw my brother from a distance, his body in a shabby overall covered in cement and sand. I asked him, “Why didn’t you tell my classmates you were my brother?” He replied, smiling, “Look at how I am dressed. If I tell your classmates that I am your brother, wouldn’t they laugh at you then?”

My nose tingled, and tears trickled down. I wiped the dust off my brother’s overall, and choked on my words, “You are my brother to begin with! I don’t care what anyone says or how they laugh! You are my brother no matter how you dress!”

From his pocket, he took out a butterfly-shaped hair clip that was wrapped carefully in a handkerchief. He sized it up against me, and went on to explain, “I saw all the city girls wearing this. So, I thought you too should have one.” I couldn’t hold back any longer. I pulled my brother into my arms and cried and cried. That year, he was 20. I was 23.

The first time I brought my boyfriend home, the window panes which were broken for so many years had been replaced. Inside our home, it was spotless everywhere. After my boyfriend left, I danced like a little girl before my mother. “Mom, you really didn’t have to spend so much time cleaning out our house!”  Mother had aged. Her face was like a chrysanthemum when she smiled. She said,  “It is your brother who came back early to clean up the place. Did you see the cut on his hand? He got it when he was installing the new window panes.”

I went inside my brother’s little room. Looking at his slender face, my heart ached. He smiled at me and said, "This is the first time you've brought your friend home. He is a university student from the city. Wouldn't want to give him any reasons to think poorly of us."

I applied some medicine to his wound. “Does it hurt?” I asked him. “No. It's nothing. When I work on the construction site, rocks fall onto my feet and swell them up so much that I can no longer wear shoes. Even that doesn’t stop me from work and...” Halfway through, he stopped speaking. I turned my back to him, and tears streamed down my face. That year, my brother was 23. I was 26.

When I got married, I lived in the city. Many times, my husband and I invited my parents to come and live with us, but they never agreed. They said, once leaving their village, they wouldn’t know what to do. My brother disagreed too, saying, “Sister, take care of your parents-in-law instead. I’ll look after mom and dad over here.”

My husband became his factory’s director. We wanted to get my brother a job in the factory as a manager in the repairs department. But my brother declined. He insisted on starting out as a repairs worker.

One day, while on a ladder fixing a wire, my brother got shocked by electricity, and became hospitalized. My husband and I went to visit him. Seeing the white plaster cast on his leg, I grumbled, “Why did you refuse to be a manager? Managers will never have to do anything this dangerous. Look at you now, such a serious injury. Why didn’t you listen to us earlier?”

With a serious look on his face, he defended his decision. “Think for brother-in-law -- he just became a director. I on the other hand, hardly have an education. If I became a manager just like that, think of the problems that he would have to face."

My husbands’ eyes filled with tears, and along came my broken words: “But your lack of education was all because of me!”

My brother pulled my hand into his. "Why mention the past?" That year, my brother was 26. I was 29.

The year my brother turned 30, he married a peasant girl from a village. During his wedding, the host of ceremony asked him, “Who do you respect and love the most?” Without even thinking he responded, “My sister.”

He went on to recount a story that I could not even remember. “When I started going to elementary school, it was in a different village. Every day, my sister and I had to walk an hour to get home. One day, I lost one of my mittens. My sister gave one of hers to me. She had just one mitten on and walked all that distance. When we went home, her hand was so taken by the freezing cold that she could not even pick up her chopsticks. Since that day, I have vowed, that for as long as I live, I will look after my sister and be good to her.”

Applause inundated the room. All the guests turned their eyes to me.

All I could say was, “In my life, the person I am most thankful of is my brother.” And in this happiest of occasions, in front of this celebrating crowd, tears raged down my face like rivers.



Tai Meng | 孟泰 | Last Updated: May 12, 2019