​​         Chinese Stories in English   

My Brothers Grow Up
Zhou Tao

     When I was seventeen, one thought bothered me constantly, like a riddle. It was: What's going to happen to us four brothers when we grow up? At that time, Zhou Two, Zhou Three and Zhou Four were still in junior high or elementary school. Each of their lives was a riddle, to be revealed only with the passage of time.
     Now 30 years have gone by, and the answers to the riddles have for the most part been revealed.
     Let me begin with Zhou Two.
     As a child, Zhou Two resembled [our father] Zhou Zheng – raven hair and black eyes, quiet and shy. In school his grades were sometimes very good and sometimes terrible. The teacher said he was quite smart, but he hung around with the wrong crowd and was influenced by them. Father handled this by transferring him to a new school whenever his grades fell below a certain point. At each new school, he was unfamiliar with the place and the people at first, and his grades would surge. He'd even take on Student Council duties or get chosen as Class Monitor. It wouldn't last long, though. After a couple of months, or a semester at most, he'd get mixed up with the worst students in the class. He'd end up using his class fees to sneak off with his cohorts and eat roast lamb or something, and then get transferred again.
     In his third year of junior high, Zhou Two abandoned the pen for the sword, and he took to it like a fish takes to water. In one fell swoop, he stole an army cap, got himself a German shepherd and started playing around with guns and knives. Everyone sighed and said, "That Zhou Two, what a waste of talent! Like using good steel to make a dog collar." During the
Down to the Countryside campaign, he got put in an Army unit in Rice Springs County. That wasn't too far away, so he could come home once or twice a month.
     Back then Warrior brand sneakers, the white ones, were really popular. Zhou Four had bought a pair, and he kept an eye on them like they were jewelry for fear that Zhou Two would steal them. He took great pains to hide them and wouldn't wear them whenever Zhou Two came home. For his part, Zhou Two wouldn't ask about or even mention Warrior shoes, and wouldn't look for them, either, as though he weren't interested.
     Until one day, when Zhou Two returned to Rice Springs County, Zhou Four came home from school and, before he even got inside he asked: "Is Zhou Two gone?" When Mother answered, "Yes," Zhou Four ran straight to the chicken coop without even putting down his book bag, and rummaged around for the Warrior sneakers he'd hidden there. Finally we heard the muffled sounds of his crying while his head was still inside the coop. His shoes had been stolen by Zhou Two!
     Zhou Two came home again before long, threw down the dirty pair of shoes and abruptly turned and left. Zhou Four washed them, scrubbing meticulously, and put them in the sun to dry. Then he powdered them and hid them in father's bedroom, under the mattress in the farthest corner of the box spring bed. Even after all that, when Zhou Two returned to Rice Springs, we still heard Zhou Four's muffled cries coming out from under the bed.
     Zhou Two figured that whatever was hidden was well and truly hidden, and there was no use in hunting all over for it. Sooner or later he'd get his hands on all of it. Later he got on with Public Security as an instructor. Then he became a Section Chief and solved several cases. His specialty was finding hidden loot. When asked how he did it, he'd smile and say, "I can think like the bad guys, because I used to think almost the same way."
     Zhou Three is two years younger than Zhou Two. He's been nearsighted since childhood and back then he wore seven-diopter corrective lenses on his tiny little nose. He was slight in stature, but he could do things, like grab a share at dinner, a half-beat faster than anyone else.
     After fourth grade, Zhou Three got into reading the "
Reference News". He had to read every issue and he read them with relish. By the time he was in the sixth grade, he knew the geographical location, the capital, the president and the current affairs of every country as well as he knew the palm of his own hand.
     He graduated from Teacher's College and got a job teaching at a cadre school in the outskirts of the city. Suddenly one day he rushed into town to tell me about an ad he'd seen in the newspaper. The Xinjiang Province Television Network was holding an open exam to hire reporters and editors, and he wanted to take the test. He'd heard that a crowd of people had applied, including journalism graduates of prestigious universities, so it would be very difficult to get the job. He felt that he was at a competitive disadvantage.
     Nevertheless, when the results were announced, Zhou Three had come in first. He's been an editor and reporter with Xinjiang Television for many years now.
     Zhou Four has small eyes, a big nose and yellow fuzz on his body. Some say he resembles "Owl" in the Yugoslavian movie
The Bridge; others say he looks like the German lieutenant in Valter defends Sarajevo; still others say he's a dead ringer for Jackie Chan in his eyes and nose. Bottom line, he's got the look of a warrior.
     He didn't wear new clothes very often. He was always dressed in ragged shirts and jackets that his older brothers had outgrown, open down the front to show his chest. As a child his belly swelled up big and round. He drank cold water in the depths of winter and it didn't bother him even a bit.
     Back then someone suggested that Zhou Four should be a weightlifter when he grew up. I thought he was good material for the army, though, because of the time he led a group of almost grown kids from our unit to paint their faces black and gallop back and forth playing war. He was a majestic child leader.
     Zhou Four was already big and strong by the age of 15. Once I decided on the spur of the moment to give him a slap on the head. Before I knew what was happening he lowered his head, squatted down on one foot and wrapped his right arm around my legs. Then he straightened up and lifted me right into the air. He looked up at me, laughed and said: "Hey, Big Brother, you gunna hit me anymore?"
     I felt a powerful awakening and the challenge of a new life under development. Since then, I've had a special understanding of the expression "the next generation is to be treated with respect".
     In his mind, when he was 15, Zhou Four became responsible for protecting me. Once we were watching a movie in our unit's Rec Hall, with me in the front row and him in the very back. I got in an argument with some idlers in the back row because I stuck up for an old fellow they were harassing. We hadn't exchanged more than a couple of sentences when the guy who was acting as their leader jumped up from his seat, ready to get it on. Before I could react, I heard a "pow" – a sharp blow to the side of the head had knocked the kid back in his seat.
     I looked, and it was Zhou Four. He had his finger pointed right in the guy's face and was saying, "You make any more trouble, I'll squish your stinky bug's ass!"
     That's how Zhou Four was, ready to charge in at the drop of a hat and clean things up. Who would've guessed he'd become a middle school teacher?
     So now they're grown up. That's the way it is.

 百年百篇经典微型小说 100 Years, 100 Classic Mini-stories, 2nd Printing, March 2012, P. 1
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