Edited by AlexPT
Why was it only 12℃ when it’s already April?
If he knew earlier, he would have brought a thick sweater along with him. A gust of cold wind blew over, Jiang Poguan narrowed his eyes slightly, the hair on his arms standing straight up.
Strolling along the somewhat unfamiliar streets, he glanced at a particular door plate, confirming that his brother’s home was at the next alley.
Jiang Poguan did not know why, during his vacation from his military service, he would endure suffering through the train ride to come to visit his brother at Hsinchu. It was all because his brother never visited home back in Taipei so he had to take this trip.
His brother went to work at a certain electronics company in Hsinchu after graduating to serve his national service. After his service period had successfully ended, he stayed in Hsinchu. Not only did his company offer a high salary to keep him, but other more renown companies had also set their sights on him.
Compared to him who had to study and work desperately hard just to enter a national university, his brother, five years older, had always been smart and had performed well since young. His schoolwork had always been taught to him by his brother.
Whether it was primary or secondary school, all the teachers who taught his brother would smile at him and say, “You’re Jiang Pozhen’s brother, right?” Due to his brother’s legacy bestowed upon him, his nine years of compulsory education received marked attention. However, he only had respect and adoration for his only brother, not a hint of envy.
Because there were only them two kids at home, fights did occasionally break out between them, but his brother had always taken good care of him. He remembered that time he broke his brother’s prized laptop. Even though his brother threw a fit, after he calmed down, he never mentioned it again. He also didn’t ask for compensation from him, who was still studying in secondary school then.
They would share the good times between them, and sometimes, they would be a little naughty as well. When selecting his options for his high school and university, he would always seek his brother’s opinions. Because his brother went to Hsinchu for graduate school and to serve his national service, while he went to the Central Region for his university studies and became a soldier later, there were fewer opportunities for them to meet up. But they still maintained contact with each other. Since forever, it could be said that their relationship had always been really good.
However, these few years his brother came home less often, so their father was a little upset. Earlier on, when his brother bought a house in Hsinchu, he had already paid off the down payment before informing the family, irritating his father. After finding out that his brother was going to live with his university senior, his father spoke against it during New Year’s celebrations as he was worried that the senior student would take advantage of his brother. He even implied that his senior would obstruct his brother’s path of getting married and forming a family. In the end, although his brother did not protest, the times he came back home had lessened gradually.
His father who was an extreme traditionalist and his mother who was a progressive, did they get together because they complimented each other?
Though he might not fully understand his brother’s life currently, he had been getting an odd feeling from their recent conversations.
“If there comes a day I get thrown out by Dad, please take care of them for me.”
His brother had repeated this line of thought for two, three times already. The first time was over the phone when they were discussing the reason for their father’s displeasure. Because he could not see the expression on his brother’s face, he didn’t think much of it. Afterwards, when he met up with his brother, it was brought up again. But he couldn’t make much out from his brother’s handsome face.
Although he could laugh it off, his brother was never the type to make jokes.
Just what kind of reason could make his exemplary brother, who from young had always made their father proud, say that?
As he took a turn at the next junction, a brand new building appeared in front of Jiang Poguan. Not far from him, a spectacled man near his thirties was standing there, waiting.
A deep and gentle voice, with a smile on his face, that was his brother’s roommate. He had met him many times when he came to Hsinchu. Jiang Poguan was surprised that he was waiting for him and hurriedly asked, “Guo-dage1, did you specially come down to fetch me?”
Today’s weather was really cold.
The man continued smiling and said, “This is your first time coming here after your brother moved in, I was worried that you would get lost.”
“Really sorry about that.” Jiang Poguan noticed his slight red nose.
The man only smiled, giving off the feeling that he didn’t mind, being as kind as he was.
They rode the elevator to the seventh floor. As the man used his card and keys to open the door, said softly, “Pozhen, he…um, your brother said he would be working overtime in the office, so he would only come back a bit later.”
Jiang Poguan followed him in, glancing around the interior decoration that gave off a sense of a new apartment. He nodded, “Yes, he called me about that.”
“That’s good then.” The man brought him into a room that seemed lived in, then gave him a new towel from the drawer and said, “Wash up first. This is your room tonight, you can treat it as if it’s home…”
Suddenly realising something, his face went red and he hurriedly added on, “I’m sorry, I’m supposed to be the outsider here…”
Jiang Poguan was slightly stunned, then he understood. Because he found his nervousness amusing, he laughed, “You’re not wrong, because you live here and I’m only staying for the night.”
To alleviate his awkwardness, he courteously changed the topic, “This apartment looks to only have two bedrooms. Since I took this room, then wouldn’t either you or my brother have to sleep on the sofa? I’m fine with sleeping on the floor too.”
The man clearly stilled. He stared at the ground for a moment, finally saying softly, “This room has always been for you.”
“Hmm?” Jiang Poguan couldn’t turn his head around this. The two of them, weren’t two rooms just enough?
The man only continued on, “You must be hungry, right? Let’s eat first.” He then quickly left.
Jiang Poguan couldn’t hold back his exhaustion anymore. After he put his things away, he went to the bathroom to wash up while pondering over the man’s strange reactions.
Once he sat down for food, because he was extremely ravenous, any sleepiness had evaporated away. He picked his chopsticks up. Compared to the fare in the army, the simple dishes from home were doubly more delicious.
“Guo-dage, I had thought that two men living together wouldn’t be able to cook.” He remembered his brother had never entered the kitchen.
“If I have the time, I would make something.” The man sitting across him smiled.
“But the dishes you cook are all my brother’s favourites, you really treat him too well.” Jiang Pozhen said guilelessly.
The man wavered as if he wanted to explain, yet not going straight to the point. “Because… because he likes them… so…”
The slightly flustered reply caused Jiang Poguan to raise his head and take notice. Then he realised the man had not started to eat yet.
“You’re not eating?” He asked.
“I… want to wait for him, I’ll wait for your brother to come home then eat.” The man said, smiling gently.
Not knowing why, Jiang Poguan suddenly got the strong sense that this person cared tremendously for his brother.
The last few times they met, his brother was always with them. This was the first time they were alone together.
They had never had any in-depth conversations with each other so he had never noticed; his previous impression was that this person was a gentle and well-mannered guy, but he wasn’t the usual type of friend his brother made.
But that’s not a bad thing.
Actually, why did his brother want to live together with a man?
His father had asked his mother about this. When he heard it, he also felt that it was strange. No matter how close schoolmates are to each other, wouldn’t two men of marriageable age living together be rather strange?
Although he couldn’t find a reason, his imagination could still fill in the holes. Perhaps this senior could have financial struggles, etc. As to the real reason, he wasn’t interested in digging deeper. However, the questions still burn at the back of his mind.
This person had lived with his brother for so long. His heartfelt and thorough care for his brother, could have been developed from the friendship they had developed from living together right?
Since the person in front of him should be his brother’s best friend, Jiang Poguan couldn’t help but ask him about recent events, and so he opened his mouth.
“Guo-dage, since you’ve known my brother for so long and live with him, I wanted to ask you, have you ever noticed his… uh, did anything weird happen to him recently?” His question was abrupt and unwieldy, and he saw the man cock his head, puzzled. So he put down his bowl and chopsticks and explained himself, “To be honest, my brother had told me multiple times that if he were to be kicked out of the house, I should take care of my parents, that kind of talk. I really can’t think of what kind of struggles he would have. Dad also has a bit of high blood pressure, and I worry that if the two of them suddenly started a fight, it would be too late. I think that since you’re very close to my brother, maybe you might know something…”
He stopped halfway, because the man smiled at him. However, that smile was too melancholic, looking twisted from being forced out.
Jiang Poguan was startled. Without thinking, he called out, “Guo-dage?”
The man stayed silent, sitting at his seat. Then, his head bowed, becoming lower and lower.
It was as if the awkwardness almost reached its peak. All his questions were forgotten, and Jiang Poguan could only stare at the person in front of him.
After a long while, the man finally responded with his low, gentle and hoarse voice.
Why would Guo-dage apologise to him? Before he could understand, the man repeated again, “I’m sorry.”
Jiang Poguan suddenly could not face this man who could only repeatedly apologise, and he also couldn’t understand if he had said something wrong. The atmosphere became oppressive. As he opened his mouth to placate the man, he noticed a purplish mark on the man’s neck. If it weren’t for him lowering his head, the mark would have been covered by his clothes.
Abruptly as if he were hit by lightning, a thought that had never occurred to him before flashed through him. Jiang Poguan hastily stood up and stammered out, “I’m, I’m full already! I’ll go to bed now.”
Entering the supposedly labelled guest room, he felt his thoughts all jumbled inside his head. When he looked back through the gap between the doors, the man seated at the table with his back facing him still had his head lowered.
His shoulders were seemingly very small, yet heavily burdened.
Neither of them moved. Who knew how much time had passed, before the icy tension broke with the sound of the door opening.
His brother, whom he had not seen for several weeks, came into the dining room. The first thing that he said was the man’s name.
When his brother noticed the silent man with his head lowered, he walked closer towards him and placed his hand on his narrow shoulders. He leaned down and placed his mouth near the man’s ear.
Their first few sentences were muffled, and Jiang Poguan couldn’t catch a thing. It was until his brother hugged and comforted the man, then their conversation became clearer.
“…You can’t… give up on your family… because of me…”
The man struggled slightly. His brother didn’t speak, only caressing the back of the man’s neck, resting his head onto his shoulders and firmly holding him there. Only then did Jiang Poguan notice the tears falling down his face.
“You can’t… you can’t… please don’t… I don’t want to see that kind of situation… I will always stand beside you, even if your family scolds me or hates me, even if I won’t gain the forgiveness of your family ever… I will always stand beside your side and endure it all… So, please don’t throw them away because of me… They’re so important to you…”
The man almost couldn’t form clear sentences, and not one syllable was said steadily.
However, every single word, every single sentence was filled with all of his promise and commitment. That was how sincere he was.
Jiang Poguan felt that his chest was constricted by a tight rope, and his fingertips turned cold.
“… All you need to do is to love me forever.” His brother told the man.
The moment he saw the whimpering man clutched his brother as if he needed to be saved, he stopped eavesdropping, quickly closing and locking the door.
That night, he was afraid that his brother would knock on his door. But after the door to the room opposite his closed, the entire apartment quietened as if it were a dream.
Standing at the entrance of the station, Jiang Poguan’s eyes were swollen due to lying awake the entire night.
“You’re sure you need to leave so early? At least have breakfast with me.”
From the moment he left the house, his brother had already asked him the same thing three times. As always, Jiang Poguan repeated his answer, “I’m busy.”
“Then, fine.” That smile had a tinge of resignation.
Jiang Poguan looked at his brother. Although it was Sunday morning, he still insisted on sending him off.
On the way, the two brothers silently agreed to not mention last night’s incident.
“Tell dad that I’ll come home the next holiday.” His brother said.
“Oh.” Jiang Poguan nodded, picking his bag. Hesitantly, he took a deep breath and quickly spewed out his question, “What about Guo-dage?”
“He’s not feeling well, so he’s resting at home.”
Jiang Poguan wasn’t actually looking for that answer, but he didn’t know if his brother was purposely avoiding the question or not. In the end, he didn’t have the courage to ask again. He looked at his watch, it was time. He bade goodbye to his brother and as he turned to enter the station, a thought flashed by, he turned back and yelled out, “Ge!”
His brother who wasn’t too far away yet, stopped and turned around, slightly surprised.
His heart was pounding, but thankfully only he knew that. Jiang Poguan expressionlessly said, “If you were kicked out, you definitely need to tell me where you’ll be.”
Finished, he waved to his brother and went to the platform without waiting for a reply.
His train was two minutes later compared to the time stated by his watch. It was definitely due to traffic conditions, not because of the inaccuracy of his watch. This watch was his brother’s congratulatory gift to him when he entered university.
When the train came in, he followed the crowd and entered. His ticket was a window seat. Although there wasn’t much to see, the good thing was that he could face the window and ignore everyone else.
Glaring at his reflection on the window, Jiang Poguan’s eyes started to tear up, causing his vision to blur. He never thought he, a twenty-something year old man, would have a day where he couldn’t stop crying.
Why? How? How was this possible?
There were so many unexplained occurrences in this world, yet not all of them could be solved.
He finally understood why his brother kept telling him those things. The reason for it was too agonising.
After all, the one who was most unwilling for it to happen, was his brother himself.
“Damn…” Anger, sorrow and guilt stirred within his heart. He was angry at himself, for not being able to find a way to help them. Even more so, he hated that he couldn’t accept them immediately due to his shock.
Tears fell down his face, yet Jiang Poguan didn’t spare any effort to wipe them.
It’s because he didn’t sleep well last night that his eyes were watering. Yes, definitely.
The next time he was to visit his brother, he would definitely smile at them openly, unlike today where he escaped embarrassedly.
Then, they would definitely welcome him back again, right?
1. Literally translated as big brother, as a form of address to older male acquaintances.