Secret Admirer

Creative Nonfiction
Zixu Fan


Photo Credit: Chris JL/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Kids in China do not call elderly people “Mr.” or “Mrs.,” but “grandma” or “grandpa” instead. As there were lots of neighbors living in our old apartment, I got many chances to call “grandma” and “grandpa” every day I saw them during my childhood. I still remember one of our neighbors, Grandma Duan, who lived on the third floor with her grandson, Hao, in our apartment. She was a very nice lady, and often liked to share some parenting experiences on Hao with my mother each time they met in the corridor. As Hao was 5 years older than me, mom told me to call him Brother Hao. Since I was the only child in my family and seldom met my own grandma, the more “grandma” and “brother” my mother taught me to say when seeing these two neighbors, the more I felt they were my own grandmother and brother.

When speaking of Brother Hao, almost all my neighbors could not stop praising that he was such an excellent student in my primary school. As a straight-A student and the leader of Young Pioneers at school, Hao also developed lots of hobbies and got numerous awards in academic competitions.

Every morning, Hao would walk to school from our community, wearing a clean white shirt and a bright red scarf* on his chest. I often liked to follow behind him, thinking he looked really handsome and full of energy. I could not bring myself say hello to him, as I considered myself such a nobody in school.

I could never forget that Monday when Hao was chosen to be the flag-raiser during our flag-raising ceremony. His hair was cut smooth, his uniform tidy, and his figure tall and straight. When the national anthem started to play, he threw the red flag highly in the air and saluted, like a loyal soldier. After the ceremony was finished, Hao came to our audience and started to introduce himself in a loud and clear voice. Hearing he had such a great academic performance and won so many competitions, I came to think it would be mission impossible to become as successful as Brother Hao, let alone greater than him, as I still couldn’t recite all the pinyin in class.

When I gathered with other six- or seven-year-old girls at school, we usually liked to talk about our family members. By showing off our talented, strong or handsome brothers or cousins, we could be admired by everybody in the group. I couldn’t tell when I first began to brag that Hao was my brother, but some kids remembered it very well and spread it out quickly, until one day my dear friend, Lan, even told it to my science teacher in class.

“Mr. Miao? Mr. Miao is Zixu’s brother?” our science teacher Miss Liu asked us as she also taught Miao’s class.

“No, no, no, Mr. Miao is my brother. Zixu’s brother is Mr. Duan Hao,” Lan corrected it to Miss Liu.

“Mr. Duan? Mr. Duan Hao is your brother? You are not kidding, Zixu?” Miss Liu no longer cared about Miao any more, as this news was no doubt unbelievable. Her small eyes sparkled with excitement, as if she was going to think highly of me from then on.

Then everybody at school changed their attitude to me as the whole world came to know I had an outstanding brother. Even I became proud of myself and held my head high when passing other kids. But nobody actually knew Hao was only my neighbor, not brother, and what’s more ironic, I never had the courage to speak to him even once.

One afternoon after we finished our art class, I was playing paper airplane with Lan on our way home. We raced to see who could fly the plane further, but I did not take it seriously enough until I noticed Hao was walking behind us. I was quite sure he was watching us, so I suddenly stopped messing around and tried to show off in front of him by flying my plane as hard as I could, but to my disappointment, it flew nearer and nearer. Damn that paper.

When I failed many times and wanted to give up, the miracle finally happened. This time my plane flew out of our sight, and when we rushed up to catch it, we found it was lying peacefully on the roof of one apartment’s basement, so high and far that we could not reach it.

Lan and I tried to use a nearby broom to sweep it down, but in vain. As I lost my plane, we did not enjoy our game any more and headed home instead. Lan arrived at her apartment first so we joked outside the gate for one or two minutes and said goodbye. Then I continued to walk on my way, but found Hao disappeared without any trace.

Thinking I could go home and fold a new plane, I did not feel disappointed at losing the old one and walked happily towards home. When I finally reached the lawn in front of our apartment, I found Hao was waiting on the stone step, with my lost plane in his hand.

Before I came to realize what happened I had already gone to him. Looking at me, Hao took out the plane and handed it to me: “Here, your plane.” His voice was loud and clear as usual.

To my surprise, he had swept my plane down! I was too exited and nervous to say anything, so I just took the plane from his hand and ran away quickly.

It was a pity that I did not say “thank you” to him on that day, but it didn’t matter as he had already become a hero to me.

I don’t know why I was braver and braver later, that I started to send him one present after another. One of my hobbies in the first grade was pottery, and every weekend after I came back from the art center I would ask our cleaner to give my masterpiece to Hao when she went to work at his home on Monday. Almost all the pottery I created was sent to Hao, and later I even began to make some watercolor paintings for him.

However, my happy days didn’t last too long. One noon before having lunch, our music teacher Miss Yang gave my deskmate and me detention as we quarreled in her class. I didn’t think I’d done anything wrong, since it was this annoying boy who bullied me first, so I tried to explain the situation and put the all blame on my deskmate when Miss Yang questioned us. Though she didn’t seem to believe what I said, I still spoke with great confidence until our science teacher Miss Liu, who worked in the same office, came to interrupt.

After hearing what happened between me and that boy from Miss Yang, Miss Liu looked at me, and sneered, “You know she’s told me Mr. Duan Hao is her brother!”

“Aha?! Are you serious?” Miss Yang immediately turned to me. “You mean the straight-A student in the sixth grade?! The Young Pioneer’s Leader… is your brother? But why are you so different from him?” she said it so disdainfully that I blushed again and again.

Miss Yang still let us stay for ten more minutes, but I didn’t say a word this time, as all I wanted was run out of the office and never return.

It was such a shame so I determined to hide my admiration for Hao deep in heart, without mentioning to others that he was my brother from then on.

When I rose to grade two, Hao already graduated and went to the best middle school in our neighborhood. Seeing him dressed in a dark blue and white striped uniform, riding a bicycle to school as fast as the wind every morning, I decided to study hard and go to the same middle school when I graduated. One day before I realized my dream, Mrs. Duan finally called my mom in the corridor and told her not to let me send any presents to Hao, as my kindness was too much for them. She sent some Japanese stationery to me in return, which was brought from Hao’s parents who worked in Japan. I still remember there were some beautiful tissues with famous cartoons printed on its wrapping paper, which I liked so much that I never used it. When I opened it many years later, those tissues already turned yellow.

After graduating from junior high, Hao went to No.4 High School, one of the top high schools in Beijing. At the same time I also came to be a top student and won many competitions at school. I worked hard step by step, and came to realize he was not beyond my reach.

I got enrolled into another top high school in Beijing, though it was not the same school Hao had attended. We seldom met as he went home much less frequently, and I almost forgot him when my school life turned busier and busier. Aside from studying, I also made lots of friends in class who were also talented, hardworking, and attractive. Once my mother said she met Mrs. Duan on the third floor, who told her Hao was rejected by his dream school, Peking University, so he decided to prepare Gaokao for another year.

After going to college for two years, I came back to our old home with my father one afternoon. I found Mrs. Duan was standing outside the gate, together with one middle-aged man and one young man. My dad went straight to say hello to them, which confused me for a second. When I went further, I finally recognized that grey-haired man was Hao’s father, and that chubby guy with a round face and a pair of round glasses was actually Hao!

To my surprise, he didn’t look like the standard good boy he used to be.

Seeing I was coming, Mrs. Duan began to praise to my dad that I studied very well and went to a top university, that I grew into a beautiful girl she even didn’t recognize. When my dad said thank you in return, I took a glance at Hao, and found he was peering at me at the same time.

Feeling a little embarrassed, I forced a smile to him, and he also smiled shyly to me in return.

 

*All primary students are supposed to wear red scarf, which is the sign of Young Pioneers.

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Zixu Fan is a Chinese student studying fiction writing in the MFA program at The College of New Rochelle. She published her first Chinese novel, The Falling Flowers, in 2012, and came to join the MFA program in the U.S. to further sharpen her writing skills, as there are few programs to train creative writers in China. The prose “Secret Admirer,” tells about her secret admiration for her neighbor, a straight-A and talented boy in her primary school. Email: zf4059gs[at]cnr.edu