Turn a new leaf

Turn a new leaf

Never be too quick to judge someone until you've walked a mile in their shoes

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Turn a new leaf_L
Illustration: Lau Ka-kuen

It's true that, while you can choose your friends, you can't choose your family. Last year, I was an ordinary 17-year-old girl, living a middle-class life in a flat in the New Territories with my parents and my elder brother.

My brother, whom we all call Gor Gor ("elder brother" in Cantonese), had been a headache to my parents since the day he was born. Daddy told me, even as a baby, his fiery temper was already evident in the way he would knock his little head on the floor whenever he became hungry or unhappy.

I knew Gor Gor's adolescence had not been a good one. Most grown-ups saw him as a lazy and hot-headed kid. He did poorly at school and the teachers had frequent meetings with our parents. He wasn't any good at sports or music either, and his classmates apparently looked down upon him. Even our uncles and aunts occasionally poked fun at him. He seemed to be a complete loser.

Until I started secondary school, to me he was simply my beloved playmate. But then my view started to change. I began to judge Gor Gor in a similar way to the grown-ups.

While I could now see that he told lies, stole money from Daddy, shirked his studies, used foul language and was obsessed with pseudo-models, I no longer noticed any of his good traits. I started to despise him and wish he had never been part of my family.

It wasn't until I found one special book that I realised how unfair I was being.

On March 11, I took the minibus home from school as usual. I leaned my head against the window as we snaked our way along Castle Peak Road, with the sun like a half-boiled yolk dangling from the steel cables of Ting Kau Bridge. As I gazed dreamily at the beautiful sight, my mobile phone rang, cutting me off from my reverie.

"Mui Mui." Although she used my pet name, "little sister", my mother sounded sober and anxious.

"What is it, Mammy?" I replied, now sitting bolt upright.

"It's your brother ... he ... he has just been in a scuffle with his boss's son. Now he is in hospital," she said.

"What happened? Why was he in a fight? For God's sake, why is he always getting into trouble?" I was so shocked at the news, I couldn't help speaking loud enough for everyone on the bus to hear.

"I'll explain later. Right now, I need you to pack some necessities for your brother - you know, pyjamas, tissues and a toothbrush. Bring anything you think appropriate and come to Princess Margaret Hospital as soon as you can."

"Mammy, don't worry," I said reassuringly, "I'll be right there."

Although I hadn't been in Gor Gor's bedroom for ages, I found it hadn't changed much. At first glance, it still seemed very tidy, with his VCDs and toy models neatly arranged on the shelves.

However, when I opened the drawers to see what I should pack, I found evidence of the other side of his character. There was a drawer crammed with rubbish, one containing his ties and unwashed socks, one with a ripped packet of crisps and a pseudo-model magazine underneath. It was disgusting. Why should I care about someone who lived their life like this?

His pyjamas were still nowhere to be seen, so I began ransacking his room. When I pulled open one of the drawers, I found nothing inside except a book wrapped in blue leather.

It was hard to believe Gor Gor ever read "real" books. Maybe he just keeps photos of models inside, I thought to myself.

I scooped up the volume and opened it. The first page was written in his ugly handwriting:

"I hate writing. But I have to write something about it. I didn't want to do it, but I couldn't help myself."

That sounded like the confession of a criminal. However, when I turned to the next page and read the first line, I realised what this was:

"January 1 (Thursday) - cloudy."

Gor Gor kept a diary? I would find it easier to believe in the arrival of Doomsday than in this.

At this moment, when my mind was still in a haze, the phone rang. It was Mammy again.

"You've been ages. Are you on your way?"

"I'm just about to leave." I hesitated. "Mum ... um ... I want to tell you something ..."

"What is it, dear?"

But my nerve failed me. "Um ... nothing important," I stammered.

"Alright, then come quickly and call me when you arrive."

At the hospital, Mammy looked at me, and the three bags I was carrying, through tired eyes.

"I wanted to make sure he had everything he needed," I explained.

Mammy kissed my forehead, "I'll take you to see Gor Gor."

In the ward, I found him with his head and left arm swathed in bandages. Daddy, who was standing beside his bed, could see how fazed I was by the sight.

"Don't worry, Mui Mui, your brother is just sleeping," he reassured me, with a bitter smile. Then he turned to Mammy, "Let's get something to eat. You haven't eaten all day."

"But we can't just leave him alone," she protested.

"I'll look after him," I said. "I'm not hungry anyway,"

Once they had left, I sat myself in a chair and stared at Gor Gor. Apart from the bandages, one of his eyes was bruised.

Then I remembered the blue leather book. I took it out of my bag and turned to the page which I had started reading.

"January 1 (Thursday) - cloudy and cold. Writing a diary is sissy stuff, but this is a statement of what I'm going to do in the new year. I want to make a change. I don't want to be someone hated by his parents and despised by his sister. I hope this book can help me stick to my goal and be a good son and brother ..."

Obviously you failed, I thought to myself. Then I continued to read.

"January 17 (Saturday) - cloudy. Today I helped Mui Mui carry home the laptop she had just bought. It was pretty heavy but I was delighted I had done it."

I didn't remember such a thing.

"January 23 (Friday). Mammy asked me to help her fill the red packets with banknotes. I was playing computer games and refused. I regret that now.

"January 25 (Sunday). I've always hated dining with our relatives. Tonight, they mocked me about my poor results and kept picking on me. I had reason to be angry, but I shouldn't have thrown such a tantrum. I just can't help it when I am agitated."

I remembered that awful night. When he stormed out of the restaurant, we all blamed him and called him a spoilsport.

As I flipped through the pages, I found the book was a genuine record of what he had done every day, both right and wrong. This was his latest piece:

"March 5 (Thursday) - sunny. I was so happy that I had got the job in the pharmacy. I felt I was at last doing something useful. However, my boss' son, David, kept saying mean things to me no matter how hard I worked.

"Then he started to insult my family, saying my parents must be stupid or they wouldn't give birth to such a stupid son, and my sister must be as stupid as me. I wanted to beat him black and blue. I swear next time I will not suppress my anger."

Mammy wouldn't need to explain anything to me, as I could figure it all out now. I had thought the brawl must have been my brother's fault - unable to stand a little irritation, he had lost his mind and picked a fight. But I had been wrong. He had tried very hard to control his temper but his employer's son just wouldn't let him go. I had been so blind about everything. I had only seen Gor Gor's flaws and not what lay deep inside him. I once heard a saying, "If you really want to understand someone you need to walk a mile in their shoes". In other words, you have to imagine what it's like to live their life.

But I had never tried to understand him. If we could choose our families, then we wouldn't have to accept that people have different sides to their personalities, not just their best side, and we wouldn't have to learn to love.

If everyone was perfect, then we could just love ourselves and no other love would be needed in this world. But we can't choose, so we must love unconditionally.

When Gor Gor turned on his bed and sighed uneasily, I slipped the book back into my bag. I rested my forearms on the mattress and lay my head on them to watch my brother.

After a little while, he woke up. When he saw me he didn't know what to say.

"Do you feel better?" I asked. He nodded.

I gave his uninjured shoulder a little squeeze, and said, "That guy is a stupid jerk." Gor Gor gave my forehead a little nudge with his fist - and smiled.

Ruby, 17, is a student at SKH Lam Woo Memorial Secondary School

This is the first finalist in our Winter Writing competition. We will run a fascinating story each week of the upcoming two holidays. The winners will receive gift vouchers from Dymocks.

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