Xiao-Ge; little older brother.
Casual address for someone around the same age or younger, or by its literal meaning.
The prevalence of eye diseases wasn’t as high here as it was in Tibet.
This was in part due to the climate, which made people less susceptible to developing eye conditions, and the other in part due to cultural differences and Tibet’s relative isolation from external communication, which led to many traditional Tibetan natives being unused to relying on medical care for treatment.
All in all, the workload wasn’t as heavy this time, and the doctors could also catch their breath.
Though there were many patients, it was better than the previous trip when they were too hard-pressed to find even the time for their meals.
Tao Xiaodong seldom brought Tao Huainan to such crowded areas, fearing that it’d make him nervous, also that it would be harder to watch out for him, increasing his chance of injury.
So, wherever Tao Xiaodong went, he brought Tao Huainan with him, holding his hand all the way.
If he needed to use his hands to carry or do anything, he’d get Tao Huainan to hold firmly to his shirt.
Like this, Tao Xiaodong was always able to feel his presence next to or behind him and need not get distracted checking around for him.
Therefore, after the first day, Tao Xiaodong indeed didn’t wear dress shirts again, for they weren’t easy to grab and the hem had to be tucked into his trousers, unlike ordinary T-shirts where he could leave one side out for Tao Huainan.
But having his clothes tugged from sunrise to sundown caused all of Tao Xiaodong’s clothes to deform.
At night, when undressing before his shower, he looked at his shirt and couldn’t stop laughing.
By then, Tao Huainan had showered and was sitting on his own bed, towelling his hair dry.
Tao Xiaodong said, “Ge didn’t pack that many clothes, so, dear brother, be a bit more gentle with your hands.”
Speaking of this made Tao Huainan feel wronged.
He rebutted in his brother’s direction, “It’s not because I was pulling too hard.
Sometimes you would suddenly turn or speed up.
I didn’t dare let go so I could only pull at it.
Don’t blame me for overstretching it when it’s all on you.”
Tao Huainan was telling the truth.
How was it he who had gripped it too hard He held it very gently, and only one corner at that.
Rather, it was Tao Xiaodong who always moved too suddenly, yanking the hem from his hold.
Tao Huainan could only clutch more of it in response.
Tao Xiaodong said, “Why don’t you just pull my trousers tomorrow”
Tao Huainan’s eyes went wide with horror, gazing vacantly towards him.
“With your elusive trajectory won’t I end up ripping your trousers off Besides, I’m already grown up.
Will it look good for me to keep tugging at the waist of your trousers, just imagine it.”
This tickled Tao Xiaodong for ages.
He put aside the shirt he took off, intending to rub shape back into it after his shower later, and picked up Tao Huainan’s clothes as well.
“I see that you even seem to have quite the grudge against me”
Tao Huainan pursed his lips, turning his head away, continuing to dry his hair.
It was a good few days into the brothers’ trip out.
Tao Xiaodong thought that he was already doing his best, but he felt that Tao Huainan still was still a bit worse for wear under his care—his lips were chapped, his forehead was bruised, and he’d even sneezed several times in succession upon waking in the morning.
When Tao Xiaodong went into the shower, Tao Huainan’s phone rang.
He fumbled around for it, following the voice alert to tap into WeChat.
It was a voice message from Chi Cheng.
“Have you had dinner”
Tao Huainan immediately replied, “Eaten and showered.”
Chi Cheng’s voice sounded calm and even, uncoloured by emotion.
“Did you put on sunblock”
Tao Huainan pouted.
“You didn’t pack it for me.”
Chi Cheng, “I did.
It’s in your bag, can’t you feel for it yourself Will you not remember to do anything for yourself if I don’t remind you”
He seemed a little fierce like this.
Tao Huainan picked at the bedsheets, falling silent.
In fact, Chi Cheng never had much of a warm nature, ever since picking him up until now.
The general impression he left others was that he was a very cold boy.
While it was better at home, he had never been the warm type.
With Tao Huainan not speaking, Chi Cheng sent another message over after some time, but his tone didn’t improve in the slightest.
“Did you fall”
And Tao Xiaodong came out from his shower just in time to hear Tao Huainan telling on him: “I fell many times. Ge doesn’t know how to lead me.
If there’s something ahead he’ll stride forth himself and forget all about me, even complaining that I pulled his shirt out of shape.”
Tao Xiaodong chuckled lowly, still thinking that it was a miscalculation not to have brought Chi Cheng along.
He couldn’t blame Tao Huainan for complaining.
It was true that he didn’t take care of him well, after all, the amount of time he did so by himself wasn’t much.
Usually, no matter the occasion, Tao Huainan would always be with Chi Cheng; Tao Huainan had grown up in Chi Cheng’s hands—literally so.
The two children grew up hand in hand with each other.
Nostalgic, Tao Xiaodong listened to them chatting from the byline.
Someone knocked on the door.
Tao Xiaodong stood up to open it; it was Tang Suoyan.
He had just returned from the hospital and still hadn’t changed out of his clothes.
Tao Xiaodong had already showered and was dressed in short sleeves and bermudas to sleep.
The difference in their dressing was almost tangible.
Tao Xiaodong greeted “Yan ge” and asked him, “What is it”
Tang Suoyan handed him a few packets of snacks; pistachios, walnuts, and whatnot.
“From the nurse, for Xiao Nan to have when he’s bored.”
Tao Xiaodong took it and thanked him.
Seeing the way he was dressed, Tang Suoyan asked, “Are you going to bed soon”
“Yeah.” Tao Xiaodong laughed and said.
“I was listening to Xiao Nan complain to his xiao-Ge that I made him stumble.”
Tang Suoyan nodded, admonishing him, “He isn’t wrong.”
“Yeah.” Tao Xiaodong glanced back at his younger brother.
“He’d even hit his head.”
Tang Suoyan said, “I have to leave a bit later for the transfer tomorrow morning.
How about waiting for me to join both of you”
“Sure,” Tao Xiaodong unhesitatingly agreed.
“We’ll wait for you.
Just call me whenever you’re ready.”
Tang Suoyan had been following this pair of brothers throughout this trip.
Everyone was used to it by now.
Sometimes, when unable to find Tao Xiaodong, they’d ask Tang Suoyan—but how would he know He was in the hospital doing consultations during the day.
The most he could do was make a call over to ask.
In time, others also got into the habit of asking Consultant Tang whenever they couldn’t get hold of Director Tao.
The next day, the hospital convoy rose early to move on to the next county.
The journey would take nearly four hours, during which there was a long stretch along a mountain pass.
Tang Suoyan had promised a parent the previous day that he would check on his child, who would only return the next morning.
The boy claimed that something was blocking both of his eyes.
So, he was the only one left behind the next morning waiting for them.
He had his bags ready to go in any case.
As Tao Xiaodong and Tao Huainan weren’t in a hurry either, they waited with him at the county hospital.
The patient, a ten-year-old boy, arrived later.
Shy before strangers, the boy kept shrinking behind his father.
Tang Suoyan waved at him, saying, “Come over.”
The boy shuffled over.
Tang Suoyan got him to sit down across from him and asked warmly, “What happened to your eyes”
“Something’s blocking them on both sides.
Sometimes I can’t even see what’s ahead, like it’s foggy before me.” The boy’s voice was very soft.
His fear of doctors was obvious.
While checking his fundus, Tang Suoyan questioned, “What else”
The boy looked very nervous behind the ophthalmoscope, not daring to speak.
It was only when Tang Suoyan repeated his question that the boy slowly spoke, “I can’t see well at night.”
His father appeared to be unaware of this, asking him why hadn’t he mentioned it before.
Tang Suoyan asked this father, “Is there anyone visually impaired in the family”
The other person said, “My father is blind.”
Tang Suoyan didn’t go on.
He quietly examined the boy’s fundus, then looked at Tao Xiaodong, asking with his eyes if he wanted to bring Tao Huainan out.
Tao Xiaodong was immediately able to understand why.
He shook his head, indicating that it was fine.
Apart from the boy and his father, the other three people in the room were aware of what was happening to him.
Though unsure before, when Tang Suoyan exchanged that look with Tao Xiaodong, the conjecture was confirmed.
Tao Xiaodong heaved a sigh in his heart.
Tao Huainan was drinking water from a thermos he held in both hands, his long lashes shrouding his downcasted eyes, so bystanders were unable to perceive anything wrong with his eyes.
Tang Suoyan wouldn’t directly elucidate the situation to them at this time.
His diagnosis was based on his experience, which was basically confirmed after he examined the fundus.
However, the response given to a patient had to be based on set criteria and data.
Tang Suoyan could only instruct them to head to a city hospital for further examination.
He merely disclosed his suspicions and preliminary diagnosis.
The father listened to Tang Suoyan rather stoically at first, seemingly unaware of what these unfamiliar terms stood for.
A disease that wasn’t difficult to diagnose yet had no cure.
Tao Huainan had lost his vision to this disease, and countless others had gone blind for the same reason.
Tao Huainan listened quietly to Tang Suoyan speak to the boy and his father.
As the father listened, he eventually started to feel scared; even his questions turned blunt.
“Doctor… can this disease be cured Will he go blind”
Tang Suoyan lapsed into silence, then said, “Its onset can be slowed.”
“It can’t be cured” The father’s voice quaked.
“What about surgery, will that help Is there really no way”
“Not for now,” Tang Suoyan added with surety, “but there will be in the future.”
To speak of the future now was a pipe dream.
This was understood by the father, yet it still sparked faint hope in him.
Tao Xiaodong glanced at Tao Huainan.
The boy was still calmly sipping his warm water.
Tao Xiaodong reached out to stroke his head.
In truth, as an ophthalmologist, the types of conditions that Tang Suoyan had come across—treatable, untreatable, untreatable by others but treatable by him—were far too many.
Yet today, maybe due to Tao Huainan’s presence in front of him, or maybe in the face of these eye conditions that they were incapable of treating, it still struck a pang of powerlessness in the depths of his heart.
Tao Huainan wasn’t as touchy as people assumed he’d be.
Having passed the years he had in blindness, he’d long turned numb to it.
For this reason, while his brother and Dr.
Tang were a bit reticent after getting into the car, only he remained as he usually was, joking about this and that, joking around until he made himself drowsy.
After a while of not hearing his chatter, Tang Suoyan looked back.
Tao Xiaodong said, “He’s asleep.”
Tang Suoyan said, “You can rest if you’re tired, too.”
“I’m not.” Tao Xiaodong drank some water to moisten his throat.
There wasn’t much traffic on the road.
It was currently midday and wickedly hot outside.
Afraid that the driver would feel fatigued, he fished around for topics to make small talk with him.
The driver was local; his Mandarin was hard to parse.
Tao Xiaodong often misheard him and spoke down a different tangent instead, only to be corrected by the driver.
Tang Suoyan chuckled listening to the two of them struggling to converse.
Tao Xiaodong said to him, “Stop laughing and get some rest.
You’ll be busy in the afternoon.”
Tang Suoyan said, “It’s nothing.”
Tao Xiaodong’s conversation with the driver was quite useful in keeping the driver from drowsiness.
Despite this, they were unable to smoothly arrive at their destination.
Before, the driver had mumbled to himself that the car was getting heavier and heavier, but Tao Xiaodong hadn’t taken it seriously.
Shortly after, the car came to a complete standstill.
The driver pulled over at the roadside.
Tang Suoyan asked, “What happened”
The driver unbuckled his seatbelt.
“Might be a flat tire.”
Tao Xiaodong got down with him.
The right front wheel was already flat and the left one was visibly deflated.
There was no way the car could carry on like this.
Tao Xiaodong asked the driver, “Is there a spare tire in the car”
The driver shook his head.
“Changed it last time.”
Tao Xiaodong was flummoxed.
Now they were completely stuck.
Tang Suoyan came down as well.
He asked, “What’s wrong”
Frowning, Tao Xiaodong said, “The tires are punctured.”
If they were following the convoy, they could simply switch vehicles, but the others had likely reached by now.
Besides making calls for repairs, there was nothing else they could do but wait.
They were almost midway now, stranded on a mountain pass with no village ahead and no inn behind.
With the engine and the air conditioning off, the heat in the car was suffocating.
While the driver was constantly on the phone, Tao Xiaodong opened all four doors, letting air circulate inside.
Tao Huainan was still sleeping, and the breeze that was allowed in kept it from getting too hot.
Tao Xiaodong went to grab his luggage from the trunk, using his clothes to shade the windows on the two doors facing away from the road, forming a small shadowy patch.
“Yan ge,” Tao Xiaodong called Tang Suoyan, “come sit over here.”
The midday heat was beating down on them, and both of them quickly worked up a sweat.
At this time, no one cared about how unseemly sitting on the ground looked.
They squeezed next to each other, sitting in the shade.
Whilst Tao Huainan slept in the car, the two outside wordlessly resigned themselves to taking in the scenery.
Half an hour later, Tao Xiaodong went back into the car to take the bottle that he’d just drank from.
Before drinking, he asked Tang Suoyan, “Where’s yours”
Tang Suoyan said, “I forgot to take one.”
Tao Xiaodong turned his head back to ask the driver over at one side.
“Is there water in the car”
The driver said, “I still have half a kettle.”
Tao Xiaodong was rendered speechless once more.
“Any mineral water”
The driver shook his head.
This guy seriously brought Tao Xiaodong at a loss for words.
After recovering, he looked at Tang Suoyan.
“I’ve already drunk from it, but if you don’t mind…”
Before he could finish his words, Tang Suoyan had twisted the cap open and drank from the bottle.
His head tilted back, exposing a neck that was covered in a thin sheen of sweat.
His Adam’s apple rolled when he swallowed, and his tendons, more pronounced as they dipped down, were abruptly hidden under the collar of his shirt.