(This novel is translated and adapted by Ms. Shuang Wu. The original novel 海外剩女 by author Ms. Xi Zhang was published in China earlier this year. It tells stories of female students from China struggling to find love in Boston, and has received rave reviews. A play in Chinese language with the same title will be staged at Northeastern University on Oct. 10, 2015. The oil painting below is by Sophia Yee.)
A Woman with Approaching Expiration Date — Chapter 1
Jingzhe threw together a noodle bowl for herself, and wolfed it down quickly. The clock says it was already 3 o’clock in the afternoon. She knew she’d better clean up the mess in the kitchen before the arrival of her new roommate, Li Qiu. Earlier, her landlady had told her that Li Qiu was going to show up at about 4 PM. Jingzhe sighed wearily, and dragged herself to the kitchen sink.
It is a rare occasion for Jingzhe to spend a Saturday afternoon at home. A PhD student in molecular biology at UMass Boston, Jingzhe’s life consists of working in the lab during the day and coming home to sleep at night. In her field of study, it generally takes seven to eight years to get a doctorate degree, and Jingzhe is now in the beginning of her 4th year. Jingzhe’s supervisor wants her to help with his projects for several more years. At the age of 32, Jingzhe feels that she has been dawdling her life away in the lab, and the worst part is, she does not see any light at the end of the tunnel.
Jingzhe lives in a two-bedroom apartment in Brookline, usually sharing it with two roommates. Over the years, different roommates came and went, but Jingzhe remains a constant fixture. A few days ago, both roommates had moved out. And within the same week, the landlady had sent over the cleaning service, got everything all fixed up, and secured the new tenants. Jingzhe would keep the living room. Li Qiu would take the smaller bedroom facing the street. And the landlady reserved the bigger bedroom for a relative of hers. Musing on the fast turnaround time of her apartment, Jingzhe marveled at her landlady’s efficient ways.
Stout, broad-faced, and wearing a pair of black-framed glasses, Jingzhe considers herself plain-looking. Since grade school, she always wears bobbed short hair with straight-cut bangs covering her entire forehead. She has heavy eyebrows, slightly slanted eyes, a straight nose, and thick lips. Jingzhe’s legs look muscular but she has a slightly stooping figure. This was developed from her adolescence years, when she felt embarrassed about her big breasts and tried to hide them.
What would the new roommate be like? Jingzhe wondered to herself, and walked to the mirror. Now dressed in a simple blue T-shirt and black gym shorts, Jingzhe decided she looked presentable enough. She gave her hair a casual shake and a quick pat. Well, this will have to do, Jingzhe thought to herself.
Just then, the doorbell rang. Jingzhe opened the door to see a slender woman in her late 30s or early 40s standing by the door, looking somewhat exhausted. The woman wore a blue sunhat with white flowers, a pair of sunglasses, a sleeveless baby blue dress, and white Adidas sneakers. When she took off her hat and sunglasses, Jingzhe saw this is a very pretty lady with shoulder-length hair and gorgeous big eyes.
“Hi, are you Li Qiu? I’m your roommate. Just call me Jingzhe.” Jingzhe smiled at her and offered her hand.
“Hi, Jingzhe. I’m Li Qiu. Nice to meet you.” Li Qiu returned the smile, and gently shook her hand.
Jingzhe led Li Qiu to her room and poured her a glass of water.
Li Qiu’s room is very small and simply furnished. There is not much to look at. Li Qiu put down her suitcase, picked up the glass of water, drank half of it, and then followed Jingzhe to the kitchen. The two women sat down and started chatting.
“So, I heard you are a PhD student at UMass. Guess what? I’ll be a visiting scholar there for a year. What a coincidence, huh? We are actually schoolmates!” Li Qiu started.
“Wow, how nice! So perhaps I can show you the way to the center for international scholars on Monday morning? What would you say about that? The only thing is, we’d better get up early. I want to get to my lab at 9 am.”Jingzhe thought she could offer some help to the newcomer.
“That’s nice of you. But thanks. I can make it on my own. See whether I got it right – it takes about eight minutes to walk to the subway station. We call the subway ‘T’ here. Take the T for two stops, then walk for about ten minutes to the medical center. I’ll be meeting my supervisor in his office at 10 o’clock Monday morning.” Li Qiu appeared to be well-informed.
“Hey, how come you already got everything all figured out?” Jingzhe was totally astonished.
“Well, I had a long wait in the airport today, and I spent it surfing the net and checking things out on Google Maps. Can you believe it? One can even see our apartment on the map! It always pays to do your homework. It’s no big deal.” Li Qiu said casually.
“Wow, you’re amazing. In that case, may I help you unpack?” Jingzhe made another offer.
“No, thanks. I think I can handle it myself.”
“Oh, all right. I’m going to take a jog around the lake then.”
“Do you jog every day?”
“No, I don’t have that much time. I can only manage to squeeze in an hour for workout on weekends.” Jingzhe stole a quick look at the time on her cell phone. It is almost 5 pm.
“Well, don’t let me keep you then. Enjoy your jog and we’ll chat later.” Noticing what Jingzhe just did, Li Qiu said quickly.
“Okay then. See you later.” Jingzhe dashed out the apartment.
When Jingzhe came back, she saw on her laptop that her mom had tried to reach her through the free voice over IP phone. It was only 6 o’clock in the morning in China.