(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 Chinese brush painting is by Cathy Chan of Foundation for Chinese Performing Arts.)
A Woman Approaching Expiration Date — Chapter 8
Coincidentally, an opportunity for a business trip to Jamestown has come along for Jingzhe. One year ago, she submitted a paper to an influential academic journal based in Jamestown. It so happened that the editor had recently told her that he wanted to talk to her. And her supervisor was quite happy to learn the news and had urged her to go.
So, on Friday evening, Jingzhe again initiated a conversation with Richard through text messaging. After they exchanged their greetings and some small talk, Jingzhe mentioned that she might have a chance to visit Jamestown. Richard seemed to be excited to hear the news. He told Jingzhe he lives by the seaside, and he thinks Jingzhe would like his place. He even promised Jingzhe he could take her to the beach to catch lobsters.
“But you seem to be busy. Do you have the time to take me around town and show me some historical sites?”Jingzhe asked, to make sure he would make time for her.
“If you let me know when you will get here ahead of time, I don’t see why I can’t adjust my schedule.”Richard promised.
Jingzhe was relieved to find out that Richard was welcoming. Indeed, this was too good an opportunity to let pass. Why not take it and go visit Richard? What if he was that reliable man she was looking for? Jingzhe asked herself.
It had only been three weeks since their first contact. But Jingzhe found herself liking him more by each day. His text messages were concise and to the point. They would exchange dozens of text messages every day. During that period, though Jingzhe had been busy in the lab and Richard was conducting his industrial environmental auditing in a place far from home, Jingzhe could feel that they were still connected somehow. This made her quite happy. She came to find herself in a mood where she missed him and his voice. She really wanted to talk to him every day.
Surely, just the text messages and phone calls won’t do, Jingzhe decided. She had better go meet the man and check things out for herself. What was more, it was important to see what kind of a person he was, check out his working and living environments, and see whether she would like it and could adapt to it. She needed to find out how Richard feels about her in person. So, after some debate with herself, Jingzhe made up her mind to go.
A week later, Jingzhe texted Richard to discuss with him about her schedule. Richard told her that he was going to head back to Jamestown on Friday so that he could catch a game of his team Saturday morning. He then asked Jingzhe about her plan to visit Jamestown.
“You still want me to go?”Jingzhe asked.
“Of course, I’ve been thinking about it. When will you arrive?”
“How about next week? Do you have time for me?”
“Hold on for a second. Let me check my work schedule. Oh yes! I can make it next week. There are some minor tasks I need to do near Jamestown. It would work out just fine.”
“Then can you help me find a safe place to stay? And perhaps closer to your place? I also want to take this opportunity to take some rest for myself. I’ve been so busy working during the last half a year or so.”
“Oh that would be great! Surely I can find a place for you to stay. Which day would you get here?”
“How about next Monday or Tuesday?”
“I think Monday would be better because there will be an important game on Tuesday which you can watch with me.”
“Oh OK. Monday then.”
Jingzhe then checked the bus schedule and told him that she would arrive at 3 pm next Monday. Richard promised that he would pick her up at the bus station in downtown. Jingzhe then mentioned that she might stay for one week or longer, and Richard said he would need to go to another job site to work for a few days later that week, which was OK with Jingzhe as she would need to spend some time revising her paper anyway.
It was all settled, then. Richard laid out his plan for Jingzhe: they would go and watch a great game together, which would be played between Manchester United and Manchester City. “You will definitely find it interesting. You will come to a new place, get to meet some cool friends, and of course, you will stay with me…” Richard went on to tell Jingzhe.
“I thought you were going to help me find a place to stay?”
“You might have to stay in my place for the first night. Then on the next day, I can help you find a place you like, unless you want to stay in a hotel. Is it OK? It’s up to you.”
“Oh OK. Maybe you’re right. I trust you.”Jingzhe was easily agreeable.
That night, Jingzhe received another phone call from her mother. The conversation was again the same as always:
“We went broke to send you to United States. We expect nothing except for you to have a good future there, so that we won’t feel ashamed in front of our ancestors.”
“But how can our ancestors find out whether I’m in United States or not? Or whether I get my PhD? Mom, it’s you who doesn’t want me to go back. I miss my grandpa and I want to go home to take care of him.”
“Don’t talk about your grandpa, OK? It’s because of him that your uncles, aunties and your dad didn’t get to go to college or find a good job. No one likes him except you!”Mom claimed angrily.
Jingzhe stayed silent. Her mom continued,“What’s more, what’s your plan if you come back? You can’t find a good job here. Even if you find a job in a university, you’ll just be an employee with a low salary. You won’t get an apartment for free. Do you think you’ll be able to afford buying an apartment on your own? Also, you’re over 30 now. How are going to find somebody to marry you? Remember, leftover women are everywhere around here. Even the good-looking ones can’t find a husband.”
Her mom’s words hurt Jingzhe and she responded angrily, “Then who am I to blame? It’s not my fault that I’m not pretty. Check on yourself and dad, then.” Jingzhe knew that it was a rude thing to say, but she couldn’t stop herself, for she gets upset every time her mom brings this up.
The conversation ended unhappily.
Early Monday morning, Jingzhe got on the bus heading to Jamestown as planned. During the ride, anxiety and worrying thoughts flooded through her mind. What if she failed this time? The idea quite frightened her, but she couldn’t sort it out anyway.
About halfway during her trip, something went wrong with the bus. Jingzhe hurriedly texted Richard, telling him that she might be late for an hour or so. Richard replied by saying that there will be a very important soccer game for him at 4 pm, and he hoped that Jingzhe will make it in time to watch it with him. Not wanting to distract him from his game, Jingzhe offered to take a taxi by herself at the bus station and go directly to the bar to meet him. Without hesitation, Richard accepted her proposal, and offered to pay the taxi.
But in fact, the bus was only 20 minutes late. This put Jingzhe in an awkward position. She knew that she had lost some points in her duel with Richard in their relationship. Why did she do that for him before they even met? Why had it to be her who took the first step and made the compromise? Was she taking the ride all day long just to throw herself into the arms of a guy who she met on a dating site?
At the bus station, Jingzhe took out her cell phone and called Li Qiu, who offered her some support and encouragement. Feeling somewhat better afterwords, Jingzhe took a taxi to go meet Richard. When she got off, she found a slim tall man waving at her across the street. That was Richard. They found each other easily for they had already familiarized themselves with each other’s face through the photos. He came over and gave her a quick hug, expressing his happiness that she made it and complimenting her for being pretty and young. He then paid the taxi, took Jingzhe’s luggage, and led her into a bar.
It turned out to be a quiet small bar with only three people in it: Richard, another customer and a waiter. Richard explained that he was going to go to a busy bar with a lot of fans, but changed his mind because he thought she might not be comfortable with the rowdy scene at first. Jingzhe thought he was being considerate and nodded her appreciation.
Politely, Richard helped Jingzhe off her down jacket and hung it on the wall. Underneath Jingzhe had on a sapphire-colored sweater and looked curvy in it. Richard praised her sincerely and asked her whether she found the trip exhausting. While talking, he gently put his hand behind her neck and caressed her. Jingzhe felt uncomfortable at first but quickly grew fond of it.
Richard ordered an expensive glass of white wine for himself and asked whether Jingzhe would also like to have one. Jingzhe nodded, and the waiter poured her a glass. Richard clinked his glass with hers, saying he was really glad to see her, and then continued to caress her back after each clink. Under his caress, Jingzhe started to feel warm.
After watching the game in the bar, Jingzhe figured Richard was going to take her to his place. But after paying the bill, Richard took her to another bar, and then another. In fact, that night they ended up spending all their time on bar hopping and went through quite a number of different bars. Although Jingzhe indicated to Richard that she was exhausted when they got out of the first bar, Richard paid no attention to it. He was excited to take her to different bars to meet different people, which all looked the same to Jingzhe.
In each bar, he would order two glasses of best white wine or specialty beer, enjoy the drink for a while, watch one or half a game on TV, chat with someone casually, pay the bill and then hop to another bar with Jingzhe. Everyone in the bar seemed to know him and knew what his favorite drink was. Everyone was friendly with him. Jingzhe also noticed that before leaving each bar, Richard would give a generous tip for the bartender.
When they were on the street, Richard would hold her hand proudly. When they cross the street, he would hold her waist. No man had ever done this to Jingzhe before. How beautiful it is to be with a man you actually have feelings for! Jingzhe thought to herself. She figured that she would never regret it even if it didn’t work out. Another thing Jingzhe noticed is, everywhere they go, people would wave at Richard and say hi to him. Richard told her that he had lived here for ten years and knew a lot of people. Jingzhe felt relieved that this man was definitely not a fraud.