(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 picture of Autumn in New England is by photographer George Moy.)
A Woman Approaching Expiration Date — Chapter 3
Few men seemed to be interested in 「Mary」 or wrote to her at first, however. So Jingzhe spent some time on browsing through some profiles of other women in her age group. She caught a few using photos of some actresses who she recognized. 「Well, these are clearly fake!」 Jingzhe thought, 「At least everything about me except the name was true. Anyway, this is who I am, if someone is interested, let』s start chatting. If not, who cares?」 Jingzhe felt at ease with herself.
Slowly but gradually, several people started responding to 「Mary」. Jingzhe carefully checked on each person who had written to her, and set her eyes on a man named Robert first. She clicked on his profile and read his information: he was a 36-year-old engineer and a widower, now living and working in Dallas, Texas. In his photo, he appeared kind of handsome, and Jingzhe thought this man』s age is a good match to herself. She also liked his profession.
In his first letter to 「Mary」, Robert told Jingzhe more about himself. He is a single father with a five-year-old son. His wife passed away when his son was two years old. Although it had been tough losing his wife when his son was so young, over the years the hurt had faded. Now he felt he still has a lot of love to give and he wanted to rebuild his life with a special woman. He went on to tell Jingzhe that he liked what he read about 「Mary」, and felt comfortable talking to her. He ended the letter by giving Jingzhe his personal email address and said he would wait for her reply.
Everything sounded just right to Jingzhe. Robert appeared to have quite a positive outlook about life and his letter seemed articulate and considerate. To Jingzhe, every single sentence of the letter is so vivid, to the extent where she could feel his presence. Moreover, she had been truthful about her real age and Robert did not go after a younger woman! Instead, he wrote such moving words just to her! Jingzhe felt elated.
After Jingzhe read the letter back and forth several times, she decided to show it to Li Qiu, and sought her advice.
「Now that you』ve decided to plunge ahead with internet dating, don』t ask me what to do every step of the way. Just go with your heart. But tell me something, do you believe you can win the lottery on your first try?」 Li Qiu asked.
「What do you think?」 Jingzhe threw the question back at Li Qiu, refusing to give up hope.
Li Qiu shook her head, 「To me, beginner』s luck doesn』t always hold true, not for us common people anyway. And I don』t count on miracles to happen.」
But without hesitation, Jingzhe decided to write Robert back anyway. She composed a short email thanking Robert for approaching her first, and asking him to tell her more about himself. At the end, she wrote, 「Hope to hear more from you and please keep in touch」.
From the moment she clicked on the send button, Jingzhe started to wish for a reply from Robert to come in. This should be a great beginning, she hoped.
The next day, Jingzhe returned from the lab and immediately rushed to open her mailbox. And alas! There was an email from Robert! She opened it in a hurry and finished reading it quickly.
In Robert』s second letter, he told Jingzhe he was new to the website but has received many emails from many women. But he was specially drawn to Jingzhe. He liked the interests, values, and everything else expressed in Jingzhe』s profile, and felt the two of them are good fits to each other. He also complemented Jingzhe on her photos, saying they gave him a warm and fuzzy feeling. He went on to tell Jingzhe more about himself – he was born in New York, and after his parents got divorced, his mother and him moved to Greece. He married his late wife in Greece, who passed away three years ago. He then moved back to America. He works as an independent contractor for some projects related to petroleum, and travels back and forth between Malaysia and America.
「I am really interested in you, and I would like to know everything about you. Looking forward to your reply.」 Robert ended the letter cordially.
Since coming home from her lab, Jingzhe had been riveted in front of her laptop by reading Robert』s second email over and over again. She had neglected to cook herself dinner. Now, Jingzhe was beyond words with excitement. Still ignoring her growling stomach, Jingzhe took her laptop to Li Qiu』s room and showed it to Li Qiu.
「So, with this letter, can we say that this Robert is a sophisticated and mature gentleman? And honest?」
Li Qiu shrugged, 「Who knows? We have yet to meet the real man. I think this guy does have a way with words. It sure sounds good to me. Hopefully he is genuine, and if so, consider yourself lucky.」
Jingzhe immediately lit up with pleasure, 「Oh! I have been feeling down for so many years! Thank goodness things have finally turned around! It should be my time to be happy now. 」
「I hope so.」 Li Qiu remained uncommitted.
Jingzhe quickly wrote back to Robert, and told him some details about her family – they live in the north-west part of China. Her parents are factory workers. She has a brother and a sister who are twins, both of whom have some disability. Jingzhe also told Robert that she has been studying for her PhD degree in a university in Boston, and that she never had a boyfriend before, and this is her first attempt at internet dating. At the end of the letter, Jingzhe asked, 「Would it be possible for you to send me more photos of you?」
This time, Robert』s response came back in less than an hour. 「Wow! He must have been sitting in front of his laptop waiting for my email」, Jingzhe thought to herself and felt even more pleased.
The third letter from Robert is very sweet, and to Jingzhe it reads like a love letter. He also attached two photos of himself. Jingzhe looked at them carefully. In one photo, he leaned against a ship by the ocean, and smiled nicely, looking quite mature and reserved; and in the other, he looked younger, with the City Temple of Shanghai in background, which Jingzhe recognized immediately. Had he been to Shanghai? For work? Or had he a Chinese girlfriend before? Jingzhe started wondering. Another odd thing is, the two photos do not look like the same person.
Although having lived in America for years, Jingzhe still has trouble telling white Westerners apart. She took her laptop to Li Qiu』s room again. However, Li Qiu was also not sure whether it was the same guy, so she simply advised Jingzhe to ask for more photos from Robert.
It is getting quite late by this time, but Jingzhe was feeling exhilarated due to the quick progress she had made. She started imagining what Robert』s life was like in another city. And all of this was a brand new feeling to her. Jingzhe decided to stay up and write yet another letter to Robert.
In this letter, Jingzhe asked Robert how his son is doing, how his work is,… does he like cooking? And so on and so forth. She then brought up the questions in her mind – had Robert been to Shanghai? Was the photo taken in early years? And could he send her more photos?
That night, Jingzhe lost sleep for the most part. Immediately after getting up the next day, Jingzhe rushed to her laptop to check. Much to her delight, she saw an email from Robert, sent at about 4 am.
In his fourth letter, Robert told Jingzhe he had also lost sleep, which was why he wrote to Jingzhe at such early hours in the morning. He started asking Jingzhe what she thinks about falling in love online, and indicated that he might have fallen for her, already.
「Is it love?」Jingzhe asked herself,「Why am I always so anxiously waiting to hear from him?」It has only been three days, and Jingzhe felt she had been in a dream the whole time.
Although Jingzhe wished for Robert』s next email to come with her whole heart and soul, she did not receive anything the next day. Well, perhaps it was understandable, Jingzhe thought, for the man didn』t sleep the previous night and had to work. Jingzhe gave him some leeway.
The fifth letter from Robert arrived the following day, again sent at around 4 am. He was going to fly to Malaysia for business the next day, he told Jingzhe. He went on to give Jingzhe his detailed work plan and schedule. He also said he would like to come to Boston and visit Jingzhe once he got done with his project. With the letter, he attached a scanned copy of his ticket from Dallas to San Francisco and from San Francisco to Malaysia. There are also two additional photos of himself, both still taken with the City Temple of Shanghai in the background.
He』s acting like a considerate husband! Jingzhe thought. Never had a boyfriend before, Jingzhe figured this must be how a husband acts around his wife, letting her know his every move and every thought. Jingzhe was fascinated. Mostly excitingly, Robert might come to Boston to see her! Jingzhe felt like to smile to everybody and ran to Li Qiu』s room to share with her the great news.
In their next couple of rounds of email exchange, Jingzhe gave Robert her real name and phone number, and Robert started to end his letters with 「XOXO, Your Robert」. Those letters from Malaysia seemed to carry with them the scent of the tropical ocean, warming Jingzhe』s heart, and making her blood boil. She stayed up all night, imagining their upcoming meeting. From the photos, Robert looked masculine and strong. She imagined being embraced by this man. How marvelous it would be! She felt as if she was in paradise.
Jingzhe even put on a sexy trapeze dress when writing back to Robert. This would be totally out of character for her before. But now it feels just right. The whole weekend, Jingzhe and Robert kept writing back and forth to each other, and Jingzhe got obsessed with checking her mailbox, to the extent where she was about to lose her mind.
A few days later, Jingzhe received the longest letter by far from Robert.
「I』m mad about you and I』m intoxicated by you,」 Robert wrote, 「You mean everything to me, and because of you I feel I am the richest man in the world. I want to write to you every minute, and tell you how I feel… I』m so happy, and my love for you grows every day. I can』t stand not being able to see you and feel you anymore. I must come to meet you in person next weekend.」
He went on to say that he wanted Jingzhe to feel safe, and thought it would be best for the two of them to first meet in an open and public kind of place. Therefore, he asked Jingzhe to book a hotel room near the airport. He gave Jingzhe his cell phone number this time.