​​         Chinese Stories in English   

Embarrassing Moments from My Past
Cui Li

One
            I had a lover.
            Dawn Meng was my lover.
            Dawn was beautiful, gentle and thoughtful. I told her, "Dawn, I've been thinking of you." She said, "I think about you, too."
            I said, "I love you, Dawn." She said, "I love you, too."
            I said, "Dawn, let's get together." She said, "Yes, let's."
            I'd felt all along that Dawn Meng was most suited for being a lover.
            I took Dawn out to dinner. Of course, I couldn't take her just anywhere. If you're dating, it should be a place with a romantic ambience. That evening we went to a French restaurant that had just opened, where the atmosphere was good indeed. It'd taken me a long time on the Internet to find it. I asked Dawn, "Is this a beautiful place?" She nodded and said, "Yes."
            Her face lit up in a smile when she spoke. It made me a little crazy watching her. I told her, "You're really beautiful, Dawn Meng, really beautiful."
            There was a break in our meal when something unexpected happened. Someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned and saw a familiar face. It was Wang Five, a new colleague of mine. He looked at me, and then at Dawn sitting beside me, and then his eyes scanned back and forth like a searchlight. I started to get alarmed. A married man bringing a beautiful woman to such a place, and sitting so close together, some people might think it's not right.
            Wang Five spoke first, before I could say anything. "Zhou, my man, what a coincidence! Are you here for dinner with your wife? I thought I was mistaken. Your wife is really beautiful. And you're not so bad yourself, old man."
            "Yes, yes," I said quickly, waiting for a chance to change the subject. Then I remembered that Wang Five had never seen my wife. "Say Wang," I said, "what brings you here to eat?"
            He turned his head and pointed out a woman to me. "I brought my wife here for our first anniversary," he said, tittering with embarrassment.
            We were a bit late finishing dinner. When I got home, my wife was already in bed reading a book. It was a romance novel. When she saw me come in she asked if I'd eaten. I told her I had. "Oh," she said. She turned a page in her book and continued reading.
            Suddenly she closed the book and asked me, "Do you have a lover?"
            My heart jumped. "The cat can't be out of the bag," I thought. Then I thought, "There's no way Wang Five knows my wife and he couldn't have gotten in touch with her."
            I ground my teeth and denied it. "How could I possibly have a lover? You're the love of my life."
            She had a slight smile on her face as she spread open the book again. There was a title written in large type in the book, "Do you have a lover?" So it was a false alarm. To keep her from questioning me more along these lines, I turned the tables and asked her, "Do you have a lover?"
            That startled her. She'd never expected me to ask. "No, no," she said. Then I smiled, and so did she.
            Something unexpected happened one evening after that. I was putting in some overtime on the job when my cell phone buzzed to tell me I had a text message. I opened it. The message said, "Your wife is with a strange man at the Happiness Comes Hotel, room 517. Come quickly!" I looked at the sender's number and didn't recognize it.
            My mind started buzzing. To tell you the truth, I was really a bit shocked. I couldn't quite believe that my wife would betray me that way.
            I slapped my head and calmed down right away. I thought it over and decided to call home. My hand shook as I dialed. I was wondering how things would end up. Divorce?
            The phone was answered right away. "Hello." It was my wife's voice. I almost dropped the phone. She said "Hello" a couple more times, rather impatiently. I said, "It's me, honey. I'm at work and will be a little late getting home."
            "OK," she said. "Well, take good care of yourself."
            I couldn't calm myself down after I hung up the phone. "It was a prank! No doubt about it. A prank!"
            Another evening I was laying on the couch at home after dinner, idly watching TV, when my cell phone buzzed with another text message. I tapped to open it. It said, "Your wife and a
            I read it over carefully, then yelled toward my wife's back as she bustled about in the kitchen. "What are you doing, honey?"
            She came out, her hands covered with soapsuds, and said, "Washing the dishes. What's the matter?"
            I laughed. "Nothing," I said. "It's nothing." She gave me a look, then turned and went back into the kitchen. I could tell for sure that someone was either playing a prank or dialing the wrong number. I moved a finger and erased the text clean away.
            On still another evening, my wife's company had sent her out of town on a business trip. I'd just finished talking with her on my cell phone when another text message came in. I tapped to open it and read, "Your wife and a strange man are in Room 408 at the Gauze Forest Hotel. Hurry!" I laughed out loud when I read it. I could plainly see that my wife had called me from an out-of-town number, so how could she appear at the Gauze Forest Hotel, which is in this city? Now I could say for sure that it must be a wrong number.
            All of a sudden I got curious. I wondered, "Who could the woman the text message was talking about be? Do I know her?" I was bored being home alone, so I went out, got a cab and went to that hotel.
            When I got there, I didn't just charge into room 408. I got the room across the hallway and sat there in the entry looking through the peephole, my eye glued on the door across the way.
            I don't know how long I sat there. I was starting to drift off when suddenly I heard the door across the hallway opening. I perked up right away and looked. Sure enough, a man came out first, followed by a woman.
            I knew the woman. It was Dawn Meng. The man was completely unfamiliar. It wasn't her husband, though. I'd seen him before.
            I stood there for a long time, my head buzzing again, a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was really hurting.

            I'm clear about one thing. The person who sent the text messages, it was Wang Five. I hadn't had a lot to do with him and hadn't made a note of his phone number.
            Now I'm racking my brains, wondering. Shouldn't I treat Wang Five to dinner?

Two
            Songbird was my first love.
            I fell from out of the blue into a job as Director of a factory. After I'd been there a few days, my secretary Little Wu came up to me with a helpless expression on his face. "This is not good, Director," he said. "That wife of Liu Jinshan is here again, looking to see you."
            "Liu Jinshan?" I asked. "What's this all about?"
            Little Wu gave me a hurried explanation. "Liu Jinshan was a worker in our factory. He got in a car accident on his way home from work and one leg was crippled. At that time an accident while commuting was not normally counted as a work injury, so former Director Lee didn't approve [the claim for compensation]. It's been almost a year now and his wife's been raising a stink the whole time…."
            I was starting to understand. New legislation had come out recently saying that accidents while commuting would be considered work injuries.
            "Do you want to see her, Director?" Little Wu asked. "She's been here several times previously."
            I thought it over and told him to let her in. Some things just have to be taken care of.
            The woman came into my office. I looked up and was stunned. It was Songbird. The years seemed not to have had much effect on her. She was as beautiful as ever, just a little frazzled. Amazingly, my heart didn't stop completely.
            Songbird was also surprised to see me. She'd been talking to Little Wu when she came in the door but now she stopped in her tracks.
            Little Wu seemed to be aware that something unusual was going on. He gave me a strange look and then looked at Songbird.
            I was quickest to react. I said, "Hello. Are you here on behalf of Liu Jinshan?"
            "Yes," Songbird said.
            "I've acquainted myself with the case. Under the rules at the time, an accident while commuting could not be considered as work-related. However, I'll have this matter discussed at the mid-level management meeting and get you an answer. Is that OK with you?"
            "Yes, yes, OK," she said. Her eyes unaccountably turned red as she spoke. "Director," she added, "you really have to help me with this. You see, my husband Liu Jinshan is disabled now, and our child goes to school and that costs money, too, and there's just me, a woman trying to pull the family through by herself, and it's really hard."
            Tears began to trickle down from the corners of her eyes while she was speaking. I nodded, and as I looked at her, I couldn't imagine how difficult her current situation was. Then Songbird left, escorted by Little Wu.
            After she'd gone, it took a long time for my heart to calm down.
            I counted. It had been more than ten years since she and I had seen each other. Things had never been easy for the Songbird in my memories. She was living in poverty while we were going together. She had only thin clothes to wear in winter, and only brought the simplest meals to school for lunch. She was full of self-respect, though. I'd bring clothes from home for her to wear but she wouldn't wear them. I'd bring things for her to eat but she wouldn't eat them. I told her she was my girlfriend and she shouldn't treat me like I was just anyone, but she held her head high and said, "I really don't want your things, anyway. If we're going to be friends, it should be as equals."
            I remembered some more. When we broke up, it was also because of her strong sense of self-respect. I was admitted to a university, and she was, too, but her family was poor and couldn't afford to support her. I offered to have my family support her but she said no, and instead gave up the chance to go to college.
            I got a letter from her my first year in college. She said only these few words: "Let's break up." …. And that was that. We broke up.
            I ran my hand through my hair, thinking. This trouble she's having now, I've really got to help her out. She's really had a tough time. If I can get her compensation for a work injury, at least her family will have a stable monthly subsidy from now on, and that will lighten her burden a little.
            I worked my butt off the next few days researching the workman's comp regulations both for that time and for now. I got my thoughts organized, then had my secretary Little Wu call all the mid-level managers together for a meeting.
            The meeting went rather well. I started with the law and regulations, then talked about the unsurpassed humanitarian aspects and touched on how difficult it is for a woman alone, and I figured everyone was relatively supportive. Lastly we had a show of hands and the issue was decided. I had Little Wu put the minutes of the meeting in order and sent a report to the head office.
            Headquarters was slow in replying. I hadn't yet received their reply when Songbird came to my office by herself.
            Seeing there was no one around, she called me by my first name instead of "Director". She said I really must help her with this matter. I told her not to worry, I'd do everything I could, and she said OK. Then she said something else as she was about to leave: "I won't let helping me be a waste of effort for you." I stared after her blankly for a long time, thinking about this amazing sentence.
            The approval was slow in coming. On Friday I couldn't wait any longer. I took a trip to the headquarters office in the capitol myself.
            As it happened, the day after I got the approval I had the day off. Just after my wife left in the morning, the doorbell sounded. I thought my wife had forgotten her keys, but when I opened the door, it was Songbird. She was dressed up very pretty. I was a bit surprised and asked how she'd known where I live.
            She smiled and, turning on the charm, said "I saw your wife leaving. What, aren't you going to invite me in for a while?"
            I was speechless. I felt something was off about this Songbird of today.
            She looked from left to right after she came into the room, like she had something to say but couldn't. It was certainly about the approval, and I was about to tell her I had it when she suddenly pressed up against me. I wanted to push her away but she hugged me even tighter.     "Don't do this, Songbird," I said.
            "I told you," she answered, "that I wouldn't let helping me be a waste of effort for you."
            I fought free and pushed her away hard, but she pressed right back up against me.
            It was a stalemate, and right at that moment the door opened. My wife stuck her head inside and stared coldly at Songbird and I in each other's arms.
            I couldn't think of anything to say. All of a sudden I thought of the approval letter in my satchel.

            I'll never be able to wash this off, not even if I jump into the Yellow River!

Three  
            Plum Yang was one of my co-workers at the advertising company. She spent a brief six months living in Shanghai, then moved back to her hometown over three hundred miles away.
            One day I inadvertently opened Plum's QQ page and saw a lot of close-ups of her. I was struck by how this immature young girl had grown into a curvy, radiant woman. I couldn't help but keep looking.
            My mind rolled back to those days. Innocent young me was out of the office with Plum on a business matter and we stopped in a coffee shop. People look at us with envy and said we were as eye-catching as
Golden Boy and Jade Maiden, the attendants to the Daoist Immortals. A lot of people said that, which made us lower our eyes in embarrassment.
            For some strange reason, I got a sudden itch. I saw that Plum was online and jokingly sent her a message: "Regrets, ah, regrets."
            She sent me back an emoticon with a puzzled expression.
            I typed: "Seeing how pretty and attractive you are now, I really regret that I never made a move."
            Plum: "You're toying with me."         
            Me: "Is that what you think? In fact, I always liked you."
            Her face lit up with a smile: "Really? How could I have not known? Why didn't you ask me out back then?"
            Me: "I was afraid you'd turn me down, wasn't I? In the end, we never even got to be friends."
            Plum: "I think you're strange!"
            I joked with Plum on several occasions after that, without laying it on either too thick or too thin.
            One time I was bored so I checked on the status of my circle of QQ friends. I saw that Plum had posted "In a bad mood."
            I typed: "Hey, Beautiful, what's wrong?"
            Plum: "Nothing. A little upset, is all."
            Me: "A beautiful woman can't be upset. As soon as she starts to get upset it always turns to happiness."
            Plum: "Tell me, if I were old, would you still like me?"
            Me: "Of course! I'd like you no matter what happens to you." I laughed when I finished typing that. Joking around like that can do no harm when we're separated by miles of rivers and streams.
            Plum responded: "If you'd really told me everything back then, where do you think we'd be now?"
            I was into it, and sort of wanted to type something that followed naturally: "Maybe right now you'd be lying in my arms, smiling at me in the afterglow." When I finished typing I hesitated a bit, but then I clicked the mouse and sent it off.
            Plum sent me an emoticon of a kiss.
            I sat there for a long time, staring at the computer screen.
            One other day, it was Plum who contacted me. She typed: "Tell me, if a man doesn't have a sense of responsibility, can he still be considered an acceptable man?"
            I answered: "What do you mean?"
            She typed: "It's my marriage. It's hard to explain in a few words. My six-year-old daughter, my parents have been taking care of her ever since she was born. My husband's parents have never said they wanted to go see her. It's like their granddaughter never even existed. My husband never paid any attention to his daughter, either. It got so bad he often didn't even want to come home. It was "The factory has a dorm and it's comfortable so there's no need to leave." He works the late shift and when he gets off at midnight it's not easy to get home. And he sleeps late and after he eats lunch he starts work again at two of three o'clock, and he can't get home again. Actually, it's not that far from the factory to our home. Truth is, my husband has another woman at the factory…."
            She typed some more: "I'm fed up with this marriage-in-name-only. Tell me, should I get a divorce? Sometimes I don't even want to think about it, it'd be like the sky falling down. If I got divorced, I'd definitely take my daughter with me, and I don't know if I'd be able to take care of her. I really regret how I could've ever chosen a man like him back then."
            I felt a tickling in my nose as I read. I started to weave a lie, maybe to comfort her. I told her: "In fact, there's something I haven't told you yet. I've been divorced since last year. Look at me, a man on his own, with a four-year-old girl, and I'm doing quite well.
            After a long time, she typed: "Would you resent my daughter?"
            That last sentence made me feel something I couldn't put a name to. What did she mean? She couldn't possibly come running to me, bringing her daughter with her, could she?
            In a flash I started to get a big head, but upon reflection I decided that it was very unlikely. We lived so far apart, and she wouldn't just come looking for me without having it all worked out beforehand.
            And I couldn't help thinking of that snarling "mother tigress" I had at home. If it wasn't for the gentle understanding that I hadn't been getting from her, I wouldn't have been sitting lonely in front of the computer screen joking around with Plum, trying to find a little warmth.
            My scalp was tingling, but I bit the bullet and went back to the computer. I felt like I was a man and absolutely could not show weakness. I typed: "How could I be like that? Your daughter's just like mine. I'd like to have the time." After I sent that out, I wished I could wipe the smile off my face.
            I was reluctant to get on QQ again after that day. I didn't consciously know what was up with me, but subconsciously I knew I was definitely afraid of running into Plum. What could I say if she asked me anything more?
            It was a half month later.
            My doorbell rang early in the morning. When I opened the door, Plum was really there. She was carrying a heavy bag and had a little girl beside her. She started talking excitedly when she saw me. "I remembered you lived here before, and it looks like you really haven't moved, and I just wanted to surprise you, and you're right, I'm divorced, and why haven't you been on QQ for a while, 'cause I tried to find you but couldn't."
            While she was talking, my daughter happened to come out from the living room. Right away Plum took hold of the little girl beside her and said, "Hurry, call her 'Sis'. We're going to be a family."
            Her voice was a bit loud. My wife, who'd been sound asleep, came out of the bedroom with her eyes wide open.
            Plum didn't know what to think, and I just stood there stupidly….


Part One published under the title你有没有情人? in
2013中国年度幽默作品,《喜剧世界》杂志社选片,丁斯主编, 第263页,
Translated from
here and here, also at http://www.chnxp.com/dazhongwenxue/2015-1/189256.html



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