Chinese Stories in English
by Lan Yichen
“Jia Lian, male, age 38, 1.7 meters tall, square face, fair complexion, Northeast accent, wandered away from A-Ling’s Teahouse at Three Airport West Road on the fifteenth of this month. Anyone knowing his whereabouts please contact A-Ling. Reward.” I had just seen this missing person’s ad in the Haikou Evening News.
Jia Lian was a friend I knew in Haikou! What happened to him? Wasn’t he working out real well in the teahouse? Why did he walk out? A-Ling was his girlfriend from Hainan and the two of them had a great relationship. No, I’d have to ask A-Ling what was going on.
I called her number and heard a very sweet female voice over the receiver: “Hello, how are you? To whom would you like to speak?”
“I’m calling you. What’s up with Jia Lian?” I asked impatiently.
“I was about to call you. I don’t know why he left, either. Nobody messed with him. Could I be any more baffled? You haven’t seen him recently?” From her tone of voice I could tell that she was really worried, too.
“When was the last time you saw each other?” I was looking for a clue as to why he’d left.
“Last Tuesday. Do you remember? His mother was really sick so he was going back to Mudanjiang. I asked him out to eat and he said to ask you, too, but you said you were busy, some people coming down from the Northeast. It was that evening. Before dinner he said he was going to get some gifts to take along. I went to get a haircut and agreed to wait for him at the first floor of the Victoria Hotel in Haikou at six o’clock. I waited until seven but he didn’t show up. I was worried something had happened to him so I ran back to the shop, and I couldn’t believe he wasn’t there, either, and his luggage hadn’t been moved. I called his cell, too, but it was turned off. I didn’t know what to do. I thought maybe he went gambling, but he couldn’t have! With his mom sick at home in the Northeast, how could he even think about going to play mahjong?”
“Then what happened?” I asked nervously.
“I sat up all night, calling his cell over and over, but nothing. Then I called the cops. They told me to put a missing person’s ad in the paper. They said it might help to get people together to look for him, too.”
I hung up the phone, still worried. Where could Jia Lian have gone? He couldn’t have offended someone, could he? He certainly wouldn’t want to have somebody out to him.
I’d spent the last few days showing two bosses from Headquarters around Hainan Island. I took them on a tour of Qionghai, Wanning, Lushui, Tongshi and other famous tourist spots.
During my time off I thought a lot about old Jia. He’s not an easy guy to figure out. According to what he told me, he found work in Mudanjiang after he graduated from college. First he taught school, then he transferred over to the City Construction Committee. He was bored with the job so he came south to Haikou to make some cash, maybe strike it rich. His wife and daughter looked to him for all their living expenses. He didn’t expect to have such a hard time finding a job when he got to Haikou. He bused dishes in a restaurant, and got up early in the morning and stayed up late to deliver newspapers, and was a sales rep, stuff like that. Not your ideal jobs. Later he taught himself to be an electrician, and after a short training course he started looking for jobs in the day laborer’s market under the People’s Bridge. One day the electric circuits at A-Ling’s Teahouse blew out, so she came to the market looking for an electrician and happened on Jia Lian. After he fixed the circuits A-Ling kept him around. She got to liking him, and he was sick of being alone, so they moved in together. They got along pretty well.
After talking with A-Ling I took a friend to the airport and stopped by the teahouse on the way back. It’s about fifty meters square and has ten tables downstairs. It had been decorated with care and was kept neat and clean. They sell various kinds of tea and snacks, and rice noodles and such. Jia Lian lived in a garret upstairs.
“Is the lady who runs the place here?” I asked as soon as I went inside.
The waitress responded like she was in a daze. “No, she’s not. May I ask who wants her?” “You must be new here. Do you know Jia Lian? I’m a friend of his.
Get in touch with your boss for me.” I said it like I was giving her an order.
A-Ling drove up before too long. “Some tea, some tea. Give him a pot of the best Biluochun.” She greeted me warmly.
I’d just sat down in her office in the back when I asked her impatiently: “Has Jia Lian texted you?” A-Ling sat there without saying anything, just shaking her head. I took the opportunity to examine her closely. She looked a little over thirty, with a fair complexion and hair trailing over her shoulders, a very attractive woman. No wonder Jia Lian was always talking about how delectable she was.
“You’re a good friend of his. Tell me what I should do. Do I need to notify his family in the Northeast?” She spoke in a particularly soft but nervous voice.
“I don’t think you need to for now. Look around a little more first. I’m worried that his mom’s so sick she couldn’t take it if you notified them now. Besides, his wife and kid would be worried sick. They might show up here in Haikou looking for him. If they found him and took him home, great. But if they couldn’t find him, or if he was in some kind of danger, then what?” A-Ling kept nodding her head as I spoke.
Before I knew it, the missing person’s ad had been running in the Haikou Evening News for over half a month. Then one night, I got home and went to bed around midnight after having a late dinner with some friends. I’d just lain down when I heard someone outside pounding on the door, “bang, bang, bang”. The noise was quite loud in the still of the night.
“Who’s knocking on my door at this time of night?” I thought it was Community Security warning residents that something was happening.
Whoever was outside answered, “Hey, bro, it’s me, Jia Lian.”
“What the…. Who are you?” I only half believed him.
“It’s me, really. Open the door, man.” When I opened it a man with messy hair and a dirty face came into the room. If it hadn’t been for his square face, I almost wouldn’t have known that the guy standing in front of me was the one A-Ling had been looking for day and night.
I told him to splash some water on his face and change into one of my shirts, then we went into the kitchen where I fixed us something to eat. I opened a bottle of Old Dragon Mouth, a rice wine from the Northeast, and we drank while I listened to him tell me what had happened after he took off.
“Jeez, where’ve you been for the last three weeks? Did you turn into smoke and cross over to the next world?” I asked, itching to hear the story.
He sighed and said softly, “I stayed with friends in Sanya and Ledong for a few days, thinking things over.”
“Well, you should’ve told me,” I complained.
“I didn’t tell anyone. I was afraid A-Ling would find me.” He said it, like he was pleased with himself.
He took a drink of the wine and pursed his lips. “I came here so late at night because something’s been on my mind and I’ve got to tell you about it. Ever since I came to the island three years ago, I’ve done any kind of work I could get, but I haven’t made any money. And not only that, I’ve had to put up with a lot of crap, too, you know? A-Ling says she wants to marry me, just give 200,000 Yuan to my wife and kid in the Northeast. But my wife’s got a bad heart, and if she heard I wanted a divorce, she’d keel over with a heart attack. Then what would happen to my old mom and my kid?”
As I listened to him I was thinking, man, you’ve been messing around with a girlfriend while your wife’s at home. When you play around, you can’t pretend like you’re a straight arrow. So now you don’t know which way to turn. Like they say, you mess around, there’s a bill to pay.
Now we’ll see, just how will you pay this bill?
“It’s my own fault. Last time I went to the Northeast, when I was getting ready to come back here, I got three fishing poles to bring along. My wife said to me, you’re going to Hainan to work, not on vacation. If you’re working how will you have time to go fishing, unless you’ve got a little helpmate down there? I denied it, and more than once. I haven’t got the chutzpah for that, I told her, with our kid almost grown up already. She only half believed me.”
In no time at all Jia Lian had already put away almost twenty ounces of the rice wine. His eyes had gotten red. He continued: “A-Ling’s been good to me. She’s young, pretty, a sweet piece of **. You’re a married man like me, so I can tell you, she’s really something in bed. Three, four times a night. Look how skinny I am now. You know how fat I used to be. My body can’t take it! A-Ling’s really great to me in everyday life, too. When you’re alone, a stranger in a strange land, everybody needs affection. Men don’t think about these things, only when they’re sick.” He took another bite of his food and wiped his mouth with his hand.
“I think in the end I’ll suck it up and break it off with A-Ling, but it’s easier said than done.” He talked some more, then wanted to give A-Ling a call.
I told him, “It’s the middle of the night and she’s asleep. Call her tomorrow.”
He went back and forth to himself several times and then, a little drunk, he made up his mind. “I am definitely going to call her tomorrow and tell her that we’re splitting up for good. We’ll have nothing to do with each other anymore.” Finally there was no wine left in the bottle. His ** was hard and he asked me in a stupor for more wine. I told him there wasn’t any but he could drink some more tomorrow. He fell onto the bed and started snoring away.
Later that night I was looking at this Jia Lian who had appeared before my eyes. I sympathized with and felt sorry for him; he was both piteous and hateful. I wondered if his resolve would change when he sobered up. Would his old mother in the Northeast get better or worse, and how would his wife and child get along?
It began to drizzle outside the window, then gradually started to rain harder. As I closed the window I noticed there were almost no people or vehicles on the street. A train whistle blew and then faded away in the rainy night.
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