Li Chuan’s Past (沥川往事) : Chapter 2 3


coffeespill

Whoot! Xiao Qiu takes her first look at Li Chuan in this chapter and boy is she stunned. Take note of what he’s wearing. It’s not too important but does come up much much much later. Don’t worry, I will remind you. 🙂 I really hope I managed to translate how he looks properly. So afraid of not being able to embody everything in the Chinese meaning, especially in later chapters.

Starting in this chapter, there’s some English built in. I’ll be italicizing them and also sometimes making notes where the English doesn’t match up with the actual meaning the author wrote in her Chinese translations.

[Chapter 2]

It wasn’t until I got to the bus stop that I understood the real reason Lin Qing didn’t want this job. Five in the afternoon was rush hour. Even though work starts at six, if I took the five-thirty bus, I would be late.

After waiting for twenty-five minutes, I finally squeezed onto a bus. The bus inched forward hitting each red light. I discovered that those who were standing on the bus all looked flustered, even those who had seats appeared utterly exhausted. Through the window, I really sized up Beijing for the first time. I actually watch the CCTV news (official news channel of the government) everyday and thought that I was very familiar with Beijing. However, once I really got here, I discovered that every street was so unfamiliar. Unfamiliar buildings, unfamiliar pedestrians, unfamiliar advertisements, unfamiliar vehicles, unfamiliar signs, everything was so unfamiliar. I was quietly heading towards an unfamiliar direction.

It gets dark very early in Beijing in the fall. During the four bus routes, it was as if I went from day to night.

That café called “Starbucks” was located on the ground floor of a luxurious high rise. The strange part was that, although it was rush hour, there weren’t many people on that street. There were roughly twenty parking spots in the parking lot next to the building. They were completely filled. I stopped for a bit outside the door, tidied my hair and skirt, and took a peek in the mirror. It was fairly tidy. Thus, I pushed open the door and entered.

The café wasn’t large at all. It was really quiet with the slight murmur of people. Inside, the servers were all in uniform black t-shirts. Whether they were male or female, they all wore a deep green apron. A guy named Tong Yue received me. He seemed to be around my age, not to tall, had a bright smile and an easy-going appearance.

He held out his hand courteously, “Hello, Xie…Xiao Qiu. Right? I’m the night shift manager, everyone calls me Xiao Tong.”

“Hello, Xiao Tong.”

“Your résumé was written really well. It didn’t actually have to be in English, Chinese would have been enough. The boss doesn’t understand English. Tonight there are four people here, including you. You are from S University?”

I nodded.

“I am also. English Department second year. You?”

“English Department freshman.”

“Really? I was there to welcome freshmen today. How come I didn’t see you?”

“Perhaps you saw me, but didn’t remember.”

“Which dorm are you in?”

“North Seventh Dorm.”

“North Seventh Dorm? It’s the furthest from the school gates. It’ll be quite inconvenient to eat lamb kebabs and clear broth beef noodle soup. Have you bought your textbook?”

“Mmm, so expensive.”

“You should have met me earlier. I have old textbooks. They’re exactly the same. I also don’t like to study, so they’re basically new. Could have given them all to you.”

Depressing. I thought about the one hundred and forty yuan I spend this morning. Now, that’s called regret.

How would you like your coffee?” He stood behind the cash register simultaneously speaking and working, unexpectedly speaking in English. I turned around to look, a foreigner was in front of the counter.

Double cream one sugar.

Sure.

I reveled. His accent hardly differed from what I heard in “Crazy English“.

“There are many opportunities to speak English here. However, the boss disapproves of us chatting with customers. Only when there aren’t many people, and the customer wants to chat, can you speak with them for a bit. Still, it can’t interfere with work.”

He proceeded to introduce me to the other three who were currently working. One of them was just getting off work. Another girl was called Ye Jing Wen. M University’s Chinese Department. The work at the café wasn’t too hard. The first step was to become familiar with the different uses of the coffee machine. And then it was to memorize the menu, that is, the recipes for each kind of drink. He said, though there were many drinks on the menu, customers normally just drink a couple types. It wasn’t complicated, it could be mastered in a day. Besides that, the sizes of the coffee couples were different from common cafés. They weren’t large, medium, small. Instead, they were venti, grande, tall.

I changed into work clothes. Standing on the side, the girl named Ye Jing Wen was preoccupied with glancing sideways out the window. Her stature was refined and slender, and looked extremely like the female lead in “Mortel Transfert“. Xiao Tong said she was from Nanjing. Her parents were both professors. She didn’t have to worry about making ends meet, she came here only to practice her conversational English skills. I though it was really strange. Wasn’t she of the Chinese Department? What did she need such good English for? Xiao Tong said she tested in from a fiercely competitive high school. Originally, she had intended to test into Beijing University, but by a mishap, she only tested into M University. Since she got into a university, she should have taken a breather. However, she was so used to taking tests that she couldn’t take a break. Thus, she took the fourth level English exams, took the sixth level English exams, took TOEFL, took GRE. (The exam levels are referring to the College English Test taken in China.) Only after she took the GRE did she find out her major in Chinese made it harder to get a visa. So she came here to work part-time. First, so that she could practice her spoken English. Second so that she could perhaps meet a foreigner who would sponsor her emigration. But the boss doesn’t let employees chat with customers, so she still hasn’t found an opportunity. “So, that’s why she looks like she’s always laden with grief and disappointment. Alas.”

Actually, the part that moved me about her were her eyes brimming with daydreams. As soon as I saw her, I recalled the character in Qiong Yao‘s romance novels. Those large sentimental eyes, ready to be emotionally moved at any times. Those thin lips waiting to be tormented. A pearl hair clip was in her shoulder length hair. Her faint lipstick, faint perfume, and even her faint posture all made it seem as if she could disappear from here at any time. I had been working there for two hours, she only said one word of “Hi” to me.

Cashiering was easy. I had always been interested in electronics and quickly mastered it.

Of all the new employees I’ve ever seen, you got up to speed the quickest.” Tong Yue chuckled in satisfaction. A customer left, leaving behind a table filled with saucers. Seeing Ye Jing was still lost in thought at the counter, Xiao Tong could only sigh and go clean up. When he got back, he quietly said, “Don’t mind her being cold to you. Xiao Ye is a good person. It’s just that her crush is here today. This is her time to be starry-eyed. “ He finished and pointed towards the corner near the window.

Following his finger, I could only see a skewed profile. A young man in a suit sat on the side of a table next to the window, looking concentrated at his laptop.

“He is a Chinese man.” I said laughingly.

“An extremely wealthy one.” He supplemented.

By nine o’clock, the customers gradually thinned. The young man in the suit, however, seemed to have no intentions of leaving, as if he regarded this place as his office.

Xiao Tong said that half a year ago, when this young man first appeared at the café, Xiao Ye disregarded everything and fell in love with him. She switched to the night shift for him. It wasn’t just Xiao Ye, every girl in the café was secretly in love with this man. As soon as he appears, for the entire night, every girl became absent-minded. Cash register mistakes would increase. Only Xiao Tong, the only male employee, could function properly.

I laughed in spite of myself, “Really?”

“Every girl in here longs for him to come. Only I am unwilling. When he comes, I have do double the work. However, there’s good that comes out of it.” Xiao Tong continued, “He tips well.” If the girls were embarrassed about being so starry-eyed, they would usually give Xiao Tong the tip on the table as an apology.

The café offered simple lunches and dinners, mainly sandwiches and fruit salads. Most customers picked up their coffee from the counter themselves, so rarely did anyone tip, especially Chinese people..

“Do people commonly give tips?” I asked.

“Not very often. Some older men or elderly ladies, who need us to deliver the coffee to their table, will leave a small tip. But it’s not that much.” Xiao Tong said, “Only he will give a really high tip every time. So we are always willing to serve him. As soon he is seen coming, as long as we can get away, we will normally take the initiative to go over and ask him what he wants and then bring the coffee over to him.”

“Why? Doesn’t everyone line up to buy coffee here?”

There’s something wrong with his leg.”

“Oh.” It was only then that I noticed the black cane hanging on the side of his table. Yet his entire body appeared to be the same as anyone else.

What’s wrong with it?” I continued asking.

There’s not too much wrong with it, it’s just a slight limp in his right leg, that’s all.

“Maybe it’s just a temporary injury.” I said.

“It’s not. His car parks in the handicapped spot. A BMW SUV.”

“What is a BMW SUV?”

“A car for the wealthy, those who are not worried about burning gas.”

“Oh.”

“He always orders a skinny latte. But when you see him coming, don’t take the initiative to greet him. Let Xiao Ye serve him. Xiao Ye is the senior employee here. It’s her privilege. Haha.”

“Which kind of skinny latte? There are many types of lattes.”

“He like vanilla.”

As we were speaking, Xiao Ye suddenly dashed over, and says in a small voice, “It’s not vanilla. Today is hot coffee. Venti.”

Then, she quickly dashed behind the counter, “Xiao Tong, help with cashiering. He said he wants another cup of coffee.”

There were many people standing in front of the cash register. She couldn’t leave. It was evident that she didn’t want to miss this opportunity to bring coffee to the young man. Her face cried for help.

Xiao Tong smiled evilly, “Today your performance was extremely bad, I will let Xiao Xie bring the coffee over. Don’t be angry, the tip will still be yours.”

The coffee was done very quickly. I carried the coffee over to the window. I didn’t want to disturb him, intending to quietly place the coffee on the table and leave. Nevertheless, he had already become aware of me and lifted his head to look at me.

It was a face that you could only catch sight of on a cologne ad in a fashion magazine. It was filled with youthfulness, looked almost godlike. I was stunned for a bit, forgetting to breathe. I suddenly felt that Beijing was truly a beautiful city. While in my daze, my hands trembled slightly. Some of the scalding coffee sloshed out, spilling on my finger. I am innately afraid of being scaled and my hands shook even more violently. The cup slipped and fell. Only a “dong” sound was heard. The coffee cup fell onto the table, splashing his entire body, and then rolled onto the floor spilling everywhere.

I’m….terribly sorry! Sir!” In panic, I blurted out in English.

I don’t know why I suddenly blurted out English. Perhaps I recited “Crazy English” too many times, perhaps it was because I didn’t want to speak in Chinese to keep my rural accent from being discovered. In short, I saw that his white shirt had a large stain. His blue tie also became brown.

He frowned and didn’t speak.

“I’m sorry, I’m an…intern. Were you scaled?”

“I’m fine.” He said. His voice was deep, quite beautiful.

I was just about to say something when Xiao Ye rushed to my side, “Sir, really sorry. You weren’t scalded were you?”

He shook his head.

I looked down and saw that the coffee was still continuously dripping down along his pant legs. Xiao Tong glanced at me in annoyance, brought over a yellow Caution Wet Floor sign, and stood it by the table.

“Sir, I’m terribly sorry. If it’s not inconvenient, please bring your dry cleaning receipt here. We will reimburse you.”

“There no need. I overturned the coffee by mistake. It’s not this young lady’s fault.”

“Really?” Xiao Ye and Xiao Tong turned to me at the same time, looking puzzled at me.

I drew a blank for a bit and then said, “Thank you for your kindness, sir. I really was the one who overturned the coffee. Next time…I will certainly be more careful.”

As I was speaking, I couldn’t help but glance at Xiao Ye, fretting inside whether I would even have a “next time.” But Xiao Ye was clearly satisfied with the way I hung my head in an admission of guilt.

I immediately found a mop to clean up. Xiao Ye insisted on pouring him another coffee. He declined.

He closed his laptop, put it into his bag, then took out his cane and stood up.

“Be careful, the floor is slippery.” I said softly.

He nodded, walked to the door, pressed the automatic door, and quietly exited.

Actually, he didn’t walk too slowly, he only treaded a bit stiffly.

I turned around and looked at the table. There were fifty yuan left on the table. Xiao Tong took it without the slightest hesitation.

I was utterly ashamed of making such a mistake on my first day of work and could only repeatedly apologize to Xiao Tong.

“It doesn’t matter, you aren’t the first to spill coffee on him. Don’t worry. We won’t tell the boss. But, you must stay calm the next time you see a beautiful man.” Then he leaned down to my ear, half jokingly said, “A word of advice, whether you want it or not: By all means don’t waste time on him. He never notices a single girl.”


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