Li Chuan’s Past (沥川往事) : Chapter 3 10


emptystreet

Xiao Qiu and Li Chuan are finally getting to spend some time together. At this point, I marveled at how lucky she was that he took notice of her. This gentleman will gradually start to permeate her life from this moment on.

[Chapter 3]

When I got back to the dorm after work, it was already twelve thirty. The school has a lights-off policy from ten o’clock. There was no one walking about when I went upstairs. Once I tip toed up to my dorm door, I found the door locked from the inside. I gently knocked on the door, for a long time no one answered. I knocked for nearly a minute before the door was abruptly opened. In a nightgown, Ning An An coldly sized me up and said, “Why are you knocking on the door? Don’t you have a key?”

“The door was locked from the inside.”

Her face continued to be just as cold, “Have you not heard about the rape incident that happened in this building last year? If the door isn’t locked from the inside, what if something bad happened? If you must have fun until after ten o’clock before coming back to school, you might as well just come back the next morning.” I thought I was in the wrong, plus I didn’t want to argue with her in the dead of the night. I could only explain, “I wasn’t having fun, I just found a job, I have to work until twelve o’clock before getting off work.” Inside I felt somewhat wronged, tears formed in my eyes, yet my face continued to be stiff and my mouth tightly closed. I didn’t want her to see it.

She was taken aback for a bit, then immediately made an “Oh” sound, pulled me into the room and asked, “You don’t have enough money?”

I pursed my lips, unwilling to answer.

“Alas.” She took a look at me and sighed again saying, “Go to sleep, I will tell them not to lock the door from the inside in the future.”

I didn’t dare to wash my face, nor brush my teeth. I quietly climbed to the top bunk and got under the covers.

Xiao Tong said I came at just the right time. The boss pays wages once a month. I only had to work two more weeks before getting my first paycheck.

Early next morning, I got up and went to the track to and memorize vocab. I saw Feng Jing Er also on the field, with a tall male student standing next to her.

When I jogged past them, the male student said “Hi” to me. He only wore a white muscle shirt, showing his thick and broad pecs. He looked well-built and handsome, like he was in the Physical Education Department.

“Are you going to the intensive reading class today?” Seeing me come over, Feng Jing Er searched for a topic.

“Yeah.”

“What was your foreign language score one the college entrance exam?” She suddenly asked.

“Ninety-five.” I said.

Her complexion changed a bit, looking at me suspiciously, “Really?”

“Mmm.”

“I heard that the high schools where you are from have to sit for exams every day. From the first day of school, you have to deal with the college entrance exam. There is no music class, no art class, no physical education class.”

—- In life, there are often people like her, who can’t accept that someone else was smarter than them, only those who were more hard working than them. What need had I to shatter those dreams? I could only nod, “The high schools where I am from are just like that.”

“My dad is in the English Department,” she said, “he doesn’t teach intensive reading. You can take his ‘Contemporary English Novels’ class in your fourth year. He mainly teaches graduate level classes.”

“Really, your dad is a professor?” I opened my eyes wide.

“Professor Feng is a Ph.D. advisor.” The male corrected.

“You can just call him Professor Feng.”

I smiled lightly.

“What does your dad do?” She suddenly asked.

“My dad is also a teacher. He teaches middle school.” I said.

“This is Lu Jie. The ‘Lu’ as in road. The ‘Jie’ as in shortcut.”

“Hello, which department are you in?”

“International Economics Department.”

“He was first place in our high school’s college entrance exam.” Feng Jing Er looked at him sweetly. “He could have definitely gotten into Peking University, yet he insisted on coming to a teacher’s college. He doesn’t take university seriously at all.”

“The International Economics Department at our school is also very strong.”

“When he just started his third year in high school, he already got a six hundred on his TOEFL.” (The third year is the last year of the three year high school system in China.)

“Oh!” I felt a deep respect for him.

“We won’t hold up your morning exercise. See you in class!” Seeing my face full of admiration and amazement, Feng Jing Er smiled in satisfaction.

I chose five classes this semester, I basically had class every day. The most was on Tuesdays, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. After class, it was already four o’clock. I hurriedly ate dinner and hurried at top speed to the café.

When Xiao Tong saw me, he quietly said, “Don’t provoke Xiao Ye today. She’s not in a good mood.”

“Why?”

“Before, her crush came everyday at five thirty. But today he hasn’t come.”

“It’s not six o’clock yet.”

“That person is very punctual. It’s always exactly five thirty when he comes.”

He was right. For the entire night, the young man in the suit didn’t show up. Xiao Ye was so absent-minded that Xiao Tong could only have her wipe tables, sweep the floor, and boil coffee. He didn’t dare to let her make drinks, and especially couldn’t let her work the register. Xiao Ye didn’t object either. She autonomously wiped the table constantly till all the tables were as shiny as mirrors.

For the next two weeks, the young man in the suit still didn’t appear. From being inattentive, Xiao Ye gradually became impatient and restless. She became the main topic of Xiao Tong’s nightly conversations.

I gradually became a bit worried, wondering whether that person’s disappearance was because I accidentally spilled coffee on him. It’s possible that my carelessness led him to no longer like this café. There were hundreds of cafés in Beijing. There were even nineteen in the vicinity. They were more expensive and had better service. He didn’t need to come here every time.

That weekend, Xiao Ye took a day off after getting a cold. The next day, those on the morning shift told her that they saw the young man in the suit at breakfast.

Perhaps he changed his schedule and would no longer go to the café at night. As a result, Xiao Ye switched shifts with someone in the morning.

Then, on the night she just changed shifts, I saw the young man in the suit again.

He was still in a black suit. The make and cut were extremely well-fitting. He was still carrying a black cane with a well-used brown bag slung across his body.

Just past seven o’clock, it was the café’s busiest hour. There were seven or eight people waiting in line for coffee. The young man in the suit didn’t head toward the seat by the window and sit down like usual. Instead, he diligently lined up at the back of the line. He knew when to enjoy special service and when he shouldn’t.

During such a busy time, he evidently didn’t want to disturb our work.

After standing for a few seconds, he suddenly quickly walked towards another door.

Looking in his direction, I saw an energetic elderly man with ruddy cheeks heading towards the café, dressed in a well-ironed suit just like him. The young man in the suit promptly hurried to the door and opened it for him.

“Li Chuan!” The elderly man walked in with a smile and shook his hand.

“Mr. Gong.” He had respectful look on him.

“Long time no see. How is your father?”

“He’s doing well.”

“What about you?” He looked at him with a benevolent expression.

“Also well. Can I offer you a cup of coffee?”

“Okay.”

“Do you need milk in your coffee?”

“Oh, no need. Sugar free black coffee.”

“Please head over here. — I know a quiet seat by the window.”

He took the elderly man to the seat by the window, put down his own bag, and came over to wait in line.

So he name was “Li Chuan.”

He stood in line for about three minutes. Finally he was in front of me. His face was like a ray of sunshine shining on me. My voice subconsciously trembled slightly.

Could I have one venti ice skinny latte, whipped cream, with a touch of cinnamon on the top and one venti black coffee, no sugar?

His heavenly pleasant American English caused me to stand there foolishly.

He smiled slightly, looked at me teasingly, “I thought you prefer me to speak English…”

“Jerk!” I thought to myself, just because I spilled coffee on you once, is there really a need to mess with me like this?

Of course.” I maintained my calm, “Please have a seat. I’ll bring the coffee to you.

No need, take your time. I’ll stay here waiting.” He insisted., determined to witness my embarrassment.

“The total is thirty-seven yuan.” I finally switched to Chinese.

He handed me a one hundred yuan bill. I gave him back the change.

He handed a bill back to me, “You gave me back an extra ten.”

“Sorry.”

On the side, Xiao Tong asked me in a low voice, “What did he want?”

My mind drew a complete blank. Blushing, I said, “Too complicated, I can’t remember right now.”

What?!” Xiao Tong roared.

I am sorry, sir. What’s your order? Could you say that again?

Sure. One venti ice skinny latte, whipped cream, with a touch of cinnamon on the top.One venti black coffee, no sugar.

Got it, thanks.” I turned towards Xiao Tong saying, “A large ice latte, add whipped cream and a little bit of cinnamon on top, and a large black coffee, no sugar.”

Xiao Tong made the drinks at a godlike speed. I put the items he wanted on a tray. He took the tray in one hand, and with his cane in the other, headed towards his seat. I thought he limped worse than before and worried that the coffee would spill out before he reached halfway. Carrying drinks was indeed a dangerous act for a person with a bad leg. But he finally placed the coffee safely on the table.

The two chatted by the window in low voices for around thirty minutes before the elderly man took his leave. The young man called “Li Chuan” still accompanied him to the door, opened the door for him, and watched him leave. Then he returned to his seat, opened up his laptop, and started to work.

For the whole night, he ate a tuna sandwich and a fruit salad, and drank two lattes. Even when I finished my shift, he was still there motionlessly, facing the screen, incessantly typing away like he still had so much work to get done.

I suddenly realized why he liked this place. Every Starbucks had free wifi. Free wifi to him wasn’t a large appeal, but he must live a very solitary life. People like that always enjoyed cafés. There were always people sitting in cafés even if they were all strangers.

After getting off work, I put away my work clothes, changed into a worn short sleeves shirt, and walked out of the café.

The air was very dry in Beijing at night. The air was moist for the entire year in my hometown. I took a deep breath and walked underneath the muddled yellow streetlights. There was a bus stop nearby with a bus every hour at night. I always miss the twelve o’clock one and have to wait in the quiet and cold street for no less than forty-five minutes for the next bus. I once considered buying a bike. Xiao Tong said that for a girl like me, taking the bus late at night was far safer than a riding a bike.

Good thing I could work on learning new vocab. Besides washing my face, brushing my teeth, and going to the bathroom, I used the rest of my time to learn vocab. I fished out my vocabulary book and started practicing under the half-lit street light.

After reading for around half an hour, a car suddenly stopped in front of me. A person stretched their head out and said “Hi.”

It was that “Li Chuan”.

“Hi.” I raised my head to look at him feeling a bit strange.

“Get in the car, I’ll give you a ride.” He said. Then the door opened.

I got in in spite of myself. The seat was made of real leather, it was really comfortable.

“Where do you live?”

“S University dormitory.”

“Buckle up.”

I tried for a while, but couldn’t fasten it. I asked him, “How do you fasten it?”

He opened the car door, took the cane and hopped out of the car. He came to my side and leaned over to help me find the seat buckle. It fastened with a click. He then walked back to his own seat.

“Thank you.” I said quietly.

“You’re welcome.” He started the car and drove along the street.

With a beautiful man next to me, I only had the strength to breathe. For five minutes, neither of us said anything.

“Are you of the English Department?” He finally asked.

“If I reply to your question, you have to answer my question.” I said, “Do you really want to know the answer?”

He glanced at me a little flabbergasted, and nodded.

“English Department first year.” I said, “Now it’s my turn to ask. What is your name?”

He was startled, “I didn’t ask you for your age. Why are you asking for my name?”

“For fairness’s sake.”

“Wang Li Chuan.” He said, “Where are you from?”

“I am from out of town. I don’t like Beijing people.”

He laughed.

“You?”

“I am not a Beijing person.”

“You speak with a Beijing accent.”

“My grandfather and grandmother were both Beijing people. Or Beiping people.” He said, “Do you not have friends or relatives in Beijing?” (Beiping was the name of Beijing during 1923-1949.)

“No, there isn’t one in the previous eight generations of my ancestors.”

“Then, are your relatives  okay with you living by yourself in another place?”

“I am an adult. I can choose my own life.”

“Mmm, this sounds like what an American would say.”

I cheerfully laughed, “You asked me two questions just now, it’s my turn to ask.”

“Really? I asked two questions?”

“Yes.”

“Okay.”

“Do you like Beijing?”

“It’s ok.”

“Why do you especially like to come to this café?”

“Because…” He thought about it for a moment, “The parking is convenient.”

I thought about the usually empty handicapped parking spot and couldn’t help but glance at his leg. His right leg could not move at all. When he got in the car, he had to use his hands to bring that motionless leg into the car, and then grabbing onto the handrail on the ceiling of the car, he had to use both arms to bring the upper part of his body into the car. Though the whole process was somewhat awkward, he could do it in a split second.

“Do you still have questions to ask?” He turned his head and looked at me with a strange gaze.

I couldn’t look at his face. Every time I glanced at it, I become muddle-headed. He had a face that was both unique and flawless face. Even his profile was just that perfect, like it can get minted onto a coin.

“No more.” I spread out both me arms.

“You are only this curious about a stranger?”

“Only this much. Sorry.” I couldn’t help but point out, “you have been speeding this whole time.”

“Are you afraid of high speeds?”

“I’m afraid of the police.”

“There are no police officers right now.” He said lightly. It was clear he frequently speeded.

It seems as if he had barely driven ten minutes before we were at the school gates. There was a guard at the gate, no cars could enter.

“Thank you, you can stop here.” I said at once.

“Is where you live far from the gate?”

“It’s not far, I can walk there in a bit.” I didn’t want to inconvenience him anymore.

He found a parking spot and got out, “If you don’t mind, may I send you to the door of your dorm? It’s so late right now, even if it is in the school, it’s still not that safe.” If someone else had said this, it would seem as if they were being phony. Yet, he said it with an honest calmness, a perfectly gentlemanlike manner.

“No no …really, there’s no need.” I had never been looked after like this and was overwhelmed. I waved my hands repeatedly.

“You know, if I just drop you to here and you suddenly go missing along the way, in the eye of the law, I would be the number one suspect.”

I looked at him, silently laughing.

After a couple steps, he said, “I might walk very slowly, do you mind? I know that if you run, you can get there in no time. However, this street looks really dark, there are trees on both sides. I would rather you walk patiently with me.”

– Why was this person always so polite?

I said in a loud voice, “Of course, I don’t mind.”

He didn’t actually walk that slow. Although, it was evident that it wasn’t his usual pace.

“Have you been to this campus before?” I asked.

“No.”

“But you must have gone to college, right?” I asked again.

“Why? Do I look scholarly?”

“Mmm…it’s not that. Your English is really good.”

“I went to school overseas.”

“Oh, then why did you come back? As far as I know, lots of people here just want to go abroad.”

“Then, I am in the minority.”

I had many questions I wanted to ask him, but these questions were not quite suitable for someone whom I had just met for the first time. So I restrained my curiosity.

I wished this road would allow us to continue walking forever. Unfortunately, we eventually arrived at the dorm.

“Thank you for sending me back.” I expressed my sincere gratitude.

“Good night.” He said lightly.

He watched me walk into the entrance, then turned around and left. I knew he still had to walk alone for at least half an hour before reaching the school gates.

I suddenly had the urge to accompany him on the walk back. But I restrained myself.


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