In mid summer, the afternoon sun at 3:00 o’clock can be intensely punishing and the summer of 2008 was no exception. In fact, it was especially brutal. Wang Ya-Pin (Wong Ya-Peen) watched the heat waves rising from the window sill and tiny particles of dust, normally invisible, reluctantly floating upward in the glaring sun. She enjoyed watching the tree branches dancing in the breeze. The pulsating light and dark shadows flickering across her eyes had a mesmerizing effect and made it seem as if time were passing quickly. Disappointingly, a glance at the clock on the wall snapped her back to reality.
Her desk was near a west window so she suffered more from the heat than most others in the office. The air conditioner was rumbling incessantly but still could not manage to push the cool air far enough across the room to reach her. Even though she knew that closing the blinds was the only way to block the sun’s heat, she decided to leave them open, partially because she was too exhausted to get up and partially because it was relaxing to look out the window. She only wanted to make sure that she completed her work assignments by 5:30 so she could keep her date with her boyfriend.
She had dressed to be especially enchanting and irresistible for the occasion. A black sheer strapless mini dress, with delicate oriental lace along the upper bodice and hem, tightly hugged her shapely body, exposing her smooth unblemished shoulders and her shapely legs halfway up her thighs. Her curly long black hair cascaded demurely over her back and shoulders and was complimented by her patent leather open-toed high heels that matched the stylish belt around her slender waist. Sexy she thought He’ll love it! As she studied herself in a small round mirror on the table, she couldn’t help but smile.
She was abruptly awakened from her fanciful daydream by the clacking sound of high heeled shoes striding purposefully toward her. She jerked her head up just in time to see Gu Xin-Xin standing in front of her with a large portfolio in her arms. Xin-Xin had caught her gazing into the mirror and surely must have thought she was indulging herself in “dolce far niente”.
Xin-Xin removed a dossier from the portfolio and slammed it forcefully onto Ya-Pin’s desk in front of her saying, “Lawyer Li (Lee) has a very urgent domestic abuse divorce case scheduled for court tomorrow morning. He needs to have the necessary decrees and affidavits prepared and ready for signature today so he can review them early tomorrow morning. Please complete this before you go home.”
Ya-Pin replied, “It’s impossible to finish all this before quitting time.”
Xin-Xin had not expected any objection and was extremely irritated, and snapped back at Ya-Pin, “Then stay and work overtime!”
“I can’t stay over tonight. I have made a date with my boyfriend to celebrate his birthday.”
“That’s nothing!” Xin-Xin retorted derisively, “So you think personal activities should take priority over company business? You can always celebrate his birthday tomorrow; it’s just a dinner, no big deal.”
Xin-Xin noticed Ya-Pin’s provocative attire and carefully scrutinized it. I wonder who she is trying to seduce coming to work dressed like that? She thought to herself.
A rush of anger surged up inside Ya-Pin as she glared at Xin-Xin, standing in front her with the demeanor of a bitchy mother-in-law. She’s an assistant just like me. How dare she be so insufferably arrogant? I suppose she thinks her seniority gives her the right to boss everybody around.
“I’m going to discuss this with Mr. Li. I don’t think he would be as heartless as you!” She turned her reddening face away from Xin-Xin as she struggled to hold back her rage.
Xin-Xin felt embarrassed and angered that her authority had been challenged in front of her colleagues by someone she considered to be a subordinate. “The young generation is irresponsible and can’t handle stress. We should have discarded your resume and never hired you!”
Ya-Pin didn’t respond and Xin-Xin thought she was attempting to gain the sympathy of others in the office who were listening to her scathing accusations. She loathed this type of manipulative, and in her opinion, divisive behavior.
“I think I will go to Mr. Li myself and tell him that I am too busy to prepare these documents and you refuse to do it because you have a date. So, either the court appearance has to be re-scheduled or Ms. Wang has to be replaced!”
The other office colleagues watched and glanced at each other as Xin-Xin strutted haughtily back to her desk. They were struggling with the dilemma that often arises from personal office confrontations; should they align themselves with “power” or show solidarity for Ya-Pin. As is usually typical, for these situations, they chose to “play it safe” and settle for whispering behind Xin-Xin’s back.
Overcome with emotion, Ya-Pin ran into the break room and began to sob uncontrollably. Her flood of tears washed away her makeup and left black streaks on her cheeks. When she finally managed to bring her emotions under control, she cleaned up her face and returned to her desk where she reluctantly began the work assigned to her by Xin-Xin. She decided to leave at 6:00 o’clock and then come back later to complete the unfinished work after her dinner date.
Xin-Xin saw Ya-Pin punch out and leave the office, the papers in the dossier strewn about her desk. That little bitch just walked out and left me hanging out to dry she thought. She had better come back to finish it later.
At 7:30 Ya-Pin had still not returned and now Xin-Xin was starting to feel uneasy, almost in a panic. Had she made the wrong move? She had noticed Ya-Pin sitting idle and she was sick of doing the same menial paper work day after day. So, why not let someone else complete her assignment? Besides, why should she have to do more work than colleagues of equal status? She mused about her ability to manipulate others to complete her work and still take credit for it, and laughed smugly. Yet she was a little concerned about how she could successfully shift the blame for the delinquent work to Ya-Pin as she walked into Mr. Li’s office.
All the office lights were still on when Ya-Pin returned at 8:30 and she wondered who was still here. She noticed a Louis Vuitton handbag sitting next to the file cabinet and decided it was Xin-Xin since she was the only person in the office that could afford a name brand bag like that. She was perpetually obsessed with acquiring accessories that projected an image of wealth and sophistication and never strayed very far from them.
The door to Mr. Li’s office was shut but she could see slivers of light shining through the blinds. Apparently he was having a conversation with someone inside but it shouldn’t be necessary to close the blinds for that. Ya-Pin became suspicious and feared that Xin-Xin was telling Mr. Li lies about her in an attempt to get her fired, as retaliation for confronting her earlier.
She was very glad now that she had decided to come back to the office and work overtime to finish preparing the documents for the court appointment in the morning. That would give her a chance to disprove any accusations made by Xin-Xin and expose her for the lying bitch that she was. Ya-Pin quietly tip toed over to the office and carefully pressed her ear against the door to see if she could hear what Xin-Xin was saying about her, but all she could hear were softly murmured sounds of pleasure.
She was curious to see if the door was locked so she carefully turned the knob one way and then the other. She froze when the door knob clicked and she felt panic because she suspected that the people inside the room were alerted to her presence outside the door. She froze when she heard Xin-Xin’s voice. “Is someone there?”
She stopped breathing out of fear that she would be discovered. Her heart was pounding loudly in her ears. After what seemed like an eternity, she heard Mr. Li’s assuring voice say, “Everyone left the office at quitting time. How can there be anyone out there? Don’t be so jumpy.”
Ya-Pin was unable to immediately comprehend what she had just witnessed as she stealthily crept back to her work place. Her breathing was very fast; both from holding her breath and the adrenalin rush from the panic attack. Now she just wanted to finish her work as quickly as possible and go home.
After about 10 minutes, the door to the office opened and Xin-Xin emerged. Ya-Pin couldn’t help glancing up at her and was shocked to see her tousled hair and disheveled clothes that could only mean one thing. My God, Mr. Li is married and Xin-Xin has had a boyfriend for three years. How can they dare to have sex in his office?
Even though Xin-Xin was stunned to find that indeed someone was in the office, she managed to keep her composure and launched a verbal pre-emptive attack at Ya-Pin. “What are you doing here? Didn’t you leave work?”
“You wanted me to come back and work overtime. Have you forgotten?” Ya-Pin retorted with obvious disdain.
With a hint of guilt Xin-Xin queried, “How long have you been back in the office?”
“Don’t worry, long enough to finish the documentation in time for Mr. Li to review it before he goes to court.” Ya-Pin despised Xin-Xin for her scandalous affair with their boss and made no attempt to hide it. The color drained from Xin-Xin’s face as she realized that Ya-Pin almost certainly knew her shameful secret. The wan pallor of her face betrayed her inner fear and Ya-Pin felt a burst of pleasure that comes from exacting sweet revenge.
The next morning Mr. Li summoned Ya-Pin to his office as soon as she arrived at work. She tapped warily on his door before entering. He had praised her for her dedication and work ethic when he left the night before but, he now seemed detached and unusually stern. She suddenly felt apprehensive as she glanced at his desk and noticed the open dossier she had prepared for his review. “You neglected to complete a critical document essential for proper representation of my client. I regret that I have no choice but to dismiss you,” he barked sharply. Ya-Pin was devastated. Although his action did seem reasonable at the time, she couldn’t help thinking that her fate would have been quite different if she hadn’t accidentally discovered their illicit affair.
The employee break room was not very large and afforded room for only one table and a few chairs besides the usual food preparation appliances and the vending machines. However it was the only area, except for the restroom, where any sort of private conversation could be conducted. And the tight quarters provided a close, cozy environment for a private tête-à-tête or a juicy gossip session.
Hao-Yi (How-yee) was leaning against the refrigerator with arms folded across her chest. “You will absolutely not believe what Ya-Pin told me at her farewell dinner meeting last night,” she blurted. She continued on to describe the newly uncovered affair to her enthralled colleagues.
“Wow,” they both shouted in disbelief. Zhi-Lan (Gee-Lawn) was sitting with her hand in her chin contemplating the meaning of this news. “An affair? Gu Xin-Xin and Mr. Li?” she queried. “Mr. Li is married and I heard Xin-Xin has a boyfriend that is serious about marrying her. Those dirty old men are all the same!”
Hao-Yi replied with a different opinion. “Don’t be so quick to blame him. I think that vixen is willing to settle for being his second wife if it means getting rich. I wonder how long they’ve been involved. They managed to keep it very secret, until now.”
Jia-Ying, Ya-Pin’s replacement, had been silently taking in all the gossip and finally had to add her comments to the discussion. “It’s hard to believe that Ya-Pin would be fired just for forgetting to prepare one small form that was easily fixed. That is just too unreasonable! ”
“You are so naive! Of course she didn’t get fired for negligent work. She was a victim of circumstance when she accidentally discovered their love nest.” Hao-Yi was trying to give her newest colleague some insight as to how perilous this office could be to your career.
All the pieces of the puzzle suddenly fell into place for Zhi-Lan. “No wonder Xin-Xin could bully everybody and unload her work on them. She knew she had the favor of the boss to back her up!”
“Yes, Jia-Ying, you haven’t been here long enough to catch on yet. I have to warn you about Xin-Xin ...” Hao-Yi’s voice trailed off abruptly as Xin-Xin burst rudely through the door, startling all three of them.
“What are you three so busy talking about?” They were too stunned and embarrassed to answer. This relieved Xin-Xin’s anger a little but, even though they looked like she had just slapped them in the face, she wasn’t ready to let up yet. “I think I need to ask the boss for a raise! There is so much work to do and everyone except me is busy chatting in the break room.”
Hao-Yi quickly regained her composure and retorted, “We are waiting for the coffee to finish brewing. Doesn’t the company allow the employees to take a coffee break anymore? And besides I didn’t know you were appointed to be the boss’ proprietress!”
At that, Xin-Xin felt herself starting to blush but struggled to mask her embarrassment. “Good thing this special coffee has to brew long enough to give you plenty of time to gossip,” she said as she left the room full of anger at the thinly disguised accusation that Hao-Yi had just leveled at her.