The next day at the office, Xin-Xin was still mulling over everything that she and Fu-Rong had discussed the night before, trying to condense it all into a cogent conclusion that she could use to navigate through the precarious dilemma facing her. Somewhat skeptical of the outcome, she finally decided to try to keep Mr. Li from divorcing his wife and prevent having to break up with Mo-Fan.
She recalled the feeling from last evening of being pushed into a corner when she was staring out the window. The dim light of the moon cast lingering shadows of the people passing by, wrapping them in a ghostly silence. She had suddenly felt as if she were being engulfed by a heavy shadow herself and was panic stricken by self-induced suffocation.
But in the light of day, everything seemed to be more rational and she had convinced herself that things would go more smoothly in the future. She had learned a valuable lesson from the events in the past few days and was sure that Mr. Li would concur with her thoughts on how to move forward with their affair.
They would have to avoid any private conversations and direct eye contact in the office. Most importantly, they would have to publicly dismiss any rumors of an affair as totally absurd, although any gossip of this sort would most certainly be conducted behind their backs.
They agreed to meet only outside of the office and as their emotions were intensified by having to restrain themselves all day, they began leaving the office immediately at quitting time instead of staying to work overtime as before. Mr. Li also became more insistent than ever for Xin-Xin to agree to leave her boyfriend in exchange for his getting a divorce. But Xin-Xin decided that status quo would be more expedient for the moment in order to maintain control over her situation.
Their affair progressed through the fall and winter and now into the spring without any major incidents. Although the increase of office gossip was obvious, Xin-Xin felt a measure of self deluded comfort in their precautions and didn’t care about the resulting gradual isolation from her colleagues. That is, until she overheard some startling news from her co-workers gathered in the break room.
Around 10:00 o’clock in the morning, employees usually drift in and out of the break room in twos or threes and casually chat while waiting for coffee to brew or instant noodles to heat up in the micro. But this morning, as Xin-Xin approached with the intent of getting a cup of tea, she heard a loud clamor of voices emanating from inside as if there was an all-hands meeting for everyone in the office.
She hesitated without entering to avoid hearing the as-of-lately more common, thinly veiled accusations about her shameful affair with a married man. Today she was not in the mood to hear what new insults they had conjured up to humiliate her. Instead, she leaned as close as she could without being detected to hear what the subject of this animated chatter was all about.
“Did you know that Mr. Li is going to divorce his wife?”
“Really, how do you know? Must be because of that bitch Xin-Xin! She has a boyfriend and still insists on destroying other people’s families ...”
Now everyone huddled in closer to be sure to get every lurid detail of the shocking news. “That is not the reason. Mrs. Li has cancer and Mr. Li originally thought to stay with her and take care of her. But now it seems that he has changed his mind and is attempting to expedite a divorce leaving Mrs. Li in her misery with no support. Heartless bastard!”
“How do you know that?”
“I was in Mr. Zhu’s (Jew’s) office arranging the final details for an estate distribution. He was getting very impatient with the tedious, laborious, procedures and was anxious to get everything finalized. He was so distracted that when the phone rang, he put the call on speaker phone without checking to see if it was an outside call. The atmosphere in the office suddenly became tense and all went silent at the sound of Mrs. Li on the phone, sobbing.”
“I want to know if my husband is having an affair at the office. He comes home late more often than he used to and now he says he wants to divorce me. I just found out that I have cancer and was relying on him to care for me but now it seems he is going to desert me. What can I do to stop him from leaving?”
“Mr. Zhu was embarrassed that he had permitted me to overhear a sensitive conversation implicating his business partner and immediately motioned for me to leave the office before continuing the call.”
“My God, what a bastard! They married for life no matter what happened and now that his wife is sick he throws her to the wolves so he can be with his new bitch.”
“I feel so sorry for Mrs. Li suffering the pain of her cancer and now the added mental torture of her husband deserting her as well as worrying about what will happen to her child when she dies. Do you think this will cause her to die sooner?”
“I’m not sure, but those rich politicians, doctors and lawyers disgust me. They have no morals and they always try to evade their responsibilities when a situation is troublesome or inconvenient; especially lawyers. They are like a sperm cell. They have a one-in-million chance of becoming a human being! How can a woman know who she can trust to marry?”
“And that heartless bitch Xin-Xin won’t be at all embarrassed to steal the husband of a woman dying of cancer! And what about the poor innocent child? What can be done for him? I really can’t imagine such a loathsome person.”
“They’re perfect for each other; calculating how to take advantage of every situation. But she better pray that she never gets sick or she will reap what she sows. Retribution couldn’t be delivered to a more deserving person.”
The walls of the tiny crowded break room echoed with uproarious laughter.
“Hey, we have been here for a long time. We should stop the gossip before the lawyers overhear us.”
“No need to worry. Mr. Zhu is in Mr. Li’s office having a conference. By the looks of it, they won’t be finished any time soon!”
With great perturbation and a heavy heart, Xin-Xin returned to her desk to finish her assignments. She noticed that the blinds were closed in Mr. Li’s office; a familiar sight that she now ironically viewed from the opposite side. The two men inside were arguing heatedly generating growling sounds whose ebb and flow formed a buzzing wave that gave Xin-Xin a splitting headache. Her heart had been utterly crushed by what she had overheard outside the break room and she could think of no words to describe her desperate feeling. She fought back the urge welling up inside her to bolt from the office but forced herself to persevere until exactly quitting time. She then punched her time card and left hurriedly.