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Shanghai Story 4: Mary’s English Lesson

Mary’s English Lesson

Mary arrived at work early, the same as any other work day except this was her day off and her boss had asked it to work it again. “Don’t worry”, he had said, “You can replace your rest day with a work day next week.”, but this was little condolence as he seemed to always have a reason for getting her to stay late or come in on her day off and today she had other plans.

About a month ago she had signed up for English lessons at a nearby school. Her teacher, Johnny, was a great teacher and Mary found him quite attractive. This was the main reason she was upset about having to work on her day off; she’d miss the chance of seeing Johnny again. She knew he was single, although she couldn’t imagine why, and lived in the same area as her. For the past three weeks she had been waiting around after class under the pretence of asking him grammar related questions when really, she just wanted to be near him for a few moments, alone.

Mary’s English was pretty good, about a mid-level, and she had signed up for the course in the hopes of broadening her employment horizons. The pudgy middle aged man she worked for wasn’t a good man. She had been with the company a few years and had thought she had been lucky to get a job at an international firm right out of university. She had worked hard and had believed at first that she’d eventually be promoted to a position that required her education, but that chance had never arrived. At first she attributed the lack of promotion to her inexperience, but soon after her first year at the company, the real reason pretty women like her got promoted became all too painfully apparent.

Her boss was a pig. Married with a 10 year old son and promoted to his position through his government connections, he had friends in multiple local government departments dealing in the company’s business, and his family relations, his uncle sat on the board of directors, he could wield his position to gain favors from the female staff. On numerous occasions, especially those nights he had asked her to work late, he had attempted to subdue her. Now she had the feeling he knew about her interest in Johnny, although she had no idea how, and having her work today was just his way of foiling her happiness. No matter, she’d get out from under his manipulative pressure someday. And who knows, perhaps find happiness again, with Johnny.

But today, on another bleak Shanghai morning, here she was at work and she’d might as well get on with it. The reason her boss had asked her to come in was because today they were conducting interviews for a new position working directly under him. Normally, at a normal job with a normal boss, being called into work on her day off to assist with interviews for people who’d be placed above her would have been upsetting, but she didn’t care. In fact she pitied the poor girl who got the job as she’d be the focus of her boss’s unwanted attention.

She made her way towards her office building just as the first few drops of what promised to be another dreary day hit the ground. Upon arriving at her office she took her place behind the receptionist desk and proceeded to organize the day’s itinerary of applicants. The first one, due an hour or so later, went by the English name “Ruby”. She’d wait and see what this one looked like. Her boss liked tall girls with fair skin. If she fit the bill, she’d be hired without any qualifications.

Having organized everything, she sat back in her chair and began to fantasize about Johnny. He was so handsome. She could almost feel his embrace, the soft caress of his lips on hers, the smell of…. Someone was in front of her snapping her back to the reality of her drab office. It was Ruby, almost exactly one hour early for her interview. Ruby was definitely beautiful, and secretly Mary envied this although she was quite good looking herself and about 20cm taller. Mary directed her to the waiting area and dialed her boss’s extension.

“Your first interviewee is her” she announced when he picked up the phone. “Make her wait” was the only response as the receiver was pounded down at the other end of the line.

So Mary, left with no real work to do but watch Ruby sitting on the waiting room sofa, went back to her daydreaming about her handsome foreign teacher. An hour seemed to pass in a moment and a call from her boss saying he’d see Ruby now jerked her back from her happy imaginings. “Take her to meeting room 5” he bawled into the phone.

“Just once”, Mary thought, “I’d like to slap that idiot in the face”. But this was just another daydream in the making. Mary could never do such a thing. It was better to keep her plan of finding another job. “Perhaps at next Spring Festival…” she whispered as she got up to lead Ruby into the room where the interview, and probably plenty of ogling, was to take place.

After showing Ruby to her seat she was returning to her desk when, out of the corner of her eye, she caught her boss leering at her with a malicious scowl that made him look truly pig-like. “What are looking at?” she snapped and at the same moment decided…

“I have an English lesson today. I’m leaving. You don’t need me her to conduct your… um,… interviews!” she lashed out.

Put off by this sudden show of aggression her boss was dumfounded and floundered for words. “Listen here,” he started in, but something in her eye told him that perhaps he’d have a better day if he just let her go. “Damn that English lesson” he thought, “I know she’s just there looking for a laowai boyfriend.” “OK, you can go. This time.” He said to her as gruffly as possible and entered the meeting room.

Mary dashed to her desk to collect her belongings and was out the door in an instant. A wave of relief washed over her as she entered the elevator and made her way towards the lobby. “I hate that man.” She said to the empty compartment.

Out on the street the rain was really starting to poor now and a rack of thunder rolled across the sky. She hailed a cab and jumped in. Travelling to her destination, Johnny, she carefully checked herself in her compact mirror making sure everything was in order. She really felt good about standing up to her boss and ever more delighted as she looked forward to being able to spend a couple hours in Johnny’s company, even if it were with a bunch of other students, most of them women about her own age, and most of them, she feared, also there just because they liked him.

Arriving at the school she went inside and proceeded directly to the bathroom for a final check in the mirror before going to the class. Everything had to look just right before she could begin her lesson. She hadn’t felt this excited by any man since her first love in university. Looking into the large bathroom mirror she straitened her blouse and made sure she looked just right. Luckily she had dressed for the office today, wearing high heels and a short skirt, so she looked even more beautiful than usual. Surely Johnny would notice this and perhaps take her up on her offer of having coffee together this time.

Having made sure everything was perfect she finally went to the classroom and joined the other students there. Rather than seated as usual, they were all standing around talking about something. No one took any notice as she entered and she quickly noticed that her beloved teacher wasn’t there yet.”This isn’t normal” she thought, “Johnny’s always here first waiting for us with a friendly “hello””.

Then she saw that a school representative was at the center of the group. “What was he saying?”, she wondered. “Why are those 2 girls crying? Something serious must be going on. I hope it isn’t Johnny” she thought though not sure why.

“What’s happened?” she asked more alarmed than she realized.

The news was told to her. Johnny had fallen, or perhaps was pushed, onto the tracks at the metro station that morning. Mary’s heart fell to her knees and she felt the whole room swirl about her head. “What?… Why?”, she stammered trying to comprehend the situation.

Now everyone had turned and was looking at her. “What are they staring at?” she asked herself.

Not wanting to endure their eyes, Mary turned away and exited the room. This was too bad. Too awful to comprehend. Her Johnny torn up under the wheels of a speeding train. This must be a bad dream. No, this can’t be true. This can’t be actually happening.

Someone was approaching her now but she couldn’t stand being there a moment longer. She ran down the hall and out of the school. Tears were streaming down her face now, but she didn’t notice. What a fool she had been. He was just her English teacher and now he was gone and maybe her job too.

Regaining control of herself she decided she should go back to work and try to appease her boss. She flagged down a cab and when it came to a halt in front of her, she changed her mind. “No. I won’t go to work. I hate that man” she thought and decided to go home instead. No one would be there yet as her parents were still at work and she could console herself in private. She didn’t want to be with anyone now. “If only I could have seen him one more time…” the thought trailed off as the taxi pulled into traffic.

Arriving at home and having settled down a bit, Mary wondered at her sudden reaction to the news of Johnny’s accident. She didn’t even know if he was dead or just hurt. She hadn’t stayed around long enough to find out and now her classmates must all be talking about her. Feeling stupid she went into the building and pushed the button for the elevator. No one was around and her building felt oddly vacant. The elevator came and Mary climbed inside pushing the button for her floor.

At the top she exited and the first thing she noticed was that her apartment door was slightly ajar. “This isn’t right. Mom and dad shouldn’t be home until evening.”

Cautiously she opened the door and stepped inside. All the lights were out and the curtains had been drawn. Mary fumbled for the light switch and turning it on she screamed in shock, “Jerry!”

“What are you doing her?” She asked nervously regaining control of herself, for the second time that day. “Why are you here?” she asked again but no answer came. “W-w-what’s wrong?” She said trying to understand the situation.

Jerry had a strange look in his eyes. A look that made it seem he wasn’t looking at anything at all.

“Jerry…” she said again her voice growing weak as she did so for Jerry had a large kitchen knife in his hand.

“Why are YOU here?” Jerry shouted. “You’re not supposed to be here! This is not the way it is planned!” he shouted even louder. His face twisting into a knot of ugliness, he took a step towards her.

Mary backed up and stumbled over the slippers piled on the floor striking her head on the door. Jerry was coming closer. “Jerry…. What’s wrong?” she croaked as her throat tightened in fear.

“I’m nothing without you. NOTHING!” Jerry yelled in a shrill voice, and then mumbling over and over again “I’m nothing… I’m nothing… I’m nothing”. Jerry reached out and grabbed her throat.

With inhuman strength he lifted her with one hand until her feet were dangling above the floor. Looking up into her petrified eyes, he brought the knife close to her face. He brought her towards him and whispered in her ear, “You ruined me. I’m nothing…”

Mary tried to speak but the iron like grip on her throat kept her words at bay. She could barely breathe and blackness was swirling in front of her eyes… Then he dropped her. Crashing to the floor Mary looked up at her attacker. her former lover, the one her parents made her leave. “Why?” was all she said.

Suddenly Jerry was behind her holding her; squeezing the breath out of her. Then she felt it. The cold steel of the kitchen knife slicing into her throat. She fought. She fought for words but none came. Her chest was warm now with her red blood and Jerry let go and she slumped against the door. “Oh no. My mom will be angry at the mess” Mary thought incoherently as she saw the red pool spread across the floor.

Then there was a face in front of hers. “Who’s that?” she thought as her brained strained for oxygen. “Jerry? But what is he doing here?” She slumped further onto the floor her head rolling to one side. “What’s he doing?”

Jerry fell on his knees looking at the bloody mess he had made of Mary. Then suddenly he stabbed at his own throat burying the thick knife in his own soft flesh. With great effort he wrenched the blade left and right cutting ever more ever deeper. Blood sprang from his destroyed arteries like a fountain spraying the ceiling with a barrage of fine droplets. “So beautiful”, Mary thought starring up at the pattern of red as the last light drained from her pretty almond eyes.

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