It’s Monday morning, and the office is filled with the scent of breakfast. Zhu Hong brought three kilograms of buns from the canteen, deliciously big and juicy with great stuffings. Those who got in late and haven’t had breakfast have all been gathered by the smell of delight; even Chief Zhao who normally hides in his office room has been seduced to come out.
Zhao has long forgotten what Professor Shen told him about avoiding smoking, drinking and eating oily foods, he stuffs a big fat meat bun in his mouth, and knocks on Guo’s head, “hey kid, turn on the TV.”
Guo wiggles his butt forward; Zhu looks at him from behind, and says amusingly, “Little Guo is quite nice, he’s hardworking and considerate; but he’s just too timid, til now he still only dares to eat what I give him.”
Zhao says, “that’s normal, he’s afraid of people.”
Zhu wants to nod, but realises something odd.
Zhao kindly adds, “he isn’t afraid of you, which means he doesn’t treat you as a human.”
Zhu ignores him, and watches Da Qing sneak on to the desk. It observes intently, and as Zhao is about to put a bun in his mouth, it snatches it with its claws precisely; the accurate timing and agile movements make you forget how fat this cat is.
Then, Da Qing bravely leaps off the desk, bites on the bun mid-air, and nimbly does a backflip, landing on the ground. And then, it shakes its butt and catwalks away.
The startled Chief is left with an oily face.
“Fuck this cat!”
“You deserve it.” Says Zhu Hong.
The television is showing morning news, and it’s about the earthquake last night. A few areas were affected, but it was a mild quake so no major casualties have been reported.
Zhao mumbles, “why wasn’t it stronger, I could have offered him a hug to calm him down.”
Lin Jing knows what happened, and smiles mysteriously.
Zhu looks at him, and asks Zhao, “who did you hook up with this time?”
“Don’t use such a nasty term; this marvelous world needs love. You filthy people shouldn’t insult pure love.”
Lin says, “may Buddha have mercy on your soul…”
Zhao tries to catch her hair with his oily hands, and she screams and dodges. Chu Shuzhi steps back to avoid drama, but he looks up and is astonished, “Wang Zheng? Why are you here during the day?”
Everyone is startled, and Zhu jumps up, “close the curtains, quickly!”
Guo and Lin scramble towards the windows and close all the curtains; the office has two layers of curtains and one of them is anti-UV. The room is instantly pitch-black; Da Qing finishes its meat bun and turns on the light.
Wang’s face turns pale and almost translucent, she waits til the curtains are fully closed and floats across, feebly laying on a chair. She curls up and looks so frail like she might disappear.
Lin takes out some incense and lights them up; he puts them under Wang’s nose, “quick, inhale some incense.”
The incense has been burning for a while until Wang recovers; she sighs and her body is looking a little less virtual.
“What the hell are you doing?” Zhao ruthlessly smacks her on the head; he can actually touch ghosts, and Wang leans back on the chair, “you wanna die again? How about I take you out sunbathing?”
Guo has never seen the Chief get angry before; he trembles.
Wang deeply stares at Zhao, and points to the television.
The news is showing the rescue team and news reporters at a village that was affected by the earthquake, checking the damage level.
The epicentre was located at the Northwest, where the roads are poorly built and population is scarce. The camera shows a few small huts, which may or may not be inhabited; half of the roofs have collapsed.
A ruined stone plate reads: “River Village”.
Wang stares at the plate with her big eyes, and softly says, “that’s my…”
Guo thought she would say “home” or something similar; but Wang pauses and turns to Zhao, “that’s where my body is.”
A chilling breeze whips up in the office.
“Chief Zhao, I want to take leave.” Wang says with her unique, unsteady but bland voice, “I want to rest in peace.”
Zhao frowns, and takes out a cigarette, “you..”
Wang leans backwards, “I don’t want second-hand smoke.”
“You’re a ghost, Ms Wang Zheng, you won’t get pneumonia.”
Wang says seriously, “ghosts can smell cigarettes too, if you continue like this you will soon turn into a human mosquito-repelling incense.”
Zhao stuffs the lighter back into his pocket, “you joined the Guardian Order, so you won’t be able to reincarnate; even if you rested you wouldn’t be in peace, so why do it? Besides, isn’t burial uncommon where you’re from?”
Wang stays silent, and lowers her head; after a while, she repeats, “I want to go home.”
Zhao sighs, “how do you plan on doing that?”
Wang says, “haven’t thought about it.”
“And so you decided to think about it in broad daylight?” Zhao angrily asks.
Zhao is about to say something, but the phone rings; he goes outside and takes the call, and when he returns his face is wearing an unconcealable smirk.
He coughs, and raises his watch; he says to Wang, “how about this, you come in to hide, I will let you back out when night falls; I will figure out something… and when the time comes I will go there with you.”
Without wasting time, Wang immediately turns into a cloud of white mist, and scurries into his watch.
The others are all startled.
Chu asks, “Chief Zhao, you’re so lazy that you always sends someone else unless you absolutely have to go; what brings you to the Northwest?”
“Fuck off, I take the lead all the time.”
Lin points out, “Amitabha, you never do anything unless it’s for your personal interest.”
Zhao looks like he wants to say something, but he seems rather busy; his phone rings again, he frowns and glares at his disloyal subordinates, and goes out to take the call. His face turns to a bright smile, “hi, oh, my dear brother- in-law… say what? You’re too kind, we don’t have to be so formal, do we?”
Zhu stares at him with a bun in her mouth, and asks curiously, “brother-in- law? Since when?”
“That’s Manager Song,” says Da Qing on the table, sniffing at the delicious meat.
“Bright Avenue is being reconstructed into a commercial area, we might have to move in one or two years. He has his eyes set on a small courtyard house, it’s in the city centre, near the University City. He needs the connection to do this.” Da Qing licks its paws, and explains with the nosiness that is atypical of cats.
Zhu continues, “how did that Manager Song become his brother-in-law? He doesn’t even have siblings.”
Da Qing sneezes, “who knows; after a good dozen of drink gatherings, he now has a lot of brothers-in-law out of nowhere.”
Professor Shen finishes his morning lecture, and as the students are leaving, he tidies up his textbooks on the speaker’s stand.
The sunlight shines in, and blinds his eyes for a split second; he pauses, and as he looks down he sees a golden line piercing through, connecting to the pendant round his neck.
Shen wants to snatch the line off, but his fingers pass right through it; the line moves as though it’s alive, and starts spreading into many lines, wrapping around his fingers, body and neck.
Shen shuts his eyes; when he opens them again, the lines are gone.
He can’t help but put the glistering sphere in his hand; he knows, once he meets that person, he won’t be able to avoid him again.
Zhao’s warm hand confuses his heart; a day has passed, yet the warmth remains on the back of Shen’s hand. So hot, as if it’s burning.
Better… avoid him for a while longer.
Zhao leaves the office early in the morning, and only calls in at night when it’s almost close of business. Lin and Zhu are long gone, Da Qing lays behind a ventilation outlet of a computer, deeply asleep, and Chu is still wearing the same coffin face, mine-sweeping without regarding anyone else.
Guo takes the call, “hello?”
“Little Guo?” Zhao asks, “are you busy? If not help me with something.”
“Alright, please tell me.”
“The revealing mirror… oh, I mean my wristwatch, it’s too unpleasant inside, Wang cannot stay in there for long. Two days later I will figure out a way to get her out, so we need a substitute. Go online to buy a human doll, we need a bigger one, better if it can stand and move. It’s urgent, tell them to send it within a day.”
Guo nods and searches online, “Chief Zhao, I found one: it’s human-size, the joints are movable, and it can stand…”
Zhao seems to be occupied, and hurriedly interrupts him, “right, this sounds good, buy this one; tell them to deliver it quick.”
Guo is about to click purchase, but he sees the name of the shop, and is shocked by a lightning strike… it’s a sex shop.
The pure, introverted boy blushes instantly, and mutters into the phone, “Chief… Chief Zhao… this… this is a bit…”
“What? It’s okay if it’s expensive, you can claim work expenses, you don’t have to pay a penny… I’m hanging up, I’ve got something to do; buy it ASAP!”
Zhao hangs up without another word.
Guo stares at the computer screen silently… his balls start hurting.