The Air of Youth
Another week passed in the blink of an eye.
Business got better and better from the first day at Thunder Horse Workshop. This was not due to luck but to workmanship. No one can say for sure how good Xia Lei’s workmanship was but all who came to him left satisfied. As an old saying put it – good wine needs no bush. The location of Thunder Horse Workshop was not ideal but as Xia Lei’s reputation grew, business naturally came to him and he had no need of advertisement.
Zhou Xiao-Hong had also started to learn some metalworking such as welding and lathe processing. She lacked the basics and was only a junior high school graduate but she had a good head on her shoulders. Most times, Ma Xiao-An only had to tell her once before her trying the actual operation and she got it. With her drive to learn, Xia Lei and Ma Xiao-An were sure she could start working on simple jobs in no time.
Their day went past in a busy blur, bathing Xia Lei and Ma Xiao-An in perspiration. They exchanged glances and smiled at the pile of processing parts in the cardboard box. It was tiring but it was worth it!
“I’m pooped, Lei. Let’s go for barbecue tonight, my treat.” Ma Xiao-An wiped his sweat with a towel and the grease on his face smeared onto the towel. The white towel was dirtied instantly.
Xia Lei grinned, “Sure, but it’s my treat.” They had earned seven to eight thousand yuan in the past few days so he was in high spirits. This amount of money couldn’t be compared to his winnings in Macau but this money was earned in a more practical way and it gave him great satisfaction.
Zhou Xiao-Hong carried a washbasin over and nimbly wrung the towel which was sitting in the washbasin. She handed it to Xia Lei, saying, “Boss Xia, here’s a towel for you.”
Xia Lei took the towel and wiped his face, then said, “Xiao-Hong, you should come tonight too. I’m treating you to barbecue. And don’t call me ‘Boss Xia’ anymore. Just call me ‘Big Brother Lei’ instead.”
“Okay, Big Brother Lei.” Zhou Xiao-Hong looked delighted, “I want fried chicken wings, offal and beef. Can I?”
Xia Lei laughed, “Of course you can. Eat whatever you’d like.”
“Hey, Xiao-Hong. You eat so much but why we don’t see you getting fat?” teased Ma Xiao-An.
Zhou Xiao-Hong pouted, displeased and said, “You’re teasing me again, Big Brother Ma. I’m from the mountains so we don’t have barbecue there. I’d only eaten it once in junior high school and haven’t had any since.”
Ma Xiao-An had always had a slippery tongue but he held his tongue. He drew the line at making fun of Xiao-Hong’s poverty.
“Wait for me, I’m going to wash my face. I don’t want you to bring me out with a dirty face.” Zhou Xiao-Hong did not notice Xia Lei’s change in mood and was still cheerful.
Xia Lei looked at the plimsolls on her feet and suddenly said, “Xiao-Hong, we have been busy these past few days and have not been taking care of you properly. Please don’t take it to heart.”
“I…” Zhou Xiao-Hong thought she’d said something off-putting and grew anxious.
Xia Lei patted her on her shoulder, smiled and said, “Go wash your face, then Ma Xiao-An and I will bring you shopping. We’ll have barbecue later. First, we’ll get you some sets of clothing. Oh, and shoes.”
“No, no, you guys have been more than good to me. How can I let you buy me clothes too? I-I will buy them myself when I get my pay,” said Zhou Xiao-Hong.
Xia Lei spoke teasingly, “You’ve been wearing these shoes day in and day out – they must really smell, eh? If we wait till you get your pay to buy a pair, that smell would be really fragrant then.”
Zhou Xiao-Hong was suddenly embarrassed and her apple-shaped face turned red. She subconsciously moved her foot back but there was no way to hide her pair of feet.
Xia Lei laughed, “Go, go. It’s still early so you’ll have time to take a shower. Ma Xiao-An and I will wait for you outside.”
“Hurry, hurry. We’ll bring you out shopping and get you pretty new clothes and shoes. When we get back you’ll be a great beauty,” added Ma Xiao-An.
“Nn…” Zhou Xiao-Hong’s eyes grew red and she turned to run into her room.
“She’s a good girl,” said Xia Lei.
“I’ll go see if the water heater is working fine,” said Ma Xiao-An.
Xia Lei slapped Ma Xiao-An on his back. “Come on, shape up. Xiao-Hong is a kind and honest girl. Don’t bully her. And, she’s not for you either.”
Ma Xiao-An looked at Xia Lei with innocent eyes, “Then what sort of woman is for me?”
Just then, a woman walked past the workshop. She was heavily made-up and dressed flirtatiously, showing off pale legs and an hourglass figure. Her bottom swayed as she walked, drawing the attention of men. She was proud and ignored them, not interested in even giving them a glance.
Xia Lei grinned as he said, “Saw that? That sort of woman suits you.”
Ma Xiao-An’s eyes were glued to the woman’s ass and he could not tear them away.
Xia Lei stood next to Ma Xiao-An to look at the flashy woman. Every man likes to look at a beautiful woman and that little bit of admiration suddenly enabled Xia Lei to see below the surface. A beautiful landscape greeted his eyes – round pearls, jade-like glossiness and full, perky buttocks. He could easily look at a view other men could only work hard to see and that made him feel good.
He saw a little too much and a certain body part started to have a reaction. Xia Lei stopped using his eye and tapped Ma Xiao-An on the shoulder, “Xiao-An, remember. Only proud women like her are suited for you.”
“Then I’d better look at her some more – her butt is sexy! Haha!” Ma Xiao-An chased after her and whistled at the proud woman’s back.
The proud woman looked back, then shot Ma Xiao-An the middle finger.
Ma Xiao-An was not annoyed at all – he laughed raucously.
A red Volkswagen Polo suddenly stopped by the road in front of Thunder Horse Workshop. The door opened and a uniform-clad Jiang Ru-Yi stepped out.
When he saw Jiang Ru-Yi, Xia Lei suddenly remembered the incident which he would never wash himself clean of. He crouched behind the pillar by the door and told Ma Xiao-An, “Tell her I’m not in if she’s looking for me.”
“What’s up between you two?” Ma Xiao-An was curious.
Xia Lei glared at him. “Don’t ask. Just do as I said.”
Just then, Jiang Ru-Yi walked into the workshop.
“Sister-in…” Ma Xiao-An quickly changed his words, “Isn’t this Chief Jiang? Why, what wind blew you through our door today?”
Jiang Ru-Yi rolled her eyes at him, “Lay off the grease or I’ll throw you in lockup. Where’s Lei?”
“Lei? He… He’s not in.” Ma Xiao-An sneaked a look at Xia Lei behind the pillar.
Jiang Ru-Yi pushed Ma Xiao-An away, walked straight to the pillar and flushed Xia Lei out as she said, “Are you feeling guilty about something? You don’t even dare to meet me now?”
Xia Lei laughed dryly, “No, I was just tying my shoelaces.”
Jiang Ru-Yi sighed, “I watched you grow up. I can tell right away when you’re lying.”
Xia Lei was speechless.
“But you can relax. I didn’t come here today to pursue that matter.”
Xia Lei gave a mental sigh, “Then what are you doing here?”
“A vegetable peddler hit my car with his three-wheeled cargo vehicle and he had no money to pay for repairs. I’m so freaking mad! The car door’s dented. Hurry and fix it or me,” said Jiang Ru-Yi.
Xia Lei and Ma Xiao-An went to the road and looked at her car – it was true. The Volkswagen Polo had a huge dent in the door.
“Hurry up, I have to rush back to the office for a meeting,” urged Jiang Ru-Yi.
“I don’t have any equipment for spray-painting here. Even if I pull the dent out you’d still need to go to the garage to re-paint the door,” said Xia Lei.
“Of course I know I’ll have to go to get it repainted at the garage but they won’t charge so much if you get the dent out for me,” she said, followed by nagging, “Hurry, hurry. This Big Sister needs to get to a meeting.”
Xia Lei looked at Ma Xiao-An, “What are you standing around for? Hurry and fix it for Chief Jiang.”
“What an overbearing attitude – and she isn’t paying either! Does she really think she’s the Lady Boss?” grumbled Ma Xiao-An. His feathers were ruffled but he still dragged the welding power supply over and used low voltage, using the electrode to pull out the dent bit by bit.
While Ma Xiao-An was working, Jiang Ru-Yi pulled Xia Lei to the side and spoke in his ear, “Remember the prints?”
Xia Lei grew nervous.
“The matching analysis results will come out soon. Do you have something to say to me?” she said.
Xia Lei didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry and was at a loss for words.
“Done. You can drive it off now, Chief Jiang,” said Ma Xiao-An.
Jiang Ru-Yi reached out and pinched Xia Lei’s waist, “I’ll settle this with you later. I’m off.”
Xia Lei and Ma Xiao-An stood by the road together and watched Jiang Ru-Yi get into her car, drive off into the distance, then disappear from sight before they looked at each other.
“Lei, I don’t think she paid, did she?” said Ma Xiao-An
“Why don’t you ask her to pay up?” asked Xia Lei grumpily.
Ma Xiao-An shot a look at Xia Lei, “You don’t have to be so mean even if you’re trying to get me in trouble. Get money from her? You may as well kill me now.”
At that moment, Zhou Xiao-Hong walked out, her black hair still dripping wet. She was still wearing the same set of old-fashioned clothing but she had changed into a fresh set of underwear and she was also wearing white socks. She looked timidly at Xia Lei and Ma Xiao-An, “I’m ready, let’s… go?”
Xia Lei smiled and said, “Let’s go! Shopping!”
The three of them closed the shop, then walked along the pavement. The glow of dusk surrounded the trio, painting a picture of youth.
“What sort of clothing do you like, Xiao-Hong? Big Brother will pick something out for you,” said Ma Xiao-An.
“Jeans and a white sweatshirt,” said Zhou Xiao-Hong.
“That’s so old-fashioned! Why not try the latest trend? Big Brother will help you pick out a short skirt. You’ll be drop-dead gorgeous in it,” insisted Ma Xiao-An.
Zhou Xiao-Hong shook her head so hard she resembled a rattle. “So disgraceful! I won’t wear it.”
“Lei, say something. What will you get for her?”
“Hmm…” Xia Lei thought about it.
“I will wear whatever Big Brother Lei buys for me,” said Zhou Xiao-Hong.
“Eh? Why?” Ma Xiao-An was displeased.
“Because Big Brother Lei is a good person and he won’t trick me,” said Zhou Xiao-Hong.
Peals of laughter rang out from the streets, and this laughter held the air of youth.