So What If You Can Speak English
The suited young man who entered was the Ren Wen-Qiang that Zhang Hui-Lan had spoken of. He was 180cm tall, slender, had handsome facial features, mature, deep eyes and a scholarly air as well as an air of one who was comfortable in business and academic circles. He temporarily became a focal point with his appearance at the doorway.
A person’s temperament is developed by his environment. Ren Wen-Qiang’s temperament was due to his studies abroad, his family background, and the achievements he had now. Xia Lei did not have an immediately recognisable prestigious aura like Ren Wen-Qiang; his gave off more of a common air of simple living, friendliness and pragmatism. It gave others the impression of one who was nice and not at all high and mighty.
“Oh, Wen-Qiang, please take a seat.” Zhang Hui-Lan welcomed him.
“Hello Auntie Lan, Uncle Shan and Uncle Hai.” Ren Wen-Qiang greeted them gracefully, then looked at Ning Jing with a sunny smile on his face, “Jing, I haven’t seen you in ages. Hello.”
“Hel…lo.” Ning Jing felt nervous for some unexplainable reason.
Ren Wen-Qiang greeted all of the Ning clan and the only one he didn’t greet was Xia Lei. He glanced at Xia Lei, his gaze indifferent.
“Aw, so polite! Please, sit.” Ren Wen-Qiang was nicely led by the hand to the table and a chair was pulled out for him nicely.
Zhang Hui-Lan had given Ren Wen-Qiang a seat right next to Ning Jing.
Xia Lei was still not sure what was going on. He grumbled to himself, ‘Is this young man one of the Ning clan? Why didn’t Ning Jing tell me beforehand that there were more relatives coming? He didn’t greet me – what was the meaning of that?’
Ning Jing returned to her seat. Xia Lei was on her left while Ren Wen-Qiang was on her right. Both men were handsome and each had their own good traits. Her heart was all jumbled up and she dared not look at either Xia Lei or Ren Wen-Qiang.
Ning Yuan-Shan and Ning Yuan-Hai also seated themselves. Zhang Hui-Lan went to the doorway of the private room and called a server over, “You can serve the dishes now.”
Xia Lei suddenly understood that the dishes were not served earlier because of the young man who had just walked in. From Zhang Hui-Lan’s various responses he could make some guesses. He couldn’t help looking at Ning Jing but she kept her head down and did not dare look at him.
“Wen-Qiang.” Ning Yuan-Shan broke the short silence. He smiled as he asked, “Is your work going smoothly at Vientaine Group?”
Ren Wen-Qiang smiled as he said, “It’s all right. Miss Shentu treats me well. I have also got used to the work environment at Vientaine Group.”
“That’s good. I know you’re responsible for the wind power plant project. You’ll have to put in some good words to Miss Shentu for me. If we can get a purchase order from Vientaine Group, our company’s goal for the year would be completed in advance.”
Ren Wen-Qiang maintained a pleasant and dazzling smile. “Rest assured, Uncle Shan. I’ll definitely speak of good things of your company in front of Miss Shentu. I believe Miss Shentu would also make the right choice since your company is a large government-owned enterprise of unquestioned trustworthiness and reliability.”
Ning Yuan-Shan smiled as well, “I’ll be thanking you in advance then.”
“You’re too kind, Uncle Shan.” Ren Wen-Qiang was respectful.
Zhang Hui-Lan laughed, “See, this child Wen-Qiang still has such good manners. I watched you grow up; I knew you would make something of yourself when you grew up. I was right.”
Ren Wen-Qiang smiled, “Auntie Lan, you’re too kind.”
Ning Yuan-Hai spoke, “Jing, you haven’t seen Wen-Qiang in years. Pour him a drink later and have some alcohol together.”
Ning Jing hesitated, then nodded lightly.
They were all engaged in conversation and Xia Lei temporarily became a character of little importance, a backdrop.
Xia Lei gained an understanding from how things had progressed. Ning Jing had originally asked him to put on a performance with her to counter her parents but Ren Wen-Qiang had been added to the mix all of a sudden in the middle and Ning Jing’s parents obviously liked this guy more. Their motive in inviting Ren Wen-Qiang over was also clear – to let the current ‘boyfriend’ become humiliated and bow out.
Once he figured out the truth, Xia Lei begun to feel uncomfortable. Though he was not Ning Jing’s real boyfriend, her parents’ actions were still hurtful.
Xia Lei was about to leave when Ren Wen-Qiang suddenly looked at him and said smilingly, “I’m sorry, but who is this gentleman? Why don’t you introduce him?”
“He is…” Ning Jing started speaking, then hesitated.
Zhang Hui-Lan quickly cut in, “Is Uncle Shan’s friend.”
Ning Yuan-Shan swiftly concurred, “Right, right, right. His name’s Xia Lei, my friend. He knows Ning Jing too.”
Ren Wen-Qiang stood and held out a hand, “Hello, Mr. Xia.”
Xia Lei also stood and shook hands with Ren Wen-Qiang, “Hello, Mr. Ren.”
After shaking hands, Ren Wen-Qiang said laughingly, “Mr. Xia has such muscular hands. Your calluses are quite thick too.”
Ren Wen-Qiang was pleasant and polite in the beginning but that all changed in an instant. His commenting on Xia Lei’s muscular and callused hands was obviously a sort of slight. How could an overseas-graduate, high-flying corporate executive look kindly upon a blue-collar worker such as Xia Lei?
“What is he doing here, Uncle Shan?*” Ren Wen-Qiang asked in English as he looked at Ning Yuan-Shan.
Ning Yuan-Shan’s English had long fallen into disuse. He shook his head, indicating his non-understanding, but he could tell that Ren Wen-Qiang did not want Xia Lei to understand what he was saying.
Ren Wen-Qiang looked at Ning Jing with a gentle gaze and used English again, “Is he your boyfriend?”
Ning Jing looked at Xia Lei, then bit the bullet and said, “No, no. We are just very good friends.”
She was speaking the truth. Xia Lei was her good friend and not a lover.
Ren Wen-Qiang laughed and used English again to say, “So that’s how it is. I thought he was your boyfriend. He doesn’t suit you – you’re so beautiful only the most outstanding men can match up to you.”
His meaning was clear. Xia Lei didn’t suit her and only a outstanding man could – who this outstanding man could be was not specified but he was implying that it was himself.
Ning Jing sneaked a look at Xia Lei, her eyes full of guilt.
Showing off his English? The corners of Xia Lei’s lips drew up in disdain and he also spoke in English, “His English isn’t too bad. This should be the standard of ‘the most outstanding man’ that he spoke of. I think he means that he’s very suited for you. You can give it some serious consideration.”
Ren Wen-Qiang stared blankly, and a tint of pig-liver appeared on his handsome face. He showed off his English because he thought a blue-collar worker such as Xia Lei would not understand it at all but not only did Xia Lei understand, he was able to speak fluently and mock him on top of that!
Ning Jing avoided Xia Lei’s eyes in shame. She knew Xia Lei was being made to feel uncomfortable and it was all because of her.
Xia Lei looked at Ren Wen-Qiang and followed with French, “Monsieur Ren, please don’t think that you’re some big-shot after having studied in America and look down on others. You are not more outstanding than others since every person has his or her good and bad sides. You’ve come across as a pompous man.”
Ren Wen-Qiang looked at Xia Lei in shock and the pig-liver tint on his face became more apparent. He did not know any French and did not understand Xia Lei but he could tell from his tone and disdain that what he said was definitely not anything good. He wanted to retort but hesitated right away; it was him to had showed off his English first and Xia Lei not only knew English but used it to mock him. Now he was using French so what language could he use to respond to that? His embarrassment was in that he couldn’t – because he could only speak English!
Husband and wife, Ning Yuan-Hai and Zhang Hui-Lan also boggled at Xia Lei. They had never imagined that a high-school graduate they’d looked down upon could speak two foreign languages – and so fluently at that!
Ning Yuan-Shan did not look surprised. He looked down awkwardly and thought ‘Should I tell them that Xia Lei can speak German too?’
The atmosphere became awkward immediately.
At that moment, a server pushed a serving trolley into the room, all prepared to serve the dishes.
Zhang Hui-Lan used the opportunity to break the awkwardness in the room. She laughed dryly twice, “Heh. Heh. You young people… Why foreign languages? We old folk don’t understand any of it. The English I’ve learnt in school has long been forgotten. Let’s all use Mandarin, all right?”
“Right, right, right. Let’s use Mandarin,” Ning Yuan-Hai agreed.
Xia Lei did not wait for the server to place all the dishes on the table. He stood and spoke in Russian, “I apologise but I have something to attend to. I’ll be leaving first.”
All eyes shot to Xia Lei, displaying surprise, bewilderment and non-comprehension.
“Xia Lei, what do you mean by this?” Zhang Hui-Lan looked at Xia Lei in dissatisfaction.
“My words have no other meaning. I was saying that I have something to attend to so I’ll only be able to accompany you on another day. Goodbye.”
“Xia Lei, you…” Ning Jing spoke, then hesitated.
Xia Lei patted her shoulder, “Let’s talk another day. Goodbye.” Saying that, he strode out of the private room.
Ning Jing’s eyes followed Xia Lei till he disappeared, her heart laden with guilt.
“A blue-collar worker showing off airs. Jing, you should stay away from people like him,” said Ren Wen-Qiang contemptuously.
“Yes, that’s right. Let’s eat. Ignore him,” said Zhang Hui-Lan with a smile.
Ning Yuan-Shan poured Ren Wen-Qiang a glass of wine, “Let’s have a toast, Wen-Qiang.”
At that moment, Ning Jing suddenly stood, “Sorry, I don’t feel well. Please enjoy your meal. I’ll be leaving.”
“You…” Zhang Hui-Lan was angry, “You sit down!”
“I’m not a child anymore!” Ning Jing said loudly, then left the room with quick steps.
The four people in the room stayed still in their seats for quite a while and didn’t react for some time.
Ning Jing walked out of the room and looked everywhere for Xia Lei but could not find him. Just then, her phone beeped with a message alert. She checked her phone and saw that the message was from Xia Lei: I’m sorry I wasn’t able to help you. Take care of your father. Go along with his wishes and don’t anger him.
For some unexplainable reason, tears dropped from Ning Jing’s eyes. She took a deep breath, dried her eyes and walked towards the room she’d left.
*The original was ‘ “How.can.he.be.here,uncle.Shan?”任文强看着宁远山问道。’ Probably machine-translated by the author.