Picked Up a Good Girl
Long Bing appeared without a sound and disappeared without a trace. Xia Lei was accustomed to it. He wasn't overly concerned about whether the Archaeological Bureau would go after Long Bing for taking the compass away either.
Thunder Horse Workshop opened for business three days later. Business was not as good as they'd thought but it wasn't bad. Ma Xiao-An took on the normal tasks and Xia Lei handled the difficult jobs; their division of labour was clear. At the end of the day, after taking out the cost of materials, utilities and rent, they made 1400 yuan.
"It's a tad little," said Xia Lei, feeling a pang of dissatisfaction.
Ma Xiao-An, on the other hand, was happy. "Lei, be content. We didn't do that much and still made 1400 yuan. We only made this much after working a whole week when we worked at the construction site."
The two of them used to make an average of 100 yuan a day at construction sites, needing a week to make 1400 yuan. To be making this amount in one day now was a huge improvement.
Xia Lei felt better after thinking about it. "If the Archaeological Bureau paid us, we would have made 50,000 more. We would have to work for almost a year to make that amount in the past," he said.
"The Archaeological Bureau is a government agency - it won't stiff us on the bill. We'll get paid sooner or later," said Ma Xiao-An.
Just then, a woman appeared in the doorway. She was young - early twenties, apple-shaped face and big eyes. She was wearing a colourful short-sleeved checkered shirt on top, which was pulled tight by a huge chest. Her bosom was so large the straining buttons seemed like they would pop off any moment. On her bottom was a pair of cheap denim shorts, and her bottom itself was rounded and quite attractive. On her shoulder was a bundle wrapped in worn blue cloth and a dirty-looking white towel peeked out from a corner of the bundle. Her way of dressing immediately told everyone that she was from the countryside.
"Excuse me, are you looking for something?" enquired Xia Lei.
"I..." The woman looked nervous. "Who is the boss here?"
She had an accent which sounded like she was from Sichuan.
Before Xia Lei could speak, Ma Xiao-An pointed at him and said with a smile, "Girl, this is our boss. What are you looking for him for?"
The woman gathered her courage, looked straight at Xia Lei and bowed clumsily. "Boss, I... I... Are you hiring? I can do anything. I'll wash dishes, stack plates, cleaning, cooking..."
Xia Lei smiled, "We aren't running a restaurant so we don't need someone to stack plates or wash dishes. I'm sorry, please ask at a restaurant."
The woman bit her lip but did not press the issue, and turned and left.
Xia Lei looked at her feet and saw that she wore plimsolls. Footwear like this was uncommon for women, even in the countryside. Perhaps he was moved by the plimsolls, but Xia Lei's heart softened and he called out to the woman, "Hold on. Can you tell me why you're looking for work?"
The woman looked at Xia Lei, then looked away from his eyes and spoke carefully, "My father is old and cannot work. My younger brother wants to go to school but we have no money and I don't want him to drop school so I'm looking for work." When she got to that part, her eyes filled with tears, "B-But... I have no skills and all the restaurants have enough staff. It's also not the hiring season at factories... I've used up all my money and I don't know where I'll sleep tonight. I..."
Xia Lei stopped her mid-sentence, "Stay, then. I will pay you 3,000 a month, including room and board."
"Wha-?" The surprised exclamation came not from the woman looking for a job but Ma Xiao-An.
The woman looked at Xia Lei in gratitude, so overwhelmed she could not speak.
Ma Xiao-An pulled Xia Lei to one side and whispered, "Hey, Lei, why are you taking her in? I know you feel sorry for her but there are plenty of sorry souls out there. What can we do with our limited resources? Even if you take her in, you needn't give her so much money. A country girl like her would be happy with 1,500, including room and board."
"Doesn't she need to support her little brother's studies? We can take less profit and give her a little more so her family can lead better lives. What's so bad about that?" said Xia Lei.
Ma Xiao-An sighed. He knew that Xia Lei had changed his mind and given the girl such a high wage because of her similar circumstances. He was against hiring because he wanted to save money but the boss of the workshop was Xia Lei. He had no further argument against Xia Lei's decision.
The woman spoke only then, "Boss, Big Brother, I, I will start working now. What can I do?"
"Are you afraid that the boss would regret it? Don't worry, your boss is a good man. He's very kind and won't chase you out once he's taken you under his wing," said Ma Xiao-An snappily.
The woman let out a breath and quickly said, "Thank you, Boss! Thank you, Big Brother!"
"We've been thanked. Don't be so formal. Oh, right, what's your name? I'm Xia Lei and he's Ma Xiao-An," smiled Xia Lei.
"I'm Zhou Xiao-Hong," she said, then seemed to suddenly remember something and added, "Greetings, Boss Xia! Greetings, Big Brother Ma!"
Ma Xiao-An was uncomfortable about hiring her but when Zhou Xiao-Hong started sweetly saying 'Boss' and 'Big Brother', his heart softened. Zhou Xiao-Hong was also a young and pretty country lass - a big man like him couldn't keep being mean to her, could he? That was so classless.
"You don't have a place to stay?" asked Xia Lei.
Zhou Xiao-Hong hung her head and spoke sheepishly, "Um, my money... is gone. The hotel owner threw me out early this morning."
Xia Lei considered some options and said, "Why don't you stay in the shop for now. We have a foldable bed in here. I'll order some delivery for you later so you'll have to make do with it for now. I'll help you think of something once you're settled."
"You're truly a good person, Boss Xia. Thank you, thank you!" Zhou Xiao-Hong thanked him repeatedly again.
Xia Lei laughed, "There you go again. Don't be so formal anymore."
Zhou Xiao-Hong smiled awkwardly, then said, "You don't have to order delivery food for me. Y-you can just give me instant noodles."
"How can that suffice? Xiao-An, get her some take-away from the Sichuan restaurant opposite our shop. I'll set up her sleeping arrangements."
"Okay," grunted Ma Xiao-An, but he went close to Xia Lei and spoke in a low voice, "Don't you have a spare room at home? Bring her home, then! Heh heh."
Xia Lei stomped on Ma Xiao-An's foot. "What rubbish! Get out!"
Ma Xiao-An was in tears and grimacing as he went to get some take-away for Zhou Xiao-Hong. He was actually joking since he knew Xia Lei was not that kind of person. He wasn't that sort either, or he wouldn't be friends with Xia Lei.
Xia Lei unfolded the foldable bed and put a cotton padding and blanket on it. This foldable bed had been left behind by Uncle Jiang. Xia Lei had bought new bedding and intended to use the bed for sleep when he worked overtime, but had not expected that a country girl would move in after their first day. It was a good thing she could use it.
"Boss Xia, how can I let you do the work? Let me set up the bed." While Xia Lei was setting it up, Zhou Xiao-Hong pushed him away.
Xia Lei saw her agile hands and pondered what work to assign her tomorrow. Paying her 3,000 including room and board was partially because he felt sorry for her but he could not just hand her the money for nothing. 'Interaction with customers will be handled by her, definitely, but this is not enough work. What if I teach her metal-working? She's young so she will learn quickly and can start working independently in two months. Yep, let her take care of customers and clean up around the shop first and teach her welding and lathe processing in our free time.'
"These are new, Boss Xia! Can I really sleep here?" Zhou Xiao-Hong was finished but did not dare to lie on it.
"Why not? Just stay here for now and look for something else when your situation gets better."
"Yes, Boss Xia! You are truly a good person," Zhou Xiao-Hong added, "I... I haven't thanked you."
Xia Lei was tickled by her simple honesty and laughed, "It doesn't matter if you thank me, I just don't want you to be so formal. Oh, right, I have an idea but I don't know if you'd agree."
"What idea?" Zhou Xiao-Hong grew nervous. She unconsciously pulled at her half-open collar, as if trying to cover up some secret.
It was normal for her to have that sort of reaction when a strange man suddenly said he thought of something and asked if she would agree. Xia Lei, on the other hand, found her more and more interesting. He grinned and said, "I was thinking of letting you learn metal-working, welding and lathe processing. If you are diligent, you will have some marketable skill set even if you go back to your hometown. Do you want to learn?"
"Oh, you mean that?"
"What do you think I meant?" Xia Lei chuckled at her.
Zhou Xiao-Hong's cheeks were stained red and she hurriedly said, "N,nothing. Of course! I've always wanted to pick up a skill but had no money to learn. My hometown is a farmers' village and my family has no skilled workers so I could never fulfill my wish. If you are willing to teach me, Boss Xia, I will learn with all my heart."
"That's decided then. You tend to the customers when they come tomorrow. Pour them a drink and ask what they need. If you have nothing to do, stick close to either myself or Ma Xiao-An and learn some metal-working."
"Will B-Big Brother Ma be willing to teach me?" Zhou Xiao-Hong looked intimidated at the thought, "I'm a little afraid of him."
Ma Xiao-An walked in at that moment with the take-away, "Afraid of me? Will I eat you up?"
Zhou Xiao-Hong saw Ma Xiao-An and anxiously waved her hands. "No, no, no, I don't mean that! I mean..."
Ma Xiao-An put the take-away in Zhou Xiao-Hong's hands and smiled as he said, "Relax. As long as you're willing to learn, I won't hold back and I'll teach you everything I know."
"Thank you, Big Brother Ma." Zhou Xiao-Hong relaxed only then.
"And, I'm a kinder and cuter person than your Boss Xia. You'll find that I have uncountable good points."
Zhou Xiao-Hong looked at Ma Xiao-An, then looked at Xia Lei. She pursed her lips and said nothing but she did not feel that it was so. She could tell just from their eyes that they were very different.
After helping Zhou Xiao-Hong settle in, it was dark when Xia Lei and Ma Xiao-An left Thunder Horse Workshop. Ma Xiao-An sent Xia Lei home on his ratty tatty motorcycle, then puttered off.
Back home, Xia Xue had dinner all prepared and was waiting for him to start dinner.
After dinner, Xia Lei switched on the television and selected an English channel to watch.
Xia Xue stared curiously at Xia Lei as she put the dishes away. "When did you start to like to watch English channels, Brother? Can you understand it?"
Xia Lei smiled, "Of course I understand."
Xia Xue snorted, "Yeah, right! If even I don't really understand it, how can you?"
Xia Lei did not bother to explain himself. He watched the programme and learnt as he went, absorbing how the people on the telly spoke. He had already memorised all the words in the dictionary and the associated grammar so he was just lacking the speaking factor. Once he got past this barrier, he would, unquestionably, be a human translation machine. Of course, he couldn't tell Xia Xue this.