Money is the root of all evil and once again it rears its ugly head. It’s tragic because we know that both Cheng Zheng and Yun Jin care little for money unlike a certain someone who also gets involved albeit unwittingly …
Spring passed uneventfully. Cheng Zheng’s birthday was going to be in the early days of August. Ten-odd days before the big day, he had already reminded Yun Jin umpteen times about his upcoming special day. Yun Jin thought long and hard about a suitable present, a task made more difficult because he insisted that he didn’t want any gift that can be bought with money. Although his father Cheng Yan Sheng never spoilt him with materialistic possessions, for his dear son’s 23rd birthday, he and his wife Zhang Jin Yin decided to buck tradition and get him a special gift which would remain a surprise.
To ensure that he reserved his special day for Yun Jin, Cheng Zheng started holding birthday celebrations with his different batches of colleagues and friends many days before it. One night, Yun Jin was alone at home and halfway through a Go match when she received a call from her uncle’s handphone. In all these years, uncle rarely talked to her so mother was their common channel. Yun Jin had a premonition that something bad was about to happen.
Perhaps the whole world is truly under the terror of Murphy’s Law – the more afraid you were of something happening, the more likely it would befall you. Uncle had only made it through half his speech but Yun Jin’s heart had already plunged into an abyss.
Hey mother had been suffering from malaise for a long period. Originally, everyone assumed it was just an ordinary gynaecological issue. However after two months, her mother could not bear with it any longer and headed for the hospital for a thorough investigation only to discover it was mid-stage cervical cancer. Uncle had been caught off-guard and he admitted her into the hospital immediately.
An operation and treatment expenses totalled to a great sum of money. Mother didn’t have insurance coverage and uncle was no longer as well-off as he once was. To tide through this, he had misappropriated company funds in his capacity as manager. He had intended to put the funds back before the year-end accounting was done but unfortunately, as fate would have it, this August the entire company was being subject to sudden account checks and his branch was next. Where on earth was he going to find such a large sum of money in time? If his fraud was uncovered, not only would he lose his job, but his reputation would also be ruined. The only silver lining was that mom’s condition stabilised with that timely sum of money.
“How much is it?” Yun Jin ordered herself to remain composed but her voice still quivered.
“One hundred and fourteen thousand.”
“One hundred …” Yun Jin’s voice trailed off.
“Yun Jin, you must understand your mom needed chemotherapy. And then there was also expensive medication …” Uncle jumped in anxiously.
“She’s my mother! My own mother! Why didn’t you tell me in the first instance instead of touching money you had no business to? Why!” Yun Jin lost her cool and interrupted her uncle as tears poured down her face. “It’s been two months. How long did you intend to hide it from me? What do you want me to do now?”
Uncle was startled at her outburst and he became even more incoherent “Yun Jin … It’s not like that … Your mom is fine at the moment. We didn’t want to inform you at first because your mom didn’t want you to worry cause even if we did tell you, you have only just started working, where would you have that kind of money? … I know Cheng Zheng is rich. Initially I wanted you to borrow from him … That is a loan, not a handout from him but your mom refused. She said if you were to borrow from him, you may never be able to hold your own in his presence in future … You don’t have to say it but I know you have your pride. Uncle is really useless. I have made things difficult for you … If your mom didn’t mention it, I wouldn’t even have thought of the repercussions if you were to take a loan from him. I’m a boorish man. But since your mom married me, I want the very best for her. I thought we could quietly tide through this, who knew we would be so unlucky? … Yun Jin … I wouldn’t be calling you if I could help it. Your mom doesn’t know about this conversation we’re having. I’m just afraid if I’m found out, even Director Zhang won’t look good …”
Yun Jin was a ghost of her usual self when she replaced the receiver back on its stand. Her tears left a faint course on her face and she felt a numbing ache in her heart. So she was actually a useless daughter. Her mom was so sick yet she knew nothing about it.
Uncle was right, even if he had told her earlier, what could she have done about it? She had no money. Would she have asked Cheng Zheng for it? Even uncle knew she could not bring herself to broach this favour. Was her mother’s life more important than her pride? Was she really such a selfish person?
Her mother and uncle didn’t want her to lose face in front of Cheng Zheng but with matters coming to this, how could she ever maintain her pride in front of him ever again?
She thought her heart would split apart. There was no one she could blame. She suddenly felt that the entire thing was absurd; it was as if fate had already decreed it. Even if she wanted to avoid it, there was no escaping the black pit in front of her. She came to her senses and rushed to open her drawer and dugged out all her bank account statements which totalled fifteen thousand. This was her life savings. Then she took out her phone directory and dialled Yu Hua first.
Yu Hua hadn’t graduated from her medical course but she willingly offered all she had, though it only came up to a few thousand. Yun Jin continued to ring up her university hostel mates, classmates and anyone she knew well enough. Everyone wasn’t well off so the sum total of their contributions in addition to Yun Jin’s savings was barely forty thousand. It was still a long way to the amount that uncle stated. Yun Jin clutched her thin bank booklet and felt defeated.
Her handphone rang, giving her a fright. It was Cheng Zheng. “Yun Jin, come down now. I’m in the lobby. Hurry!” He couldn’t conceal the excitement in his tone.
Yun Jin dabbed at her face quickly and put away her bank book before hurrying to the lobby. She only just stepped out the elevator when she saw Cheng Zheng standing next to a huge vehicle and smiling radiantly.
“Yun Jin! This is the surprise my parents were planning for me. It’s a limited edition dark blue Hummer H2. They just sent someone to deliver this. Can’t believe my old man has such good taste.”
Yun Jin stared dumbfounded at the flashy all-terrain vehicle in front of her and remained speechless for a long while. Cheng Zheng assumed she was just as stunned as he had been initially as he ushered her into the front passenger seat.
“I’ll take you for a spin. Do you see this? It’s even equipped to sense the weather! It also has a dual …” Cheng Zheng droned on enthusiastically.
“How much does this car cost?” Yun Jin had to ask.
Cheng Zheng wrinkled his forehead deep in thought “Approximately fifty, sixty thousand? I’m not too sure of the exact cost. But who cares? Only 870 of this was manufactured world-wide. Even if you had money, you may not be able to get it.”
“But if one doesn’t even have money, then it will become even more unattainable. Fifty thousand …” Yun Jin shook her head and laughed bitterly. It was merely a birthday gift, a huge toy to be precise yet it cost an astronomical sum that poor people’s lives depended on.
“Don’t think my dad is being generous. If he was really so willing to dole out that sum of money, the anti-corruption bureau would ring him up in the first instance. This was definitely mom’s idea.” Cheng Zheng looked right at her as he spoke.
Yun Jin gently turned his head back front “Since your parents have given this to you, you must drive safely.”
If she had intended to be honest with him, the words were swallowed now.
The next day, Cheng Zheng insisted on giving her a ride to her workplace. The flashy car garnered much attention the whole drive over.
In the afternoon before she knocked off, Yun Jin gave Shen Ju An a call. By evening, eighty thousand dollars were transferred into her account. She quickly transferred the one hundred and twenty thousand to her uncle’s account.
Yun Jin was grateful that Shen Ju An had refrained from probing yet still helped her readily. She knew however he, of all people, was not the best choice. Besides his ties with Cheng Zheng’s family, she was once romantically involved with him. Having any sort of financial entanglement with him was not ideal. If her hand wasn’t forced, she would never have asked him for such an unpalatable favour.
Truth be told, no matter how she sliced it, she knew the person she should approach was Cheng Zheng because he was closest to her. If her mother had told her about her illness in the first instance, then she would have approached Cheng Zheng regardless of how she felt because nothing was more important than her mom. But because of the extreme measures her mother and uncle took in order to “spare her”, she was now rendered unable to face Cheng Zheng.
Now, all she could think about was how she could help her uncle return the money quietly without incident. She wanted it to be off the records so that it would seem like it never happened. As for Ju An’s money and kindness, she would repay it eventually. He was not her lover so she could be indebted to him because a simple debt can always be repaid easily.
That night she had to drag her weary body back home. She opened the door to find Cheng Zheng sitting on the couch. On hearing the door open, Cheng Zheng turned his head in her direction and watched her enter. However his eyes lacked its usual warmth and familiarity.
Yun Jin knew that the cat was out of the bag. Perhaps it had never been realistic or even possible to hide it from him. Since she knew what was coming her way was only a matter of time, she decided to take the bull by the horns. She sat on the chair directly facing him and waited for him to begin.
“Earlier, your ex-hostel friend Xiao Wen called. She said something came up and the money that was supposed to be for your mom’s treatment cannot be loaned at the moment. So I called your mom and strangely your uncle thanked me. Not too long ago my mom told me that your uncle … and wanted me to tell you that she will settle it. Su Yun Jin, answer me honestly, where did you get a hundred and ten thousand?”
Nothing in this world can remain hidden forever. Yun Jin gazed into his suspicious eyes and felt unsettled. She then decided to spill the whole truth, including Ju An’s involvement.
Instead of becoming furious, Cheng Zheng laughed bitterly “In such a situation, the first person you think of is Shen Ju An and not me. Tell me, aren’t I such a failure?”
Yun Jin felt powerless “I don’t know how to explain this … You won’t understand.”
Cheng Zheng got to his feet “If I don’t understand, can’t you explain it slowly? Why do you always take me for a fool? … Then what about Shen Ju An? Is he capable of comprehending?”
“Yes he is because he is just like me – he knows how scary it is to be poor. If you have no money, you have no dignity! We’re not like you – you’ve never known what it’s like to be poor. Cheng Zheng, I never thought of you as a fool. I only care about our relationship. My uncle relied on your family’s recommendation to get the job. Now that there’s a discrepancy in the accounts, I don’t want to use your family’s money to replace it. This will just make it awkward for everyone.”
“What rubbish. Then it’s not at all awkward for you to look up Shen Ju An?” Cheng Zheng was almost menacing.
“I can be indebted to Shen Ju An but I cannot owe you. It would change everything between us!” Yun Jin also rose from her seat and challenged his gaze.
Cheng Zheng grabbed a package that was lying on the couch with one hand and Yun Jin’s wrist with the other.
“If you truly care about us, come with me.” He said as he dragged her towards the main door.
In this manner, Yun Jin was forced onto the car. She sensed that they were heading in the direction of Zhang Yue’s and Shen Ju An’s residence but no matter what she said, Cheng Zheng squarely ignored her.
Soon they reached Shen Ju An’s private residence in the hilltops. Cheng Zheng gave him a call before driving in to the carpark to await his appearance. Ten minutes passed before Shen Ju An emerged properly attired. He looked from Yun Jin to Cheng Zheng warily as though bracing himself for what was to come.
Before Shen Ju An could speak, Cheng Zheng had already stormed out of the car and ripped open the package. He took out wads of notes and flung them violently at Shen Ju An who wasn’t able to avoid the onslaught in time. There was one stack which unravalled in mid-air and pink, crisp hundred-dollar bills rained down on Shen Ju An.
“Cheng Zheng!” Yun Jin yelled horrified but it did little to stop him.
Although Shen Ju An was subjected to such humiliation, his expression didn’t falter as he allowed the notes to continue sliding down him as he remained rooted to the spot.
Cheng Zheng wasn’t done. He spewed angrily “Here’s all the money, it’s not a single dollar short. I don’t know what your intentions are; my cousin willingly married you so I won’t say anything about that but will you please leave Yun Jin alone!”
Shen Ju An slowly reached up to a dollar bill that had landed on his shoulder and said slowly “I think you’re mistaken.”
“Mistaken?” Cheng Zheng sneered. “Don’t think everyone’s as foolish as Zheng Yue. We all know what your motives are but we choose not to say it. Do you actually think this money is yours? If you have it in you, don’t use the Zhang family’s money to act chivalrous.”
“Shut up!” the same phrase was voiced simultaneously by two different people. Zhang Yue was dressed in homely attire and her hair was all messy as she rushed out the house. On the other hand, Yun Jin was desperately trying to restrain Cheng Zheng.
Shen Ju An acted as if nothing had happened. He stooped over and started picking the scattered bills one by one and placed them neatly in the packet Cheng Zheng had been holding onto earlier. He never once looked at Cheng Zheng as he asked Yun Jin gently “Are you sure you don’t need this anymore?”
Yun Jin felt so badly towards Shen Ju An that she couldn’t look at him even as she apologized profusely. Zhang Yue walked up to Cheng Zheng and screamed in his face “What are you, a child? Do you ever think before you act?”
Cheng Zheng snarled “I’m afraid the one who doesn’t use her brain is you. You know it’s a ditch yet you still jump into it willingly.”
Zhang Yue was so upset that her face turned white. She pointed at Cheng Zheng and yelled “That’s MY business. Get out NOW!”
Cheng Zheng slapped her offending hand away “I can’t be bothered with you. Watch over your husband.”
“Cheng Zheng let’s go. Now.” Yun Jin tugged hard at Cheng Zheng but he didn’t budge. In a fit of rage, she dropped his hand angrily “You’re impossible. If you won’t leave, I will.” With that she stalked right out the private carpark.
At this, Cheng Zheng turned and ran after her but not before getting a last word in “Zhang Yue, you’ll regret it one day.”
Zhang Yue’s jaw tightened at their retreating backs “I’m so done with you Cheng Zheng.”
Shen Ju An smiled as he reached for her hand “Why be upset? Let’s go in.”
Cheng Zheng and Yun Jin drove back in silence. Only when he neared home did his temper finally give out. He attempted to talk to Yun Jin but she rebuffed him as she showered before sleeping. That night, she refused to look at him again.
Cheng Zheng lay next to her and shook her shoulder gently “Please, say something. Are you still mad at me?”
Yun Jin inched forward out of his range but Cheng Zheng merely followed suit. He said grudgingly “I’m the one who did nothing wrong but you’re the one who’s angry. I haven’t even scolded you yet.”
Yun Jin was emotionally drained but she was so bothered by his chattering that she couldn’t ignore him any longer. She flipped over and sat up “Yes you did nothing wrong. It’s all my fault. Cheng Zheng why are we doing this? I’m so tired.”
Cheng Zheng panicked and he forcefully grabbed her in a hug “I won’t care for anything else again just as long as you’re with me. Yes I admit I hate Shen Ju An and I wanted so badly to humiliate him but Yun Jin can you put yourself in my shoes for a moment? Tomorrow’s my birthday. You asked me what gift I would like so here it is: Yun Jin I want you to promise me you’ll never leave me.”
Yun Jin shut her eyes and sighed inwardly.