Is surviving considered living?
In other news, we’re at the three-quarter mark!
The warmth from the heated shower steamed up the bathroom mirror. Yun Jin swiped her hand slowly across, unveiling her reflection as many tiny droplets formed in its wake. She hadn’t seen herself completely naked in a long time. This girl before her grew up to be so weak. Her hands followed the contours of her neck and continued downwards till it stopped at her flat abdomen.
She was aware of the look that Lu Lu gave her as she was alighting. She wasn’t in the least bit surprised that Lu Lu, who was such a romantic, was disappointed in her. In fact, her old friend Mo Yu Hua also strongly disapproved of her clandestine relationship. The Su Yun Jin who was prideful, who saw dignity as the most important thing in life, grew up to become a third party in someone’s marriage. There was nothing more ironic than this.
But if actions were reversible, would she have made the same choices? Maybe she would still have.
In the initial period post break-up with Cheng Zheng, she had clutched her phone in her palm all day. She fervently believed that no matter how terrible both of them felt, he would come looking for her eventually just as he always did after every quarrel. And when he did, she would personally tell him the words she had not had the chance to say.
But he never did come for her.
The moment the phone he had given her sank into the murky depths of the Zhu Jiang river, she finally accepted reality and its cruel twists – she and Cheng Zheng had separated for real and he no longer loved her or wanted anything to do with her. She had previously guessed that two people living together might feel suffocated eventually but when he did let go, she felt as though her soul had left her body as she walked around an empty shell.
He accused her of not loving him. How dare he accuse her of not loving him!
The subsequent days were a neverending cycle of nightmares. She had lain hopelessly on the hospital bed and the thought of committing suicide even crossed her mind. There was one night when her throat was unbearably parched. She buzzed for the late shift staff nurse to no avail. Unfortunately for her, said nurse was off on an errand so she struggled to reach the jug of water at her bedside.
Her first attempt was unfruitful. On her second try, she gritted her teeth and reached out even further. On the third try, she felt the wound splitting. She poured out a generous amount of water and downed it rapidly. She was so focused on her goal that she did not feel the pain temporarily.
In that trying time, Yu Hua was in Shanghai doing the stupidest thing of her life while Ju An had accompanied Zhang Yue to France. She never dreamed that the complications would be this severe so initially, she didn’t even inform her mom. As she laid in the hospital, her colleagues brought news of a major departmental shuffle. She sensed the news was an ominous foretelling but since it was out of her control, she was adamant not to agonize over it especially given the terrible state she was already in. After all, it wasn’t like she had never lost precious things before.
Unexpectedly, Director Xu came to see her. She felt more shocked than privileged at his visitation. He was the one who had scouted her during the company interview. She had never imagined in her wildest dreams that such a high-ranking staff would personally stop by to see the small-time employee that she was. He even helped see to her hospitalisation paperwork. More importantly, he safeguarded her position during the company’s vast retrenchment exercise.
Yun Jin was no fool. She could tell how he felt about her from his eyes. For a period thereafter, she was exceptionally quiet.
Eventually her mother found out about her hospitalisation and had raced across the country to get to her side. When she saw Xu Zhi Heng keeping her company instead of Cheng Zheng, she was very surprised though she held her tongue. Of course, Yun Jin didn’t tell her the truth – that Xu Zhi Heng had married in Taiwan before being transferred to China for work. As his wife was unwilling to leave the life she knew, the two of them grew distant both physically and emotionally.
After her discharge, she felt as though she’d crossed an invisible threshold – everything was firmly in the past. She knew without a doubt that she had lost him forever. Truthfully, Xu Zhi Heng never once pressured her, everything was borne of her own willingness. After treading the fine line between life and death, she realised how absurd her demands of maintaining her pride and dignity was. When one is at his wit’s end and has nothing to his name, dignity isn’t worth a single cent. Her desperation to survive superseded her pride. Better yet, she not only had to survive but had to live well. She may have lost the love of her life but she couldn’t lose the drive to find happiness else her life would truly be over.
Xu Zhi Heng appeared at this critical juncture. He extended a helping hand when she needed it most and was the floating plank to her drowning self. She had no other ways of repaying him. That was how she became the third party that people derided. Technically, what she had with Xu Zhi Heng wasn’t an emotional contract. He was matured, handsome, accomplished, and had a high EQ. More importantly, he was magnanimous. If she had met him sooner, she had no doubt she would have fallen for him. In her eyes, he wasn’t an accomplished married man but a lonely person just as she was. She too was only human. So for almost four years, they comforted, derived warmth and depended on the other.
Apart from that one hospitalization, Yun Jin never accepted anything from Xu Zhi Heng. Yes, she needed money but it would never be a hand-out. In the company, she never received special treatment because of her relationship with Xu Zhi Heng. She didn’t want it either. She wanted her works to show for herself and this motivated her to strive even harder. Xu Zhi Heng was also a principled man and never mixed personal business with work. However, it could not be denied that he had a hand in her smooth-sailing ascent in the company . If it weren’t for him, she couldn’t have laid in bed for three months and still keep her job when the company was undergoing a manpower upheaval. If it weren’t for him, she couldn’t have received yet another opportunity to go for further training which was an offer she had earlier rejected.
As commendable as her performance was, as an inexperienced young adult, she couldn’t have made it this far without her superior’s backing. Whenever it came to employee performance assessment and promotion, she would be up against equally qualified competitors and emerge triumphant. She was well aware of this so she pushed herself to complete all projects to the best of her ability. She needed to prove to everyone that she was deserving. In all these years, there had always been rumours swirling about the nature of her relationship with Xu Zhi Heng but since no one was absolutely certain, no one dared question her authority.
Long before his wife confronted her, Yun Jin had already predicted that her relationship with Xu Zhi Heng was coming to an end. He hadn’t said anything but she could sense his ever-growing confliction. No matter what, he and his wife had been deeply in love back when they were university mates. Even in the early days of their marriage, they had been very happy and blissful. It was only after he moved to China that their marriage became strained.
Xu Zhi Heng claimed he couldn’t let go of Yun Jin. This was hardly unexpected because they had provided each other with sincere companionship during their loneliest days. But Yun Jin knew she had to end this harmful relationship. One could call her an ingrate or a scheming witch but at the end of the day, Xu Zhi Heng and her were only passer-bys in life. Now that the sun had emerged and the dark days were over, they had to part. There was a tragic beauty in possessing a broken heart; try as she might, she would never fall in love again. While she did feel a slight twinge of forlorn and regret, it was still bearable.
From that moment on, Xu Zhi Heng and her reverted to their professional relationship and they put the past behind them. It had been awkward initially but thankfully Xu Zhi Heng was a gentleman; despite their parting, he still looked out for Yun Jin in company matters. However, since their offices were located on different floors, they rarely met apart from the occasional meetings.
As for Lu Lu, ever since the nasty encounter with Mrs Xu and learning of the clandestine relationship between Yun Jin and Xu Zhi Heng, she wore a troubled frown for many days. Yun Jin couldn’t stand seeing the effervescent girl appear so downcast so she summoned Lu Lu to her office.
“What’s up with you recently?” Yun Jin leaned back in her seat and looked at her.
Lu Lu fidgeted before replying “Now I know being privy to a huge secret is very unbearable especially since I can’t tell anyone.”
Yun Jin didn’t know if she should chuckle or sigh. “I think your mixing up my documents is more unbearable.”
Following which, Yun Jin gave her a stern warning to focus on her work.
Yun Jin’s 28th birthday followed closely after the Mid-Autumn Festival. Her mother rang her up on her birthday to nag at her singlehood given her age because some daughter of some neighbour, who was born in the same year as Yun Jin, already had a kid in kindergarten.
Her mom’s health had slowly deteriorated over the years with all sorts of illnesses cropping up so Yun Jin tried her best to be filial so as not to upset her mother unnecessarily. This time was no different as she placated her mother by solemnly repeating her promise not to miss a good catch if he should come by.
On the other hand, well-meaning Lu Lu had convinced every single colleague in the marketing division to contribute to buying Yun Jin a ridiculously large bouquet of roses on her special day. No woman would ever reject roses so after work, Yun Jin deposited her bouquet in the front passenger seat. The car was immediately filled with the mild, sweet scent of the roses and Yun Jin thought to herself that maybe turning a year older wasn’t such a scary thing after all.
A few days earlier, Yu Hua arranged to have dinner with her to celebrate this milestone in her life. Yun Jin decided to head home first to freshen up before meeting her good pal. When she was in the carpark, she eyeballed a familiar looking Volvo. Actually, as early as a week ago, Yun Jin had already seen the same car in the carpark. She had been frightened witless when she noticed that the license plate was exactly the same as the one that had tailed her the other night so she had sought out the security guard. However, she was then informed that the owner was a proprietor in their condominium. Yun Jin felt something was amiss but she reasoned that it would make sense that the Volvo had appeared to be tailing her the other night if he also lived here and that her suspicions were unfounded.
Just as she was about to drive pass that car, Yun Jin cut her speed and wound down her window. She hoped that if she was lucky, she would be able to catch a glimpse of the owner but it was not meant to be. The district had a ruling: cars were not allowed to dally in non-parking spaces for long. However, her overwhelming curiosity would not be sated so she pulled to a side and was prepared to wait it out. In the end, she wasn’t disappointed because in under two minutes, a couple who were wrapped around each other emerged from the lift.
If she were someone else, she would have felt that the couple before her eyes was a perfect pairing – the man was tall and handsome whereas the lady was petite and beautiful. It was apparent from his actions that he cared very much for his lady and that the two were very much in love. In this moment, it was already evening and Su Yun Jin sat frozen in her car that was sealed off from the outside world. She noticed that dusk was descending on her and the darkness was swallowing up the heavens and the earth, casting everything into shadows and leaving her out of touch from the couple outside who was too engrossed with smiling at each other to notice anyone or anything in their vicinity.
It wasn’t that she had never imagined their paths crossing. In fact, she had expected herself to be able to smile and forget the troubled past they shared or at the very most, she would at least force herself to walk away calmly. Now she knew she did not have it in her. She wanted to step on the accelerator and speed off but every inch of muscle in her body was weirdly out of sync as they tensed up and refused to obey her instructions. All she could do was sit stiffly as she watched him, and her, board the car and depart.
Even as the two cars crossed, he didn’t see her.