Few people forget how they first met the love of their lives. “I have an exceptional memory;” Andrew made a rare confession to Zhenzhu, ditching his usual modesty and opting for an approach as frank as he could manage. “I fancied you the first time I saw you, although I did not see what was coming. I’ve lived long enough to have learnt not to expect too much.”
One sunny day in late March, a Chinese girl came into his office without a prior appointment.
“I am a mature student on the MBA course, and my name is Zhenzhu Zhang, but you can call me Pearl, Mr Church.” She gave him a smile that spread across her whole face, and Andrew felt the room lit up and his drugging Friday afternoon instantly brighter.
“It’s lovely to meet you, Zhenzhu,” Andrew extended his hand. His pronunciation of her Chinese name was perfect, and she told him so.
In the South Yorkshire Newland University’s city campus, Andrew was in charge of International Development. “Sorry to bother you, Mr Church,” Zhenzhu explained the purpose of her visit. “I’m looking for a work placement and wondered if you can advise me.” The SYNU’s International Office was her first stop.
Andrew watched the young woman in front of him, a little nervous, maybe, but underneath her soft smiles and especially her dark pools, he saw a steely determination. God has been kind to this girl when arranging her features, he thought. On her oval-shaped face below her shiny, dark-brown eyes and a kind of cute Chinese nose was a luscious, full mouth. Andrew noted that she had shoulder-length, raven-black hair. She wore light make-up, which highlighted her cheekbones, and her copper-red lipstick drew attention effortlessly to her sexy lips. Unlike many English women her age, who seemed to be obsessed with black outfits all year round, she was dressed in a red, silk top and a black mini-skirt. Andrew did not fail to notice that she had long, shapely legs as they made their way to the Café inside the newly built Howarth Building.
“Thanks for the coffee, Mr Church.” Zhenzhu flashed him another radiant smile.
“You’re welcome, Zhenzhu. Andrew would do.” He smiled back, a wee smile which was hardly noticeable. Overt expressions of his feelings were not his trademark, especially during office hours.
“He’s cute” was her first impression, as she sat opposite the Englishman. She assumed his identity from his impeccable English, which seemed free from any hint of an accent, to her ear anyway. “I can’t tell where you’re from. You speak very clearly and without obvious accent.”
“Good,” he sounded pleased with her compliment. “I am actually a Yorkshire man, although I have lived in different parts of the country. How about you? Which part of China are you from?”
“Chongqing,” she paused, watching his face. Most people would tell her then that they had no idea where that was. Beijing or Shanghai would generally cover their knowledge of Chinese geography.
The man under watch just nodded as his blue eyes rested on her face. She added quickly, to cover her nervousness: “Chongqing is actually in the middle of the country, but it’s classified as the southwest of China. Have you ever been to China?”
“Oh yes, a couple of times, actually;” He replied, his voice a deep, pure sexiness in his tone, something very striking about him.
“In fact,” he continued, “I’ve just returned from my trip to Shenzhen, and I was greatly impressed with the economic progress that China has made in such a short period of time. I have never seen so much wealth, and so concentrated in one place, until I visited Shenzhen.”
Shenzhen, across the border from Hong Kong, was one of the Special Zones in southern China.
Pearl nodded her head, as she watched Andrew continuing his account about his visit. I could listen to this voice even if he was talking nonsense, she thought and felt embarrassed by her own private musings.
“There were about twenty S-Class Mercs parked outside the restaurant I was taken to; and a fish tank the size of a small swimming pool. Unbelievable.” He paused, giving Pearl a chance to chip in a response.
“I’ve never been to Shenzhen, but I know what you mean,” She did. “China has made great strides in economic terms in recent years.” She felt relieved to be talking to Andrew, someone who had an up-to-date knowledge of China. In her relative long time in the UK she had often encountered Westerners who still thought that women in China had bound feet or wore Mao suits.
Their conversation flowed, Andrew found himself increasingly intrigued by this girl, whose mystery was slowly revealed, bit-by-bit. Following introductions and pleasantries, and sipping coffee with a dig in the cake which Andrew had bought, Zhenzhu took out her a plastic folder and handed it over to the man she had come to see.
“Please, take a look at my CV and let me know what you think.” She spoke quickly. “I’d like to have a career in international marketing, and I am wondering about my chances.”
Andrew put down his coffee cup and scanned though her curriculum vitae as she drank her cappuccino, perhaps to calm her nerves. He could tell that she was shy, and his presence probably unsettled her.
Andrew had finished his own MBA ten years before. It was also in his nature to pass on advice to others needing them, especially an enthusiastic and attractive woman. At the time, all UK universities were frantically recruiting international students, particularly from South-East Asia. It was the beginning of the majestic Chinese boom, and soon students from China would come to dominate the UK overseas-student intake.
“Someone with your background and expertise would be very useful,” Andrew finally looked up. “You’d be a great asset to any university employer.” He was firm in his belief and in his statement: “I have no doubt that you will carve out a career in university administration, especially with your previous teaching experience and the forthcoming MBA qualification.” He concluded.
A man of quick thinking and prompt action, he said to the woman he had only met minutes ago and liked straight away. “I can offer you a six-week placement in my office and you can start as soon as your studies allow it.”
“Really?” her voice was raised, betraying her surprise and happiness. “Thank you very much, Mr Church. Oh yes, Andrew.” Her face flushed pink with excitement, as she stood up and offered her hand, grinning from ear to ear.
When she took her leave, Andrew’s sharp nose caught a wiff of her scent. His mouth shoot a question which his inquisitive mind demanded an answer: “What perfume are you wearing?”
Blushing, looking embarrassed at this unexpected intimate question. “Beautiful,” she said softly, adding quickly, “It’s by Estee Lauder – my favourite.”
Andrew took a mental note, filing it in one of many brain cells in his head, replying just as quickly, “I was just wondering. It’s very nice indeed, but something I’ve never encountered before.”
It is a scent I could get used to, he thought, watching her as she walked away. It’s been a good day today. He was pleased.
This short story is a sample from Trials of Life