Assistant Architect by Xi He Qing Ling
Chapter 1: Coffee
Zhang Siyi lifted his hand and swiped his phone screen. To his surprised, the current displayed time was 11:35.
When he first sat down, it was 10:40. The beautiful girl with expertly applied makeup and delicate curly hair in front of him had been scolding him for at least one hour. The other person didn’t seem like she was going to stop anytime soon. The cup of latte in front of her was completely cool now. Zhang Siyi wondered how she could talk for so long without having a drink. ….She wasn’t thirsty?
Even though he was listening, Zhang Siyi was really bored and his focus lie elsewhere. Scanning his surroundings with his eyes, he noticed a mix of traditional Chinese elements with contemporary European styles which gave the café a sleek yet comfortable environment to be in. In particular, the decorative, dark green star lights around the room were quite interesting. The table and chair positions were arranged perfectly to maximize the space inside the cafe. None of the tables were empty….
“Hey, are you listening?” The girl’s high voice abruptly pulled back Zhang Siyi’s attention.
“Yeh, I heard.” Zhang Siyi adjusted his body and quickly refocused his eyes back to the girl.
While talking, the girl’s long delicate fingers with painted nails flew in front of him like a colorful butterfly, as if to conduct a passionate “sonata” but unfortunately, this sonata was entering a boring repetitive major.
She continued to complain: “How many times since your return to China have you asked me out? I can count them on one hand…. three. Only three times!!
One of the times you overslept and the other two times we met were barely enough time to call it a date. I really don’t understand why you are so busy all the time! Before, while you were abroad, I understood because you were busy studying architecture. I have endured the time spent alone at home while you were away, but now you have graduated and are at home in China. Since you haven’t found a job yet, what are you doing at home all day?”
“Looking for a job …”
“Looking for a job, 24 hours a day? Don’t you have time to go out and eat with me? I called you the day before yesterday to ask you out and see a movie together. You promised we would go, but we ended up not going. What excuse did you give me? You said your portfolio wasn’t finished. But then, I saw you chatting with your friends online?”
Zhang Siyi argued. He took a break from doing his homework and checked his social media page for updates. It wasn’t for more than five minutes.
… well, maybe it was more like fifteen minutes.
“You have time to chat with your friends online, but you don’t have time to watch a movie with me?”
Zhang Siyi wanted to say “yes”, but he was afraid such a remark would evoke the girl’s fury. Since he didn’t want to be torn to pieces, he endured and remained silent.
Even so, his innermost feelings wouldn’t stop from bubbling up. …..going on a date with her to see a movie means I must wash and shampoo my hair, otherwise I get criticized. If I’m not wearing the right cloths, I get scolded. If I don’t agree with her feelings about the movie, she will get angry at me. Then, when the movie is over, I must take her home which is another 45min each direction let alone my own commute back home. With all of that time spent, of course it’s easier to chat online with friends!
Frowning again, the girl suddenly thought: “Didn’t you already graduate? What else do you have to do?”
“As I explained already, the designs I made while studying weren’t enough, so I need to take this time to create more drawings for my portfolio.”
“Why didn’t you do it while you were at University?”
“There were other things to worry about at the time. Designing wasn’t the only thing we did in the Architectural Department. There were additional areas of focus like structure and environment as well as history and culture. Also, there were various software programs I has to learn!”
“Busy playing games? Or busy chatting online?
“Zhang Siyi, why don’t you take better care of yourself when you go out? Your hair is so messy, and you have dark circles under your eyes. What time did you get to sleep last night? You used to never have acne on your face, but look at you…. You have two spots on your forehead!”
“I thought everyone who studied architecture was very proper and clean-cut. When I first met you, you were so well dressed and fashionable…”
“…” ….I wanted to impress you at that time!
“But look at you now. No one would believe that the slob in front of me is learning architecture!”
Zhang Siyi became defensive and offered: “You never saw the state of the department members right before our projects were due. It wasn’t uncommon for people to stop washing their hair or bathe for a month!”
The girl showed a shocked and disgusted expression, but in less than two seconds, she complained: “But you have graduated now and aren’t working, so why are you still acting like that. Ah!”
“I said I was doing my …”
“Don’t keep talking about your portfolio. What about the days when you first returned to China? I invited you out, but you are always with that guy named Fu Xinhui. You are now renting a house and living together. You go out with him and he even cooks’ meals for you!”
When his girlfriend mentioned this, Zhang Siyi was anxious: “Can you not think about it, I am really just friends with him.”
“Ha?” The girl sneered. “I haven’t said anything and yet you are so anxious to refute! Do you know that there is a word called ‘to cover the glory’? I have long heard that there are many gay people learning design.”
Zhang Siyi was a little annoyed: “You think your boyfriend is gay?”
“I just want you to keep your distance from him!”
“Please, I’ve been with him for four years. If he was gay, I’d have noticed it by now. Besides, he used to have a girlfriend!” As far as his relationship with Fu Xinhui goes, Zhang Siyi lost count of how many times he has had to explain this to her. She always doubted him and felt like he was lying to her.
“What are you so angry about? All I did was mention Fu Xinhui. Do you have something to hide?”
He was a straight man who was repeatedly suspected by his girlfriend of being gay. How could it still be so difficult for her to understand. Zhang Siyi was depressed: “If you wanted to take me out today just to go through these old accounts, I really do not have time for you. I did not sleep until four in the morning today, and you woke me up at nine, so now I’m dead tired!”
Instead of being calm, the girl grew even more agitated. She raised her voice and said: “Do you think I want to rehash the same grievances again? Every time I see you, you look awful. I have been waiting for you at home for two years, but when you came back, you only took the initiative to contact me a few times!”
Zhang Siyi’s was so angry that his face was turning blue. When the University was on break, he would return home to China. Every time, he brought her many gifts and upon receiving them, her eyes would sparkle happily. However, he didn’t know what had changed over the past two months. As time passed, her temper was getting worse and worse. She had become a different person.
The girl didn’t wait for Zhang Siyi to answer. Instead, she vented her frustrations in a barrage of words that didn’t seem like they were going to end anytime soon. Finally, she stated: “If you are going to act like this then don’t bother relying on me. Do you know how disappointed I am with you now!”
Before Zhang Siyi even knew what was happening, he impulsively replied: “Since you are so disappointed with me, then let’s break up!” This was the first time he thought about breaking up. After the angry words from both of them subsided, they instantly fell into a strange silence.
Although Zhang Siyi regretted it a little, he really couldn’t stand her treatment anymore. At least today, he didn’t want to be the ‘good guy’ anymore.
Looking at each other in silence, she was startled. The girl’s face went from an angry blue to an ashen white. With the beginning of tears forming in her red eyes, she suddenly stood up. She grabbed the cup in front of her in a hurry and with a shaking hand, she aimed for Zhang Siyi.
Just as he was thankful for his agility, in the next second a noise came from behind. Zhang Siyi turned his head to see the young man behind him.
Long legs…. well-proportioned face…. perfect build…. One word described his features; handsome.
Dressed in a plain white T-shirt and simple slacks with a large album under his arm, he looked like an approachable person someplace between a strict white-collar worker and a laid-back scholar…… Of course, if you ignore the large coffee stain from his waist to the hem of his pants.
His other hand was in the process of pushing back his seat. Apparently, he was preparing to leave, but because of Zhang Siyi’s dodging, he was covered in coffee instead. Now, the unabsorbed coffee was continuing down his pant leg, trickling onto his clean vintage shoes and looking miserable.
“S, sorry…” Zhang Siyi hurriedly apologized.
The man held up an arm halfway and stared at him, furrowing his brows with dislike. With such a simple facial action, a cold shiver ran down Zhang Siyi’s back.
Under the impulsiveness of the girl, her wrath had come on to others. It was extremely embarrassing. Since she was still mad at Zhang Siyi, she had blamed him and had no desire to apologize for her actions. Hearing Zhang Siyi’s excuses, she had a very legitimate reason for throwing the coffee, so she picked up her bag and stomped away angrily. She left the mess for her former boyfriend to clean up.
Zhang Siyi looked at the handsome guy with wide eyes. …..What should I do with this situation? Apologize? Offer money? Help him wash his clothes? Or do I offer a business card and leave it to a phone call and settle the problem later?
Zhang Siri didn’t want to get further involved then was necessary. He would rather spend more money immediately to solve the issue than be in a long drawn-out confrontation. Based on how the man was dressed, Zhang Siyi thought it wouldn’t cost too much as he wasn’t wearing designer clothes.
“Ah…. this thing…” Zhang Siyi took a minute to look around for some napkins to offer and wipe up the mess.
However, before he finished, in a low tone that revealed a hint of indifference and alienation, the man interrupted him: “Forget about it.”
“…” Forget it? He was splashed with a cup of coffee instead of a glass of mineral water!
The handsome man didn’t give Zhang Siyi much time to think. After the words left his mouth, he turned and left. Just as he approached the door, the man turned his head to look back at Zhang Siyi’s deflated figure.
Stunned in place, Zhang Siyi suddenly remembered the verbal lashing he received. His girlfriend was talking for over an hour with him. For how long was the man sitting behind him and how much did he overhear?
With Zhang Siyi sloppy appearance and his girlfriend accusation of being gay…… no wonder he turned tail and left in a hurry. Oh, this is fucking embarrassing! Upset at himself, he sighed. ….I’m so stupid!
Taking a deep breath, he reassured himself repeatedly ….the city is so big, he can’t possibly bump into that guy again. In a few days the incident will be forgotten. Just let it go!
After returning home, Zhang Siyi turned on the air conditioning and flopped on his bed giving him a moment respite from the mental and physical exhaustion the break up caused.
Upon Zhang Siyi return to China, he and his 2 friends decided to share a three-bedroom apartment located in the Haicheng part of town which is one of the most prosperous locations in the city. Naturally, the rent was not low but, with the three of them living together, the rent was only 4000 each due monthly.
Zhang Siyi had boasted in front of his friends about being self-sufficient financially. He claimed he would make money for himself after graduating and didn’t want to burden his family. Even so, the rent for the first three months was covered by the left-over money that his parents provided for him while he had lived abroad. The remaining balance was converted into RMB for his current expenses. Now almost two months have passed and he still didn’t have a job. Since another month’s rent was soon due, the only thing he will be able to eat is dirt!
After a long sigh, Zhang Si Yi got up from the bed to turn on his computer. He wanted to see if anyone had responded to the resumes he had sent to various architectural firms. However, his mailbox was empty.