Chapter 32: A-Jiao’s New Life
Time went by one monotonous day after another, as undercover policewomen and prostitutes continued their daily routine of “up at dusk and down at dawn” in the alley. They walked the streets together and solicited clients together, except the target clientele was a bit different between the two groups. The policewomen had as their clients their own husbands, while the prostitutes had as their clients strangers who they’d never met before. Nevertheless, from a bystander’s point of view, they were all engaged in the same line of work. Could one truly tell which woman was an undercover officer and which was a real prostitute?
“Inspector Jiang, the municipal bureau headquarters is promoting a citywide community outreach program. The external affairs office wanted to ask if we should send someone to participate,” Liu Na sais as she entered Jiang Zhengkai’s office. Liu Na had taken over most of Wei Xin’s responsibilities during her absence; even though Wei Xin had returned to duty by now, Liu Na continued to handle many of her original duties. Jiang Zhengkai had taken Wei Xin off of case work to prevent her from getting hurt again.
“You know what? I’ve got an idea. Why don’t we send Wei Xin?” said Jiang Zhengkai as he stood up to leave. He had an armed robbery case that he had to investigate these days, but before he left, he glanced at the alley duty roster in Liu Na’s hand. “Don’t include Wei Xin in the nightly watch schedule. Let her rest some more.”
“Yes, sir!” Liu Na acknowledged with a nod. She was also a veteran police officer, so she understood where Jiang Zhengkai was coming from.
“Hey Wei, Inspector Jiang wanted you to help External Affairs with the community outreach program,” Liu Na warmly informed Wei Xin as she returned to their shared desk.
“Does that mean I won’t be able to stand watch in the alley again?” Wei Xin asked with a hint of disappointment.
“Hehe, silly girl!” teased Liu Na as she reached across the table to pinch Wei Xin’s nose. “This is Inspector Jiang’s way of taking care of you! Think about it: you get to be on TV, maybe become famous. Look, Inspector Jiang set you up with all of the sweet gigs, so why would you want to go back to the alley? The only thing waiting for you there is catching a cold.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Wei Xin replied with a smile. She knew Jiang Zhengkai was trying to take care of her, and that was enough for her. She didn’t care about the reasons why.
Meanwhile, A-Jiao found herself a new job as a preschool teacher. Even though the job paid peanuts compared to what she did before, she nevertheless felt very happy doing it. She felt being with children all day helped cleanse her soul and made her feel younger. It also made happiness that much easier to obtain.
“Ms. Ren, do you like my drawing?” a four-year-old boy asked as he ran over to A-Jiao holding a drawing in his hands.
“Yes, I love it!” A-Jiao replied while patting the little boy on his head. “Is this a drawing of me?”
“Yup! You have such beautiful short hair,” the boy answered. He quietly whispered, “Ms. Ren, I’m going to tell you a secret. Daddy says you are prettier than my mommy.”
A-Jiao laughed heartily at that. “Haha, make sure to keep that just between us, okay? Alright, here’s a gold star for you. Now go and play with your friends.”
The preschool principal Ms. Li appeared beside A-Jiao. “Ms. Ren, the school has decided that it will be starting a new gifted art class after all, so it looks like you’re going to have even more on your plate.”
“Thank you for letting me know, Ms. Li,” A-Jiao replied. Oh, that’s right, A-Jiao’s real name was Ren Ziyuan, not Lin A-Jiao, and her government-issued identification showed that she wasn’t from Turpan either.
“And don’t worry about compensation. The school will arrange for a raise that is commensurate with your added responsibilities,” Ms. Li reassured A-Jiao. What a likeable girl this new teacher was: always hardworking, and never complaining about her pay.
“Thank you, Ms. Li,” A-Jiao replied contently. “I just like playing with the kids all day.”
“Hehe, you’ll make a good mother one day.” Ms. Li smiled and left.
Late in the afternoon, A-Jiao sent the last child off before locking up the classroom and getting ready to go home. Just as she was about to leave, a BMW pulled up to the curb and rolled down the passenger-side window.
“Ms. Ren, care for a lift?” said a young, handsome man in the driver’s seat. His family must be rich if he was driving around in a Beemer.
“No, thank you. Aren’t you here to pick up Cui Jing?” A-Jiao asked as she dipped her head to look at the driver, who was wearing his signature thin smile.
“Oh, her! Isn’t today her day off?” The man hesitated before saying, “I came by to run some errands, and then I ran into you.”
“Oh yeah? Well, thank you for the offer, but I prefer to walk,” A-Jiao retorted as she straightened her back, waved at the car window, and walked away.
“Fuck that disrespectful bitch!” the man said as his fist forcefully struck the car’s steering wheel. “No way there’s a woman out there that could resist Li Hongbin’s charms.” Even so, he knew there wasn’t going to be another opportunity today for him to try again with A-Jiao, so he drove away sullen and disgruntled.
The city at night had become unusually beautiful in A-Jiao’s eyes. She liked looking at the streetlights lining its avenues and the radiant splendour of its multicolored neon signs. Before long, she had strolled over to Uncle Cai’s noodle shop.
“Uncle Cai, hand-cut noodles, please!” A-Jiao shouted joyfully as she walked in.
“Coming right up, hon!” Uncle Cai responded as he came out of the kitchen to greet A-Jiao. “You’re early today!”
“Yeah, I got off early today,” A-Jiao replied as she happily looked at Uncle Cai. “Oh, and I also want half an order of khapsey.”
“Alright, you got it!” Uncle Cai wiped down her table before returning to the kitchen.
A-Jiao sat down at her table. She couldn’t help but noticing a couple sitting at another table, quietly chatting while feeding each other noodles. As she watched, her mind fell into some kind of a trance…
“You shut up! Besides, nothing good comes out of your mouth anyway,”
“What did you say?”
“I said hurry up and eat!”
“You can’t eat that much salt yet!”
“Hey, mister big-shot police officer, did you used to be a kindergarten teacher or something? Is that why you’re treating me like a child?”
At that thought, A-Jiao pursed her lips into a smile. In an ironic twist of fate, it hadn’t been Jiang Zhengkai that became a kindergarten teacher, but rather herself.
“What are you thinking about? Must be pretty funny with that big grin on your face,” Uncle Cai said as he brought over a bowl of hand-cut noodles, a small saucer of fermented paste, and half a portion of khapsey.
“Nothing. I’m just happy to see you!” A-Jiao said flirtingly.
“So I’ve got something to tell you, but promise me you won’t get mad,” Uncle Cai said as he looked at A-Jiao’s face. He saw A-Jiao slowly nod her head, so he continued, “Well, I asked Jiang. He said he liked you.”
“What the heck, Uncle Cai! Who told you to ask him that?” A-Jiao exclaimed as her lips started to pout. She writhed uncomfortably in her chair.
“Hehe! You have to hurry up though! Jiang is quite a catch,” Uncle Cai laughed as he went off to serve other customers.
“Ugh, so annoying…” A-Jiao briskly muttered to herself as she sat there with her head cocked and her body softly rocking back and forth. Before long, her face had turned bright red.
After she was done eating, A-Jiao paid in cash, placing the bills underneath her noodle bowl. She said farewell to Uncle Cai and started to leave the restaurant. As soon as she stepped out of the front door, a well-built man walked in and shouted, “Uncle Cai! A large bowl of hand-cut noodles with extra paste and a serving of khapsey, please!”
Upon hearing this voice, A-Jiao quickly turned around and looked at that man for a second. She then quickly walked away from the restaurant. Perhaps life liked playing tricks on people, if it let you brush past the person you loved, only to not recognize who she was.
A-Jiao continued walking under the night sky. She soon neared the alley and her own home. She thought about it for a while, but decided not to proceed any further. She turned around and walked in the direction of the old house. At precisely that moment, that well-built man darted out of the noodle shop and ran furiously in the direction of the alley, but alas, the two of them had just missed each other once again.
In three short minutes, life had given Jiang Zhengkai two opportunities, but he’d failed to seize on either of them. In his mind, A-Jiao was still that girl with the long flowing hair. How could he have known that the short-haired beauty who’d walked right past him was the same woman he was looking for?
“Inspector Jiang, you’re in early this evening,” one of the police officers manning the surveillance room politely greeted Jiang Zhengkai as he charged in.
“Quick! Pull up surveillance footage from the last ten minutes!” Jiang Zhengkai ordered, even though he was clearly out of breath and leaning on the door for support. “See if there was a woman entering the alley!”
“I don’t see any woman entering the alley during the last ten minutes, sir,” the officer reported after fast-forwarding through the last ten minutes of surveillance footage. Ever since Wei Xin had been attacked, Yao Tianyu ordered that the entire alley be covered by police surveillance cameras.
Jiang Zhengkai carefully reviewed the surveillance footage. Suddenly, he discovered a familiar silhouette walking past on the street opposite the alley. The video was grainy, but it looked like… A-Jiao.
BAM! Jiang Zhengkai brought his fist down with great force on the surveillance room’s keyboard. He turned around and quietly walked out the door. “I’m tired. I’m going back home to sleep now.”