Most Chinese wear masks, double-faced or many-faced. I didn'tbelieve it before, but now I begin to construct my own mask. From this story, perhaps you can come to understand.
It was an afternoon a year ago. In the hallway of our department I met our vice-chairman. He has an extraordinary long face. Small eyes, nearly at the top of his forehead, always cold and with a look of vast superiority. The mouth set too far from the eyes, under a very long nose. Two large teeth sticking out over his lower lip, like a horse.
''Hello, Xiao Ji.'' He seemed very glad and cordially added ''xiao,'' which means ''young,'' to my name. It made me feel strange. I couldn't remember him ever smiling at me.
Perhaps, I thought, he hopes to be dean of the department. That morning, I had been interviewed by two men from the personnel office of our university. They were collecting every staff member's views on the leaders of our department.
''Eh . . .'' Mr. Ma seemed to want to say something, so I had to stop.
I'm not a taciturn person, but I found I could not say any more words to him.
''Your husband is in Lanzhou city, isn't he?''
''Yes.'' I glanced at him in surprise, not only because he already knew this, but because he had never been concerned with my life except to give me work to do.
''What subject does he teach?''
''Genetics.'' He should know this also, because a year before I had handed him an application asking for acceptance of my husband.
''Our genetics section,'' he said. ''Two teachers have gone abroad, you know.''
I had known that a year ago.
''Perhaps we can think about your husband.''
''Really!'' God, I am really lucky today.
I looked at him and found his face a little shorter.
''Write an application,'' he said.
''I have handed one to you.''
''Eh . . . yes. It's last year, isn't it? You should give me a new one.''
''OK.'' I thought the old one must have been thrown away. ''Thank you very much, Mr. Ma,'' I said sincerely, and went to may laboratory with a beautiful hope in my heart.
Four days later, after I handed in the application, I went to Ma's office. With his back to me, he was sitting at his desk reading a newspaper when I came in.
''Mr. Ma, about my application . . .''
''Oh.'' He turned to me. ''We haven't discussed it yet,'' then turned back to his newspaper.
Ten days later, I went to see him again. Again, he was reading a newspaper. This time, he didn't move his eyes off the paper, just threw several words to me. ''Haven't discussed.''
Several days later I talked about this matter with my roommate, Yang, who lived with her husband off campus and only came to our room for the noontime nap. She suggested I go to Ma's place to ask for an answer.
''Home is a better place for talking such business,'' she said. And she told me she would like to help me and would gladly accompany me to Ma's home as my supporter.
''My family has a good relationship with Ma, you know,'' she said.
Yes, I knew, she had told me before. Yang graduated from a technical secondary school two years ago. Just before her graduation, an official of the provincial education commission, a close friend of Yang's mother, visited Ma. Then Yang came to our department. Then, Ma and Yang's parents established a good relationship.
I accepted her suggestion. I believed she had more experience than I had in such affairs.
''It's very kind of you,'' I said. ''I really need your support.''
That evening, just after supper, we went to Ma's home. On our way, I found I had forgotten to change may shoes. The shoes on my feet were red-colored plastic slippers. I felt I could not walk fast in them.
''I should go back to change them,'' I told Yang.
''Just wear them,'' she said. ''My husband will worry if I get back home too late.'' I felt a little guilty for having drawn her into my affair.
It was not too dark. In the December breeze, my feet felt a little cold. Not much, just a little.
Ma's apartment was on the third floor. That was generally regarded as the best. I knocked on the door. No answer. I knocked again.
''Who is it?'' It was Ma's voice.
''I, Ji,'' I answered.
The door opened a crack and I met Ma's impatient eyes, but immediately they changed into a smile. It was not for me.
''Hi, Xiao Yang, why haven't you come for such a long time?'' He smiled so sweetly that the shape of his face changed completely.
He widened the crack, Yang went in, and I followed.
''I have been so busy these days, Uncle Ma.'' Calling him uncle showed a special relationship. ''We just mentioned you this noon and my mother wanted me to convey her regards to you.''
Ma was so pleased, and I wondered where his long nose had gone.
''Mr. Ma,'' I chipped in, awkwardly. ''My application . . .''
''It was rejected. How about your mother?'' He turned to Yang.
''She's fine. She got news from the provincial education commission, there will be a promotion soon. Is that true?''
''Mr. Ma,'' I spoke again, ''why was my application rejected?''