I sat at my computer clicking on different windows aimlessly. Typing a few words here and there. Occasionally I sent out a message on QQ or Wechat to a colleague. The office drummed with the sound of worker ants beating away on their solitary black computing machines.
In front and behind were rows upon rows of desks. Each with it’s own flag to mark the department title. A sea of people.
Over my ears were big plastic headphones. The kind with batteries that you could turn on to muffle outside noise. I listened to a slow tempo mixtape while I sipped a cup of black tea.
My wandering cursor couldn’t seem to find the right window. I hadn’t been able to focus ever since the morning. That’s when I had been told that I was being ordered by the higher ups to change the style in which I wrote all of our previous lessons. No more repeating sentence patterns. I wrote stories for children learning English.
The PHD in charge of the project, the one with the moon shaped face and thin black hair, wanted more story. She was barking up the wrong fucking tree. I sipped my black tea.
I should be productive right now, I told myself. I am at work. It’s Monday. But I couldn’t help and allow myself to wander aimlessly through the internet like a man who has wandered down the wrong alley and then sees something interesting in a shop window.
Anger mixed with confusion stopped me in my tracks. Those sentence patterns should repeat, shouldn’t they? Those children didn’t have a high enough language ability to know multiple sentence patterns. If we repeated the sentence patterns, well, then surely we could vary the vocabulary inside and therefore teach them new words.
I could feel the boiling rage. Old and stale like a stew left over night. The same rage that came when I learned I was being screwed out of a bonus a year ago. The same one that came when I found out that she had slept with him.
They didn’t understand how to work. It was stupid and inefficient and that’s all there was to it. Maybe I was crazy.
I left work that day with only two stories finished, 60 words a piece. Look at me, I thought to myself, here, alone, decaying in a Chinese industrial park. Who would have thought? Wasting away.
The wind lashed at my face as I rode home on my electric scooter. The road was darkened from a light drizzle that had snuck through the clouds. I wore a thick wool sweater and a long sleeve shirt underneath a thinner canvas jacket. It was the color of merlot wine.
I changed into long underwear and sweat pants in the confines of my apartment. The pin on my calendar still had not landed on the 15th of November, when the government was scheduled to fire up the city’s heating system. My apartment was cold.
I sat on the couch and used my phone to ordered some Korean fried chicken. Then I logged my spending on a spreadsheet in my phone. My stomach growled.
I normally didn’t eat that early. I liked to wait until around 8 at night to eat. Maybe it was the cold. When it’s too cold out your body is forced to burn more calories to stay warm.
So I sat on my couch and waited for the delivery man to bring fried chicken. Outside my window the clouds grayed out the sky line as night rolled over us. My couch was in the back of the apartment, far away from the only real window in my bedroom, everything was dark there except for a signal lightbulb which burned overhead.
Later, as I wolfed down my chicken, my mind wandered to those lonely places your mind goes when far away from home in strange lands. I thought about the house I grew up in. The people and how they all looked just like me. My first grade teacher. My mother. How it must have been getting cold then in New Hampshire, the leaves would be on the ground then, ready for us to rake them up.
I got up and looked out my window. In the final week of October it was as if I could see November in the distance, out somewhere beyond the apartment clusters. Waiting to ride the Siberian winds down through Mongolian and sweep through the city.
I wondered, as I often did in times past, when this feeling would leave. When the spring would come. How it might feel to wear a t-shirt inside and not worry about sentence patterns or their potential stories.
I didn’t know the answer. Just like I didn’t why I was there, in that moment, in that time. Something larger than me guiding me there. Holding my hand all along the way.