Outside the airport, Zhou Xiao-Hong raised her chin to look at the planes taking off with a strange look on her face.
Xia Lei recalled her nervousness on the plane and said with a laugh, “Xiao-Hong, you’re leaving the airport now. Are you still nervous?”
Zhou Xiao-Hong smiled in embarrassment. “It was my first time on a plane. Don’t laugh at me, Big Brother Lei.”
“What’s there to laugh at? When the branch office is established in the future you’ll have plenty of opportunities to take planes. You’ll have to adapt,” said Xia Lei.
Zhou Xiao-Hong looked nervous. “You’re sending me to the branch office, Big Brother Lei?”
Xia Lei smiled and said, “Is that not good? Your hometown is here and your family is also here. You’re familiar with the environment here so isn’t it a good thing that I’m putting you in charge of the new company?”
“Ah?” Zhou Xiao-Hong stared blankly. “I’m in charge of the new company?”
Xia Lei nodded. “Yes, that’s what I’m thinking. You’re the best candidate.”
Zhou Xiao-Hong was just a junior high graduate and was not highly-educated. The machining knowledge she had now was only because she had picked it up after following Xia Lei; she was not very good and not very accurate either. It was a stretch to even make her Workshop Director, much less lead a company. However, Xia Lei had his considerations too because what he needed was not a highly-capable person but a person he could fully trust to not stab him in the back. Zhou Xiao-Hong was one such person. She would not betray him even if a knife was held to her throat.
Zhou Xiao-Hong did not think of that and she shook her head so hard it looked like a baby rattle. “I can’t, Big Brother Lei. Really, I can’t. I don’t have that ability. It’s difficult enough for you to make me Workshop Director. I won’t be able to do it if you let me manage a company.”
Xia Lei laughed and said, ”Managing a company is not as complicated as you think. You just have to manage a few people. Look at me - I’m not always at the company and the company still runs fine.”
“But… There are so many capable people in the company - why choose me?” Zhou Xiao-Hong could not figure this out.
“Because I trust you. That’s why,” said Xia Lei.
Zhou Xiao-Hong paused, then abruptly understood. She nodded hard and said, “Yes, Big Brother Lei, I won’t let you down. I’ll work hard. But… don’t blame me if I don’t do well.”
Xia Lei smiled. “Come on, let’s go look for a hotel to stay in.”
“Big Brother Lei, Sichuan is where my home is so how can I let you stay at a hotel? Come to my home. We can get there in one hour. That’s… if you want to,” said Zhou Xiao-Hong.
“What do you mean? Your home it is, then. Let’s arrange some transport.” Xia Lei made his decision quickly. He was not born with a golden spoon in his mouth and had lived like a dog for five years after his father had disappeared. He had no tendency at all to look down on the common man.
The most obvious hint of there being development in the western region was the roads. Wide roads could be seen everywhere on their way out of the city, stretching like a spiderweb over this ancient basin. They went at top speed to Zhou Xiao-Hong’s home and arrived about an hour later. Her home was in a small mountain village called Ma-Zu. In the midst of farmland sat a few newly-built tiled-roof buildings and a large patch of bamboo forest. It had drizzled on their way there and the bamboo forest was covered in a layer of mist. The scene was not exactly gorgeous but it was charmingly elegant.
Zhou Xiao-Hong’s parents were honest farmers; they were simple and kind. When they were introduced and heard that Xiao-Hong’s boss had come, both became very excited. They started busying themselves with slaughtering chickens and ducks and going to the fields to pick vegetables, all to provide the best for Xia Lei.
Zhou Xiao-Hong went to prepare a room for Xia Lei and to give him fresh sheets and blankets.
Xia Lei was uncomfortable with Zhou Xiao-Hong’s family busying about because of him. “Xiao Hong, tell Uncle and Auntie not to do so much work. I don’t feel very comfortable making them go through all this trouble.”
Zhou Xiao-Hong laughed. “Big Brother Lei, you can see that this house is newly-built, right? And that the electrical appliances and furniture are all new?”
Xia Lei didn’t quite understand what she was getting at but he still nodded. “Um, yes.”
“Did you know that it was all due to you?”
Xia Lei stared blankly. “Due to me?”
Zhou Xiao-Hong gave him a sweet smile. “Yes, due to you. If it weren’t for you taking me in, my family wouldn’t be able to built a new house and won’t be able to buy all these new appliances and furniture. My little brother wouldn’t have had money to study either. You not only took me in but you gave me bonuses and a high salary. I sent almost all of what I earned back home. My family’s lives have improved. You are a great benefactor to my family, so how can they not treat you well?”
Xia Lei laughed in embarrassment. “What benefactor? Don’t say it like that anymore.”
“Don’t worry about them, Big Brother Lei. You’re in the countryside now so let us treat you well,” said Zhou Xiao-Hong.
Xia Lei could not refuse. He had indeed taken her in and helped her develop herself. The Zhou family was able to have a better life all because of his kindness so now that he was here at the Zhou household, it would be unreasonable for him to refuse to let them treat him well.
Zhou Xiao-Hong took off her shoes and climbed on the bed to change the bedsheets for Xia Lei. Her buttocks were raised high in the air and an obvious mature shape was thrust before his eyes.
Xia Lei looked away awkwardly. He recalled the time when Zhou Xiao-Hong had first arrived at Thunder Horse Workshop, when Ma Xiao-An was still around. She had been dirt-stained and her shoes could not even cover her feet. Her income now was considered good but she still could not bear to buy better clothing. She wore cheap clothing worth at most a hundred yuan per piece. The jeans she wore now were of this cheap variety which had no such thing as comfort or texture, just surrounding her hips and wrapping its roundness, its fullness, its perkiness. A cheap piece of clothing had a simple and natural sexiness when she wore it - were all girls like this?
“I’m back, Big Sister!” a somewhat young voice came from outside the window.
Zhou Xiao-Hong had just finished changing the bedsheets and she climbed off the bed and said with a smile, “My little brother’s back.”
Just as she finished speaking, a messy-haired young man came running through the door. He couldn’t wait to see his big sister but suddenly found a strange man standing in the room. He quickly curbed his enthusiasm and looked ill at ease.
Xia Lei gave the young man a smile.
“Xiao-Hu, don’t stand dumbly. Quick, greet him and call him ‘Big Brother Lei’. He’s my boss,” said Zhou Xiao-Hong.
Zhou Xiao-Hu grew red in the face and said shyly, “Big Brother Lei.”
He knew well who Xia Lei was.
Xia Lei patted Zhou Xiao-Hu on the shoulder and said with a smile, “Study well. Be good to your sister later when you make money of your own, understand?”
“Nn.” Zhou Xiao-Hu made a sound of agreement and looked earnest.
“Xiao-Hu, Go help Papa and Mama prepare the meal. I’ll take Big Brother Lei out for a stroll,” said Zhou Xiao-Hong.
Zhou Xiao-Hu went to help and Xia Lei followed Zhou Xiao-Hong out. They walked along a small village road.
Xia Lei’s impression of the western region was that it was less developed but after coming here, he found that it was not so. The development of the western region had prompted its economy to rise and the visible effect of it was that the houses here were quite good and that there were many little cars on the roads. These were signs of an increase in income for the masses. Another thing he took note of was that this was the countryside but the roads were all cement and it wouldn’t be muddy if it rained.
After walking for a while, Xia Lei spotted a large factory and office building. He was impressed by their size and asked, “What company is that, Xiao-Hong? Why is it so big?”
“That isn’t a company. That’s our industrial development zone. Many companies from other regions come here to build branch factories. I hear the government gives a lot of benefits and it’s cheap to get land and various policies are on offer to reward benefits,” said Zhou Xiao-Hong.
‘The location isn’t bad; an hour’s drive from the city and convenient transportation. Materials transport will be easy if I build a factory here and the products can go out easily too. Most importantly, it’s cheap to get land and there are government benefits as well. It’s like the ideal place for building a factory.’ At that thought, he asked, “Who do I look for if I want to build a factory here?”
“Just go to the government. The local government has made the procedures simple,” said Zhou Xiao-Hong.
Xia Lei looked at Zhou Xiao-Hong and suddenly laughed. “You brought me here on purpose, didn’t you?”
Zhou Xiao-Hong let out a tinkling giggle. “I knew I couldn’t hide it from you, Big Brother Lei. I felt like my hometown was a good fit when you said you wanted to build a factory in the western region. I’m familiar with the people and environment here; I can be of help.”
“Good. Take me to the industrial development zone so that I can have a look around. Let’s choose a piece of land, then talk to your local government.” Xia Lei could not wait.
“Nn.” Zhou Xiao-Hong skipped as she led the way; she was like an adolescent girl.
They went past quite a few people on their way there, like small shops by the road and villagers who all knew Zhou Xiao-Hong. Some villagers greeted Zhou Xiao-Hong warmly but some others started talking quietly amongst themselves.
“Isn’t that Old Zhou Han’s girl? Went out for less than a year and she’s sent enough money to build a house and buy electronics and furniture. She must make at least 100,000. How capable.”
“Heh. Who doesn’t know this? I hear she’s being kept. Some big boss is taking care of her and she doesn’t have to do anything - just pamper him between the sheets.”
“That big boss can’t be that young guy next to her, can it? Doesn’t look like it… How can there be such a young big boss?”
“Why not? Look at his behaviour - what is he if he’s not a big boss?”
“Oho, then Xiao-Hong really is blessed. She may even get to marry him.”
“Old Zhou Han’s lucky. My girl went out to work and she still asks me to send her money every month, damn it…”
Zhou Xiao-Hong heard them and her ears turned red. Xia Lei was calm from beginning to end - it was idle gossip and could just be ignored. He couldn’t go over and argue or start a fight, could he? There was no need.
They entered the industrial development zone and the gossip melted away. Xia Lei walked around with Zhou Xiao-Hong and was very much taken with the place. The roads in the industrial development zone extended in all directions, each road with six lanes; they were wide indeed. Plots of land were divided along both sides of the road. Some already had factories and some were still being built, while some other plots were empty patches filled with weeds.
Xia Lei walked to a plot of empty land and said, “Xiao-Hong, wait for me here. I’m going in to take a look.”
“Nn, okay.” Zhou Xiao-Hong’s face was still burning and the words of the gossipy villagers still rang in her head; those words had embarrassed her greatly.
Xia Lei walked to a patch of grass and unzipped his trousers to relieve himself, while his eyes surveyed the land before him.
Footsteps suddenly came from behind him and he was startled. Before he could zip up, however, an ‘ah’ came from Zhou Xiao-Hong and she held her face as she ran out of the plot area.
Xia Lei was quite embarrassed too but he pretended not to have noticed. He left the empty plot of land when he was done peeing.
“Big Brother Lei, I…” Zhou Xiao-Hong looked nervous, afraid that Xia Lei would be displeased.
“I’ve decided on this plot of land,” said Xia Lei with a smile.
“Oh! You just went pee-pee and decided?” said Zhou Xiao-Hong in surprise.
Xia Lei was speechless.Previous Chapter Next Chapter