Ning told Jing not to expect snow in London.
It would just be cold and grey as usual, said Ning, staring at her phone screen.
But what’s the point of being cold without snow? Jing asked, her body slightly leaning
Well, I don’t see the causality between being cold and snow. You really need to improve your logical thinking and knowledge in geography. Ning frowned. Ning’s patience was always quite transient, but it disappeared faster than usual when she spoke with Jing. Probably because she knew Jing was extremely stubborn, and reasoning with her was just a waste of time.
It’s fine, thought Jing. She still expected to see snow in London, but she didn’t think she was being stubborn. She just believed in miracles.
Jing would be seeing Ning in the Starbucks near school. Actually, there were tons of Starbucks near school, and Ning didn’t say which one exactly. But it wouldn’t be hard for Jing to find out. Ning hated crowds and noises. All the Starbucks were crowded and noisy except for the one by the art building.
Jing waited in the Starbucks. Ning was late. Jing almost dozed off in the warmth of the coffee shop. She had been in London for two months, and Ning was always busy. She must be preoccupied with her film, Jing thought. Ning studied film, and she’s gonna be a rock star in the industry. Ning despised Hollywood and any pop films. She favored films in a French style, the ones with super long and plain scenes or a ten-‐minute shot with no one actually speaking. It’s a shame that she didn’t speak French; otherwise she would be studying in Paris. As for the Chinese films, Oh, they are all craps, said Ning. It made Jing a bit uncomfortable, because her favorite film was actually a Chinese one, Electric Shadows directed by Xiao Jiang. But when Ning asked, Jing said, Um, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Ning laughed out loud. It was their first meeting.
Jing was supposed to be in Cambridge today. Professor Li, a colleague of Jing’s mother, now a visiting scholar in Cambridge, was trying to set Jing up with a boy.
He’s a PhD candidate in our lab, Professor Li said. Very talented young scientist. Got full scholarship from the government. Professor Li had a systematical theory about choosing a husband, which could be compiled into an encyclopedia. Jing guessed she must have stuck firmly to her theories. Jing wasn’t so interested in finding a boy friend. She didn’t think she needed one. However, out of courtesy, she said she would think about it. Professor Li considered it a solid yes and keenly proposed a meeting at Cambridge.
He can show you around. It will be fun! Said Professor Li.
But then Ning called, and Jing cancelled the Cambridge plan immediately. She told Professor Li that one of the teachers rescheduled a class.
Jing was anxious. She was so anxious to meet Ning. They hadn’t seen each other for six months. The last time Jing saw Ning was through Skype.
Come here, you will like it, Ning had smiled warmly on the screen.
Jing felt her heart melt in the smile. Jing had been longing to escape from the humid and scorching city where she was born and grew up. She wanted to escape from her parents. But she didn’t know where to go. Ning turned up and became her destination. She was grateful.
But now she started to wonder. Maybe she should have gone to Cambridge, for Ning hadn’t shown up yet. Maybe she would never come. Jing called Ning several times after she arrived at London, but Ning was always Doing Something Important. Sometimes Jing heard that it was noisy in the background, people laughing and screaming. How curious, Ning hated noises. She said noises made her hysterical.
But we haven’t seen each other for a long time… Jing said, almost pleading in her last call, the day before Professor Li had invited her up to Cambridge.
But I’ve got a life!!! Ning howled. I have my stuff to do, and it can’t always be YOU YOU YOU!
Well, I see, Jing said. And she hung up the phone.
Jing always thought it would be a beautiful match to put their names together. “Ning” means peace in Chinese, and “Jing” means quiet. They are good enough separately. But “ning jing” is not just peace or quiet. It means serenity. And they rhyme. The word belongs to a white snowy night, where all the sounds, even whispers, are covered under the coldness and naturally vanish.
Ning called two days later, inviting Jing to meet up in the Starbucks. She didn’t say a word about her going mad the other day, but Jing took it as a kind of compensation.
We can meet, said Ning.
Great! When? Asked Jing.
2.p.m. Said Ning.
Um… Which day? Asked Jing.
Wednesday. Said Ning.
OK, where? Asked Jing.
There’s a Starbucks near school. Said Ning, starting to raise her voice, which was no surprise.
Wh-‐ Um, fine.
Jing didn’t know why she didn’t just ask which Starbucks it should be. She was afraid of Ning getting tired of her and yelling at her again. Jing drew a red circle around Wednesday on her calendar. She was not going to Cambridge.
But Ning still didn’t show up. She was one hour late. Jing called and no one answered the phone. She leaned back to the couch and stretched her arms and legs. She was tired. She forgot why she had decided to come to London. To study, of course, an MSc in linguistics. But why London? It’s the city of jaywalkers where everyone’s as impatient as Ning. They just can’t wait until the traffic light turned green, and they rush across the street as if they were on their way to reincarnation, as the Chinese saying goes.
Jing recalled that she was standing by a crossroad one day, with many other strangers, before she came to London. They were waiting silently for the green light in spite of the burning sunlight. There was actually no traffic on the street, but, well, the traffic light was there for a reason. Jing saw a lady walked out of the crowd. She wore a light grey blazer and a matching pencil skirt. Must be a white collar from a transnational enterprise nearby. Her head lifted, chin pointing forward. She walked fast, her high heels tapping a regular rhythm, her arms swinging energetically with her move. Her blonde hair shook with her steps, her blue eyes staring ahead. And she walked across the street. The traffic light was still red. People stared at her, whispering. But she walked and walked and walked, and disappeared. The traffic light turned green, and people rushed across the street as if they were on their way to reincarnation. Jing recalled the scene at this moment and got an epiphany. That lady must be a Londoner. And it didn’t matter where you were. Londoners always rushed across the street for reincarnation, be there a green light or not.
Ning would laugh at Jing’s thoughts for sure. There was no point disliking a city just because the people jaywalk. After all, London had been a dream for Ning, her dream of becoming a master filmmaker. Ning must be a jaywalker now. To jaywalk is the first step to mingle in the city, Ning told Jing once. But Jing was too scared. She didn’t want to rush for reincarnation. She just wanted to live a good life, this life. A car could run over her and force her to reincarnation any time if she didn’t follow the green light. But Ning didn’t care. She’d become a Londoner.
Jing looked outside the window. She’d been sitting there for five hours, and the waiters and waitresses started to look at her weirdly. It’s time to go, she thought. She stretched her arms and legs again, slowly stood up, and walked towards the door.
We are giving away free chocolate bars today, a waiter suddenly said to her, smiling. He wore the green Starbucks apron like any other staff, holding a tray piled with chocolate bars in his hands. Jing was facing the door. The waiter expected her to turn around, but she stood still, as if she were petrified. Don’t you want a chocolate bar? He asked again, for he considered no one would resist a chocolate bar.
Look, the girl said, pointing at the door. The waiter turned his head to the door. But he couldn’t see anything, just the darkness. Look, look carefully, the girl said. Look at the street light over there. He raised his head.
Under the faint yellow light, some tiny particles were falling, floating. There were not many of them. It was not easy to discover, but they were white. Falling, floating, and getting a bit heavier.
It’s snowing, he said.
Yes, she said.
They stood quietly in front of the door. He didn’t turn to her. He knew the girl was smiling.
Feifei Zhan is an MA student in the Department of Comparative Literature at King’s College London. Her research interest is mother-daughter relationships and women in domesticity. She daydreams and sketches when not researching. Find her blog (mostly in Chinese, but with more posts in English coming soon) at http://petrichor0704.lofter.com/
Image: Hyde Park, 2009.