Well, here we finally meet our female protagonist… She’s strong, independent, brainy and every bit the modern Overseas Chinese young woman. And at the end, we get a bonus too! Read on to find out…
Chapter 1.1: Destined to meet.
70 Years Later: 2015,
Jiao Tong University, Shanghai.
Skies rumbled and lightning flashed outside the Greenhouse. Mu Lan regarded the dark clouds with a frown, before turning her attention back to the test tube in her hand.
With the clippers in her other hand, she slowly cut the upper part of the stem of the tiny plant in the test tube. Her pager beeped and she scowled, her concentration interrupted. Her pager beeped again, and she ignored it this time, intent on taking out a plastic zip pouch and sealing the plant in it.
“Sara!” she called out to her assistant, as she neatly labeled the pouch and noted the date and time.
The sound of footsteps alerted her to the arrival of her trustworthy assistant, Sara Wu. She’s a young woman in her late 20s, who’s hoping to land the position of Assistant Professorship in the University someday and is working on her PhD Thesis. And working under a scientist of Mu Lan’s caliber has taken her a step closer to her goal.
“Give this sample to Dr. Li for testing. He’ll know what to do next,” said Mu Lan, calmly.
Sara smiled back, assuring. “Sure, Doc.” She left without wasting another moment. As she hurried out of the Greenhouse, the automatic Aluminum doors closed behind her.
Left all alone, Mu Lan finally collapsed into the foldable metal chair, as she looked out at the dark and swirling clouds in the sky through the glass paneled walls of the Greenhouse, and slowly removed her gloves and face mask. It’s been a month since she returned to China at the call of her father. And she still struggled to accustomize herself to life here. Thankfully, work provided a welcome distraction.
25 year old Mu Lan had previously worked in ICRISAT, India, for the last three years as a Resident Researcher in Genetical Resistance of Agricultural Crops. Working in the World’s Best Research Facility for Agricultural Crops was a dream come true for Mu Lan, who’s majored in Agricultural Engineering with a minor in Agricultural Genetics from John Hopkins University cum laude.
The shift from US of A to India hadn’t been that difficult for Mu Lan, as her adoptive mother Aunt Zifu is a Chinese Diplomat who served as an Envoy in Chinese Embassies across the world, and even in India.
Hyderabad, where ICRISAT is located, had been a whole new and wonderful experience for her. And she loved new experiences. Globetrotting with Aunt Zifu made her appreciate life’s intricacies.
[ICRISAT: International Crop Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics is an international organisation which conducts agricultural research for rural development, headquartered in Patancheru (Hyderabad, Telangana, India) with several regional centers (Bamako (Mali), Nairobi (Kenya)) and research stations (Niamey (Niger), Kano (Nigeria),Lilongwe (Malawi), Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Bulawayo (Zimbabwe)). It was founded in 1972 by a consortium of organisations convened by the Ford and the Rockefeller Foundations. Since its inception, host country India has granted a special status to ICRISAT as a UN Organisation operating in the Indian territory making it eligible for special immunities and tax privileges.
Coming back to China had been a wake-up call to Mu Lan, reminding her of the part of her life that she desperately wanted to forget: her biological family. Her personal life is messed up, but Mu Lan had put all of that behind her, striving for success in her professional life.
But how long could one hide away from their origins?
Aunt Zifu is the elder sister of Mu Lan’s biological father, the Chinese Foreign Minister. And she’d adopted the five year old Mu Lan before she’s left China for the last time. Mostly she’d served in USA, Singapore, India, and is now in England.
Aunt Zifu had majored in Abnormal Psychology from Yale University, before serving for a short time in the People’s Liberation Army as a Resident Psychiatrist. Then, she’d become a diplomat.
Mu Lan closed her eyes for a blissful moment. Proper sleep has evaded her since she was a child. She suffered from insomnia and several other sleep disorders — due to nightmares.
Sometimes, they were whispering voices; sometimes they were the sounds of gunfire. But most of the time, it was the sensation of drowning.
It didn’t take much effort from her to open her eyes, when she heard the automatic Aluminum doors open. She smiled at Sara, when she walked in.
“Dr. Li said that the results will take at least two days to some out,” informed Sara, smiling back.
“Thanks Sara,” replied Mu Lan, exhaustion creeping into her voice. “I think we’ll call it a day.”
“You’re welcome, Doctor,” said Sara, bowing. “Meet you tomorrow.”
Mu Lan stood up from the chair and walked out of the Greenhouse, letting Sara close shop behind her. She walked into the Staff Room, where some of the faculty members hadn’t left yet. Someone had left her schedule for tomorrow, which informed her that she has a class to teach tomorrow.
That’d been the deal she’d struck with the University. Unlimited access to the Research Facility in exchange of two hours of teaching every day.
She quickly packed her backpack, pulled out her iPod and plugged the earphones into her ears, before she bid polite goodbye to the people in the room and stepping out.
She liked this part of her new life. Usually, she spent most of her nights also in the Greenhouse, but sometimes when she felt like going to the Serviced Apartment in the far away Xu Hui District that she now called home, she liked walking as far as her feet would permit her to before boarding a metro train.
The scent of storm has already permeated the air by the time she stepped out of the gates of the Campus. Her sneakers moved rhythmically in accordance with the music being played in her iPod.
Calvin Harris was crooning “Feel So Close” into her ears, as she brought some Ci Fan (粢饭 – Rice Balls) at a streetfood stall. The rice balls are her dinner tonight. She liked Shanghai: it’s an interesting place filled with interesting people. Lots of people.
And she liked it when she walked along with the wave of people who were all waiting to go their homes after a long day of work.
But she could feel exhaustion catching up with her. And when she spotted a bus-stop, she decided that she will be catching the first bus that will take her to Xu Hui.
Ten minutes later, she was sitting in a window-side seat of the bus which will stop at Shaanxi Naan Street. She chewed the rice balls as she looked out of the window.
She could feel the way her fellow passengers stole glances at her, but said nothing.
Mu Lan really is an unconventional beauty with golden skin, well-defined cheekbones, dark lips and huge eyes that were as dark as the night. Her beautiful long black hair was tied up in an elegant knot.
She is someone who is aware of her beauty and only subtly used it to her advantage.
The skies rumbled dangerously this time, signaling imminent rains, as her bus screeched to a halt at a traffic signal. Mu Lan changed the music into an Indian song she’d heard during her stay in Hyderabad.
“Samjhawan” by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan.
It’s a beautiful number, melancholy and yet filled with a lot of love and longing. As Rahat Fateh Ali Khan crooned soulfully into her ears, she closed her eyes and sang softly along with him.
[00:36] Main Tenu Samjhawan Ki
Na Tere Baaju Lagda Jee
Tu Kee Jaane Pyaar Mera
Main Karaa Intezaar Tera
Tu Dil Tu Yu Jaan Meri…
Words that spoke of love that can’t be expressed with words. Words that spoke of how he’s unable to express his love in words to his lover. Words that spoke of how his heart is nowhere when she’s not around him. Words that spoke of how he’s willing to wait for her love.
Words that declared that she’s both his love and life.
Mu Lan loved this song more so for the words. When she opened her eyes and looked out of the window, she froze in her seat in terror.
Just beside her window is a shiny black Volvo SUV which has the stamp of a Military Official stuck on its windscreen. But what shocked her was the sight of the man who sat in the seat behind the driver’s.
The tinted windows of his car were down, and he was busily talking with another man who sat in the front seat beside the driver. From his body language, it was very clear that he’s the boss.
Mu Lan’s fingers inadvertently flew to the chain around her neck and tightly clasped the ring which dangled from it. It’s been so long and yet she hadn’t forgotten him. She remembered his deep and soulful voice, and could imagine how he sounds now while he’s talking to those men, though they are separated by the thick windows of the bus.
It’s been so long and yet he hasn’t changed: it’s the same dark hair swept aside neatly, the same strongly built shoulders and arms.
It’s been so long, and yet the hurt still felt raw.
She could tears burn in her eyes, and the melancholic song playing in her ears only made it difficult for her to control them from flowing out.
Even as she struggled to gain composure, lightning struck the sky and he looked out of his car and straight at her.
And his eyes widened as if he’d seen a ghost.
Their gazes remained lock as thunder boomed in the skies. Their gazes remained locked as the heavens finally opened up. Their gazes remained locked even as the traffic signal turned green and her bus surged forward, and his car made a turn to left.
And finally, just like the rain, all the pent-up tears flowed out.
If two people are destined to be together, then the entire universe conspires to unite them.
Personally, I checked out the song “Samjhawan” as soon as I read this chapter and I LOVED IT!!!! The words really are wonderful and for those who want the English Translation, you can read it here.
Well, here you have finally met our protagonist Mu Lan, and the man she obviously knew from before.
Strictly speaking, I like the way Ming Yue isn’t hurrying to set up the story and is taking forward the plot in her own slow pace. But what I would like to know is how the both of them met. Why she’s hurt?
And who’s this important guy who gets around the town in a slick SUV which has a Military Stamp on it?
As the chapters go on, the questions only seem to increase….