short stories, hong kong, authenticity, compassion, gentleness

An olive branch: a short story

Regina sat gingerly in her chair, swinging it from left to right as the nervous tic in her ankles kept her in motion. It was less noticeable than drumming her fingers on the desk.

She took in a long, slow breath through her nose, then gently exhaled, counting to five each time. After three long breaths, the swinging of her chair subsided, and she felt the tension in her shoulders begin to ease.

She began to reach for the phone, then noticed her hand tremble. Drawing in another long, slow breath, this time to the count of six, she willed herself to relax into the moment. Another long, slow breath.

The phone ringing made her jump. She reached over to see who it was, relieved to see that it was her boss and not anyone else.

“Hello.”

“How are you doing Regina?”, Zhang asked.

“I’ve been better”, she admitted. “But I’m calm. I know how to work this out and still come out on top.”

Zhang laughed, “I’m sure you do, and I know we will. Don’t let Lee get under your skin. He’s never been beaten by a woman before.”

Regina felt herself blushing at the compliment, relieved that there was no one in the office to see her.

Zhang asked if she wanted to join him at Ser Won Fun, one of his regular haunts. She was about to decline when he pressed her, “You need to face Lee before the partners meeting on Monday, and this is the perfect opportunity out of the office”.

She hated that he was right, and yet grateful that he would quietly set this up so unobtrusively.

“I’m on my way. I’ll order a cab,” she responded.

She realised, as she packed up her desk and picked up her purse that the invitation had, in fact, been an order. Made gently and kindly by the elderly partner, so that she had felt he was doing her a favour, rather than ordering her to show up at a meeting.

As the elevator worked its way down to the ground floor, it stopped two floors below hers. She hoped against hope that it wouldn’t be Lee, and yet, there he was. And now, 41 stories down in an elevator together.

Lee looked at her and said defiantly, “I’m heading over to Ser Won Fun, what are you doing this evening?”.

She looked at him with a wry smile, slightly arching an eyebrow “Why… I was just on my way over there myself. Want to share a ride?”

The look on his face was priceless as he flared his nostrils, breathing in heavily.

Regina looked at the younger man and suddenly had an image of her son come to mind. A small pang of conscience hit her then, and she realised that there was another way. She didn’t have to belittle him to win.

Zhang was right. This didn’t have to be a battle, especially since it was her design that was moving forward.

Taking a deep breath, she offered a small olive branch.

“I know that you struggle with the idea of a foreign woman, who officially had never worked before coming to this firm, coming in and presenting the winning design for the new Casino and mall in Macau. But I live, sleep, eat and breathe buildings and designs.

I dream of them every night when I sleep. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do and this design is twenty years of imagination and dreams all coming together in my mind, on paper and presentation.

On the other hand, you are a stickler for details and minutiae. There are things you could improve in this design, details that you could add, that when it’s finally built, would continue to wow visitors for years.

Does this have to be about you and me?

Or could it just be about Zhang Wo Architects being the best firm in Hong Kong?”

Lee looked at her speechless, as the elevator came to halt on E3. He swung his keys around his finger, as he looked at her, with the smallest of nods and a hint of a smile.

“I bought a new car if you want a ride.”

It was a start.

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