Jyanni Steffensen Her feet covered many cocoons...
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The Railway Worker

Undaunted, Orlando Jones met a young railway worker one evening in her Senior Oral English evening class. She was the teacher. Her 'pupils' were mostly thirty-something professionals (doctors, dentists, medical researchers, academics, and electronics engineers mechanical engineers). She was impressed. One by one the 'students' introduced themselves to Orlando Jones, who didn't really know how to begin. In the midst of these introductory little speeches - which Orlando Jones had to strain to understand, the Chinese accents almost defeated her - an extraordinarily handsome young man unexpectedly spoke to her in flawless, almost unaccented English. He described himself as a railway worker who as such earned little money and who desired to learn English "to better his prospects and himself." Orlando Jones and the class were astonished, spontaneous applause erupted. Intrigued, Orlando Jones inquired how long he had been learning English. His reply of "two years" provoked louder applause. When she inquired further where and from whom he had learnt such English, he told her that he was self-taught, that he had learned from tapes and from watching CCTV 4. The class was speechless. Although the young railway worker frequently apologised for the paucity of his English, he nevertheless smiled readily and spoke confidently. Orlando Jones grew to enjoy their exchanges. He often accompanied her (as did other students) to the door of her apartment building after class. On these walks, which became colder and colder through November, Orlando Jones developed a fondness for her star pupil(s). They told her amusing little Chinese stories.

Story 1 A naughty boy named John finds a worm under a tree and puts it in a box. He shows the worm to his mother who is horrified. She tells him that he should take the worm home because its mother will be worried. John digs up the worm's mother and puts it in the box also.

Story 2 A forester goes into the forest and is about to fell a very large, old tree. A fairy appears and tells the forester that she will grant him three wishes if he doesn't cut down the tree, He says OK and goes home. It is still too early for supper. The forester muses that he wished he had a sausage to eat. A sausage appears. His wife is astonished and when he tells her the story about the fairy and the three wishes she is so annoyed that he wasted a wish that she exclaims, "I wish that sausage was on your nose." The forester tries in vain to remove the sausage, which is now on his nose, but he can't. In exasperation he says, "I wish this sausage was on the table not on my nose". In exchange for not felling the tree the forester ended up with a sausage.

In December, Orlando Jones was invited to a western style Christmas night party organised by some of the American teachers. She thought of asking the young railway worker. By now she had discovered that he was actually a designer of railway signal systems. He had also recently begun teaching the design of signal systems at the Railway Institute. It was difficult, he found, because all of the books on the subject were outdated. Orlando Jones empathised. He worked hard and attended less regularly at English lessons. On the evening that she planned to invite him to the party, he had lingered a little as the other students were departing. Just as she was about to ask him to wait - she could not ask him to a party in front of her other students for fear of being thought exclusive - another student asked her a question. When she turned back at last - the question had required a lengthy response - everyone had left.

She knew she would not see him again.

Orlando Jones went to the party with N and had a lot of pleasure in the evening. N was an engineer at the Number 6 Oil Refinery in Jinzhou. Her mother (now retired) had been a railway engineer. N once told Orlando Jones a story in class about how the woman and the rabbit happened to live in the moon, but Orlando Jones forgot.