“Quit singing that.” Wang Xiu Ying said, her hands and feet pausing on the sewing machine before her. Her expression was an odd mixture of fear and anger.
“He knows when you are sleeping, he knows when you’re awake!” Liu Min sang, dancing a little in her seat.
“I said quit it!” Wang Xiu Ying rose from her chair and pushed Liu Min so hard that the girl fell off her chair. Her limbs became tangled in the chair and table legs. Liu Min’s face turned hard – deadpan. She stared up at Wang Xiu Ying, blinking rapidly. But Wang Xiu Ying merely stared back, her chest and shoulders rising and falling with anger.
As ever, Liu Min was the first to look away. She said her next sentence to the floor, not daring to look at Xiu Ying again. “Sorry, Wang Xiu Ying.”
She saw Xiu Ying’s feet move away and return to her seat and sewing peddle. Liu Min got to her feet and sat back in her chair again too. They both continued sewing. They did not speak for the rest of the day.
“Yeah, we saw what happened.” Li li said.
“But what did happen? She just went rabid on me… even more so than usual.” Liu Min nudged her lunch around its tray, her eyes vacant. Normally she would gobble down herfood regardless of what it was, but this time was different.
“You mean you don’t know what happened last year?”
Liu Min looked up for the first time since sitting down in the cafeteria. She shook her head.
Li li paused, sizing Liu Min up as though she were unsure she should tell her what had happened. “Do you remember those plaited skirts that were all the rage on TV last year? She was one of the slowest in our shop at making them. Santa Claus came around to inspect everything and he said Xiu Ying and Li Yan – a girl who used to work here – were too slow. It was maybe Xiu Ying’s third or fourth day? She said she had struggled to find any other work and this was her and her family’s last hope. But anyway, he said they were too slow and that they would have to go head-to-head and prove their worth.”
“Sounds like fun.” Liu Min regretted what she had said as soon as it came out of her mouth.
Li li’s expression darkened. “Maybe for those who watched, but certainly not for Xiu Ying or Li Yan.”
“So what happened?” Liu Min was eager to change the subject.
“They had to make Santa Claus a full red and white costume – hat and all – for one of the charity events he does in the west.”
“That Christmas getup he wears every year?”
“Yes, but that’s not the worst of it. They had to complete it in two hours-” Liu Min gasped. “- yeah, so Li Yan didn’t manage it. She ended up having an attack of the nerves halfway through and leaving. Just as well too, because she had ruined the costume – she’d cut the top too short and of course you can’t have any do-overs… but Xiu Ying just made it in time. He even tried it on and it fit just right.”
Liu Min’s jaw dropped. “She managed it?”
“She managed it. He even chuckled when he tried it on – you know that iconic ‘ho ho ho!’ he does in those Christmas Coke ads? That’s what he did. He took it with him, so I’m sure he wore it that year to the charity events.”
“Wow.” Liu Min said. “I guess I owe Xiu Ying an apology. Thanks, Li li.” Liu Min got to her feet and walked outside, leaving her tray on the table for she could see one of her friends was eyeing her food enviously.
“Xiu Ying!” Liu Min shouted, racing towards the other girl. Xiu Ying stopped and turned to face Liu Min. Despite her eagerness, however, Liu Min stopped halfway down the hallway, for Xiu Ying’s face was pure fear. Where her complexion was usually dark, she appeared pale. She seemed stricken, her eyes barely focusing on Liu Min.
“What is it? What’s wrong?” Liu Min continued walking towards Xiu Ying, though she walked slower this time.
“Santa Claus.” Xiu Ying’s voice was only slightly louder than a turtle’s.
“I heard, and I’m sorry for singing it.” Liu Min edged closer as if afraid any sudden movements would make Xiu Ying take flight.
“No, it’s not that. Claus is here.” Even her lips seemed pale. Liu Min noticed she was shivering.
“You’ll be fine, Xiu Ying. You’re one of the fastest now.”
Xiu Ying gave a shaky smile. “I guess you’re right.” She brightened a little. “I just fear for slow poke Liu Min now!” She paused and then laughed, her cheeks regaining a bit of their usual warmth.
Liu Min pretended to be offended as they walked down the hall together.