This was Yang Chen’s first time meeting an angry suburbian woman. He was clueless as to how he should react.
“You had it coming…”
Yang Chen was about to make a move but Ma Guifang shouted from behind, “Yang Chen! Move!”
She pulled Yang Chen away angrily, scolding him. “This is none of your business! Go home! When did I become your mother-in-law? We’re not even related!”
Yang Chen was puzzled at what had just happened. A woman was hurting her and she was angry at him?
“Mother, how can you still stop me when she’s acting like this?!” demanded Yang Chen, so furious his voice shook.
The other woman huffed. “So this worthless toenail isn’t even a son-in-law. Is he chasing your daughter? Oh well, I guess the slut doesn’t fall too far from the tree.”
Yang Chen was about to act when Ma Guifang stopped him again. She turned, then said solemnly, “Madam Zhou, I think you might’ve made a mistake regarding his identity. But could you please leave my daughter out of this?“
Yang Chen was going crazy watching their back and forth. Since when did he halt and heed the words of a lady like Ma Guifang? But times had changed and so did he. He couldn’t be too unreasonable, nor could he cause too much drama. The only thing he could do was wait and see.
“Yeah, honey, it’s really not what you think…” added the old man.
“Shut up!” Madam Zhou frowned. “You still think it’s a joke?! Ever since this bitch started working here, you’ve been coming here all the time to give her onions, garlic, tofu, and if she didn’t come to our shop to ask for something, you’d worry if she was sick! I’ve been your wife for more than a decade. Why haven’t you ever asked if I am well?!”
Mr Zhou’s face reddened. Exasperated, he then explained, “Honey, it’s not like that. Guifang came here alone all the way from Sichuan, and she doesn’t have a husband to care for her. I was just trying to help. Why have you jumped to such extreme conclusions?”
“Doesn’t she have a daughter? What makes you think she needs your help?!” Madam Zhou’s mouth curled. “She’s a single woman without men around her, and so much prettier than a fat old lady like me. Do you think I don’t know what you’re thinking? I’ve ignored all the times you’d bring her little plates of vegetables. But today was enough. I saw you take out a whole plate of pork ribs for her! I’m not even dead and you’re already trying to court other women!”
“I… Sigh, the weather has been terrible lately. Guifang didn’t look too well, so I thought she’d feel better with some soup. I… I really didn’t…” stuttered Mr Zhou awkwardly.
Aunt Xiang quickly added, “Madam Zhou, I think you’ve made a mistake. Guifang had to borrow some vegetables because we didn’t have enough here. What about this, I’ll go next time. Or I’ll get my husband to go. What do you think? Guifang isn’t what you think she is…”
“Xiang, we’ve known each other for so many years. Don’t you lie to me like that,” exclaimed Madam Zhou in fury. “Ask yourselves, ever since Ma Guifang started working in this street, how many stupid old men from the shops have already fancied her?! If she truly never meant it, why do so many people still talk about her? Would you believe it if I said people from the other shops would still come to visit even if you didn’t let her out of this shop?!”
Aunt Xiang was speechless. She turned stiffly to look at Ma Guifang.
It was obvious people had been gossiping about Ma Guifang for quite a while now. Everyone secretly knew why Aunt Xiang’s shop had suddenly become so popular.
Ma Guifang paled. Her eyes brimmed with tears, but she would never let them fall. It was even sadder to watch her like this.
Yang Chen suddenly remembered something…
The last time he visited Ma Guifang, she was coincidentally borrowing vegetables from the shop next door. He did think Ma Guifang looked upset when she returned, but he didn’t ask.
The shop owner she borrowed from was somebody named Zhou…
It looked like Ma Guifang had already suffered abuse the last time she visited, hence her awful mood.
However, she had always been a strong woman and was very appreciative of this chance to work. She probably never brought this up or Mo Qianni would never let her work here.
Ma Guifang was Mo Qianni’s mother. One could already imagine how beautiful she was when she was younger. Although she’d been through a lot of suffering, with deep wrinkles around her eyes, she still retained the grace of a middle-aged woman. It was easy to understand why she was so attractive to these older men.
She took a deep breath. Forcing a smile, she said, “Madam Zhou, I do not claim to be a pure person, but I will not stoop so low as to break someone else's marriage. Let me make this clear, there is nothing between me and Mr Zhou. Our customers have received pork ribs from his shop in the past. I’m not from here and I might not be educated, but I only want to earn a little so I wouldn’t have to rely on my daughter. If you really do not wish to see me, I’ll look for a job somewhere else. What do you think?”
When Madam Zhou heard how gently Ma Guifang spoke to her, she couldn’t possibly stay upset anymore. She glared coldly, then said, “You said it yourself. We’ll put this matter aside. It’s up to you if you want to change your job. I won’t make a big deal out of this because I don’t want to embarrass Xiang here. However, Ma Guifang, let me remind you that there are many women on this street who share similar opinions too. Avoid borrowing things from our shop as much as possible!”
Ma Guifang nodded gratefully. “I know, thank you Madam Zhou. I’ll be more careful.”
Madam Zhou had calmed down by now. She left dragging Mr Zhou behind her. He was so scared he didn’t even look at Ma Guifang. It was a pitiful sight.
When the couple left, Aunt Xiang sighed in relief. She said to Ma Guifang sadly, “Guifang, I’m so sorry for what just happened. Madam Zhou has no filter. She hit you because she was angry. She’s not evil or anything. Honestly, she’s much better than some of those who gossip behind your back.”
Ma Guifang smiled. “It’s fine, it’s not like I can’t take it. I’ve survived so many hardships in the past. Don’t worry.”
Aunt Xiang shook her head and sighed, turning around to continue doing the restaurant’s accounts.
Ma Guifang turned around and glanced at Yang Chen. “Come with me.”
Yang Chen followed her, furious. He wanted to hit Madam Zhou but he was also afraid of Ma Guifang so he couldn’t do anything.
It was when they’d reached a quiet piece of land behind the kitchen when Ma Guifang stopped to ask, “What? You look even worse than me, and I was the one who got slapped.”
Yang Chen’s jaw tightened as he avoided Ma Guifang’s gaze. Of course, he was upset. He was even contemplating going over to slap Madam Zhou later. Shout all you want, but why did you have to hit my mother-in-law? he thought.
Yang Chen’s jaw dropped, “You mean there are other people here who hit you?”
Ma Guifang sighed. Rubbing her cheek, she said, “Ever since my first husband, Qianni’s father, died, I was married to Zhang Fugui. During those times, I was beaten up a few times by the women in the village. One slap is nothing. Zhang Fugui was a gambler, he spent his time causing trouble in the streets so he was rarely home. I was alone in the village, I couldn’t avoid coming into contact with some of the villagers. They always thought I was coming for their husbands, and they were all uneducated so throwing punches was very normal.”
“How could they do this to you…” Yang Chen clenched his fist, his heart aching.
How much compassion did this lady have, to laugh at her past like this?