April A-Z Challenge - X is for Xiao-Chen - Early Morning (Origin : Chinese)
Theme: Short stories highlighting the lives of 26 fictional characters
It was the first time I had gone to work that early - the morning fog covered the building like a thick blanket as I walked towards it. A light at the corner of the hallway greeted me, surprising me of someone else's presence. As my curiosity dragged my feet all the way down the hallway, I found a middle aged Asian man, small in stature, deeply engrossed in his work. That is the day I first met Xiao-Chen. A man of few words, rarely seen outside his cube, and I had not known him for the year that I had worked there.
That was in Spring. I noticed him a few times again during lunch, as I went to the break room to heat my lunch. There he sat, head bent over his bowl of noodles, adeptly gathering them with his chopsticks, only briefly looking up to nod. He intrigued me, for looking so calm, not a change in his expressions, come rain or snow, dressed in the same black sweater and khakis, rarely speaking a word.
My curiosity got the better of me. For months, I probed my colleagues, sometime subtly during meetings, and at other times over lunch, hoping to gather some insight about him. He was a good employee they said, always finishing his work on time, but didn't talk to a soul, but still got away as friendly, with his polite nod. There were rumors of him being lonely, some said he saw a shrink, some even thought he was not stable, and that, one day, he would bring harm by doing something drastic.
Work went on, and it was soon the holiday season. I was on a long vacation from work, engaged in a lot of family gatherings and fun. But early one morning, I had to sneak out of the house to work, to pick up the gift I had bought for my wife and hidden at my desk.
It seemed eerie as I got inside, the same fog, and the same light welcomed me. Only this time, Xiao-Chen was not at his desk. Instead, I saw him walking from one cube to the other, with a backpack over his shoulders. My mind raced with questions. Should I confront him? Or should I call security? Or should I just ignore and head back home? Before I made up my mind, I saw him standing in front of me with the same polite nod. He slowly turned around and walked to his cube.
I rushed to my cube, determined to check it's contents, and email the team. Upon entering I found a gift box wrapped in shiny red, sitting on my desk along with a greeting card. As I opened the gift to find a mug with hot chocolate mix, Xiao-Chen entered and said, "Don't tell anyone," and hurriedly left with a nod.
I stared at where he had stood, trying to understand what was going on as I opened the card that read:
"Happy Holidays - With Warmth, Your Dear Friend!
Finally, I had a face and name to the "Dear Friend" who had been leaving a gift for everyone each Christmas. And that early morning, the person who intrigued me for months, had warmed my heart, and become a dear friend.