Flash Fiction #121
Between “Ivy Training Center” and “Step By Step Academy”, there has always been a rivalry, which is well known in the Asian community. They are doing the same business with the same target market–they provide after-school academic training for students in middle school and high school in central Jersey area. If one puts out a new advertising campaign to attract clients, the other will surely come up with an equally effective scheme; if one offers free seminars, the other will give away the first day’s training class for free.
Despite their competition, the two small businesses have never engaged in direct conflicts. The two owners are acquaintances, but they have never talked with each other in social settings. They have never poached each other’s employees or plagiarized each other’s training material. However such a peaceful coexistence is about to come to an end. One morning, Ivy Training Center’s owner Ivy and her husband Tom receive a job application, accompanied by a resume, from a woman named Ju Ong. Her work experience is listed as following: Worked for Step By Step Academy for a year.
“We don’t really need anybody right now.” Ivy says to Tom.
“No, we don’t. But I am really curious about Step By Step Academy. How about we call Ms. Ju Ong for an interview and ask some questions, which will give us a glimpse of our rival?” Tom says.
“You are so clever, Tom.” Ivy looks at Tom with admiration.
An interview is scheduled, and Ms. Ong comes at the designated time. It turns out she has a full time job elsewhere and only works part time at Step By Step Academy during the weekend in order to pay off her student loan quicker.
And she doesn’t know much about the intricacy of the training business or any inside information of Step By Step Academy. The only thing she knows is the English training class she runs every weekend. She talks about her wages, but Tom thinks she might have inflated the figure a little bit to make herself look good. She talks about her training techniques, but Ivy thinks there is nothing new.
As the interview winds down to the end, Ivy starts to chat about anecdotes of their students and their parents, not to give away any useful information, just to enliven the atmosphere a little bit. Suddenly Ju Ong says, “you know Mr. Shan who is the owner of the new Martial Art Center on route 27? He has a big advertisement in the free newspaper. His son Sunny is in my class and I think he has a hard time catching up. His parents complains to me, but I can’t slow down just for one student, can I?”
After Ms. Ong leaves, Tom says to Ivy, “now let’s call Mr. Shan and convince him to send his son to our classes. We can give him some special deals.”
Ivy says, “great idea. How come I didn’t think of that.”
So Tom finds Shan’s advertisement on the newspaper, calls him up, and offers him a good deal. The following weekend, Mrs. Shan comes with Sunny Shan. Before they leave, they sign up for a whole year’s training classes and pay the full amount on the spot. Tom and Ivy are so happy–their interview of Ju Ong has not been a complete waste of time.
However their happiness is short lived. The very next week, Ivy and Tom are shocked to find that Sunny Shan is a boy like no other. Mr. Shan’s business adventure has brought him from Southeast Asia to the New York-New Jersey area, but he has never prepared his son Sunny for American schools. Now the 12-year-old Sunny is suddenly thrown into a complete English environment and he is overwhelmed. Facing the reading material he can hardly understand, he screams and curses. He has to be consoled constantly, and still he throws a tantrum whenever he doesn’t understand what is put in front of him. And worst of all, he cries and cries at each class.
Sunny is transferred from one teacher to another, but no teacher wants to teach him. Eventually Ivy has to take up the task herself to tutor Sunny in private so that he will not disturb other students.
“I can’t believe Step By Step Academy played this trick on us. Ju Ong is sent by the owner to dump this impossible student on us. This is the worst kind of foisting. Can we ask Sunny not to come? Can we?” Ivy tells Tom.
“We can’t. We can’t. We have portrayed ourselves as a community assistant who helps everybody in need. We can’t refuse to help a poor kid. That will be very damaging to our reputation if we refuse to help Sunny.” Tom says.
“What can we do? What can we do? Can we foist him on somebody else?” Ivy asks.