• Vol. 06
  • Chapter 09
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The worker

We meet only briefly on my first day. Lin, I say. Say it twenty times. Firm handshake, my suit pressed, my smile ironed out, smooth and presentable. Within a week my manager’s manager confuses me with her, Lingyu, an older woman who sits four pods away. The next month somebody else comes to me looking for her. We look nothing alike. And yet, and yet. Our expressions are identical when our eyes meet across rows of heads and computers. Business as usual.

We might as well be clones. I have been congratulated for work that Lingyu has done. Someone asks Lingyu how she is settling in. We have still not spoken.

We used to find it funny. My best friend at school was half-Japanese and we paraded the playground together, let other parents puzzle. Neither of us had a sister. Later it was the bars, where we giggled at the "nihaos" and "konnichiwas" thrown our way. Sometimes I threw Hokkien back, sometimes a dirty look, but it was always up to me.

In the office I have forfeited these freedoms. Lingyu and I share our faces silently. My fingers fuse to my keyboard. The hours stretch into the night, people come and go, gutted desks are filled again quickly enough. To senior management, at least, we are all interchangeable. There is no time for small talk under the electric glare of financials. Personality stands no chance.

Another new starter confuses our names. I wonder if Lingyu resents me, and I wonder which I prefer ⁠— to be singular, or to be repeated. There is nothing in between.

Peel back my skin. Rewire the circuits in my brain. I am whoever you want me to be.