Fiction / December 2017 (Issue 38: Writing Hong Kong)


by Lawrence Pun, translated from Chinese into English by Chris Song

When Grey was stepping across the platform gap, as usual, she heard a greyest voice repeating this line: "Please hold the handrail!" "Please hold the handrail!" She was wearing a yellow uniform which didn't make her look any sharper. None of those grey faces flowing out of the car turned to her, except for Grey. Grey No. 1 walked toward Grey No. 2. She looked at her suspiciously and couldn't help asking, "Do we know each other?" Perhaps Grey No. 2 had wanted to answer, but she realised it was wrong. She paused for a second and went on being a human recorder: "Please hold the handrail!" "Please hold the handrail!"

Grey No. 1 stepped onto the escalator but didn't hold the black handrail. She did this on purpose, as perhaps this was the only rebellious action she could take every day, which was a psychological compensation that she may or may not have needed. When the escalator was carrying her to the first floor of the concourse, a familiar face of a childhood friend flashed through her mind—the girl in yellow trying to maintain order at the entrance of the escalator was her classmate from sixth grade. They hadn't seen each other for many years, and she didn't know how she had ended up working at the MTR.

For the whole day, the girl in the yellow uniform did her duty and tried to maintain order at the MTR station. She saw many avatars of herself, as if out of cell division, standing on the platform, holding a loudspeaker and a round-shaped board ("Please mind the gap!"), setting up a chant: "Please hold the handrail!" "Please hold the handrail!" This scene, of course, was familiar to her. (She had been working there for three months.) But this was the first time that she distanced herself and looked at these yellow clones in this theater of the metro station. She thought of Newton's first law of motion she had learnt at school. It says an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an external force that makes it change direction or accelerate. This law was felt in the minutiae of life. The girl who gazed intensely at her was that external force. In the station like a metallic abode, it took her some time to recall that the girl was her classmate in primary school. She walked away in a hurry, but her look stayed and revealed that her life wasn't easy either. Perhaps this was the unspoken mark of their generation.

Self-awareness can be a good thing or trouble. After three months of self-training, she thought her mechanism of thinking was able to follow the body's mechanical order. But now her voice came out from the loudspeaker tuned strange in her ears. The warm reminder "Please mind the gap!" became ironic. She looked at the platform gate, which was like a well-shut mouth that only opened for a brief yawn when the train arrived. Nowadays, it was impossible to jump the track. If The Complete Manual of Suicide ever published a revised edition, this method would have to be pitiably edited out. "Please mind the gap!" A gap is a space that can be filled up with things, including junk information and broadcast advertising. Luggage rolled over her toes, but its owner didn't say sorry. Instead, the passenger blamed her standing in his way. Now she came back to herself and realised she had indulged too much in her thinking today. Fortunately, the more active mechanism of thinking didn't apparently affect her work one bit. Another day blandly passed off.

A few days later, she was assigned to the same spot on the platform. Grey appeared again among the people flowing out of the car. Again Grey looked at her with suspicion. When she was passing by, she shot out, "Why do you look so lifeless?" Before she heard it, Grey was already on the escalator. She noticed Grey didn't hold the handrail, as though a sign of provocation. All of a sudden, the broadcast on the escalator was extra loud: "Be a safe escalator user, stay firm and don't move!" She realised her voice caught up with the broadcast, which meant extra safety. Her head lowered farther down and saw, "When you hear the 'DING-DONG' sound, please let passengers exit before boarding the train." "When you hear the 'DO-DO-DO' sound, please stop boarding and wait for the next train." She eared up for the first time for the "DING-DONG" when the train arrived (People always boarded the train before letting passengers exit.) and "DO-DO-DO" when it left (People always threw themselves onto the train at the last moment.). It struck her that she had the instinct to mute such intensive repetitive noise. She wanted so much to run to her childhood classmate and tell Grey, "Weariness is a necessity. Otherwise, it's unbearable." But Grey was already reaching the height of the escalator and seemed to glance back at her on purpose as she got off. Although she had an impulse to catch up with her, her duty prevented her and required her to stay put. She saw the platform had a lot of foam boards and many advisements pasted up on the mosaic wall, reminding the passengers to keep safe, those with the lines such as "TRAVEL HAPPILY EVERY DAY IN THE MTR," "CARING FOR LIFE'S JOURNEY" that targeted people's hearts but no heart was ever won. She realised she was no more than a thin poker card. Perhaps such life was not without ease. Another day safely passed off.

Three p.m. Office workers were still in the office. Children in school uniforms began the surge to the platform. Gazing at these students, the girl in yellow (or, Grey No. 2, if you will) thought of the time she wore such a uniform, which didn't seem very long ago. There were only a few years for a person to take off her school uniform and put on the MTR's yellow uniform. What happened in between was always blurred and confusing. The uniformity of the school uniform gave her a fine impression. At least, it was much more beautiful than the MTR's uniform; yellow was the colour she liked the least. Not even one piece of yellow clothing was allowed into her closet. But life was really ironic. She had to wear this yellow uniform for a good part of the week, which labelled her work identity. Looking at the backpacks on these students' backs, she thought of the MTR's notorious slogan, "DON'T RIDE LIKE A BUMPER CAR. PUT YOUR BACKPACK DOWN." She was a messenger of safety without conviction. How was it even possible? The happiness and excitement of riding a bumper car were impossible to find in the MTR. How long had it been since she last rode a bumper car? How desperately she wanted to relive the days of wearing a school uniform! As she was deep in her thought, two girls walked by abreast, each holding the other's arm, and stepped on the car. They were like twin dolls, or two sticky sugar beans, but not so much like bumper cars. Did she ever have such a companion? She couldn't think of anyone. Grey planted a few questions in her mind then disappeared for the next few days.

Grey re-appeared neither in the morning, nor in the afternoon, but on a Friday evening. She didn't come out among the people flowing out from the cart. Instead, she was taking the escalator down to the platform. The case on her back was unusually bigger than a normal backpack. According to the MTR's guideline, it was categorised as an oversized item. And so she wouldn't be allowed to board the train. The girl in yellow recognised that it was a musical instrument at first glance. One didn't even need to open the case; its shape revealed that it was a cello. The guideline was only a guideline. During less busy times, the MTR staff in yellow uniform usually didn't stop people who carried such instruments from boarding the train. She walked towards Grey (who looked much livelier today actually) without the intention of stopping her. She felt she finally had a reason to talk to her. She pointed at the case on Grey's back and was about to speak. But Grey asked ahead of her, "Do you still remember me? Lam Hoi Yu." The girl in yellow was taken aback, but she finally abandoned the code of practice. She answered, "I remember you, but I've forgotten your name." "We played music together when we're children." "My world is a car of noise now." Only a few words were enough to make the girl in yellow realise she was beyond the yellow line. Her remindful uniform, another kind of instinct, prevented her from taking the conversation further. She only uttered, "Please stand back from the platform gate." She observed that this childhood classmate wanted to open the case. At that very moment, the train arrived, and the gate was open. She wanted to say something, but she only spoke, "Please move inside to the train compartment." She feared Grey would take out the bow and play the cello on the platform. In this city, no one had ever played the cello in the MTR station. She didn't want to be reported, didn't want to be filmed on any cell phone and didn't want to become the focus of any crowd. Grey had no alternative but to pack it up and get on to the train. When the gate was about to close, she managed to yell, "Off you go. My name is the same as yours." Another day was passing off. This was 7 p.m. She was off from work. She stood on the platform and pondered what she meant by "go."







隔了幾天,當她再一次於晨早在月台同樣位置站崗時,車門吐出的人群中再次出現了灰爆女子。這次,灰爆女子同樣帶著疑惑的眼光打量她,經過她身邊時拋下了一句:「怎麼妳那麼沒神沒氣?」未及她回神,灰爆女子已踏上扶手梯,她注意到灰爆女子沒有聽她的話手握扶手,竟然還好像故意挑釁地在電梯上走動。此時地鐵扶手梯處的廣播變得額外巨大起來,以兩文三語反覆播出:「握扶手,企定定,唔好喺電梯上行走!請注意安全,站穩扶好,不要在扶梯上行走!Be a safe escalating user, stay firm and don’t move!」她赫然意識,她震動聲帶的人肉發聲,疊在喇叭廣播的機械錄音上,不過是另一重安全保險。她的頭垂得更低了,剛好看到玻璃閘門底貼著兩道標語:「聽到叮噹 請先落後上」、「聽到嘟嘟 請立刻停步」,她首次豎起了耳朵,捕捉列車駛抵站時發出的「叮噹」(人們卻是逆向地「先上後落」)和離站時的「嘟嘟」(總有人會臨尾衝刺),驚覺這麼密集重複的聲音,她平時竟然可以本能地過濾,將之變成靜音。她很想跑上去告訴那昔日同窗:「疲倦是必須的,否則如何負荷」,但灰爆女子已經到了扶手梯頂,正踏出扶手梯時好像還故意回頭掃了她一眼。儘管一刻她有衝動拔腿追上她,限於職責她不能這樣做,她要緊守崗位也即是讓自己原地站立。原地站立時她看到月台放了不少安全紙牌,也有貼在馬賽克磚塊上的多款安全廣告,例必配上「天天開心搭地鐵」、「心繫生活每一程」諸如此類動之以「心」但無人為之所動的口號。一刻她想到,原來自己也不過輕薄如一張紙牌,也許這樣的生存亦不無一份輕省。一切非常安全,夜去晨來,一天又如此過去了。

下午三時多,上班族仍未下班,但穿校服的開始湧現於月台。黃衣女子(你也可叫她灰爆二號)看著這些學子,想到自己穿校服的日子也不是太遙遠的事,由校服過渡到今天的黃衣制服,也不過是幾年光景而已。中間是怎樣走過的,想來卻是迷迷糊糊,糊糊塗塗。校服雖也是制服的一種,但給她的印象還是好的,起碼相比起現在身上那套制服要美多了。她平素最不喜歡的顏色便是黃色,家中衣櫃一件黃色的衣服也沒有,偏偏,好像命運跟她開玩笑一樣,她一星期大部分時間得穿上一套黃色制服,並以此界定了自己的工作身份。學生人潮中很多孭著沉甸甸的背囊,她想起公司早前給招來惡評的標語:「唔做碰碰車 放低背囊 唔會碰到人」;作為安全使者,連她自己也不能信服。怎麼可能呢,碰碰車那麼開心刺激,怎麼可能在地鐵內發生呢。多久沒玩了,可以回到穿校服的日子便好了。正想得出神,兩個肩並肩、手箍手、彷彿孖公仔般的兩個女學童在她面前掠過,徐徐踏進車廂。與其說是「碰碰車」,不如說是「糖黐豆」。這樣的玩伴她有過嗎?她想不起來。她想起那個近日向她投以問號的昔日同窗,有好幾天沒有出現了。



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