Fiction / November 2007 (Issue 1)

The Old Man

by Nicolette Wong

I dated an old man when I had just turned into a young woman. The man had ocean blue eyes and a fine mouth, thin lips that spelt pleasure as much as harshness. His saggy eye bags and cheeks hung on his angular face; they made him look threatening, almost ugly.

I could not stop staring at the loose skin on his neck: its creases and leafy transparency. The thought of touching that inhumanly soft skin made me cringe. Yet I stayed fascinated, transfixed.
'Do you find me attractive still? Are you ashamed of walking down the street with me?' he asked.
We kissed in that dark alley on Lyndhurst Terrance in Central, near the major clubbing area in Hong Kong. The streetlamps shone on the wet stairs. The hawkers were closing their stalls.
On our second date the old man took me home. I leant against the kitchen sink holding a glass of water. He paced up and down the lounge.
'I'd like to name my son after myself. It's a continuation of the love my mother had for me,' he said. 'She was a very beautiful woman. Sometimes I think she was my first love.'
'You're older than my father,' his thinning black hair and crooked nose catching my attention. His white shirt, perfectly ironed, hid the monstrous belly I had yet to see. I wore a long maroon skirt. A conservative colour.
'I'll have my pension by the time our child is born. I can take care of you.'
'What about when you're gone?'
'Artists are most productive in their fifties.'
His face blurred; his gestures became a series of repetitions, his speech a train of monotonous thoughts. I sought his glance and saw he was not looking at me. His talk of past and future bleached my presence.
The doorknobs in his apartment were golden. I used the bathroom with a shower rather than the one with a bathtub. Sometimes I watched TV in the lounge when the hair removal cream was doing its job between my legs. Other times I masturbated. Both were the old man's orders.
'Are you getting closer?' he asked in the middle of the act. His old red mouth interrupted mine. His belly weighed heavy on me, made it hard for me to breathe. I imagined him putting his hands around my neck, strangling me.
Bedroom, bathroom, lounge, kitchen. Kneeling on the floor, lying blindfolded on the couch, bent over a chair, chained to the bed. It was always the same. There was no difference between one kind of failure and another. He disagreed.
'Do you think you can come with a woman?' his mouth glistened as he looked up.
'I'll only do it again if you want me to,' he feigned thoughtfulness, after he thrust himself into me where I had asked him not to.
The old man liked to take me to nice places, his favourite being the China Club in Central. He got his membership for a nominal fee when the club started out in 1991. He could never afford the real deal, not after the financial crisis in the late 90's and the drastic drop in his bank savings and property value.
His explanation did not interest me. Nor did the menu. Cod fish and broccoli. Chinese-styled beef. It all tasted of defrosted food.
I reached out for his pack of Camels.
'Say: "Could you give me a cigarette, please?"'
'Forget it.'
He looked into my eyes; I saw his anger rising, exploding into many splinters and falling on my skin.
'How many times have I told you this is fucking impolite?' he put a cigarette between my fingers. 'Say: "Yes please" or "No thanks" and I'll light it for you.'
Too many lights shone in my eyes as I looked out of the balcony. The Bank of China Tower stood tall and angular with its glass curtain wall. I skirted over the old man's lecture on the changing landscape of my hometown since the handover. The disappearance of colonial buildings and old Hong Kong. The politics of disappearance.


I bled all the time. When I cut my leg with a razor blade by accident. When I slid down the edge of his bed and hit my forehead on the small cabinet. When I woke up in anger and smashed a glass in his kitchen sink.

'Do you think you're bi-polar? Can I take you to the doctor tomorrow?' he demanded. 'You're so sweet at times and violent at other times. Get this fixed or we'll have to break up.'

Nothing was worse than the humiliation of being abandoned. The world turned to fuzz with the aid of anti-depressants. I was squatting down in front of a bookshelf in the university library. I was munching on dark chocolate in his kitchen in the middle of the night. I was rolling from one side of the bed to the other, biting my fingertips and struggling to sleep. A moment of darkness; an eruption. I was falling into an abyss that opened beneath my feet, into a world where I was convicted of crimes against my personality and sexuality I had not committed.

I took the drugs for some time.


Out of nowhere, a voice called and asked: Who are you trying to fool? The words disintegrated in the wind. Even now I cannot utter the answer. I picture myself rocking back and forth on a swing, trying not to let my feet touch the ground. I am rocking frantically. I do not know if I am laughing or crying. There must be times in a woman's life when she hates her gender so much she is tempted to bend herself backwards, to prove that she could live up to someone else's standards and she, not the man, is the winner. Or was it my idealism at that age?

 I was sitting on my side of the bed and looking at the old man. He had come back from a ten-day trip in Europe. I had slept with a few different people. I threw him a condom and the lubricant. He shook his head.

 'I'm tired,' he said.

I smiled. It was the last time I saw him before the relationship ended.


The old man and I met again one year later at the coffee shop of Peninsula Hotel, when the place still floated on its grandeur and reserve. That was before the mainland tourists took over Tsim Sha Tsui, dragging their giant shopping bags of LV, Gucci, DVDs and milk powder around town, when the central government saved our economy after SARS hit Hong Kong in 2003.

I surprised the man with a big hug and a grin. Inside the cab I talked about my summer trips to Europe. He was trying to trace the buildings sliding past the window.

'The old Kowloon City has disappeared since the Kai Tak Airport was demolished. Hong Kong has no character now,' his voice was soft with nostalgia.

'Some things never change.'

'Like what?'

'Like the way you never listen to people.'

'I have a dreamy character. Let me hold your hand.'

He kissed me outside the restaurant.

I never saw the old man again.

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