Fiction / May 2009 (Issue 7)


by Surajit Chakravarty

She thinks Hong Kong is fast and impatient. You can do whatever you want. There are a lot of options for everything but you have to keep making choices, keep moving. It doesn't give you a chance to think about yourself, she complains. It surprises me. Who was it that told me Hong Kong people are always thinking about themselves? I take in the new information, intrigued. What does she mean, I ask her. She tells me about her day. It has not been a very special day, but a full and busy one. She carries her own food, and has not skipped any meals. I am impressed. She is already doing better than most. I do not share my opinion. She continues, pointing to her neatly packed food. I can make out broccoli and string beans with steamed fish. No rice. She says people in Hong Kong do not care to eat healthy food. If yoga taught her anything, it was to see the worth of her body. I catch myself staring. I conclude the yoga instructor knew what he or she was doing. She says Hong Kong people are addicted to fast food. No one knows how to cook, so no one bothers. Hong Kong people have kitchens only for heating sanitized, sterile, packaged food.

She has spent an efficient day at work, waking up early, exercising, starting work ahead of time, eager to keep up with the Tokyo Stock Exchange, while answering emails from late-working clients in London. She juggles 3 sim cards in her phone. Her wristwatch displays six time zones. Her bosses jostle for her time. She's everywhere at once. But tonight she is at my place, with her home-cooked packed food. She must have planned to sleep at the office, a habit, I imagine, acquired in the process of surviving waves of downsizing. Between her work, her travel and her friends, does she have any use for her own place? I wonder if home is just a place to return to when there's nowhere left to go.

We've known each other a long time. She is accustomed to my being around, not in the center of her life (if such a point can even be identified), but somewhere near the periphery. Always within reach, but always on the brink of drifting out of touch. I am a pleasure enjoyed in small portions, I like to believe, but I suspect I am far less than that. To be fair, she is not at the center of my life either. Whenever she wants, though, she can extinguish the relevance of everything in my life and become the only thing left. With the slightest confession of need, or hint of flirtation, she becomes a jewel and I see nothing else. She knows this, and so she is powerful. She can come and go as she pleases. She treats me like a lonely snow-covered peak, taking the easy route to the top and then descending quickly away, while I'm left looking at her trail. As peaks go, I'm not the only lonely one standing around. Hobbyists have infinite options.

She cooks. She tells me about all the things she likes to make from scratch. She sees beauty in baking bread, in controlling the variables to get exactly the right outcome. I listen to her passionate accounts of selecting yeast and heating ovens. She wonders where she can grind the flour for her next project. She doesn't want to buy the flour this time. I suggest she might try growing the grain too, for the complete experience. She thinks about it. Someone in her extended family has a patch of land behind his house somewhere in New Territories, she informs me. I change the subject.

We sleep together that night. She remains close through the night, her soft, abrupt, non-rhythmic snores echoing in forgotten, empty spaces, the smell of her hair teasing me with the memory of what has passed. Long hair, with wisps that can change with her every mood. Sometimes she appears to have a different way of wearing her hair for every friendly smile and naughty gaze. Then with a flick of a finger it's all back in place, like children falling into line after recess, still giggling from their games.

She wakes up in the middle of the night. Just opens her eyes, but doesn't move. I am still awake. As if no time has passed since our conversation, she tells me how her father always ate out, staying home only on the weekends. Her mother had only Saturday night to cook him a meal. She would plan that meal for days. Sunday was for yamcha in Wan Chai with the extended family. It was through the yamcha conversations that her mother's Saturday dinners acquired a cult status. The Saturday dinners continued for a long time after her father passed away. She was 12 then. I have tasted her mother's cooking from the times that she brings meals from home after a visit. The memory of it makes me hungry. I stave off the craving and turn my attention to her. I smell her skin, rubbing my nose on her shoulder. Rosemary, strawberries, salt. She grasps my hands when I kiss her shoulder. As she responds she recites the recipe for cooking pork with honey. Use honey from Alaska, she insists.

In the morning she has a yoga class. She wakes up at 6, takes a shower, changes. I watch her from the comfort of her lingering warmth. I prop an arm behind my head, not ready to wake up, and not ready to allow her to disappear. She drifts into the shower and emerges a little later with a towel wrapped delicately around her. She looks around the room, finds her things, and gets dressed slowly, aware of my gaze, on her lithe limbs and her very slightly podgy middle. She mentions often that she is fat, and I find the idea ludicrous.

I want her to stay. I want her to come back to the space she's left behind. I want her to continue her father's story. She had been 10 and he had been working two jobs for his family when she had drifted back into sleep. I want her to tell me about the next two years, and all the years since. I want to know about her the way a friend would. I want her to own me just a little bit, and let me have some part of her I can hold on to. I wait to smell my shampoo in her hair.

The yoga class is at 7. She won't be allowed to join late. The next one will begin an hour later, and then her whole day would be off schedule. I know she is a busy girl. I don't push any more. She is ready by 6:40. The class is 15 minutes away. She comes over and gives me a short but soft kiss. Her still-wet hair falls on my face. She hasn't used my shampoo.

Eat a big breakfast, she reminds me. Eat congee or vegetables, you eat too much meat. Don't become like us when you are in Hong Kong, she advises, Hong Kong people have no idea anymore of what is tasty and nutritious. She's right, I tell her. She smiles, makes a v-sign with her right hand, and leaves quietly.

Website © Cha: An Asian Literary Journal 2007-2018
ISSN 1999-5032
All poems, stories and other contributions copyright to their respective authors unless otherwise noted.