Immortalized into a framed picture, Tyra, sitting in a wheelchair, smiled broadly at Martin – a smile so endearing to him he had to repeat desperately to himself he would see it again, as he stared into the picture, trying to capture every last bit of detail on her smiling face.
He swiped the specks of dust off the clear glass pane and turned to gaze deeply into the eyes of the nineteen-year-old, only realizing how captivating those big, watery brown eyes she inherited from her mother had been, as he wondered if he would never see them again.
The dark sea of protesting students sitting silently on the main roads outside of the police station seemed to glow under the hot, blazing summer sun, faces with expressions of anger, desperation, fear…
“Sir?” A young man wearing the uniform of a police knocked tentatively on Martin’s office door, peeking through the little gap left opened, as if fearing the slightest mistake in front of Martin could cost him his life.
Martin set down the photo on his desk and hurried towards the door. “News from the hospital?”
He must have seemed far too ferocious, he realised. A look of terror flashed through Keith’s face, mixed with absolute shock, as if he had never seen Martin act this way – a look resembling far too much that of his daughter’s.
He was just arriving home that day when he saw Tyra, in a plain black shirt, wheeling herself round and round in the living room, as if dancing a little sequence of jazz. Her tired face gleamed with a broad grin when she saw him enter the room.
“What did I say to you just yesterday? You’re going to kill the cat any day now,” he said, his brows furrowing together, but his light beam gave away the hint of joke in his tone, while trying to grab the cat out from beneath the leather couch, whose yellowish-brown hair stood on ends and hissed threateningly at sight of his sweaty hands. If looks could kill a person, the cat’s face was full of murder.
“Well, for the record, Max has a pretty good survival record don’t you, Maxie?” she asked, silently slipping something cylindrical under her back as she wheeled by and took the cat from her father’s hands. The ginger cat hissed.
“I won’t bet on it,” he said, without missing the slightest bit of her swift action. He casually sets down his keys on the cupboard and walked over to Tyra’s desk, a full-on art battleground laid with the bodies of canvases, sketches and acrylic paints. He picked up a notebook, half-hidden under a folder of Tyra’s art class researches – paintings from the French Revolution, as he recalled. He opened it. After thousands of entries of random scribbles, the final piece of the notebook was an entry with a plain black background with a rough dash of dark red: “DEMOCRACY NOW”.
“You’re going out, aren’t you?” he sighed, holding up the notebook and turning towards his daughter, who was holding the cat in her arms, its fur still standing upright on its back. Her smile dissipated. She looked down, avoiding his sight, and whispered, “I have to.”
Martin found it hard to look straight at Tyra. Girl in a wheelchair, daughter, politics student, aspiring artist… all these words could describe Tyra well, yet he felt as if he barely knew the girl sitting in front of him.
She had been keeping so many secrets from him lately. Her Facebook posts, once full of random internet memes were now walls of her politics papers. She even managed to find time out of her tightly-packed schedule for pro-democracy protests – he wondered how. Just a week earlier, when students protesting for democracy were breaking through the blockade of police and swarming into the front yard of the legislative council, he saw her – a lone girl on a wheelchair hidden amidst crowds of angry protesters, while he – an average, every day police officer, standing among his comrades at the barricade, merely trying to do his job.
And he has heard rumors. Pro-democracy pages have been overwhelming his social sites feed, updating him with news of the upcoming protest. The police force estimated there would be at least ten thousand protesters for this occasion. With the earlier student protest, he couldn’t imagine what could possibly happen.
“I want you to listen very carefully, my dear,” he sat on the couch, and took his daughter’s rough, calloused hands from years of wheeling herself around. “I’ve been giving you all the support and space you needed. But don’t go out this time. Please.”
She gently clasped his hand with hers, sending the warmth from her hands to his. Her bright brown eyes met his, as they fixated a firm, determined gaze on him.
“I know, Dad,” she said, with a hint of hesitation in her voice, as if she was also trying to pick the best words from her thesaurus for what she had to say. “You’ve always supported me in whatever I do. But this time… this is protest is vital to Hong Kong’s future. Democracy for Hong Kong… it’s now or never. You know how important it is to me, to us all. Please, Dad, just this once.”
“I know, but… this job,” he said, gripping tightly onto her hand. “Your ideologies clash with my job. Who knows what will happen on the streets? We will be standing, on the two different ends of the same road. I’ve promised your mother to take good care of you.”
He could say no more. It was as if yesterday, when his wife, attached to a life-supporting machine, struggling to gasp in oxygen and dying of cancer, held tightly onto his hand, as she uttered her final words. “You have to look after her – please. Promise me, Martin,” she whispered, tears sparkling in her eyes. “Promise me…”
Tyra was asleep, outside the room when her mother went away. She was too young to understand; yet even as a crippled toddler, her mother saw through what her stubbornness could lead Tyra to. Maybe they were far too alike, Martin thought.
“I know, Dad,” she said gently, when his phone rang. He picked up the call, then he left for work as duty called. He promised to come back for supper, and she promised she will be home to see him.Yet neither came back for supper. The next time he saw her, he was standing in front of the government headquarters, walking clumsily in a full set of anti-riot equipment, while a wave of protesters, all in black shirts and holding up umbrellas against the pepper spray of the police. Gashes of tear gas was spreading down the street. Protesters were wailing, spelling out their beliefs through tears, begging for government officials to listen to their pleas… he hated everything he had to see. He hated his job.
Then he saw her. Tyra, appearing and disappearing in the mist of tear gas was at the frontier on her trusted wheelchair, coughing and draining her eyes as beads of tears trailed down her rosy cheeks, while holding back the angry protestors beside her. She must be yelling something; yet he couldn’t hear a thing.
Someone among the police yelled a thing. He didn’t quite catch it; yet the next thing he saw, a young boy, the new recruit Keith was handed a gun and a rubber bullet from his seniors. His dumbfounded face was written of nothing but shock, yet he obeyed his orders robotically.
More screaming followed, as part of the protestors backed away at sight of the gun, while others – still blinded by the tear gas marched forward. Through the tear gas that was slowly melting away, Tyra opened her eyes – a pair of bloodshot, puffy brown eyes lined with hopelessness in the face of the tear gas.
She must have seen the gun, as Keith pointed it at her direction. Martin didn’t know what he was doing. He was yelling his throat out, pushing through crowds of his friends and comrades, and grabbed onto Keith’s gun – The recoil sent both men onto the ground. Martin felt a gush of pain on his shoulder that landed hard on the ground.
Yet he saw her – Tyra, falling out of her wheelchair and pushing another young boy out of the bullet’s way, with her face drained of color as she took the bullet to her shoulder. Her face was a plain sheet of terror mixed with absolute shock as she slammed onto the hard concrete road, her left cheek painted with the dark red on the pavement.
The world as he knew it went silent. He wasn’t quite sure what had happened. He pushed through the police and ran to his only daughter, while aggrieved protestors turned the scene into the full-on riot, but he didn’t care. He kept yelling her name, shaking her as her empty, watery brown eyes found him, as if asking, what did you do?
The rest of the night was a blur. He found himself home, late at the darkest hours of the night. His hands were thick of dust, sweat and a strong metallic odor. He stood by the window, looking at the quiet, dimly-lit streets.
How queer it was – when in the capital of the city an angry riot was brewing, yet in his safe dwelling – it was as if nothing has happened at all.
When he looked down, he saw – lying on the desk, on top of the battleground of artworks – a piece of paper with a short note on it, in the writing of Tyra.
I know our ideologies have never been the same. I understand everything you have done, you did it to keep our family together. You have always been a responsible father and police officer – I know you are. And for that, I am proud of you. Yet when life makes its calling, what would you choose, your family or your beliefs?
I have made my choice, Dad. I want to fight for what I believe in, because in a few short years’ time, when sounds of protest are lost to absolute rule, when democracy is nothing but a myth in Hong Kong, I do not wish to be a part of this queer, autocratic society. But know this – you are the greatest father and family I can ever ask for.
[Top Story 2016]
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