Date
20 November 2017
"Cath must love those flowers. The combination of yellow and green is her favourite. Where is she now?" Photo: Bloomberg
"Cath must love those flowers. The combination of yellow and green is her favourite. Where is she now?" Photo: Bloomberg

[Hong Kong's Top Story 2016] Untitled

A spray of rain hits the window. Sitting up in my bed, I gaze at it without focus as any woman my age would.

The clock is tick-tocking away. It is almost 4 p.m., and I am still waiting.

Waiting.

Waiting for…

What am I waiting for?

The rain is so heavy that everything outside is bleached white. The flower pots hanging are probably soaked inside out, their yellow blossoms drooping under the downpour. Water drains down the pipe at a corner of my room, creating a swooshing sound akin to that of a stream. Otherwise the room is silent aside from the humming of the – that metal box at the top left-hand corner of the window, blowing out gusts of cold wind. What is that called? A- an air… something.

I feel that I must know these things: the someone or something I am waiting for, the name of the machine. I feel it just nagging at the back of my mind. So very frustrating.

Is it an air-cooler?

Air-blower?

Does it even start with air?

That box, whatever it is, must be expensive. We didn’t have one back in the shack my father built by the hillside of Shek Kip Mei. We didn’t have windows either – just gaping holes in the wooden walls.

When it was raining hard, like it often does during the summer, some of the water would bounce in and spray us as we slept, momentarily cooling the five sweating bodies that snuggled together on the only bed in the hut.

We would put buckets and basins around to collect the rainwater that leaked from the worn roof.

My two brothers and I loved watching the rain; how it drops into the containers and ripples the surface of the water.

Is it my brothers I am waiting for?

My parents maybe?

No, that couldn’t be.

I remember that they are gone. Unless they are here to guide me to the beyond. That is possible, seeing how old I am.

How old am I now? I can narrow it down… No, not even the decade. It’s not as simple as counting the rings of a tree. But seeing my skin is wrinkled up and I am bedridden, maybe I’m past 70?

Either way, I surely look like the evil old hag from Snow White now! I hope I won’t seem so old in heaven. If dying means being youthful and with my parents, maybe it’s not too bad.

Better stop my mind from wandering off too much. It’s tiring, wondering about everything. It makes me feel sleepy. And if I slept I might miss what I’m waiting for, whatever it is.

Why do I even think that I should be waiting for something? My eyelids are so heavy now. Well, a little nap wouldn’t hurt…

“You awake?”

I look up to the voice. A feminine face pops in by the door. Short ebony hair framing a soft expression. She strikes me as a friendly type of girl. Everything about her is gentle, the way she smiles, the way she waves, everything.

“Sorry I’m late, got caught in the traffic. How are you feeling?” she continues speaking and sets about to pour a cup of water.

The woman is petite and seems to be in her late twenties. She is wearing a forest-green cardigan that looks like it is hand-woven. Beneath it is a plain T-shirt, with the word CATS on it in cursive, that goes past the waistline of a pair of jeans.

Definitely not a nurse like those I see around here.

Who is she? Should I know her?

“Wanna have a drink?” she offers me the cup while staring at me through her brown-rimmed spectacles.

I mumble a ‘thank you’ and accept it. She then settles down on the chair beside my bed.

“You alright?” she asks, giving me a gentle smile, but I don’t miss the worry etched into her features. And here comes that feeling again. I must have seen her before. I may even know her. But for the life of me I cannot remember anything about her.

Why does this keep happening?

“Hey, you okay?” she is looking at me expectantly. I can’t let her know I’ve forgotten her, can I? This will certainly hurt her feelings.

“Yeah I’m fine. Just tired. You don’t need to worry yourself about it,” I reply.

“Right,” she puts my empty cup away before fishing for a cardboard box from her backpack and giving it to me.

“There you go,” she says. “Open it.”

I do as I’m told and pull out a metal mug. It is painted green with little yellow flowers dotted everywhere, a fluffy sheep drawn on the side.

“I bought this to replace the one that was broken last week.” she explains. “Your last green cup. I remember that when you first came here, you complained about how everything is beige here, so not-your-type. You love green, so I got you a green one for your birthday last year. But that one broke – so here is the new one! And it’s metal so it won’t break that easily.”

I look at the cup. Do I love green? Since when have I loved green? Beige isn’t that bad – not worth kicking up a fuss over, right?

And I’ve had a breakable green cup before? I thought my cup has always been that dull plastic one I’ve just drunk from.

How much have I forgotten about myself?

About my relatives?

My friends?

I remember them alright, but seeing as I’m this old now, they must have aged from how they were in my memory. What if I’ve forgot some of them without noticing? If they were completely lost to me, would I even remember they existed?

This thought gives me chills – better not dwell on it too much.

I feel like I am someone from science fiction, switched into a body that does not belong to me. But at the same time, this probably is me. The name is mine, at least.

But I certainly have no recollection of how I came to be here in this time, this place. It’s like it’s the first time I’ve experienced everything here.

Really, given my condition – oh, wait, that’s right!

“It’s an air-conditioner!” I blurt out and gaze at the machine.

“Huh?” she utters.

Glancing back at her, I see that she is frowning at me. Oh, goodness, do I always act so dumb?

“It’s nothing,” I reply, embarrassed.

“Em… so… do you like it?”

“Like what?”

She gestures towards my lap, “The mug, of course!”

“Oh,” I lift up the cup and take a good look. “I do, it’s lovely.”

“Glad you like it,” she stares down, hands fumbling.

“I’ve… got some other thing to tell you. I should have broken the news to you a few days ago but, well, I just… I just…” she shakes her head, then looks at me and says, “Okay, no worries. I’m gonna tell you right now.”

She pauses, I nod for her to continue. She takes a deep breath.

“Remember Karen?”

Who?

She seems to notice how lost I look, and continues to talk:

“You know – that community centre in Tsuen Wan that puts on plays – she’s the girl who played an old lady. You two talked after the play, and became friends since then. She later decided to study performing art because you encouraged her. And when she graduated, she invited you to see her performance. You’ve been so proud of her, you know.

“But not long after she was out of school, she was diagnosed with lung cancer. You always visited and supported her after learning about it. She perked up every time you appeared, despite how tired she had been.

“Later you had to move in here because of your own condition – It deteriorated – and you couldn’t get to her as frequently. And, just a few days ago, on Tuesday, she…”

She’s breathing hard now.

In. Out. In. Out. In. Out.

“She said I had to tell you. Not fair to you, keeping you in the dark. She told me, I had to tell you… tell you that… that… she… she passed away, on Tuesday.”

Her voice cracks at the last sentence, tears streaming down her face. Her shoulders shake uncontrollably.

My vision is blurred.

I want to cry with her.

I feel like someone is gripping at my heart hard. Like a part of me has been ripped out.

When I was eight years old I pestered my father about the whereabouts of my mother – and he told me, in much the same way, that she didn’t make it through her pneumonia. I see it now.

But the saddest thing is, I’m not sure whether I am crying for a dear friend I have long forgotten, the nice girl I have just learned of, or the broken woman weeping in front of me.

“I’m sorry,” I tell her. I don’t know what else to say. “I’m so sorry.”

I’m so sorry that I can’t even cry for the right person, however much I try.

“No, there is nothing you need to apologize about,” the woman manages to say. “I should be the one apologizing. I mean… Gosh, I keep dampening the mood everywhere I go.”

She smiles, but it doesn’t quite reach her eyes. There it is again; the feeling of something being painfully familiar. But this time I know where it is coming from.

“You should smile more,” I tell her. “You look pretty when you smile. Like Cath.” As an afterthought, I add, “you know, my granddaughter.”

The woman stares at me with wide, reddening eyes, her last teardrops rolling down her cheeks just like the raindrops on the window pane. Then, the corners of her mouth lift up to a grin, but I don’t know what it means.

“If that’s so, I will smile more for you,” she laughs. Then, she hugs me. A light affectionate squeeze. Affection that must have roots beyond just today. It feels like love. It warms you from the inside and brings a smile to your face.

We both stay like that for a while, content to be in each other’s company – silently, aside from the air-conditioner and – oh!

The drizzle has long stopped. The yellow flowers are now facing skyward proudly, petals glistening with beads of rain.

Cath must love those flowers. The combination of yellow and green is her favourite.

Where is she now?

“Speaking of which, do you know when Cath will visit?” I pull back and ask.

She looks troubled.

“Well, Cath… eh you know, em she…”

“Oh, silly me, you probably have never met my granddaughter,” I say, realising my mistake, but she still has not eased. “How about I tell you about her?”

“Sure,” she beams, “why not?”

[Top Story 2016]

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JP/CG

Second Prize winner (Junior Category) - Hong Kong's Top Story 2016

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