The third in a series of student work that explores the notion of diaspora and the diasporic experience, Louis Chu’s short story allows us to overhear the thoughts and conversations of two very different men as they share a train carriage in Hong Kong:
by Louis Chu (28 March, 2014)
Just in time, a man burdened by bulky bags crippled his way through a little crowd by the train door as the siren was up-beating the quiet air. Door closed and the trolley started to roll shakily on the steel track, my sore legs were pulling me down to the seat right next to that man. His fingers were yellow and his nails crumbled a bit, I was looking at his fingers. The deep trenches of wrinkles that dug in the surfaces of his square face, line after line like the praying old man in black and white films, he wore a curly yet thinning hair in colours of purple and red. I preferred calling him “Mr Red Hair”, for, without an outstandingly valid argument still, I believe his red had been a little more obvious than his purple, while they were mixed with dim trails of snowy hair along the hidden shades of his cover.
The train was shaky as hell, but the man probably in his late 50s or early 60s was shaking in a much pacier rhythm. His body seemed to have lost the innate mechanism to counter the emotion induced by the environment. He turned his yellow face to me and smiled timidly
– Happy Neuw Yeer.
I barely managed to recapture my own consciousness as the running darkness outside the train had an anaesthetizing effect. But rather moved by his warm remark, I responded with a soft smile
– Merry Christmas
He hung both corners of his lips, probably involuntarily, while he pulled back his body with a certain amount of strength hitting the plastic chair and kept shaking his head lively.
-Oh!! Yes, Marry Kiss’mas!
-Soo, you wurk now?
He asked. There was one shrot, one very short ‘moment’ in mind which I had doubted the intention of this conversation, his small eyes as well as pointy eagle nose had served him badly, and of course the brown yellowish colour which wrapped up the whole man. I pulled back a bit, but I reckon that I would have nothing to lose so I answered with artificial patience.
-I work as a student.
I squeezed him an elaborate smile and he seemed to be very content with the flow of the conversation. He nodded his head forcefully as he continued.
-You live wif papa mama?
-Certainly, sure (I added as he seemed unable to reply), yes.
He was nodding even harder as the train had now stopped for the signal lights.
-My papa mama at home, inn Pakistani, I work and pay for my papa mama home.
I stopped as well, but I’d listened to every single word he uttered, the first thing in mind was “how old are this man’s papa mama? They must be old.” I was puzzled, well, I argued with my parents on money issues from time to time, but I was also wondering that for a man in his age, wouldn’t it be more sensible to boast for something else?
The train continued on schedule, a woman with her head wrapped up with light blue silk, probably an Indonesian, stepped in the train just in time. The man inclined his body and sticked his lips by my ears, whispering.
-Pretty laady Ahh!! (Grin)
I was thinking: “You lousy old jerk!” and then he asked me with a more cunning look in his eyes.
-Du you halv girlfriend?
He laughed, truly. And yes he did laugh, truly from his heart as one could easily see the warm curves of both his eyes with all sets of emotions. What were they I did not know, but what I could be certain of was that this man has what it takes to survive somewhere else, somewhere far away from home.
The trolley was well carried by the tracks on the wide bridge, our eyes were opening up as the shore line was lighted by a chain of orange lamps stretching further and further, facing the sea, letting in stronger and cooler wind as we prevail on the firm tracks.