I could hear their laughter from my room. They were speaking Chinese so the jokes were lost on me. I tried to read my book, but couldn’t concentrate. I decided to take an evening stroll.
The air that greeted me as I left the hostel was still humid. These aimless walks had become part of my routine in Hong Kong. I had come to do one thing, and in the end, it couldn’t be done. But I had booked three weeks there. Mostly I hid in the hostel but sometimes the laughter forced me out.
I stared with hatred at every Chinese face that passed me. Unsure of what to do, I went to a convenience store and bought a beer. There were prostitutes there too, stumbling over their high heels, drinking the same kind of beer as me. I gave my best effort not to look at them. After two more beers, time passed more quickly and I felt as though Hong Kong was calling me. I wanted to drink at a bar, no matter how expensive.
At the bar, I ordered a vodka and coke. For a while, I listened to the conversations surrounding me. I became fixated on an attractive American couple, but they left while I was halfway through my second drink. I thought about the prostitutes and it made me feel sad. Then I thought of all the women I knew, family, friends and tried to imagine what circumstances could lead them to that situation. I felt their pain and a calmness overtook me.
I left the bar and as I entered another convenience store, I smiled at a Filipino prostitute. She approached me.
‘I like you’ she said.
‘I like you too.’ She smiled at me. Her teeth were crooked or missing. But it was a sweet smile. She stroked my arm gently. As we walked through the street, she tightened her arm around mine. The hotel had a red neon sign. After seeing the decrepit, leering man at reception and the dank peeling walls, I took her arm off mine. Her screeches followed as I fled.
Back at the hostel, I sat in the reception area and observed the laughing Chinese. There were four men and two women. One of the women smiled just like the Filipino.
‘C’mon everybody!’ the hostel worker shouted. They all arose and gathered around him. The Europeans came out their rooms and then they all left to watch the horse races. The hostel was empty, except me and the woman behind reception. She didn’t look up from her computer. She typed slowly. Otherwise the hostel was quiet.
I went to my room and lay on my bed. I picked up my book and began reading. It was silent and I could finally understand the page I’d gone over three times already. I couldn’t focus and went to the window and gazed down at the people below. Then I closed my eyes and felt the gentle stroke of her arm once more.
by James Hunter
[16/02/17: Alone, Journey, ‘C’mon Everybody’- Elvis Presley]