The Concrete Jungle: A short story with Hong Kong as a character

Day time is structure. It is tall buildings, and sunlight that reflects off of windows of the HSBC office tower in Central. Buses roar and almost kiss the back of other cars in sheer proximity. A hundred people cross the street simultaneously. Sped up people; sped up lives. The financial heart of Hong Kong pulses in fast but steady beats-

Ah Wai pauses in his writing.

Would a heart that beats faster than average still be considered a healthy heart? Would it make sense biologically for a heart that beats fast to also beat steadily or should it be “erratically”? No matter. He’ll think about that later. It’s more important that he keeps the flow goin’.

If there were a witching hour in HK, nighttime would be it. The smog of pollution in the morning is replaced with smog of exhaustion inside noodle restaurants. The night is pitch black but underneath the neon lights, people sway to music with glasses and bottles in their hands like they would to witchcraft some thousands of years ago. Their faces are lit up in red, blue and green. “There is no time like the present”, says the static, million-dollar-view of Victoria Harbour.

“Just write about an undercover cop, bro,” His friend says half passive-aggressively and half exasperatedly, referencing the last movie that made substantial impact on Hong Kong’s film industry to the point that there is at least one TV series about an undercover cop per year.

“Or kung fu.”

“But I want to write a story about isolation in the city and a love with no expiry date.”

He turns back to his Macbook Air, slightly miffed at the interruption. He reaches over for his cup of coffee in distracted indignity but knocks it over the small, round table instead. The black coffee mug hits the ground with a thunk and its content almost splashes onto an office lady walking by. Their eyes meet briefly and for three seconds longer than average. He thinks she has nice eyes and she thinks he would be cute if he only parted his bangs in a 7:3 ratio. Then Christine remembers the members-only deal from Starbucks and Ah Wai hurriedly mutters an apology while attempting to clean up the reason for their meeting.

Christine fits right into the line of sharply dressed people. She only has an hour of break time and by the time she gets another chance to grab a discounted cup of coffee the coupon will have expired. So she washes the $10* fishballs on a skewer down with caffeine a block away from Starbucks and is careful not to get the extra spicy curry sauce on the Prada on her feet and the Gucci on her arm.

It is a Saturday afternoon and she has finished finalizing the details of her project after working overtime all night and then all morning. After all, how can she rest when promotion is so close? It is either him or her. What is worse than being bested by a middle-aged guy when she has two degrees and works twice as efficiently?

It isn’t until she turns the corner down onto Temple Street that she notices a jade stall decorated with the red and green of its products in the market. She thinks of her baby nephew and the tradition of buying small jade pendants for newborns. Christine pushes the thought that she is thirty-one already and the boyfriend…she doesn’t need one anyway. Too busy. She still has a long way to climb. She walks towards the stall. This is too old-fashioned, but she would splurge for the newest member of her family.

“Pretty girl,” the old lady at the shop smiles and gestures for her to grab a stool, “looking to buy jade for yourself?”

She shakes her head. She prefers to stand whenever she gets the chance. “It’s for my sister’s son.”

She prefers also to take “pretty girl” as a genuine compliment. Besides, what is beauty if not hard work and maintenance? In her line of work, first impressions matter as much to those outside of the company as it does to those within. She prefers not to think about the way coworkers are drawn to him and the way the new girl cowers before her before she even offers to teach her about the phone extension codes.

She ends up staying for the full duration of her break, digging through piles of gemstones and almost makes it back to work late. Who knew you could buy actual jade in a market like this one on Temple Street? Christine doesn’t know anything about the authenticity of the gems and doubts that any products sold here have been certified. Though there is a level of pride in the old lady as she recommends the various types of jewels to her, and a level of self-assurance in that she just knows her products to be the real deal. The next thing she knows is that the monetary reservoir she sets aside for the “extras” in life, like new clothes and shoes, is being slowly depleted and is cutting dangerously close to necessities like rent and money for her parents. Maybe she would feel as strongly for her company’s next product?

Fei jai, or Fatty, is loved by everyone– as they rightfully should. Fish. Meat. Sweat. Preserved food. Flowers. They are a scent medley that is distinctively “home” to him. Pink pepper from Ocean Islands in Dior’s Escale aux Marquises perfume, however, is not. And boy, is it the most exciting scent ever!

He pivots his head sharply towards the lady in a business suit as if his head is just an extension of his nose. The female is currently hunching over the tiny shop of the old lady who sneaks him snacks sometimes. Ah, that kind of human. The kind that goes into his territory for short periods of time, and not only do they smell of the outside, they would usually take the time to stare at him when others don’t. But right now, the mysterious scent calls out to him.

He gets up from the warm place over here, stretches, and is satisfied when tension is expelled from his muscles. Right then and there, he decides that she will be his, and so he steps out from the warmest place on Temple Street (he would know) and into a slightly less warm one. He prowls toward the lady with a purr and the intention to rub his cheek all over her ankle, but the lady deftly steps back from him as if she has practice doing that all morning.

“Fei jai, don’t get in the way of other people,” one of his humans, the one hacking away at various parts chides in his too-loud-voice. Fei jai’s ears flicker in annoyance. His human turns his attention to the female would-be-his-human. “Excuse me, the brat usually just sits around doing nothing. I’m not sure what’s up with him today!” He laughs boisterously as he swings a butcher’s knife and cleanly breaks off the spareribs of a pig.

“No problem.” She only manages to give a thin-lipped smile before hurrying off.

Fei jai makes a move to follow but meows in surprise as his other human grabs him from the back around his waist. His thin and short arms struggle a bit under Fei jai’s weight. The fabric of his second-hand school uniform is too rough and the belt buckle digs into his fur. Then, Little Human shifts his arms in a way that cups him perfectly and Fei jai is content to forget about the pink pepper and focuses on the now warmest spot on his street.

It is just like any other day in Hong Kong. Ah Wai decides to write a romantic comedy about two office workers and a love with a price tag on top after cleaning up his spilled coffee. Christine finds it surprising that she would find authenticity in a street full of copies. Fei jai has briefly fallen in love with Escale aux Marquises and just as briefly has forgotten about it. The concrete jungle resets itself in the afternoon and life goes on.

 

 

 

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