Written by Nandini Sethi
The year was 2001.
Honk Kong was teeming with its people, skyscrapers and lights. This city, the size of a town, was perpetually bustling; I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of traffic, where did so many people come from and where did they have to go, all at the same time?
You see, I’m from a tiny village, where there’s more cows than humans. 2001 was the year I got my big break; a new job in an up-and-coming telephone company, which required to me to spend six months in Hong Kong. I was only a 21year old naïve boy back then, and there was nothing that could excite me more than the thought of a city that was alive.
I fell in love a little bit more everyday that I spent. The sun doesn’t set here, the moon rises; the buildings don’t end, the sky begins.
Office hours were dull and monotonous, but that was made up for by my colleagues in the late night parties we attended almost every night. Paperwork, paperwork, coffee breaks, and more paperwork. Boring it may have been, I was too timid and a next to nobody in that office; the aged men, CEO’s hurried along in their shiny tuxedos, even the finish of the teak desk left something like a glossy after-taste in my mouth. I had to work my way up to the top.
But then I met a girl. I came up against all the sleazy once upon a times, love at first sights, blah blah blah when I met her.
Her hair fell on her face at all times, and her skin was fragranced with lavender on Mondays, and vanilla on Tuesdays. The red of her lips stood stark in contrast to her pale face on most days, but other days the pink tint of her cheeks added colour and comfort to my day. But her eyes remained the same; wide and hazel, through long eyelashes gazing at you in a dreamy, dizzying stance.
We went out on dates, although we never really called them dates. Rico’s salad for lunch, and one cigarette each for snacks. She’d take the bus home, waving at me through the window until she couldn’t see me any longer, and then I’d continue on my lonely walk back to the rented room I was staying at for the remainder of my tour in Hong Kong.
Three months in and she would come over every Friday, cook me sweet and sour pork for dinner, and together we would wash it down with cheap wine. Four months, the casinos in Macau and Disney rides all the way up to the sunny skies. It was in the fifth month that she took me home to meet her family. Her parents were old and welcoming, and her sister was charming and intelligent. Her smile was warm and her eyes just like her sister’s. Her name was Sam. Sia and Sam, the notorious sisters.
As my days here were reaching their end, I had a choice to make. I could continue here, in the same junior position by extending my contract, or be promoted in the company’s new branch in London. Something like a battle between love and life. Laying on the patchy grass, gazing at the starry night sky, we had to make our decision.
“I don’t want you to have any regrets because of me”, she had said.
So I made the hard choice. All packed up, suitcase in hand, she kissed me goodbye and told me she loved me. But I couldn’t say it back, I knew that my heart belonged somewhere else.
That was years ago. Now I live in London. Life has been kind to me in most ways, but love has not.
My apartment was built for kings to live in, the windows in the living room overlook the most magnificent European streets; the lake glows at night, the café’s buzz with the thrill of tourists. My job gave me the luxury of these riches.
But more often than not I was plagued with unhappiness. Years had passed, the memories of past gone by, but I never lived a day where I didn’t think of her; think of the what if.
The finest of liquors served to me, but the taste of cheap wine in that room still lingered on my tongue; the most exquisite cigars my mouth has touched, nothing compared to the gulp of local Chinese cigarette in our breaks. I was diseased by incurable nostalgia, struck by the deepest chord of loneliness.
After spending what felt like a lifetime in despair, I had made up my mind. I was going back to the city I loved so dearly. Back to the girl I loved with all my heart.
The stale scent of fish still hung in the air, the city still shone, teeming with the same people, skyscrapers and lights.
Sitting stiff in the confinements of an airplane, something seemed so romantic about the idea of returning to a place, to win back a lover. For years she was all I thought of; I hit my head against walls to erase the memories, I kept my eyes open to rid myself of the nightmares. Is this what people call love? What was so beautiful and happy about this pain? The only love I ever knew was regret and distance.
Running along the streets of my Hong Kong, I was struck with a deep sense of belonging. So much had changed, but the sweet feeling of familiarity tugged at me. Asking around, here then there, I finally remembered the location of her house.
Gazing at my reflection in the window of the taxi, I clasped my hands together, wiped the sweat off my brow. The time was finally here. In that moment, I was the same again; my expensive tuxedo no longer mattered, the tremble of my lip gave it all away.
Door no 243 stood tall before me, and the thunk of my knock reverberated in the quiet of the corridor. I sucked in a deep breath and waited. Then waited some more.
At last, the door creaked open and I was re-united with the girl from my dreams. Her hair was a shade darker, her face sharper.
Her eyes grew larger at the familiar stranger standing before her, trembling in fear, in happiness.
“You came back”, is all she said.
The silence was deafening, the shock evident on her face.
“Only for you”, I said. “I never stopped thinking of you, Sam”.