2011 PROVERSE PRIZE FINALIST
Man's Last Song
To the post-modern savages, the future is not science fiction, but a lonely journey of self-discovery for themselves and mankind...
“笙歌” 是文韵特别奖得主MAN’S LAST SONG 的中文姐妹作，由《中和出版社》出版，各大書局有售
對故事中文明過後的“原始人”來說 未來一點也不科幻。時間無多了，他們面對一場寂寞的鬥爭，為自己，為人類，盡最後一分努力找尋自我 。 。 。
buy the book 买书
short stories 短篇小说
Man's Last Song - Synopsis
笙歌 - 故事简介
Man’s Last Song is about the human race facing imminent extinction in the future, but is not science fiction or apocalyptic thriller. The story is set in Hong Kong, with many international characters and events.
In 2090, the global population is less than half a million; median age is about sixty. After forty years of universal sterility, humanity is vanishing while the rest of the planet makes a happy comeback. A small group of survivors in Hong Kong face the challenge of adjusting to life as post-modern savages, rediscovering instincts that had long been suppressed by civilisation. Their relationships with nature, each other, and themselves have fundamentally changed. The dilemmas, pains and pleasures of love, friendship, compassion, ageing, and loneliness are heightened by pragmatic concerns.
The unknowable: God, Dao, death, even reality, have all assumed new and shifting dimensions in man’s dying world.
在 2090 年，人類經過四十年的不育，只剩下五十萬左右殘餘份子，他們的平均年齡大概六十歲吧；反正已經無人考究。在香港，幾個來自不同背景的 “文明過後原始人” ，生活在大都會的遺骸，身心都要作出調整來應付一個新的“洪荒世界”。
THIS IS HOW YOU WALK ON THE MOON Ethos Books, Singapore 2016
Gollum will soon be discharged from jail after 13 years. Life’s been hard, but starting a new one is much harder. Will demon survive?
HONG KONG NOIR Akashic Books, New York 2018
Collected in “Hong Kong Noir” part of an award-winning series by Akashic Books. Phoenix, a broken-hearted prostitute, desexes her boyfriend, and gets philosophical
“凤月姐” 英文版由纽约 Akashic Books 收纳于国际得奖系列 Hong Kong Noir — “香港黑故事” 文集。故事发生在1970年代的香港，妓女凤月姐阉割了警察男友，因而得道？
HONG KONG FUTURE PERFECT, anthology 2017
Dreams of Utopia
William Wadsworth writes in the SCMP: "James Tam’s Dreams of Utopia…Tightly written and with snappy dialogue, his colourful story portrays Cupid, a bored lawyer in a sexless marriage who befriends protesters to impress his dream lover..."
William Wadsworth 在南华早报的书评：“谭炳昌的【梦遗乌托邦】故事结构紧密，对白精彩。在这多姿多彩的故事中，一个工作沉闷，婚姻虚假的律师为了讨好“梦中情人”，投身占中漩涡
Asha is facing manslaughter charges, racial prejudice, systemic hypocrisy, and mass insanity.
AS WE SEE IT, HONG KONG STORIES 2011
by GuoDu alias James Tam
Rev. Lee is unexpectedly distressed by eternal life in Heaven, though it’s just as described in the Bible
OF GODS AND MOBSTERS, anthology 2013
Dragon Arm Ah Wah has walked into more troubling situations than Tong Fuk Prison before. But time has changed everything, including the underworld
Rev. Lee is unexpectedly distressed by eternal life in Heaven, though it’s just as described in the Bible
HK24, anthology 2018
A speechless farewell, fragments of regrets, slivers of remembrances. The dust of life, swept away, lost to the flurry of time
ANOTHER HONG KONG, anthology 2014
The Sins of Sin
A prosecutor, journalist, and a legislator conspire to defend Hong Kong's "core values" over a glass of warm beer
检控官“冼蛇” 与一个记者和立法会议员各怀鬼胎，合谋 “捍卫” 香港的“核心价值”
Comfort Woman Eleanor
In 1941, Hong Kong St. Stephen’s College is a field hospital. Before dawn on Christmas Eve, Nurse Eleanor’s nightmare coalesces into reality
flash fictions 闪灵短篇
Mr. President and Mr. Prime Minister discuss the need to apologise for war crimes
Lucky Hong Kong Birds 2013
Democracy Debate and Chinaman's House 2012
A few urban pigeons eat lunch from the rubbish bin, feeling sorry for wild birds up north who reportedly swallow life fish for meals
Now, what has democracy got to do with the Chinaman's House?
End of The World 2012
There must be a reason why so many are afraid to die, yet rapturous about the Big Ending. .
reviews and events 书评与活动
today's story 今天的故事
S H O R T S T O R Y
Feel free to use my body
— just the body
Don’t say you haven’t been warned…
Published: 2 April 2019
AFTER a brief struggle, his penis is swallowed by the phlegmatic vortex, leaving behind a faint shade of pink in the stained toilet bowl. Ha! Bon voyage!
I can picture it cruising down the sewer, bumbling along with all kinds of turds and gash from the neighbourhood — used condoms, spent needles, leftover noodles. I close the wooden cover and sit down on its worn surface. It feels coolish and slippery against my sweaty skin. I’m exhausted, yet calm and relieved. My head has stopped pounding. The noise is gone. In its place is an uncanny clarity, a detached awareness of the surroundings, of my life, the here and now, and why I’m holding a pair of bloody scissors. I can recall every detail of what happened a moment ago, and fully understand the consequence without the slightest concern. How weird, this inner peace immediately after committing a horrific crime, and witnessing the tumultuous reaction of my victim.
I wonder if this is sudden enlightenment. Alice said many Zen Masters attained enlightenment under wacky circumstances such as getting shit on the head by a pigeon — splat! — or falling into a cesspool — splat! Hey, what if desexing Kit — snip! — has somehow elevated my insight to new heights? I must ask Alice when I have a chance, now that she’s given up prostitution to be a Buddhist nun.
I toss the scissors into the bathtub. They make a sharp loud clank, shattering the unusual silence.
It’s about nine in the morning, very early for us lot, late for normal people. The howling wind and gushing rain have quieten down, consolidating into a dense greyish mass. Maybe Hong Kong, like me, is trapped in the eye of a big bad storm?
This section of Portland Street, three stories below, is rarely this quiet.
Running between the snazzy facade of Nathan Road, a main artery of Kowloon, and the fatalistic bustle of Shanghai Street where real people live, it’s a murky transition in which day and night change shift without colour or drama, like a tired and underpaid security guard. In this neighbourhood, ten minutes walk from the heart of Temple Street where all the Chinese in Hollywood movies do murky business and get their fortunes told by birds, is a full spectrum of human activities and commodities at knockdown prices.
One block away is a busy wet market. Chickens with gleaming feathers squawk in crowded bamboo cages, craning their necks majestically, gently nudging against each other like proud aristocrats queuing for the guillotine, getting a bit impatient. They don’t seem troubled by the sight of a buddy flapping in a bucket right next to them, neck slit in one quick cut, vigorously letting blood, performing a final service for the vender.
Next to the chickens are a long linoleum-lined table covered with ice. On top of the ice bed are skilfully dissected sections of fresh fish. Half their bodies are gone, exposing their air-bladders for market 3 Monologue of a Ghost assessment, yet they continue to twitch. I wonder if I’d also grope for life with my last breath, or just let go, if someone cuts me into halves.
Towards Temple Street is a row of Dai Pai Dong food stalls. Like the wet market, the ground is always wet there, even during the drought. They serve fragrant coffee sweetened with condensed milk, inch-thick toasts with a crispy crust and fluffy heart, a hundred kinds of fried noodles, steamy hotpot rice, snake soup when in season, and my favourite congee with pig chitterlings and miscellaneous guts. During their busy hours, the flat would be impregnated with mixed aroma if I kept the windows open. They occupy half the road, leaving barely enough space for trucks and lorries with a productive purpose to pass. Trespassing private cars will be inadvertently scratched, guaranteed. Behind their tin-box stalls is the pedestrian pavement, occupied by boxes of goods spilled over from dusty boutiques, hardware stores, herbal shops, relatively more classy eateries, and a few mahjong schools. Nobody will teach you anything about mahjong there. But if you don’t play according to their strict gambling rules, you’ll be dealt with by the bouncers rather than a tutor. Pedestrians walk in the middle of the road, or navigate between stalls.
Of course there’s sex and entertainment. This is the real world.
On the floors above the shops are residential flats used for various purposes. Some are occupied by hardworking families with hopeful kids studying to become doctors and engineers. Others have their windows painted black, isolated from the outside, oblivious to the passage of time by design. They display signs of massage parlours, nightclubs, cabarets, personal barbers, intimate private tutors and movie screening studios on the outside, giving the neighbourhood a unique cultural air. Then there’re girls like me. We are the most honest and straight forward, leaving no ambiguity as to what our business is. Right in the midst of all these are urban churches, operated by religious brethren trying to fight fire in hell. Occasionally, they themselves catch fire, and have to come to us for emergency rescue.
On a normal day, life starts at about four in the morning, as final vestiges of the previous night get reabsorbed by predawn darkness. Garbage and delivery trucks rev idling engines while workers bang buckets and holler congenial abuse to each other, as if to avenge those who can afford to sleep while their mess is being cleaned up. It doesn’t bother me though. I would have just finished work, eating my early morning meal before going to bed. As I climb into bed, the indistinct hubbub of hawkers and vehicles and shoppers and tourists would be my lullaby. By the time I wake in the early afternoon, they have usually gathered in full force, energetically sustaining the reputation of our district — Mong Kok, the brisk corner.
Most days I start to receive customers in the late afternoon, mainly warmups — good family men needing a quick fix before going home to their good wives and innocent children; the occasional schoolboys, virginity bulging behind school uniform, eager to burst. Prime time starts after dinner, when customers emerge from the dark, lured by the cheap glow of neon-signs, like phantom moths. Neon-signs are always red. Ours at the main entrance of the building — Horny Miu Miu and Sexy School Girl 3D — costs us fifteen bucks a month to the building. Miu Miu is horny for sure, but I’m no schoolgirl by any stretch of the imagination. My ‘stage-name’ has always been kind of academic because I did go to college for nearly a whole year. That’s rare in our business. Being the only functional literate in my class, my dumb secondary school actually offered me a scholarship to attend college. Nice of them wasn’t it? So I did it, went to Teacher’s College, out of uncertainty, curiosity, vanity, a wicked sense of irony, and a hidden soft spot for the schoolmaster Miss Yeung. That old lady sincerely thought she saw a glimmer of hope in me because I could read, bless her virgin soul. I also wanted to spite my mother who was confident that I’d continue the family tradition of whoring. Oh well, I eventually did, though only part-timing at the night-club at first. The scholarship was barely enough for tuition fees, and I couldn’t wait any longer to run away from my mom. Anyways, a stage-name’s obviously only marketing. No customer’s stupid enough to expect it to match the person who opens the door half-naked.
For most of the night, our Flat 3D would be enlivened by the happy rhythm of beds creaking and theatrical moaning. Miu Miu can drink beer, chew gum, burp, fart, and moan ecstatically at the same time. The night finally nods off when the men disperse. Before long, it’d be jolted out of a brief snooze by bawling drunks, piercing sirens, or gang warriors threatening each other with their own lives. The sound effects of their nightly dramas don’t bother me, though I sometimes adopt them for my own dreams.
The bathroom window, panes translucent with grime, hinges frozen by rust, is half open. One of these days, a typhoon will take it down, then we’ll get a new one. I can hear birds twittering nervously outside. Miu mentioned sometime ago that birds had nested behind the leaky downpipes barely attached to the building wall, adjacent to the window, but I had not noticed them before. What kind of bird would leave the forest to hang around this slum? Is that fate? Insanity? Stupidity? Birds have small brains. But do they have fate? Another question for Alice.
I wipe my hands on my naked body. Broken streaks of blood trail off from breasts to thighs, like a calligrapher’s exhausted brush strokes. My thirty-three-year-old body is well past school-age, seriously overused. I still trust it like a cabbie trusts his old taxi. Not perfect alright, but will do the trick at least one more night, then one more night. My sunless flaccidity still looks good in dim light, good enough. Most men like pale skin, and are incapable of noticing its subtle defects once I’ve got them by the quivering dick. Occasionally, a jerk may make a few smart-ass comments too many. I’ll tell him to go fuck his own mother instead. If he freaks out, well, he’ll have to talk to Ah Bill or one of his buddies. The girls in this building are protected by the 14K triads. Ah Bill’s our resident da dun security manager, invisible unless there’s trouble.
Ah Miu — once my best friend, flatmate and co-worker — taps tentatively on the door, calling my name softly: ‘Feng Yue Jie. Feng Yue Jie. You okay?’
Her feigned concern gives me the creeps. The two-faced bitch will flee at the slightest hint of me making a move. I heard her opening the front door as soon as she came out of her room. Very wise, Ah Miu — first thing first, get the escape route ready. Ah Bill promptly came over to enquire. I wonder why he was still around this time of the day. Must be the new girl in Flat A. Anyways, he took off before Miu could finish her incoherent account. He doesn’t deal with this kind of shit, especially when a cop’s involved. The neighbours are dead quiet. In this building, the first response to a scream for help is to bolt the door and stay put.
Miu then called 999. We never call the police for help. We settle everything our way, without government interference. I suppose this is an extraordinary situation. ‘Yes, yes. The crazy woman’s still in here. She’s locked herself in the bathroom. She’s got a knife,’ she said, breathlessly, unnecessarily loud. ‘He’s fainting, bleeding a lot. Maybe dying. Hurry lah Ah Sir!’ To support her claim, Kit Zai groaned in the background like a pig in the slaughter house.
Well, she was wrong. I don’t have a knife. I have a pair of scissors, brand new, German made, top quality, used only once so far to fantastic effect. His dick offered less resistance than blanched pig intestine, my favourite bedtime snack. She may be right about me being a lunatic, though. I’ve been suspecting that for years. But hey, look around, who isn’t? Only that I know and they don’t. They’re crazier!
Miu has stopped pretending to want to talk to me. She’s mumbling urgently to Kit Zai, who’s gone quiet. I wonder if he’s dead. Nobody’s supposed to die from a severed cock. He’s probably feigning again, or looking for his gun, dripping blood all over. I had hidden it under the bed before the operation, darling. I may be crazy, but ain’t stupid, huh?
In the past few weeks, since I found out about this treacherous pair, a noise in my head has been helping me plan my revenge, working out details. It’s the noise that insisted on investing in a pair of good pinking shears. That way, the damage will be irreparable.
‘They can’t repair a cut-off dick anyways!’ I told myself, or the voice. The woman who was sharing my table at the congee stall kept her head way down and spooned scalding hot congee into her face at double speed, pretending not to hear.
Remember the guy who got his dong sliced off by his girl a few years back? The doctor sewed it back on. One of the girls even saw him use it again a year later!
I find that hard to believe, but you never know these days. Technology seems capable of any voodoo. But good pinking shears are grossly overpriced, so I settled for a pair of strong scissors instead. A good idea had dawned on me at the store: Flush it down the toilet. Much cheaper that way. This morning, the noise issued a simple command: Now!
I got out of bed, temples throbbing with excitement. He was snoring like the thunder god.
He had come in around two, unexpectedly. I had switched the neon sign off earlier than usual. Miu was still out, probably singing at a Temple Street cabaret. It had been a quiet night except for the weather. I should have taken the night off as well.
After the condom incident, he had stayed away for a few days but called to say he was busy, missing me. Ah Miu had kept up an outrageously innocent face, more vacuously jolly than usual, assessing me through sideways glances.
Not that easy bitch. Nothing happened.
Had he disappeared, would I have let go of him, and focused on Miu after the episode has dimmed in her tenuous memory? I don’t know. The voice assured me he will come back, though.
Oh yes, he will. He thinks you’ve been paralysed by his charm. He needs to prove that. He needs to nourish his ego with unconditional forgiveness from a vengeful whore. He needs to watch tears welling up in your eyes.
The voice was right.
‘I thought you’re bouncing at the Mahjong School?’ I said.
Kit Zai’s a cop, now a victim of the newly established anti-corruption agency ICAC. Unlike its numerous predecessors which would go away after getting paid, the ICAC seems to mean business, and has caused a financial crisis in the force. Many, especially plainclothes detectives like Kit, have started bouncing at nightclubs and gambling dens and whatever to sustain a lifestyle they had long taken for granted. The same mix of cops and thugs are now hanging out at the same dumps under a different symbiotic arrangement. A comedian had once suggested solving the triad problem by recruiting more police: The law of conservation tells us that having one more cop means one less thug on the street.
‘Hardly anyone there, so the boss asked everyone to go. The boys went for food and drinks, but I thought I’d come to see you instead. Romantic, huh?’
‘I’m touched. Where’re the flowers? For your information, Ah Miu’s not home yet.’
‘Come on, be nice!’ He appeared more pleased than surprised that I had brought up Miu. ‘That was only a one-time thing which you have no proof of.’
Listen! He confessed! He called it a one-time-thing. That means they had done it more than once!
I smiled sweetly. I’m a pro in smiling sweetly.
‘Lawyers call it allegation, you know, based on circumstantial evidence. It doesn’t count. Hong Kong’s a lawful place now, you know. Even we need evidence before charging anyone. Yesterday, my inspector told us no more forced signatures on blank statements or toilet beatings until further notice. Otherwise, we’re on our own. Imagine. Crime rate’s gonna fucking soar, baby.’ He winked and showed his straight white teeth.
He was technically right. I had not caught them in bed. I had come home unexpectedly in the afternoon, exactly twenty-two days ago. I was supposed to be swimming at Tai Wan Shan, the new modern government pool everyone talks about. It was closed for emergency maintenance so I took the bus back. I suppose it was one of those bad luck cases designed by God to trap multiple victims at the wrong time in the wrong place. I thought I heard a hushed confusion inside as I unlocked the door and the triple bolted gate. Her room was closed. This early? He was ‘napping’ in mine, bedcover pulled over his lower body. Aha. I yanked it away. He was in his briefs.
‘Are you not warm?’ I asked. The noisy air-con in my room wasn’t even on.
Sure, Kit, you’re drowsy alright. I’m a much better detective than you lot.
I noticed a wet spot on his underwear. I quickly yanked it down before he could protest. A condom was semi-attached to his limp little brother. ‘Why are you wearing a condom?’
‘What? Am I?’ He said blearily, eyes half closed. What a stupid response, so unlike him. Pathetic. His mind must have had gone blank, or frozen.
But mine wasn’t. I didn’t push. I went to the kitchen for a glass of water, to think. I saw the chopper, but quickly decided against using it. I didn’t want to chop him up, partly because he had a gun. What about Ah Miu? I had always known her to be streetwise but brain stupid, but to do this behind my back? With Kit Zai? Right here? Why? What for? Self fulfilment? A real orgasm? To hurt me? Come to think of it, I shouldn’t have bragged to her about Kit. Whatever her reasons, the betrayal is infuriating, yet forgettable if unforgivable. I’ll get her, no hurry. Perhaps Bull Dog and his boys will give her a good gang bang, one that she’d never forget. But right that moment, I must play dumb, and pretend nothing had happened.
When I returned to my room, he had put his pants on. I wondered if he was still wearing the condom. His poor little weenie must have started to sweat if he was. He lit a cigarette, and said he had had a long shift, someone got stabbed a few times too many, bled to death by the gutter, a 14K Red Staff Warrior, one of Broken Tooth’s boys, but he wouldn’t let on, and…
I didn’t register the rest of his diabolical bullshit. The blood in my head was roaring, but my mind was calm, calculating.
Hey, nothing’s happened.
What other option anyways? It’d be stupid to push him into a corner.
That’s right. Nothing happened. Not yet.
He lit another cigarette with the butt before stubbing it in the ashtray. Blue smoke rose gently. I smiled sweetly.
Everyone in our marginal world has stained teeth, panda eyes, and liver-coloured smudges on the lips — standard marks of low-lifers. But Kit’s teeth are sparkling white despite two packs of cigarettes a day. His lips are red and plump and fresh looking though he does have dark circles around his eyes. I loved kissing them, probably still do if we ever kissed again. You see, I only sell parts of my body, parts that good girls regard as sacred and untouchable. But I never kiss my clients — not the mouth-to-mouth kind with tongues crossing anyways. Kissing is a big deal to most of us working girls. If we kissed someone — trouble. I kissed Kit Zai the third time we slept together, after he had brought me my first bouquet, and given me my first orgasm ever, in lieu of cash. Look at the trouble we’re in.
He was born to break hearts: handsome, tall, strong, boyish, cheerful, funny, but savagely scary if pushed. I’d heard about him before, so I can’t say I wasn’t warned. Let’s say he’s quite popular with the girls. But in our business, you don’t believe anything you hear, not even if it comes from your own mouth. Plus, what do you expect? If all the guys are like him, prostitution would suffer. Many of us would be doing it for free.
Before Kit, a fuck was just a fuck, no such thing as good or bad.
It used to be two hundred bucks plus a cut of take-out fees when I worked the nightclubs. I was young and pretty, highly educated by their standard. My photo was prominently displayed in the reception area: Sexy School Girl Little Phoenix. Had I not quit college after the first term and gone on to become a teacher, I would have had to work at least two weeks in my old school to make two hundred bucks.
What an educational sludge tank that was, corralling the poor and hopelessly disinterested until the boys were ready for a career with the triads or the Royal Hong Kong Police, and the girls were ripe to join the nightclubs, or enslave themselves to a factory, making happy plastic babies. We were colour-coded as soon as we entered subsurface society. The boys became yellow if Royal, black if triad. Girls like me turned red under the light which people saw us in. Those joining the factory class remained colourless, invisible. Same difference, all bred from the same pot. In that dump, I was weird. I secretly enjoyed reading. I had read Dream of Red Chamber and the erotica classic Jin Ping Mei by ninth grade. Of course, I kept that a secret lest I get teased, even bullied, for being ‘bookishly antisocial’.
Well, good old days.
I’m still quite popular though, mind you, and increasingly affordable. Anyways, suffice to say I’m not easily impressed by male performance due to professional exposure. Except Kit… I really don’t know how, or why. Maybe it’s age. Alice might say it’s karma. Perhaps I can no longer suppress a hidden desire to have a real man who brings me flowers and makes me come. It’s infuriating. It’s a cliche that working girls like cops but, oh well, analysing the reasons would be too philosophical for now.
I know your Mr. Wong and Chan out there think prostitutes are anything but cultured, not to say philosophical. Their ignorant opinions cannot be further from the truth. But they don’t want to look us in the eye, and recognise us for what we are, lest they feel small, and shrink.
In the old days, when women were mostly illiterate, and their only ‘skill’ with men was limited to blushing with the head down, courtesans could read, write, sing, dance and play instruments — real and euphemistic ones — in and out of bed in a hundred different positions. Brothels were the only place a gentleman could find a worldly, elegant, irresistible, learned, challenging, understanding, interesting and amorous women. Many five-star courtesans became multi-millionaires and eventually married distinguished suitors who immortalised their charm and beauty with poems. Household names such as Ma Xiang Lan, Li Xiang Jun, Dong Xiao Wan, Chen Yuan Yuan still trigger fantasy and admiration now, centuries later. And how could I leave out Xiao Feng Xian, the love of revolutionary hero General Cai E in the early 1900s? There must have been a dozen movies made about their love story. Her haunting memorial verses, sent to his funeral, were inscribed next to General Cai’s tomb on Yue Lu Mountain, side by side with the elegiac couplets by Dr. Sun Yat San.
Xiao Feng Xian — little phoenix fairy — was a phoenix like me. What a beautifully whorish name I have — Feng Yue — Phoenix Moon. Can’t say my mother lacked foresight when she named me. Unfortunately, Xiao Feng Xian was the last celebrity prostitute. This is the 1970s, the modern world. They even made polygamy illegal a 17 Monologue of a Ghost few years ago, after being practised for thousands of years. Can you believe that? What man would be happy with just one wife if they could afford more? Can the law change human nature, especially male human nature? Some girls thought it may bring us more business, but we have seen no evidence of that so far. The law has simply driven junior wives underground. They’ve become secret mistresses — less accepted, less recognised, less protected, children assigned to the shadows. The senior wives are now more suspicious of their men than ever, wondering what their mistresses are like, feeling more insecure. Nobody gains. Stupid.
In any case, we don’t have the same good karma as our sisters from the dynasties. Phoenix is now a euphemism for chicken, which stands for hookers in Cantonese slang. Poets are extinct. We have become just chickens.
That said, I’ve met some very smart men over the years. Unless you’re a pro, you can’t imagine the kind of men who come to us. We’ve seen the most complete cross section of male humans. Most show up with tongue hanging and pants half down, as you’d expect. Perhaps less expectedly, some are more desperate to talk than fuck. They need to relieve secrets locked away from their wives, buddies, parents, siblings, doctors, priests, even themselves. Their secrets eventually rot inside, driving them nuts. I bet they hear noises in their heads too. With us, they talk freely, for we don’t matter. A girl like me who’d been to college for a while is a real find to some men, though they’re usually not the type who pay extra, so I don’t listen unless he’s a regular.
A certain professor used to come and see me every Wednesday afternoon at 3:15. He wore sunglasses even when it was raining, and a hat pulled way down to his nose. He was gentle but stingy. Academics are always stingy. After spending barely five minutes on my body, he’d talk about a boy he met in church. They had been to a movie, a love story. ‘It was so sad. He cried. Poor thing. So cute.’ Professor told me, incredulous eyes glittering. And another week, they picnicked at the South Bay Beach. ‘He made Singapore noodles, absolutely delish!’ He licked his lips.
‘Sounds like you love him,’ I eventually suggested.
‘Oh no! We’re only friends!’ He waved both hands frantically in front of his face, as if his nose were on fire. ‘I’d be ruined if they knew.’ He looked like he was about to burst into tears.
‘It’s okay, you can love him all you want in my house.’ I hugged him like a friend, then asked him to get going. ‘I’m expecting someone in a few minutes,’ I lied.
He apologised profusely for having taken up my time, then paid the exact amount. No tip for listening and counselling, or a momentary display of genuine friendship. Haven’t seen him for a while now. Perhaps he has finally given up women.
There was this super-hairy Brit who often looked for me after a few beer. If I were busy, he’d make an ‘appointment’ and return after thirty minutes rather than giving Miu the business. He had my respect for that. He liked me partly because I could speak some English. One day he told me he was a spy, and showed me his pistol. ‘Look, cops don’t have guns like this!’ He put it in my hand to let me feel it, then gave a huge beer burp.
‘Choi! I don’t touch guns! Bad luck!’ I gave it back to him right away. He grinned so hard his bushy eyebrows lifted like wings.
I told Ah Bill about the Brit. He checked through his Royal pals and confirmed that this guy was from Special Branch. ‘They can make anyone disappear. No fucking questions asked. You take care huh.’ Unfortunately, I could hardly understand half of the Brit’s boasts. He also took up too much time, but I was careful to be diplomatic. ‘Okay okay handsome James Bond. Bond girl need you fuck now!’ He loved me calling him James Bond.
While our clients tell us boring secrets, we girls hide ours.
We all have stories which would make you weep, stories we’ve buried deep inside, until forgotten, until we die. I can hardly remember my own anymore — don’t want to — except that my mum was a hooker, hopefully still is, a toothless wrinkly one working out of a lice-infested cardboard dump in Kowloon Walled City for five bucks a shot. Well, forget her. I haven’t thought about her for years.
Anyways, hard-luck tales are like ice water to a hard-on, the centrepiece of our profession. We are here to make life fun. We get into character like actresses do. Enjoy the sexy miasma of musty sweat! And the oral funk of alcohol and tobacco! Look at my sweet smile!
Inside every prostitute is an actress, psychologist, and philosopher. Her philosophy is a private interpretation of life to make it bearable. High-lifers talk about ‘philosophy’ to look smart, to stroke the ego — something which she has sold, long ago. We are just chickens. Chickens are supposed to be dumb, with feelings only for money. Yeah! That's right! Money money money!
This morning, as the typhoon landed, we ‘made love’.
The term normally makes me cringe. How do you make love by pushing a sleazy indiscriminate wiener into a KY Jelly dump? Just say fuck, for fuck’s sake!
Kit once told me he loved me. I feigned disgust. ‘What do you think I am? Your teenage darling? You’re sickening!’ I bit his nipple playfully, a little too hard. I made him scream — though not nearly as loud as just now, when I snipped off his dick. I kept swearing, even more foulmouthed than usual, and laughed hard to cover the tears welling in my eyes. It was devastating, the happiest moment in my life. I couldn’t sleep. I lied in his arm all morning, dreaming of possibilities, possibilities which I had never believed, and still don’t, possibilities so naive it’s too embarrassing to mention. A whore has nobody but herself to blame for being that stupid with a man.
Five days later, I discovered him napping in my bed with a wet condom on.
But this morning, I wanted to make love, knowing very well there wasn’t any. When we finished, I giggled. When I’m really sad, I sometimes giggle. It amused him. He finished a cigarette with a few deep drags, then popped a sleeping pill as usual. I dozed on and off next to him, suppressing the urge to cry, or giggle. I heard Miu coming home. Then the voice woke me: Now!
The rest was easy. I hid his gun under the bed, took out the scissors, grab his dick, and snip. Boy, did he scream. I ran to the bathroom, cock in one hand, scissors the other. I closed the door, and pushed the knob with my elbow to lock it.
The cops have arrived. Kit’s moaning again, now that there’s attention. As far as I’m concerned, he deserves the death penalty. He’s a cop. He should know better not to dick with a whore’s heart. You can toy with her body all you want, but underneath the callouses that you rub and squeeze and lick is a heart so tender she doesn’t even dare to look herself lest it shatter into a thousand pieces. You, Tsui Man Kit, molested mine for fun, just to show you could steal even a whore’s heart, just to brag to the boys in the change-room. You asshole. From now on, you gossip with us at the ladies.
‘Police! Put down your weapon and come out with hands up!’
Oh dear, what’s the matter with Mr. Policeman today, so fierce and officious.
The wind is up again, whistling outside. Action everywhere all of a sudden. How exciting! Well, I’m waiting right here, officer. Kick down the door if you want me. About time you boys do something manly.
Looking down at my feet, I see that my toe nail polish is badly chipped. Better remove it before they come to a committee decision on how to apprehend this naked and unarmed woman. I get up to open the cabinet above the wash basin, where my polish remover is kept, and catch myself smiling impishly in the mirror, like a schoolgirl.
- The End -
Phoenix Moon is one of fourteen (yes, 14, that unmentionable numeric jinx in superficially modern Hong Kong) stories in Hong Kong Noir, edited by Jason Ng and Susan Blumberg-Kason, published in 2018 by Akashic Books of New York as part of their award-winning international noir series. This web-edition of Phoenix Moon differs slightly from the printed original. As usual, when I worked on the Chinese version, new ideas came to mind. But the story had already been published, and generously reviewed internationally. I’ve therefore kept the changes minimal and minor.(In Hong Kong Noir, represented by Blacksmith Books, thirteen other fine Hong Kong writers have illuminated dark corners which can’t normally be seen, or imagined.)
(In Hong Kong Noir, represented by Blacksmith Books, thirteen other fine Hong Kong writers have illuminated dark corners which can’t normally be seen, or imagined.)