Beyond Reasonable Doubt
Updated: Sep 8, 2021
《An earlier edition was anthologised in “Coming to Our Senses”
Published by the HKWC, 2019》
Asha faces a manslaughter charge
He believes in ultimate justice
While remanded in custody, his cellmate Veer Singh tells him justice is
a show, a public performance
and folks like them are just stage props
He’s not convinced
The waiting room at the Lai Chi Kok Detention Centre is crowded and chaotic as usual. In the middle of it, Asha sits with back straight, hands on lap, waiting to be chained and trucked to the courthouse to face his verdict on manslaughter, smiling peacefully as if he had a good reason to be happy.
After spending more than five months here on remand, he still hasn’t adjusted to the noise level. He never could have imagined prison to be such a boisterous place. At long last, he expects his ordeal to end today. He dreams of a quiet evening at home, and savours its calming aroma in his mind: the baby scent of his beautiful three-year-old Ranci, and Surita’s homemade momos. Oh dear oh dear. He swallows, and smiles.
After a few momos too many, and a sweet night with Surita, he’ll look for a job tomorrow. It’s urgent. The household can’t be sustained by her income as a kitchen helper in a rundown cafe for long.
Professional criminals have supporting networks. They look out for each other, as getting locked up once in a while is part of the job. Folks like Asha, snared by the law out of lousy fate, don’t have any form of ‘professional insurance’ or social security. Being on remand for months often means a combination of bankruptcy, broken home, and lifetime disrepute. The final verdict means nothing. Once they’ve been arrested, they’re guilty in the eyes of simple people; and society is made up of simple people with simple logic.
It’s a lousy situation, no doubt, but Asha remains thankful. He has a loyal, loving, understanding, and strong wife. Not many man can claim that. She’s held the fort with ten raw fingers for five months now, saving her increasingly precious smiles for him alone, whenever she manages to steal a couple of hours for a visit.
And she is beautiful — very beautiful! Asha beams again, this time apologetically at the beautiful image of Surita in his head.
Wait! Ranci’s four, no longer three! How could he possibly forget? He drew her a birthday flower just last week! Prison life is obviously no good for his brain. One hundred and sixty four days had stalled on Asha, while a parallel reality sped on outside, leaving him stunted in the past. His baby is now four! She must be proudly announcing it to everyone. His smile broadens.
The stone-faced inmate next to him stares suspiciously. Smiling to oneself in prison is not normal behaviour.
Forget this nightmare. Tomorrow, I’ll start all over, he tells himself. He’s quite used to starting all over, by necessity. When one hasn’t really taken off, trying to take off once again is just routine. That’s life, his kind of life.
Macho Wong, his clinically pessimistic solicitor sent by Legal Aid, demanded to differ when he informed Asha last week of the upcoming verdict.
‘I wouldn’t be so sure if I were you, Mr. Nepali. Manslaughter means ten, even twenty years!’ he declared, emphasising twenty. When Wong stresses a point — and he stresses nearly every point — his neck and face redden simultaneously.
‘And if Judge Smith finds you not guilty,’ Wong continued, lowering his voice, ‘you’ll be the luckiest guy in Hong Kong’s legal history.’ The personal remark was meant to complement his professional advice. It gave him a moment of satisfaction. Tidal blood receded from his face. An incongruous elation softened his permanently sour expression.
Lawyer Wong is soft, pink, plump, and bitter-sour. During meetings, he flip-flops between frantic agitation and implosive exasperation without warning. Though acutely cynical and evidently unstable, Wong doesn’t talk down to Asha as if he were a ten-year-old, the way other lawyers and officers do. It makes him more human, nearly likeable, in Asha’s eyes. Asha’s most adorable fault is that he sees something good in everybody.
‘Don’t worry, Lawyer Wong,’ he tried to calm his advisor. ‘I’m not guilty. It’s very obvious. Have some faith.’
‘It’s not up to you to decide what’s obvious,’ Macho blurted without irony, sarcasm, or tact. He likes Legal Aid assignments partly because there’s no need to mince words with clients. Most of them are like Asha: poor, helpless, clueless. Their only defence against legal troubles is a nonsensical insistence of innocence at a progressively higher pitch, repeating all the wrong words.
‘The jury will decide, with guidance from the judge!’ Wong concluded with a subtle smirk. Redness returned to his face.
Asha didn’t want to argue. He knows professionals don’t like being challenged. Plus it would be ungrateful and impolite to irritate someone supplied to him free of charge. Wong was only being himself, poor man.
Wong had hinted negatively about Judge Smith more than once. But to Asha, the judge looked reasonable, even compassionate. Lean and stern, he had the countenance of an old-fashioned gentleman who handled justice with meticulous seriousness. Though aloof, he had glanced at Asha from his high bench from time to time, eyes glinting with sympathy. Judges may not be perfect, but they are highly educated, and fair. Asha likes educated people. When he was delivering pizza, the more educated-looking customers, though usually less generous with tips, were always more respectful.
Compared to the majestic Judge, the jurors seemed jittery, clouded by suspicion. They narrowed their eyes to scan for lies behind every statement from the defence. Understandably though, for it’s a jury’s job to see through lies. Asha’s glad that he hadn’t told any. Scrutiny will only confirm his innocence.
His cellmate Veer Singh is not pathologically pessimistic like Lawyer Wong, but also warns against optimism, as if it’s a vice. But he’s Indian. Indians see the flip-side of everything clearer than the front as a matter of karmic principle. He’s also a real criminal, a confessed thief, cigarette smuggler, counterfeit vendor, and a triad, though one with a good heart.
After today, it may be many months before he sees Veer again, if ever. He had thought about coming back to visit as soon as possible. But everyone says a freed inmate revisiting a prison is bad omen. Veer even urged him to fix his eyes dead ahead when leaving the prison compound. ‘Don’t look back no matter what, even if there’s an accident, yaar? Never look back when leaving a slammer, got it?’
Oh well, just focus on getting out and finding a job first, Asha reminds himself. He can’t afford to stray far from the present, even in daydreams.
He’ll try his old boss first. Mr. David Wong has known me for three years. He once called me a good worker in front of others. He knows I’m innocent…
‘352177!’ an officer hollers.
‘Yes Sir,’ Asha springs to standing, involuntarily sticking out his hands, eager to be cuffed.
‘You in a fucking hurry?’ asks the officer, staring at him with wide eyes.
Michelangelo Poon pops the last three of his seventeen after-breakfast pills, then picks his teeth absentmindedly.
Inside his crowded stomach, a tiny pink pill is breaking down to regulate blood pressure, while two white tablets work on sugar level compliance. The rest are patented supplements to keep his liver detoxed, kidneys robust, skin moist, bone dense, eyes bright, sleeps sound, sex-drive vigorous, intestines teflon-smooth, and overall being alkaline. Nonetheless, there’s a weird taste in his mouth this morning which bothers him. Perhaps it’s anxiety. For once, he worries about losing, and it’s not even about money, not directly anyway.
He needs a guilty verdict to prove to himself and others that Michelangelo Poon is still fearsomely lucky, backed by an invincible karma. His life hinges on feeling and appearing lucky, outrageously lucky. Recent events have badly shaken this existential foundation.
He dabs his mouth with a linen napkin, monogrammed with his initials — MP — with practised elegance. Over the years, he’s cultivated an unhurried nonchalance to give the impression of entitlement, lest he appear nouveau-riche.
But it takes extra effort to look calm today.
In the eyes of ordinary folks, his luck is legendary. When he bets, statistics step aside. Now that everyone bets with him, fundamentals become even more irrelevant. Whatever he buys, its price goes up.
In the nineties, Hong Kong was going through a golden era: everyone was gambling. Poon gambled ruthlessly, with extremely fortunate timing on the right side of the one-sided real-estate market. He then bet his first pot of gold on the stock market at mind-boggling leverage. Had he lost, which was a far more likely outcome, he would have been described as insane, or stunningly stupid, or, most likely, not described at all.
But he had won persistently, defying all odds, and proved that logic, hard work, prudence, qualifications, et cetera, were all bullshit when luck’s on one’s side. His success inspired hope in the hopeless. However, when interviewed by the media, something he had enjoyed immensely until five months ago, he would emphasise that luck has nothing to do with success.
‘Vision and courage, you know. Sure, a bit of luck helps, but only if you’re prepared.’ He had a philosophical wink to go with that piece of overworked wisdom.
Justin’s death — murder — spoiled everything. It turned admiring journalists into thirsty bloodhounds overnight.
Michelangelo Poon lost his only son in a street fight.
Police suspect drugs and alcohol involvement.
The Poon Empire is heirless!
All lies, fake news!
Even the Durian Daily, a popular tabloid owned by his buddy ‘Skeleton’ Lam, has betrayed him. There’s a conspiracy out there to turn his personal tragedy into divine reckoning.
Skeleton and him go back a long way, when both were struggling with a deadly focus.
Lam was a scrawny refugee from the mainland who climbed in big steps, involving himself first with illicit drugs, then the garment trade. Years later, at about the same time Michaelangelo hit the jackpot, Lam sold his thriving garment business for good money, and turned to journalism, something he knew nothing about. His ‘fearless’ tabloid openly disdained all journalistic rules, and knew no bounds in embracing and magnifying controversies. ‘We add oil to fire, to give light to freedom,’ Lam boasted. Durian invented colourful scandals which local entertainers outwardly sneered, but secretly competed for Skeleton’s oil to fuel their fire. The Durian Daily became hugely popular, and increasingly brazen.
Meanwhile, Michelangelo’s fortune rose against gravity. He became the investment guru, Hong Kong’s Soros, a much treasured sobriquet first coined by the Durian Daily. Him and the Skeleton epitomised the free power of money, and embodied the ingredients which made Hong Kong buzz: greed, lust, and luck, ruthlessly pushed to absurd limits.
‘Come on, Mickie,’ Lam had tried to explain. ‘We know what the readers want. A self-made tycoon with everything except an heir to his empire makes people feel good. They love invisible justice.’
‘What?’ Michelangelo bared his teeth in disbelief. ‘Justin’s murder is justice?’
‘No! Of course not!’ Lam raised both hands and stretched his eyes wide. ‘Just that we know what these arseholes out there want to read, or believe. You know what it’s fucking like!’
‘I thought newspapers are supposed to report facts, not feed rumours or sensationalise misfortunes!’
‘You what?’ Shocked by his friend’s unseemly naivety, the Skeleton was lost for words.
Michelangelo sighed after a long pause. ‘I know. I know. That’s life. Just business. I’m only a fucking story.’
‘A damned good one, my friend,’ Lam consoled, compassion in his eyes. ‘And you sell it well. They love you. Your craziness, contemptuous excesses, and now, your tragedy. Your luck gives people hope. Your tragedy makes them feel even better. It makes you human, you know. Not bad, huh?’
‘To be human?’ Michelangelo considered the option, and was momentarily unsure.
Deep down, he felt shaken, insulted, even angered by the bad luck the incident might have augured, but very little sadness about his son’s death. Is that human?
Alas . . .
In spite of rumours, he had not been able to make anyone pregnant — in situ or in vitro — after Justin. His fertility guru Dr. Cho said there was nothing really wrong with him, though having something really wrong was not a prerequisite for infertility. He and other specialists prescribed more expensive tests, a new diet, more supplements, and, ‘no beer, Mr. Poon. Beer’s bad for sperms. Whiskey’s okay.’
In his rare solitary moments, often depressing, he had wondered about Justin’s true biological origin. Justin didn’t look like him. He was a head taller, which is statistically expected. Standing at five feet four, Michelangelo is shorter than most people. Justin had double eyelids and heavy facial hair, which doesn’t say much. He was handsome as Michelangelo, though in markedly different ways. The son looked Eurasian, which was odd, but nonetheless respectable in Hong Kong, so he was pleased. Perhaps he carries genes with remote connections to ancient nomads lurking outside the Great Wall?
Justin went to the American International School, and became American, but not quite international. They spoke English at home. When the parents ran out of words after a few years, Justin stopped talking to them. Two years after Michelangelo’s wife overdosed on sleeping pills and died, he sent Justin to an expensive boarding school in California. Both father and son heaved a sigh of relief.
Now, if the pizza Paki is ruled innocent this morning, there’ll be lots of nasty questions from the journalists, he thinks. He wants to have a few sagacious remarks ready, just in case. But his tongue tastes bitter, and his thoughts are cluttered.
Last night, the Skeleton came over to visit, saying that he doesn’t want to be seen in court this morning. He was in a positive spirit.
‘You have to win buddy, or your supernatural image would be fucked,’ he said, as if explaining something Michelangelo didn’t already understand.
‘Go tell the judge,’ Michelangelo said.
‘Well, that’s illegal,’ Lam winked. ‘We published a feature story this morning instead, tailored just for you.’
‘The story about South Asian gangsters taking over Hong Kong? Is that the surprise gift you’ve been hinting?’
Lam grinned and raised his eyebrows, not saying anything.
‘The suggestion that they are funded by Beijing to make trouble in Hong Kong is a bit farfetched.’
‘Well, you might think so. But you’re not the average guy.’
‘How’s that going to help my case?’
‘You have a supernatural power with money things, my friend, but don’t understand shit about people, such as, let’s say, jurors?’
‘I see . . .’
Judge Stanley Smith — ‘The Stanley Express’
It still pitch dark outside. The sun’s due to rise soon. But given this interminable drizzle, it probably won’t.
A small candle thrashes Judge Smith’s shadows against the wall, amplifying his hidden pain. He has just finished morning prayer, and twenty minutes of self-flagellation. Years of repentance had dulled the sting of leather long ago, yet he’s careful not to over-lash, lest his back bleed again in awkward circumstances. Just in case, he never removes his jacket in public anymore, regardless of temperature. Fortunately, being an English gentleman, it’s his prerogative to wear a dark woollen jacket in Hong Kong’s summer heat without being conspicuous.
He puts on his black t-shirt and gives his sore knees a good rub, then gets up to lock the whip away. He has a collection of five other lashing contrivances, all fine and exotic, but this one with an antique oak handle is his favourite. He bought it from a dusty porn shop near the train station in Bucharest years ago for a good price, and loves the way it feels and cracks. When it landed on his bareback the first time, his soul resonated.
The prayer room had been converted from the pantry of his government-supplied mansion. It’s his private, if not officially secret, sanctuary for spiritual reconciliation. He personally wipes it down daily, and vacuums every accessible inch with a handheld model. No one, not his wife Elma, not his amah Maria, especially not his stupid son Jacob — a grown-up with the mind of a five-year-old, his personalised ordeal from God — has looked inside for years. It’s always locked — from the outside when he’s not in, from the inside when he is.
He tiptoes to the kitchen to preserve his painfully acquired tranquility. Nobody in this luxurious house in Island South would venture out of bed before the judge is safely gone, which won’t take long.
To his colleagues, Judge Stanley Smith is conscientious, hardworking, meticulous, and well-mannered. Unless on leave, he’s always the first one in the office every morning, quietly shouldering the burden of justice with an intensity some find unsettling. Kind and courteous as he is, he holds the conviction record in the judiciary, hence the nickname Stanley Express — Stanley Prison being one of the best known slammers in Hong Kong.
The purring of his old Jaguar starting up startles him slightly. He inhales audibly to ready himself for the new day ahead — yet another day, alas . . .
At the first red, his mind drifts to the case which he’ll conclude in a few hours. Work has begun. He knows the dumb jurors are eager to get this show over with. They’re tired of looking smart and judicious, listening attentively to him explaining issues they have not a clue, nodding. By the end of a trial, the average juror will have acquired a privileged sense of insider responsibility, a newfound loyalty to protect arcane legal principles — esoteric, sacred, sober, mesmerising, boring, uncompromisable, incomprehensible. Overwhelmed by the imperative of due process, justice itself has become ever more abstract, incidental, and irrelevant.
Anyway, an experienced judge like him can flick the jury on and off like a switch. On, guilty. Off, not-guilty.
The Paki seems innocent, he thinks, smirking sardonically at his own racist impertinence. Justin Poon was a celebrated arsehole, like all rich Chinese. He was no doubt responsible for his own death. But he was the son of Michelangelo Poon, and the Paki is, well, just a Paki. Not that he has anything particular against coloured folks. They are just as filthy as everyone else, with marginal differences not worth mentioning.
Judge Smith considers himself open-minded, just being privately honest about humans — especially humans of inferior breeds. Publicly, he’s intolerant of any hint of bigotry, of course. Part of the job — and his is a very good one. The world is sinfully hypocritical. Everyone lies all the time. He expels a plume of disgust through his nose.
The traffic light turns green.
The transit cell is even damper than his regular room, but the neighbours are more quiet.
He’s alone tonight. Inmates scheduled to leave the detention centre for medical appointments or court hearings are corralled here on the eighth floor the night before, to facilitate processing first thing in the morning — a morning which seems to take forever to arrive.
The ghostly cats are out, caterwauling creepily. Their deafening wails dominated his first few sleepless nights as a prisoner, adding confusion to his shock, sadness, anger, and disbelief. Then they stopped, or Asha had blocked them out. Tonight, they are back in full force.
To say goodbye?
Lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, Asha’s more adamantly hopeful than usual.
Both Lawyer Wong and Veer Singh had poured ice water over his faith in justice, but he refuses to budge. He believes. He has no other option. Sure, the system makes mistakes, all systems do. But facts are facts. When methodically presented and examined, common sense shall prevail. Humans are born fair in their hearts, especially when there’s no conflict of interest. He has no conflict of interest with the lawyers, the judge, or the jurors. Why would they wish him harm? They’re decent and educated folks, definitely not crazy. Everything will be clarified. Everything will be fine. Tomorrow, he’ll walk out of this nightmare before dinner time. He’ll have momos for dinner.
He hasn’t thought about that fateful night five months ago for many weeks.
It was shortly before midnight, raining. Has the rain stopped since?
He had dropped off a pile of pizzas to urban folks who no longer cook. It was a good round. He had pocketed nearly fifty bucks of tips, making him feel lucky and grateful. People were not as cold as they seemed. He decided to pick up a treat from Bombay Cafe after work. The girls would be thrilled.
Most delivery drivers are Indian or Nepali. The locals are incapable of navigating a scooter through city traffic anymore. Scooter drivers, especially turbaned ones, loathe the rain. But it was a sultry evening. Asha found the drizzle invigorating.
He stopped at a red light in Central, staying close to the pavement, wondering what to order at the Bombay Cafe, sticking out his tongue momentarily to savour the light rain. A young man hopped clumsily over the handrail, and almost fell right in front of Asha. He struggled to his feet and hollered in a mock Indian accent: ‘Hello my dear friend! What’s your good name?’ He looked Eurasian.
Another idiot from the nearby Lan Kwai Fong bars. Drunks are annoying, though many drivers don’t mind a bit of distraction from their humdrum routine, unless it becomes violent. But intoxicated morons are not as tough as they imagine themselves to be. They can hardly fight gravity, not to say a sober man who uses his muscles to make a living. If the cops have to be involved, they would for once be on the side of the delivery boys. They know what these privileged drunks are like.
Asha stared ahead at the red light, ignoring the man as best he could. He smelled like vomit. Asha felt a slight pity for him. Why do people spend money to get drunk and stupid, he wondered.
‘Can I borrow your flying carpet for a spin, my pizza man?’ He wobbled over, grabbed the handlebar, and moved to the side of the bike, ready to mount.
The light turned. Asha kicked into gear.
At that instant, that uncontrollable split of a ruinous second, the drunk let go of the bike, and hooked his arm around Asha’s neck. Taken by surprise, Asha fell off with his attacker. His loosely buckled half-helmet slipped off. The strap slid down to his throat, choking him. He tried to push the man away in a panic.
Just as abruptly as it had started, the man was silent, and still. Asha freed himself from his limp arm. His assailant lay motionless against the handrail. Landing against it with his own weight and Asha’s, he had managed to break his neck in one quick snap. Asha had not even heard it crack.
When the cops arrived, they appeared to believe everything Asha reported. One of the officers even commented ‘These arseholes. Only a matter of time.’
‘He was very drunk, Sir,’ Asha said. ‘He didn’t know what he was doing. What a pity. Still young.’
Back at the station, however, after hours of waiting and repeat questioning, the incident was reported as a fight, and potential manslaughter. ‘Just formality,’ the station sergeant assured Asha, kind but as a matter of fact. ‘We can’t just take your words for it, you know, when the other guy’s dead. The Department of Justice will have to decide.’
‘Aiya, of course they’ll prosecute!’ said Veer Singh after hearing the story. ‘It involves a death, yaar? If they don’t, they might get shit. The safest thing for the cops is to let the DoJ decide. The DoJ will pass the buck to the court. The judges will ask little juror people to decide. Jurors are one-off extras in the show. They don’t know shit, but feel important, very fucking important. Guilty? Not guilty? Hmm. What you think? They then disappear, for ever and ever. Everyone’s job is safe, you see, and conscience not ruffled. Wonderful British design lah. No?”
Asha wishes Veer Singh were with him tonight. Having Veer as cellmate in the past few weeks had made life infinitely more sufferable. In jail, they are ONs — other nationals — though both were born in Hong Kong under very foreign circumstances. Prison is a segregated place. Inmates are sorted according to race, past records, triad affiliation, religion, and so on.
Asha speaks very little Chinese, only odd bits that he’s learned from co-workers. He was born and raised in the barracks. His father was a Gurkha. Learning the local language was explicitly forbidden. Any Gurkha or their families heard speaking Cantonese by the British officers would face disciplining, even dismissal. Colonial mercenaries must not empathise with the locals. Contacts with potential targets were forbidden physically or emotionally, except in combat.
Veer is ten years Asha’s senior. He grew up in the ghetto, went to school with Chinese boys, and joined the same local gang. He speaks perfect Cantonese, but behaves exaggeratedly Indian, wobbling his head more enthusiastically than a Mumbai native. ‘I can’t be one of anything here. Not the poor Chinese I grew up with. Not the gweilo whiteys for sure. So I decided to be my own good Acha, yaar?’
‘Ever thought of going back to India?’
‘Yaar, of course. Did for two years. But I was even more of a fucking alien there.’
He’s also going through trial in custody. But to him, imprisonment is like an overseas work trip, or paid vacation, or Continuous Professional Development workshop, part of the job. Just chill, and let time pass. Unlike Asha, he doesn’t entertain hope. ‘It’s only a show, man, a public performance them folks out there stage for each other. We’re just fucking stage props, buddy, wake up.’
Veer arrived a few weeks ago. Him and Asha became good friends quickly. Each evening, they sat on their fibreglass beds and shot the breeze over dense cigarette smoke. Everyone on the floor, except them two, smoked.
‘We’re guilty, always fucking guilty. Adjust, yaar?’ Veer told Asha, as if announcing the best news in life.
‘I hope you’re wrong,’ Asha said, conciliatory as usual. He never argues. Everyone has reasons behind his opinions. Some right, some wrong. Who’s to say? It depends on experience, and karma. ‘Are you suggesting that we’re guilty because, you know, we’re South Asians?’
‘Yes and no. You grew up in the barrack. Don’t know shit about real life on the streets, yaar. If you’re a rich Indian, people line up to lick the bottom of your sandals. But most Indians are like us, environmentally friendly eggetarians with nothing to throw away. Then, we’re guilty, always fucking guilty. Guaranteed.’
‘But I’m Nepali,’ Asha clarified jokingly.
‘Shit! Then worse lah, Acha! But just a tiny bit worse. Not much room below, you see.’
‘Haha, very funny,’ Asha gave Veer a friendly punch, then wobbled his head mockingly.
After a brief pause, Asha continued in a serious tone, nearly pleading. ‘Of course I understand, my friend. I’m not as naive as you think. But we’re talking about manslaughter here. Anyone with common sense would know I didn’t kill Poon’s son. I don’t believe any sane person — racists or moneyists — will declare me guilty. There’s also this taxi driver who saw the whole thing, and sacrificed a day’s work to be my witness.’
‘Aiya aiya. Nobody believes the words of a cabbie, man. Only in the Himalayas can one still find people like you, Asha ji. You’re a fucking specimen.’
‘Okay, you think no sane person would jail you for no reason, yaar? But that’s the point,’ Veer said, head undulating at reduced frequency, as if to signal something profoundly philosophical forthcoming. ‘Let me tell you an old Chinese story.’
‘A man ran home breathlessly, and asked his wife and kid whether they had drunk from the village well. Not this morning, they told him. The man was relieved. Something had happened to the well, he told his family. The village drank from it that morning, and everyone had gone mad. The three of them were lucky exceptions.’ Veer paused and looked at Asha, who obviously didn’t find the story interesting.
‘Yes, very lucky. So?’
‘The wife was smarter than you lah! She rushed her husband and son to the well to drink, before too late.’
‘That’s what her husband said too. So the woman screamed, Aiya, you stupid man, hurry lah! We’re the only ones not crazy. They’ll lock us up in the mad house soon!’
The Jury — the morning of the verdict
Angel LAM, female, 47, Chartered Accountant, unmarried
Angel dresses Bobo in rubber-ducky-yellow raincoat and duck-head boots, then puts on her own matching poncho and gumboots. She takes the poodle for a walk in the light rain, before getting ready to go to court. Next to Bobo’s favourite lamp post, she sees a young Indian man jogging towards them. She pulls Bobo closer. As he passes, she notices his elephant god tattoo on the arm and shudders.
Gummy LEE, female, 52, Investment Banker, divorced
Her second Botox shot two days ago didn’t go well. Her lips are itchy and numb. From a distance, she looks puffily younger, but can’t smile, lest the lips split open. She considers calling in sick, but then the case may drag on. Better get it over with. There’s no need to smile in court anyway. What a tragedy. Michelangelo Poon’s son had everything before he was even born. He was good-looking too. A fairy tale ended just like that by the ditch. Life’s so sad.
Victor MO, male, 46, Corporate HR Manager, married with a sixteen-year-old son
The family wakes at five, half an hour earlier than usual. Victor has to go to court today. The boy looks sick as always. Mum prepares ginseng tea, and drops a strand of cordyceps — an insect-fungus amalgamate costing more than a hundred twenty thousand a catty — into it. Her son needs it to cope with the schoolwork, plus daily practice of past exam papers at home. He’ll be sitting for his IB exams soon. ‘Drink while it’s hot, Justin’ she says, hostile with love. The fact that his son is dead Justin Poon’s namesake still bothers Victor a little. ‘Let’s do chemistry today,’ he says, dipping his bread in the milk.
Helena CHIN, female, 38, Chartered Safety Officer, unmarried
She smears whitening cream and a special sunblock to her face like an expert mason, careful to avoid the mouth. She once put on far too much bug repellent and sunblock while adventuring with Club-Med, and poisoned herself through skin absorption and ingestion of toxic sweat. Looking at herself in the mirror, she remembers the news about the South Asian gangs. It’s so terrible. Hong Kong is no longer safe, and she lives alone. These people are vicious. So terrible.
Bernard KONG, male, 42, Image Consultant, unmarried
He looks at the mountain of clothes covering his queen-size bed, and stomps his feet. He wants to look right. There will be journalists. They’re not supposed to photograph jurors, but he’ll be seen. He hates not looking himself in public. Isn’t it crazy? he asks himself rhetorically. I know exactly what others should wear for all occasions, but can’t decide for myself! So frustrating!
Peter CAMPBELL, male, 55, NGO Director, divorced
Peter wakes the girl he picked up in Wanchai last night — Hey, get up. Still sleepy, she whines. I’ve important business. Go now! He slips her a thousand dollar note. Is that all? I stayed overnight! Here! He tosses her another two hundred. Hurry. Can I shower first? No! Get going! Hey man, don’t be a jerk. I know where you live. Don’t you dare try that again, you fucking bitch! You don’t know who you’re taking to. I’ve noted your ID number. That’s all I need to track you down. Now fuck off! He snatches back the two hundred dollars, and throws her clothes towards the door.
Sylvia Lily YAMP, female, 35, Self-employed Spiritual Consultant and Artist, single
Sylvia hasn’t slept for years, though she pops sleeping pills every night. ‘It’s impossible to stay up for years,’ her doctor had told her more than once. ‘You just don’t realise you’ve slept.’ But she knows she hasn’t. Artists don’t sleep. Boring people don’t understand. Her art is people, and their soul. She communicates with their id, sets it free through aesthetic instincts. She despises the Chinese — boring practical peasants. She changed her name from Yam to Yamp to distance herself from an unwelcome origin, and dyed her hair platinum blond. One day, when she’s made enough money, she’ll move to LA, where everyone understands art. Meanwhile, there’s this black pizza man business.
Pizza — Yuck!
- End -