It was Sunday morning. I woke up anxious because it took me a second to remember where I was. Mars was still asleep. I sat up and looked around the room. The sun came through the blinds, leaving long patches on the bed. The apartment was actually pretty bright and homey in the daytime. You just couldn’t tell when the lights were off and you could only see things by the glow of the TV. Mars seemed to really favor blues and grays, all of which had looked like the same color in the evening. I stood up and turned off the television. I tried to creep quietly around the room, but I stepped on a video case and yelped.
I glanced over at Mars who stirred and kicked his leg out from under the top covers and then stopped moving.
I creeped to the bathroom. Mars had white lighting in his bathroom that beamed down at me from directly up above. It made everything look harsh. I did my business and then tried not to look at my own face as I splashed it with water. In the end, I couldn’t help it. I was used to using a combination of the window in my room, and an old compact mirror my mother had given me a long time ago. Weird lighting or not, Mars’ bathroom mirror was the closest I came to actually seeing what I looked like.
I looked tired. Not tired, like I hadn’t slept. I had actually slept better last night than I had in previous weeks. No, I looked tired like I had given up. It upset me to see myself this way. Imagine seeing oneself like this every day. I climbed back in bed and wrapped my arms around Mars again.
“Hm,” he said, still asleep.
I held him tighter. Eventually he stirred and rolled over. “I have to go,” I said.”
“Oh?” There was still sleep in his voice.
“Not staying for breakfast?”
“No,” I said. I absently rubbed his back.
“Hmm, okay,” he mumbled.
I kissed his back between the shoulder blades, and got up. My clothes were strewn over the floor. I stepped around the still sleeping Mars to pick up each item and put it on. I was sitting on the bed pulling socks onto my feet when he turned over watching me. I got my sock on and kissed him once more.
“I’ll see you again?” he asked.
“Yes.” I said.
He nodded. “Good,” and closed his eyes again.
I went to the door and slipped my shoes on, and as he drifted back to sleep, I left.
The trip back home seemed to take longer than usual. I didn’t know if it was because I was reluctant to go back, or that Mars’ apartment was just out of the way. But eventually, I found myself at home with the notepad, drafting ideas to take to training. The plan would be for several of us to sneak into the building, the same way I did, and take down just enough people to let the others in. We should be able to confiscate all their weapons and destroy everything else. We would effectively overtake their headquarters.
My mother walked in with a bag of groceries. She placed the bag on the table and started putting vegetables in the cooler. Afterward, she reached up onto the highest shelf for the tin can where we kept our money, and dropped in the change she had leftover. I heard it fall to the bottom with a clatter.
“We’re running low,” she remarked, continuing to sort the canned items.
“I’ll put some more cash in there soon.” I said.
We were quiet for a few minutes. I was looking at my notepad. It all looked like scribbles to me now. I was so close to succeeding, and yet…
I got up to help her with the groceries and picked out two cans of chicken broth, putting one onto the shelf and then pausing. “A-mah,” I said. “I was thinking about what you asked me the other day.”
She looked up from the grocery bag and into my eyes. For a second I saw a glimmer of hope before it was quickly stifled.
“I’ll help you,” I said.
She put down a can of bamboo shoots and walked over to me. My mother took me into her arms and I found myself in the longest embrace I had ever shared with her. It was then that I realized that Jolie was right. Like mother, like daughter. We were not practiced at showing one another affection. We were stubborn, and we coexisted together more as roommates than anything else, because we needed each other. And I didn’t realize she needed me more, but of course it made sense. She was feeling trapped the way that I used to feel trapped, because she was trapped here, and I was her keeper. I had trapped her here for years. At least, that’s probably how it seemed to her.
Still holding the can of chicken broth I had been about to put away, I returned the hug.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
We decided to meet at the harbor after work tomorrow, to transfer almost all my funds to her.
“How much do you have?” she asked.
“I don’t know.” It was true. I would deposit my paycheck every month and then take out enough for food and other essentials. I hadn’t even checked the balance when I paid for Kai’s service. Most of the time, I pretended it wasn’t there. It was a good habit, I guess. But it wasn’t because I was especially good at being frugal. It was because having money made me uncomfortable. If you talked to anyone in banking, or finance, maybe, they would argue that money was a powerful tool. But then why did it make me feel so vulnerable?
When the sun began to go down, I folded up my sheets of notebook paper, stuffed them in my pockets, and then made my way down to the Yamen for training.
I was a little late, but I got into formation behind the others. Lin wasn’t here today. Bao saw me and ran up to me. This time, I caved, scratching him behind the ears. He yawned and stretched as I resumed.
Wai-Lik was a less patient teacher than Kai, but he had high standards, so I noticed many of us were progressing fairly quickly.
At the end of the training, we sat down in a circle. Some of the members took a smoke break.
“Okay, everyone,” I said, taking the two sheets of paper out of my pocket and spreading them onto the concrete. The group gathered around as best they could.
At that moment, Lin had arrived. She looked tired, and settled into the circle without saying anything.
“See that black building right there?” I asked, indicating the tall skinny building at the edge of the Yamen.
There were several grunts of recognition.
I stabbed at the crude drawing on the paper. “That’s this,” I said. I explained how several of us were going to get in through the vents on the roof, the same way I had done before. The plan was straightforward. Not brilliant. It counted on surprise and brute force.
“It’s important,” I continued, “That once we take over, we stand our ground against any attempts to take the building back. They’ll have guns, but so will we.”
“When are we doing this?” Lin asked.
“Sunset on Saturday.”
She nodded, staring at me intently and looking very serious.
“It’s just a matter of deciding who comes with me through the roof. I need to go because I’ve already been inside.”
“I’ll do it,” Lin said. The whole group looked at her. I had never seen her look so resolved before. Her eyes bored into me.
I nodded. “Then it’s settled. Be here at 6 in the evening, Saturday. We’ll be on the roof by 6:30. Wait for my signal.”
“What’s the signal?” Wai-Lik asked.
“Just wait till you hear gunshots.”
The whole group laughed nervously, all except Lin.
“I know this is a serious endeavor,” I said. “The Triads are ruthless, and clever. They can buy you out at any price. But once you let them, you will always be of service to them We have the opportunity to make lasting change.” I looked at all their faces. “We have this opportunity today, and if you have faith in me, I have faith in you.”
Monday morning came. I got up, changed, and headed out early. The day went by uneventfully. I caught up on most of the VCRs I had been neglecting. I felt like a robot. I found myself thinking about Saturday, and creating contingencies for every obstacle I might encounter. The storage room that the vents had led to was for arms storage, if i remembered correctly. If we managed to get in, they would be giving us the key to their biggest defense.
My mother agreed that she would only stay in Kowloon Walled City for as long as it took for her to find a place in Hong Kong. I tried not to look upset, but I couldn’t help it.
“You could visit,” she had said.
“It won’t be the same.”
By the time work ended, I rushed to the docks to wait for the star ferry to come in, carrying my mother. I was supposed to meet her and we would walk to the bank together. I could see the green and white ferry in the distance. I shivered, feeling the wind pick up, and waited for it to approach. And as it docked, and the passengers began getting off, I searched for her.
Except she wasn’t there.
I sat down on a ledge and watched the others pass by me. Maybe she was on the next one. I waited, watching the ferry leave again. But twenty minutes later, the ferry was letting of its second set of commuters, and she still wasn’t there.
What was going on? She wouldn’t have forgotten something like this.
Something didn’t feel right. Before the ferry departed again, I bought a ticket and got on. I was restless waiting for the others to board, and paced back and forth along the railing. And as the ferry left the dock, I prayed inwardly that everything would be okay. I breathed in, smelling the salt from the channel, and the faintest hint of incense.
The city looked the same. It always looked the same. except it didn’t feel the same. It must have been my panic, but I thought the place felt hostile this time. I didn’t see a single face I knew on the way to our building, and as I climbed the steps, I couldn’t help but notice how silent and inactive each floor was. It reminded me of the slim black building in the Yamen. How oppressive it felt.
I got to our floor and rather than go straight to our apartment, I stood in the stairwell, listening. I could hear two distinct voices. That rough, aggressive one–it had to be Kwok–and the smooth one, from the other man whose name I didn’t know. But I remembered his voice. His baby face, as he walked out of that office. I crept quietly toward the door and stood so I could hear them better. I began to make out words.
“I wouldn’t worry,” the smooth voiced man was saying. “The only reason this got past us before was because we didn’t know better. We didn’t understand what she was trying to do.”
“I still don’t really understand it,” Kwok said.
“It doesn’t matter. We’re more prepared this time. I heard a schick sound, like a magazine being loaded into a gun. “Isn’t that right?” the smooth voiced man called loudly. For a second I froze, thinking he knew I was outside.
“Don’t bait her,” came Kwok’s voice. “Save it for later.”
The smooth voiced man must have been calling out to my mother. So she was alive.
I heard the scrape of a chair on our floor. I slid my hand along the waistband of my pants and pulled out Kwok’s old gun. I still only had one bullet left. But there were two of them. My mother was with them, and no matter how I looked at it, going through that door was suicide.
“Kwok, hand me a cig, will you?” the other man said. “Thank you.” I heard the click of the lighter as he lit the cigarette, and then another click, a different one. It was heavier and metallic, as though he’d just laid his gun down on his lap. This man was the more important of the two. I stood up straight and took a step back. I was going to kick the door in like how they did in the movies. I held the gun with both hands, and slammed my foot right above the door handle. It opened, as I had expected, but I hadn’t expected it to hurt as much as it did.
“Freeze!” I said, aiming my gun straight at the baby faced man. He was wearing a pair of dark sunglasses and didn’t seem surprised to see me. I felt the lightness of the gun and its empty magazine. One bullet. But neither of them had to know that.
“Are you sure you want to do that?” he said.
“Who are you? What are you doing with my mother?”
He reached up.
“Don’t move!” I ordered.
But he called my bluff. He removed his sunglasses to reveal a pair of golden brown eyes which looked at me coldly, like a cat.
“My name is Li Au,” he said. “I am the White Paper Fan.”