We buried my mother the next day. The funeral was attended by only Jolie, Lin, and me. Jolie was in tears the whole time. I had cried all of mine earlier. Lin was stony faced.
I went back into our apartment to get my belongings–the gun, the Walkman, my mother’s compact mirror, her altar, the tin can of money, and some of my clothes. The blood had dried into a dark sticky mess, that blanketed the room, and when I went in to get my things, a number of flies were hovering around it.
I moved into Jolie’s apartment, which was already half empty. Her father had already secured a small place across the channel in Hong Kong, through a work connection. Jolie was the last one there. She let me have her bed, which I lay in as I watched her pack up her remaining belongings. She had acquired a lot of hair accessories since I last saw her, but today she wore it plain and down, possibly out of respect for my mother.
I set up my mother’s altar and put some fresh oranges in front of it. I lit some incense and tried to pray the way she used to, but it was painful. What I wanted most of all was to listen to The Wind Blows On, but I had hidden the Walkman away. I didn’t want Jolie to see it after the comments she had made about my double life in Hong Kong. I didn’t want to go back there.
I curled up on Jolie’s bed while she took her parents’ bed at night, and I slept. My body was sore, and my mouth bloody. I had bruises all over my chest and back and stomach. Lin and Jolie hadn’t said anything. They were too nervous to even look at me.
The day after my mother’s funeral, Jolie sat down on her bed, now my bed, and put her hand on my shoulder.
“I’m leaving tomorrow,” she said. “My father is coming to get me.”
I had my back to her and pretended to be asleep.
“I don’t know if I’ll see you again,” she said. “Getting back and forth is a little difficult for me. But I hope you stay safe.”
I said nothing, still, and felt her get up from the bed and walk to her parents’ room, where she would be sleeping for a final night. I understood Jolie giving me her old things, her old space–it was a final gesture of friendship. But I would never see her again. We had no way to relate to each other anymore. I scared her. I heard the door close to her parents’ bedroom and rolled over, appreciating the gesture all the same.
I slept for two days. I woke up during intermittent periods, but every time I did, I was in pain, or it was dark outside, or I felt pangs of hunger, but had no energy to get up and satiate them. I would close my eyes and wait for sleep to take me again. A couple times, I woke up having forgotten what had happened. I would be momentarily confused at the fact that I wasn’t in my own room and my mother wasn’t in hers. The more I woke, the easier it was for me to digest, however. And I spent the last twelve hours in absolute despair. I cried for my mother, and for everything I had put her through.
It was hunger that made me get up eventually. I moved my bruised and stiff legs from underneath the covers and shivered, feeling my feet touch the cold stone floor. I got up and walked to the kitchen. Most everything was cleaned out, but the appliances were still there. There was an apple on the counter, a tin can of loose leaf tea, and when I checked the refrigerator, there was some leftover pork over rice with a note from Jolie that read simply, Don’t forget to eat!
I ate everything. I would have made myself a pot of tea, but there was no kettle anymore.
On one of the counters I found another note:
Siu-Ling, I forgot to drop this off at the salon yesterday. Can you make sure this gets to Ms. Leong? -Jolie
Underneath the note was a key with a tag on it. On the tag were the words Salon key, scribbled in red pen. I picked it up and pocketed it.
I went to the kitchen sink where I washed my hands, and then ran the faucet for a bit. Taking cupped handfuls of water and splashing it onto my face and neck. My mouth tasted dirty, from old blood, and I rinsed that out too.
I went to the bathroom to look at myself in my mother’s compact mirror.
God, I looked awful. My face was half swollen, and red, including my mouth, which, when opened, revealed one chip in a tooth in the bottom row.
I had never been to the salon, but I had an idea of where it was. In any case, it couldn’t be far because Jolie had been walking there every day.
The salon was, in fact, only two buildings down. I walked in heard a little bell ring to announce my arrival. A woman, who I guessed was Ms. Leong, looked up from a customer’s hair, which she was setting into rollers.
“Yes, what do you want?” she asked, looking me up and down with obvious suspicion. I knew I was dirty and beat up, but I didn’t realize it was that bad. The woman with the rollers opened her eyes and pressed her lips together upon looking at me.
“I have something for you,” I mumbled, reaching into my pocket for the key.
“What are you doing?” she asked, looking panicked now.
I rolled my eyes and opened my palm to reveal the salon key. “Jolie left today,” I said. “She wanted me to make sure this got back to you.”
Ms. Leong looked relieved and took it from me. “Oh, yes,” she said. “I was wondering why she wasn’t here yesterday. Thank you.”
The lady with the rollers closed her eyes again after perceiving me as no threat to her. I stood there for a moment.
“Do you need anything?” Ms. Leong said, looking up from the woman’s hair.
“Yeah, do you have a phone?”
“In the back room,” Ms. Leong said. “Don’t touch anything.”
I walked into the back room. There was a desk and a few boxes of unorganized paperwork, and a black rotary phone. On the desk there was a daily calendar that showed Friday, November 4. I picked up the telephone receiver and dialed the number I had since learned by heart. It rang six times. I hung up and called again. This time it rang twice before he picked up.
“Hi, it’s me.”
“Oh, hi! Sorry, I was sleeping.” Then he paused. “You’re not at work?”
“No, I didn’t go the last couple days.”
“What’s going on? Is something wrong?”
Now it was my turn to pause. I wasn’t sure what to say. Normally, I would say it’s nothing. Normally, it wouldn’t even occur to me to say aloud the things I was thinking. But the weight of my aloneness felt almost suffocating. I felt tears run down my face as I tried to form the words of such a simple but cruel truth. “Um…my mother.” I choked out a sob I couldn’t trap in my throat. “My mother died,” I said. “And it’s all my fault.”
I heard an intake of breath from the other line. “I’m so sorry,” Mars said. “Siu-Ling, where are you? Are you in Hong Kong? I can come get you.”
I wiped my tears on my dirty sleeve. “No, no. I’m at home. Or in a salon close to home.” I composed myself and wiped away tears from the desk. “Listen. I can’t see you anymore,” I said.
“I just can’t.”
“Siu-Ling, listen to me,” Mars was saying. “This isn’t your fault. Please find it in you to forgive yourself!”
“It is my fault,” I said. “I’ve done horrible things, and I have plans to do more horrible things, and people have gotten hurt.” I swallowed. “But I have to do it. I have to stop them. They’re monsters.”
“Who are you talking about?”
“Listen to me,” I said, ignoring him. “I am never going to Hong Kong again. I’m never coming to see you again. Do you understand?”
“Mars, please tell me you understand,” I repeated.
There was a long pause.
“Hello?” I said.
“I understand.” His voice sounded weak.
“Siu-Ling. Before you go,” he said. “I need to know that you’re safe.”
I thought about it. I didn’t know if I was safe. If Li was still out there, looking for me, or if I would be safe tomorrow, or even afterward. “I’m safe,” I said.
I could hear Mars sigh on the other end, sounding relieved. “Good.”
“Goodbye,” I said.
There was another long pause. “Goodbye,” he said at last, his voice breaking. I cradled the receiver in my hands for a few seconds more, imagining his face, his goofy grin, the way he pulled me behind the factory. Then I hung up.
The takeover was tomorrow. I was aching, bruised, and in poor shape, but I had no other choice. At least Li would be faring the same.
That man, the most terrifyingly evil man I had ever met. He took everything away from me. And what was he without the Wo Shing Wo? What was he without all his money and influence? What would he become if it turned out I was somehow at the top of the ladder? He would be nothing. He would be just as powerless as Kai perceived me to be. As I used to be.
I was going to make sure he knew what it felt like.