We didn’t take the ferry, or even go across the water. Instead, I was ushered into a cop car, and they drove in an entirely different direction. I looked out of the window from the back seat, trying to remember the last time I had been in a car, and not being able to. Every so often, the car would lurch, or go over a bump, and I worried we were going to crash.
Outside, lights were beginning to flicker on from the sides of hotels, movie theaters, and restaurants. Everything was much bigger where we were going. Flashier, unlike the drab manufacturing buildings. I saw women in broad shouldered business suits and dark makeup walking together toward restaurants, or to bars. Everyone was so polished.
Eventually, we pulled away from the busier main street, and in front of a large gray building with frosted windows. A police station.
The two cops in the front got out and one of them opened the back seat door. As I got out, I realized there was a small crowd of people outside the station, which began to move toward me. Camera flashes went off and a man was asking me questions.
“Ma’am,” the reporter was saying, “why did you choose to stay for so long in Kowloon Walled City?” He pointed the microphone at my face, and I didn’t answer as I followed the cops into the station.
Before I knew it, I was getting my picture taken, and they were putting my fingers in a stamp pad of blue ink. They pressed each of them into sections of a sophisticated looking document, and I let them. I had given up by this point.
“Name?” one of the officers said behind another document.
“Ma Siu-Ling,” I recited.
Behind the desk, a small television was turned on, and I couldn’t help but look when I heard the words Kowloon Walled City. A reporter was covering the eviction just as I was getting evicted. I could have laughed at the irony.
“The eviction of Kowloon Walled City was mostly successful this afternoon. The city has faced heavy criticism from citizens and politicians for being unregulated, and for building structures that are not to code, possibly endangering its some 13,000 residents.”
“Parents?” the officer said this time.
I shook my head.
“Ma Wen,” I said, reciting my mother’s name. “And Ma Kwong-Ming.”
He scribbled all three names onto the document.
I shifted my gaze back to the television.
“The city has also been known to house drug operations for various gangs in the area, but evidence of Triad activity was nowhere to be found, upon evicting the city. Residents of Kowloon Walled City reported that the Triads in the area were expelled, thanks to fellow longtime resident, Ma Siu-Ling.”
“Date of birth?”
“9 July, 1960.” When would it end?
I guess I shouldn’t have complained because little did I know the process that would come afterward.
“Coincidentally,” the anchor was saying, “Ma Siu-Ling was the last to leave the city, but not without a fight, reported officials. She is in Yau Ma Tei where she will be awaiting the department’s decision on whether to press charges.” I saw the clip of myself being led out of the cop car and into the station. The news report cut back and forth between that clip and images of the Walled City from afar. It was strange watching myself as others saw me. My head was up, chin out, my hands were tied behind my back. It was obvious that I was both furious and filled with shame.
“Do you have anyone you can contact?” he asked.
I shook my head again.
I was made to change, and then they put me in a holding cell with two other men, who I quickly realized were probably there for public drunkenness. They had taken my shoes, and the ground felt sticky under my feet. I didn’t want to know what I was standing on.
“Hey, beautiful,” one of the men said. I ignored him. The other one was asleep.
“How long am I staying here?” I asked as the cop closed the door. He didn’t say anything.
I went and took a seat on the bench next to the sleeping drunk, and tried to avoid the awake drunk’s stare.
“You could be a lot less of a bitch, you know,” the awake drunk said. I didn’t respond.
It was evening, and I would probably be kept here at least until tomorrow. I put my feet up on the bench and rested my forehead on my knees. I must have looked like an animal trying to hide, and in a way, I was. Every so often, I would wake up and look at the clock, only to see that so little time had passed.
When I was in Kowloon Walled City, I had a lot of time alone. But I was always making decisions, or planning something, or executing my plans. Now I had time alone and nothing to do. And I felt useless. None of my decisions in the post made a difference. What was I supposed to do now? Just hours ago, I was free to wander and do as I pleased. Now I was locked up like I was in a zoo.
I didn’t doubt that some of my decisions backfired. If I had known there was nothing I could do to stop the eviction, I wouldn’t have gotten so carried away. I probably wouldn’t have even made the effort. I felt tears come and I wept silently for Kai and Lin, for my mother. They suffered because of me. And now I was suffering for the same reason.
According to the residents who knew me for expelling the Triads, I was perhaps a positive force in the city. But I had brought so much misfortune on the people closest to me.
I let the sleeping drunk’s snoring put me to sleep and it wasn’t until later when I heard my name, that I woke up.
“Ma Siu-Ling,” someone said.
I started, jerking my head up to see a cop at the bars. The awake drunk was no longer with us, but the sleeping drunk had moved to the floor where he was curled up.
“A visitor here to see you.”
Mars came through the door. He spotted me at once and his face was filled with concern. “Siu-Ling, hey!” he said, obviously trying to act casual, despite my humiliating position. The cop stood to the side, observing.
“What are you doing here?” I said. “What day is it?”
“It’s Saturday. Almost noon.” Mars walked closer to the bars, and put his hand on one of them.
“Don’t touch,” the guard said, and Mars’ hand snapped away as though it had touched something sharp.
“I came as soon as I found out which station you were at,” he said. “I saw you on the news.”
I put my face in my hands. I didn’t want him to see me like this.
“Uh, I’m here to bust you out!” he joked. “And if you need, you know, a place to stay while you find a place of your own…” his voice trailed off.
“What do you mean ‘bust me out’?” I said.
“I asked the cop not to press charges and he agreed. So they have to let you go.” He smirked. “Saw what you did to his face. Jesus.”
“What did you say to them?” I said, glowering.
“That I knew you, and that you weren’t normally so violent. You were just worked up.”
I laughed darkly. “You don’t know me at all.”
Mars looked frustrated. “Look, I know you called me and gave me that whole speech about what a terrible person you were. I know I wasn’t supposed to see you again, but I thought this was sort of, you know,” he gestured around the cell, “the exception.”
“I can’t stay with you,” I said, not looking at him.
“Why the hell not!”
“Because I don’t–” I stood up, angry all over again. “I don’t want to owe you! And you don’t know what you’re talking about. Letting me stay with you would be a big mistake.”
“You don’t owe me anything!” Mars said. Our first argument, and it was with a row of bars between us. “Why can’t you just let me help you? I want to help!”
“I can!” he was shouting this time. The guard cleared his throat, but Mars ignored him. “My biggest mistake was letting you go. I thought about you every day. Wondering what you were doing. If you were safe. If you were happy. Now you’re in there, and I’m here. I know I can’t do everything for you, and that you wouldn’t want me to, but for Christ’s sake, let me help!”
I was in tears, shaking my head. “You don’t know,” I said. “You don’t know what I’ve done.” I grabbed onto the bar.
He placed his hand over mine. “We can all have a fresh start,” he said simply.
“Don’t make me tell you again,” the cop said.
“Sorry.” Mars stepped away. “It’s your decision. If you want, say you’re coming with me. You’ll get your things back. I’ll be outside waiting.” He checked his watch. “It’ 12:15 now,” he said. “I’ll wait for a half hour, and if it’s still a no…I’ll take the hint.”
He left, the guard following him.
I thought about it. I knew it made sense, but what would it mean? Did Mars think I would start my life with him eventually? I wasn’t ready for that. Still, he was the only person on this planet I still knew, and who still cared to know me. And, what I felt for him…Well, it wasn’t love, but it was something, wasn’t it?
The guard didn’t come back. I stuck my face between the bars. “Excuse me!” I shouted. “Hey! I’m ready to leave!”
Still no one.
I sat back down. After a few more minutes, I began to pace, and the sound of it woke the sleeping drunk man.
“Excuse me!” I shouted again.
“The lady needs you!” the man shouted from the floor. Soon we were shouting together in the otherwise empty room.
Finally, the guard came back.
“I’m ready to leave,” I said. “No one is pressing charges against me. A man is waiting for me outside. Please.” I hoped the urgency in my voice would stir some kind of emotion in the cop.
He simply rolled his eyes. “Come with me.”
He opened the door and I followed him, turning back to the man in the cell. “Thank you,” I said.
He nodded, smiling drunkenly.
I was given back my clothes, which I put on as quickly as possible. I threw on my socks, which I was pretty sure were inside-out, and my shoes right after them. I was led out to the front desk.
“Name?” the man at the desk said.
“You said that yesterday.”
“I say it every day.”
I repeated my information to him and he found my file. I looked at the clock. It was almost 1:00. My heart sank. Would Mars still be outside, I wondered.
When I was finally released, I stepped out. It was warm, but dark, and I didn’t see him. I looked around, feeling stranded. He had left.
“Siu-Ling!” I heard a voice call.
He was across the street by the bus stop. I recognized him now. I ran across as soon as it was clear, and he took me in his arms.
“I was hoping you just needed a few more minutes.” I could hear the relief in his voice. “The station wouldn’t let me loiter in front, so I had to move over here.”
“I thought you were gone,” I said into his chest, clutching him tight.
“It’s okay,” he said. “Everything will be fine.”
I nodded, wanting so badly to believe him. I decided I would. I decided to put my faith in this. Taxis and trams passed us, and pedestrians walked by. We existed in the spaces between them.
A minute later, he broke away as a tram pulled up. “This is us,” he said, holding his hand out to me. “Let’s go home.”
I took his hand, letting him guide me into the neon.