Sunday, 11 June 2017

Encountered briefly

Stepping
off the Heathow Express, he made his way to the concourse and strode to Terminal 3.
It was June and this was the sixth of his monthly visits that year to Hong Kong to check up on various business interests and ensure that his retirement funding was safe. Terminal 3 was like a second home and he moved towards the front door instinctively and confidently. He did not see her.

Past security and through the perfume vending shops and caviar counters, he wound his way through the causal travellers to the Cathay Pacific lounges and waited by the lift. She was some way behind, watching him carefully, deliberately holding back making sure he could not see her.
****
The boarding call for Cathay Pacific CX250 went out in the airport but she was already at the gate, waiting. Passengers started arriving and she moved to the furthest corner of the area near the gate, watching. The queue of economy passengers was beginning to grow, her queue, but she was in no hurry to join. She watched the corridor leading to the gate and soon spotted what she knew to be the first and business class passengers arriving - suits, smart luggage and attitude. After a few minutes she saw him, striding down to the gate, relaxed - probably quite drunk - and heading to the short queue of priority passengers. The boarding staff were looking intently at computer screens, swiping themselves in and out of the glass door leading to the gangway waiting for the cabin crew to declare the plane ready for boarding. The call came to start boarding and the priority queue began to move. When he had boarded, she moved to the end of the queue of economy passengers.
****
At the end of the gangway he showed the smiling Chinese lady his boarding pass, stepped on to the plane and turned left. Settling down, he sipped some champagne, flicked trough the various magazines and checked the selection of films on the TV set. His mind was far from anything that was going on behind him.
****
She stepped on to the plane and turned right.
****
The twelve-hour flight was punctuated by dinner, drinks and films for both of them. He thumbed through some documents and checked a few details on his laptop. The week ahead was as familiar to him as having breakfast. Always the same. Same hotel, same colleagues to meet, same restaurants and then the inane expats who knew he'd be in town eager to see him for a drink and tell him about how wonderful life was in Hong Kong. Truth is, they were bored stiff. He knew that but he played up to them; they had contacts and contacts were everything in Hong Kong. And then there was her. He always thought about her when he was travelling because he was usually leaving her or returning to her and either way, memories were evoked. Anticipation and reflection are two sides of the same coin and his life was spent flipping that coin. Casually turning the page of the in-flight sales magazine he decided not to buy anything...there was always next time.
****
She hardly slept. Between films and trying to read she stared forward at the curtain separating the economy and premium sections of the plane. She knew he was there and had to overcome the temptation to go through and see him. She wasn't ready and she knew he wasn't either. She thought about him and realised this was his life. She too knew about the two sides of the coin, except that she was not flipping it. Instead, she felt flipped. She looked back to what she had left that morning and fretted over the details of locking the house, cancelling the newspapers and packing. She drifted off to sleep, could not be roused for breakfast and only woke when one of the cabin crew asked her to fasten her seat belt for landing. This unnerved her as she wanted to be well prepared for landing. Instead she had a book to pack, shoes to put on and a passport to locate.
****
'Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Hong Kong International Airport'.
****
The seat belt sign went off and he was up and ready to leave immediately. A few minutes wait and then the smiling Chinese lady bade him good morning and he stepped on to the gangway. He was in the airport in seconds and heading to passport control; today the flight had docked at the 'low' gates so he only had to walk a few hundred yards to the gates where his Hong Kong frequent visitor barcode would let him through in seconds.
****
She was panicking, the economy passengers could not leave until the business class passengers were off and the curtain - which had been closed at landing - remained closed. She was not near the front either. Eventually she left the plane and she started running towards passport control. There was no sign of him. The passport queue was growing and she joined it and snaked her way to the booth.

Finally, she was in the baggage hall but he was already through. She had no bags to collect so she ran to the customs gate and though into the main. airport. And then she saw him.
****
Leaving the customs hall, he scanned the crowd at the barrier and slowed down until he saw her. A well attired and beautiful young Chinese girl ran to the end of the barrier and when he reached her she flung her arms round him and they kissed.

They walked out into the main hall, he with his arm round her, talking animatedly, and then they stopped. He pulled her towards him, cradled her head in his left hand and pushed her hair back out of her face and kissed her affectionately on the forehead and then on the lips.
'Hello darling' the familiar voice at his shoulder said. He let go of the girl and looked round.

'Who is she?' said the girl. He did not answer.

'I'm his wife' the woman replied for him. 'You're always telling me I should come with you on your business trips' she said to him 'so I thought I'd come and surprise you. Looks like I did.'

The story continued…but the marriage did not.
-o0o-

Monday, 17 April 2017

The thirty-second

Jet lag was setting in but he had been told not to give in to it. He turned left out of the Holiday Inn on to Nathan Road and walked towards the harbour.

His wife was up in the room, snoring, unconscious.

In less than a minute the sweat was trickling down into the small of his back. It was his first time in Hong Kong. His eyes felt like there were grains of sand in them. Boarding the BA flight at Heathrow had seemed like the start an adventure; now he was already dreading the flight home.

The pavements were thronged and the massive TV billboards at the end of Peking Road were flashing bright light and booming out adverts.

'Hello'..'hello sir'...'you from England?'

He turned towards the person greeting him. A small Indian man was smiling at him and offering him a card.

'Copy watch? Copy Handbag for your wife?'.

'Tell you what, I've just arrived, I'm very jet-lagged and tired and my wife is sleeping. I'll just take a card if that's OK and I'll come and see you tomorrow'. He took the card and walked on unsure if he meant what he said or not – jet lag was leading to confusion and he just needed some space.

'Very good price sir, very cheap.' 'Copy Rolex.'

'Are you still here?' I thought I said I'd see you tomorrow. I have your card so I can easily find you.' He held up the card to look at it and it was snatched back.

'I can show you. Now. Copy watch sir.'

'OK - show me one. But I'm not buying tonight.'

He expected that the man would roll up a sleeve or produce one from a pocket. Instead the man raised his hand up and waved. Two more Indian men appeared and the man was off, waving his card and calling 'Copy watch' at the next western passer-by.

'So, you want copy watch, sir?' One of the Indian men said.

'Er, no!' I just asked to see one but I'm OK now, I'll just go back to my hotel,' He could see the entrance to the Holiday Inn from where they were standing.

'Come with us, we show you copy watch sir'.

'But I don't...' he had no choice, with one of the Indian men at either side of him he was too tired to resist being led off the main drag, into an alley and up a flight of steps. The metal door at the top yielded to the two sharp taps from the man in front and he was led into a small stuffy room filled with other Indian men and a few local Chinese.

The door closed behind him and he knew now there would be no escape without a purchase.

'What do you want sir?'

'Well, nothing really. I just asked to look at a copy Rolex. I don't know if I want to buy.'

'We give you very good price.'

'I'm not promising to buy, I have no money with me'.

'You can use credit card sir'

'I don't have that either...'. but he petered out realising that the bulge in his breast pocket was obviously a wallet.

'No way! I'm not handing over my credit card.'

'No need to sir, we take you down to ATM to get cash. One at corner of street.'

'Fuck this' he thought 'why did I get in this mess?'

'So, here is copy Rolex, very good.' and he was shown a watch.

He had no idea what a Rolex looked like but this looked like a nice watch with a crown logo on the dial and a small magnifier over the date. The seller turned over the watch to show the exhibition back. Glass showing the mechanism – the sure sign of a fake. But they knew he had no idea what he was doing and he was quite impressed.

'OK, how much?'

'Twelve thousand Hong Kong'

'Fucking what?'

'Is cheap, sir.'

'It's not far off a thousand pounds, bloody hell.'

'It's cheap. Rolex costs many thousands.'

'This one costs many thousands. Bloody hell, I had no intention of spending that much on anything.'

It was like they were just ignoring him.

‘I’m going now?' he tried to be assertive.

They really were ignoring him, just carrying on sorting out watches and texting on their phones.

'Can I at least sit down?' The heat and humidity were really crushing him and he felt nauseous. He looked round the room. No free seats and nobody was offering him one.

'Twelve thousand Hong Kong, you have cash?'

'No, I don't.' At least that offered him a way out of the room.

'OK, come with us.' and he followed two men down the steps, with one behind him.

He considered making a run at the foot of the stairs but the two men in front stood very close to him and the one behind stayed within a step away. In any case, his legs felt like jelly.

There was nobody at the HSBC ATM and he meekly inserted his card and entered his PIN. He was pushed aside and the rest was done by one of the men who took out twelve thousand Hong Kong dollars, put it in his pocket and handed over the watch.

He was standing alone within a second.

‘At least they’re honest.’ he thought, ironically, as he retrieved his card from the ATM.

Dejected but glad to be free he returned to the hotel and got into bed with his wife.

Next morning, he was awake before her, thinking about the previous night.

She rustled slightly as she woke and asked him the time.

'Eight thirty.' he glanced at his new watch.

'And what's the date? I've lost track already.’

He glanced at his watch again, 'It's the thirty-second of July'

'Bastards.' he thought, and flung the watch across the room.


-o0o-