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.