Hong Kong – The Fragrant Harbour – city of mystique. My heart is crammed with impressions of this vibrant metropolis, this place my twin adored.
I keep moving and immerse myself in throngs of people crowding narrow sidewalks. Packed eating-houses line the street and crispy ducks hang in windows adding to the aroma of fried vegetables. As the sun slips away, streets flash and spin and explode with neon; a thousand Piccadilly Circuses in one. Above the neon, walls stretch upward, dingy and gray, washing on window sills, air conditioning vibrating.
I spot a hooded entrance to the underground and follow the crowds surging down worn stairs. The train reminds me of a gleaming snake, slithering through dark tunnels, swallowing prey. I drop $2 in the machine and follow the digital display. Down here, everything is automated, efficient, impersonal.
As the train hurtles through Tsim Sha Tsui, Jordan, Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok, I wonder if Tess, Jin and Bao ever travelled this route. Maybe they once sat on the seat where I am or maybe they preferred the buses and trams that clutter the streets. How I wish I’d visited them. Sam offered to send me but we were newly-weds and broke.
I alight at Prince Edward and wander through a street market, the dusk stained by lanterns and a million fairy lights. Tented shelters offer underwear and socks, DVDs and iPods, golden idols and silk flowers, cosmetics and purses and exotic fruits and battered fish balls. The fragrance of seasoned meat blends with incense and damp, muggy air sits like a thick blanket.
Captivated, I head slowly towards Nathan Street, the golden mile of Hong Kong. Stores are open till late here and pools of light pour across plush red carpets. “Oh, Tess.” I whisper. “I understand why you loved this place. It just draws you in, absorbs you into its life.”
I check the map again and head further down the road to where the social worker is meeting me. “I’ll be wearing a blue skirt and a shirt with blue and yellow flowers.” she told me in accented English. I search the crowds, eyes probing, people jostling, until I spot her.
Introductions are made and she hails a taxi. “I’m sorry for your loss.” she says. “The accident affected our people deeply.” I think back on the news footage. The graphic images of the carnage when a ferry engine exploded killing five and injuring twelve.
How will it feel, I wonder, to see Tess’s things, Tess’s home? So many times I promised I’d visit but never did. It was partly financial; partly fear of family and totally wrong. My parents were livid when Tess eloped with Jin. “He’s Chinese.” my mother wailed. “They have a completely different culture to ours.”
To my shame, I agreed with them. Although Tess and I looked identical, she was always the wild one. Motherhood seemed to calm her, though. “Bao is beautiful.” She wrote when their little girl was born two years ago. “I’m going to speak English to her and Jin will speak Cantonese.”
The social worker breaks in on my thoughts. “Your sister lived in one of those high-rises.” She points to featureless towers, stark against the darkening sky.
“How is Bao?” I ask.
“She’s too young to understand.” The social worker shakes her head. “The welfare system has a foster parent staying in the apartment with her - it’s less disruptive that way.”
Bao is sitting cross-legged when we arrive; a porcelain doll on an oriental rug. Black hair hangs limp and her eyes are dull and sad. Tess emailed me hundreds of photos of Bao, of the apartment, and the scene looks familiar... yet unfamiliar as I add smells and textures and sounds.
“Hello, Bao.” She looks up and as her eyes connect with mine, life floods back into her soul.
I stop still, shocked.
I wear my hair differently to Tess and my taste in clothes is different.
She scrambles up and comes charging towards me. “Mommy!”
And yet, I have come to take Bao home to America where Sam and I will raise her as our own.
I drop to my knees and open my arms as she hurls herself at me.
“I love you Bao.” We rock together and I drop kisses on her head, tears running down my cheeks and splashing onto hers. Explanations lie ahead, but for now, this little child is safe and secure in my arms.
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