Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hong Kong, Hong Kong

[Part 1 of the "Flights" series]

SITTING ALONE by a table for two, Abel moistened his lips, his tongue gently wetting his dry mouth and the little cracks that line the edges of that tender but thin flesh where four summers of solitude have tempered an unspeakable drought, each a season of yearning beyond recognition. He could see the short distance ahead through his eyeglasses. Everyone seemed busy, even with doing nothing.

A woman whose face is caked with powder and rouge hurriedly passed by for the fifth time, dragging with her stubby arms and fingers a heavy luggage that looked as though she had the rest of her life in tow, her shoddy dreams rammed inside what limited space the bag could offer. Two young men patiently stood in the middle of the lobby, their animated conversation bearing all the signs of relief and comic anticipation. From time to time, the orchestra of chatter from idle strangers would blend with the sound of the massive engines throttling through the vast runway just beyond the glass windows, taunting everything with their whirling noise until the skies have beckoned their ascent. Abel raised the cup and tasted the familiar bitterness of the warm brew, its scent hovering around him in faint trickles, keeping him awake, if not alive, three hours before sunrise.

His velvet sweater clung to his body but the pores on his ageing skin still suffered the merciless chill trapped inside the building. The tiled floor reflected all the light from the ceiling lamps, illuminating the marble squares where the shadows should have been. Abel could see the reflections everywhere, some not as disconcerting as the images of those responsible for their being, and some others as confusing as the reasons why people have to come and go, the unfortunate ones never to return. He thought of Martha and Madeleine, and how almost thirty years between the girls have aged them into more like siblings and less like mother and daughter.

Martha had to return to Hong Kong before the second Sunday of January. In one of the busy intersections in that metropolitan landscape, the household she served had a short grasp of why Filipinos had to lavish themselves with spirited moments of rekindling family ties when the world overseas held the promise of an opulent life—the very reason why Martha was there, begrudgingly swallowing the little ounce of pride she had reserved for her self—and an even shorter patience for waiting for the household helper to breathe air. Without keeling from remorse, they could easily replace her with someone willing to even serve her own placenta on a silver platter for dinner and all things more servile in exchange for an anorexic paycheck. They have all the reasons in the world to hoist their audacity like a divine right acquired simply by virtue of having been born in a fertile colony, and never regret the days when they have used them.

Madeleine stood resolute if not adamant in joining her mother abroad, at least for a while, when her college graduation hanged too close to her mouth she could almost taste half of it. She felt she held the universe in her hands, tucked serenely on her palms and fingers, as though its immeasurable expanse were carried by the weight of her passport and plane ticket. She had her eyes set on the seven continents, crossing out one country after another, each city a remote planet waiting to be conquered by her restless desire to leave behind whatever mark she can on foreign territories, and Hong Kong, she thought, shall be the first to satiate her virgin appetite.

Four years ago, in that same table where Abel now drank his third cup of black coffee, the three of them had their last dinner together. Since then, the airport was never the same.

It took almost two days to rescue Martha and Madeleine in the high seas, their bodies almost emaciated from thirst and hypothermia, flesh and bones almost surrendering to the impulse of death. For forty-eight hours Abel could not find refuge in sleep. Not even a blink can lull him to neverland. When they were finally brought to the hospital, Martha and Madeleine could not speak. By the time they were able to talk, their mouths could only utter “Hong Kong, Hong Kong,” their weak voices replete with desperation, as though Hong Kong was the only place left in the world, the last frontier, the sole bastion of fortune and exuberance, the only habitable dwelling where the trees and buildings race to the sky against the backdrop of an infinitely blue ocean. Abel lost them somewhere between here and there, their spirits in the deep waters sinking faster than the engines of the airplane, never to reach the bottom until they have breathed their last. “Hong Kong, Hong Kong.”

At thirty minutes past three in the morning, Abel waited for the voice in the overhead speakers. But there was none, nothing to announce the arrival of a plane from Hong Kong that should have landed four years ago, nothing to signal the return of Martha and Madeleine for they have never really left. Neither have they really returned. They are just there, somewhere closer to Hong Kong but never there. Perhaps they are somewhere between the arrivals and the departures, a purgatory for those who were to journey elsewhere.

Abel went back to the hospital. Tomorrow, the wait begins anew.

Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5


Carl said...

Life, indeed is a series of arrivals and departures. Many people left. Only few come back. Perhaps because they want to take with them what they have left behind before.

Anyway, this is the most interesting prologue (so far) of a series among all other series.

SPLICE said...

Thank you. I hope I get to sustain the vigor in writing the whole series. I must admit, though, that the first part is a bit hazy and still needs a few tweaks here and there. Oh well...

Carl said...

Sure. You'll do. It's just a matter of ripeness, maturity, and perhaps time.

Now, I wonder how you write in Filipino.

Happy Holidays!