Here I Am by Xu Xi
He was not a zombie. Nor was he a ghoul, mummy, wraith, ambulatory skeleton, or operatic phantom. He wasn’t even 殭 屍 (geong si), a dressed-to-the-nines Qing dynasty vampire that could at least do an approximation of the Lindy Hop, transcending time and culture into the Jazz Age. However, he was clearly dead, or undead, if you parsed language to its core.
Jonnie Tang sauntered down the pathway of Southorn Playground, skirted the border of the court, waiting to be seen. His real name was Tang Chun-ying, or CY, but a little over a year ago, he had started going by Jonnie, not wanting to be ragged on for his English initials that were the same as the city’s Chief Executive. At least he used to be Jonnie Tang until 0555 hours. The idiot driver of that Bimmer M3 barreling East on Hennessy, along the north border of the playground, had run the light and slammed into him. Asshole didn’t even have the balls to stop.
The force of impact had flung him into the plate-glass window of the second floor hair salon above the Circle K. Shattering glass severed his vocal cords, and a large, jagged, blade-like shard almost decapitated him. Not a desirable angle of repose, to be unrecognizably swathed on a gurney, smeared in blood and fecal matter, like a chicken with its head chopped off. Even the emergency team paled. He was gruesome.
Next thing you knew, Jonnie was the corpse on TVB Jade’s 1830 hours evening news, being too late for the morning news at 0630 hours.
He could imagine his mother tsk-ing away at the radio news report later that morning. Those reckless 有錢 boys and their cars! Hate to death those have-money brats. They should be locked up and forced to clean public toilets as community service! His mother was tsk-ing about something else on the news, until the call came from the police: Are you the family of Tang Chun-ying? Ma, he called across what he presumed to be an ethereal, omniscient panorama, I’m here, but his voice box was gone. He couldn’t even say before he disappeared that this wasn’t her fault, that she shouldn’t blame herself, as he knew she would.
Except that he hadn’t disappeared, not really.
At Southorn, the gang was all there, waiting for him, calling out his mother’s cunt at his tardiness. It was a little past 0630 hours, their appointed time to shoot hoops each Tuesday morning, a ritual observed for the last five years.
Hey, he yelled at the gang, here I am. King-wah was dribbling the ball in a slow dance. Jonnie tried, but could not step over the painted white line on the ground that bordered the court. What was this weirdness of being, voiceless, invisible, movement-impaired? Uncertain of his new existence, other than the certainty that he was dead, he avoided touching or bumping into solid objects, afraid that he could not pass through them (or was he actually afraid that he could?). Would he disintegrate when the sun rose, assuming it wasn’t another rain-soaked morning? Did weather delay eternity?
King-wah loped near the border. Jonnie could almost touch him he was so close. Where do you suppose he is? King-wah was saying. He woksapped me three, four hours ago, out dancing again, maybe he overslept? The others laughed. Dancing iron monkey king, they named him, honoring the birth-year sign they all shared when metal reigned. Hey, said Yuksing, the disciplined one, you know him, better late than on time.
Fuck you, Yuk-sing, you sanctimonious jerk, Jonnie shouted. No sound emerged. In the distance, voices of the dead conversed, quarreled, hawked goods and services from a century ago. They confabbed farther south, along what used to be the shoreline, long before Southorn Playground was borrowed from the sea in what became perpetual reclamation for the city’s waterfront. So there was sound in this world, Jonnie realized. Someone was singing a Teresa Teng tune, that one with the English and Mandarin refrain: goodbye my love, 我的愛人再見 (wo de ai ren zai jian).
King-wah moved away from him. Hey, Jonnie tried to say. Wait. Here I am! Talk to me, please. I’m here; I’m here.
By evening, he assumed the gang would all have heard what happened, but Jonnie was still wandering around Wanchai. It was unbearably crowded. If death was an eternity-populated Hong Kong, then he had to find a way out. What puzzled him was why he could smell such a lot of life, the stench of the waterfront, the cooking steam of the dai pai dongs, the pervasive odor of manure. Also, time disoriented. For one thing, he could see the waterfront, right where Southorn Playground used to be. Which meant he must be traveling backward in time to before reclamation. That was when it hit him, why the gang hadn’t been able to hear him. It was the wrong Tuesday morning. No trace of the accident that almost decapitated him was evident, and so soon afterward, there should still have been debris and the blue wooden markers the police used to cordon off a crime scene. As he had flown upward to his death, the sound of a falling something clanged against the roadway— perhaps a piece of the vehicle, dislodged from impact? Jonnie hadn’t seen it, but now the ko-ling k-lang replayed in his auditory recall. Also, King-wah had said something about wok-sapping him a few hours earlier, and he knew for a fact that there had been no WhatsApp message on his phone the morning of his death. So it must have been another Tuesday, earlier, when he also hadn’t shown up.
Okay, this was bullshit! he wanted to shriek. He had never imagined death—not that he spent much time contemplating not being alive—to be so fraught with life and movement and people. Everyone seemed to be just going about their own business, regardless of their moment of time. The only advantage was that no one appeared to bump into anyone else, presumably because they were bodiless. Nothing made sense. He stood still, trying to calm himself and figure out what to do next.
A young girl, around fifteen or so, dressed in a short skirt that showed off her skinny, shapely legs, was moving toward him. She seemed headed directly for him, and Jonnie didn’t know whether to move aside or acknowledge her or what? Should he say, Hey I’m here, watch where you’re going, because she appeared not to see him? She looked familiar, like he’d just seen her face somewhere. As she neared, he saw that she was in her school uniform, but that the left half of her was scrunched and scarred. The closer she came, the more unnerving she was. But Jonnie stood his ground. Then, she stopped right in front on him and shouted 你不是! and carried on—floating or walking, he couldn’t be sure—and passed him by or, perhaps, slid right through him. What did she mean by that cry, You-are-not! And why in formal Chinese? It made no sense. Of course, nothing was making sense the longer he was dead.
Across Des Voeux Road at a street corner, he sighted a newspaper vendor. Jonnie traversed Des Voeux, noting that the trams were running, hoping he could strike up a conversation, since vendors usually would speak to you, especially the women. Or at least they did among the living. Apple Daily, he said, digging into his pocket for coins, surprised to find he could hand these over to the vendor. And there she was, the girl who had just passed by, on the front page of the daily news, the suicide jumper from the top of Central Plaza a few blocks north, close to the waterfront. The date was a month or so earlier, right after exam results were released, when suicides were normal.
The woman vendor noted his interest, said, These liangs don’t know how good they’ve got it to be able to go to school. At least they get a shot at a better life. Me? I never made it past Primary 3 before Ma made me hawk papers. Nothing should be so bad as to make a girl jump. You can always repeat an exam.
Pleased to finally connect with another being, Jonnie replied that this one couldn’t have been doing too badly in school. After all, she was smart enough to figure out how to get to the top of Central Plaza where roof access was probably prohibited . . . but his voice trailed off when the vendor woman ignored him, or didn’t appear to hear him. In any case, she turned away and did not look at him again after their brief transaction. Now what? he wondered. It was time for breakfast, and he was startled to find he was hungry. Surely, with all these dai pai dongs around him, he could find a bowl of congee? Maybe even a stick of fried dough to go with it? He wandered east along Des Voeux, toward the fragrant cooking smells of the wet market ahead, until he found a food stall for congee. What year was this? Probably sometime in the 1950s or 60s, before he was born, since this stall had never existed in all the years he and Ma lived in Wan Chai. A sudden Eureka! moment: did death confine you to where you lived? If so, things could be worse than being stuck in Wan Chai for eternity, if this beginning of the rest of his death was anything to go by. His only regret was that he would miss out on his trip to Thailand, the one his girlfriend Wini booked.
On Monday night, he and Wini had found an inexpensive package tour to Phuket. She was so excited. He liked the way laugh lines crinkled her eyes when she smiled. Not that he would say this anymore, having once made the terrible mistake of doing so after he kissed her eyelids, because she immediately went into a panic about aging skin, which he dismissed, since she wasn’t even thirty, too young to worry about all that. No, he’d said, just lines of laughter—they’re beautiful. But she wouldn’t listen. What would men know about this? she demanded. Every morning and night, she treated the skin around her eyes with some kind of collagen lotion, outrageously expensive. Which also meant he could only kiss her eyelids between the time she cleaned her face in the morning, before she put on her makeup, or just after she removed her makeup at night and before she dabbed translucent gel from that tiny, overpriced tube. He regretted ever mentioning those lines, but that was him, always one foot in the mouth when all he wanted was to speak his heart.
And now, no more now.
After breakfast, he went home. He didn’t know where else to go. The building was there, as it had been long before his birth, and even before Ma moved in, pregnant with him out of wedlock when she was only twenty-two. Inside their flat, his mother was crying, and it broke his heart to hear that. Wini was with her. What time was it? When was this happening? But as he stood outside the door to the flat, he understood he no longer could judge time or space. The door of the neighbor’s flat was different; it might be a door from ten or fifty years earlier, when he couldn’t say. Their tong lau was pre-Second World War, so it held the possibility of elongated time. All he wanted was to go inside, to hold Wini in his arms and kiss her eyelids, to tell Ma he was sorry, it was not her fault, really, none of this was her fault. Was death an eternity of regret? The idea was too horrible to contemplate.
How to go inside? He didn’t know, and this confounded him. He pulled his key out of his pocket, but it was a ghost key, usable only in ghost space. Logically, he knew this was after his death, but when? Did death take him into the future as well as the past, or was the future a linear unfolding? Jonnie wished he had paid more attention in school, asked more questions the way the thinking boys did, because perhaps it might have trained his mind better to figure out death. Like King-wah. He had gone to university and become a doctor. Sometimes, he wondered why King-wah was still their friend, him and the gang, since the rest of them had never gone past secondary, although Yuk-sing did get as far as an associates degree and succeeded in joining the police force as an inspector.
你不是! That girl’s voice, out of nowhere, made him jump. He looked around, but the wraith-like presence was nowhere to be seen. Her voice trailed away—nei bat si, nei bat si— repeating you are not, you are not. Jonnie tried to shut out the sound and concentrated on the voices behind the door.
Inside, Ma was inconsolable. Wini was saying, Don’t be so wounded-hearted; we must carry on somehow. As expected, Ma was blaming herself. I shouldn’t have put so much pressure on him, shouldn’t have gotten into that argument. He was probably not paying attention when he crossed the road, because he was upset. No, Jonnie wanted to shout, that wasn’t it at all—tell her, Wini, tell her, because he figured his girlfriend would have gotten the full story from Yuk-sing by now. Besides, she knew about that argument. To his surprise, she didn’t say anything, and just continued with the soothing platitudes. Why wasn’t Wini telling Ma what she really needed to hear? Why?
Footfall on the staircase, and he was surprised to see King-wah and Yuk-sing at the door of his home. Wini answered when they rang the doorbell to let them in, and then the door shut in his face. Jonnie stretched his hand tentatively toward the door, hoping it would go through. It didn’t. Death was annoying, even more so than life. At least when you were alive you understood how you existed. Would knowledge accumulate through experience the longer he was dead, or did death have different rules of engagement?
All this thinking made his head hurt, the way it did when Ma, or Wini, insisted on talking, talking, talking. Of course, women talked; he accepted that, and thought a lot (too much, as he often told King-wah, who, being a go-along-get-along guy, agreed, although Yuk-sing, who always disagreed with everything, would repeat ad nauseum that women held up half the sky, so quit being closed-minded). Time passed, or at least he assumed it did, because the next thing he knew his two friends were leaving his home, and he noticed a strange look pass between Yuk-sing and Wini, a look he couldn’t fathom. Okay, so the thing to do was to follow them down the stairs into the streets and hover. It was the best connection he could make, and maybe, somehow, his voice or presence could make itself felt.
King-wah directed the pair to Pacific Coffee on Lockhart. Damn King-wah, always with the fancy coffees when a cha chaan teng should suffice. The trouble with education was that it turned people into snobs. The gang all came from this neighborhood, went through school together, and none of them were snobs, but university transformed King-wah into one. He lived in some fancy flat with his wife and kids in Pok Fu Lam now, far away from the rest of them, and drove a Merc. Even Yuk-sing wasn’t the same guy, although he wasn’t quite as bad. Besides, Lockhart was way on the other side, so why walk so far when there were plenty of tea-food-restaurants closer by? Jonnie realized his feet hurt from so much wandering around. Well, this sucked. Shouldn’t death relieve you of bodily sensations, including fatigue? What kind of stupid universe was this? Would he also need to pee and shit? If so, where was he supposed to do that?
Over coffee, King-wah remarked that although the coroner’s report said “accident due to hit-and-run,” he couldn’t help wondering if Chun-ying . . . Jonnie . . . had, as usual, not been paying attention?
“Probably,” Yuk-sing responded.
“You know the way he is. Was.”
Hang on, Jonnie protested, as he hopped around their seats—surely the cops figured out that Bimmer ran the red, didn’t they? Didn’t modern technology record pretty much everything? Like on CSI? Couldn’t you work out time of death down to the second and reconstruct the crime scene? It was a crime after all.
King-wah said, “Who d’you suppose hit him?”
“I guess we’ll never know.”
It was the Bimmer, Jonnie shouted, that goddamned Bimmer! Find that bastard and drag him to court.
“The time of death was so early. 3:10 in the morning. Why was it reported so much later, what, like after four?”
Yuk-sing paused before replying, and Jonnie saw that strange look again, like the one that passed between him and Wini. “My buddy in Accident Investigations said it was probably when his body fell off the canopy that someone finally noticed. From what they could tell, some speeder must have hit him, and somehow, he got flung up into that window and, well, you know what happened with the glass.” He stopped, sipped his cappuccino. “Poor bastard. Gruesome.”
King-wah nodded. “Go on.”
“What they figured was that he got stuck up there on the canopy, maybe partly lodged in the window frame, before he came unstuck and rolled onto the pavement.”
Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Jonnie’s mind reeled. His death was blowing up out of all proportions. They didn’t even get what happened right, never mind the time of death. He hadn’t rolled off the canopy; he never was on it! What he recalled of that Tuesday morning of August 20, 2013, was that he had been hit, flung into the salon window, and died at 0555 hours. Even his watch said so, the last thing he saw in the living world. How was it possible the police report could be so far off? Most of all, where was the gang that morning? Wouldn’t they have been at Southorn? Wouldn’t they all have seen the scene of the crime?
His friends had been speaking through his diatribe and were now standing, ready to leave. That was when he noticed they were both in dark suits.
“Ready?” King-wah said.
“As we’ll ever be, I suppose.”
“I wish Mrs. Tang and Wini would have come with us.”
“Aaah, they probably wanted to be alone one last time.”
Something shifted. Jonnie found himself at the North Point Funeral Home in a wake room. He was the deceased. How did he get here? Had he crossed the boundary of his neighborhood district to rejoin his body? Was that how it worked? Also, why couldn’t he remember how he got here? Or did memory operate by different rules in this un-alive state?
The last time he had attended a wake was a little over a year ago when their former math teacher, Mr. Chung, keeled over one morning in class and expired from a heart attack. The poor bastard was only fifty or so, and he’d been one of the good Ah-Sir’s, one who didn’t drone on and on, who actually inspired his students. In fact, the only reason Jonnie managed to pass math in his school cert exam was because Mr. Chung made him want to pay attention in class. The room had been overflowing with current students as well as former boys, many even older than his gang. If only Chung-Sir could have seen that! How proud he would have been.
And now here Jonnie was, paying respects at his own wake.
A closed casket sat beneath the large black-and-white photograph of him on the altar. His corpse must have been impossible to fix up. Maybe now he could finally stop wandering around in this monstrous existence. Honestly, who knew death could be such a pain in the neck, literally and otherwise?
你不是! That girl’s voice again. Was she following him? It turned into a singsong taunt: nei bat si, nei bat si, nei bat si, gradually morphing into 你是屍, nei si si, nei si si!
With a start, he saw that his wake was populated with the dead. Who were these people? Why had they come? He looked around to see if Chung was there, since that was one of the few dead people he did know, but the man was nowhere in sight. Neither was that girl. Only her voice was present, and it got louder and louder, her singsong punctuated with laughter. 你是屍! 你是屍! She had some nerve! Nei si si! Singing about him being a corpse as if it was a joke. Who the hell did she think she was? Meanwhile, the rest of the dead milled around in between the living. How odd. He instinctively knew which ones were dead and which living—not so hard, since he recognized all the living people—but why did he know with such certainty that these others were dead? They all looked alive enough, just as the newspaper vendor and dai pai dong owner who served him the congee had looked alive. In fact, now that he thought about it, all those people earlier, wandering around Wanchai, could have been alive—except somehow, he knew they were dead. The only exception had been that girl, the suicide who looked dead because she was all banged up from her jump.
He panicked. Had he been wandering around all this time in a state of partial decapitation? If so, how awful. He rushed forward to the coffin to peer at the small mirror on the altar, but it was too high, and even though he tried jumping up, he couldn’t see himself. The coffin! He climbed on it, but the curved lid made him lose his balance, and he landed with a thud on the ground. This was ridiculous. His own coffin wouldn’t even give him a leg up. What kind of wake was this? Such inconvenience was no way to honor him. And now his butt hurt.
He moved toward the glass walls of the room. The quick and the dead were reflected there, but, try as he might, he could not see himself. Okay, was this because he was only half dead (perhaps the suicide girl was as well)? Or maybe his head was detached and hanging too far down to be reflected? The more he tried to work out what was happening, the more frustrated he became. Jonnie hated thinking long about anything, preferring instead to make quick decisions and move on. The joy of living was, for him, getting off work, going dancing, shooting hoops with his buddies, and eating. And making love to Wini. She was sweet and immensely pliable in bed. What more should a guy need?
His gang arrived. Hey, he said, here I am. Useless, because his spectral self was clearly not affecting anyone. His mother was seated in the front row, weeping, Wini by her side. That was it for intimates, he thought with a pang. All he had were his friends and Wini. He glanced at the dead, shuffling around his coffin, commenting on his photo and the funeral arrangements, making fun of the small number of mourners. Don’t be so mean, he wanted to say, not all of us have big families or lots of friends! My mother worked hard her whole life; she didn’t have time to socialize.
What he did say was, Shut the fuck up! The singsong voice of that girl continued to follow him around. It was softer now, but Jonnie heard it continuously, rising and falling in volume, like a mosquito swooping around his ear.
A familiar voice was speaking behind him, and he turned, surprised to see his supervisor from work. What was that loser doing here? The man bowed to the coffin and then took a seat next to some of his other colleagues. Perhaps he was making up for the bad annual review he had given Jonnie last week, saying he needed to be more punctual. Hell, he’d only been late a few times. Their records were wrong because there was absolutely no way he could have been late as many times as they said. Jonnie worked at the airport, in aircraft maintenance, and had done so since leaving school and being accepted into their training program. Ma had been so proud. My son works for HAECO, she bragged to everyone. Large company, good prospects, stable job. But what Ma hoped was for him to become an aircraft engineer, but that required a higher diploma. Even Wini agreed. You have the basic requirements in Physics and Math, she said, how hard would it be? Plus the pay’s better. It was all he could do to stay in the job, although he’d never tell them that. Jonnie hated shift work, because the irregular schedule interfered with his dancing. If he had his way he’d work in a nightclub, serving drinks, perhaps, but the one time he mentioned that casually to Wini, she said, How cheap, how shameful, and wouldn’t speak to him for days. So that ended that. Well, definitely too late now.
Then the wake ended, and everyone was at the crematorium. An incendiary blast and it was all over. He was back in Wanchai. WTF! Didn’t he at least get to join the dinner? Man, what a lousy deal. What else did death cheat you of? This was really worse than being alive, and that had been bad enough.
That girl’s voice echoed, a smile in her whisper. You are not! You are corpse!
A conversation of the living from around the street corner entered his auditory range. Jonnie strained to hear.
“She’ll be okay.”
“I feel so terrible for her, but what else can I do?”
Wasn’t that Wini’s voice? He tried to see to whom she was talking but found he couldn’t move to where the voices came from.
“You’ve done enough, more than enough under the circumstances. Come on, let me take you home.”
“But not just yet, okay?”
“Please, Yuk-sing, not right now.”
“I’m sorry, I know this is bad, but I can’t help it.”
Wait, what was going on with Yuk-sing? What did he mean? He was near the Police Headquarters on Arsenal, somewhere along Harcourt. The voices were coming from farther away. No matter how hard he tried, he was up against an invisible barrier that he couldn’t go through. It was just like that TV series on the English channel Ma liked to watch, where a town was imprisoned under an invisible dome. He had been surprised when she started watching it because she never watched English TV. When he asked her why all of a sudden, she only said, Why not? There are Chinese subtitles.
It was dark. Annoyed that his dead eyes were not able to see any better than his alive ones through the evening light, he cast his gaze into the distance, willing himself to see Wini, because by now he was certain it was her voice, and Yuk-sing’s. Their voices got louder, and he heard his friend say, You know how I feel, how we feel about each other. It would only have been a matter of time. And then he heard Wini sob as if her heart would break. Yuk-sing’s car came into view, and he parked in the police compound. Jonnie found himself right next to the car. Inside, Wini and Yuk-sing were kissing each other, a long, passionate kiss of lovers, and then, everything made sense.
No! You can’t! His voiceless shout floated into dead silence. No, he said, what did I ever do to you, to either of you, that you should betray me like this? They were both dressed as they had been earlier at the wake—even in that somber dress, Wini had been so sexy he had gotten hard, unsure how pleased he felt at the continuance of that bodily function—so this was the same evening. The same evening!
Yuk-sing was caressing her, his hands all over her body. Jonnie stared at them, unable to avert his gaze. She was letting him touch her between her legs, even pulling his hand closer to her crotch. How could this be?
A voice from behind startled him.
It’s like an algebraic equation, the voice said. If A equals B and B equals C, then A must equal C, yet all you ever wanted to know was but what do you mean by A?
Jonnie turned around and saw Chung, his former math teacher. Ah-Sir! What are you doing here?
I’m trying to explain B. Don’t you remember? You wouldn’t listen for so long, insisting that A didn’t make sense, and therefore nothing made sense. You’re A, and Wini is B. Yuk-sing is C. He always was late to life, even in school, but better late than never, right, right? Chung was chuckling. The familiar voice, reassuring, gently prodding, calmed Jonnie.
Chung-Sir, why am I here?
Why do you think?
Er, because I’m dead?
Something like that.
But why does that girl’s voice keep following me around?
Why? Come on, think!
You know me—I hate to think.
Then you’ll never know, will you?
With that Mr. Chung drifted away.
Jonnie was about to race after him but couldn’t. Wini and Yuk-sing were going at it. Her skirt was hiked up so far her panties were visible, as was Yuk-sing’s hand sliding under the thin fabric, yanking it off with her help. He was disgusted, appalled, but couldn’t look away. She was letting Yuk-sing unbutton her blouse with his other hand, which was sliding under her bra. He couldn’t look away.
Wini was a manicurist at Princess Nail. She got the job after graduating from beauty college and had been working in a Causeway Bay salon for a couple of years when she and Jonnie met. It had taken Jonnie ten months of persuasion before she would go to a love motel with him, and even then, she wouldn’t go all the way. They were more or less engaged before she finally surrendered, over two years later, and even though he tried to be gentle, he knew it hurt her, and this was a memory he disliked.
Yet here she was now, virtually fucking Yuk-sing in his car.
He could see the bulge of his friend’s crotch. Wini was unbuckling his belt, unzipping him, and he watched, horrified, as she pulled out his penis and bent down to suck it. The first time Jonnie suggested they do that, she’d made a face and called him disgusting. No matter how sweetly he tried, her answer was always no, absolutely not, and that was that. Yet here she was, doing it, and clearly, it wasn’t her first time. Jonnie was ashamed for her. It was like watching a porn flick, except that the last thing he wanted to do was jerk off.
Voices from around the corner, and suddenly, Wini and Yuk-sing were scrambling, rearranging their disheveled clothes. She slid down low in the seat, but what startled him was how much she was giggling, instead of being embarrassed. Where was the Wini he knew, the oh-so-proper girl who slapped his hand if it strayed too close to her ass or boobs in public? Not even in public—just when they were with their friends? What had happened to his beautiful, good girl, who was sexy in private for him and him alone? Who was this stranger he was so sure loved him, who was so kind to Ma, who was there for him in the mornings, even when he had been bad, out too late drinking and dancing the night before, without her?
The more he thought, the more his head hurt, and the more irritated he became.
I’m here, he said to no one.
Hey, Ma, he shouted, being dead is overrated, so stop saying you might as well be dead, which was her favorite thing to say. Which was what started their argument that afternoon, in just a kidding way at first, until Ma said, Well, what is there to live for if all you’ll ever be is just a low-paid worker, if you won’t better yourself, and then he’d yelled at her, said all she cared about was money and walked out, slamming the door. He went home to Wini, hoping for solace and sex. She told him to calm down, his mother wouldn’t stay mad, but then dismissed him, saying she had to get ready for work. That night he called work to say he was sick and went dancing instead. Alone.
Wanchai was hemming him in.
He turned away from Yuk-sing’s car, invisible to Wini, who was still giggling, saying, I can’t find my panties.
A breeze whisked past him as that voice whispered-sang you are not, you are corpse.
Something like time passed, and the next thing he knew there were Yuk-sing and Wini, at the Pacific Coffee with King-wah, and they were telling him about them. How they couldn’t help it. How terrible they felt. How they didn’t know what to do next, but what they really wanted to do was get married, because, it turned out, Wini was pregnant. Wait, he shouted, what if it’s my baby? But as usual, no one heard him. He wasn’t sure how much time had elapsed, so possibly, just possibly, it could be Yuk-sing’s, but somehow Jonnie didn’t quite believe that. Why didn’t he know? Surely death should give him more access to information like that? Was he doomed to wonder forever? Could he not, telepathically, know the DNA of the unborn child?
Silence. Nothing—not even the sound of the song that pursued him.
This world of the living was driving him crazy. He had to get away from all their deceptions and lies and petty carping. Jonnie wandered out of Pacific Coffee and headed back to Southorn Playground. And there she was, the suicide girl, all scrunched and scarred, her school uniform so short it was some kind of sexy come on. He wondered if she would shout-sing at him again, but she seemed a lot calmer now, less tragic. She stretched out her hand and asked, Want to come along? He glared at her, angry at this whole mess of his death and life. Where? Where did she expect him to go? Home, of course, she replied, and he realized they were communicating now, even though he couldn’t make sounds and couldn’t really hear her, not the way you could in the living world. Haven’t you had enough, said a voice, from somewhere beyond the suicide girl. Never mind about B and C, you’re A, the voice continued. Chung-Sir! Jonnie shouted. I can’t figure it out. Don’t try so hard—just hear what she’s telling you. Wini, Yuk-sing, his baby, or was it? It would be their baby, regardless. Want to come along? the girl asked again. He looked at her, scrunched, sexy, dead, as she taunted him, saying, Come on, follow me, or I’ll start singing again. Nei bat si, nei si . . . No! he shouted. Stop! I’ll go; I’ll go. And that was the moment everything began to make sense at last.
Xu Xi is the author of ten books including the novels That Man In Our Lives and Habit of a Foreign Sky, a finalist for the Man Asian Literary Prize, and Access Thirteen Tales. She has also edited four anthologies of Hong Kong writing in English. A Chinese-Indonesian native of Hong Kong and now a U.S. Citizen, she lives between Asia and the United States.