Last night I left my Sheung Wan apartment for a walk to help digest some ready-cooked salmon I’d bought from City Super on my way home from work. It was 10pm. I left the apartment wearing my boardies which were cotton, pastel (like boxers, really) and a guy looked at me funny as he passed me on the street. Then another guy, an American in a suit with a massive phone held to his ear talking loudly – all Texan – eyed my boardies and laughed to himself with his head cocked as if to say, are you for real, son? I looked down at my shorts.
Am I for real?
I went and stood next to a subway station. There’s this spot I like that looks out onto an amphitheatre of soot-smeared buildings, almost like a slum, only the buildings are fifty storeys high and the apartments inside them cost seven figures each.
Here’s what I observed:
Floor after floor of windows, all the same shape but different sizes, thirty, forty storeys of them, some lit and some dark and some half-lit by light from unseen rooms. I realised they looked like mouths. Big, gaping mouths locked in rictuses of emotion, trapped inside their frames on the sides of buildings. Every building in Hong Kong is a thousand haunted faces looking out, trying to warn us.
I don’t know.
Then I thought: Why do I see stuff like this? Does that guy who smirked at my shorts see the mouths in the buildings around him? Maybe he does. Perhaps he’s blind to stuff like that. And I felt kind of proud of myself for being special enough to imagine but also totally alone, like I’d discovered something that no one else could see. I was all alone, me and the other 8 million people lighting up windows in their sky-reaching walls with traffic soot and Shenzen air stains marking them like little streaks of history.
I picked out one of the windows high up near the top, a neon cloud gliding by it. I wondered why it looked so mournful and whose it was and where they were right now, this moment. It had no light in its mouth – just hollow darkness – faint glimmers of moonlight in its top right corner.
I looked at my window.
I opened my mouth as wide as it would go and I stood there like that.
In utter silence.
Dominic Carew is a lawyer and writer from Sydney.