In the man with 2 brains it only took two scenes before Doc Hfffrr found one whose brain he could replace, very fast, very efficient, and although Hong Kong wasn’t Austria, it was still human based and full of sleaze so I shadowed what Steve Martin did and went looking for a prostitute who a] wouldn’t be missed, b] was local and c] wouldn’t put up much of a fight when I drugged her and said, it’s okay, I’m not a perv, I just want to transfer your brain knowledge to my brain and, because you speak Cantonese and won’t be missed, it has to be you.
Mong Kok had lots of them, some Chinese, some Russian, all sitting on plastic bedsheets or killing time in the park.
How you could psyche yourself up to suck off those old guys from Yau Ma Tei, I had no idea, but I figured I wouldn’t need to worry about that even if I did have their brain.
I went up the stairwell with the pink neon sign and knocked on a door, hiding the syringe behind my back. I didn’t even know the Cantonese for ‘door’, that’s how bad it was, but never mind, I’d soon know it all, and the tones too.
The door opened and the woman spoke Mandarin, not Cantonese [I knew enough to know the difference], so I nodded and tried the next one. 8 doors on the whole floor and only one of them spoke Cantonese. I walked in and let her lead me to the shower and as soon as she turned her back I stabbed her with the syringe and went to work. It took 2 hours for the transfer, just like Avon said, and suddenly I could speak Cantonese, gutter Cantonese maybe, things like do you like it, do you really like it, are you sure you like it, time’s up etc. It was enough.
I leaned against the sink and stared at her thighs.
Then her face.
She was still out.
Then her neck.
Then her kneecaps.
Then her hai.
Everything seemed well-kept.
I pushed away from the sink and peered into the living/bed room.
There was a book on the floor, in Chinese, it said Pushkin ‘The Queen of Spades’, and, ah, god, not Pushkin, I knew what he wrote about, some of it, but my situation was different, she wasn’t rich, or lonely, or Russian, so it wasn’t the same at all, not even theme, not really. I would never pursue someone that coldly, look them in the eye, talk to them, watch veronica’s closet with them, stab them, I couldn’t, it was murder, mau sat, I’m no hong sao, I’ve got a syringe, had a syringe, he didn’t, he knew her, I didn’t, and mine’s still alive…maybe…
Man, where’d all that come from?
There was a knock on the door, which I narrated out loud in Cantonese, smug that I knew ‘door’, ignoring the arm hanging out of the shower cubicle.
It was one of those old fuckers from Shek Lung Street. He looked at me and wanted to know where the other one was, the prettier one, so I told him she was resting in the bathroom and it was still my turn anyway so he could just fuck off back to the packing alley in Yau Ma Tei. He didn’t like that, but he was already unconscious on the plastic sheets before he could cut me with the chopper he’d been hiding inside his jacket pocket. I didn’t know how I’d knocked him out, I just had – maybe it was my Cantonese power, maybe the prostitute knew how to box – either way I’d deal with him later cos first I had to check on the other body in the shower, see if she’d woken up yet.
The theory was: I’d copied her brain, she’d got none of mine.
The reality: Don’t know, maybe. Probably. I knew how to say ‘I had her brain’ in Cantonese, but…full transfer? Don’t’ know. Maybe.
I sought out the sink again, leaned against it.
She came round, rubbing her neck, and said, I don’t know who you are, where I am, what that syringe is doing on the floor, and I don’t care, I’m going back to To Kwa Wan to have a shower and watch old episodes of Star Trek.
‘Help me … … … you?’
‘What did you say?’
She held out her hand so I took it, helping her up to sink level.
‘… … you … … …door…’
I told her she’d adapted well, but she didn’t understand me. Come to think of it, I couldn’t understand her either. I couldn’t even remember what it was she’d said.
Like Goldie Hawn in Overboard, I’d lost my English-speaking ability. But not my memory. I could picture my life, I just couldn’t describe it in anything other than Cantonese. Or, there was some, some English, but not full sentences, just scraps, verbs, some nouns, nothing complex.
I crouched down, stared at a bathmat, repeated ‘fuck’.
The prostitute bent down next to the same bathmat, patted me on the head and said she could take me away from this life if I wanted, and she would do it for free, as a moral act, she would never try to fuck me as a reward for her goodness, no matter how short my skirt or limited my education.
At least I think that’s what she said.
It’s what I would’ve said, if I were her.
Maybe I just needed to explain…
‘Look,’ I said, spilling out Cantonese, ‘I’m not a prostitute, I’m an English Teacher.’
‘I’m … … English teacher,’ she said. ‘I … … you … … … this mess, … … worry.’
‘I don’t understand most of what you’re saying.’
‘Sorry … … lost. My Cantonese … baby … … …’
‘Do you understand me?’
‘… … you speak … … English?’
‘Do you remember any Cantonese?’
‘You … … understand … … … … … saying do you?
‘This … point … ….’
‘Fuck, you don’t.’
‘… … going home.’
‘I might as well go home.’
‘Come … … you want.’
‘Wherever that is.’
I couldn’t remember renting the place but
this green walled block on
a shitty street in
To Kwa Wan was home for me, I was sure of it, and home for her too it seemed as she knew the code to get in and the flat number we were going to and as we walked in silence through what some people might call a lobby with all the walls painted the colour of a sad envelope the security guard smiled at us both and said, have you eaten yet, was it good, what did you eat?
‘We ate in Mong Kok,’ I lied. ‘Japanese buffet place next to Dundas Street.’
His face dropped, like Malcolm McDowell reading the first draft of ‘Auto-Muff.’
‘Are you okay?’
‘Your Cantonese has improved, wow, like a native speaker. The tones are right too.’
‘You understand me? Wow, so clever, I want your brain when you’re done with it,’ he said, laughing and looking at the prostitute.
‘I’m a fast learner,’ I said.
‘Is this your friend?’
The security guard spoke to her in rapid fire Cantonese, asking if she was from around here and if she was the one who’d taught me my new skill.
‘Sorry, I … … understand,’ she said.
The guard smiled and asked the same thing in Mandarin.
‘Sorry, I … …’ she looked at me. ‘… … he … …?’
‘Is she not Chinese?’ asked the guard.
‘No, she is.’ I looked at the girl, arms folded, still dressed in her prostitute gear. ‘He wants to know if you’re Chinese or not.’
‘I … … … speak Chinese.’
The number of words I could catch was quickly decreasing, so I went slower in Cantonese, with easier words. ‘He wants to know, are you Chinese?’
‘I … … … … …’
‘Meh? … … … … … means ‘what’, … … it?’
‘Means what…’ I repeated in bad English. ‘Sorry, I don’t know what you’re saying. Do you know Mandarin or another language?’
‘Come on, … … … … five minutes … …. I do … … know what … … saying. Understand?’
‘Or how about learning Cantonese?’
‘… … … you speak … … English?’
‘Just a few words would do.’
‘No English … … …?’
‘We are in Hong Kong after all.’
‘International city, my … … … …’ She rubbed her head and looked at the guard. ‘Why is he … … … … … … us?’
‘Okay, maybe we should just go.’
‘… … … fucker.’
‘Urgh, I … … … like … … guy,’ she said in the elevator, ‘before he … … … looking … me like a … … …’
I nodded, wondering what ‘urgh’ meant.
‘He’s … … … … … good … you,’ she said, opening up the cage door, and again in the bedroom later as she put her arms around me and slowly worked her way up towards my chest.
‘… … okay,’ she said, ‘I … …want … … …’
‘I know what you’re doing.’
‘Nothing … …’
‘I used to do the same thing.’
‘I love … … … … … here …’
‘At least I think I did. It’s all a bit misty now.’
‘Legs … … … … … … …’
‘… … … … …’
‘I feel tired.’
‘… … … … … … … … … …’
‘Can we do this later?’
By morning, she’d got what she wanted, three times, and each time it was something I had to be talked into.
In fact, the third time her face had looked like Edward Furlong in the ‘M’ remake, but I didn’t wanna dwell on that.
Was it rape?
I didn’t know.
I really didn’t.
She got up and took a shower, mumbling something I didn’t understand as she went.
There was no breakfast.
It was lukewarm and okay as far as water went – not sure if she’d boiled it the night before or got it straight from the tap – and it was awkward sitting on the couch talking two languages across each other, but she showed she wasn’t the cynical type by opening an English textbook and telling me how to say ‘In Iran it is forbidden to watch Frasier.’
Yeah, the textbook helped.
But it also left us with nothing
but 90’s references I barely knew and
vague people saying
with vague faces.
Luckily there was another textbook
this one written by
Bob Pushkin and
that one was
way more accessible.
We studied for four days, afternoon and night, understanding a little more of each other every day, watching a show about spaceships and a fat captain on TV then fucking at night along with her words, I like you, you’re smart, we should go on holiday sometime.
Each time I looked at the textbook, I felt like I’d seen the words somewhere before. But that couldn’t be right. I left school at 15. I went to libraries, but only for fiction. I never fucked any foreigners, except the Japanese guy, and he never taught me anything, except how to talk like Sailor Mars.
Had I been English in another life?
Maybe I’d been a woman too?
That would explain the gender criss-crossing, the vagina images, the countless old men from yau ma tei who couldn’t all be gay, not in Hong Kong.
I was pretty sure I’d never been fucked in the ass
apart from that one time
the guy from Shantou
but that was outside and my hair was long and
that Sakura Haruno make up
was that me?
On day five my English was at lower intermediate level on topics like Star Trek, England, football, Pushkin, all the things she liked, while in Cantonese the only thing she could say was, I like Hong Kong, it’s very safe, and even then the tones were wrong.
I tried to tell her about the imbalance but she didn’t understand.
She didn’t even try to understand.
I’m too tired, she said, I’ll try tomorrow.
She said I promise again then kissed me
on the cheek
and guided my head between her thighs.
On day six I was sent to buy milk & cigarettes for post sex and when I came back the locks were changed and no one answered the doorbell.
Fuck, I said, accurately, in Cantonese.
She didn’t hear me.
Or if she did, she didn’t open the door.
I stayed there two hours more and when the door still didn’t do anything I decided to go somewhere nearby where I could think about everything, the last six days, confusing childhoods, sex work etc., so I went downstairs and told the guard I’d be back later and then walked round the corner to Dai Gah Lok and opened the worse of the two textbooks and drank the milk and tried to learn how to say, please open the door, I don’t have a key or my ID or anywhere else to go, nowhere good anyway, but I couldn’t find the word for ‘key’, a whole textbook and no section talking about locked doors or keys, so I went back to the shitty green block round the corner, got the guard to buzz me in, told him I’d left my pass card upstairs, ignored his praise for knowing the casual word for upstairs, took the lift up and, when there was no answer, waited outside in the corridor as the two little kids from next door stared out from their cage. Why is the ghost waiting outside, they asked their gran, but she was too busy watching TVB inside, which was loud enough that I could hear every word, understand every word, even the slang, why wouldn’t I be able to, she could so I could too, though I wouldn’t be able to watch Star Trek anymore, not without subtitles, not that I even wanted to watch it, I didn’t even like it that much, did I? I didn’t know, I just
Hang on, what ghost?
Four hours later, she came back, alone, with McDonalds and when she saw me, she just said, sorry about the locks, my landlord made me do it.
‘Owner of the flat.’
‘You don’t know owner?’
‘I know this in Cantonese.’
‘Yeah? Well done, Copernicus. I know it in Spanish, French and Romanian.’
Some part of my brain, trace memory perhaps, told me that was bullshit, she didn’t know anything in any of those languages, especially not Romanian, no one did, but I didn’t say anything, I just stood back and waited to see if she’d let me in.
She opened the cage and then the door and kept both open, so I went in and sat down on the couch while she went straight to her room and when I didn’t follow she came back out and told me the living room area was boring, it was better to talk on the bed.
I repeated the line in my head and wondered what it meant. Why would I say that?
‘What did you say?’
‘You coming in?’
‘You don’t close the door?’
‘Close? You mean lock?’
‘No, I told you already, that was the landlord, the owner, he made me change them.’
I still didn’t know what landlord was, but I knew defensive so I let it go and walked into the room and, as she loaded up something called the man with 2 brains, I tried to figure out a way to become more interesting to her.
Maybe talk about depression or
Star Trek or
other stuff she liked
would that work?
She’d know it was fake, that I didn’t really know who was who or what they were doing flying about in a spaceship, it was pointless,
it’d be like her talking to a clone
a defective clone
who would wanna do that?
‘Are you gonna stand there all night?’
She reached over and closed the curtains and patted the vacant space on the bed next to her.
Don’t do it, I told myself, and I didn’t, for four minutes, and then I did
but only cos she got up and dragged me down.
The next morning, she tried to leave early but I got up and made her coffee and when she said it tasted like shit, I pretended not to understand, even though we both knew she’d taught me ‘shit’ after watching the first half of Star Trek Generations.
‘Look, I feel kinda bad about last night, so how about I buy you breakfast?’
‘Dai gah lok?’
She took me to Dai gah lok, or I took her, and she ordered for both of us, murdering the tones, but not bad enough for the staff to misunderstand what she was trying to say.
As she ate her food like a wolf, I told her that it would be good if we could go to the cinema sometime, or go to a concert, or a jazz bar, or go hiking, or go to the beach, or do language exchange with more emphasis on Cantonese, or watch more movies on her bed or anything that might keep her interest and she said ‘yeah’ to all of them and when she was done she said she’ll call me when she was free, maybe next week, and before I could tell her she didn’t have my number, and I didn’t have hers, she was gone.
I sat there, surrounded by old people, understanding every single word they said, and thought, never mind, I know where she lives, she’ll let me in, she likes me.
Besides, I took her bank card,
my bank card,
she’s got no choice.
There was nothing to do for the rest of the day except the vague idea of going back to Yau Ma Tei and showering old men, but I didn’t want to do that, not if there was a chance of doing something else,
while wearing jeans.
I walked around To Kwa Wan, to places I’d been to once, maybe: the cattle depot, the small park, the basketball courts, the old airport. That killed four hours, or eight, or twenty-two, until my legs started to feel faint and I headed back to Dai Fai Wood.
The lunch time sets were up, as were the lunch time construction workers, but I didn’t have enough cash to pay for anything.
I told the woman behind the till I’d be back in five and went around the corner to the ATM.
The card worked okay, but it took me a while to think of the pin. Would it still be there the next time? The time after that?
Maybe I should write it down? I thought, sitting down with my plate of gung si sa man zi.
but there was no paper and no pen so I said
or next time
mm gan yiu.
Two and half weeks of no contact, no cash and a cancelled bank card, I was back outside the flat with my English textbook. The guard was a little confused as to where I’d been, but I waved him aside and went straight into the lift, up to the fifth floor, and this time she answered the door on the first knock, smiled and said, good to see you, card thief, I’m busy packing.
‘Yeah, my suitcase. I’m going to Japan for six months. New job.’
‘English centre, Tsunashima. You heard of it? Me neither. I think it’s near Yokohama.’
‘I’m confused,’ I mumbled in Cantonese.
‘So, yeah, maybe I’ll see you when I get back. If I come back. Haven’t figured it out yet.’ She paused, pulling out a $100 note. ‘You probably don’t have much left. Go get some food. On me.’
I took it and started to say, in Cantonese, ‘actually, all that money in the…’
‘…bank is not…wait, I haven’t…’
She’d already shut the door by the time she said ‘bye’, but I still stood there for a few minutes, waiting for her to invite me in for sex.
It didn’t happen.
Maybe she had someone else in there?
Someone who spoke English?
I put my head against the cage and tried to listen for noises, but it was quiet, deathly quiet, as if she’d rather suffocate herself than listen to me say, hey, I know what landlord means now.
Maybe I should leave?
Another hour and I was still there, but another hour and a half and I got the idea.
I walked back down the stairs, ignoring the lift, I didn’t know why, and headed to Dai gah lok and ordered goo low yok and sat down near the only other man in there, a guy with no shoes, no hair, shouting ‘fuck your mother’s cunt’ at the wall and, after the third time of saying it, I moved to the other side of the place, sat down, nursed my food and thought, Pushkin was right, once it’s fixed, you’re done, and once you’re done, she’s never gonna have a very rushed breakfast with you ever again
pretty okay woman
fucking witch face bitch whore
why didn’t she like me anymore?
what did I do?
I didn’t know so I tried to think of other things, but there was nothing else except Russian literature and robotic hand jobs so I went back to my plate and ate half the food and listened to the nut still shouting over the other side of the room.
Later, as I was heading out, I asked the counter woman if she needed help with the schitz.
‘It’s okay, no need.’
‘He comes every night, it’s fine.’
I nodded, guessing that meant he never hit anyone, and walked back out onto the street, wondering where I should go next.
The cattle depot was bad, and I couldn’t stay there forever, so I took the bus over to Mong Kok and had a beer by the railings on Dundas. No one came to talk to me, so I walked down the road to the pink sign, climbed up the stairs to the flat, shoved the old fucker off the plastic sheets and smoked one of the cigarettes she’d asked me to buy before calling the locksmiths.
Diu…if she’d asked, I would’ve just gone.
Didn’t have to fake a job in Japan
or pay me off
I would’ve gone.
The cigarette burned down to my finger and dropped onto the plastic, making a little hole that only the landlord would ever notice or care about.
Plastic shouldn’t be that bleak, I thought, but this piece was.
I smoked another cigarette, blank as a farmer, and stubbed this one out on the old fucker’s arm. It didn’t wake him, didn’t even make him twitch. Maybe he wasn’t okay. It had been two or three weeks. Where were his friends? His wife? I bent down and checked his neck, but that didn’t help much cos I didn’t have a pulse either, never had.
I grabbed the syringe and stabbed his thigh.
I rolled him under the bed and sat on the plastic.
Flight to Japan?
Mm wui, none of them were good, they were all her. Diu lei, this room was small.
Would that do it?
I picked up the textbook and tried the page on verbs disguised as nouns, tried it seven times in one hour, but it was no good, it didn’t work if there was no one there to guide me, so eventually I just surrendered, put the book on the floor next to Pushkin and got up to answer the loud knock at the door, another old fucker from Yau Ma Tei.