2282 words · 11 min read
The temperature was well above 34 degree centigrade under the summer sun. With tall buildings trapping the air, hundreds of people jamming into narrow pavements, and cars blowing out hot and toxic exhaust gasses, the streets at the heart of Hong Kong was a bamboo steamer in dim sum restaurants. Elizabeth Leung was wearing a white, short-sleeve top, but she regretted not wearing a skirt, which would allow some occasional breezes for her legs; not there those breezes would be cool.
I wish the winter could come sooner
Last winter, she had only returned home for a few months, during which she had no sense of direction. Having just graduated from one of the Ivy League schools and having a father being one of the richest and most respected business figures in town, she was guaranteed jobs that would pay well but she wouldn’t want. Her father didn’t think her daughter would make an excellent banker, but since his friends in every bank insisted, he saw no harm in persuading her to try.
“You don’t know what you want to do anyway,” he said during a dinner, with him sitting at the head of the table large enough for a dozen of people, and Lizzy, as his only company, sitting next to him, “so I might as well give you something to do.”
So she turned up for interviews, one after another, with one of the banks seeing her for more than ten times before hiring her, even though the decision had been made by virtue of her being the daughter of their most desirable potential client.
One of the interviewers was Patrick Lim, whose last name suggested he wasn’t a local born and bred, and whose Singaporean accent sounded awkward to her ears, which had got accustomed to the American way of saying things. He was among the nicer persons she had met over that gruelling but ultimately pointless interviews. He did not ask her those retarded trick questions such as “why are manholes round?” (and manholes in Hong Kong were not round), nor whether she knew how to use Excel shortcut keys to perform such and such operations without using the mouse; instead, they were chatting.
On her first day at work, Patrick wore a light gray suit, white shirt, a shiny blue tie that reflected light like like gemstone, and a pair of dark Prada glasses. His desk was just next to hers, and on her arrival, it was Patrick who introduced her to the rest of the team, all of whom she had met during those series of interviews, and all of whom spent most of their time meeting clients or talking with clients over the phone. He would later spend the most time with her in the office, guiding her through the way round the office, introducing her to people from the other side of the office, taking her to lunches and dinners, telling her what the team did, and teaching her what to do on spreadsheets.
Towards the end of her first week, a pending deal left Patrick and Lizzy with a to-do list so long that they would have to work overnight on Friday.
“Fuck everything else,” Boris, the humourless, type-A boss, shouted at the Patrick. “And don’t fucking fuck up this fucking deal, or else I will come back and fuck you hard!”
“Is Boris always like that?” Lizzy whispered to Patrick when he came back to his desk.
“Oh yes,” Patrick replied. “He’s only nice to his clients.”
He then turned his focus back on his computer screen, with his hands flying on the computer keyboard. After a few moments, he turned to Lizzy and said:
“I am sorry, but I’m afraid that your weekend will be fucked as badly as mine.”
Patrick joined the bank a year before she did, and he was only three years older than her. Despite having spent a year in the UK for a masters degree, he spoke without his accent softened the slightest. He married his long-time girlfriend not long after graduating, and as Lizzy joined the bank, the marriage had only just passed the first anniversary.
“It’s quite rare that people get married so early,” Lizzy said as the clock struck one in the morning. As the only two people in the office, and without their foul-mouthed boss, they were more relaxed than usual despite having finished none of what they had to finish by the end of the weekend.
“Well, I’ve known my wife since I was a kid,” he said while making a cup of black coffee.
“That’s very sweet of you,” Lizzy smiled as she sipped her own cup of coffee, with milk and sugar, and thought about the man she used to love.
They walked back to their desks and continued to do their job while chatting. All the while, Patrick’s mobile phone vibrated.
“Why don’t you pick up the call?” Lizzy asked.
“It’s my wife.”
“Oh,” Lizzy said.
Patrick sighed and paused his work, and walked towards the glass window. He looked at the views outside, with bright lights still emitting from buildings on the other side of the Victoria Harbour.
“I am sorry,” Lizzy said, embarrassed. “Something’s wrong?”
“Well,” Patrick said drily and paused for a second. “I don’t think I love her anymore.”
Lizzy said nothing.
“We have been arguing all the time,” Patrick continued. “She doesn’t understand that doing what I do, I cannot be available to her at a moment notice.”
That’s awkward, she thought, as she hadn’t known Patrick for a very long time, and their relationship was, by now, strictly professional.
“A year ago, I believed I still loved her. Now, I don’t believe it anymore.”
Lizzy lowered her gaze and said nothing. Patrick, too, said nothing for a few moments, still watching the lights from the other side of the harbour, and downed his cup of coffee. He then walked back to his desk and sat down in his chair.
“Anyway,” he said as he focused his eyes back onto the computer screen. “Thanks for listening to my bullshit.”
“Ah… well… I am sorry to hear that… I mean…”
“That’s just between you and me, ok?”
Patrick put his focus back on the computer screen, skilfully manipulating the spreadsheet and preparing the pitchbook as Lizzy assisted him. Minutes became hours, and moonlight became sunshine.
During a normal day, he would be as well turned-out as you would expect from a banker. Now, in the early morning, he had taken off his jacket, rolled up the sleeves of his white shirt, with the cuff-link—one marked “P” and another marked “L,” his initials—on his desk, his tie loosened, the topmost button of the shirt unbuttoned, and his forehead oiled. She looked at him as he fixated onto his screen while typing on the keyboard, which reminded her of the person she used to love, who, when he focused on something for hours on end, looked like Patrick.
But he’s a married man.
He might have stopped loving his wife, but on his desk was a photograph of him and his wife. His wife was beautiful.
His wife was suspicious of every overnight work, every forgone weekends together, and every missed opportunity to dining together. In the early days of their marriage, Patrick made an effort to explain to his wife the work he did was too important that he had to sacrifice the time he could spend with her. Now, he stopped making any excuse.
Lizzy’s growing affection for Patrick torn her and pleased her. Lizzy would secretly smile when she saw him not answering his wife’s call, and she would wish his marriage end soon while she comforted him after he lamented the toxic marriage he had got himself into.
As one Friday night ended and one Saturday began, they were prepared to work overnight. But the deal they were working on blew up in the last minute. Patrick put their boss’s call on speaker, through which their boss’s shouting cracked the speaker.
“Fucking son of a bitch! I’ve always hate that cunt. What the fucking fuck?!!”
“So,” the soft-spoken Patrick replied. “What should we do now?”
“What should you do now?! You fucking idiot. FUCK OFF from the office for fuck’s sake, there’s nothing for you to do now and this weekend. FUCK!”
“Oh well,” Patrick said after ending the call, “that sounds like good news for us.”
“But he delivered the news like someone’s just died.”
“Yes,” he said and chuckled, then paused for a moment. “God, this seems way too early to go home.”
“Is there anywhere you want to go?”
“Well, let’s go for a drink.”
They left the office and strolled along the long footbridges and empty shopping malls on the way to Lan Kwai Fong, a place that never slept. They entered a bar crowded with football fans watching a match, in which one of the teams had just scored a goal. Cheers broke out; the place was so noisy that they couldn’t converse without shouting. After emptying one bottle of wine, they left and ventured into the quiet Queen’s Road Central.
“I don’t want to go home,” Patrick said as they moved passed Chater Garden.
“I don’t think I love my wife anymore.”
“You can say that again.”
“You realise I’ve been seeing you more than my wife in the past few months, right?”
Half-drunk, he narrowed his eyes to two thin lines, and his body swayed towards her. She gazed at his tired face, which seemed relaxed but at the same time full of longing for something he had lost.
Patrick would pretend he needed to work overnight when he didn’t have to. They would check into the same hotel, but fifteen minutes apart. Patrick would check in first, have a quick shower, and let Lizzy in. She would then have her shower before getting down to the business of love-making.
When she looked at Patrick’s somewhat twisted face, that face reminded her of that person she used to love, the one she tried to forget. She thought she did not suit him, and he did not suit her, so she decided to forget him, an intellectual and logical decision that had been proven to be correct, for he could not stand her neediness, and she could not stand his aloofness; he could not stand talking to her on the phone, and she could not stand not talking to him on the phone; he could not understand her demand for being responsive to her, and she could not understand why he could not understand that. She did not hate him—far from it—but she cut off all the ties with him. He begged for her forgiveness, but she didn’t forgive him. I love the wrong person, she would repeat to herself whenever she missed him.
Her decision was right, except it wasn’t: only the strongest will could suppress for undying feeling, and her will in such matter, like an average human being, wasn’t as hard as steel. Why did she leave someone she still loved? Leaving him could well turn out to be the worst decision.
Patrick reminded her of him, whom she still thought of and missed. You can’t really un-love someone you have once loved.
Patrick had fallen asleep with his arm around her.
He’s stopped loving his wife, but who knows if that’s true when they stayed married?
I love the wrong person. I always love the wrong person. Her logical mind told her she had made another wrong decision. But I mustn’t make the same mistake by leaving him.
“I can’t stand you having another woman. You’ll have to divorce her.”
For months, Lizzy had been prodding him to divorce his wife, and for months he didn’t do so. One night, she had had enough of it that as she arrived at the hotel room, she yelled at the half-naked Patrick with her face flushed and her fists ready to punch his face. He held her in his arms calmly and let his sweet lips touched her head.
“Why is it hard?”
“Well, I know her for all my life. Our families know each other for all our lives.”
“That’s not a reason to not divorce her!”
“No, it isn’t, but how am I supposed to tell her family? And my family?”
“And how about me! You said you loved me!”
“I do! Trust me!”
“I won’t trust you until you divorce your wife!”
She cried. He held her tight, undressed her, kissed her, and fucked her.
She was fucked, because he announced the next day that he could never divorce his wife, for she was pregnant with his kid. Lizzy was fuming when she heard it and punched his chest as hard as he could.
“I was a victim of her wickedness!”
“Wickedness? How so?”
“We haven’t fucked for a while, and she’s stopped taking pills. I didn’t know she’s stopped taking pills.”
“And you called that her wickedness? Now you are happy, right? Congratulations you fucking piece of shit!”
“Calm down Lizzy.”
She turned away and left him. He tried to hold onto her, but there was no chance for any reconciliation.
“Don’t touch me!”
She was too angry to be sad during the day. She didn’t know whom she was angry with, Patrick or herself. I should have known, she thought. It’s stupid loving a married man.
As she stood waiting to cross the road on that hot summer day, she had already decided: she went straight into Boris’ room and put a letter on his desk.
She returned home alone and wept.