January 1, 2013, 5:12 a.m., Hong Kong
Where the fuck am I now? I dig my palms into my eye sockets desperately trying to quell the migraine. Flashing billboards are threatening to send me into a seizure. My senses are assaulted by the bouquet of rotting food and the pre-dawn screaming in Cantonese. The ground is uneven, sticky with run-off from God-knows-where.
A hand is reaching for me and in my state of helplessness I grasp for it. “Happy New Year, Mr. Paul.”
“Happy New Year, Kit. Thanks, man. Hey, where am I?” At six feet tall and 220 pounds, I dwarf him–well, everyone here. Kit is my right hand, my translator, my chief salesman. A few years ago, after the failure of my second marriage, I literally threw an arrow at a map to decide where I would bury my head in the sand, and here I am. My parents must be so proud.
Kit hails a cab and sends me home. At least my keys are still in my pocket.
My futon beckons. It’s about as comfortable as a bag of lobsters, but it’s still more than is warranted to a loser like me. My flat is small, about 350 square feet, and I can reach the fridge from where I lie. A few bottles of Moosehead, I have them shipped in from back home, taunt me, but I grab a water instead. Probably the first responsible decision I’ve made in a week. The beer laughs at me, the moose on the label telling me that I should have gone home for the holidays. It might have been Mom’s last Christmas. “Yeah… Moose… anyone of us could get hit by a bus tomorrow. Look! It’s your last New Year’s!” an unrecognizable chuckle escapes me as the bottle hits the wall, raining glass shards and syrupy hops everywhere. Nice move, Dickhead. That’ll be a bitch to clean. If I even bother.
I want to roll over and die. The life choices of my 42 years haunt me every day; I have no idea how I got here. The hole I’ve fallen into is collapsing, imploding instead of giving me the foothold to climb. All that gets me out of bed in the mornings is the one thing I managed to do right–my son, Jack.
“Hi Son. Happy New Year.” It’s 8 p.m. yesterday back home. Jack, at 15, is probably on his way to a party, maybe unchaperoned, likely with access to weed and hooch. When I was his age we pitched a tent in the snowy woods south of the city, well hidden from prying parents. Costco is there now, built on the ancient burial grounds of our contraband–proof of our adolescent debauchery buried for eternity. “What are your plans for tonight?”
“Hmm. Just hanging with Mom and Grandpa. They said I’m old enough to try champagne tonight. You think I’ll like it?”
My son, he is smart. So much more common sense than I ever had at his age. More than I have now, apparently. I did the right thing, walking away from him after the divorce. Abby is doing everything right. I only would have impaired his sensibilities. If he could see me now, sleeping in a hovel, toilet only inches away from the kitchen. Beer drips down the walls, its course skewed when it flows into cracks in the plaster. Caked remnants of its predecessors–solidified streams of crusty drinks–are reminders of tantrums past. Who needs wallpaper when you have Anger Art?
“I’m sure you will, son. But don’t have too much, okay?”
“C’mon, Dad. I’m not an idiot!” I know you’re not, I silently tell him. Why can’t I get the words out?
“Well, have fun. Say ‘hi’ to Mom for me. Talk next week? I love you.” There! I said it! I feel it every minute of every day, but the words always get stuck. The truth is, I am so proud of who he’s becoming–the opposite of me.
Monday, January 7, 2013, 6am a.m., Hong Kong
“Mr. Paul. You have good vacation?” I gave my staff the week off, but here they are on the first day back–two hours before they need to be. The office is buzzing with hard working labourers, salesmen, and programmers. I don’t even need to show up; my employees have turned Keller Telecom into a self-sufficient, well-oiled machine. Minimum wage here is equivalent to $6 Canadian an hour. I pay three times that and it breeds loyalty. I’m surrounded by folks who respect me more than I’ve ever respected myself.
“It was fine, Kit. Thanks for asking,” I shake his hand before he pivots, heading back to his desk. I really don’t understand what a sales representative does at 6 a.m., but I’m not going to complain. If we were back home, the sales staff would roll in about 10 a.m.–just enough time to check emails before hitting the golf course or martini bar with a prospective client. I don’t even monitor the Hong Kong expenses, I cut incidental cheques and stipends with blind trust. Maybe I’m naïve or lazy, or maybe these people have a work ethic that Canadians will never understand.
My office is no more elaborate than my apartment. The floor around the mismatched filing cabinets is covered by white grit where they’ve repeatedly rubbed against the aging stucco walls. A small desk is cluttered with paper and coffee cups, some still partially full and look like science experiments after the week-long break. My laptop sits on it all, uneven, threatening to spill the remnants of 2012. I haven’t logged on since before Christmas. Who knows what’s waiting for me.
Not much. It’s become apparent that the only reason I’m needed in my own company is to sign the cheques and ward off charities looking for a corporate handout. I could afford it. Keller Telecom made over a million US dollars last year, but I tucked it away. I haven’t even hired a financial planner or made a will. It’s just money–cash that feels unjustified to an undeserving train wreck such as myself.
“Mr. Paul? Your meeting is here. We enter now?” Shit, I didn’t even see it on the calendar. I should have shaved, worn something other than cargo pants and tie-dye. I’m imposing enough as it is, now I’ll look like Grizzly Adams’ backwoods cousin to a potential investor. I remove my Edmonton Oilers cap and try to smooth a few stray greys over the bald spot, a sad attempt at vanity.
“Yes, Kit. Come on in. Please bring a few chairs.”
My tiny office feels as if it’s about to burst at the seams with four of us in here. “Sorry for the mess. How can I help you, Mr. Lau?” Lau’s interpreter relays my question and he responds with a smile. His teeth are an unnatural shade of white and perfectly straight, so unlike the majority in Hong Kong who don’t seem to consider dental health a priority. His hair is black, slicked back with no part, and his suit is expensive, tailored, like it couldn’t possibly fit anyone but its current host. It’s impossible to guess his age. He places his briefcase on my desk, taking great pains not to disrupt the clutter. It’s metal, heavy looking, secured to his wrist, and locked. He opens it with a simultaneous biometric scanning of his right eye and left thumb.
I’m unsure of what is happening. This James Bond shit is starting to freak me out and my instinct is to turn him away before we go any further, but my curiosity wins this particular internal conflict. Lau is obviously a very powerful man. What could he possibly need from us?
“Mr. Lau is here to purchase your business,” his assistant tells me in flawless English. I look up at Kit. He’s as confused as me.
“Keller not for sale!” he spews, feeling the need to speak for me. I guess I’ve become dependant on him for that–rescuing me. I put my hand up to silence him and stand, using my stature as a measure of intimidation, and lean towards Mr. Lau. There are only inches between us, but he doesn’t waver. That’s all I have. I sit down, lean back, and run my fingers through the peach fuzz where my hair used to be, at a complete loss. Kit is holding his tongue, watching for me to make the next move. I wait for Lau.
“Sixteen million,” he finally offers. I’m struck dumb, unable to speak, but clumsily hide my face behind the paper cup of cold coffee in my hand – pretending to drink. Sixteen million Hong Kong Dollars is almost two and a half million Canadian.
“Kit, please bring me our current valuation,” I request as if magnates offer to buy me out every day. I’m flailing, but no one knows except me. For two and half mil I could put Asia in my rear view mirror and start a new chapter of bad mistakes.
“You misunderstand, sir,” the translator interrupts. “We will purchase Keller Telecom for sixteen million Canadian dollars and you will go back to Canada. You will never return to Hong Kong.”
Three hours later, my office is packed. I’ve written bonus cheques for my team, all large enough that they could quit on the spot if they desired, I shake Kit’s hand and head for the airport. I am now, albeit a chaotic mess, extremely successful and I’m coming home to show everyone just how wrong they were about me.
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"Gong hei fat choy" (恭喜发财)