While standing on the roof of the 20 story building where I lived, I looked across the harbor from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon and studied the hill facing me. In English, we called it “Lion Rock,” and in Cantonese “Lion Mountain,” because the top of the hill was shaped like a lounging wild cat, and the greenery growing among the granite rocks made up the mane.
I leaned over the perimeter wall and experienced the vertigo of staring straight down to the ground so far below. It was dizzying to look down, so high up in the sky, my body reacting to the dangers of an accidental fall. I moved backwards away from the edge and continued to wait for my friend Kai-Yuen and even though he was the one who asked to meet on the roof, he had really taken his time.
I felt so unsettled at the thought of seeing him. It had started a few months ago when I first noticed something growing on his face that had never occurred to me he would have. “You have stubble,” I said, peering closer. A subtle covering of facial hair had appeared on his face. I had reached up to touch it and it pricked my fingers, which surprised me as I had assumed it would be soft like the hair on his head.
“Get off me!” he said, swatting my hand away quickly.
“No, let me look!” I had slapped his hand back, and reached for his face again, petting him like a small delicate animal at a zoo exhibit. My fingers had wandered over to his lips. I had pressed on it lightly, and I felt a shock of static zap my fingers, but instead of pulling away, my fingers had melted like glue and I had felt stuck to him. We had started breathing in time.
“What are you doing?” he had finally said, “Stop touching my face!” I noticed his voice had deepened.
I had stepped back but found I could no longer look into his eyes; not like before when I had thought nothing of staring at him.
After that, everything had felt awkward. When had I hugged him, my growing breasts managed to get in the way, when I linked arms with him walking home from school, I had to avoid brushing up against his thighs. Resting my head on his shoulders, once a matter of course, had become imbued with meaning.
“Wei!” I heard him yell, and when I saw him, he was all the way across the other side of the roof.
“Kai-Yuen!” I shouted back, excited to see him.
He leapt in the air then ran towards me. I stepped forward to greet him but he ran past me, changed direction and went straight towards the side of the building. When he got to the perimeter wall, he pushed himself up with one hand and vaulted over into the sheer drop.
“Oh my god! Noooooo.” I screamed. Was he dead? There was nothing between him and the ground below. I kept screaming, my hands covered my head, my legs crumbled and I knelt on the concrete. He hadn’t given me any indications he hated life. He had always seemed happy and confident in school, had a lot of friends. We were Scout and Dill. How could he? I couldn’t bring myself to run over and look down. If I did, what would I see?
I stared at the wall where he jumped.
He popped up.
“Surprise” he said, with a big grin.
He hadn’t fallen into the air but landed on a platform on the other side of the wall, that extended the roof.
He carefully climbed back to safety. He convulsed with laughter, pointed at me and wiped away his tears. The word “guffawed,” came to mind, its meaning until then had always confounded me.
“I hate you!” I screamed. “Whats wrong with you?”
“I just wanted to see your face.”
“I really thought you had died, and you left a mess for us to clean up.”
He cackled again.
“What’s so funny?” I said completely indignant.
“Just the way you said it.”
“It’s true, it would be disgusting and some poor person would have to clean you up.” I felt embarrassed by my response, and hated him laughing at me. I raised my voice. “You didn’t think of that person did you?”
“I didn’t plan jumping. I wouldn’t be falling down 20 floors.”
“You’re so inconsiderate.”
Kai-Yuen laughed again.
Hearing his laughter reverberating in my head that mixed with the left-over adrenaline continuing to swell and retreat. Unable to express myself, I reverted back to being ten. I ran towards him and tackled him to the ground.
His arm looped around my waist and brought me down with him. I got up quickly, straddled him and began to hit him as hard as I could. Rocking his body like a boxer trying to deflect my blows, he said, “Argh! What are you doing?” He grabbed my wrists and twisted my arms behind my back. It hurt, but I didn’t let him know. “Okay, okay, stop now.” He let me go.
I decided that the game was over too and calmed down.
“Don’t die on me please,” I said.
“Why would I?” he replied. He put out his hands and I placed my palms onto his. Then he bent his fingers forward holding onto my hand. I felt my thighs tighten against his torso.
For a short moment it felt like everything was what it had always been: we would play fight and things would reach equilibrium.
Yet, as I felt us breathing in time, I knew it would be the last time we would do that.
A cloud shaded the sun and we sat in the path of the shadow.
I found myself gazing into his eyes, for the first time in months.
About the Author: Yan Sham-Shackleton is from Hong Kong and currently lives in Los Angeles. She’s been published in or will appear in the forthcoming issues of Litro, Animal, Great Weather for Media, Ordinary Madness, Wanderlust, Popmatters, Xlr8r, hongkong.com, and others. Her previous blog “Glutter” was nominated for a free speech award. Her work is archived in NYU’s “Riot Grrrl Collection” and Glasgow Women’s Library. She is nearly finished with her novel set during the 1997 handover of Hong Kong