The number 9 minibus is full today, mostly kids from the preschool and their Filipina domestic helpers. The traffic down Kennedy Road is slow, a bit unusual for the mid afternoon. From my lap, Elliot is counting the muppet-like characters of an Avenue Q ad. 1-2-3-4-5-6, purple-orange-green-yellow-pink-blue. I try to remember if there's a real avenue Q in Brooklyn, but I’m pretty sure there isn’t.
The bus jolts, and for a moment Elliot is simultaneously forwards and backwards. I catch his head before it hits mine. Helpers squeal as their bags come loose, and collections of oranges and kiwis tumbles under our seats. “Jesus,” I say, and Elliot says, “Daddy, don’t say that. It’s not nice.”
Out the window a large crowd has gathered on both sides of the road near the American Consulate. “We should’ve just walked,” I say. I wonder what the United States has done. The bus continues to stutter ahead by inches; it’s slow enough that I can measure the angle of the sunlight as it begins to cover our legs. Then up to our chests. “I’m hot,” says Elliot. He squirms, and leans back so that he is hanging half off the seat. We should’ve just walked.
The driver of the minibus is skinny and brown, with unexpected permed hair. Cigarette smoke from his break lingers in the fibers of our chairs and he shouts, “Fuck, it’s a party. That’s right all of you, get out your cameras.”
Outside, reporters form a semicircle around four police officers and a man. A terrorist? The guy looks more like a stressed-out accountant: glasses, sweat-plastered hair, oversized plaid short-sleeved shirt. The cop talking, pleading to him is holding a large, clear riot shield, and for a second I think there’s a bomb, but then I remember I’m in Hong Kong, and not New York, or other places in the world where bombs exist. The accountant is holding something, a knife, pointed at his own heart. He’s placed it in the correct space, a bit off-center to the left. Maybe he studied anatomy. Maybe he checked Wikipedia. Whenever the police gets closer, he steps back and jerks the knife closer to his chest. His arms are frail; wrist bones protrude.
Elliot looks out and I ask him, “How many monsters are there on the poster?”
“Can you count again to make sure?”
“No Daddy, I’m sure.” He says this very clearly so that I understand. He looks straight into my eyes.
“Then what letters do you see? Can you tell me the letters?”
“Just stab yourself already,” the driver is saying over us. “Or at least stab yourself at home. Why cause everyone so much trouble? Need an audience.”
The accountant outside is getting more desperate. As the officer talks through the transparency of his shield, other cops are creeping up around the man. They move together in a clumsy dance. A semicolon. It’s sad. Just terribly sad. Which is worse, a successful or botched suicide attempt? I’ve never been able to figure out.
“Just die already,” the driver says.
I’m glad today that Elliot can’t understand Cantonese. “A-V-E-N,” he says.
Kung and Winnie
Will you sleep with me if I go to the protests?
Look, we care about things together.
They can’t kill us all.
I know we have a lot of homework.
Everything is happening now.
Love Hong Kong.
I’m tired of everything being the same.
I love you.
Do you hear the voices?
Love me, screw Hong Kong but love me, ok.
It’s the first day that schools have been open since the protests began and the number 9 minibus is fifty minutes late. Elliot didn’t want to go to school, but a lollipop bribe has gotten him this far. We’ve been here for so long that we can’t even smell the exhaust anymore. He jumps down from the railing that he’s been climbing on. “Why do I have to go to school? Why Daddy?”
“It’s the principle,” I say, “that our lives continue. That life goes on no matter what’s happening.”
Elliot thinks about this for a few seconds with his 3-year-old brain. He sighs. “Can I have another lollipop?” I’ll say no and he’ll be disappointed but I’ll still say no.
Kung and Winnie
Hong Kong is just an accident. We’re just an accident. This hunger, and toilets, and washing up. Love. I’m writing a paper about this. I can’t let go. My mom and dad want to visit. Our mobiles are dead.
“Fuck,” the driver mutters. “Traffic.” We’ve stopped moving entirely. Tops of tents peek out in the distance, as if a fair has come to town. The driver shifts back and forth in his seat. His eyes wince every now and then. “Damn protests, damn China, damn students, damn traffic.”
The other passengers ignore him, or maybe only I can hear him, since we’re sitting in the seats directly behind him. He tilts his head up slightly. “What do you think about all this?” He studies me from the rearview mirror. “I don’t know,” I tell him, because I don’t want to talk, because Elliot’s on me, because I’m tired, because it’s difficult to explain I’m American and from Hong Kong too. But he won’t let it go. “Come on, which side are you on?”
“What sides? I don’t know about the sides.” And finally he leaves me alone.
Elliot makes funny, babbling noises. His version of Cantonese.
Kung and Winnie
If we stay in this tent long enough,
it’ll be as if nothing is left outside,
our world will just be this tent,
and there won’t be any need to remember,
what we have to do or not do.
The future, suffrage, democracy, Hong Kong,
none of these words are real.
We’ve been on the minibus for more than an hour now. By now, the kids will already be in circle time. Another twenty minutes and Elliot will have missed out on snacks. The driver is silent. The entire bus is silent, aside from the slumped sounds of bodies and sleeping children. We’ve only gotten around the corner of Statue Square, where barricades, umbrellas, and fallen leaves block the road. The Mandarin Oriental stands observing. I consider asking the driver to let us off, even though it’s technically illegal. By now, I’ve had to admit that maybe life doesn’t continue on in quite the same way, not when there’s a boy to feed and distorted air all around.
“Excuse me, driver.”
But he doesn’t reply.
“Hey, driver!” I say louder. He’s not even turning around.
“Daddy, why are you yelling?”
“I'm not —” and the minibus changes gear and lurches forward though it can’t, because we’re still in traffic. Instead it turns to the left. Another gear change. I sit/fall on my seat and hold Elliot to me. “Shit,” I say. “Daddy …” but I can’t apologize because we’re already reaching the barricades. I grip Elliot’s knees and he says ow. What can the minibus do going 25 miles per hour? I remember driver’s ed. Most collisions are low-speed collisions. The crash test dummies always hit the windshield; joints bend in oblique angles. There aren’t any seatbelts around, so I wrap myself around Elliot, so that he is curled under me, his head against my breastbone. He senses the tension under my calm, and says Daddy what’s going on? It’s nothing. Tents come closer into view. Police in the area wave their arms, and as the bus shakes I think, yes, we can see you too. People scatter, into sidewalks, grass, each other. There’s a sound coming from Elliot that sounds like a feral keen. Or it might be the driver screaming, a joyous scream like he has conquered a hidden fear, like this is the moment he’s been waiting for during all those years driving the no. 9 bus up Kennedy Road Bowen Road Borrett Road.
The children are still sleeping, but a few nannies have woken because of the noise. They stare in confusion. Frowns form on their faces, more annoyance than anything, and while I think about juxtaposition, we hit the barriers and it's the sound of a hundred soda cans being stepped on. My back hitting the protective cushion in front, my knees falling underneath the seats and the feeling of Elliot. Elliot, elliot, hey elliot are you alright? Hey elliot are you alright? Are you alright? I’m shaking him although I know that shaking is not a good idea. His eyes open.
“Daddy, you’re squeezing me too hard,” he says.
“That was just like a rollercoaster wasn’t it?” I sound manic I know.
“Well, it wasn’t as fast or as fun.” He looks as if he wants to cry, because the nannies and children around us are crying, but he doesn’t cry. “Daddy what’s going on?”
I try to say something but I can’t, or I say it’s fine it’s fine.
The Occupy protesters watch from afar while reporters and police rush toward the minibus. Is the driver ok? I check but he isn’t here. All the windows are intact, but then I notice the opened door. And there he is. The driver is running, no sprinting, through the barricades, towards the protesters. He heads straight for a red tent. For some reason I watch his hands as he runs. They’re open and careless; for a second he reminds me of Elliot running. The police follow close behind, but when the driver ducks into the red tent and closes the flap behind him, the cops stop and wait outside. They circle the tent in formation: front, back, both sides.
I can make out the outlines of three people inside the tent, two shadows huddled together, and another diving towards them. The shapes become one and I stop looking because I can feel Elliot kneeling on my thighs and his neck and his arms.
We’ll outwait them all. We’ll persevere. Everything we need is here.