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Pirated DVDs. Fake gold. He seems quite the counterfeit himself — a counterfeit of his former self — when his sideburns began to turn salt-and-pepper, he came back with a platinum-blond dyed cut that makes him look younger by ten years. On the street, women flash him smiles or circle their midriffs with their palms. I watch him put on his expensive brogues, scuff his shoe on the welcome mat at the doorway as if trying to rid himself of gum picked up on the soles, and I think to myself: even wild desert donkeys have to go to work. Someone should neuter that dog. Someone should pay heed to his loneliness.

But his owner is never home. Outside Peninsula Villas where we live, a group of missionaries loiter. They look like a youth gathering, except one of the young men is Caucasian. He has longish hair in need of a barber, his hair is cornsilk yellow, and in the sun, it gleams like a swatch of silk.

Getting close enough one day, I see that his eyes are strange one green one blue. God has a booming voice, God is certainly liable to shout: how many have you saved today, and I would have to say I have not even managed to save myself. He opens his mouth and out flows a stream of Cantonese. His intonations are so perfect that I find myself halted in step listening to his jolting cadence. I smile. I went to a Catholic school.

I know the seven cardinal sins, the sacraments, all of that.

He breaks into stride alongside me. But to brush him away, I quote John —No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day.

growing a minimalist wardrobe: silk camisoles.

He lopes off in a crooked gait, and I watch him make a beeline for another woman emerging from Peninsula Villas. This time, a woman who speaks dignified upper-crust Cantonese. Tell me, how does one discern real from fake in this topsy-turvy world? On a tram heading towards Causeway Bay another afternoon, the Caucasian young missionary has climbed on as well, and behind my blue-tinted pilot Gucci shades, I watch him wend his way down the gangway, looking for victims.

This tint of blue suits me. I do not remove my glasses. His eyes maintain a sly translucence; the disparate color pupils mesmerize me. The young man has an ability to gaze without blinking, without revealing any emotion or flicker of life within. They were Jesuits. I turn into your average busybody aunt; I quiz him about his family background.

The government housing where he grew up was in Shatin, and he played soccer with a group of boys from the same block every afternoon after school. His best friend was a diabetic Chinese boy, self-named Peanuts.


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Completely without irony, Douglas tells me Peanuts was crazy about Snoopy cartoons. He died a sudden death from insulin shock. Douglas had a hard time accepting the death of his friend. That was when he started turning to God. But it hides itself in the illness of my best friend.


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  • He died so I could find life. His life though short had purpose. I find his words self-obsessed, delusional. I stare at the calm unmoving pupils in his face. They are completely unruffled, devoid of any expression.

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    For something to say, I start telling him about my baptism by water, how the priest at Assumption Catholic Church dunked my head for five seconds too long, a thick, callused palm pressed hard against the crown of my head, how bubbles of air escaped my lips in a mild panic, and I thought I would drown. He smiles. I once thought I would die if I was bitten by three mosquitoes in succession. Well, maybe it hides in every third mosquito. He makes a blessing gesture of the cross, gets up and seats himself in the row behind me, in search of the next potential convert.

    He accuses me of fraudulent behavior. There is no other woman. He is not avoiding coming home. Our marriage is fine. I think Sonny has stumbled upon an unkind cosmic truth about much of loneliness — loneliness is something your doppelganger takes on. Loneliness is itself and its opposite simultaneously, just as Hong Kong, as you stand on a promontory gazing down, is a fishbowl and also a sea of people; you can escape neither it nor yourself.

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    I hardly respond to invites. That divide is deep and vascular.

    But these women break off embarrassed, as if someone like me without children would never understand that need to brag. I imagine them sitting in a school auditorium with their husbands and their mixed children — a breed unto their own — and I think to myself: individually they might have married for love, but collectively they married for power. Receipts from karaoke bars for two of everything: two snifters of Armagnac, two chicken fricassees, two goat cheese salads, one baked Alaska, two mineral waters.

    OSWALD BASTABLE AND OTHERS

    It is too hot to remain indoors. A million ants are gnawing at me. So I take the tram to Causeway Bay, letting the hot silty wind ruffle my hair and plaster my face. Wandering around Causeway Bay, where the crowd is three-deep on every street, a man pushing a loading trolley of boxes forces me to step out of the way into a dark hallway. Here I can take off my blue-tinted Gucci glasses and allow the world to resume normal colors again. Not that the obscure darkness within really lets light in.

    The attendant that shows me to a karaoke room is a young adolescent girl with bad acne but beautiful lashes. The girl wears a white long-sleeved shirt, a skinny black tie, and black knickerbockers. Just drink Johnny Walker in the dark? That offends her Chinese sensibilities of getting a good bargain.

    After all, what other point is there to life but to sing bawdy karaoke? A thick laminated folder is thrust into my hands, its plastic making crinkling sounds like smoking ice-cubes. The list of songs on offer is endless. Mandarin, Cantonese, even Indonesian songs, and of course, a long list of oldies. My high school best friend Hannah. I suddenly see her in all her teenage glory — hoop earrings, leg warmers, giggling, snuggling in my bed, mooning over Doogie Howser, M.

    What have I become? A trophy expatriate wife lazying away her days with lacquered nails and shopping for semi-precious stones? Shadow pokes her head back in. She flips through the laminated folder. Her finger peruses down the list quickly. Over her shoulder, I try to read. You know Faye Wong?

    Everybody knows Faye Wong if they live in Hong Kong. She claps her hands. She pushes the button on the remote. The video blinks on. A picture of a thin sheba-like creature snaking along a wall painted like a chess set. The music begins. Shadow clears her voice. When the words come on, she cues herself perfectly. Her voice is young, sweet, if a bit off-key. Why not?

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    I can make it through if I close my eyes and remember Hannah. I clear my throat. I try a note. It comes out reedy, wobbly.