Mr. Hollywood (Hong Kong)
27 December 2016
“No problem.” Mr. Hollywood told me.
I scratched my stomach through my prison uniform. “I just want to work.”
Mr. Hollywood laughed with his shirt off exposing his washboard stomach - even at sixty years old. He had been in prison nearly a decade. He was six months away from getting out. I never asked him what he did because I didn’t want to know. But the rumours were that he had kidnapped a Triad boss’ child and extorted money. Someone said millions.
But in prison, everything on the outside was bigger, larger, more vivid.
“Don’t rush to work. You will get something to do. Just be patient. No problem.” And a Chinese prisoner came up to him to ask him a question.
Mr. Hollywood was the switchboard between the Correctional Services Officers and the inmates.
I went to the side wall of the factory floor where our lockers were and pulled out Hemingway’s ‘The Sun Also Rises’ that’s when my locker buddy who was from Mainland China saw me and pushed out his fist for me to pound him. We couldn’t talk. But we motioned. And we laughed at each other trying to communicate. He said in broken English while looking at the book I was pulling out of my locker, “Good!”
I wasn’t sure if he was saying it was a good book or that me reading to keep my mind off my circumstances was good. But I smiled and also said, “Good!”
I then went back to the back of the factory to sit with the two Javaids - my factory mates who were from Pakistan.
One Javaid spoke English. One Javaid didn’t. We called them interchangeably Javaid One (English speaking) and Javaid Two (Urdu & Cantonese Speaking).
Java One moved up and made room for me to sit down when I approached. He gave a halfway grin, “What did Mr. Hollywood say?”
“He will hook me up a little later. And he also told me not to rush things.”
Javaid One nodded. “Prison is not the place to be in a hurry.”
Javaid Two spoke to him. Then Javaid One translated to me, “Can you help him with his legal documents?”
“Sure. I got time.”
We both laughed. Javaid Two looked puzzled but then it was translated, he smiled, and went away to get his paperwork.
When he returned, he talked to Javaid One and I just went to reading. And it was a typical non-working visa, immigration issue. Javaid had been caught by the police without a Hong Kong visa and perceived as working without a permit.
Javaid One explained to me that he indeed wasn’t working. He was on a date. Or waiting for one. The twenty something Chinese woman who worked at the dry cleaners had struck up a conversation with him in Cantonese one day. And after spending Ramadan with a friend who worked at the dry cleaners - he asked if he could go back with him to see if he could talk to her again.
They ate Ramadan lunch at a Chinese restaurant across from the dry cleaners. He was outside the restaurant smoking and smiling at her - and she was smiling back - when suddenly the police showed up. They asked his friend for his papers first. And then they came up to Javaid next. He got a little aggressive and angry because his friend explained to him that they were accusing him of working at the dry cleaners.
He explained he didn’t. But the police said he was a day over his visa - and he was now illegal.
The legal papers said he was caught moving boxes and working in the dry cleaning store.
“Why would they say this?” And I pointed it out to Javaid One.
Javaid One talked to Javaid Two. Then finally he answered, “The owner of the store was the father of the girl he liked. They were going to go out for dinner that night - just the two of them. The father came up behind her while the police were asking him for his passport and details. The father was smiling.”
“So you think he is the one that called the police on them?”
I continued reading. Then I stopped when I saw the sentence. “He got 15 months? For what? Trying to date a girl?”
“No, for working illegally in Hong Kong. And fighting it.” Javaid One said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I got nine months because I plead guilty. So cut, cut. He is fighting it because he did nothing wrong. They had no evidence. The judge simply said, ‘I believe the police man - not you.’ So they gave him 15 months for pleading not guilty.”
I was quiet.
Javaid Two looked at me. He scratched at his beard. I looked him in the eyes, “Was she worth it?”
His eyes were puzzled and he turned to Javaid One. He spoke Urdu.
Javaid One spoke for him, “She is what gets him through this place. You know what I mean? You need someone or something that you are pushing yourself towards - to get you through.” Then Javaid One gave his sideways grin. “Nothing like a beautiful woman to motivate you.”
I nodded. “Hell yeah.”
And Angel flashed in my brain.
Just then Mr. Hollywood came up to me. “Jackson, go up to Chile and help him fold.”
I gave the legal papers back to Javaid Two. And followed Mr. Hollywood to the front row of sewing equipment.
I had waited two full days to turn on my mobile phone when I got out. The first thing I realized when I was free was that everyone was locked to their mobile screens. Everyone - at all times.
No one could move without their phone in front of their eyes.
I couldn’t believe before I went inside that I couldn’t see this zombification of the human race to its iPhones, Samsung, Huawei devices.
Even inside, I had phantom vibrations of my phone while sleeping on my prison cot. My phone was confiscated when I was taken in the cage after the reading of my verdict.
So when I got out, I loved the silence of freedom. Just like I hated the silence of the holding cell.
Just as much as I hated dreaming in prison.
When you dream in prison, you are free. You are visiting friends, you see family members, you are on the beach, you are at work, you are taking a road trip - and then suddenly - there is that god awful blaring alarm - one, two, three screeches - and the Cantonese voice reminding you are in prison.
You open your eyes to see yourself in a cage.
I continued my mobile phone fast for two more days. And I also dreaded the hundreds of emails and messages between the time I had gone inside and when I got out - and how I would go about answering them all. Or if I would at all.
But when I turned it on - the phone buzzed for a full five minutes as it caught up with all the missed messages. But the one I searched on was Angel.
And there were two messages and the thread went dead.
“Are you still up for brunch?” dated October 6th.
“Ping me sometime.” dated October 7th.
I went to typing right away. “Hey, sorry for the delay. You are not going to believe what happened to me. And I can’t tell you over WhatsApp. I need to tell you face to face. Can we have that brunch?”
Almost immediately there was a typing, typing, typing on the screen.
“There you are! I thought you had forgotten me.”
“No there is supposed to be a cool time limit between when you meet someone and when you text them - right?”
Typing, typing, typing. “I think you far exceeded that time limit. I could have gotten married in the time you responded. Remember I am Indian.”
“So let’s do this. Brunch?”
She responded quickly, “No. Brunch is off the table. Dinner.”
“Dinner it is.” I typed and we worked out the details.
Angel sat quiet after I finished my story. She hadn’t even touched her food as I spoke.
I cleared my throat, “I don’t want you to feel weird. Yes, my time inside, I was waiting for this moment to see you. But this is not a movie. And I don’t expect anything in return.”
“Damn.” she said. “That’s a helluva a story.”
She took a couple of seconds to think before speaking. Then finally she admitted, “I don’t know what to say.”
“Let me say this, in the evenings before they locked our cells, I would stand out in the hallway and stare into the sky. Sometimes I saw the moon. But if I was lucky, I would see a plane overhead. And I imagined all the people on that flight - looking down on the city - never noticing this little prison cell.” I paused. “And you serving those people peanuts.”
“You suck!” and she laughed.
“But all seriousness, thank you. I want it to be a reminder to you - for the rest of your life - sometimes your life might feel useless. Or you might not feel loved. But you meet someone, or see a person and smile - and you inadvertently change their lives forever. You know how?”
She just watched me.
“You are alive. You were born to be just be there.”
She raised her glass of wine, “To being there.”
I raised mine and clinked hers. “To being here.” I took a sip and added, “And being out.”
That night after going back to the place where we had initially met - MINE in Lan Kwai Fong - as I ordered another Red Bull Vodka, she proposed the following pact:
“I am your wing woman. You know women are attracted to you if you are already with a woman.”
“Lord do I know it.” I took a sip. “And I would like to make the pledge to you - I will be your wing man. But I don’t think I would help. I think you are fine by yourself.”
“Well it’s always good to have a posse.” Then someone caught her eye behind me coming in through the entrance. “How about her…” And she motioned with her eyes.
I tried to play it cool and when the woman passed me - I saw her from the back side but shook my head. “Nope, I don’t like blondes. And besides don’t stereotype me. Just because I am white - I don’t want just to date the same. Remember Windsor, the name I call my future daughter, I want her to get a tan. It would be a dream come true to have a brown daughter. I would never wish her this white translucent, veins showing though my skin - complexion.”
“Every Asian woman wants your white skin.”
“It’s overrated. Get a sun burn and let’s talk.”
She took a sip of her drink. “Sun burn? What’s that?” And she laughed.
I walked her to her bus stop and we were very sober as we had danced out any alcoholic beverages we had consumed.
“I know you said this isn’t like a movie. But in some ways, you are Mr. Hollywood.”
“I disagree. I am a convict. I hurt someone. And I am not proud of that. I was weak.”
“Well it’s a story for Windsor one day.”
“I am going to keep this for when she is a teenager and I can use it to optimal effect to scare the shit out of her. Or maybe she will Google me - and it will scare her without me having to say anything.”
Angel wrinkled her brow. “You know I haven’t Googled my parents. Maybe my father was murderer I wouldn’t know. Well, there are so many Indians with the same name so it probably will just be hidden on page 3 of the search results.”
“Not to place your parents age but I am not sure search results from the 80s, 90s wouldn’t be up there in Page Rank.”
“Fair enough.” she said.
That’s when on the empty streets of Hong Kong there was a rumbling and we turned and saw her bus approaching.
She spoke quickly, “I don’t have to fly again for another two days. Maybe we could meet up tonight?”
“Let’s see,” I said.
Then the bus came to rest in front us. I hugged her and kissed her cheek. And she turned and climbed inside. The doors unfolded, slid forward and shut. Then the bus rolled on. We waved at each other from the window as she disappeared into the morning.
I stood there for a minute or two and in my head I wrote the poem, “Unfolding.”
Then I walked home in the beautiful silence of freedom and watching the newspaper people assembling their papers together on the sidewalks of Hong Kong.
Angel was typing, typing, typing, “Wish you would have come out last night.”
“Last night I wanted to Netflix and chill.” I typed.
“Aren’t you supposed to do that with someone? Not by yourself.”
“I was masterdating.”
“LOL.” And Angel went on typing, typing, typing. “I met these British guys and they were super cool. So we danced all night.” Then WhatsApp showed she was typing, typing, typing. “We might meet up later today." Then the message paused. "You are not upset are you?”
That’s when I realized so much time had passed and I was just another guy. Nothing wrong with it. She was young, beautiful, and had her whole life ahead of her. And I wasn’t looking for a wife. Hell based on my past experiences, I was horrible at being a boyfriend. So I wasn’t looking for a girlfriend unless I met someone who made me want to change my life.
I had done what I wanted to do.
I had let Angel know that she was my mascot while inside. But now I was out, and we were both not obligated.
She should date everyone she wants to date. She should be reminded by lots of strangers she is beautiful. And she needs to heal from the two year relationship that ended with a text.
I suddenly remembered Mr. Hollywood - named not because of California but Hollywood, Florida near Miami - where he had lived in the USA before coming to Hong Kong - seeing him shirtless, washboard abs and a big smile. “No problem,” he said to everything.
I was typing, typing, typing.
“No problem.” Angel read.