There is a feeling of perplexity. I’m no longer standing in the conference room on the top floor of a skyscraper. There are no floor-to-ceiling windows with Hong Kong harbor far below. And my Armani suit? Transformed into what appears to be rags.
There is panic, but also familiarity. I look down at my hands holding huge buckets of supplies, filled to the brim; shocked to learn I can hold so much. My first instinct is to drop the buckets, must be too heavy but the weight is electric. My arms and shoulders are full of life.
I let out a lighthearted sigh. I’m not sure what I am doing but it feels right.
Beside me, the sea glimmers with life while the sun prepares for another colorful dive to end the day. I’d like nothing better than to sit peacefully and watch her. How is it I am here?
I recognize this world. This body. My blood, powered by a slow heartbeat flowing briskly with purpose. I lift a bucket up towards my face without effort, ignoring the pungent fish odor. The power of my arms makes me smile. Damn, I feel good. Am I dreaming?
The smell of the sea vanishes, replaced by the scent of the exotic. My heart races. Ms. Laura walks my way, pausing as she looks at my hands ~ ha, perhaps it’s my powerful arms? She blushes, smiles, and quickly looks away.
Her dress, beautiful and modest, does not belong here. We are a fishing village; well-worn clothes are all we own. It finally dawns on me. This is no dream. I am a man of the sea, she is not. I speak the Hakka dialect, a little Cantonese, and zero English.
“Did you enjoy class today?” Ms. Laura asks very slowly, enunciating every syllable, her British accent snaps me to attention.
My mind spins with answers. I understand her English words but my voice cannot be found. With a red face, I spew out a reply in my unintelligible Hakka dialect.
She laughs. “You need to study harder, or could it be you need a different teacher?!?” I look at her in fear, a little slow getting her joke before she reassures me and puts her hand on my shoulder, resting it longer than one would consider normal. I relax. Her touch transports me to another world.
A world where we are together, she’s my wife in total happiness. Quickly the dream fades with the chuckle from my fishing partner, Xiao Gao. He grabs a bucket and loads it onto our skiff and without skipping a beat says, in a rough Hakka tone, “Rui-de, you’ve attended her class all year, yet you cannot speak one word of English,” his infectious laughter inspires others to join in.
“She is so perfect…” my face still burning, I let my words trail.
Sometimes I’d like to just fly away, I think to myself. Escape into my dreams and chase the world. But then all I have to do is look around. Everything I want is here.
My mind begins doing battle with my memory. Somewhere, I know her. I’ve talked with her. I’ve been with her. But I catch a glimpse of myself in the reflection on the water and I laugh a bit at the thought.
Me. A simple Po Toi Island boy.
The blast of the horn signals the departure of the Po Toi ferry back to Hong Kong Island and the wealthy Stanley village. We are cut off again from the outside world until its return.
Three times a week this picturesque lady arrives in Po Toi to teach English to our dwindling population. Most of my friends have already left to seek a better life. For me, though, Po Toi is my home.
Well, the sea is my home, Po Toi the place where I have the greatest access.
Another great ending to the day. Ms. Laura takes her position alone at the stern of the ferry and our eyes lock, my favorite part of her visits.
With the sun gently reflecting off her golden hair, framing the picture of perfection, she looks over her shoulder to see if anyone is watching and then turns back and brings her fingers to her lips and waves me goodbye.
It is a goodbye with hope. Recognition of yuan-fen (缘分). The moment in time where our destinies align and we become what we are meant to be.
The changing reality of what “can be” sends my heart pounding to the beat of the surf. The world once again has meaning. I step onto the skiff and head out to the deeper waters to chase my living. Chase my dream.
The sea knows my soul. The sea is my soul. Nevertheless, it is possible there is something else out there for me as well. My mind and memory once again run wild to find her, to find our future.