The Grief (Story by Risa Peris)

There was an image scorched into my young, plastic flexible brain. An Enlishman whose hair was a mix of white and butter blonde, dressed in a suit with a blue striped tie, had begun to cry and then leaned forward and held his forehead. He was sad. He was on the TV. The news that blocked me from watching cartoons. Mama set on the couch and I noticed she was crying silently. 

“We’ve lost Hong Kong,” said Mama. Mama was English like the man. Papa was from Hong Kong and was a police officer. He was out mitigating parties and riots. 

They lost Hong Kong. The British. It was 1997. I set down my coloring crayon. Burnt Sienna. 

“Do we move?” I had been to Britain once. It was cold, foggy, and my grandparents didn’t embrace me and barely spoke to my Chinese Papa. I couldn’t imagine where we would go. Hong Kong was home. I cried like the British man. Mama was afraid of China. 

“Communists. It’s like 1984.” Mama was arguing with Papa when he got home that night.  

It is now July 1, 2019. A city of seven million people and nearly two million were marching. I was caught in the protest for two miles. 

“Carrie Lam is in the pockets of Beijing.” I kept hearing that. 

I was a finance manager. Most of my clients were Taiwanese. Taiwan was, as the Chinese said, was a renegade province. The protest was peaceful. The news said we were rioters. 

Mama died in 2001 from breast cancer and now it was only Papa and I. We lived in what we could afford. A one bedroom apartment with a kitchen you could barely move in. Our combined incomes still didn’t lift us to a roomy apartment. 

As I marched, there was a mild scuffle between two boys with backpacks. I saw a police baton strike one of the boys on the back. I gasped and then looked up. It was Papa. He grimaced when he saw me. 

“Why are you here, Jane?” 

“For Mama. For democracy in Hong Kong. Surely you aren’t on the side of Beijing.” He grabbed my arm and shook me. 

“Go back home.”

“I won’t.” I pressed forward in the immense crowd. I looked back and saw Papa’s face. He was crying lightly and then his face hardened. Not like Mama’s did when the British man mourned the loss of Hong Kong. 

Will we win? 

I went with the flow of the crowd. What is two million people against a country of over a billion? I started crying again. I missed Mama. I cherished being with her in that moment when she cried over a land she loved and had great hopes for. 

I was roused from my memory with bullhorns. Democracy Now. 

I might leave Hong Kong but not before spreading Mama’s ashes in the harbor.