“You’re not pretty enough to be a martyr,” Josie says.
I sigh. She’s right, for all intents and purposes. We’re sitting on the waterfront at Tsim Sha Tsui, watching the city lights slowly wink into life. The sky is fading from rose gold into darkness, and soon I won’t be able to count the individual ripples on the water. Underneath us, children wail as they are torn from their mothers, passed from person to person in the eddying crush of tourists from the Mainland. The Bank of China tower pierces the skyline like a spear. Josie is always right.
“You wouldn’t even make the front page of the South China Morning Post, unless…”
Smoke curls from her nostrils, struggling into the void between our platform and the water below. She passes the burning stub of her cigarette to my left, deep in thought. Evangeline takes it, careful not to drop ash on her white dress as she nods in mute agreement. Expat unhappinesses aren’t that uncommon, her nod seems to say.
I want to say “unless what?”, but I have been drinking for the best part of the afternoon, and coherent speech is hard. Coupled with the pills I’ve been taking and the joint before I left the apartment, I’m feeling pretty woozy. And self-righteous. Really fucking self-righteous.
“Who says I’m not pretty enough to be a martyr?” I protest. “I photograph well, don’t I?”
“Ah, but you don’t get to choose the photograph they run, do you?” Josie says, slyly.
“And if it’s the one they took on the first day, you’re fucked,” adds Evangeline.
We sit. I am annoyed into silence, which they mistake for contemplation. The hordes around us jostle and push for best picture. I can smell deep fried squid and sweat. Hong Kong is starting to heat up again, another reason I’ve been having this conversation more frequently. I want to do it before the humidity gets too much to bear. On a cool night.
“Aren’t you supposed to be the voice of reason?” I ask Evangeline, needled. I elbow her, but she doesn’t feel a thing.
“No use reasoning with a mad girl,” she replies. She is watching the boats that intersect like worker ants, tireless and slicing through the water. Soon their red sails will light up from within, small beacons burning into the black amidst the brighter torches of the island.
“I’m not doing it for the fucking publicity,” I mutter. “I asked you for advice.”
“and we’re giving it to you,” sniffs Josie. “You’re not pretty enough to be a martyr. So it needs to be spectacular, if you want the papers involved.”
I unclench my teeth. Josie looks affronted.
“If you don’t want to take my advice … That’s your prerogative. I can’t see the point though, if you don’t want to be in the papers.”
We sit again. I’m wondering how she knows a word like prerogative. I guess sitting by my shoulder for so long must have its benefits. I can feel her; she radiates doubt like a branding iron, blistering and raw. Her lack of faith is painful, but I’ve wondered myself if the real reason I’m still here is because I lack the commitment to… you know.
“You’re awfully quiet,” I appeal to Evangeline. She tosses me a sad smile, one that makes me think of Don Henley singing about wasted time and falling autumn leaves. “I’m trying to think of a way to change your mind,” she whispers. Her eyes are blank and warm, so dark that it seems all the light in this city has been sucked into her vacuum.
On my other side, Josie shifts and snorts. She lights another cigarette.
“How long are we going to do this for?” she sighs. “Because you told us last time that you were ready. That’s why we’re here-”
“I am ready.”
“Then get it over with,” she urges, gesturing with her cigarette until all I see is that tiny flame, swaying back and forth through the darkness. She is shadow again. Her red coat glows with the reflections from the water, formless and dissolving. My head is aching.
“We believe in you,” Evangeline croons, indistinct and comforting at my side. I pull the ring on my last can and wander to the waterfront.
I don’t know why there aren’t more people taking photos.