chiu-yi rachel ngai


trigger warning for internalized homophobia

Bauhinia petals line the cobblestone path of my memories, guiding me through them like an American wedding. In my eyes, Hong Kong is tinted with rose. This is what love smells like: gasoline, cooking oil, and a wilting flower market.

From the cracks in the cement pavement to the old apartment buildings and neon glow of restaurants and pawn shops, everything in this city breathes age, and in Chinese culture, age demands respect. I squeeze my best friend’s hand tighter, our pale fingers bruised from each other’s grip. My best friend. Sometimes I wonder if we could call ourselves more.

As cars fly past our gentle figures, I wonder if she knows how much she makes me want to write. Poetry for the sparkle in her eyes; prose for the way her hands span and dance their way across a harp’s strings. An anthology of moments—those fading fleeting things—all with her in them. To those who look at our intertwined hands and mutter under their breaths, I say: Look at how she smiles. Look at how she lights the world up like a rising sun, golden and bright and shining, music in her voice and magic in the way she lets everything, myself included, pass her by. I call her my cocoon, my forever safe place.

I love the city I grew up in for many things. Childhood tastes like beef brisket and sounds like my mother’s Cantonese opera. I can navigate the streets spanning below my aunt’s apartment with my eyes closed. I know where to find the best warm meal and the hidden gems unknown to tourists. And in my heart of hearts, I know that above all, I love this city for the people it holds in its ancient embrace.

Holy to me, this friendship-that-could-be-more-if-only-I-had-the-courage and this city-so-old-it-fossilizes-our-every-step. So holy it burns like anointing oil, acid rain on a statue of justice outside a courtroom. This city-that-used-to-be-so-good, that still could be so good, makes me ache for all that it should be but isn’t. Everything that we could be but aren’t, hands warm and sweaty but safe (or happy, may the two be synonymous) within each other.

Once, I had a nightmare that she was dead. When I woke, I wrote about starlight on the ground in the form of shattered glass, the universe imploding because I pushed her, you, into the path of an advertisement plastered bus. Blood as bright as your smile on my tongue, I screamed and tore the world apart with my bare hands the same way I vanquished galaxies with my opening eyelids.

In a city ravished by tear gas and dragon fire, everything grey is painted gold and red, wedding colours, by your presence.

You kill them all, every fear I have, every voice of a Catholic nun I have in my ear calling me an eight-year-old abomination. You kill them all and hold me in their burning carcasses.

In my eyes, Hong Kong is rose red and tinted gold with age. These streets know more than we ever will and have seen more than our thin retinas could ever imagine. We are young and in love, or I’m in love with you, and nothing else matters. Old enough to understand, this city welcomes us home even when those within it would turn us away.

Darling, we’ve been around long before the history books knew our name.

Chiu-yi Rachel Ngai is a high school student hailing from Hong Kong. Currently studying in Springdale, Arkansas, she is a core editor and contributor at her school's award-winning literary magazine, Footnotes. She serves as Blog Director for SeaGlass Literary and writes for Intersections Magazine and Project Said. Her work can be found in Skipping Stones, Paper Crane Journal, and Unbroken Journal.