I hold the wedding ring up and look at the inscription: Chinese characters meaning, “One life, One love.” I slide it onto my little finger and twist it around, the light reflecting off the gold. The bus slips through a tunnel, and the ring and everyone staring goes black.

Tragedy and disease are educational. They teach you in a week what it takes months to memorize in any medical school. A son suffers massive head trauma in a motorcycle accident, give it a few days and his parents will be talking about brain injuries in words you can barely pronounce, much less spell. Your wife gets SARS, you learn she died without knowing she was dying. She’s got a cold, then she’s dead.

What’s left are facts. The statistics. And you learn them all because now, that’s your relationship with your wife. It’s as close as you can get to being close. And your memories, even after a few months they’re just loose strings that used to have knots. Like medical facts you’ve heard of but never experienced.

With my wife, I remember washing dishes. Side-by-side, one washing, one drying. Me helping her with English, her teaching me Cantonese. I’d tell her the rules of “American” football, and she’d tell me about Chinese history and culture—legends and mythology. Superstitions. She told me that red is like their white, so it’s worn at weddings for good luck. “White’s our black,” she said, rinsing a soup bowl. “It symbolizes death, so we wear it at funerals.” She told how they avoid the number four because it’s pronounced the same as “death.” “So really,” she said, “four’s our thirteen.”

I heard about the switchback from British to Chinese rule.

That street gangs fight with knives instead of guns, and that spitting is a good thing. “Spitting,” she said, handing me a wine glass, “is our ‘knock on wood.’” One night, at the sink, she said, “My grandmother believes that to reunite with loved ones in the afterlife, those loved ones must die the same way.” Standing at the sink, scrubbing fettuccini from a dinner plate, she said there’s a different afterlife for every way of dying. “If a father dies of a heart attack and his son dies in a war, the real tragedy is they won’t be together in spirit.” Then she slapped me on the shoulder and said, “But that’s bad luck talk,” and laughing, we both spat into the sink.
I remember all this, but it’s slipping. Becoming a fragment.

I also remember her sister getting breast cancer last year, starting treatment in January. And Mei Lin flying over to be with her. And me not being able to get off work. Her sister recovering and my wife contracting SARS, and not much else except for the facts and silence and everyone dressed in white.

I step off the bus in the Shatin shopping district, and everything’s shoulder to shoulder. Cutting through the crowd, they move around me, just staring eyes over the tops of their masks.

One mask has puckered red lips.

There’s buck teeth and freckles on another.

I walk through the shopping malls, running my hands along the escalator rails. Using the crowded restrooms, not washing my hands. Hoping to find the germ, I touch the toilet seats and wipe my nose. I force my way into overcrowded elevators.

All this, it’s desperation. I’m running out of time. The news said the World Health Organization’s found a cure, and by now all the hospitals have be quarantined off. Right in time to stop me, but not in time to save Mei. The window’s closing. And if God closes one window and opens another, I’m fucked.

Outside, I take a mini-bus and get off in Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon and walk along Victoria Harbor, on the Avenue of Stars. It’s starting to drizzle and, chilly, I take my coat off and let the wind eat at my skin. Catching a cold, my immune system would be weaker. Sort of a “Welcome” mat for the germ.

I place my hands in the cemented handprints of all the Asian film stars along the walkway, thinking how many people might have touched here recently. Thinking about the germs possibly waiting in the palm of Jackie Chan’s hand. The viruses on Sammi Cheng’s fingertips. Death in Bruce Lee’s fist.

I look out at the dark sea, the surface like dragon scales in the breeze. Mei Lin said this water is some of the filthiest in the world. That if you fall in, it takes days to get the smell out of your skin.

And behind me, I hear: “Sir? You want picture?”

I hear: “Clouds make good picture.”

A man walks toward me carrying a camera and tripod, a mask tied over his mouth that says: “SMILE!” “Cheap picture,” he says.

On my first visit, Mei Lin and I had our picture taken on the harbor at night, the city lit up behind us. The sky full of color from the light shows. It was probably this exact place. Maybe this exact man.

I lift my hand and shake my head no. I pull out the envelope of money and slip out two thousand dollars. Pointing at the sea, I hold the cash up and say, “But, I’ll give you this if you can get me a glass of that water.”

I take the Star Ferry from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island. Usually, the ferry is spilling over with tourists, but now it’s just me and an older Chinese lady sitting a row over. She’s wearing a mask and watching me, an expressionless expression on the top part of her face. A few gray bands of hair mouse-tail over her eyes, and she glances down at the glass Coke bottle of seawater I’m holding.

Inside the bottle, trash and debris whip around like a shook snow globe, and some kind of thin, oily liquid is layered at the top. The man with the tripod and camera, after he filled the bottle I gave him an extra thousand dollars because his hand got wet.

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