At around 6 a.m., Tommy poked Brig with a stick. “Wake up Brig. We’ve got to get moving.” Brig moaned and grabbed his side where A-Fai had kicked him a few hours earlier. Tommy hoped he hadn’t broken anything. Brig sat up with some difficulty. Every part of his body hurt. He opened his eyes and saw Tommy squatting in front of him, the flashlight shining ghoulishly up on his face.
“Where am I?” Brig asked in English, not yet realizing where he was or who he was with.
“We’re about a fifteen-minute walk to the border crossing. We’ve got to hurry. They might be expecting us to cross and send out their people to stop us,” Tommy explained, as though Brig should know what he was talking about.
“Who’s expecting us? And why do I feel like I got the shit beat out of me?”
“Brig. Really?” Tommy acted astonished. Lying came second nature to him, and his acting skills had been honed at an early age from begging and stealing on the streets of Hong Kong. “Not again! You don’t remember what happened last night?”
Brig tried to clear his head. He remembered arguing with some of Tommy’s friends at somebody’s apartment, but his memory after that was gone. He looked at Tommy and shook his head “no.”
“You need to lay off the drugs for a while my friend. Yes, you got the shit beaten out of you. But you gave better than you got. Which is why we need to get out of here. Change your clothes. I’ll explain what happened while we walk.” He shone the flashlight on Brig’s clothing.
“Oh my God is this…is this blood? Is this blood? This looks like blood!”
“Calm down. The blood is not yours. You stabbed A-fai in the stomach.”
“I what? Are you serious?” Incredulous, Brig looked at Tommy and could see no sign of amusement. Brig looked at his shirt. “This looks like a lot of blood. Is he okay?”
“Son. I honestly don’t know. When we left Glitch’s apartment, he was unconscious. Johnny dropped us off here earlier this morning.”
“Why? Why would I stab him? And with what?”
“You were protecting me. You saved me! A-fai is a mean drunk, and we were all hitting it hard last night. You began arguing with him about the feminine aspects of soccer, and the debate got heated. I tried to calm A-fai down, and the next thing you know he’s accusing us of being cops. He grabbed me by the throat and shoved me hard up against the wall. There was a knife sitting on the table which you grabbed and stabbed him. Glitch went crazy, disarmed you, and beat you up pretty bad before Johnny and I could pull him off. I couldn’t help much, but Johnny was able to talk Glitch down. Your face is pretty hammered, and you’re probably sore, but it doesn’t look like anything serious.”
Tommy reached into his pocket and pulled out his meds. He offered two tablets to Brig. “These are painkillers that the hospital gave me for my hand, but you look like you need them more than I do.” Brig took them from Tommy greedily and thanked him. “We can get more of these, once we’re in China. Now, come on. We have got to get going. We need to cross into Shenzhen before they send their men to stop us or the police get involved.”
“Send what men?”
“It seems Glitch and A-fai are triad members.” Seeing Brig’s confusion, he explained further, “Chinese Mafia.”
There was a long stunned silence as Tommy let the last statement sink in. It was too much for Brig. “Gyyyyaaaah!” he cried out in genuine anguish and tried to lay back down. Tommy reached for Brig’s shoulder with his good hand, preventing Brig from going prone.
“No. Come on. We gotta go,” Tommy implored.
“Ow!” yelped Brig as his bruised muscles reflexed. “Please,” Brig begged. “I’m done. Leave me alone. I want to die. Right here. Right now.”
“Come on Brig. Are you a man or a mouse?” Tommy cajoled, thinking Brig was kidding. “We’re going to Everest!”
“Fuck Everest man! Are you kidding me? We have the Chinese mafia and the Hong Kong police chasing us, and you’re still thinking of going to Everest? This is serious shit!”
“You’re right,” Tommy agreed. “This is serious shit. But I owe you my life. Now I’m going to help save yours and help you get to Everest. The triads won’t tell the cops anything. However, if A-fai died, and they took him to the hospital…” Tommy looked off, pretending to be thinking of a scenario which involved the police being informed. “…which is why we have got to move!”
Tommy, who was also in pain, helped an unmotivated Brig to his feet. Brig struggled to get his bloody T-shirt he wore over his head. Once the shirt was off, he stuffed it down into the bottom of his bag. Examining himself further, Brig noticed that the top of his jeans also had dried blood near his waist. Brig reached back into his pack and pulled out a large grey hoodie that came down past his waist and would hide the bloodstains.
The wounded pair exited the container just as the sun came up. Brig looked beat down, both physically and mentally. His large trekking bag was strapped to his back. His other pack was strapped across his chest. He favored his left leg, and his left eye was swollen shut. Tommy looked only slightly better. He too had swallowed two of his painkillers to stop the pain that had returned to his hand. He shouldered his pack awkwardly, almost ordering Brig to give him a hand, but reminded himself that Brig was supposed to be his traveling companion, not one of his men.
They ambled down Tun Yu Road toward the Lok Ma Chau Control Point. A walk that usually would have taken them fifteen minutes turned into a forty-five-minute hike. They were silent as they walked, each man lost in his thoughts; Tommy plotting their next course of action, Brig trying to think of a way to kill himself.
By the time they reached their destination, it was nearly 7 a.m. and the immigration hall was already crowded. As they approached the immigration kiosks, Tommy advised that they would need to separate and pointed Brig toward the “Foreigner” line. He would meet Brig on the other side. Tommy had been issued a Hong Kong Resident Card upon his release from prison. He had also recently acquired a “Mainland Travel Permit for Hong Kong and Macau Residents,” making it easier for him to travel between Hong Kong and the People’s Republic of China. For Hong Kong residents, machines handled the immigration process. Brig was required to wade through the long line of foreigners, where a human still reviewed the paperwork, decided if your passport picture looked like you (or not), stamped your passport (or not), and let you into (or out of) Hong Kong (or not). If you weren’t a citizen of Hong Kong, you were a “foreigner.” Even the Chinese were considered “foreigners,” and by Brig’s estimate, the overwhelming majority of people in his line were Chinese.
At six foot two inches tall, Brig towered over his fellow travelers. Brig recalled a Chinese proverb that had to do with sticking out. “The nail that sticks out is the one that gets hammered down.” Brig became increasingly more paranoid. Sweat broke out on his brow and he felt as though everyone was looking at him. He considered turning back but worried that would attract more attention. Looking past the immigration booths Brig saw that Tommy had already made it through and was standing near the Duty-Free store, wearing his long black coat, and sunglasses. Tommy could not have tried to look any more like a gangster. What Brig didn’t realize was that Tommy was an ex-con that had only recently been released from prison and his sense of style was from the eighties.