Claudia was in a hurry. She knew that she had very little time left in which to see her home town again. It was in her blood; the colour, the smell, the noise - it was all an integral part of this great city.
She was not native to the island, but for the past two centuries, her ancestors had lived there. They had arrived from Europe and had worked there as sailors, traders and businessmen. Her ancestors were assimilated into this non- racial society and had called Hong Kong their home ever since.
As a child, she was pampered and loved by her Chinese nannies. As a young girl, she always had elegant dresses and the attention of all the young men in the colony. As a young woman, she travelled in limousines to balls and was dressed by Dior.
She knew that she was beautiful and clever. Claudia worked hard to accomplish all that she wanted from life. She perfected her Mandarin, as well as several other foreign languages. Claudia was a wonderful hostess and was outspoken amongst her circle of friends, but she also knew when to be discreet. Her own little secret was kept well away from the ears of her society. She worshipped in a Taoist temple, where a young monk spoke to her about Tao, the right path to follow…
It was easy for her. She chose to marry the right man, a diplomat. Her life was going to be happy and secure, as it was designed for her by the Tao.
Then the war broke out and the Japanese invaded Hong Kong. She and her family managed to escape to England just in time, but her young husband was caught and interned - he later died in a Japanese concentration camp.
When the war ended, Claudia had to start a new life. Her path became full of wrong turns and detours. It was a difficult road: she was far from her beloved city and the people that she loved. She could not find the right path to follow. Finally, using her good looks and intelligence, she chose the only way she knew.
She married a rich man who also gave her a ticket to visit her beloved island every year. However, life with him was dreary. He was not an easy man to live with and he also had a partial leg disability which he had sustained during the war. His business was even more depressing, as it consisted of a chain of funeral parlours. Still, Claudia knew that she could cope with it all for the price of her annual ticket to Hong Kong. She lived for those two weeks a year - when their daughter replaced her (Claudia) at the funeral business and moved in and looked after Jim. Their daughter was the only one who could endure his foul temper.
Claudia lived for the day that she could return to Hong Kong. When she returned, her airplane would land amongst the tall buildings of Kai Tai airport, and it was finally time for her to enjoy life and the city.
First, a quick look at the port and the multitude of ships and dragon boats, then off to Kowloon - the city centre. The crowds, the noise and the scents would overcome her and she felt like a fish diving into a mass of breathing, living, human beings. There, the life of this pulsating organism never stopped, it was always on the move.
When she had had enough of crowds and the noise, she would climb to the top of the old Park Road; there she would breathe the scent of the fresh pine trees. The stillness would engulf her. She would then rest on some rocks and fall into a light sleep, which would make her tranquil and strangely happy. It was during those rare moments that she often heard the voice of her Taoist monk saying,
‘It is not where you wish to go, but where the Tao takes you. You are foolish to think that you can abandon the chosen way and find another. Life can be cruel to those who are led by their own egos, or those who think that they can choose their own destiny.’
Claudia could hear the voice clearly, but she was not in the mood to reflect on it. She was here to relive her past and enjoy old memories.
After her little rest, she would rush to another part of the island and visit the fishing village where her beloved nanny came from. Claudia loved to re-experience the contentment of the lives of simple men and women. Later, she visited her rich friends who lived in luxury and boasted of their material achievements. She equally enjoyed herself while admiring their lives as well. However, she did not belong to any of these worlds; she could only indulge herself in this make believe existence for a short while.
This time, she found it difficult to pretend that there was nothing wrong with her. Indeed, there was much to concern her. She had no time to waste. This time Claudia had to fight a long battle with Jim, so that she could get her ticket earlier than usual. According to her doctor, Claudia was slowly losing her eyesight. Jim was very reluctant to let her go. He broke down and cried; he told her of his love for her. Their daughter called her a selfish cow, because she was now causing even more anxiety to the family. However, she won as usual, and there she was, ready to explore her beloved island.
As she arrived and began to do her routine explorations, she felt that it was not the same any more. Her steps were uncertain and she was not always able to find the right direction. She was pushed and jostled and even shouted at sometimes. Claudia was getting tired and she was in a state of panic. This time, the crowd of moving humanity was strangely hostile and foreign to her. She decided to move out and rest for a while. Claudia saw an old Chinese woman sitting on the step of a little shop, while smoking a pipe. She squatted next to her. The old woman watched her for a while and asked,
‘Have you lost your way?’
Claudia nodded miserably. The woman continued to smoke, but finally she turned and said,
‘Be still and think of the road back to your home. It will come to you. It is not always easy when you’re old, your eyes are fading and your mind is confused. Try hard, because home is the only place to be. There will always be somebody there who will care for you and love you a little. Isn’t that what we all want?’