Saturday, 19 March 2011

Nothing good

Globally, it's been a terrible time, hasn't it? Earthquakes, tsunamis. You could cry a thousand times for those. Open mouthed, we've watched the videos, held our breath, put our fingers to our eyes and hugged the children that little bit tighter.

Locally, it's been a horrible time too, what with the murder.

I can barely believe I use the words murder and Lamma Island in the same sentence. Believe me, these words are as far apart as you can get.

Lamma and crime? I've seen that. I've seen expat kids, four in the afternoon, pelt across the fresh dug field. The old Chinese farmer screamed at them in blasphemy Cantonese. Then I heard how someone rattled doors after dark on the other hill, sending shivers down the valley. And there was the oven. Someone unloaded an oven from the boat; the next thing, it wasn't there. Signs went up. Have you see this oven?

The talk between the expats is just the same. I found a timid dog. Yesterday a strange man knocked at the door. I lost my earphones on the ferry last Thursday. Anyone pick them up?

So here we are in Lamma Island and an elderly English lady is murdered. No, it isn't from a TV drama. She's visiting family, just like our travelling aunty visited us too. Elderly spinster travelling ladies, touring outlying Hong Kong islands, enjoying the subtropics winter weather, walking the volcanic mountains, cuddling nieces on knees, rising early to read newspapers, making coffee, shopping for sweet treats in the village.

At first she's reported as missing. We listened to the helicopters circling the island. We imagined her stumbled and, with so many people climbing and combing the mountains, told ourselves she'd soon be found. But then we watched the search and rescue teams return to the village with folded stretchers strapped to their backs, boxes of equipment unused, medical aid still packed up, dogs pulling at their handlers to go home.

We agreed between ourselves that on these mountains, better not to walk alone. They're huge granite peaks, clothed with sharp scrub and tough waxed leaves, slipping tracks and falling stones. If you tumble into a hollow by the steepest paths to the furthest village, then it's possible not to be found while night comes on. You can watch Hong Kong Island's skyscraper lights twinkling over dusk, but there on the mountain you're sure to be unseen.

Then, two or three nights on, it rained, hard. Me and Dig looked at each other, said nothing to the children, but knew this story couldn't have a happy ending. There could have been an accident, but let's hope for an inexplicable amnesia, a falling out and a slammed door. She might return in a day or two, still glowering. But not a murder; not here on Lamma. We never thought of that as a possibility.

Over the weekend, events moved fast; police thronged our small town, she was found, the house roped off, the ferry stalled. We heard the story of her body wheeled through the main street, the wait at the pier, too public, too cruel, the drama of the arrest. All's changed.

We told the children that the village story didn't have a happy ending, that our own travelling aunty is fine, and she's calling them now, on the telephone. That remember to say you love her, and tell her, don't be silly, life is normal; no, of course we're alright. Our little island is very far away from Japan.