Sync or swim

Sync or swim

June 29, 2012
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June 15, 2012
June 08, 2012
June 01, 2012
May 25, 2012
May 25, 2012
May 18, 2012
May 11, 2012
May 04, 2012

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Sync or swim_L
Illustration: Lau Ka-kuen/SCMP
The dulled and exhausted night shift watched as the foreman, clutching his gutting knife and with fury in his eyes, advanced on the teenagers. "If they found out I'd hired a kid, they wouldn't just close me down, they'd lock me up!"

"Quick, this way," Sam urged, grabbing Ethan's arm. As they rounded one of the fish-strewn tables, Sam kicked over a barrel and sent rancid liquid sloshing back towards the pursuing foreman.

However, as he lost his footing, his assistant was already heading to cut off the teenagers' route to the side door. But, just as his calloused hands closed on their collars, he also tumbled, tripped by the outstretched leg of one of the workers. Seizing their opportunity, Sam and Ethan crashed through the door and into the night.

As he reached to scratch his ear, the ginger tom was unaware he was being watched.

Certain they could still hear footsteps behind them, Ethan and Sam had run through the empty streets until they'd stumbled into a pile of boxes in this unlit alley.

Now, as Sam peered out from a gap in the cardboard, a despondent Ethan sat slumped against the wall of their hiding place, the consequences of the night's events sinking in. "Why did you have to follow me?" he demanded.

Sam turned to look at Ethan. "Because you didn't trust me enough to tell me what was going on."

But Ethan wasn't listening. "And why am I bothering to hide from him? He might as well stab me."

As he rose, Sam grabbed his arm. "Don't be ridiculous."

"Can't you see? I've just lost the only job I was going to get."

"You call that a job? And what was he paying you?"

"Something - at least. The doctor said Mum can't be put under any stress, but when she finds out we can't pay our bills ..." Ethan's despair had quickly turned to panic.

Sam tried to calm him. "If it's only about money..."

At this, Ethan's pent-up emotions exploded. "Only about money? Man, you still don't get it, do you? In my world, it's always about money - and not so you can buy the latest iPhone or designer bag, but so you can keep a roof over your head and get enough to eat."

"Hey, I didn't choose my family any more than you chose yours," Sam snapped back.

Even in his distressed state, Ethan knew he'd overstepped the mark. It was precisely because Sam was unspoilt by his privileged upbringing, and as immune from brand vanity as any teenager could be, that they had first become friends. "Yeah, I know. I'm sorry."

With a wave of his hand, Sam dismissed the spat. "And I know my parents would want to help."

"Sam, we're not taking charity - full stop. I've just got to find some other way I can make money."

As Sam stared at his friend, his face slowly split into a smile.

Ethan was bemused. "What is in any way funny about this?"

"You spending your nights up to you elbows in fish guts when all the time you're sitting on the best money-spinning idea since ... since ... dial a pizza."

"What?"

"Do I have to spell it out? You finish the coding for your site, market it properly, and ... kerching!"

"You mean make money out of Shamefacebook?" Now Ethan laughed.

Sam nodded. "See, you're happier already."

Sam had always jokingly referred to Shamefacebook as the anti-social network. While Ethan only became a computer whizz after he first laid hands on a keyboard, he'd been impetuous and thick-skinned from the day he was born. Time and again in his life he had found that sorry did indeed seem to be the hardest word.

But what if, he'd originally wondered, there was a place on the net where you could privately apologise to friends you'd lost, or strangers you'd upset, through your bad or insensitive behaviour?

However, Ethan quickly found that turning his concept into a functioning website was much more difficult than he'd imagined. "Someone else will have done it long before I can get it working."

Sam clapped sarcastically. "That's the spirit."

As they talked, Ethan realised that if he was going to transform his hugely ambitious dream into a working - and profitable - reality, now was the time to do it. But he was still reluctant to hope. "And I've got a problem with the code."

"Someone like you wouldn't know what to do with yourself if you didn't have problems."

"And it's got to be a lot easier to keep coding secretly than fish gutting," Sam told Ethan a half hour later as he eased open the gap in the boxes to scan the alley. "Plus Maya won't worry so much."

"Maya?"

"She was on my case about you."

Ethan groaned in embarrassment. "Did she notice the, you know, smell?"

"You mean of fish? Yeah, but she still thinks you're a good catch."

As Sam ducked out of the way of his friend's playful lunge, Ethan crashed through the wall of their hiding place and into the alley.

He froze, dreading who might be waiting for them. But when nothing and no one moved, he got to his feet. "Come on," he called to Sam. "There's no one here."

However, the tom cat chose that precise moment to knock over a tin can, sending him clawing his way up a wall, and the teenagers hurtling down the alley, fleeing a phantom armed foreman.

Hitting the next street, Ethan sent Sam towards the left with a shove. "Get a taxi home, we'll confuse him if we split."

"But..." Sam began. Ethan, however, was already gone.

When he eventually slipped through the door of the flat, Ethan didn't expect to find the light on or Grandad standing by the telephone.

"Around at Sam's again?" the elderly man asked.

"Gung gung..."

"Don't gung gung me, and don't lie to me."

As his grandad picked up the receiver, Ethan saw the blood-stained clothes lying on the table.

"Who are you calling?"

"The police."

"Grandad!"

The elderly man pointed at the clothes. "Tell me what Wai-hung has got you into."

Ethan was stunned. "Wai-hung?" The leader of the local gang had tried to talk him into dealing drugs but Ethan had refused to listen.

"The truth. Mrs Wu saw you together."

"You know I wouldn't get involved with him."

"So what have you been doing?"

When Ethan didn't reply, Grandad slowly started to dial.

"Gung gung, please," the teenager pleaded.

He knew that if Grandad found out anything had been distracting him from his studies - let alone a night-time job - he wouldn't give Ethan the freedom to tie his own shoe laces anymore, never mind code a website.

And then what little chance there was of keeping the family financially afloat, and possibly saving his mum's life, would be gone.

To be continued next week

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