Sync or swim

Sync or swim

Part 9

June 29, 2012
June 22, 2012
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
His heart pounding, Ethan ran back to the supermarket. He was almost certain his laptop had been stolen, but maybe, just maybe...

The manager told him, however, that nothing had been handed in - before adding, infuriatingly, that the shop's CCTV system was currently out of action. With no chance of identifying the thief, Ethan's trip to the police station to report the crime seemed a pointless formality.

Grandad was already home when Ethan eventually got back.

"So when should we buy that equipment you need?" he asked.

Ethan felt the emptiness inside him fill with anger. If Grandad hadn't been so flaky, Ethan would have had the hardware to back up his laptop. "It's too late for that," he snapped.

Grandad was taken aback. "What do you mean? What's wrong?"

Yet once again, Ethan chose to swallow his own troubles. "I'm sorry, gung gung. It's just I've got a lot of schoolwork on at the moment."

As they waited for his laptop to boot up, Sam drummed his fingers impatiently on the polished wooden desk in their classroom at St Jude's International School.

"We're going to get your laptop back," he told Ethan, "and we're going to get whoever stole it."

"Yeah, whatever you say."

Sam shot his friend a glance. Despondency he could understand, but it was almost as if something in Ethan had died.

"Here we go," Sam said as the application opened.

Only under Sam's questioning had Ethan remembered that he had long ago installed tracking software on his laptop, which, in the event of theft, allowed him to remotely connect to its camera. Or that was the theory. Right now, however, they were getting no response.

"I told you, Sam," Ethan told him wearily. "They'll have wiped the hard drive before going online. The program won't be there any more."

"Well, I'm not giving up. But we should start thinking about rewriting the website. Just in case."

"What? Are you crazy? We've lost the designs and everything. Grandad's money will have run out long before we could even get back to where we were."

Sam smiled. "Have you forgotten how fast a coder my sister is?"

Typical Sam, Ethan thought. But with two loving parents and a caring, diligent amah around all the time, optimism must come easily.

"I'll ask Jenny how hard she thinks it'd be," Sam continued.

"No, I'll talk to her," Ethan said. "I'll tell her she was right all along - my idea wasn't worth her trouble."

Abandoning Sam, Ethan wandered out into a playground full of games of football and basketball.

As he sunk to the ground and leaned back against the wall he thought about how dumb he'd been to imagine he was capable of turning his family's life around. Preoccupied, Ethan didn't see one of the footballers receive the ball, turn and head towards him. He glanced up just as Gilbert Chan took deliberate aim and fizzed a drive straight at him. The ball struck him full in the face, sending his head crunching back into the wall.

While reaching out his hand to Ethan, Gilbert smirked at the rest of the players. "Sorry, Ethan, I was confused. We are using rubbish bins as goal posts, you know."

Too busy trying to raise a laugh, Gilbert didn't see that something in Ethan had snapped. Jumping to his feet, he slammed his fist into Gilbert's face. Gilbert reeled, as much in shock as in pain, before launching himself at Ethan.

By the time Mr Hemmings pushed his way through the throng, the pair were grappling on the ground. "My office, both of you," he bellowed in his Scots accent. "Now!"

When Gilbert came out of the office and sneered at him, Ethan couldn't be bothered to respond.

He wasn't looking forward to seeing the disappointment on the face of his favourite teacher, but he knew Hemmings' opinion of him couldn't be any lower than his own.

"What's going on, Ethan?" Hemmings asked when he entered. The teenager stared at the floor - even if he felt he could explain, where would he begin?

"Scrapping is never okay, and Gilbert and you will be punished," Hemmings continued. "But... I repeat: What is your problem?"

Okay, you want an answer, thought Ethan... "The fact that in this school I'm treated like I come from Mars, not an estate just down the road."

"And it's news to you, is it, that life's sometimes unfair? You still have choices that can help even things up, you know."

Ethan shot him a look. "Do I?"

Now, Hemmings' conviction began to falter. As his form master, he knew all about Ethan's economic circumstances, how his father had died several years before and how his mother was now in hospital in serious condition. But as for what went on inside the boy's head... for that the Mars analogy was appropriate.

However, there was one other thing the teacher knew - he wasn't going to let someone so talented give up and drop out. "Do you know why you're at this school, Ethan?"

He answered without looking up. "Because I got a scholarship. Because I was lucky."

"Lucky?" Hemmings laughed. "Luck didn't come into it. You're here for three reasons. One, you're exceptionally smart. And, two, you're extremely determined."

After a few moments of silence, Ethan couldn't help himself from asking. "And three?"

"St Jude is the patron saint of hopeless causes. Now don't let him down, son."

When Ethan emerged from the office, he realised that somewhere inside him one little spark of hope hadn't been extinguished. He found Sam and Jenny waiting for him.

"Does she know?" Ethan asked.

Sam nodded. "She knows."

Jenny corrected them. "No, I knew." She held out a small black box to Ethan. "I knew what an airhead you were - that's why I made my own backup."

Ethan looked from one to the other, too stunned to join in their laughter.

As he stood in the study of his friend's house, waiting for the shamefacebook software to finish installing on Jenny's laptop, Ethan sent St Jude a silent word of thanks.

"You know you said you'd have to be an idiot to go online without first wiping the hard drive?" On the other side of the room, Sam hadn't given up on his hunt for the thief. "Well..."

Ethan and Jenny rushed over to Sam's screen. "And I recognise that idiot," Ethan said. "It's Wai-hung."

"The thug from your estate?" Sam asked, getting out his phone.

Ethan nodded. Unaware that he was being watched through the camera, Wai-hung sat in a shopping mall, typing on Ethan's laptop.

"Wait until the police see this," Sam said. But as Ethan nodded, someone else appeared in shot. Ethan leant forward to peer at the newcomer.

Sam had almost finished dialling when Ethan grabbed his phone.

"What are you doing?" Jenny demanded. Ethan knew if he didn't get his laptop back, he'd have to ask Grandad to buy a replacement. But... "We can't call the police," he said.

To be continued next week

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