Sync or swim

Sync or swim

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


Sync or swim_L
Illustration: Lau Ka-kuen/SCMP
With Grandad poised to phone the police, Ethan had no option but to tell the truth. He explained that the money that had mysteriously appeared in Grandad's bank account had come from the nightshifts he'd worked and the blood on his clothes from the fish he'd been gutting.

"And you lied to your boss about your age and to me about where you were?" Grandad demanded.

Ethan nodded, ashamed.

"How could you put your education at risk when you know how much your mother worries," his grandad continued, grim-faced.

"I did it for her - and the family," Ethan said. "But now I have a much better idea. It's for a website and ..."

"While she's lying in that hospital bed, you're not doing anything but schoolwork," Grandad interrupted.

"But gung gung, Mum worries just as much about money."

"I have my business and my savings to support us," Grandad said definitively. "Now get to bed and forget all your nonsense."

Although the doctor warned this didn't necessarily mark a permanent improvement, Ethan and Grandad were delighted to find Mum groggy but conscious later that day.

"What are you doing here?" she asked, peering at her son. "Why aren't you studying?"

Ethan smiled - the heart attack clearly hadn't changed her that much. "It's Saturday, Mum."

"And?" she demanded.

"He'll bring his homework to show you next time," Grandad told her, before looking pointedly at Ethan, "Won't you, Sui-man?"

"Of course," Ethan said quietly.

Mum turned her gaze to Grandad. "And how's work?"

Maybe Ethan imagined it, but Grandad seemed to avoid his eye before replying. "Booming. Business is booming."

But by the time the nurse came to gently shoo the visitors out, they were all happily discussing how well Sophie, Ethan's sister, was settling in at medical school in Australia.

On Sunday morning, Ethan didn't look up from his homework until the doorbell rang. It was Mrs Wu, bringing more food - and her concerns about Grandad.

"Wah! He's not taking even one day off? That man isn't getting any younger, you know."

As Ethan nodded dutifully, she continued: "And why is he working such long hours, anyway?"

"Because ... business is booming," he said, uncertainly.

"Is that what he told you?" She looked at him. "Then I'm sure it is."

Grandad's paper offerings shop was on the ground floor of an old walk-up building. Ethan had spent so much time there over the years, the inscribed sheets, candles and incense sticks were as familiar as anything in his own home.

That afternoon, Ethan found Grandad asleep behind the counter and not a customer in sight. When he called in at the cardboard recycling business next door, Grandad's friend, Mr Wong, only confirmed Ethan's doubts. "That place is more of a hobby for your grandad these days than a commercial operation."

Ethan's anxiety grew as he took in the newspaper, open in front of his grandad on the racing pages, and the discarded betting slips in the rubbish bin.

The elderly man woke. "Ethan." He looked around. "I was just taking advantage of a lull in business."

"And it must be exhausting counting all your savings, too, I suppose?" Immediately, Ethan regretted his sarcasm.

"How dare you," Grandad snapped. His anger, however, was unconvincing.

"I'm sorry, gung gung," Ethan said, with tears in his eyes, "but I'm worried. If we get into debt then ..."

"I know," Grandad said, unable to hide the tremble in his own voice. "But what else can we do?"

Sam's message popped up on Ethan's screen. "So, he's going to let you work on the website?"

Sitting at the desk in his room, Ethan typed his reply. "Grandad says I've got 'til Saturday to prove it's worth the time and effort."


"That isn't long enough to crack this bug in the code ..."

"Pah. By tomorrow, you'll be twiddling your thumbs, wondering how to spend the rest of the week."

But the next morning, Ethan was in his classroom, hunched over his laptop, lost in his search for a fix.

"Good," said a voice behind him, "you're ignoring me again."

Ethan turned then sat bolt upright - it was Maya. "Er ... sorry."

"No, I mean it. Things must be getting back to normal."

Ethan hesitated. "Maya ..."


"Thanks for, er ... being worried. About me."

"And what am I supposed to say to that? 'My pleasure'?"

Their laughter was cut short by the arrival of Charlotte Chan who, along with her twin, was always willing to give those less fortunate a helping stab in the back. "Strange, isn't it, Maya - some boys you can't get out of your mind, whereas Ethan you can't get out of your nose."

Maya sniffed the air, causing Charlotte to squeal with delight. "See, he still stinks!"

"No, it's my cretin allergy," Maya announced. "It comes out whenever you or your brother are around."

As a "sneezing" Maya chased Charlotte away, Ethan laughed then turned back to his code.

Preparing to go to bed, Grandad saw the light was still on in Ethan's room. A yell of frustration, and the sound of something solid being kicked, announced his grandson was no closer to a solution.

By Friday, Ethan was muttering to his laptop - whatever he tried caused the website to hang. And he couldn't get the memory of his grandad's betting slips out of his head. If Ethan wasn't successful, would the fate of his family rest on a horse race?

He felt a hand on his shoulder. "You need a change of scene," Sam told him.

And maybe Sam had been right. Although Ethan was so tired he couldn't be sure, as he sat working in the spacious study of his friend's luxurious home, he did think he might finally be close to an answer.

Throughout the evening, Sam had supplied Ethan with snacks. And when his younger sister, Jenny, had looked in earlier and sniffed around Ethan, Sam had thrown her out. "So they finally found a cure for soap-ophobia," was the only quip she had time to make.

Now, with his head lolling and Sam long gone to bed, Ethan decided it might be wise to lie down on the sofa and rest for 10 minutes.

However, it was hours later when he awoke and turned to see Jenny sitting in front of his laptop.

Dashing to the table, Ethan pushed her aside and started to click and scroll desperately through the screens and programs. But the fix he'd been working on - his only hope of solving the problem by the next day - was gone. Unless ...

He smiled hopefully. "You backed up my work first, didn't you?"

Jenny smiled back - then shook her head. "Why would I do that?"

To be continued next week


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