Sync or swim

Sync or swim

Part 27 of our serial

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
Morose and bitter, Ethan watched as Gilbert and Charlotte Chan swaggered out of the school gates, designer bags slung over their shoulders, and the latest smartphones gripped in their hands.

"They've got it all, haven't they?" he muttered, turning to Maya. "But do you think they stop for even one second to think about where the money to pay for it comes from?"

"No, I don't," she replied. "But nor, for one second, do I think that it's their fault their dad is trying to force your Grandad and his neighbours from their building."

It took a moment or two for reason to get the better of frustration and anger.

"You're right," he accepted, slumping into step beside her, and ignoring the buzzing mobile in his pocket. "It's just ... look, how can it be right that a community's sense of security, its roots and its happiness, all play second fiddle to a developer's chance of making a quick buck?"

"It isn't. That's why I've got to go."

"What? Now?" Ethan moaned, as his phone buzzed again. This time he checked the caller ID - it was Sam. He could wait. "But we're supposed to be ..."

"Maybe I can find out something useful at Dad's work."

"What else is there to find out? Chan's going to buy Grandad's shop and knock down the building."

Maya looked at him for a moment. "I didn't realise I was going out with a quitter."

As he watched her go, his phone rang for the third time. "What?" Ethan snapped in irritation.

At the dai pai dong, Sam and Jenny feigned cool, as Ethan read through the e-mail twice, slowly placed it back on their table, and took a deep breath. "Do you know what this means?" he finally asked.

Sam's face split into a broad smile. "You're going to be rich."

Still dazed at the news, Ethan grinned back. When Ethan first heard that an investor wanted to make a substantial offer for a stake in the Shamefacebook site, he had never in his wildest dreams expected "substantial" to mean ... HK$2 million!

If they did this deal, Ethan knew that his family would not have to worry about money for, well, years. But before the discussion went any further there was one thing Ethan had to set straight.

"No, you mean 'we're' going to be rich," he told his friends. "Along with Grandad, we're all equal partners in this, remember?"

Sam shook his head. "Shamefacebook was your idea and it was created to provide for your family."

"And our parents have got money coming out of their ears, anyway," Jenny explained, picking up on the mood. "Well, not literally. Usually it comes out of a cash machine but ..." she broke off, accepting she wasn't a natural when it came to these "huggy" moments.

Sam rolled his eyes. "Thanks, for clearing that up, Jen."

"But it wouldn't have been possible without all the work you two put in," Ethan protested.

Sam batted this away as inconsequential before picking up Ethan's ageing, cracked and very un-smartphone. "Just promise me you'll replace this."

This time it was Jenny ready with the bucket of cold water. "Before you two start blubbing in each other's arms, remember nobody gets anything if we don't sign the contract. So, where's your Grandad, Ethan? He's got to agree, too." When Ethan arrived at the paper-offering shop later that evening, he found Grandad sorting through some old boxes, long buried under unsaleable stock at the back of the store. Forcing a smile when presented with the contract that was going to banish all their financial worries, the elderly man signed it with the merest glance at the details.

In truth, Ethan's own sense of elation had ebbed away the moment he began explaining to his friends the reason for Grandad's absence. The death of Mr Ng, who was not only Gung Gung's landlord and his former boss, but also his oldest friend, had hit him hard.

From a chest overflowing with fading black and white photographs and vintage knick-knacks, Grandad pulled one particularly creased snap. "This was taken the day I began working here," he said, more to himself than his grandson.

Ethan, however, found it hard to believe that the excited teenager looking back at him from the picture bore any connection to the sad, venerable figure standing next to him.

"And that is ... was ... Mr Ng," Grandad continued. "You know when he retired, he gave me the business for nothing - and charged me a pittance of a rent. What a kind, kind man."

Ethan was only saved from dissolving into tears by the arrival of Sam. After offering his condolences, Ethan's best friend braced himself before launching into a prepared speech. "I hope you don't mind, Mr Tai, but Jenny and I were talking after Ethan left, and if Mr Ng's children are putting this shop up for sale then we reckon we should use the two million dollars to buy it."

Stunned, Ethan and Grandad stared at him. "That's very kind of you, Sam," Grandad eventually responded, "but I couldn't possibly accept. And, anyway, the developer would just outbid us."

As Ethan gave Sam a grateful and consoling pat on the back, they were interrupted again.

"Maya!" Ethan exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"

"Bringing news." She turned to Grandad. "Oh, Mr Tai, I was so sorry to hear about your loss."

"And I am sorry I was so rude to you last time we met," Grandad replied.

Maya dismissed the need for an apology. "The thing is, I've just been speaking to the property analyst in Dad's company and Chan is really struggling to raise the money to buy this shop. He's already overstretched. Dad's making calls to find out more."

Sam looked expectantly from Grandad to Ethan. "So ... are we going to buy?"

"Come on, Gung Gung," Ethan urged, "you owe it to Mr Wong as well. He loses his shop and his home if Chan wins."

Grandad was clearly touched by what these youngsters were willing to do for him and, as Maya's phone rang, he began to waver. "People from my generation live a very long time," he warned. "It may be many years before you're able to get back your money."

The rising tide of optimism turned, however, the moment Maya spoke. "What?" she demanded of her caller. "No ... yeah, thanks, Dad. See you later." Killing the call, she turned to the group. "Chan's scraped together HK$2.5 million."

Ethan watched for a moment as Grandad consoled a crestfallen Sam and Maya, then headed for the back of the shop where he began rifling through the trove of memorabilia.

"Sam, you've got a scanner haven't you?" he called.

"Yeah. Why?"

Grandad was equally bemused. "What are you doing, Sui-man?"

Ethan glanced at Maya before responding. "Not quitting."

To be continued next week


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