This story was written by Andrew Fung O-long, 17, from Pui Ching Middle School.
It is the winning entry from Young Post’s 2019 Summer Short Story Competition. Our favourite entries will be compiled into a book, which each finalist will receive a copy of. Be sure to look out for our other writing competitions in the future.
It was dusk, and there were heavy footsteps along the harbourfront; the duo’s souls
were heavy, too. On the other side, the specks of light grew brighter by the minute, morphing blocks of colours into endless stretches along the coastline. The neon signs dazzled in their orange, red and cobalt hues, almost matching the tangerine of a fading daylight. Seagulls squawked overhead. But perhaps as per the universe’s orders, they fell silent immediately.
Instead, the air revolved around the two of them. A father and a son. A suffocating tension. They waited for each other to make the first move.
The father moved with great effort. Perspiration slid down his wrinkled skin. The once-vibrant eyes were now reduced to a tired and faded brown. He winced. The sharp pain in his stomach was back again. He recalled the moment Janet told him of his prostate cancer.
Janet … the finest surgeon Hong Kong has ever produced. What a marvellous achievement to behold. He beamed with pride just thinking about it. A father could not be more proud.
If only you were half the man she was, he thought, casting a sharp glance in the direction of his son. His head was down, his gaze uncertain. Silence reigned, its presence was oppressive. Now, now, the father reminded himself. Janet set up this meeting to reconcile the two of us. Now is not the time for an engagement with the past. Not now. I’ve done enough of that for the past decade.
“So … Janet called me,” the son said.
“It appears she did,” the father echoed.
They continued to walk.
“So, how have you been?” the father asked.
“I’m in-between jobs,” he mumbled.
“That’s not what I was asking,” the father stuttered. “But Janet told me what you’re going through. Pretty rough, huh?”
The son compressed his lips. He dare not speak. He dare not tell his father about his job. He thought back on darker times – the disgust radiating from his father’s face when he flunked the exam. The scolding that followed. He felt tears well up in his eyes after a quick glance at the man next to him.
“Well then, what were you asking?” he asked, ignoring the question.
“You know, about your life and stuff?” the father replied.
“You’d really want to know, don’t you?”
“I’m your dad. Of course I want to know.”
“You know very well why you came here,” the son retorted. “If you came just to make fun of me, I figure you could’ve just done this at home. In front of the ‘wall of shame’, ‘right in my face’, isn’t that what you said?” His eyes were fixed on the pavement.
“We haven’t seen each other in years, and this is how you greet me?”
“I don’t know, is it?”
The father gripped his son tightly, tugging at him to slow down his pace. He was carrying a cane in his other hand, his walk now a shuffle. The son slowed down, his resentment masked by an indifferent expression. The father looked around for comfort. Perhaps in another universe, their thoughts might have intertwined. But here, as the soft autumn breeze breathed in whimsical whispers, they stood close but were worlds apart.
The ferries gliding across the ocean reminded the father of the past. A time of innocence, with a little less to worry about. The son, then no older than 10, would sit on the bottom deck. He would watch the bow cut through the waves. God knows what goes on in that boy’s head now, the father wondered. He remembered caressing the boy’s thick black hair, then sighed as he touched his own. The greying mass, neatly-combed with a bald spot he tried his best to hide. It shocked him that after all this time, he was reminded of this moment.
“Son, can we sit?”
The son gave a weary smile. And they sat in silence. The last time he sat facing such a view, he was alone. He had been sitting there because of his father.
The argument had been heated that night – when he had returned home after yet another failed exam. His father’s disappointment flashed before his eyes. An ominous suspense brewed, like the darkening skies signalling the arrival of a typhoon. On instinct, he touched the place on the back of his upper arm, where his father had so unforgivingly unleashed his anger.
That scarred him. But he recalled more. He recalled the nights he stayed up reading that textbook. He remembered how determined he had been to pass the exam. He had thought of nothing else back then. And the world was forever cruel to him.
“Life’s not fair, is it?” he murmured, fingers running back and forth across his coarse palms. The thick skin resembled small hills. He had grown accustomed to his muscle aches a long time ago, and the stench of the construction site was ever-present.
The father noticed, eyeing his own aged arms. Dark spots dotted his saggy skin. Veins snaked along it. For a split second, he felt the rush of time – the remorseless nature that so many before him had described. He felt something split inside him, paving the way for the new. Perhaps his thoughts were destined to swim in the never-ending void of the past.
The son eyed his father’s expression. He appeared to be lost in a trance. Something in the hollow gaze spoke to him. The voice was faint, as if it were an echo from distant mountains. Their arms, one wrapped around the other, resembled gold in the warm glow. The son followed the father in his ponderous silence.
The father coughed, a deep and disturbing sound. His belly rumbled in protest as pain shot through his body. His hand raced to cover his abdomen. The son checked his wristwatch.
“Time for your painkillers,” the son said.
“I know,” the father fumbled for the pills in his pocket.
“Here,” the son said, and handed him his water bottle.
“Thank you, son.”
The son glanced at his father as he gulped down the pills. Part of him gloated at the sight of the helpless old man next to him. It was instantly replaced with regret, which came crashing down on him and he gazed back at the harbour.
If this were any other day, he would be sketching in his notebook already. The gentle serenity of his surroundings would’ve carried him away. He would’ve admired the rhythm of the waves, the kaleidoscopic colours, and all the patterns that were repeated in nature. The world as he knew it was simply a perfected craft of
mix and match.
If it were any other day.
The father took a peek at the son. Janet was sure he didn’t have amnesia. But the memories often came back as fragments. The torn piece of a classroom sketch. A scream so loud it made him flinch. Did he know? Did he remember? Or did he choose not to? He still wondered what goes on inside the son’s head.
He contemplated the world as he knew it. There was the swelling of his abdomen – and the pain. Ticking clocks bore down on him, the weight growing increasingly unbearable.
“What do you see?” he inquired, a sudden hint of desperation at the edge of his lips.
“You don’t really care, I can tell,” the son said.
“You can’t be sure,” the father croaked.
“Oh, I’ve never been surer of anything else.”
“I’m trying to be friendly, and you keep pushing me away.”
“And why is that, I wonder?”
The father sighed. Joggers passed by. Couples took their photos. All was as it were – like any other day. The son was quiet, but an impending loss seemed to lurk. The voice became clearer now, no longer just an echo.
“You know, but you do not see,” the son eventually offered.
The father regarded him. It occurred to him he didn’t know what to ask. He tried to speak, but his mind was blank.
“I see … colour,” the son continued. “I see spontaneity. I see patterns. Sometimes dark and grey. Sometimes they are fires that truly amaze.”
“That sounds … vague,” the father said uncertainly.
“Perhaps, but I’m never sure of anything.”
The father scoffed. He knew he shouldn’t have, but he couldn’t help it. Absolutions were what kept the world in check. He was going to die, and sooner than he had hoped. He wandered the road of ruins alone. A fragment came up at the back of his mind. But he let it slide. Wounds heal, scars don’t.
“The world doesn’t lie, son. It speaks for itself. You evading the facts doesn’t mean they do
“I evade, and what have you done?”
“I’m trying to reconcile our differences.”
“If it weren’t for Janet, would you have wanted to see me?”
“I don’t know, son. I really don’t.”
The son rolled his eyes. Years upon years of accusations carved deep within his mind, etched like ancient caveman paintings. The innumerable times they had labelled him a failure. The long days working on the construction site, his skin scorched by the unforgiving summer sun. The nano-flat he returned home to every night.
He had long since forgiven the indifferent world. But this, this was something else entirely.
“Says the man who deals with absolutions,” the son mumbled. “You think I wanted this life? I only wanted to dream. That was enough. To know I have the ability to do it. And you had to keep suppressing it.”
He took out his notebook and pencil.
The son inhaled deeply. The father turned away, stroking his chin as he did so.
“I never meant that,” the father spoke through his palms. “I thought maybe …” He turned and faced his son. The son watched intently, waiting; his eyes brimming with hope. The father opened his mouth, but the words eluded him. The son lowered his head, his light dimmed once again.
The father scratched his scalp. The wispy strands of hair were a mess in the evening wind. He mulled over what to say.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
He watched his son draw. He imagined the colour and the fires, the dark and the grey. He wondered what it would take for them to truly amaze.
“Yes. Yes it is,” the son echoed, looking up from his sketch. The father saw a spectrum flaring in his son’s piercing gaze.
He handed his father the notebook. And he raised it, comparing the sketch with the view.
“No. Feel it, if you must see,” the son insisted. The light was returning.
His father touched the pencil marks. Pieces of graphite fell onto the red-brick pavement, seeping through the cracks; disappearing without a trace. He looked closely, and then closed his eyes. His son smiled. And they sat quietly, watching dusk turn into night. Without a sound, they spoke in silence.
Spires restless, and beyond – a setting sun. Darkness comes, and so we run.