Dara slammed the home door shut and pressed her back against it as her daughter’s hand clenched with fear around her wrist. Yells and screams resounded from the men in the street below, so furious they seemed to make the walls shake. Dara knew that she and her daughter were powerless if these men wanted to enter her home yet a part of her still clung to the belief that by leaning against the door, her daughter would be better protected.
As the sound of hurried footsteps drew nearer, her daughter’s fingers cinched tighter. Although Dara could feel her hand slowly weakening, she was thankful to feel her daughter’s grasp. The words yelled in the corridor were unrecognizable. Perhaps because muffling by the door, perhaps because they were foreign, for these men were also asylum seekers; or perhaps because they were so drunk they had little self-control in their speech.
Dara looked at her daughter who had now thrown herself onto her, wrapping her arms around her waist, thrusting her head into her stomach, as if trying to block out the noise. “Go.” Dara whispered, “Stay on the bed and do your homework.” Arms slowly loosening from Dara, the girl lugged a laden school bag from under the table, and pulled out her homework. This was the usual drill for the two when fights broke out: listening together at the door until it dragged on for so long that it was better for her shaken daughter to be distracted by something else. Then, Dara would have to listen, anticipate, guess at the men’s every move. It was something she had grown to be accustomed to.
Hong Kong is often referred to as one of the safest cities in the world. With security cameras covering almost every street, this image of chaos is not the one that comes to mind for most people. Indeed, the area where Dara and her daughter live is most definitely not representative of the city as a whole, but moving here was a difficult decision that the mother had to make in the search for a better living. Their last home was a dingy room in the center Kowloon, right in the hustle and bustle. There were positives and negatives of living there: the good being that everything they ever needed -school, grocery stores, transport links- were accessible, but the bad being that rents were incredibly high. They shared a bathroom with the twenty who lived on their floor, some elderly living alone and other asylum-seekers. That room was acceptable when Dara’s daughter was smaller, but as she grew older, now eight years old, the space was insufficient and a poor environment to study. Thus, they decided to move away.
The footsteps grew louder. Dara could feel the floorboards of her apartment vibrate with the men’s footsteps. A burley man, perhaps in his late twenties, passed Dara’s door. Behind his back, he held a package wrapped in a piece of dirtied black cloth. The package had the length and width of a long ruler. A feeling of dread swept over Dara as she already knew what the package was even half hidden from sight. Thankfully the man did not stop at Dara’s door, instead continued upwards, shifting his grip on the package so that he now clenched one end of it in his fist. Dara stopped looking. There was no point anymore. She already foresaw the ending of that frightening incident.
As Dara returned to join her daughter who was now engrossed in her schoolwork, a dreadful scream rose from above then something metallic clattered onto the floor. The cold sound, like that of an out of tune cymbal, of dropping metal rang through the whole building and momentarily captivated attention. After that, there was nothing: no yells, no commotion. It was as if everything had once again returned to how it usually was.
The next day, as Dara went up to the garbage room, she found the man’s hidden package lying on the floor. Cautiously, she kicked aside the cloth that shielded it. Underneath it, lay a blade: long, sharp, and blood stained. There were splatters of blood, but no body. Where was the victim? Who was he? What fury had come between him and the assailant? Dara had no answers.
During our interview, Dara frequently circled back to this incident, clearly an issue that troubled her. She expressed that she was not overly worried about her own personal safety, for she “was already accustomed to dealing with people and seeing things like this” and that “a woman of her age would unlikely be of interest to those men”. Instead, she was more concerned for the safety of her daughter particular as she got closer to becoming a teenage. Dara said, “When she’s older I can’t always be around for her” and “as you know, girls of that age are more likely to attract trouble.” However, as her daughter is already well integrated in her school and doing very well, Dara is reluctant to relocate again. Thus, in the meantime, before there are any allowances for change, the two must remain vigilant all the time, especially at home.