Love is the beginning of a great
Deal of life’s emotions.
Indulge in it and you’ll discover
The essence of living life
When you love, you’ll hurt, you’ll smile
You’ll cry, laugh, sing and like
Sometimes it will be difficult, other times
It will be easy.
You’ll find sadness and despair,
What’s best is that your heart
Will always run to
That which matters most to you
Hong Kong, 2000
“Ten to five, I win again,” Lee Zun said with a grin.
Bouncing the basketball on the tarmac court, Nan SarEr made a face at his best friend before he threw the ball back to Zun. They’d been at it for about an hour now, the sweat running down their faces was testament to that. Zun always played hard, he didn’t give SarEr any chance to sneak in a win.
“It doesn’t matter,” SarEr said.
“Oh, yes it does,” Zun said clutching the ball against his hip, with his free hand; he swiped it over his forehead to get the sweat dripping into his eyes.
SarEr shrugged. They were both in sweaty basketball jerseys, and sweat pants with white sneaker on their feet. This daily routine of theirs had turned into a contest lately. Zun was probably trying to prove something and it was getting hard not to ask what the competition was about. He was afraid to ask because this free time was a gift from his father, and the only time he could spent Zun without body guards hounding him. Taking in a deep breath, SarEr frowned as he noted Zun’s preoccupied look around their surroundings.
“Do you think I’ll ever get out of here?” Zun asked.
SarEr lifted a brow at the question. Placing his hands at his waist, he too looked around their surroundings. The basketball court was in a public park that the community used for relaxation. The park was kept up by the Yang Nan enterprises, the company that owned the land and the real estate surrounding the area. Zun’s family owned a hair salon in the small town where they also live on the apartment above the shop. Zun was always talking about making it to the big city and owning a large unisex salon.
“Of course you will,” SarEr said answering Zun’s question.
“I hope you’re not just saying that because it’s what I want to hear,” Zun said narrowing his gaze at SarEr.
“No,” SarEr said.
“Good,” Zun said tossing the ball back to SarEr. He turned and started walking out of the court.
SarEr bounced the ball as he followed his friend. They walked through the park sedately, their bodies cooling from the breeze ruffling the tall trees. Walking behind his friend, SarEr took the time to study his best friend. Zun was taller than SarEr. SarEr was only five feet eight inches tall while Zun was six feet and two inches, which was the reason why Zun was always doing better at the basket ball court. He would never voice that observation though for fear of seeming a wimp. Of course there were other ways to win the game, but Zun’s mood seemed to lighten every time he won the game so SarEr let it be. Zun kept his hair long and held in a ponytail at the back. Zun’s little sister was always teasing him about being Yao Ming’s little brother. SarEr had never seen the likeness.
“What are you thinking about so intensely?” Zun interrupted his thoughts. They were walking along a cobbled path that would lead them to the main road. “Did you hear what I said?”
“What did you say?” SarEr asked.
“I gotta come up with a good plan; my family is depending on it. My mother keeps working over time. I hate seeing my mum struggling so hard to make ends meet.”
SarEr remained silent at this comment. His mind was picturing the smiling ever friendly Lee Xiao Wei. Zun’s mother was a sweet petite woman who worked terribly hard to give her son and daughter a good life. What SarEr admired most about her was the fact that it never showed. The exhaustion and worry she went through never surfaced when she was with her children. Instead, she showered them all with hugs, kisses and comforting words. She seemed to have included SarEr in to that motherly circle, and for a guy who didn’t have a mother, he often found her attention very endearing. He could understand Zun’s determination to get her a better life.
“You keep disappearing on me,” Zun said again. “What are you thinking about?”
SarEr realized that they’d walked a while in silence. They were almost near the main town now. People were moving around the place sharing friendly rapport. Shops were open, restaurants serving their clients on the outside tables. There was only one bank in the small town, and the post office.
“Nothing important,” SarEr said with a short smile. “Is Mei at the store today?”
“Nope, not today,” Zun said. “She’s supposedly doing a project in school.”
The tone he used made SarEr chuckle. “Why are you so suspicious?”
“Ha! That girl,” Zun shook his head. “I think she has a boyfriend. Today is Saturday, you know. There is no school.”
“Contrary to you and I, there are people who like school,” SarEr teased.
Zun growled at him and pushed him playfully. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I’m just saying, give your sister a break,” SarEr said.
“Do you like her?”
“Are you going to punch me if I say yes?”
“Hell, yes,” Zun said.
“In that case, no,” SarEr said with a wide grin. Stepping off the curb, he bounced the ball on the tarmac and caught it up again.
They walked down the street, passing the butchery, green grocers, and a supermarket. There was a teahouse where the old men tended to meet and indulge in a few rounds of mahjong. Zun nodded at a man seated on a table outside the tea house, his beat up old hat pulled down to his eyes.
“Old man Yao is always playing alone. What a strange man.”
“Maybe not so strange,” SarEr said thoughtfully, looking at the man. “Sometimes it’s okay to spent time alone.”
Zun chuckled at that and SarEr frowned. “What?”
“You’re the strange one, SarEr,” Zun replied, slowing down when they reached the salon.
A lavish sign on the windows showed off the salon’s name. The Zheng Ren Salon was a neat little place that acted as both a barber shop and beauty salon. It was usually packed with people from the community, and even as Zun pulled he doors open, SarEr braced himself to meet the town gossips who were always seated at the reception area talking to Xiao Wei.
“Mum, I’m back,” Zun said to his mother.
Xiao Wei was busy setting rollers on a young woman’s hair. She glanced up and smiled at both of them.
“Oh good, hello SarEr,” she said cheerfully.
“Hello, Miss Xiao Wei,” SarEr said returning her smile. Nodding at the gossiping ladies, he winked at her. “Need help?”
“You’re a funny one,” Xiao Wei laughed. “Did you have a good game? I hope Zun didn’t beat you too badly.”
“I trounced him,” Zun said slumping into a chair and closing his eyes. “He barely gave me a work out.”
“Hey,” SarEr protested, dropping the basket ball on Zun’s lap. “He is just being mean; I’ll beat you next time. I was being nice today.”
“You say that each time,” Zun said lazily.
SarEr was about to join Zun on the next chair when Xiao Wei made a whistling sound. Glancing up at her, she nodded to the windows that showed of the street. Turning to see what was worrying her, SarEr felt his heart sink at the sight. Three black Mercedes cars were packed at the front. Ten men all dressed in black suits poured out of the cars and started for the salon.
SarEr clenched his jaw as the door opened and a man with a clean shaven head walked in. He ignored everyone in the room and came to stand where SarEr was. The room was quiet, no one moved. SarEr was well aware that this was not the place to make a scene.
“Young master, you have to come with us,” the bald headed man said quietly. He might have been quiet, but his tone was full of authority. SarEr was aware that the words being relayed were an order from above.
“I still have time away,” SarEr said without thinking. Zun who’d been relaxed in the chair stood up so that he was beside SarEr making them a united front. The man noticed, but he kept his gaze on SarEr. “What’s happened?”
“I can’t say, Young master, please come with me.”
The tone hadn’t changed. SarEr looked out again, and the number of men waiting for him made his decision. This was no place to fight this. Shaking his head, SarEr met Zun’s gaze, frustration clearly imprinted on his face. And then because he was well aware of Xiao Wei’s uneasiness, even though she pretended to keep doing the hair she was working on, SarEr nodded to the bodyguard and started to follow.
“See you later, SarEr,” Zun called out.
SarEr nodded but didn’t look back. Outside, he was led to the car in the middle where he sat in the back of the car. The rest of the men distributed themselves in the remaining cars, and they took off within seconds.