The Third Side of a Coin

Stanley saw the crowd of protesters was gathering near the Causeway Bay, but it didn’t concern him much. Riot police in menacing black gear were standing in the distance, not doing anything. All Stanley needed was just quickly going past this place and disappearing in one of the small streets, in the direction of the little semi-legal hostel where he stayed. He instinctively accelerated his footsteps. Tomorrow morning, life around here should be back to normal, and he would be on his flight out of here to renew his visa. Stanley didn’t like to think of it as a visa run, like what some of his friends in Thailand had to do regularly, but still, it was the same thing.
The sound of shattering glass and female screams has abruptly stopped his dreams. Fire. Molotov cocktail. Another one. The smell of petrol and smoke in the air, some plastic burning. Riot police were suddenly running towards them, firing the tear gas rounds. Stanley turned around, looking for the nearest side street or a passageway to escape. He tried pushing open the door closest to him, to no avail. All doors shut and locked. Local dwellers were smart enough to lock down in advance. Stanley felt an already familiar irritation in his nose. Time to get away from the tear gas quick. Damn it, since when he got accustomed to such things? What the hell was wrong with the world?
He saw a narrow passage and rushed there, only to see the guys in white shirts, wielding the batons, at the other end of it. The white shirts looked similar to what Stanley saw on TV the other day, some group of people violently beating the protestors. The noise of the battle behind was quickly getting louder and closer. Fuck. How stupid of him, to get caught in the crossfire. Stanley saw the nearest white shirt thug swaying the baton at him. He raised his arms to cover his head and tried to shout that he is not one of the protesters, just an innocent bystander, a foreigner in the middle of this mess, but his voice has failed him.
With a gasp, Stanley woke up. He was in the tiny hostel room, dimly lit by diffuse daylight coming from a small window, bounced off the wall of the building on the opposite side of the narrow street. There was some commotion heard from the outside, but at least it seemed to be safe here. The hostel occupied a few floors in an indistinct office building. The building was very near to the scene of now almost daily protests action at Causeway Bay. Luckily, it didn’t have any China-linked company names on it, so nothing attracted the vandals there.
What time was it? Half-past noon already. Damn it, how many times did he tell himself to control his drinking, but yet again, it felt like he had a few too many. Sonia was not in town these few days, so he went out with a few of his former IT colleagues, and a few promising local chicks. The beginning of the party has more or less registered in his memory, but then he got carried away by the flow of drinks and events. How and when did he get back to the hostel wasn’t entirely clear.
Luckily, Stanley still clearly remembered what he had to do. The visa run. He hasn’t managed to get any permanent job yet, and his tourist visa was just about to expire. He hadn’t decided yet where he gonna travel, but it didn’t matter—whatever is cheap and does not require a visa to get in. Just open the airport’s website and see what flights look convenient.
The first thing that stroke his eye was the amount of red on the departure page. Canceled, canceled, canceled. What the heck was going on there? A quick survey of the news was shocking. The protesters have completely paralyzed the airport. The only alternative way to leave the country before his visa expires on Monday he could think of was mainland China. The catch was that he needed a visa to get to China too, and there was absolutely no way this could be done on the weekend. Damn it, he should’ve done it all yesterday, instead of partying. But then again, who knew that the situation could go so bad so quick, he consoled himself. It’s like a musical chairs game, suddenly the music stops, and you have to sit down where you were. He recalled that something similar has nearly happened to him before, when he got stuck in Europe because a volcano in Iceland with an unpronounceable name paralyzed the air traffic everywhere. Back then, he got lucky—the flights were resumed the day before he needed to go back.
Anyway, now he had to get out of here. If you panic—be the first to panic, as they say. There was no point coming back to the hostel, and risk getting caught in a situation like he just had in his nightmare. He quickly chucked his few personal belongings into the backpack—there wasn’t much to pack, actually—checked out, and left the place for good. Where to—he didn’t have a plan yet. Planning would require some clearer state of mind than he had at the moment. He didn’t have a hangover in the true meaning of this word, yet it felt that his thinking processes certainly were affected. He needed to sit down somewhere and eat, and maybe even some hair of the dog kind of stuff. Also, not knowing where and when he will end up, it would be a good idea to eat something while he can.
Outside, the city still looked like a battlefield after the last night events. Burn marks, shattered glass, rubbish, spent tear gas rounds. MTR station was closed, with no sign of buses or taxis either. Stanley wasn’t in a mood for a walk, but he had no choice. He quickly crossed the area near the MTR station, most affected by the vandalism, and headed west, toward Wan Chai, trying to stay further away from the big roads, along which most of the riot action used to happen. There must be some bars still open. It never failed to amaze him about Hong Kong, that in the middle of any disaster, there was still a way to do things. That was precisely what he needed now.

* * *

Read the rest of the story on Smashwords