A glimpse from afar|Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee

Published (HKT): 2021.04.05 09:51

My dear,

I was set to write you a decent letter so as to let you know someone still cares about you in the days you are stripped of freedom, telling you something you are concerned about, or something relaxing that you enjoy reading, but then I remembered you said you love poring over every page of Apple Daily verbatim every day, so seized by a flash of inspiration, I might just as well make this column a mailbox in which I put my regular letters to you, and more people like you.

When the court was considering remanding the 47 people on bail the other day, their families were not allowed to be present, but could only peep at them via an audiovisual device in another courtroom. That made me feel exceptionally miserable and resentful. Actually in any civilized societies, the right of family members should be prioritized over that of others. As an unidirectional audiovisual way is inhumane, it is necessary to let defendants and their family members see each other simultaneously on the spot. I do hope the court will heed my advice and stop such an event from occurring again. No matter how crowded the courtroom is, defendants and their family members have to be allowed to see one another then and there.

That is reminiscent of a masterpiece by Charles Dickens I read when I was a student - A Tale of Two Cities. Do you still remember that? During the darkest days of the French Revolution, being a descendant of nobility imprisoned in Bastille, Charles Darnay would be guillotined at any time when necessary. His beloved wife Lucie Manette was prohibited from visiting him. Yet she was informed that there was a specific spot in a narrow alley of which Darnay could catch a glimpse from afar two or three times a week inside the jail when being escorted past a window. So, Lucie stood there from 2 to 4pm every day, rain or shine, in winter or summer. If the weather was fine, she would go there with their younger daughter; if not, she would do it alone. Though she could not see her husband, she hoped he could see her. Later on she was told her husband did see her figure, which was a genuine solace to her.

You must have read A Tale of Two Cities. Did you shed tears over that part?

During the October Revolution in Russia, the beloved husband of Anna Akhmatova, a stunningly beautiful female poet, was arrested, jailed and killed. In the end, her only child was apprehended and thrown in jail as well. She was driven to go from pillar to post among various prisons where taciturn family members of prisoners stood in long queues, carrying foods and clothes in the hope of giving material assistance to their dearest incarcerated. Poems by Akhmatova are abundant in sadness and bitterness. There is a short article used in lieu of a preface in Requiem, one of Akhmatova’s poetry anthologies, in which she said that one day when she was silently waiting in a queue, a woman that was freezing with her lips turned purple whispered to her: “Can you make a narrative about this?” She answered: “Yes, I can.” The woman with her complexion eaten away by hardships of her life finally showed a smile on her face.

Every time I read this passage, I feel how insignificant and great we are at the same time. Under a ruthless regime, apart from suffering from tribulations, we are merely capable of making a narrative of what we have experienced. Even though the verses by the female poet could not be sent to the press for publication, but could only be passed down through the generations by recitation, the power of them would shake the skies and land one day, and be remembered forever by posterity.

Ten years ago, it was totally inconceivable that would happen in Hong Kong: waiting indefinitely in a long queue for a moment of seeing each other, while having absolutely no right to change the reality. Even so, we have remembrance and words recording unswerving affections that would not alter, even if the seas run dry and the rocks crumble.

My dear, what did you narrate today? What did you add to your memory? Or, in my next letter, I would start with: “I still remember…”

(Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee is a barrister, writer and columnist in Hong Kong. She was a member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong from 1995-1997; 1998-2012.)

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