Cafe at 46 Old Street
The answer was what the answer is for any twenty-something woman prone to a touch of melodrama and deprived of golden pre-adolescent adventures: move to a different city to start living. More specifically, move to London.
There were many reasons why not. The concrete jungle had the stench of any metropolitan city in the world. There was the towering crime rate. No proper sleep anywhere because something was always happening. Busy streets notorious for cold snobs who will huff on trains in contagious frustration. It was a box of shadows, adorned with brilliant confetti pieces.
Of course, there was comfort in where Hanh was now, in Bath with the things and the people she knew best, but coincidentally she felt a force pulling her towards someplace else, an outlying treasure. Hanh called these concerning impulses phases. Just that this phase had been going on for a long time, like never-ending reruns of an old popular television series.
Thi Hoa, her mother, had suggested it before. With the back of her arms buried in graphite and her feet covered in scraped sketches all the time, Hanh should at least go to The City to make something of her devotion. Everything is worth it when a place is big enough to make space for you.
Of course, that wasn’t quite true, and Hanh’s brother Nam agreed: Usually there was even less space in cluttered places with most people pulling at the same oversaturated straws. The chance of finding the right train of opportunity to jump on towards the idyllic destination was as slim as the likelihood of Picasso and Rembrandt having met in their lifetime. (Not because they lived in different countries but because they existed two centuries apart.)
Amongst many other things mothers were usually right about, Thi Hoa was right about one thing: There wasn’t much for Hanh in Bath. Her dreams felt unattainable; she was being weighed down by her lull surroundings. She had felt out of place for a while now, with no idea where she would rather be. If only her father hadn't taken her to Bennett Gallery by the University of Bath when she was young, he wouldn’t have to complain about her life choices now.
There was no guarantee for anything in London, but at least her notional glory felt a little more feasible in its eccentric backdrop. She would have to wear her mother’s optimism like a coat and walk right into the crowd as a part of it. She’d move in the achromatic smog of a daze, hoping to no longer feel too damp for a spark.
It was a Sunday in November. Dense fog swirled around the streetscape and Abney Park the day Winston's Sofu got buried. He had passed peacefully in his sleep at the age of ninety-three two weeks prior, in a blanched hospital room that he hated, surrounded by his daughter's sword lilies which he hated even more. He always said how much he hated everything. At the same time, he found joy in everything he claimed to hate. His eyes barely fought to stay open as he drowsily gazed back at his daughter, the first and only man she had married and his two grandsons, hovering around his stilling body. He was unable to speak so they spoke for him. They said everything they were lucky enough to let him know before his eyes shut for the last time. Most of the monologues got interrupted by the choking sound of tears. But they had to trust that he understood every word, taking their memory with him.
The lights switched around. Winston didn't know what had changed exactly. The prolonged sound of the stilling heart animated on the monitor was ear-splitting, not soft and subtle like Winston remembered from films. The room seemed to close in. Voices turned into noises he couldn’t comprehend for a long time. Sofu left with a twitch at the right corner of his mouth and Winston cried quietly because that was where Sofu's grin used to start. He could feel his absence in the room, though the body still lay there. Even as the nurses brought the white sheet up to his face, Winston could hear him cough from Marlboro cigarettes, slur his stories in a melody because he drank Sake every night, and laugh from the depths of his round belly.
After the funeral, Winston’s parents went back home to Croydon. His brother Brandon and his fiancée Izzy lived in Mile End. Each of them had offered Winston to stay with them for a couple of nights so he didn't have to be by himself. His parents were already hosting family members from Kobe at their place. There was disdain on Izzy’s face. Winston knew he would pose an inconvenience, so he refused their offers respectively.
When Winston came home to Sofu’s flat in Bethnal Green that was now his to keep, he kept everything as it was. He didn’t touch Sofu’s bedroom door. He slept on the couch for four months.