My day officially begins, as it so often does, with the first refreshing sip of hot, black, water-flavoured liquid at Pacific Coffee. Customers are so few this early in the morning that they are outnumbered by staff. My coat and bag occupy the seat next to me. We all know what that means: go away and sit somewhere else. It is a simple and universally understood signal from the human in the adjacent chair that at this hour of the day a little personal space is appreciated. Sadly, a certain sort of intensely imperceptive inadequate does not seem to get it.
Typically, they start by hovering. They sidle up and survey all the unoccupied seats available. They hover some more, and maybe turn around 360 degrees – maybe twice – rather like that stupid thing dogs do before they lie down. Then, with a dozen empty spots to choose from, they point at my coat and bag and ask some dimwitted question about whether someone is sitting there. I say ‘intensely imperceptive’ because not only do they ask, but they fail to be affected by the withering look I give them, starting with a blast of gamma rays straight into their eyes, followed by a slow and disbelieving sweep of the rest of their pitiful form. On a charitable day, I move my things with what must be visible incomprehension and disdain, verging on pity, that someone could be so cretinously gauche.
The late-20s marketing floozy who occasionally makes me go through all this often decides at this point to go back to the counter to collect her order, and then… goes and sits somewhere else anyway, where she fiddles with her iPhone. Do the gamma rays take that long to sink in? Is this her way of trying to pick me up? Is she mentally diseased? Most peculiar.
The fresh-faced gwailo who commits this most egregious of faux pas is easier to read. He is new in Hong Kong and doesn’t understand the sacred importance of a few feet of distance from Les Autres. He feels exposed and lonely, and wants to be near a white man in case the natives turn out to be cannibals. (Also, he probably has hemorrhoids. This recurring nightmare of modern Hong Kong life takes place on the big soft easy chairs rather than the slightly firmer smaller ones. Since I only perch alertly, rather than recline like some idle slob, it makes little difference which sort I sit on, and this trial might not take place so often if I sat elsewhere – but, yes, it’s the principle.)
Today, a new example of these misfits appears, and he truly outshines his pitiful peers. From his manner of hovering, I instantly sense something a bit creepy. He is a slightly spotty 30-something Stanley from the mailroom who has worked his way up to assistant sales manager. After the idiotic and tiresome request, I move my things laboriously, surely leaving him in no doubt that he is causing a degree of annoyance that only the most socially inept could manage, but he is impervious. After sitting in his newly sequestered chair, he has to find somewhere on the little round shared table to put his drink and croissant. He has not thought this through. He then starts tentatively rearranging my newspapers and coffee. Big mistake.
Many right-thinking citizens would simply strangle him, but I am classier than that. I make the sort of tutting sound normally reserved for dull-witted children, and I glare. Then, muttering an appeal to the almighty, I gather up my paper and drink and nod to a row of 10 empty seats and five empty tables a few yards away.
“If I go and sit over there, are you going to follow me and start moving all my stuff around?” This delivered more in the tone of “Move one step in that direction, and I chop up your entrails with a meat cleaver and feed the bits to pigs.”
I don’t wait for any blinking, spluttering or head-shaking. But after I complete my removal and arrange my belongings to form a suitable buffer zone, I see him bow his head, make a sign of the cross, and pray. Then he tucks in to his breakfast.
The babies thrown from rooftops, the passers-by frenziedly chopped in wet markets, the late-night defenestration of furniture and spouses, the impulsive branding of maids with irons. This is how it all starts – inconsiderate and obtuse strangers create unceasing, niggling irritations, slowly piling on the frustration and pressure, before eventually sending normal, decent people insane. Luckily, I can now declare the weekend open with it all off my chest.