From the moment my feet touched ground in Hong Kong, I was spellbound. I dragged my bag to the end of a walkway on the east side, scanning the horde for Aunt Lisa. She’d sent implicit instructions. The stench of smog and rotting fish wafted past. Thunder and slivers of lightning vied for attention in the sky ahead of rain, viewable in the distance.
When a wave of bodies parted for a moment, I spied a young woman with a sign held aloft for Miss Brock. She looked terrified; that made two of us. I hurried toward her, crossing paths and bumping into people, who didn’t understand, “Pardon me, excuse me, please.” A few even spit my direction.
I grabbed hold of the girl’s shoulder and screeched, “I’m Ludivinia Brock. Did my aunt send you to meet me?”
She nodded and grabbed my hand, pressing through the crowd, to a VW van waiting at the curb nearby. As we loaded my bag I glanced at a knot of vehicles, each vying for a spot held by another. Horns blew and motorists shouted curses when our van driver lurched into the madness.
For a Central Alabama girl, recently graduated from nursing school, it was a bizarre adventure. I wondered where my aunt was. I couldn’t ask because neither of my companions spoke English. I tried my smattering of Cantonese; they frowned and nodded. In Hong Kong that meant ‘yah, yah, shut up’.
Once in Kowloon the roads were better. After an hour of careening through filthy streets, the van screeched to a halt at the curb. Before us, the grimy concrete block building needed cleaning and a coat of paint. Trash blew through the roads like tumbleweed. I jumped out and tried to swallow the revulsion.
The driver unloaded my bag, bowed, and scurried away. “Thank you!” I called after him, but he didn’t look back.
The sign-holding young woman, who’d met me, walked toward the doorway and jerked her thumb that direction. I followed. Inside, the raging clamor was deafening.
The chaos of children and amahs stirred up a riotous nightmare. I love the quiet order of a hospital. I set my bag on the floor and scanned the group, looking for Aunt Lisa or anyone who spoke English. My heart raced. The only faces I saw were Asian.
Two seconds from flight mode, I caught sight of a nun hastening my way. Her cassock flowed on each side, children and amahs parting like curtains in the wind.
“Miss Brock!” She waved her hand, without breaking stride. Breathlessly she continued, “I’m Sister Catherine. I’m a board member. Miss Brock, I am so sorry I could not manage your arrival at a better time.” Her accent was Australian.
“Where’s Aunt Lisa?” I met her gaze, concerned about her tear-streaked face and swollen eyes.
“My dear— I so regret— that Mrs. Howell has—well, she succumbed to pneumonia, just last evening.” She grasped my arm. “I will take you to her later. Her body is still at hospital.” She snagged my bag by the handle.
My head spun. I tried to get my breath, but felt like an elephant sat on my chest. When I looked at her again, I wheezed, “She’s dead?”
Sister Catherine nodded. “Let’s get you a cup of tea and a rest, dear. You need time to get your heart around—well. Rest! Rest and a cup of tea will set things right.” She chattered all the way through the crowd of toddlers and crawling babies, into another room of older children, many almost as unhappy as the front roomful.
I followed, in a daze. Aunt Lisa was no longer alive. Oh, Mom! Her youngest sister—what should I do? The temptation was strong to catch the next flight home. In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t. I’d signed a contract to her orphanage for three years.