【明報專訊】For reasons unfamiliar to me I surrendered all my travel documents to the authorities the other day. I'm grounded officially, though the COVID-19 pandemic has effectively commanded me so for more than a year. I didn't complain and I don't and I won't. Still I miss London, my London!
I had my first sensual experience of London some thirty years ago. It was an April rainy day or a rainy bleak day when my elder sister and I got into serious trouble in passing through the immigration point at Heathrow. Those immigration officers, though civilised and sensitive they had to be, tended to suspect that everyone from Hong Kong holding a colonial passport would discreetly harbour the sparkling idea and desire to settle illicitly in England, deserting whatever he or she had fortunately and legitimately gathered back in Hong Kong as if casually dumping an unwanted ex, alas. I confess I had no such idea of settlement (whatever that may mean) in any part of the globe at that time when I was barely twenty one. I just carried a few books along with me to kill my travel time more gainfully and handsomely. One of the titles I brought was Glanville Williams' little gem, Learning the Law, as I was then toying with the idea of studying law.
"You read law books even on your trip?" asked the immigration officer. I shrugged, "It's not really a law book but a precursor of law books."
"Is that a legalese argument?" The officer followed on.
"Not really an argument at all. A statement probably", said I.
Apparently the officer wasn't satisfied and he extended his inquiry by a great leap of logic, "You want to stay here to read law?"
I did smell the odour of an intellectual trap but the trap nevertheless carried grains of truth. "I wish I could apply for law school in London." I was visibly contented with my answer.
The officer, not amused, proceeded, "So that's the reason why you want to stay here?"
I was more unamused, "All I want is simply to go to my sister's wedding in Edinburgh to be held in a few days' time."
The officer rolled his eyes unnaturally and said determinedly, "Your sister is with you right here!"
"Another one I mean!" I really meant that.
"So your sister wants to stay here too, doesn't she?" The officer sounded almost self-congratulatory.
"We are always talking about the same one."
I corrected that officer, "You may be always talking about the same one, though I'm not sure which one you're now talking about. The one I'm with here is my second sister. My third sister is getting married soon in Edinburgh. She's always there."
The officer flipped through my colonial passport and said without looking at me, "Does your third sister know you're here?"
"Of course, she's expecting us at the exit down the hall. And she must be wondering what is holding us up for so long..."
The officer smirked, "You consider this long?"
Such exchanges, though sometimes intersected by fun and fury, would go on for another half an hour. Then my sister (the one I was travelling with, not the marrying one) and I would be left alone for a few more hours in an interview room without knowing what would happen next.
"Is it a lawful detention of us?" I thought aloud while no officer was inside the room. The clock was ticking and ticking.
Last week I was left in a cell for some thirty six hours. I now know what did happen to me, though I didn't know what would happen to me when I was squatting in that cell. There was no clock, no ticking. The time was silent.
My silent time in that cell raised the memory of my first time setting foot in London from the muddy ground of my unconsciousness. Behind bars I was trying to recall a few lines by George Orwell I read some time ago to capture the present frozen in the silence of the cell. I failed.
I only succeeded in unearthing Orwell's lines when I was allowed to be free and to be home. Those lines appear at the very beginning of his As I Please 19 written in 1944,
"Sometimes, on top of a cupboard or at the bottom of a drawer, you come on a pre-war newspaper, and when you have got over your astonishment at its enormous size, you find yourself marvelling at its almost unbelievable stupidity."
■ Glossary 生字
toy with 不太認真地考慮
■by Lawrence Lau•劉偉聰
Lawrence is a life debater who has to debate with his life. Being a barrister makes him a living while reading and writing gives him a life. Meet his cat 寅恪.