Having run out of places to start over in Hong Kong, Yiu-Fai and Po-Wing leap the other side of the world. Or maybe it is truer to say that they fall. They land in Buenos Aires, a city and a life turned upside down, and they settle on a neighborhood quickly, the bright colors drawing them into La Boca. The nautical history can still be found in the bones of the place: the liminal space of the port, the transience of its inhabitants even now, the ghosts of male desire around every corner. They kiss furiously in an alley. La Boca is like them, full of passion, without anchor.
The only room they can afford is outside of the splashy tourist area, in a building painted a sickly green. It’s always damp, always cold even in summer, whenever summer is here. Wherever it is that they've ended up, for it's wrong to use any word which suggests intentionality. They refuse to make choices. To choose is to take responsibility. Instead Buenos Aires is a thing that is happening to them, and the home it has provided feels like being at sea, soft and rocking, adrift and unhealthy, unsettled in the strange world around them, the new languages in their ears, the old scars on their skin.
”What’s this one?” Chang will ask him, tracing a mark at his wrist, his hip, the inside of his thigh. A hot stove, a lit cigarette, a slip of a knife, by his own hand, perhaps, but perhaps not. Certainly not always. And then Chang will trace again but with his mouth this time, soft kisses and licks, and Yiu-Fai will be amazed as always at the warmth at the center of him in being seen, in being safe.
“Let’s start over,” Po-Wing says again and again, and Yiu-fai always says yes because what is more appealing than a blank slate? But to start over means never making any progress, and a blank slate means erasing their history every time. Or pretending to. It means to ignore the pain and not to learn from it.
To be with Po-Wing is to be lost in time. Not unstuck, which feels like freedom, but unmoored, which feels like loss. They cling to each other, the only solid points in a world of perpetual motion. They have sex like they’re trying to push through each other to something better on the other side.
Yiu-Fai had hoped to leave the anger behind in Hong Kong, but it has followed him here, hungry, feeding on the fear and uncertainty. They are in love, but they don’t know how to be in love, a dance of one step forward and two steps back, and someone is always hurting, someone is always being hurt. Yiu-Fai doesn’t know how to fix it. He doesn’t know how to make Po-Wing stay, and he’s starting to be afraid that he can’t, that they’ll do this dance forever.
In the end, it is Po-Wing who leaves, and when he comes back, Yiu-Fai hears a future in his voice, a future of more of the same, and refuses.
”Is this okay?” Chang will ask, touching him slowly. “Is this? And this?” He will wait for each answer like they have all the time in the world, and they do. He will help Yiu-Fai in stillness, help him learn to be soft and quiet, help him learn to say yes again and again because he knows a no will be honored, that a yes now isn’t a yes forever, that they can take the time to really understand and be sure.
Yiu-Fai works nights at the slaughterhouse, always cold, always wet, but he feels the center of him shift as he works his way back to Hong Kong time. He almost feels upright again, but he has one more thing to do before he leaves, a promise to Po-Wing and more importantly to himself.
He boards the bus and rides through the country for a night and a day until he comes to the falls. The town and the park are full of red dirt paths, and he’s warm to his bones for the first time since he came to Argentina. How strange, to come north and finally be warm.
Just outside of town there is a viewpoint where you can see three countries at once. Yiu-Fai watches the rivers converge, the water marking the borders in a churning brown, cutting through the impossible greenery of the shore.
At the falls he moves out of the way of children dashing along the paths, and defends his lunch from the many coatis, both charming and dangerous. He stands on an observation deck as the water rushes away underneath him for so long that he feels like he’s the one who’s moving and the water is still. He thinks of the lamp, of the two silhouettes on the deck, of the one silhouette here now. He tries to imagine Po-Wing here with him, quiet and still. It is impossible. He wonders if Chang has been here or if he’s on his way.
”I listened to the tape in Ushuaia,” Chang will tell him, “but I didn’t hear any words. Only tears.” Yiu-Fai will feel his arms around him, solid. “I left them there,” he will say, kissing Yiu-Fai’s temple. Chang will see the sorrow still in him and he will not be afraid. “I will always take their weight from you."
Yiu-Fai stops in Taipei on his way back from Argentina. He has many steps to go yet, but at least now he can see what they are. Steps to what was never really a home, steps to his father, steps to make things if not right, then better. He’s ready to make choices now. He’s figuring out who he is on his own. He’s seeing where and how he might grow. He thinks someday he could do that with Chang.
At the night market, Yiu-Fai finds the right stall easily, smiles over the chatter, and pockets Chang’s photograph, the tall figure carrying sorrow to the end of the world, a talisman of his own. He knows where Chang is now, and he knows that when he returns, when Yiu-Fai is ready, Chang will be there too, his face lit up with that sunshine smile as he listens to the bustle of Liaoning.
“Ah-Fai,” he’ll say before he even opens his eyes, reaching out for him automatically. “There you are.” And he is and they are and they will be there together, no longer in exile.