Long Night’s Journey into Day: A Monologue Play
by Jennifer Anne Eagleton
The play takes place over the course of one night and the next morning, starting from around 7:00 pm on Tuesday 12 November 2019. Hong Kong is in ferment over a proposed extradition law. Despite the turmoil and uncertainty our protagonist decides to go to a literary reading in a small independent bookshop in an industrial area of Hong Kong. The main character is Jennifer Eagleton, in her fifties, a long-term Australian resident of Hong Kong. A few nameless characters make brief appearances throughout the play, which is largely an interior monologue by the main character. Based on a true story.
Bleak House Books in San Po Kong, Kowloon. Around 7:30 pm.
Scene 1: On the 74X to Tai Po bus. Around 9 pm
Scene 2. On several buses, spanning several hours
Scene 1: Around 7:30 am on Wednesday November 13—alighting from the bus.
Scene 2: Around 11 am on the same day, arrival in Tai Po.
THE MONOLOGUE PLAY
Bleak House Books in San Po Kong. A cosy setting with a selection of Hong Kong’s English-language writing community. Writer Mohammed Hanif is to give the 2019 PEN Hong Kong Literature & Human Rights Lecture, entitled “The Stories We Can’t Tell”.
The previous day was challenging, with no trains in Tai Po. After drinking some wine with a friend at City University, we stopped to chat to protesters who were blocking the road outside the university with makeshift barricades. Trying to be normal in abnormal times, I decided to risk it and go to hear the Pakistani writer and journalist Mohammed Hanif give the 2019 PEN Hong Kong Literature and Human Rights Lecture at the cute little indie bookshop Bleak House Books.
Part of the blurb of publicising the talk read: “We all read the headlines but do we know the stories? This lecture will be about stories that we are not allowed to tell, stories that we don’t want to tell and stories we don’t want to hear.”
Ha! These words come back to me later, except my story I can and want to tell.
We finished early because there may be drama getting home—the infamous MTR curfew.
Jennifer leaves the bookshop and makes her way to Diamond Hill MTR station. Alas, the station is closed; she then remembers there is a direct bus to Tai Po.
Riot police are running down the road, but I see no protesters? MTR station closed. At least there’s a direct bus to Tai Po! I will catch that! Lucky me. Little did I know that my long night’s journey into day had only just begun!
Oh, there’s the bus station… One 74X pulls up. Its route has been changed, but as long as it gets me to somewhere in the vicinity of Tai Po, no problem. It’s packed like sardines. It briefly stops to let people off, but fills up before I get on. Four buses come and go before I manage to squeeze on and find a small space on the stairs. I can’t see in or out, but at least I am on. It’s just after 9 pm. I estimate about a 30-minute journey if all goes well. I watch a game of Candy Crush over the shoulders of a fellow passenger. We make eye contact. We laugh as if to say “oh well, what you can do?” Standing on the bus stairs, I think of the drama of recent days, things seem to be escalating, cops everywhere, but I want to go out. It’s sort of exciting though…
The bus moves jerkily, stopping and starting every few metres. It does this for a short while and then stops, and the engine is switched off.
No way is it going to be a 30-minute journey. The bus moves so damn slowly and jerkily, it’s as if it is a bit tipsy; my legs start to ache. The bus stops. The driver kills the engine.
I look out the window – we are on an elevated highway. Not sure where I am to be honest—I feel a bit disoriented. My heart sinks. I see the curve of the concrete highway and buses stacked up as far as the eye can see. The bus’s occupants start to murmur among themselves.
Time moves slowly. It’s after 10 pm now.
Some people get off. Those who have been standing now can at least get a seat.
The rest largely stay put to see if the bus moves. Not likely, it seems.
The witching hour of midnight turns.
Some more people get off.
I’m still on the bus at 1:55 am; I try to read my novel, but I just can’t concentrate. I update Facebook.
The battery on my phone is dying, at least the bus has USB ports so I can charge it up and keep in touch with the outside world. #1stworldconvenience.
It’s 🙁 now 2:43 am, Looks like we’re in for the long haul.
I hear another passenger say Tolo Highway has probably been closed—don’t know if that is true. It true, we’re stuffed though. Getting home soon seems like an illusion.
Even more people get off.
3:02 am. I update Facebook. I try the book again. I close it again.
More people get off. I feel I should too, but I’m a gutless wonder. Okay, get off…
I get off the 74X, walk a bit but is it in the opposite direction? The elevated highway seems to go on forever. I get a little scared; if I was with someone I would do the hike…I feel disoriented. So I chicken out and see a 307, one of my regular buses, and get on. The driver makes me pay again despite the fact that we are going nowhere! I think this is a bit rich.
Sat at the back of the 307, I start chatting to my few remaining bus mates. I teach them the English idiom “play it by ear”, when discussing whether we should get off or stay on. It’s a real dilemma.
My bladder is bursting. I need to pee. What to do? Luckily, the bus is right up against a concrete stanchion road divider and there are no windows nearby. I do my business and jump back on the bus.
4:31 am, I update Facebook, attempt to read. Stand up and briefly get off the bus to stretch my legs.
There’s only a few of us wimps remaining on the bus.
A masked fellow with a backpack comes on board distributing dry biscuits and water to the stranded. “Do you have hamburgers and coffee?” I ask. Alas, no hamburgers or coffee. I think he is doing the rounds of all the buses that have stopped. Only in Hong Kong.
I repeatedly ask myself: “Do I get off or stay on the bus?” “What to do?”
5:15am, I update Facebook. I get off the bus to stretch the legs for a little while.
From the bus you can see a path for bicycles and pedestrians below, but we are on an elevated roadway. How to get there…near but oh so far. A lot of people have started to walk, but it is unclear how far before you could get off the elevated highway. It is really awkward. I would do it if I had someone to walk with.
At 6:30 am there is a rosy glow in the sky… almost sun up, I can spy Ma On Shan in the distance…near the University Station, my old familiar bike/walking track, which I have walked many times.
At around 7.30 am, I finally decide to get off the bus and walk.
The sun is now up. Jennifer gets off the bus and walks by the concrete wall till she spies the Hyatt Regency Hong Kong in Sha Tin.
The Hyatt is close by, so the walking track is also close by. I hope I can get onto it easily. (Should I stay at the Hyatt?) I breathe a sigh of relief. It’s the home stretch! But it will take me a couple of hours, I estimate. Thirsty, I need water as it is quite hot, but I don’t expect anything will be open at Science Park, which I have to pass through to get home. University Station was barricaded off on Monday night when I had to walk along this same track to get home in the dark (but that’s another story).
I cross a footbridge to the waterside track; I can see buses stretched out practically all the way to Tai Po. No vehicles going in the opposite direction.
Black smoke is rising from the footbridge occupied by Chinese University students. Maybe this is why the highway is blocked off.
I walk. It’s a beautiful day though—blue skies, a light breeze, and the peaceful waters of Tolo Harbour beside me. I decide to create a photo series of my journey home.
I sit down at intervals and think of the story I will later tell of my epic journey home during the Hong Kong protests of 2019.
I arrive in Tai Po and walk in the waterside park, take a picture of blooming hibiscus, bamboo, and other foliage, but this nice picture is shattered as, near my apartment building, next to the Japanese department store, is the shell of a burnt-out truck. A bunch of black-clad students nearby have gathered up used tear-gas shells. I ask them to give me one as a souvenir. As I walk farther into Tai Po, I notice traffic lights that have been pulled apart, leaving them out of order, and bricks scattered on the road. With this, buses (my usual means of transport) and trains are seemingly out of action; it looks like I will be stuck in Tai Po for days.
So it came to pass (that’s another story).
How to cite: Eagleton, Jennifer Anne. “Long Night’s Journey into Day: A Monologue Play.” Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, 28 Sept. 2020, hkprotesting.com/2020/11/28/monologue/.
Photograph © Jennifer Anne Eagleton.
Jennifer Anne Eagleton, a Hong Kong resident since October 1997, is a committee member of the Hong Kong Democratic Foundation and a Civic Party member. She has been a close observer of Hong Kong politics since her arrival in the city. She was an adviser to the University of Hong Kong’s “Designing Democracy Hong Kong” project (2011-2013), and in 2012 completed a PhD on how Hong Kong talks about democracy using metaphor. Jennifer has written a number of language-related articles for Hong Kong Free Press HKFP and is currently compiling a book combining Hong Kong culture, photography, and political metaphor. A previous president of the Hong Kong Women in Publishing Society, Jennifer is also a part-time tutor of stylistics/discourse analysis at OUHK as well as a freelance writer, researcher, and editor on cultural topics. In her spare time she collects Hong Kong political pamphlets and artefacts. [See all entries by Jennifer Anne Eagleton]