That Broken Arm

So this is what happened to the arm. I fell.

While being assaulted by a man on a moving escalator about two blocks from my apartment in Hong Kong.

We fell down in the struggle, from a height of about six or seven feet, and I broke my left arm in the process.

It was about 12.50am on October 26, 2014. Routine night in Wan Chai, which for all its bars and brothels and other seedy enclaves is still a relatively safe neighborhood.

I can only describe the attacker based on the glimpse I had of him while I tried (failed) to slam his head against the metal balustrade after we’d landed with a thud, intertwined somehow, on the hard metal landing.

He had a mess of tangled, oily hair, eyes that seemed vacant and crazed at once, skin blackened by what I can only describe as motor grease or the plague of a thousand unfulfilled showers. Olive shirt. Jeans. Could not tell if he was Chinese.

When two baby-faced police detectives came in to interview me nearly 24 hours later, at 11pm – the nurses had to shake me awake – their leading questions offered further clues. “Was he Chinese?” I’m not sure. “Between 30 to 40 years old?” Sure. Oh, and apart from misspelling apart as “afart” in the victim’s report, they also mentioned to me that the attacker was mentally ill and had a history of indecent behavior.

Not actually sure why he attacked me, really – and I wonder why I’m supposed to explain. That one policeman, for instance, who stopped the paramedics for a minute from taking me to the waiting ambulance, said to me, “You got attacked?” “But WHY?” he says, mouth agape, in disbelief. I wanted to say, Well, why don’t you find out? The fucker is sitting right there. Ask him! Not me. This is not my fault.

This came out as, “I don’t know.”

Later, the fourth of five officers (none women) who came to ask me the same series of questions, scribbling details on their little notepads, while I clutched my rapidly swelling, increasingly painful broken arm, explained they were trying to find out if I’d provoked the crazy guy.

I can’t think of anything I did to warrant attention, even if police asked the typical “What were you wearing?”. Maybe he didn’t get his methadone fix that day from the clinic near the escalator. Maybe by some bureaucratic anomaly, the government cut psychiatric health funding and he ended up in the streets.

Maybe this was my punishment for succumbing to the pull of greasy McDonald’s at midnight. As good an excuse as any to never eat there again.

Recounting the attack step by step for said baby-faced policemen was also a bit of a pain. Out there in the hospital ward’s hallway, explaining how I warded him off after he’d embraced me from behind and started pulling my shirt off, must have looked like a tai chi lesson. This is how I turned. This is where I might have put my hands. This is the elbow I must have used to push him back.

Truth is, it happened so fast I don’t really remember. Surprisingly, you don’t pay attention to the minutiae of your panic when someone’s trying to sexually assault you.

I do remember getting up again though, after the fall. I remember having screamed. I remember finding my belongings at the top landing of the escalator, the machine’s metal teeth having delivered my keys, phone, one shoe, coins and the messy remnants of my uneaten McNuggets takeaway meal all the way up.

I also remember feeling my left hand dangling against my thigh and realizing my arm was broken, and what a silly, stupid inconvenience that was going to be.

I don’t remember the faces of the five Pakistani/ Indian men and the one Cantonese-speaking guy who helped me call the police and waited with me, who gave me water, who told me everything would be OK, the bad man is downstairs and not getting away, who saw my state of undress and put a blue shirt, a cotton mass faintly smelling of sweat and cigarettes, over me. The shortest of the South Asian men got mad at the cops for taking too long (or seeming like they took awhile).

Yeah, they caught him. About 30 policemen came I think, probably pulled away from Occupy Central duties. That was probably because we made about five different 999 emergency calls – two from me which didn’t work because I couldn’t hear that I wasn’t actually talking to an operator, but to a pre-recorded voice prompt. Press one…

They found the attacker sitting, unmoving, head bowed and curtain of dirty hair over his face, on a stool near the escalator where elderly men typically drink beer and play chess in the mornings. As I was being helped onto a gurney downstairs, I simply had to point at him and say, “That’s the guy.”

The reactions of various people to my injury, my incident, were interesting. The nurse who gave me a tetanus shot for all the scratches to my face, back and legs, upon learning what had happened to me, said, “Oh you got attacked? Hahaha.” When they transferred me to the next government hospital, in Chai Wan, which has an orthopedic ward, one nurse also said: “You’re in pain? Hee hee hee. Very unlucky!”

I think they were laughing because the facts made them either uncomfortable or put on the spot. A laser beam of light pointing at them, demanding, What do you say to a girl in a wheelchair, who is crying for the first time all night because she’d just told her boyfriend, on holiday in Europe, as well as her family in the Philippines, asleep, that she got attacked in Hong Kong?

I would have preferred the clinical coldness of my youngish bone doctor, who gave me a new cast that was the gauze and plaster equivalent of a bowling ball in weight and who didn’t seem concerned when I fainted briefly from the pain.

I could have lived with the brusqueness of the overworked specialist who’d look at our charts each morning (under my “Weight:” a nurse scribbled “Not fit”) but would disappear from the ward before I could ask any questions. Like, Can I please see my X-ray results? Only if I pay 20 dollars and wait 40 days for a – by then outdated – film of my fractured humerus.

But maybe not Awkward Giggle. Ha ha ha! Your trauma!

Others were shocked that something like this would happen in Hong Kong, where it’s so safe! Where people are so behaved! Making me feel like a sore statistic, the indecent assault (official charge) happened in a year when the city’s crime rate was at a 14-year low.

Acquaintances will later laugh at the expressionless, matter-of-fact way I describe the unfortunate events, saying there needs to be more flair, more drama to the retelling. Hair billowing around my face, falling in slow motion, camera above me, like in a shampoo commercial.

I appreciated the quiet concern of our good friend Kenny, who dropped his plans to nurse a hard hangover that night and rushed to hospital as a comforting presence, staying for seven hours, agreeing to take my keys and head to my apartment to assemble a hospital survival kit.

I am forever grateful to all the streams of friends and coworkers (and my boss, who managed to track me down at the hospital after my phone died and no one could reach me) and later my family who came to see me, feed me, sneak me tiny bottles of liquor inside a Coke can, bring me flowers and candy, books and magazines.

They made the four maddening days in the ward, unable to shower or walk properly because of the pain, and sifting through my hospital food for anything that resembled flavor, and the two equally maddening months bedridden at home, a bit more bearable.

Yeah, he was in jail, but the police haven’t really been good about updating me on the situation. The number they gave me to call seemed to be manned by distracted, overburdened detectives who couldn’t tell me exactly what was going on with the attacker.

It was a full five months later, in March, because I asked them, that I learned a court had sentenced him to two months in a mental asylum. The officer, though, could not tell me when exactly the court decided this, or if he’s been released. Or explain to me if there’s any measures in place to prevent him from attacking anyone else.

I can’t help but compare, though, my plight versus his.

After fighting my way out of the sluggish public health care system (still, cheapest rent in the city at HK$100 a day for a hospital bed and three square meals. Free 6am wake-up calls and no baths. And you have to sometimes steal fresh pajamas from the cart), and going private, I’ve had to pay thousands of dollars on X-rays, casts and fracture braces, slings, painkillers and very expensive doctors who say that if I don’t get even more expensive surgery, then sadly my left arm will be that crooked forever.

I couldn’t sleep lying down or wear my own clothes or shower without plastic wrapping my arm or, by god, I couldn’t braid my own hair.

For a time, I felt useless and lost and angry and blamed my boyfriend for not being there when I needed him most, to protect me (then questioning why I thought I needed protecting). I couldn’t pass by that same escalator, taking a longer route home, over the irrational fear he would be there and I would freeze.

I’ve managed to injure my right hand as well for having to type solely with it while I worked on a project or went back to work. If all he is doing is living in the bubble of his insanity, then I resent him for not having to deal with daily realities like this.

My dad’s striking reaction, on the day of the attack, when I finally got to contact them 12 hours later when someone gave me an iPhone charger, and I inventoried all my injuries and scrapes to him over the phone, was: “OK, that’s fine, that’s all just physical. But how are you emotionally?”

And, I know, it could be worse. I was “unlucky” but then also lucky to have the resources to deal with it all. But every now and then I have fantasies of punching my mentally ill attacker, hard, in the face or the groin, or breaking his arm too. With my remaining good arm. Make him fall, and make it count.

But I don’t know where he is. I don’t even know his name, where he comes from, what mental illness he is suffering from or why he was standing on that particular corner on that particular night.


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