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Gray.

After her discovery of the color gray, Kai Hang knew that at last she'd found a world where she belonged. In retrospect, starting from her scribbles in kindergarten, she'd never shown much interest in multicolored pencil sets, feeling unaccountably resistant to them. She stuck to ordinary lead pencils, so that her drawings were gray and smudged and her hands were grubby. At first her teachers were amused, but later they became impatient. "What's that you've drawn, Lam Kai Hang? Is it a witch?" In primary school and later in secondary school she'd had to use color in order to get a pass in art. Gradually, she forgot her response to gray.

In the autumn of the year that Kai Hang turned twenty-five, it became fashionable to wear gray outfits. She didn't pay much attention to the trend at first, but when she went into a shop to buy some new clothes, she found that everything was gray. This didn't bother her and she tried on a few items. When she looked into the mirror, memories of gray from her childhood flashed through her mind like old black-and-white photos. From then on, Kai Hang only bought blouses and skirts in different shades of gray, over a spectrum of more than twenty degrees of light and dark against white or black, aware that even gray could come in many variations and intensities. Although the streets were full of people dressed in gray, none was as thorough or flawless as Kai Hang.

Kai Hang worked as a bank teller in the daytime, dressed in a red uniform. After work she changed into gray clothes and went to her black-and-white photography class. In fact, Kai Hang realized that she had no photographic sense at all and couldn't understand how cameras worked, but she wanted to know more about visual perception on the scale of black, white, and gray. After class she would go and buy books by famous photographers such as Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eugene Atget, Andre Kertesz, Jacques Henri Lartigue, and Yau Leung. She didn't even care when she got a fail for her homework. There was a hard-working boy in her class named Pak Wing, who was very knowledgeable about photography. He volunteered to act as Kai Hang's mentor and was always at her side on field trips, more or less grabbing her camera to take photos for her. At the end of the course, Pak Wing asked Kai Hang for her phone number and shortly afterward invited her out to take photos.

Kai Hang had not dated boys for two years, not because she didn't want to but because it never seemed to work out. She'd had four relationships before she was twenty-three, some lasting longer than others, but while all of the boys were crazy about her at the beginning, after a few dates for some reason they went cold. One boy told her directly when they broke up that Kai Hang was too aloof, she hardly ever said a word and just about never smiled, her only hobby was to go to evening classes, and there was no fun in going out with her.

Kai Hang dressed from top to bottom in gray for her date. She didn't bring her own camera, letting Pak Wing take photos of her. He shot two rolls of film in the park against a backdrop of flowers, and then they went to a Japanese cafe for afternoon tea. After close to an hour, Pak Wing went to pick up the photos from the photo shop. On the way back he was lost in admiration at the prints, but Kai Hang was indifferent, asking only why he didn't shoot in black and white. "Wouldn't it be a waste of your beauty if they were in black and white?" Pak Wing responded. Kai Hang's heart suddenly sank. Noticing her expression, Pak Wing said, "Cinderella should leave behind her gray world of cinders!"

"What's wrong with Cinderella's world?" replied Kai Hang.

Although she'd only dated Pak Wing a couple of times, Kai Hang invited him to her small rented room because she didn't want to waste his time. When Pak Wing showed up, he was wearing a bright yellow shirt, but at least he didn't bring a bunch of red roses. On entering, he saw that the whole room was filled with gray: gray furniture, electronic appliances, wallpaper, rugs, curtains, teacups, and even books. Kai Hang was wearing a gray dress, gray lipstick, and gray nail polish. Even her eyes were dark gray against her dazzlingly white skin. She asked Pak Wing to have a seat. "I'm not actually a good match for you," she said. Pak Wing didn't reply. He took out a box and gave it to Kai Hang. Inside was a checked gray scarf. Next to it were also the photos he'd taken, now printed in black and white, and inserted among them was a small card on which was written "For Cinderella." Speechless, Kai Hang lowered her head and stroked the scarf. After a long pause, she wrapped the scarf around her neck and a gray smile spread across her face.

Translation from the Chinese By Bonnie S. McDougall

Dung Kai-cheung is one of Hong Kong's leading authors. Bonnie S. McDougall's co-translation of his novel Atlas won the 2013 Science Fiction and Fantasy Award.

Bonnie S. McDougall (bonniesmcdougall. com) is honorary associate at the University of Sydney and professor emeritus at the University of Edinburgh. She has written extensively on modern Chinese literature and translated poetry, fiction, drama, and film scripts by Bei Dao, Lu Xun, Mao Zedong, and many others.

From Dung Kai-cheung's The Catalog, this short fiction is one of ninety-nine sketches of contemporary popular culture in Hong Kong.
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Title Annotation:FICTION
Author:Dung Kai-Cheung
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Short story
Date:Nov 1, 2015
Words:1092
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