Shu-Ling Chua
New York City, June 2014

“Who is this girl? Is she with us?”

“He said I could hang out with you.” I looked at his friend.

Disclosure opens with When A Fire Starts To Burn. Rippling with the insolent beat, the embodiment of ‘I-don’t-give-a-damn’, the crowd pulses, crackles with youthful bliss beneath the crystalline sky. Body takes over mind, wiping, cleansing, stripping me of thought.

He leans into me. “You’re cute.”

“Thanks.” I turn back to the music, drinking in the sweet sunshine.

“I want to see you without your glasses.”

I flick my sunnies up and face him. He’s alright-looking, not someone I’d look at twice. Reassuringly nondescript, even his name. Joe. “I like you better without them,” he says.


“When do you leave?”


“My friend’s birthday is on Friday. I would have asked you.”

Would you really, I wonder, steering him towards Sleigh Bells on the tiny Gotham stage. He backs against the tent as my tongue finds his. A riot of guitar chords, distorted and piercing, envelopes us in a vindictive wink.

“You’re so sexy.”

I look up at him, eyes wide. “Why are you looking at me like that?” he asks.

My mother’s words echo threateningly, “Gam haau…” She would mutter this whether we were watching a Bond girl or an Imperial palace maid with bosoms bursting from her silk robes, in which case she added, “Historically inaccurate,” for good measure. Deceptively innocuous when translated into English – “Such a flirt…” – it smacked of a promiscuous ‘she’ who would seduce and f–k anyone, a ‘she’ with no morals. I was not that kind of girl. No.


“You realise we’ll probably never see each other again, right?”

“But you’d show me around Australia if I came.”

“Dude, Australia is a long way away.”

Jack White slices through the summer night, his guitar trilling, squealing, buzzing, as though it was calling for some ungodly creature. Weeks later, I hear High Ball Stepper on the radio while making dinner. Chafing at imagined shackles, it builds but never quite explodes. Just the same notes, over and over. We leave Randall’s Island, hand-in-hand.

“You barely know me.”

“I think I have you worked out,” he smiles.

“What, in the five, six hours you’ve known me?”

“I know you like to have fun…”

“Everyone likes to have fun.”

Just as I thought, this boy, like all others, is oh-so-easy-to-please. And naïve. One kiss and he’s convinced you’ll sleep with him. There are guys I wish I’d pushed away. My first kiss sort of just happened. The second was a creep. Third, practice for if my crush ever looked at me.

And so on… always out of curiosity or worse, politeness.


As we slip through the inky night, from ferry to bus to my windowless hotel room, I think, I could stop this at any time. I could have stopped this hours ago but I don’t want to. I want this.

I’m the first girl he’s been with since his break-up two months ago. They’d been together for two years. “Did you see it coming?”

“No,” he pauses. “She wanted something different. She’s living in Manhattan now.”

I tell him about going to the movies with my ex a few weeks ago. We met for dinner and had coffee afterwards. Just like we used to but with the spark now gone.

“You’re a beautiful girl. You shouldn’t let anyone control your destiny.”

“You’re a good guy,” I say, watching his reaction. Sometimes you say things because you want them to be true.

“You’re a good gal,” he grins. “Can you get me water?”

“You have to leave before 7.” I set my phone’s alarm. “Before the cleaner gets here.”

In the morning, we take the lift down. The pavement is sun-bleached as I point him in the direction of Park Avenue.

“Are you sure?”


Shu-Ling is a Canberra-based writer, reviewer and HARDCOPY 2015 participant. She blogs at hello pollyanna while living the memoir she hopes to write one day. Her work has appeared in BMA Magazine, The Victorian Writer and Scissors Paper Pen. She spends her free time reading (favourites include Alice Pung and Sylvia Plath), traipsing and measures her life in playlists.