New Home

A short story, by Katrina Hamlin



The small blond girl opens the door, and steps out onto the landing. She drags a big suitcase with broken handles. She’s late.

A Chinese man – timid stance, mid-50s – is standing at the top of the stairs.

He is shocked to see a small blond girl on the landing. He spills a “Hello” before he can stop himself.

Ni hao,” she replies, and turns to rattle the keys into the lock. She’s used to her own novelty, and those looks, which come with a reflex “Hello”.

“You live here?” he asks, watching.

Wo zhu zai zheli. Wo de jia.” My home. She zips the keys into a hand bag, and moves to push past, to the stairs. The plastic wheels rumble on the concrete floor.

He doesn’t move. “This is your home?”

She notices for the first timet that he is addressing her in English, without effort. “Yes. I live here.”

“You live here.”

“I live here.” She looks at her watch, frowns, and tries again to go past him.

“You borrow the room, or you own it?”

“I rent it.” She is trying to angle the broken suitcase past him. He doesn’t move. She can’t pass. He looks like he can’t decide how to hold himself.

She decides there is something wrong with this man. He doesn’t fit. “Do you live here?” she asks.

“I lived here when I was a child.” He points to her doorway. “That is my room. Then we went to America.”

She is surprised, and likes the coincidence. She allows herself to forget she is late and watches him, watching the door. “Do you want to see my room?”

My room?


She unzips the bag, and rattles the keys back into the lock. The door swings open and the man walks in before her. He acts like he owns it, she thinks. But he doesn’t fit.

He takes in her things, a mess of books and jumpers piled on the sofa bed, a still-warm half-cup of milky English tea on the wooden table.

They are quiet, and the door swings shut.

Then, he strides over to the window. “I used to lean out of this window when I was small, to see the street. My grandmother would shout at me. What have you done with the door?”


“What have you done with the door? There was a door here,” he says, pointing at the wall. “They must have filled it in. Do you have water? Running water? Gas?”

“Yes… yes.”

“Can I see?”

“The bathroom’s there, in the corner…”

“A bathroom!”

“Yes… A bathroom.”

He studies the plastic loo seat, the cheap fittings, and the shower curtain with the rain cloud pattern. He looks at the bathroom for three or four minutes.

The girl was curious, but now the man is boring her, and it is her room, and it is time to leave. She checks her watch again as conspicuously as she can, and picks up the keys. The man is staring at the plastic toilet seat, in a reverie. “I have to go,” she says.

“I have to go,” she says, a little louder.

He blinks. “You have to go.” She holds open the door and waits for him to walk out ahead of her, back onto the landing.

She locks the door again and turns to find him holding her case, clutching the broken handles. “I’ll help you.”

“Thank you.”

They go down the stairs together.

“Have you been here since you were a child?”

“This is my first visit in 50 years.”


“How long have you lived here?”

“I moved in this week.” His face twitches, and she feels him taking possession of the room in his mind. It’s more his than hers; he wants that to be true.

They reach the ground floor, and step outside. “But I’ve been in China longer than a week,” she tries to reassert herself, “Over two years in China.”

He’s not listening.

She is about to say something else, but he speaks over her. “You know what to do now?”


“You see that car?” He points down the road. “The one with the lights? That’s a taxi.”

“I know,” says the girl, who was already lifting an arm to wave it down.

“You have to wave it down,” he says.

“I know,” says the girls. The taxi is already slowing, now stopping. He hasn’t noticed or he ignores the tone of her voice. “I live here,” she repeats.

He puts the case on the back seat for her.

She speaks more quickly: “It was nice to meet you. I’ll look after the room. Good bye.”

He nods slowly and closes the door for her as she climbs in. He stands very still on the pavement, watching her through the window as she tells the driver, “Hongqiao jichang.”

“Airport?” the driver replies.

“Yes, thanks,” she says, and he revs the engine.

But before they can move away, the man is at the window, rapping on the glass, flashing urgent eyes.

She winds down the window, checking her watch again and swearing under her breath. “What?”

“You have to tell him where you’re going.”

“I told him.”

“Tell me where you’re going, I’ll tell him for you.”

“I told him, I’m going to the airport.”

Shifu, jichang. Jichang. Jichang.” The man is gabbling, and his words sound strange in Chinese, even to her. The driver nods, impatient.

Zhidao. I know. Airport,” says the driver.

“I have to go,” says the girl.

The man looks at her. “He will take you now,” he says, and steps back onto the pavement.

He watches as the car disappears down the road.

She sits back, and wonders why she didn’t ask more about her room, and what it had been to him.

He watches as the car disappears. Then turns back to his house, and his room.

Katrina Hamlin is a journalist and writer based in Hong Kong