I escaped the neon-soaked Kowloon bustle after my companions dismissed me with a shrug and cloistered themselves in our cubicle of a shared room. A constellation of roadworks led me to the base of the ICC, a fairly innocuous glass monolith at night that is nevertheless the fifth tallest building in the world.
This building, right here.
In this part of the story I ascend 100 floors in 60 seconds, fear I have suffered the bends, and nothing terribly interesting happens.
The lift that returned me to earth deposited me into a shopping mall. As the doors slid open, fear ran its fingers up my spine. Most of the last two weeks had been spent trapped inside sprawling retail arcades that I’d entered whilst trying to cross the road/find the zoo/escape a different retail arcade.
I had to search for an exit, always deliberately hidden so that you might instead scurry inside a shop. I wouldn’t be fooled. My path divided into four. The signage had chosen a non-committal approach to language, opting for pictograms of leaves and what were perhaps intended as animals: an oak leaf, a lotus, a hobbled raccoon, an elephant with shingles. I picked one and hustled past the gaudily glamorous shops until I reached glass doors.
A washcloth of humidity pressed against my face. The Outside. But my relief was curtailed as I realised it was a decoy; a car park that opened onto an overpass with no pedestrian access.
Back inside. Now shutters were descending like emotionally clumsy cinematic fade-outs. Closing time. I pursued Oak Leaf until it dead ended at a desolate food court. Elephant doubled back on itself and left me at an escalator that fell eerily still as I approached. The situation was dire. I accepted my awkward fate and went in search of a staff member. I found her by the lifts that had got me into this mess.
This is her.
“How do I escape?”
She stared blankly back at me. Perhaps she only understood pictograms?
“Do I follow raccoon, elephant, oak leaf, or lotus?”
I threw her a thin-lipped grimace, the English symbol of I’m too polite to panic but I don’t want to die here.
She primly walked away as if my existence had elapsed.
I hammered the lift button but it was one way only. I cast around desperately for an exit and saw, tucked away in the corner, a metal fire door. A pictogram of an exploding sun indicated that it was alarmed.