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The World's End

That Christmas, you

took me to the village

where you grew up

in North Yorkshire.

A village whose name you said

could be found in the Doomsday

Book. A name I couldn’t

remember or pronounce.

Except that I briefly philosophised

about the end of the world.


The village was tucked

deep in endless

mountains and moors covered

with patches of snow and ice

and dry heather.

Grey sky.

Low clouds.

Vast land.

Winding road.

Black stone houses.

Perhaps it was indeed

the world’s end.


The smell of roast turkey

floated in the air.

Your mum was busy

preparing the table while your dad

sat on the sofa watching

boring Christmas television.

The noise was hypnotising,

but it saved some small talk

for us.


We took our seats, thanked

whoever had brought us the dinner

(Anyone but your mum.)

and helped ourselves to boiled

vegetables, roast potatoes, gravy,

pigs in blankets.


Lots of things were said

about the neighbours and the relatives.

Not much was mentioned

about you

and me.


I smiled and nodded,

as if I understood

all your heavy

accents. You seemed

to have changed

to a different

person: polite, reserved

and straight.


The programme I enjoyed

the most was the ritual

when we grabbed

both ends of the crackers

and pulled them apart.

Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!

There came

the magic hats,

red and green and purple and yellow.

We put them

on our heads, proudly

competing for silliness.

We laughed

at one another

in childlike innocence.


You took me to a pub

that night. A local pub

for local people. A pub

where a red and white

St. George’s flag flew

high on the roof.

There men drank dark ale.

Men played pool.

Men threw darts.

Men bantered with mates

about football and women.

(There were no women in the pub.)

There people looked at you,

me and us, in curiosity

and slight hostility.


I must have been

the first East Asian

they saw in this pub.

We must have been

the first gay couple

to have patronised the place.

We made

history and brought

juicy gossip

to this quiet village.


Early the next morning,

we bade farewell

to your tired parents,

to the sheep that awaited

their grass, to the dog that barked

at us, to the school building you hated

so much, to the church you refused

to step back into. I didn’t

ask you what it was like

to grow up

in the village.


Driving along the zigzagging

road across the mountains,

the moors,

the rocks,

the heather,

the patches of snow and ice

and childhood memories,

throwing your hometown

behind, just like what I had done

to my hometown.

(Although one is in England,

the other is in China,

one has a population of 500,

and the other, 7 million.)


Linguistic

and cultural differences

aside, we actually share

many similar

childhood experiences.

Was it this

that had brought us

together?


by Hong Wei Bao

Hongwei Bao (he/him) grew up in China and lives in Nottingham, UK. He uses short stories, poems, reviews and essays to explore queer desire, Asian identity, diasporic positionality and transcultural intimacy. His creative work has appeared in Allegory Ridge, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Messy Misfits Club, Shanghai Literary Review, The AutoEthnographer, The Hooghly Review, The Ponder Review, The Sociological Review Magazine, the other side of hope, The Voice & Verse and Write On. His flash fiction ‘A Postcard from Berlin’ won the second prize for the Plaza Prize for Microfiction in 2023.



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