Remember the Man with the Pets on The Bridge?
This is his story. A story for Valentine’s.

Un Chau Bridge in Shamshuipo is a home for the homeless. One side is littered with makeshift beds belonging to some Vietnamese lads. The other is inhabited by newly-weds, Kitty and Ah Chair. Both are former mental patients.

Loud, chubby and volatile, 37-year old Kitty lives to eat. It is clear from her 200-pound frame. Her 52-year-old husband is the exact opposite. Toothless, skinny Ah Chair is of mixed parentage. But despite his gaunt appearance, there are signs he was once a handsome man.

“In my younger days, I charmed many women.”

Their home is littered with piles of used furniture and other odds and ends – packet drinks long past their use-by dates, dozens of old umbrellas, piles of paper, empty bottles, bits of fruit skin. Home is a haven for insects and other vermin. The stench is almost unbearable.

“I’ve not had a bath in days,” Kitty declares.

She says she suffers from anemia and stooping to wash in a public toilet causes her to become dizzy. Ah Chair tries to help by wiping her down with a soapy towel. In many ways, he is Kitty’s guardian angel. They met in 1997, the year Hong Kong returned to China. He had just lost his job at a garment factory but his parents and five brothers refused to take him in. He sought shelter at a nearby bridge and met Kitty there. She felt sorry for him and went to ask for leftovers at a hotel. The two shared their first meal then.

At night, on the bridge, Kitty would tell Ah Chair stories about her past. She became homeless when her first husband made off with all her money. A subsequent relationship resulted in two pregnancies and two children – a boy and a girl. But her boyfriend was abusive and she left him. He now has custody of her two kids.

She had an unhappy childhood and was sexually abused by her father. Kitty says she turned to drugs to help numb the pain. She dropped out of school in Secondary One and took on an assortment of work – in factories, at a MacDonald’s, as a toilet cleaner.

Her story moved Ah Chair, stirred his protective instincts.

“Honestly, she’s not an ideal woman, but she needs my help. Her life’s been tougher than mine.” He sighs, “When I was younger, I met many more eligible women, but they had their own quirks and were difficult to handle. How could I have gotten along with them?”

“Kitty can be troublesome too,” he says. “She has a bad temper.”

Ah Chair is perhaps the only person who can control his wife. He’s relatively placid. A calming influence, that somehow manages to sooth her, even when she’s throwing a tantrum.

In 2004, a social worker discovered that Kitty had a mental illness. For Ah Chair, it was a revelation.

“I knew she needed me more than ever in order to survive.”

He spent many days taking her to the doctor and accompanying her to meetings with social workers. One day, someone made a suggestion: “Why don’t you pretend to be mentally ill as well? That way, you can get more welfare support,”

He took his friend’s advice. The plan worked but to this day, Ah Chair insists he isn’t mentally unsound.

“I’m not sick,” he says. “Kitty’s the one who is sick.”

With help from a social worker, they rented a room in Shamshuipo. But Kitty was restless and Ah Chair eventually agreed to move to their present home.

When asked why she’d rather live on the streets, Kitty touches her Mickey Mouse watch and doesn’t answer. She isn’t as eloquent as her husband. Ask her why she loves Ah Chair and her plump face lights up, “He’s a good man.”

She says Ah Chair likes her for the same reason – because she is a “good woman”.

She hates it when women make eyes at her husband and has threatened to leave him because of it. He’s always succeeded in wooing her back. She says she’ll never forget how he once borrowed $100 to buy her food. She’s also grateful for the many strays he’s given her as pets.

Ah Chair’s never seen Kitty as a burden.

“She’s very innocent and she’s got a good heart. Not even Miss Hong Kong can compare.”

He says he feels a mixture of admiration, pity and protectiveness towards her.

“I really do love her. Without me, she won’t survive. Without her, I’d feel empty inside.”

At the suggestion of a social worker, they got married in 2006. Kitty says they spent less than a hundred dollars at a shop in Shamshuipo, buying red clothes and red shoes for the ceremony. Their social worker gave them a loan of to buy a pair of wedding rings.

And so, the duo in red became husband and wife – an unlikely pair living out their lives on the bridge in Un Chau Street.

Excerpted from SoCO’s latest book about the under-privileged in Hong Kong. Translated from Cantonese by Lynn.