Thank You

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

For someone very important to me... thank you :)

Fast asleep, she was dreaming.

With most of her senses numb, her thoughts were clumsy and followed a distorted path. The sunset, as always, soaked her in its warmth, and she allowed herself to be captivated by its beauty.

Her fingers curled against the soft breeze, thick with the scent of the sea. The amber glow of the sun was diminishing along the horizon, and the clouds streaked across the sky, obeying a uniform formation, tinging the drape of orange red sky with light touches of white, and beneath it all, the sea boiled greenish red, the foams marking each and every surging wave patterns, merging with the sky at the horizon. And just a faint circle, translucent in the sky, but a full circle nonetheless, was the moon.

The waves lunged onto the shore, and tendrils of water eagerly curled around her ankles, and she knew the tide was rising. Her subconscious was eating up every fibre in her brain with a single urgent message to leave, but she suppressed all that, heightening up her focus.

The wind became brash, energetically buffeting with simmering rage. She imagined a giant palm from worlds above shoving gales throughout the world. The wind was restless, it did not blow smoothly as it used to. It started prancing, almost gyrating with the sea, and she imagined herself riding the tides.

It was a weird sensation. Rather than physically surfing, this felt more akin to intertwining her consciousness with the wind and the waves. She was soaring high for a moment, strong air currents obstructing flow of air into her nasal pathway. The next moment, the wind rushed her up into the immediate vicinity of the moon, and for the first time she thought she actually saw the craters, as if someone hauled the image out from a sci-fi movie. And at that exact moment, the moon melted like cheese in the oven, and it moulded itself into another shape. As the angles and edges fell into place, a recognisable image of a face settled before her eyes, and she stared. For a moment, just for a moment, she recognised the face, her mind’s eye zooming in on all the memories and emotions and feelings linked to it. Her deskmate from primary school, her deskmate whom she lost contact with after he transferred school.

“My father is moving, it’s for his job.” He had said.

“Isn’t it scary?” Alice asked. “Transferring another school you’ve never been to before.”

“No matter which state of life I’m in, I prefer to strive to live the best.” He smiled. “That’s what my father told me, don’t ask me what it means.”

The thought registered soundly before she started falling back down. The wind, the waves, the sunset and the face were instantaneously swept away, leaving her to fall at a heart-lurching speed. She hit the mattress and woke up.

 

“Mum, I’m leaving!”, Alice called out in the direction of the pool of light flooding out from the kitchen. Snatching up her bag, tumbler and file in one arm and gripping a pretty-much mangled sandwich breakfast in the other, she marched through the cold and quiet living room. She could almost feel the furniture watching her unlock the front door in the stillness of early dawn gloom.

The lock was heavy in Alice’s hands and her arms were full of her schooling stuff. She stepped out into the house compound area and was hit by an instant wave of early morning chill.

Stepping out to the street, her school shoes crunched on sand and loose gravel. In the horizon, the first ray of sun slipped through, and soon it was going to pull the sun up from beneath the horizon. Alice adjusted her class monitor’s badge and mentally ran through the day’s schedule, and sighed. All around her, lights spilled out from rectangular frames of windows of neighbouring houses, dimly illuminating the surroundings in the absence of the moon. Crickets chirped with increasing amplitude as a muffled engine roar appeared at the road junction, soon followed by the appearance of the monstrous frame of the school bus, with two fog lamps sweeping through everything in front of it. Above her, gentle puffs of cloud caught the first tinge of red, and glided slowly across heaven.

Alice swayed gently on the seat as the bus rolled on through the neighbouring streets in the dawn. The surroundings were peacefully dim. Her neighbourhood had a low crime rate, after all. If you left the backdoor open one night and you are very very unlucky, the worst condition that could possibly happen is a stray cat wondering in and messing up your kitchen, which almost never happened before.

Her mind, however, was far from being at peace.

Something screamed and she had to cling to her school bag to stop her heart from thumping out of her chest. Foul and filthy shadows dragged and screeched across a mental-reality interface and she pinched her thumb and forefinger together. She could not even be sure if the action worked, it was just something she instinctively did when her head started to throb.

Rubbing her forehead with an index finger, she took a breath and caught a glimpse of everyone else sleeping in all positions from the back mirror. In the seat right in front of her, she stared straight at the back of the driver’s half-shaven head.

Shadows lurched in the corners beside her feet and she gripped her file tightly until her knuckles turned pale. The bus slowed at the junction and with a few deft movements of the driver, swerved smoothly to the left down a narrow lane. Cars parked tidily along the roadside swished by beneath her.  She felt, as usual, like puking. If only someday, she could just vomit away all those revolting thoughts so she could be left in peace.

A small wind curled beside her ears. Gentle hummings appeared out of nowhere, and suddenly she was enveloped by gentle chantings, they were telling her, patiently yet so eagerly, driving in only one message – ‘there’s nothing she could ever do to make them cease’, dull but soft mumblings slowly amplifying until it reached a note of emergency and complete panic, and suddenly she realised that with a warped-up mind like hers, she does not deserve peace of mind after all. And she nearly screamed. Something heavy, with force greater than earth’s gravity tugged at her mind, and then her entire physical body followed suit. Her hands were oh so heavy, and her head hung limply from the neck joint.

The bus drive started humming to a tune, a soft rock, or something else trendy. Someone behind her shifted uneasily, but she gripped on to the tune, fixed both mental hands on it, and just as the rebellious thoughts soared, she hugged on to the tune with all her might, something real, something that can possibly make her focus and anchor her to this world, something that can stop her from slipping away completely and drowning. She followed the tune closely, feeling all the pins and needles of reckless thoughts driving through every leak and hole in her brain, screaming from extreme pain but physically unscathed at the same time, it should be weird, but she was oddly accustomed to it.

The sun was rising, and she transfixed herself to the beautiful scenery of sunrise. The clouds blended with the sky and the pattern was puffy and gentle. She clung on to them, to the sound and image and sensations, and soon she could finally feel herself sucking in a deep breath of air from the real world. Sweat had already drenched half of her uniform. The bus rolled to a stop in front of an apartment and two girls boarded.

It was still a long way from school. The bus coughed and puffed out a deep sigh of pollutants and smoke as it chugged on. She rested her head flat against the window and hoped to fall asleep, where all thoughts can be quiet for a few moments.

Asleep, she felt herself by the seaside again. But this time there was no moon, and the tides were frozen still. No wind to buffet her up, she thought she was finally a step closer to tranquillity, but everything was so unwelcome and silently creepy at the same time.

She stared up in the sky, longing to see the face again, but there was no moon. Instead, she thought she saw the bus’s window, with half of her face pressed squarely flat against it. It rumbled across a long and widening street and she knew school was just two junctions up ahead. But her eyes were supposed to be closed. She was supposed to be dreaming, for goodness’s sake. But the bus image remained. She managed to crack open an eye and, with her neck at a weird posture, she could see the bus’s seats, now almost full with students, and fully lit by the morning sun. She tried to lift her head. It was a surprisingly daunting task, with something pressing her head down firmly. Wait... pressing her head down? There was supposed to be nothing, she could feel nothing, yet her head was just so heavy and locked in a position so flat against the window, she thought her right cheek would be starting to bruise. She felt tired with the thoughts sniggering and jeering from a corner, she closed her eyes and resorted to relaxing.

She woke with a start when the driver horned its horn. She was surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the other students getting ready and getting up, and her school’s front gate filled the window frame to her left. Hurriedly grabbing her belongings, she squeezed into the line of students filing out of the bus.

Droplets of greyish liquid swirled uncontrollably beside her as she marched into the school gate. She ignored the mass of imaginary droplets vaporizing into mist. Yes, it was all in her head, pure images harvested from her imagination. There was definitely no disgustingly clammy mist puffing mournfully, forming a vague shape of…… of what, exactly?

‘You are ridiculous,’ she made her mental statement known, with a tone as firm as she could muster, but immediately faltered before the next sentence as a swarm of thoughts criticized her until all she wanted to do was stop walking to class and curl up in a corner.

“Alice!”

The mist dissipated brusquely. Reality snapped back into position, and she was relatively functional again. Her throbbing head did not count.

“Alice!” Her friend jogged up to her, her deskmate, the girl she exchanged gossips with in class. “Alice, our class teacher wants you, she wants you to get the box of notes to class….”

“The old grandmother again! You can bet I will be at least 5 minutes late for the first class now!”

Mia pulled a face, “...and she wants to get the photostat fee from the treasurer, I will come with you, so cheer up, okay?”

 “No,” Alice turned and replied tersely. “It’s no use to the both of us, we will both end up lagging behind. I think it’s better if you stay in class and take notes, I will use your notes to catch up later, and help me take attendance, kay?” Alice started walking.

“I’m coming!” Mia insisted. The trophy closet’s glass reflected the two of them, still with their bags and stuff, and beside them, the vintage-looking clock ticking 5-minutes to first class, and behind them, the class teacher storming up the smooth, seemingly-polished floor, with a box of notes tucked under an arm.

It all ended pretty quick, all things considered. They were both rebuked for 5 minutes for making the teacher wait, Alice was apologising for taking the third-round last school bus, and they were both shooed back to class when the first bell rang. They managed to get the notes though, which was a pretty good ending.

Attendance-taking, notes distribution, running an errand for a teacher, and Alice was now finally scribbling furiously, copying down all of Mia’s notes as she swallowed a mouthful of red-bean paste bun in the school canteen.

“I will not shift the book an inch more to the left,” Mia remarked as she twirled up a neat spoonful of noodles. Alice perceived the puddle of food left-overs on the table, and nudged her books towards her right. She was hungry. The bun was chomped up in two gobbles and all that was left in her hand was empty plastic wrapping. She lifted her head a little and peered at Mia’s bowl of soup noodles.

Tendrils of mist, foul, and soot-black this time, sneaked around the corners and Alice stifled a scream. Her head throbbed. She tried to chatise the mist for coming out of nowhere, but then realised what the mist was trying to converse to her. But no, she wanted to block the unwelcome mental guest, not to receive any stupid and deceiving message from it.

“Is my handwriting eliglible?” Mia asked with her mouth full. Alice noticed her speed of scrawling have slowed.

“No, its fine, I’m just trying to swallow all these concepts as I copy,” Alice squeezed out a smile, and scribbled on much more furiously as she mentally battle-kicked the mist back to a corner.

“Don’t,” Mia slurped on another mouthful of warm noodles. “You will end up bursting your brains.”

The mist swarmed and enveloped her so suddenly she nearly threw the notes up into the air. The mist swelled and frothed so ferociously inside her mind she thought she could literally feel her brain cells about to burst.

Little tendrils of whispering thoughts curled around the grooves of her brain, slowly conversing yet another line of nonsense. It was funny how hard it was to ignore those nonsense. What was it speaking? She should get her brains cracked? Mia does not even know remotely what was the meaning of getting her brains ruptured.

Mia leaned over. “Geography,” she uttered.

‘Listen to Mia,’ Alice told, or perhaps pleaded, herself.

“You look dreadful doing this chapter,” Mia said. “But you can do it, your grades always end up good.” ‘It was because I spent hours shouting at the stupid mist to let me study in peace at home,’ Alice thought.

If anything, the small conversation helped. The mist, wherever it came from, dissipated just as abruptly as it came, and her head and feet were no longer heavy again. Alice wielded them with grateful ease, and jotted the last few pages while killing all exercises that came with them. Mia left to put away the cutlery, and they barely had enough time to get back to class before the bell rang.

“What class is it now?” Mia asked.
“English!”

The English teacher, extreme of the scale, especially notorious for making whoever who entered her class late recite poems in front of everyone.

They started to sprint.

Students from other years mumbled the teacher’s name understandingly as they rushed down the corridor, shouting ‘excuse me’ and apologizing and thanking everyone at the same time.

“You don’t need to go to the toilet now, right?” Mia muttered.

“No, I don’t. We just went when the recess bell rang,” Alice murmured back.

They got into class in good time, just as the fateful frame of the English teacher rounded the junction up ahead. They swallowed and dived into their seats, legs still shaky from the sudden sprint. Neither of them was athletic, after all.

“Good thing you made it,” the girl behind them stated in monotone, eyes concentrated on the English homework she was speed-writing... copying, speedily and firmly crossing out two lines of error and carrying on to the last line. “I would hate to have to explain the class monitor’s absence to this teacher.” ‘Especially when you’re not even anywhere on duty but copying geography in the canteen,’ she would have liked to add, but the fateful teacher’s frame filled the front door, blocking half of the fourth-floor scenery, and Alice hushed her up and yelled the class to stand for greetings.

Now Jade was someone slick with a great presence of mind.

Her deskmate, Ruby was someone else altogether. She and Jade used to get along very well a few years back. But now it was as if one got too close to the other and melted her wings.

Now the seat beside Jade was empty for most half of the week. Teachers had always came to Alice asking about Ruby’s attendance for the past few weeks, and Alice had always tried to get Jade to tell her something that she could tell the teacher. The teachers do not even bother to go through this middleman now.

“Jade, Ruby….”

“She’s absent, miss, her cold has not worn off yet. She has the MC,” Jade fluently replied all questions the teacher could possibly ask and tidied her desk.

Class started shortly after that. The English teacher conducted the class with extreme enthusiasm, with flower buds and leaflets sprouting from her lips as she explained through English grammar and sentence structures. “And for today’s essay…” A stifled moan swept through the class in unison with the chalk’s screech across the blackboard. The English teacher waved energetically at the essay title written. “Remember to upgrade your sentences, as I had taught you, remember your paragraph structure and word balance! I’m expecting at least grade B performance according to my marking standard! Class monitor!”

“Yes, miss,” Alice stood.

“Collect the books and put it on my table before 8 in the morning by the day after tomorrow,”

The class drew in a sound breath.

“What’s your problem, class?” The English teacher folded her arms and lifted her head slightly.

 Pleads for deadline extension rose like the pop-ups in whac-a-mole.

“I don’t want you putting too much time in this, you only have an hour to finish an essay in exam. Just close your books, references and dictionaries, and just write! I want you to time yourself and finish it within an hour. Class, your mid-year exam is just two months away, you should master the best sentence patterns I taught you by now and practise applying them!”

A loud clang sounded throughout the classroom. A split second later, Alice realised that it came from her box of stationary which had tipped over the edge of her desk, and she had no ostrich hole to dive into. Her stationaries were strewn across the floor and all her pencils must have been broken. That was far from her concern, however. Her only concern now was that the class’s attention, including the ones who had been daydreaming, and the English teacher’s full intense gaze, were fixed on her. She dropped to the floor to pick up her things. Mia and Jade helped her. Alice didn’t even bother checking if all her stationary were collected. She squirmed back into her seat and smiled sheepishly at the class as the bell rang.

The teacher left without waiting for Alice to get the class to chant the routine thanks. The student on duty started cleaning the blackboard. Alice copied down the essay question hurriedly as someone very unexpected turned up at the door. “Ruby!!” Alice shrieked and ran over. “How are you? Are you ok?”

Ruby was in a red and yellow T-shirt with jeans and sneakers. She must have looked cool at a certain angle, but Alice was far from that angle. Ruby glanced up from her phone and took the notes and homework Alice handed her. “Thank you. Any printing fees I should be paying?”

“Aw… its nothing…  are you ok?”

“I will be fine,” Ruby turned to leave, but stopped mid-step and turned back. “Can you pass this to Jade?” Alice took the sheath of paper over without trying to peek at the contents.

“Yeah, sure!” She thrusted it over to Jade, who just sat two seats away from the door, and who nodded sulkily and pursed her lips. Jade resumed writing the opening paragraph of the essay without skipping a beat and finished the last sentence. Ruby altered her gaze wearing a poker face and Alice was at lost what to say when Jade unexpectedly threw down her pen and picked up the document. Alice turned. Ruby paused, turned, took another step away and decided to freeze there. Jade scanned through the paper and glared straight up at Alice.

“So she still remembers?”

“Are you ok?”

“Me? Of course I’m ok! I don’t have a cold! I don’t have a week’s leave from school because, I’m sorry I don’t have a freaking depression!”

Alice stared. She swallowed, walked over, bent down beside Jade and whispered: “But she could really be in need of the therapy, it’s a mental illness, you can’t judge by what you see.”

“Ok, so she wins, she wins because of she went to have her freaking depression certified. She has depression so she doesn’t need to come to school and answer for her own absence and for all her work she left undone! And who has to tidy everything up after her? Who is the one the teachers will be after? So I have to do everything for her! I have depression! I have a freaking depression, I quit!” Alice started to say something but Jade continued. “Do you ever find me saying that? Have I ever said such an irresponsible thing?” Jade’s voice was not loud, but Alice caught the voice at the edge of tears. Classroom light reflected water brimming behind her eyelids. Before Alice could switch into consoling mode, Jade tossed her head away and did not look back. Numerous gazes turned. Alice fidgeted and adverted her own gaze out of the window and the English teacher’s fateful frame filled the window right behind her and she nearly squeaked. Alice swallowed and flicked her gaze in Ruby’s direction. The doorway was empty, so was the length of corridor beyond. It was Ruby after all, even with her occasional extreme mood swings, self-criticization and sudden crushes of depress, she was still sharp enough to make herself scarce when she needed to.

Back to the other pressing issue at hand, Jade was, after all, the English teacher’s prize student, and the one standing right beside the prize student now was… Alice. Alice gulped and did what she was expected to do.

“I will help you with what I can, tell me what I can help,” Alice tried to put a hand on Jade’s desk and recited the sentence. It was a sentence she had repeated at least five times for the past few weeks. She had truly meant it at first. Now she wasn’t so sure, now she was tired.

Jade shook her head. “You can’t.”

“I’m not going to sit here at watch you almost suffering like that, my goodness, I can help you…” Alice faltered. What can she help with? Jade already had better grades than her in her studies, she can accomplish any work and converse with any teacher with twice her efficiency. The only reason, perhaps, she got half of the class’s votes for class monitor was because she was Jade’s friend who always tagged along beside Jade, who already had a position as club president. If anyone needed help, it was Alice who needed Jade’s help.

“Help me pass this message to her,” Jade tore a piece of paper and wrote a curt sentence. Alice stared. It was a very crude message, an exceedingly crude message, crude to the point of injecting a torrent of discomfort in the tangibly tense atmosphere. Alice had never wanted to be elsewhere so much in her life. With pins and needles down her skin, Alice eyed the window behind her and found the teacher gone. Ruby reappeared at the door. If she had lucky stars, she felt that they had to be working overtime to be right here for her now.

 Alice faltered as Jade glared at her before passing over the message to Ruby. Alice crossed palms behind her back and did not know where to look. Ruby munched through it, once, twice, thrice, and calmly said, “Okay, thanks.”

 

Science class, a class where they combined classes with other classes, classes with boys. Many started to comb their hair and tie up their shoelaces, and others started chirping excitedly about some trifles which may or may not matter.

Alice tried her best to usher everyone who seemed to be in absolutely no hurry to line up in order, ran to shut the doors under the 19 classmate’s watchful gaze and then led the way to the combine-classroom.

There was a transfer student that day in the other class, a boy whom Alice couldn’t care less about, until the science teacher requested her and the other class’s monitor to be in charge of showing him around the school.

 Mia offered to tag along, and the other class’s gang of boys leaped in for the fun. So, it ended with a pretty large group touring the school compounds after school that day.

“And here would be the school canteen, there are two drink stalls, one snack stall, four noodle stalls and two more selling economy rice. Right beside it would be the teacher’s canteen. The sinks are behind there, beside the dustbin.” Alice said. “You should try the carbonara spaghetti, it’s slightly expensive, but also our school’s top favourites,” Mia chirped in on her field of expertise. “We usually choose cool gas drinks after football, and you can try their early morning special coffee, it comes out steaming hot, and I’ll show you how to order the upgraded combo fried noodle plate tomorrow, extra spicy if you prefer… by the way, the teacher’s canteen is really ridiculously small, really, and the enclosed space makes the ventilation really bad, too big a price for privacy. Teachers usually eat in the student’s canteen or in the staffroom, at least the AC works there,” said the other class’s monitor.

 A pattern was set down where Alice would state the basics while the other class’s monitor filled in the funny bits and the trivia. Alice was fine with this rhythm, and the transfer student listened intently to everything that was said and got along well with his class’s cluster of boys. All in all, the tour went smoothly.

Alice then remembered. “I forgot! The English teacher asked me to meet her after school today!”

Mia bounced a book off her head. “You complete fool! You actually forgot about that?”

“I’m really sorry, go on without me, please!” Alice turned to the group of boys from the other class. They remained cool and gave understanding replies. Alice turned, with a hundred thoughts that seemed to crowd in together but she couldn’t register any one of them.

“Run like the wind, idiot, you bet she will get you to memorise 100 poems if she gets angry,” Mia said, not very helpfully, and Alice ran.

Mists condensed into droplets of polluted water. It whirled in mid-air with increasing viscosity until resembled a gum-like texture. The sticky splatter was almost audible to Alice as it tranced along the walls and ceiling and chased her all the way to the staffroom.

The English teacher was certainly not in her best moods when Alice got to her, especially since she was 20 minutes late. The teacher’s cubicle was empty when she just got there and Alice resorted to finding the teacher herself. Just as she was going through the teacher’s timetable the said teacher materialised out of nowhere and started questioning the life out of Alice until her mind was nothing but blanks. She could not even register the questions properly, and decided that perhaps she was not a very good class monitor.

“Why did you forget you should be here?”

 Jade could have answered that smoothly. She could have found a way to say something, anything that could soothe the raving teacher in front of her and get away unscathed.

 “I was showing the trans…”

“I asked you why did you forget! Not what you were doing!”

 “I forgot to…”

“Look at me when you are talking to me and stand properly! Where are your basic manners, goodness’s sake!”

Alice shuffled her feet together.

 “I… forgot to jot it down miss, I’m really sorry.” Alice stuttered.

“And who is your science teacher?” Alice mumbled the teacher’s name, regretting for the infinite time for agreeing to accept the class monitor’s position when she and Jade tallied during the class election on the first day of school. Jade had voluntarily let the position to Alice, and Alice had regretted her choice of acceptance since then. Alice thought she saw the English teacher rolling her eyes. “And couldn’t you have left a message to tell me you will be late? Where is your sense of responsibility, you are showing how weak you are at managing a very simple thing. So that’s your beloved science teacher is it? So go! You don’t have to come here if you don’t want to!”

“I’m really sorry,” Alice tried to bow, it was a clumsy move, and ended up irritating the teacher more than without. “Seriously! How are you a class monitor with this attitude…”

Someone passed by and dropped a handkerchief, and the teacher asked her to pick it up and chase after the owner to return it. That she did, and returned full of fear that the teacher would have left, but fortunately she was still there. She seemed to have calmed down a little.

“I’m asking you for the last time, young lady, do you want to come or not?”
“Yes miss!” Alice exclaimed firmly.

“Come here,” Alice bounded over gratefully. The teacher started to scribble some notes about her job scope on the next English section to be published on the school magazine, and started giving clear cut instructions at the same time, and Alice stood stiffly beside her, taking notes and nodding and trying to get everything into her head at the same time. On the way out of the staffroom a teacher asked her to pass something to an afternoon class student on the way out, and she trudged up 3 floors to find the classroom empty, traced the class to the science lab, passed whatever document it was over, and finally left the school gates to catch the afternoon bus home.

She boarded the bus parked at the usual corner to find faces foreign to her. The interior designs and seat colour was off somehow… wrong bus. She stepped briskly out under five pairs of watchful eyes and ran the length of the road in search of the familiar number plate. It nowhere to be seen. She ran on further down the junction, and a horn beeped behind her. “You, girl!”

Alice turned. Her bus uncle was on a motorcycle, charging out of a back lane. He deftly cut off the engine and led her to the next lane on foot. She was told to board another bus, get out at a pedestrian bridge near a petrol station and cross the pedestrian bridge, where a mini van would pick her up. Before she could voice her doubts and questions, she found herself ushered onto an unfamiliar bus. It was a student bus packed with students nonetheless, and she recognised one or two classmates on it. “It’s only today, girl, ok? I needed to get my bus in for repair.”

Alice hesitated for a second, trying to get things into order, her brain was oh, so slow just when she needed it to be spinning fast. “Don’t worry, this uncle here is my friend.” The bus uncle pointed, indicating the man with thin grey hair hunched behind the steering wheel, who already had one hand on the semi-automatic gear lever ready to switch from P to D. Her bus uncle filled in a few more reassuring sentences to which Alice found herself nodding and smilling before she comprehended them all, and the bus door closed. In a packed full sized bus, roughly 40 pairs of eyes scanned her as she walked down the aisle, searching for an empty seat. The bus groaned and started to rumble forward. Just as she was ready to cling on to the railing and sit at the steps beside the front door, she found a seat, the only empty one on the entire school bus.

She smiled awkwardly, rummaging through her most recent memories for his name as she said: “Can I sit here?”

She scanned his belongings for his name, his tumbler, exercise books, anything that can hint a clue to his name. No clue. It’s too embarrassing to have forgotten it already, especially since they were touring the school together not half an hour ago.

The transfer student gave a quick scan around him and smiled politely. “Sure.”

She sat, with her bag sill slung on both shoulders, tumbler and file clutched tightly, eyes out on every window without bus curtains drawn. She shifted in her seat and realised that that was a crack at the seat’s edge and soft sponge was springing out of it. She sat still.

Crumples of paper in the small dustbin bounced slightly as the bus crossed a bump. Gentle splashing of water from everyone’s tumbler matched the bus’s sways as it cut through a few housing areas and dropped off a few students. Excited chattings bubbled in the little cocooned atmosphere of the bus as they emerged onto the busy main streets.

Three boys and a girl got off at an apartment and Alice stared at their empty seats, wondering if her changing seats now will make things awkward.

Alice turned a fraction and caught the transfer student glancing briefly at her tumbler, with her name stuck on it with a sticker.

“What’s your name?” the transfer student asked politely.

“Alice,” said Alice. “What’s your name?”

“Jerry.”

The bus slowed and swerved into an indented curb in front of a petrol station. About two street lamps ahead was the foot of a pedestrian bridge.

“This is my stop, goodbye,” Alice smiled and stood, not expecting the transfer student to stand at the same time.

“I go down here, too.”

Alice started walking, not wanting to attract any attention to them both as she descended the bus, well ahead of the transfer boy.

She scanned the opposite street, located a dirty-silver mini van huddling behind a tree, and started climbing the pedestrian bridge. Beneath her, the yellow school bus flashed a signal and roared on ahead down the triple lane road.

Alice turned to look for Jerry, and the transfer student nearly bumped straight into her.

“It’s my first time changing bus like this, do you board old Vic’s bus too?” Alice asked quickly.

“Yes, that’s his van there, I think.” Jerry pointed, not to the sliver mini van parked under the tree, but to a yellow mini school-bus just rolling to stop and performing a swift side parking. Alice recognised her bus uncle behind the wheel and nodded sheepishly. They hurried across the pedestrian bridge, pass a worker having a smoke-break at the middle and two other men squatting near the opposite edge. Strong wind blew and Alice clutched on to her belongings tightly as vehicles accelerated at 60 kmph minimum beneath her.

Their bus uncle stretched out and waved at them.

She went home. Hoping to have a short rest before shower, she opened a group chat, filled with a tiny group of 5 who were all her friends from primary school. Jade was one of them. They exchanged idle messages and challenged each other with riddles and brain-twisters. Alice got most of them wrong and couldn’t get what was the point of the question. Someone told her to burn her brains in the pits of hell, and Jade immediately switched their group nicknames so that Alice’s former nickname appeared whenever Jade sent a message, and Jade’s messages were always quick-witted and sharp-tongued.

“Alice!” Her parents called. “Dinner is turning cold! Are you ready or not?”

Footsteps sounded on the staircase. Alice turned in her bed, feeling tired. Her father marched in. She was still in her uniform. Great.
Useless person living in a pigpen. Doesn’t care about the family. Typical uselessness of the next generation. Phone-addict.

“And if you don’t want to eat dinner, then you don’t have too! You are fat already!”

“You think you deserve to be sitting under a fan in a comfy swivel chair in you study and study peacefully for hours on end? Seriously? You think you deserve that? Anyone can do that! You just get to do it because of a privilege you are provided with! You could be starving and having to work right this second! Who gave you the right to be so contempt over everything else!”

 

And her parents left. Alice grabbed a 0.7 pen, looked at her skin, unscathed, no wounds, with tendrils of mist and goo enclosing them, undeserving of such pleasure. She plunged the pen into her skin. It hurt. She gasped a bit, felt tears swelling up behind her eyes and plunged the pen in again and again and again. The mist and whisperings and goo dissipated as soon as blood spluttered out. Her hands felt cold. She continued plunging. Blood trickled at a steady velocity and she felt calm. The blood was real, something that smeared her arms red, something that was actually there but not an irky thing from her imagination. Her head was laden and throbbed mercilessly. Alice stayed there, crouched, mind blank and did not get up.

Ten minutes later, Jade changed their personal chat colour to rainbow shade when Alice started sending pictures of her punctured arms. She was berated by Jade for bringing harm to herself while there are others in the world who might be clinging on to dear life in the hospital or hiding from war.

‘At least they are facing real harm,’ Jade typed. ‘Yours is totally in your head, how am I supposed to help you when the only thing you need to do is cheer yourself up?’

Her parents forbade her from studying in her room, and yelled for her to come down, which she refused, and found that her clothes were deliberately thrown back into the washing machine, and her breakfast was not made. She decided to take the house key to school the next day.

Bed-time. She dreamt of Mia this time. Her deskmate since first-year of secondary school, Mia, was absent and she had to answer, but she looked in the mirror and found that she was Mia herself, and she, as Mia, was sitting at Mia’s desk in class, and turned. Alice, as Mia, now looked at Alice, at her own face, and said: “I answer for my own absence.”

Alice was herself again and started pleading Mia not to transfer school, though Mia never said she wanted to do so. Images then blurred away and Alice was now throwing her own clothes, drenched and soaked into the washing machine and…. No, this time Alice was her father and mother, who stormed past Alice, who asked her to hang her own clothes and do her own laundry if she refused to join the family for dinner.

 Alice locked herself in her own room, too scared to go out, not even sure what she was afraid of. The neighbours can hear her parents scolding her behind the door, and surges of panic filled her mind to blankness as she opened the door to the kitchen. Everybody ate their breakfast and left, leaving nothing for Alice. Alice ran out of the house, bare feet stepping into a car. Alice then found herself driving, somehow, but she was underage, yet she was behind the driver seat and switching the gear lever from P to D as she drove off a cliff.

She knocked against another car and the car driver came running out, asking for thousands after thousands of payment, and then proceeded messaging in the invoice. She wanted to press the breaks but somehow, no matter which lever she stepped on, they all resulted in the engine revving up loudly and accelerating ahead. She plummeted down, with her family members all in the car, they were calmly talking, and the mist now draped heavily over all window panes and blotted out the scenery. What were they saying? You ruined our family.

Who do you think you are? You are merely a pathetic girl who thinks she has some magic super passport over others! You think you deserve to study? You think you deserve to excel? Don’t make me laugh, you have not even started the first step to proving you do.

She plunged into a sea, she just knew, as coldness seeped in, she just knew she was in a sea of guilt. And she grabbed a 0.7 pen and started driving the sharp tip into her arms, until her arms were sore red with lumps of blood oozing out of 8 deep and shallow wounds. Why eight? Someone had told her to collect books by eight. Why was she remembering this now?

She texted her brother overseas, who promised to talk to her parents on her behalf, but her parents took the phone promising they were fine, and she took over the phone to hear her brother telling her to calm down and don’t overthink.

She clashed into someone. The mist, now 80% condensed into viscous goo, started gaining a purple sheen and pulled someone down beside her. Alice turned the body over frantically, only to recognise Mia’s face, tired, worn and limp, with no breath. “Don’t join Ruby, do NOT join her!” She mouthed frantically, but the purplish black goo started swarming into her mouth, nostrils, and ears…

She woke up the next morning gasping, floating images that had near to zero bearings in her mind, wisps of smoke that evaporated swiftly after she woke up, but foggy memories still clung on.

She awoke the next morning and got dressed as silently as she could. Her parents were waiting for her downstairs.

Alice stared. Her breakfast was made, and parents were already in their working clothes. “Dad?” Alice started. “Mum?”

Her parents sat her down and started talking to her, calmly, and Alice listened. Neither of the three apologised. Neither of them had to. They talked, very calmly, about their parent’s school days, and her parents sorted things out, agreed to let her study in her room, on the condition she help out with preparing dinner and have dinner with everyone else in the family.

Alice did not check her inbox messages, and boarded the bus and went to school.

For once, her mind was so blank the black goo found no bearings to latch itself on. She had spent the past night being scared and crying, and the goo had drove samurai swords into all 4 lobes of her brains it throbbed every time she tried to do homework exercises.

She avoided all teachers, sank into her seat and rapidly catched up with her homework, yelling mentally each time the slightest wisp of mist started to form.

The bell rang. Classes came and went. Tests came and went.

Recess bell rang. She yelled for class to stand, yelled for class to thank the substitute teacher and slipped out with Mia.

“You look horrible today. Got insomnia?” Mia asked.

“Nope, just tired.”

“Tired?”

“Yep, tired.”

“Let’s try out the fried noodle combo plate. It might cheer you up.”

Alice hesitated, then said: “Okay.”

Swarms of students bustled in irregular patterns. Alice and Mia were in it, trying to get into the fried noodle queue.

 

A group of boys scuttled into the queue behind them.

“Oh… hi.”

“Hi.”

Mia and Alice smiled politely. It was the other class’s monitor and his gang of boys, and the centre of them all was the newly transferred Jerry.

“Science is after recess, right?”

“Ya, see you later.”

Alice hoped to exchange a few more lines but they reached the front.

A senior looking lady in a wheelchair was peeling onions and garlics behind the younger one serving the students in front. The younger one cut her finger and hurried to the back to rinse off the blood before any got on the food.
“I had always wished we would be opening our store elsewhere someday,” Alice heard her mumble. “I always told you to go ahead, I will take good care of this chum, but you insist on renting this school stall so you can bring little Beans along, remember?” The old lady stroked the hair of a small toddler in a forlorn-looking baby’s chair.
“The day I let go of that opportunity for your so-classified ‘better’ life, I’m fully aware what I’m responsible of. Grandmama, I refuse to be ashamed of what I chose.”
She came back and beckoned Alice to order.

“Dry noodles, small, extra sos, no bean sprouts.” Alice ordered.
“Same, but add eggs for me.” Mia chirped.
Alice raised her hand slightly, “Wait, add eggs for me too, please.”
The old lady chuckled.
“I’m proud of you dear. If any moment you are tired in life and seem to be progressing nowhere, things will be perfectly fine. Perhaps, its life’s way of telling you, it’s time to take a rest for this life.”

Alice stared, for moment, the old woman seemed to be talking to her, and the goo recoiled and hissed and started to dissipate.

 

“That wasn’t a combo,” Mia said as they left the stall.

Alice found a relatively quiet corner near the dustbin and sat. Mia wrinkled her nose but followed suit, and Jade swooped in a few seconds later to occupy the last empty space beside them.

“Cleaning workers, huh?” Jade mumbled with a mouthful of fried rice.

Alice glanced briefly at the three workers in green uniform, working hard with practised efficiency, sweat gleaming off bare necks and arms.

“What about them?” Mia asked.

“You know, every time I see them,” Jade said, “ I sort of remember… my memory is very vague, but back when I started kindergarten, I threw a tantrum on the first day, it was so bad the teachers called my mom, and my mom told me through the office phone that if I don’t be a good girl and listen to the teacher, I will be in charge of cleaning the streets when I grow up.”

Mia sucked from her cool glass of orange juice and made a face – too sweet.

“Did it work?” Alice asked.

“Oh yeah, it did, actually. I hated… resented the smell of the garbage and you know…. the decomposing stuff, they are horrible.”

“Do you hate them?”

“What?”

“I clean the house at home and I don’t find it disparaging. But if you find the work derogatory, I mean, do you ever think that we live a lot of lives, and perhaps, in the life before or in the life after, we will be them, carrying the load and walking the streets with no shoes in the next life? Can you say for sure?”

Jade pointed a fork at her. “Now you are just trying to be nice to them just to ease your goddamn conscience, how much more pathetic do you want to be?”

She looked up. I’m slow, I don’t understand anything you are trying to say, and my phone is slightly outdated, I can’t load some emoticons or GIFs you send. “Do you hate me?”

Jade rolled her eyes. “Don’t be silly.”

Alice finished, took up her plate and left for the big basin. She turned a corner, knocked into someone and splattered the lot of uneaten dried chilli and her chopsticks on the floor and spilled gravy on the wall.

“I’m sorry!” Alice said and looked up and Jerry’s face came into view and she drew a breath in surprise. “I’m really sorry,” she replied. Jerry was cool and was ok with everything and helped Alice to tidy up.

Alice looked up. Some gravy had gotten on a canteen stall owner’s car. She ran to get a ragged cloth.
5 minutes later she was cleaning the car with Jerry.

“You really don’t have to do this horrible work.”

Jerry looked at her for a second. “Working is not horrible, non-abusive hard work is something to be in awe of.” Jerry finished and then scratched his head, as if he expected to be jeered at for what he said. Alice could almost hear Jade’s sharp teasing for anyone who spoke like a lecturer.

The inky goo lost it purple sheen for a moment and recoiled from Jerry.

Alice walked away feeling weirdly embarrassed, even though she had been in much more embarrassing situations before.

 

Science class.

The two combine-classes were now squished together in a science lab, and Alice and her trio friends were squished together with the other class’s monitor and his gang and of course, Jerry, in the same long table.

Alice stared at the seats for two seconds and silently took the middle seat, right in front of the sink.

“Do NOT turn on the tap.” Alice grunted, ready for Mia’s usual retorts. Mia meekly retreated and Alice’s eyebrows rose.

It was group presentation. Not her group though. Alice decided to let the others struggle with the projector and memorise the presenting points. Today she was just going to lay back and enjoy the luxury of taking notes.

Jade was busy highlighting her notes with five different colours. Scratching her head, Alice decided to join suit and borrowed a few highlighters from Mia.

The boys from the other class were oddly hyped up about a certain question. They turned and Alice caught their gaze.

“Alice! Can I borrow your past year exercise?” the other class’s monitor beamed at her.

“Yeah, sure, but I didn’t do all.” Alice reached for her file.

“Question 16. Subjective.”

Alice flipped. She found the question starred and circled and unanswered and boys laughed it off.

Jade was focusing intensely on her notes, which was complete with lamination and bindings. Mia had hers in a file. And Alice rubbed the careless creases on her notes as Jade looked up at Alice, saw what Alice what observing and shook her head.

The other group’s presentation, was, Alice had to admit, way better than her group’s. They spoke with a charisma that even Jade was impressed of, and even ended with a real demonstration. The class clapped.

“Is the class’s presentations always so good?” Alice heard Jerry whisper.

“Naw, this group is our class’s tops, you don’t have to worry, as long as you are not in a group with that gang from the zoos.” The class monitor whispered back.

“The what?”

“All right class,” the science teacher clapped for attention, gave a firm recap of the lesson to which Alice wished she could record to save her note-taking energy, and announced an on-the-spot exercise practice.

Page 36, question 12 and 17. Alice jotted down, and realised she had left the exercise book on her desk in the classroom.

“Miss, I’m sorry!” Alice ran over to the teacher, who was busy explaining some lesson patterns to Jerry.

The teacher stared at her after she explained.

“Girl, class monitor too, you might as well forget your brains at home next time.”

“I’m really sorry miss.”

“Go take it, I will start discussing in 10 minutes so be quick.”

“Thank you miss!” Alice sprinted out noticing how dark the sky had become.

The sky cracked and thunder groaned as she sprinted all the way to the adjoining block, up two flights of stairs, and made it to her desk in good time. She started ransacking her bag. Where was it? Panicking, she searched her desk, the floor, Mia’s desk just as rain started to pour. She then found her book in her desk drawer and sprinted over to close the windows. Droplets of rain splattered on her classmate’s desks as the wind blew the class’s curtains perpendicular to the wall. She couldn’t help but notice the cemetery, lonely behind the curtain of rain, the sheet of white, and caught sight of a shadow flickering behind her.

She turned with a yelp and realised it was only the cleaner sweeping the corridor on the other side of the classroom, which was well-shaded from the rain. She flicked the rest of the windows closed and tied up the curtains, and swore that someday she would get the curtains washed for good. She grabbed her book and sprinted outside. She smiled at the worker and worker smiled back at her.

She sprinted down the stairs as the worker behind her slipped on a stair and fell.

She turned back with her heart in mouth and clutched at the worker’s elbow. “Are you ok?”

The worker managed a smile. “I’m fine, an old lady sure has old lady’s bones now.”

Alice tried to help the worker stand. But the worker let out a yowl and sat there, with beads of sweat lining her forehead.

“Are you hurt?” Alice scanned the worker’s foot and glanced at the class next door. It was empty. There were only two classes occupying the fourth floor.

“Twisted my ankle probably.” The worker grunted and tried to stand again, on one leg this time and Alice tried to get most of the worker’s weight rested on her, but they both ended up falling back to sitting position. “I think I bruised my waist too, ahh….. it hurts.”

“Come, let’s try again.” Alice repositioned herself and squared her feet

“You have class, girl,” the worker said. “Wait for me no more, young lady!” Your life is before you, the world is wide out there, cherish what you have! You deserve to live. ????

“You are not holding me back, do… do you think I’m privileged and view you with contempt?”

Thunder clashed, the wind changed direction and gushes of rain splattered onto the corridor.

Alice stared at the sky. “I… I’m going to the downstairs classroom for help, hang in there!”

Alice turned and bumped into someone, and looked, for the second time in the same day, into Jerry’s face.

“How are you here?” Alice exclaimed, rubbing her cheek.

“I’m changing my study stream.”

“You what?” Alice stared, and wrestled all thoughts and emotions to a corner. Now was not the time.

“I’m changing to accounting stream next week, guess I will be afternoon class, then. The science miss wanted a copy of my…. What happened to her? Did she fall?” Jerry went pass Alice.

“She slipped, and her ankle is twisted. You get your things, I’m going downstairs for help.”

“Young lady,” the cleaner said. Both Alice and Jerry turned.
“For your question, only the mentally blind views everything with contempt, for they do not see what everything is contributing to the world. I will not resort to thinking others are viewing me with contempt though, let’s just say, there are too many thoughts conflicting each other out there, and I refuse to be intimidated by privileges other people have, for it will be foolish to think that one thought or one lifestyle can be superior over the other, and managing to realize what I don’t realise, to that there is no end, always humbles me.”

The purplish goo squeaked and twisted and writhed.

“With so many conflicting cultures in the world. It does not matter which one you choose to stand on. Just be firm on your piece of land, the discriminated, the marginalized, everyone has their own piece of land, no matter how small, that they deserve to protect with all their life, and all other cultures can live alongside.”
The old lady smiled. “I learn something for listening to all your moral classes.”
 

“Each day I look at other people’s discomfort, and it bites me, maam, I always feel like I should be doing something, else something horrible is going to befall me. It’s super scary!” Alice said, before she could stop herself. The goo stuck back together and danced as a wave of headache knocked in.

“It shouldn’t be like that,” Jerry said and Alice turned in surprise.

“No matter which state of life you are in, I prefer to strive to live the best.”

Alice stared at Jerry as the goo exploded into mist.

“Young lady,” the cleaner croaked. “The only thing scary about your situation now is you with all those chances before your nose but you’re sitting there and letting your mind tricking you into bypassing the lot of them!”

“Do you think… I should be mastering all I there is to know, in order to not my chances go to waste?”

 “That’s not what I meant, you strive for the best, but that is just a way of living, my preferred way of living. In the end, we shouldn’t judge others, or judge ourselves, based on achievements.” Jerry said.

“Power means nothing, memory means nothing, even knowledge means nothing, skills mean nothing. They vanish the moment we release our last breath and we restart from zero the next time we breathe in our first. Wisdom, does not require you to master everything that resides in this overwhelming world, it resides within you, the spark of life. No matter which state of life you are in, strive to live the best. It’s never easy, some thoughts may be tricking you into thinking your past achievements are child’s play, but it never is, there are too many factors that could have gone wrong, and your performance may have ups and downs, but just take a rest when you need it, and keep going.”

 

Alice ran downstairs, knocked randomly on a door and someone beside the door asked her who she was looking for. She replied that she was looking for the teacher. The students started calling for the teacher and Alice walked straight to meet the teacher who was surrounded by students asking questions at the back of the classroom.

“We don’t have any students from red crescent society in this class. You should go to the admin’s office. They will announce for the society’s committees to gather in no time. Its more efficient.”

Alice obeyed. She ran out and came face to face with the science teacher.

“What’s taking you so long, young lady?”

Alice explained.

“My goodness, hurry then, go find help! I’m going to the toilet for a moment, I will be right back!”

It all ended well. The red crescent society came for the cleaner. Since her ankle and waist was starting to swell, an ambulance was contacted and she was accompanied to the hospital by her family.

Family, Alice went back home. Her father was by the fish tank. Alice squatted in front of the tank, just like she did every night when she was little.

Her father folded up the newspaper and started explaining to her the mechanisms of air pump down to every material used in the fish tank, and mother called them over for dinner. It was Alice’s favourite. They ate and her parents talked about work, when they were finished Alice talked about school, she talked about Jerry, talked about Mia, and about the school magazine. Alice helped with the dishes, and they cracked jokes as they cleaned up the kitchen and did the laundry.

Mother then stayed up all night with her as she revised for a test, and her parents promised to support her in her chosen career.

Alice had a wonderful dream that night.

She was standing by the beach, and Jerry jumped down from the moon.

And with calmness, the tranquillity and peace I had been striving so hard to obtain, that brief moment, I was sure I saw what worlds above was like. Peace and serene was reflected in his eyes, along with a single deep note of determination and zero judgement. And that was all that registered in my mind as he steadily, gently, fearlessly, thrusted his hand straight within the now purplish and inky goo, and took it all away. He then waved her goodbye, smiled, and vanished.

 

 

 

 

 


Submitted: June 25, 2021

© Copyright 2021 YT. All rights reserved.

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