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I Believe You

by Lau Kay Hwa

Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20

2 7 13 17 21 26 31 35 40 44 49 54 59 64 68 73 77 82 88 91

Chapter 1
I had never expected my first day of school to be so interesting. It would take at least an hour for the bus to arrive at my new school, National Junior College. I had brought along only a small bag that contained a few pieces of blank paper, a pencil case and a Discman. I presumed the teachers would not teach us anything on the first day of school. After all, they claimed that today was supposed to be an Orientation Day. I was really not looking forward to it. In fact, I dreaded it. I managed to find a seat in the crowded bus. Most of the passengers were students in their tucked-out uniforms. When the bus started moving, I closed my eyes, ready to sleep through the hour-odd ride that would take me all the way from Boon Lay to Bukit Timah. Hey, hello! someone in the standing crowd yelled. I woke up from my dazed dreams and looked up. A guy standing near the entrance smiled at me. He was wearing the same uniform as mine. Hello! he yelled again. Almost all the passengers looked at me. The bus was at Bukit Batok road, which meant it was still pretty far from National Junior College. On closer scrutiny, I realised it was Jacky Wu, one of my secondary schoolmates. I did not reply. Instead, I searched for my Discman, acting as if I did not hear him. Hello to the girl searching for something in her bag! Jacky shouted again. This time, a few passengers giggled. I kept my head low and finally found my Discman. Without hesitation, I capped the earphones onto my ears. Hello to the girl listening to a Discman! he continued. I pressed the play key continuously but no sound came out from the earphones. Hello to the girl wearing the same uniform as me! he pressed on. The batteries must have run out of juice. Not now! Hello to the girl wearing glasses! Hello! Hello! Hello! Almost all the passengers were waiting for me to acknowledge Jacky. Hello to Joanna! He finally said my name. I knew there was only one way to shut him up and put an end to my embarrassment. I smiled at him. He seemed pleased and never said anything anymore. The bumpy journey went on for another thirty minutes. He alighted at the same stop as me, but I was quick enough to evade him and dashed to the main gate of the school as fast as I could. ~~~~~~

I did not know Jacky that well. In fact, we had only held one conversation when we were in secondary school, and it lasted for less than three minutes. We were never in the same class. Jacky was one of the popular guys in school. He is handsome and can crack jokes really well. Many girls drooled over him, but the rumour was that he did not have a steady girlfriend. One day, when we were in Secondary Three, Jacky was invited on stage to crack a joke during an assembly period. If he could get everyone to laugh, he would win a prize. He thought for a while before he said, There was once a I was not listening to him. I was totally lost in my own thoughts. When he finished his joke, there was a long period of silence. Suddenly the hall exploded into ripples of laughter. My classmates around me laughed like mad people. Even the teachers laughed out loud. I frowned, unable to fathom what kind of joke could set everyone laughing so insanely. When the laughter subsided, a teacher was about to pass Jacky a prize when he declined to take it. Someone didnt laugh. He announced. For no logical reason, the audience laughed again. He pointed to my direction and proclaimed, That girl didnt laugh. I glanced around me, hoping he was not referring to me. Which girl? the teacher asked, looking around. That girl with the glasses and long hair. The teacher scrutinised all the students in my direction. You mean the girl with tied up hair? Yeah, thats the one. She never laughs! I clenched my hand into a fist. How can a big guy like him be so petty? Joanna! the teacher said. You didnt laugh? I kept quiet. To have my name called out in an assembly did not feel good. Joanna, can you please wake up from your dreams and laugh at my joke? Jacky uttered and some people giggled loudly. I beg you. My classmates urged me to stand up. Feeling the pressure and the lack of time to think of anything else, I stood up and said sarcastically, Ha, ha, ha. Then I sat down and buried my head under my hands.

Everyone laughed out loud at my scornful remarks. I promised never to forgive that Jacky Wu for embarrassing me in front of three hundred people. After school that day, he came forward and apologised. Hey, Im sorry about just now. Was just trying to create some comical effects. I hope youre not offended? I shook my head. Jacky Wu. He introduced himself. I know. The famous and arrogant Jacky Wu. I had not expected myself to say that. Joanna. Joanna Fung. I never expected myself to be arrogant. But famous? I agree on that. He beamed. Are you always so introverted and unfriendly? Unfriendly? I glared at him. I never expected myself to be unfriendly, Jacky. I walked off quickly, not wanting to continue the conversation. But youve got like no friends at all! I did hear his reply, but I acted as if I did not hear it. I continued to walk off. In fact, what he said was true. I had classmates but I had like no friends at all. Except for one. Just one. ~~~~~~ Actually, there was no way for me to completely avoid Jacky in National Junior College. He was everywhere. I had tried all means to avoid him but my efforts were futile. Hey, Joanna. What a coincidence! Were going to be schoolmates for the next two years as well! Yeah. I replied. What class are you in? 03A20 Oh my gosh! he covered his mouth and jumped around like a madman. Were in the same class! Can you believe it!? Jacky and Joanna in the same class! How cool is that? He sounded really mad. I was imagining how a monkey would blend into my class. The bell rang soon after that. We strolled towards the hall and searched for our class number. He offered to sit beside me. I glared at him but he just smiled. I had no reason to reject him therefore I agreed to it.

Firstly the principal spoke to us on the history of the school, then several departmental heads of the school took turns to tell us more about the school. We were, by then, trying hard to keep our eyes open. When they were done, we sang the schools song with the lyrics in front of us. Okay, as you all know, were going to have an orientation program for these first few days a teacher announced. Its going to be fun. Jacky whispered to me. Ive got a friend in J2. He told me its gonna be very exciting. When I heard what he said, I regretted not skipping school today. We were led to the field class by class just like in primary school. Jacky kept on telling me how excited he was. Junior College life is going to be one of the best! he blurted on. Youre going to enjoy it, its unlike secondary school! Therere more freedom, homework are called tutorials, the teachers are called- Sorry, Jacky I turned to him. Would you please shut up? He just laughed it off and talked to other people, not feeling offended. But I felt something. I went to the toilet after that to wash off my tears. I had just asked Jacky to shut up. I had just scolded Jacky. I had just cursed Jacky. Oh, damn it. What the hell had I done? I should just shut up. ~~~~~~ The objective of the first game we played was to remember each others name. Water balloons were thrown at students who forgot others names. After an hour, we were able to remember the name of every classmate. The next game was played with the aim of recognising voices. The boys and girls were separated. A curtain partitioned them, and when a girl spoke, the boys had to guess who the girl was. After a few rounds, I was chosen to say something for the boys to guess. Come on, say something! A joke, or something like that! the seniors urged me. I did not know what to say, so I just muttered, Ha, ha, ha.

Almost instantly, I heard Jackys voice on the other side. Its Joanna! Joanna Fung, that thin girl! Ah, that bastard.

Chapter 2
When I reached home that evening, Landy was lying on the sofa, crunching a packet of potato chips I had just brought a few days ago. Hows your first day of school? she asked. She had small eyes and a sharp nose to match her jaws. I had always believed that she is one of the most beautiful women in the world. In fact, for a long period of time, I had hoped I had the same countenance as her. I even desired to live her life: Carefree, with boys lining up to hold her hand. I told her everything about Jacky and the embarrassment that he had caused me. Landy is the only person that I can pour my sorrows to. She will often drop by my house for a chat. My grandmother always opens the door for her if I am not in. So what, youre going to avoid him for the next two years? Landy said. I bet hes going to stick to you these two years. You know I cant talk to him. I muttered. I cant harm him. Makes sense. Landy poured herself a cup of coffee and relaxed on the sofa. Dont you fall in love with him. Ill never! I retorted almost instantly. I mean I Never is a very strong word. Remember your curse. Landy reminded. Remember. If you fall in love with him, youll harm him. I lay beside her and memories of how my mother died flowed back without mercy. I know We spent the next two hours trying to figure out how to stay away from Jacky. And two hours later, we slept on the sofa with no solutions in mind. ~~~~~~ There was no way for me to avoid Jacky completely.

At classes, he would volunteer to sit beside me and I could not reject him. He would try very hard at starting a conversation but I would always hint him to shut up by giving him a silent glare. It often worked, but after a few minutes, he would be talking again. During lunch break, we would eat together. He always offered to help me to buy the drinks. I wanted to tell him off, to say that I preferred to eat alone, but when he returned with my favourite drink, I gave in and just ate my meal in silence, trying hard to keep my eyes off him. Rumours about us being an item surfaced after a few weeks. Jacky was especially concerned about disclaiming them. However, no one believed him. One day he even threatened to beat anyone who spread the rumours, and that was the first time I saw his trademark smile vanishing from his face. Why do you get so angry when people say something about us? I asked him that day. I dont wanna spoil your reputation. What if no one dares to woo you? he answered matter-of-factly. I dont wanna destroy your future. Then why are you still sticking to me everyday? I probed on. It took him a while to register the question. I he smiled once more. I wanna help you. To see you smile. He turned away then whispered again, To see your smile. Why? I want to do something meaningful while I can. Ironically, I frowned and brought the conversation to a halt. I told Landy about what Jacky said to me that night, and we spent over three hours pondering on what he meant. And as usual, we managed to conclude nothing. ~~~~~~ Four months had passed since we started school.

I remembered that on a Tuesday morning, Mrs Goh, our Literature lecturer, suddenly declared, Every year, we have a Drama competition organised by the Literature Club. Every class is encouraged to send a team forward. This competition, I believe, will help a lot in your Literature. So Im going to get this entire class to join. The students whispered protests but Mrs Goh insisted. Every one of you will help out in creating a play. Michael, one of the noisier guys, volunteered to be the scriptwriter. We spent the next fifteen minutes trying to find a suitable plot. In the end we settled for the final scene in Shakespeares Romeo and Juliet. It was the scene where Romeo would drink the poison and Juliet wake up to find a dead Romeo. However, there would be an interesting twist to it. They would speak in Singlish to add a Singaporean touch. And Juliet would drink the poison instead. We reckoned that would add points to our play. Okay, whos good at acting here? Mrs Goh glanced around the class. I was toying with my fingers, not concentrating on the discussion. Lets find a Juliet first hmm, whose name starts with J? Me! Jacky raised up his hand in ecstasy. Me, me! That idiot. You wanna be Juliet? Mrs Goh mocked and the class erupted into laughter. We need a girl, Jacky. Its supposed to be a sad scene, not a funny scene where a macho guy acts as Juliet. Jacky giggled and announced, Okay, I volunteer to be Romeo then. Sighs of relief washed past several male students. But I have a request. Which is? I looked up at Jacky. He was staring at my eyes. Oh, shit. I did not like that look. I want Joanna to be Juliet. J for Joanna. The whole class cheered as if Andy Lau had just sang a song. That guy just would not let me study in peace, would he? ~~~~~~ We had our first rehearsal in the school hall a few days later. It was unlike the normal tragic ending in Romeo and Juliet. We had to add in lehs, lahs and oeis into the dialogue to

make it sound more Singlish. I wondered if it would reverse the scene from tragedy to humour. No cannot be you cannot die one I cried without tears. Jacky lay on the floor with his eyes closed. His lips were trembling, threatening to laugh any moment. If you die, I also die then! He could control it no longer. He chuckled out loud, infecting the entire hall with laughter as well. And I always frowned when they laughed because it would prolong the rehearsal. Every time there was a rehearsal scheduled after school, I would think of numerous excuses to skip it, but in the end I would still attend the rehearsal. ~~~~~~ When I told Landy about my role as Juliet in the play, she laughed for fifteen minutes. You, Juliet? Juliet! I had not expected my best friend to react in that way. Actually, I was hoping for some understanding from her. I kept quiet and when she sensed my displeasure, she lowered her voice and said, You dont like it? I dont like it. I answered. I dont like talking. Are you going to curse anyone in the script? No. Ill be following the script. No worries. Then it shall be fine. Landy replied. You will enjoy yourself. After all, Jacky is Romeo. It will create a romantic- Landy! I cut her. Dont start! My grandmother came out of her room and stared at both of us with her eyebrows lowered. She was three-quarters blind. She hobbled towards the kitchen with the help of her walking stick and muttered, Is that Landy? she did not wait for Landy to answer. Its late. Landy, dont you have to work tomorrow? Tomorrow is my day off, granny. Im going to have a nice, long chat with Joan-, I mean, Juliet! Landy exclaimed and we broke into a string of laughter. I helped my grandmother to the toilet and then back to her room. When we were alone once more, Landy persisted, That Jacky seems to be interested in you, Joanna. Dont give a damn. I will never like him, period.

Lets try to analyse what he meant when he said he wanted to help you. With that, our girls talk lasted for more than three hours before we slept. And yes, youve guessed it; we did not come to any conclusions. ~~~~~~ We were supposed to get a theme song for our play. Almost everyone had his or her own views. Some preferred love songs whereas others preferred classics. A few of us even thought that including a song in the play was a bad idea. After an intense discussion, we decided to browse through HMV at The Heeren to see if we could find a suitable song. When we reached the place, everyone else rushed into HMV as if they were children at Toys R Us. I sat at the edge of a fountain outside HMV. To my surprise, Jacky did not go in as well. He sat beside me and grinned. Not going in? I shook my head. The loud music inside the store always gave me headaches. Well, me too. Bad for the ears. He said, slapping his ears. Then he laughed at his own joke. Well then, Ive dug out another secret of yours. Secret number ninety-one of Joanna Fung: She does not like music stores. Its the same secret as mine. I dont like music stores as well. Good for you. Then how did you get your music CDs? Through a friend. Notice the friend was singular. I have only one friend and her name is Landy. Okay, great, secret number ninety-two of Joanna Fung: She does have friends outside Junior College! Thats good! Thats very good! Thats damn really freaking good! Its not funny. I mumbled and darted my eyes up. Im going up to the Adidas Shop to have a look. Count me in. We went up and browsed for about ten minutes then met up with our classmates. They had all decided on a theme song. It was Only Love by Trademark. Jacky and I both agreed on that as well.

We all went back to school that evening for another round of rehearsal. The play was due in three months time. For the first time, we did the entire play without an N.G. The song was played first, and then it faded out as I entered the scene to witness an unconscious Jacky on the floor. I walked slowly towards him and sat beside him, my tears dripping (the magical eye drops). Romeo no cannot be you cannot die one I pressed my head to his chest and I could hear his heart beating. You promise me so many things so many things! You must not die open your eyes leh I tightened my grip and then yelled aloud, No! The song played again for a while. When it faded away, I held up the cup of poison beside me and said, What for I live when you die already? If you die, I also die then! Then I gulped down the poison (it was chestnut water) and within the same second, I shook my head gently and lost my balance. The chorus of the song played for a minute or so, loudly. Behind my closed eyes, I could feel Jacky moving a little, and then his voice came. Juliet? Juliet! Juliet?! He must have found out about the poison when he groaned, No, Juliet I knew he had stabbed himself when he slumped onto my back. Now I knew why he volunteered to be Romeo. He only needed to memorise two words and got to lie on a pretty girls back. Smart guy.

Chapter 3
I first met Landy in a magical way. My father died when I was twelve. My mum blamed me for his death. Since then, I learnt about life the bad way: I hung out with a group of hooligans who smoked at stairways and got their pocket money from stealing. I always felt a great sense of satisfaction whenever we successfully shoplifted a few items. One fateful day, we plotted to steal shoes again. Stealing shoes had always been a routine for us. Our targets were usually World of Sports, Royal Sporting House or Bata. Our plan had never failed before, until that day. Three of us entered Royal Sporting House, wearing stern expressions. We pretended to browse around the clothes section, then, as we progressed to the shoes section, we showed signs of excitement by saying This is nice! or I wonder if theyve got size six for this pair or not? A sales assistant marched to us. He looked young, and we believed he was only a temp there. We smiled, knowing a temp was an easier target. What size are you looking for, Mdm? I always felt proud to be called Mdm at the age of thirteen. My friend, Maggie, replied indifferently, Do you have size six for this? She showed the sales assistant a particular design. It cost a hundred bucks. The sales assistant politely told us to wait and went off. Within the same minute, he came back with a pair. Maggie tried it on and it fitted her perfectly. However, she frowned and then looked up to the sales assistant with a seductive smile. This feels too small. Do you have, like, size six and a quarter? We all howled in laughter. The sales assistant looked amused. He put on his smile and said, How about size seven? Will do! Maggie chirped. You go look for size seven. If there isnt any Ill take this one. She began to trace the design of the shoe with her finger. The sales assistant hinted at her to take the shoe off but Maggie was totally immersed in appreciating the beauty of the shoe. Finally the sales assistant gave up and went off in search for size seven. In one smooth motion, I took out a Royal Sporting House plastic bag from my bag. Maggie took off the shoe and threw it into the box. We glanced around the busy shop. When we confirmed it was safe, we placed the shoe-box into the plastic bag and I strolled out of the shop, feeling victorious.

No one came forward to stop me. The alarm did not ring. After all, how could anyone steal a pair of shoes? They were all supposed to be stacked neatly in the storeroom. When I was out of the shop, I pictured Maggie and the sales assistant quarrelling in my mind. Maggie would not lose; after all, customers are always right. I could only pity the poor sales assistant who must be wondering if he did place the size six shoes back in the storeroom. He might even consider quitting his job. While I was lost in my thoughts, someone tapped my shoulder. A pretty girl with shiny long hair smiled at me and said, Put that pair of shoes down. Theyre coming to get you. I studied her. She looked a little older than me and had the kind of features that any teenager would envy. Her eyes were as round as her eyeballs and the dimples on her cheeks were deeply curved to perfection. What the fuck are you talking about? I demanded. Trust me. That sales assistant is the supervisor, not a temp. He has met all sorts of people. Hes coming for you. Drop it, or youll regret it forever! I stared at her. She seemed to know everything. After an internal debate, I decided to trust her and threw the shoes into a rubbish bin. A few minutes later, to my surprise, the sales assistant, together with two security officers, came up and apprehended me. When they found nothing on me, they gave up and I let out a long sigh of relief. It was my closest encounter with a criminal record. After that dreadful incident, the girl showed up at my house. I had no idea how she obtained my address. We chatted a little. I later knew her to be Landy. As time went by, we became good friends. She was older than me by four years and was working full-time as a clerk. My mum died when I was fourteen and I cut off links with all my friends save Landy. Somehow or other, Landy stayed with me through thick and thin. Knowing that I disliked going out, she came to my house to chat with me instead. If there was only one blessing in my life, it was definitely having a friend like Landy. ~~~~~~ It was so ironically hilarious when we realised our play lasted only five minutes if we suffered no NG. Our play was supposed to be ten to fifteen minutes long. Look, I think well have to rewrite the script. Our so-called director, Delvin, suggested. He was one of our classmates with the most outstanding leadership qualities. Im open to all ideas.

We ransacked our minds and a few ideas were proposed but none of them seemed to work. Amid the mood of depression which had descended over the room, Jacky stood up and told us, Trust Joanna and me. Well be able to prolong it with our acting. Wont we, Joanna? I sank deeper into my chair and pondered. What did he mean by that? He was smiling at me again. I felt my hair standing up. What was he thinking now? I bit my teeth, hoping that he would not suggest some outrageous proposal that would embarrass both of us. Itll be a lot more realistic if we act out the play without directly following the script. For example, if the audience laughs, well extend the humorous scene. If the audience is crying, well extend the sad scene. Of course, that would mean wed have to add our own lines to the play. You understand? After some brainstorming, they all agreed to that idea. I wanted so much to debate, to confess my disagreement, but upon seeing their exhausted faces, I consented. After we were dismissed, we all headed in different directions except Jacky and me. We stayed together as I wanted to confront him about the idea. Why propose that stupid idea? I probed. For fun, Joanna! For fun! And for authenticity! Dont you think the whole play will look a lot more realistic if we dont follow a script? I mean- You wont understand! I need to follow a script! I cant I cant talk well. I Im afraid I will say the wrong thing and I choked on my words and halted. Tell me whats stopping you from opening your heart, Joanna. Please. I was shaking softly. His warm hands embraced my shoulders and he lowered his voice. Please tell me more about yourself. Why youre keeping everything to yourself. Why youre living in your own world. Please. Get away! I pushed him off, my face burning red. After I had taken a few steps back, my cell phone rang. It was Landy. I rejected the call and turned back at Jacky. You wont be able to help me! No one can! No one! Let me help you, please! Believe me! You wont fail if you keep trying! No! You cant, youll never! Im going to withdraw from that fucking play, and you and your fucking good friends can be Juliet! Joanna-

I killed my father, my mother and many other people! Im a fucking murderer, a fucking killer, a fucking sinner! I turned and dashed out of the hall. The moment I was outside the school, I raised my hand and a taxi stopped. I let out a soft moan of despair before I swung open the door and went off in search of respite.

Chapter 4
The taxi ride to West Coast Park took me fifteen minutes. By then, night had fallen and I had already stopped shedding tears. There were not many people around. Landy came an hour later and we climbed up the tall pyramid-shaped playground, lying on the ropes. You really want to tell him everything, dont you? Landy said. Coz you feel like youve got a bond with him. Hell get killed by me. I whispered. I dont want danger to befall him. But you really want to tell him about your problems. You really wanna tell him about your curse. I support you. I dont know. Okay, why not we play a game? If hes here within fifteen minutes, youll tell him about your problems, okay? If not, well sleep here for the night. Are you game for it? I looked up at the star-less night. He would not be able to find me, I thought. Deal. Well then, Im going down. Landy reached down, grabbed the rope below and slowly made her way down. Huh? Look down, my friend. By then, Landy had reached the ground. She waved at me and I understood what she meant at the moment I looked down. Jacky, still in his uniform, walked past her. When he saw me, he smiled broadly and climbed up the ropes, flaunting his lean biceps. Within a few seconds he was sitting beside me. How did you know I was here? I said. Landy called you? Whos Landy? Jacky shrugged and shook his head. The girl who just walked past you. Did anyone walk past me just now? he furrowed his brows. I didnt notice. I just saw you. Then how did you know Id be here? I installed a tracer on your hand-phone. You know, like those tracers that secret agents use? I bought it on the black market. Cost me a bomb.

I bit my lip and ignored his pointless remark. Joanna, can I tell you something? I nodded, stunned at his seriousness. He never usually bothered to request permission when he asked questions. What he had just said freaked me out. My eyes were fixed to the ground, my hand toying with the ropes that supported our weight. I know its one of the hardest things to do in the world I know its like asking you to stuff your fist into your mouth or its like asking you to eat caterpillars but he paused. I shivered. Gosh, he looked really serious when he was not smiling. Will you will you, believe me? Believe you? I twisted my head, almost relieved. What do you mean? I was not expecting him to say something so simple. Lend me an hour of your time. In this hour, I really hope you can believe in everything I say. Will you? I clenched my hand into a fist, thinking hard. I then recalled the deal I had with Landy. Okay, I believe. Now, what do you want to say? Tell me about your problems. Joanna, youll not fail if you keep trying. No! No one can help- Joanna! And he did it: He held my hand and cried, Believe me! I shook my head a few times, trying hard to believe him. I will not fail if I keep trying? I had always been trying but I always failed. Id given up hope on everything, choosing instead to live in my own world. A minute passed silently. I gazed fixedly at the star-less sky. Time seemed to be crawling by callously. I grabbed a rope, preparing to leap down when Landys words came to mind again. With that thought, I looked up at Jacky. His eyes darted towards mine. It was then I realised he was still holding on to my left hand. Believe me. He repeated as he released my hand. I felt a surge of loss. What is the reason that causes you to be so reserved? How did your parents pass away?

Tears started to well up in my eyes. I wanted so much to lay my head on his shoulder but I feared he might feel uncomfortable. I shook my head a few times to hold back my tears. It was not an easy task. I killed them. Tell me more. Let me help. You cant help! I yelled, my voice echoing in the quiet night. Believe in me! You wouldnt- You have to be- Its too complica- Believe me! No one can help- I can help you. I really can. Let me help, please. Believe in me. Somehow, my heart melted and I gave in. I was born into a perfect family. I had a father who drove a taxi and a mother who cooked for others. I started, not daring to face him. Thats very good. Go on. We lived simply, yet happily. My dad worked seven days a week. Every night, I would wait for my father to buy supper for us. The three of us would eat while watching television. That late night meal was the only time for us to be together. I would tell them about the new bully at school. They would teach me how to fight back. Youve got good parents. Jacky cut in, obviously just to prove that he was still listening. Life was perfect. Just so perfect. Until one day one day Whenever the memories flowed back, I would choke on my tears. Jacky patted me on my back, encouraging me to keep my composure. I knew if I was to tell him about myself, I would have to overcome those memories. One day that day I took a long, deep breath. It all happened. The day started like any other day. My father ate his breakfast in a rush and then went to work. As usual, I yelled Drive carefully, Dad to him before he stepped out of the house. I

was in school, listening to the teacher telling us everything about how apples drop to the ground when I saw my mother outside the classroom. I remembered that day, we were supposed to have a spelling test yet I had forgotten to bring the exercise book. I thought my mother was just there to pass me my book. Little did I expect it to be something more than just a book. She grabbed my hand and we left the school. No words were exchanged. We went into a taxi, and when she cried, I sensed something was wrong. Then she hugged me, and I knew it was bad news. I paused. I needed a break from the bad memories flooding back. Jacky flashed his trademark smile and patted my shoulder. We stayed that way for a few more minutes. My father had died in a car accident. In his desperate attempt to fetch a passenger, he neglected his own safety. A lorry crashed his car. He died instantly. I was only twelve then. I cried everyday, waiting for my supper to come. But every night, only memories of my Dad came back. I could no longer tell him about the new bully that came to my school. My mother, strangely, indirectly blamed me for his death. She claimed that had I not told my father to drive carefully, he might not have died. It made no sense at all. With my fathers death, my mother quit her job and turned into a drunkard. She would return every night stinking of alcohol. I had no idea where she got the money. I was totally depressed with my broken family. I met a group of friends when I was in Secondary One in a stairway. They introduced to me ways to relax: smoking, drinking. I was lured in by the luxury of not having to care. I smoked my days away. I cannot imagine you were once a smoker. Jacky said. I was. Home was just a place for me to seek quarrels. I tried my best to stay away from my house. My mother would always call me names like jinx or bitch, even in her sober mind. Finally, one day, I had enough. I put all my clothes into a bag and shouted to her, I hope youll die in a car accident, just like daddy. And I hope youll get crushed by a big lorry! After that, I stayed in my friends house for two days. And two days later I was shuddering now, my tears rolling out like there was no tomorrow. I tried to brush them away but they kept coming. I felt like jumping down to the ground now, ending the ordeal once and for all. Jackys hand was still clutching mine. Without warning, he embraced me, his body warming me up. He was shuddering along with me. I dropped my head onto his shoulder and whispered, Two days later, my mother was crushed by a big lorry. She died on the spot.

Chapter 5
There was a long period of silence. I wiped my tears off but they kept on coming. Jacky stroked me gently on my back, as if it would help to stop my sobbing. In that moment, I really wished I would wake up in the comfort of my bed and realise that everything had just been a dream. I guessed I had regretted telling Jacky everything. No one knew about all this except Landy. I had tried so hard to bury my past but Jackys persistence had caused me to dig it out. I pushed Jacky off, knowing I could not lay my head on his shoulder forever. To my surprise, he was wearing a smile, not at all surprised by my story. And you believe you caused the death of your mother? Because of the curse that you have? he said. I nodded. Silly, Joanna. Theres a word known as coincidence. It just happened to be a coincidence. This time round, I shook my head. A few days after my mothers death, I had a quarrel with one of my friends. In the midst of the quarrel, I I paused again. It was hard to dig out a past that had been buried away for so long. I said, Youre so stubborn, your boyfriend is gonna leave you soon!. And a few days later, her boyfriend broke up with her. Well, two coincidences. I once scolded a taxi driver for speeding. I said he would soon get into an accident if he continued to speed. He ignored my warnings and the next day, the newspaper reported that a taxi had smashed onto a tree. Luckily the taxi driver suffered no serious injury. Ive always hoped it was just coincidences, Jacky. Its not. Its a curse. Im cursed. Every bad thing I say will come true. Thats the reason why youre so quiet? So introverted? I nodded. More or less. Trust me, its not coincidences. Therere more examples of my curse. I dare not talk, for fear I may accidentally curse others. Its not my fault. Jacky bit his lip. A few seconds later, he mouthed, I remembered you once said youve got friends outside JC. Is it true? Just one friend. Names Landy. Strangely I stopped, wondering if I should tell Jacky about Landy or not. I thought, since I had already told him so much, why not tell him about Landy as well? She isnt affected by my curses. I had accidentally cursed her a few times

but she seems to be immune to it. Nothing happens after my curses. Hence she has always been my best friend. I told him more about Landy, on how we first met and how she visited me frequently just for a chat. My grandmother will open the door for her when Im not in. However my grandmother always forgets she does that. She has poor memory and poor eyesight. Landy must have been a good friend to come by for a chat. Yeah. I said, a bit annoyed by that pointless remark. So she knew about your curse as well? And encouraged you to avoid talking to others? Thats right. I replied. She had seen how people suffered under my curse. Thats the reason why she prefers me to keep quiet. Okay Jacky muttered then closed his eyes, obviously trying to think of something to say. I stared at his closed eyes. Why had I told him so much? Maybe it was to tell him the reason why I did not like the idea of the free-style play. Maybe it was also to tell him that my quietness was not my fault. Maybe to let him paint a better image of me in his mind. Remember your promise just now? he suddenly said, interrupting my thoughts. Yeah. Okay, believe in me now. Say this after me I dont have a curse. But I- Remember your promise! he exclaimed, cutting my sentence. Now, repeat after me I dont have a curse. I guessed I just had to play along to humour him. I dont have a curse. Silly. No! Just say I dont have a curse. No silly behind. Come on, try again. I shrugged. Was he childish or was I too matured? I dont have a curse.

Good. Now say I am just having a minor mental illness that can be cured after seeing a psychiatrist. No! this time, I yelled. No, I, you you- I stopped myself at that very moment. I was going to say you idiot, but that would equal to cursing him. I just glared at him, wanting so much to scold him. Im not sick. I sneered. Believe in me. Remember your promise? Believe in me! Say after me! Im not sick. Believe in me. Believe me! Youll not fail if you believe! Im not sick. Im cursed. Believe me! Once again, I fell into silence. Knowing that I would not win this argument, I said, I dont have a curse. I am just having a minor mental illness that can be cured after seeing a psychiatrist. Jacky nodded. Good. Ill call the shrink tomorrow, and well book an appointment, okay? Ill accompany you to the shrink. What?! I yelled instantly. No way! Look, Joanna, therere still five more minutes to the hour. You should still believe me, all right? You need a doctor. No I dont! Then prove it to me! If the doctor cant cure you, then Ill give up! I had never seen a shrink before. In my impression, a shrink looks like the beautiful Kelly Chen, the actress who acted as one in the movie Infernal Affairs. She would just listen and the patient will do the talking. The patient will feel better after taking some medication and he or she will be cured. Silly, isnt it? How can anyones accumulated mental illness get better after saying everything and popping a few pills? I could not believe Jacky had just suggested I do that. No. I said. Ill go with you. Every appointment. Please.

He would go with me? I pondered on that. For the longest period of time, I had always been alone. Now this silly weirdo had just proposed to accompany me for those silly appointments. I frowned, lowering my eyebrows to a V shape. Was he trying to break my routine? Are you trying to break my routine? Change my life? I said my thoughts aloud. Yes. I wanna break your routine. I wanna change your life. This was getting sillier. I had been lonely for more than three years. What could he possibly do? I guessed the best he could do was to mess up my life. Like recommending me to see a shrink. Silly, silly Jacky. Really silly. Asking me to believe in him, to believe that he would be able to change my life for the better. He added suddenly. For the better? I stared up at the stars. Maybe I was trying to avoid him. But all of a sudden, I said, When is the first appointment? It was my heart speaking. He told me he had to check everything first. Upon our agreement, we climbed down the playground and made our way to the bus-stop. After waiting for a few minutes, we realized that it was close to one in the morning. Sorry, I dont have enough cash with me. He said. Me too. His face brightened up. Then Ill walk you home, and Ill walk home after that! I wanted so much to smile. To laugh at his silly antics. However, I just nodded. We were at West Coast and my house is at Jurong Extension. It would take more than an hours walk. We started the long walk talking about many things. This was the first time I had spoken so much to another person other than Landy since my parents deaths. Jacky said that he was the only child in his family. His father died of cancer when he was just seven; hence he had a very close relationship with his mother. He said he learnt a lot of things when his father was dying. He told me how precious life could be, and said that we all came into this world for a purpose. Happiness and sadness are not caused by your surroundings. Theyre caused by your thinking. He verbalised.

When I asked him about his plans for the future, he gave me an answer that really surprised me. My plans for the future? Make you smile. Do something meaningful. We reached my house about an hour later. He was totally exhausted. Beads of sweats blanketed his forehead, but he was still smiling despite the weariness. Ill call you. He said. Ill call you and tell you when well meet up for the appointment. Ill see you around, eh? Yeah. I said. I realised he still had a long way to go from my house to his house at Bukit Batok. You want me to get some cash for you to take a cab? I had expected him to say yes. He was massaging his neck and looked as if he wanted to vomit. However, he maintained his pride and muttered, No, Ill walk home. Its good exercise. Well, good for you. See you. After he left, I took a bath. Landy was my room, sleeping soundly on my bed. After my bath, the doorbell rang. It was two in the morning. Who could it be? I looked through the hole in the door. It was Jacky. Hey he said, resting his back on the wall. His face was pale white, as if he had just seen a ghost. His lips seemed to be wet and he smelled of puke. Can you lend me twenty bucks? Ill return it to you tomorrow. I passed him the money. Return me something else. Not the twenty bucks. Something else that is worth twenty bucks. What was I saying? Sometimes, I felt that I said stupid things to him. Okay. He saluted me and said, Ill return you something else. Something that twenty bucks cant buy. With that, he ambled off. I stared at the last of his shadow before I closed my door, and I did something I had never expected myself to do. I smiled to myself.

Chapter 6
I was unable to sleep that night. At first I thought that maybe I was too physically exhausted and my mind was unable to drift into sleep mode. So I began to count sheep, drank warm milk and studied my Economics text. It was futile. After playing a loud slow song that woke my grandmother up, I decided not to sleep. After all, I had to wake up early the next day for school. It was, by then, four in the morning. Several windows outside my apartment were lightening up, getting ready for the day. I looked at my hand phone to check for new messages. There werent any. I frowned and sent Good night, good morning, Mr. Wu as a SMS to Jacky and went to bath. Why the heck had I done that? For fun? No, in my dictionary, the word fun had ceased to exist. I spent the next two hours surfing the Internet, checking my hand phone, watching television, checking my hand phone again, playing games and checking my hand phone once more. At last, at six, I received a message. It was from Jacky. Morning, Joanna! I m so happy. This is the 1st time u msg me. Thx! I deleted the message and then spent the next ten minutes trying to restore deleted messages. There was no such function. Silly me. ~~~~~~ Jacky was acting normal to me in school. It was like yesterdays conversation had never occurred. He put on his trademark smile to class as usual and joked his time off. When lunch break came, he bought me my drink and I could avoid the strangeness no longer. I asked, Why are you acting so strangely today? Strangely? he said. Im not! Im not even acting. You are. I retorted, wondering if I had just accidentally cursed him. After a considerably thought, I figured I had not so I continued. You used to be so I stopped. It was not him. It was me. I had suddenly wanted him to pay more attention to me. To talk to me more. To joke with me more. He was just being himself today. What was wrong with me?

Im sorry. I said as I looked at my plate of rice, ashamed to face him. So, when is the appointment? Im calling them later. Youll come with me, correct? As you promised? Although I was not looking at him, I knew he must have been showing me that toothy grin again. I promise. Ill come with you for every session. Every single session. Every Good. Good. I said. Damn good. ~~~~~~ Hey, Joanna. I woke up from my doze. The lecturers droning voice was amplified to the entire hall. I took a few seconds to register my situation and looked up. It was Michael, one of my classmates who wrote the script for the play. He was sitting in front of me, his head turned. Jacky was snoring beside me, his cheek kissing the table. Hey, Joanna. He repeated as if I was still napping. You there? I nodded as an answer to his question. Are you okay? he whispered. I nodded again. Why? Well, its because Jacky sprang up from his sleep and grabbed Michael in the neck, standing up. Dont harm her! he shouted. His voice attracted the attention of the entire hall. All the students turned to look at him. The lecturer stopped talking and stared at Jacky with his eyes wide open, obviously surprised at Jackys commotion. All I did was to look Jacky in the eyes. Michael did not struggle. He was staring at Jacky, still stunned by his onslaught. A few seconds dragged on. Jacky let go and sat down while Michael scratched his head. They did not exchange a single word. A few whispers from the students killed the silence. As you all can see, the point when demand is Strangely, the lecturer continued the lecture as if nothing had happened.

Hey, Mike. Jacky whispered. Michael wheeled and faced Jacky. He did not seem afraid. Im sorry. I had a silly dream. You know, Mr. Tans voice can turn a sweet dream into a nightmare. I know. I understand. Thats why I dare not sleep when Mr. Tan is lecturing. By the way, what dream did you just have? Whos the her? Michael asked. Yeah, whos the her? I asked as well. Must be out of curiosity. I forgot. You know, you always forget your dreams. Michael laughed. Yeah. Anyway, Joanna, I was able to ask you are you okay? Whats wrong? Jacky and I replied together. Well, its just that youve smiled five times today. And Ive seen you smile less than ten times despite knowing you for more than six months. Its a bit unusual? Well, Michael Jacky licked his lips in delight. Shes going to smile more in the future. I promise you that. And all of a sudden, I smiled. ~~~~~~ Its called the Childs Guidance Clinic, commonly known as CGC. It provides neuroscience treatment, psychological and psychiatric services to people aged eighteen and below. Its under the Institute Of Mental Health. The price is cheaper as the Government will subsidize a large portion of the cost. Ive booked an appointment for you. Jacky passed me a sheet of paper. There was a map, a date and a time. The clinic is in Singapore General Hospital. Pretty close to our school, so well have no problem getting there after school. And this he passed me another sheet of paper. It was an official appointment letter issued by the Clinic. Well need that to enter the clinic. Isnt that place meant to be for children? No, thats the misconception that most people have. The CGC also accepts teenage patients as long as you have the will to be cured. The age requirement is eighteen and below. And you qualify. Okay? I read the official appointment letter. The first appointment was for a Tuesday morning on which we had school.

No worries about that. Ive applied for an official leave from the school. Official leave? Well, on that day, we both will turn ill. And well buy MCs from doctors. Isnt that official enough? I laughed. And when the doctor asks you to choose the next appointment date, give him a date where you and I can go together without skipping school. Okay? I nodded. Great. As he was able to leave, I stopped him. Huh? Look, Jacky My eyes met his and I whispered, Thank you. For everything. My gosh, youre close to tears. He took a step closer to me and tapped my head. Come on, its nothing much, okay? Cool it. I Hey, Joanna. He turned serious. You must understand, Im doing this because I wanna help you, okay? I want you to believe in yourself and others. Just that. We cannot be a couple. You cannot be my girlfriend. I have my reasons. So, dont you ever fall in love with me, okay? Fuck. Damn. Ass. Bastard. Idiot. Silly, damn, fucking bastard ass idiot! Ill never fall in love with you! I yelled back at the top of my voice. Ill never love you! And you! I pointed at him in the chest, and then punched him in the chest repeatedly. Dont you fall in love with me! Dont you turn back and tell me I love you!! You hear me, Jacky Wu Zhong Xian? You hear me?! Me, Joanna Fung Wai Gwan, will never, ever fall in love with Jacky Wu Zhong Xian! Cool down- he whispered. And you, Jacky Wu Zhong Xian, youll better dont fall in love with me, coz Ill never love you! I gave him a final punch before I stepped back. My heart was beating a lot faster and my body was jerking up and down uncontrollably. You cannot be my boyfriend! I have my reasons! Okay! Dont fall in love with me!

I turned and ran off. A few tears fell. And while I ran, I tore up the two pieces of paper that Jacky had passed to me.

Chapter 7
Of course he could not fall in love with me. I had this curse that could harm him. This was all for his own good. But why did he still do all these things when he did not like me? I wondered if he did that to every girl he knew. Then tell them that he did not like them. He must be that sort of person. A bastard who likes to see girls cry in front of him. I hated him to the core. I went home with my eyes still red. Landy was in, reading a magazine. When she saw me, she frowned, knowing something had happened. I told her everything within fifteen minutes. He sucks. She commented, sharing my exasperation. He just sucks. Painfully sucks. I nodded, agreeing with her every word. But hes just so nice, isnt it? So romantic so nice. Idiot. I hate him. I hate him! You love him, Joanna. Its the other way round. Her sentence sent me into a whirlpool of thought. I cried so hard when he said he could not fall in love in me. Was it because of the fact that I liked him? I had not cried that much since my mothers death. My hand phone beeped. There was an incoming message. Landy passed me the phone and said, It has to be Jacky. I opened the message and truly, it was him. Im sorrie if I say anything wrong u will still come for the appointment, wont u? I read the message aloud to Landy. She beamed and exclaimed, Say yes! I did not heed her advice. I typed a No and replied to him. No, Im not keen anymore. I told Landy. I dont wanna go out with an idiot. Youre going for the appointment, not going out with Jacky, my gosh! I was still trying to control my tears. I should not cry in front of my best friend. I had always been the strong independent girl. I would not cry for a guy again! A new message came in.

Let me fetch you on that day, okie? I replied a No again. I had enough of this guy. Trying to help me? Or maybe he was just doing all this so that he could skip school! That bastard! Come on, relax and lets talk this out. Its very obvious, Joanna, that youve fallen in love with Jacky. Why not just admit that, and well have an easier time to decide on whether to go or not? Landy was saying. But I was not paying attention. I was looking at my phone, wondering if Jacky would reply or not. Slowly, I digested Landys words. It was really clear. It was just too clear. Maybe I just dared not say it out. Finally, after fifteen minutes of battle with my tears, I lost. A drop rolled out. I wiped it off instantly. Landy, somehow, had seen it. Cry it out, Joanna. Cry it out. A new message. Only you can help yourself. come on, reply a yes I replied a No. I know youre going for the therapy because of him. Im not! I retorted. Then Landy whispered so soft that I had to read from her lips. Why are you not going anymore, after he said all that? And she made sense. A new message came in. Vent your thoughts to others please its the only way out. I replied a No again and looked at Landy. I was lost for words. She had hit my vital point. Jacky then replied, Ease your illusions! let me help I shrugged. I did not know what to tell Landy, and I did not reply to Jacky. I was caught at a crossroads, not knowing where to go. Landy was quiet, eyeing me, as if waiting for me to say something. Youve gotta go for it! Only you yourself can help yourself Understanding yourself is most important

I looked at the messages. He had sent me three messages in a short span of five minutes. Landy was frowning, obviously curious at the messages that Jacky had sent me. I crossed my legs, then my arms. Then I threw my hand phone onto the sofa and closed my eyes. My mind had dealt with too many emotional battles within a day: I guessed it needed a long rest. ~~~~~~ Avoiding Jacky was one of the toughest things to do at school. He was everywhere. I tried not looking at him, but realized I couldnt. I wanted to see his expression: Was he feeling angry, guilty or happy? Or maybe he was just indifferent? In fact, there was no change. His trademark smile still lingered on his face. He still greeted every lecturer as if they were his best pals. He even tried to joke with me, but I did not laugh and he did not continue the conversation. Finally lunch break came and this was the most awkward moment for me, as we always had our lunch side by side. I bought my own food and sat alone, wondering if he would still join me. Instead one of my classmates sat beside me and I glared at her. She stared at me, then at the seat, and finally walked off. Jacky was at the drinks stall. Would he buy me my drink? I scanned my food, trying to stop myself from looking at him. Then a familiar deep voice hailed me. Heres your drink. Diet coke with salt. I looked up. There he was, Jacky Wu, sitting beside me. I just stared at him, dumbfounded, startled but not surprised. He smiled, and then ate his food. I did the same thing. A few awkward minutes passed. Ill pick you up next Tuesday morning. Ive applied for an official break from the school. Okay. Okay? What was I thinking? Landy, help me. Landy, Im mad. Landy Good. Its been so long since Ive seen the morning sun from an angle other than from the school on a weekday. Im so excited. I nodded. I must be crazy. I felt so much like flipping the table over and giving him a tight slap on his face. Yet I just sat there, agreeing and nodding to everything he said. My body was not listening to my mind. I must be mad. I must be.

Great. He said. You received my messages yesterday? I nodded again. I must have forgotten how to speak English. All of them? Theres a hidden message. Can you decode it? I shrugged. What was he saying? Have you deleted the messages? I nodded. If I said otherwise, he might get the idea that I had stored every message that he sent me. Oh, okay. He said, and then continued with his food. Read some of Dan Browns books. The Da Vinci Code, Deception Point and Angels & Demons. Most importantly, read Digital Fortress. Its a novel about breaking codes. He smiled, and then suddenly laughed out loud for no reason. However, reading them wont help you solve the code. Was that a joke? If so, it was just so not funny. ~~~~~~ Hidden message? Landy was saying, looking at the messages. Has he read too many The Da Vinci Code?" Beats me. I had written down all the messages on a piece of paper. They all sounded so normal. Maybe hes just trying to be funny. Hes always funny. But his jokes are not funny. Yeah, maybe thats why you like him. I ignored her comments and stared at all the messages again. Im sorrie if I say anything wrong u will still come for the appointment, wont u? Let me fetch you on that day, okie? Only you can help yourself. come on, reply a yesVent your thoughts to others please its the only way out. Ease your illusions! let me helpYouve gonna come for it! Only you yourself can help yourself Understanding yourself is most important Hidden message? Crap. But still, I spent an hour reading and re-reading the messages. It did not make the slightest sense. If he had wanted to start a conversation, he should have thought of a better idea than saying there was a hidden message in his SMSes. So clich.

Chapter 8
I inspected the waiting area. The lighting was bright. There were many sofas along with some tables, all neatly placed, and a few stacks of magazines were resting on the tables. I stole a quick look at them. Most of them were parenting magazines. Jacky came forward with two cups of plain water. A few parents were with their young children (most of them below five years old). Its so empty here. I whispered, taking a sip of the water. If I had spoken freely, my voice would have carried throughout the entire waiting area. No worries. Jacky patted my shoulder. The nurses at the counter were chatting with each other. A few doctors in their white coats walked in and out of their rooms, holding folders in their hand. I wondered which of them I would be allocated to. The nurse had said Dr. Ong. Joanna Fung? I glanced up. Out of nowhere, a tall young man was standing in front of me. He was wearing his doctors coat and looked like a decent chap, with his thick glasses and neat hairstyle. I stood up instantly and offered my hand for a handshake. Come with me, will you? he smiled. I turned and looked at Jacky. He was winking at me, and then relaxed on the sofa. I was led into Room 15, with the tag Dr. Ong Kim Leng on the door. The room had a sofa, a table strewn with toys, a big whiteboard and a desk with a computer. Dr. Ong sat on a chair and motioned for me to sit down. I looked around and realised that I should sit on the sofa. Never before had I sat on a sofa when I went to see a doctor. Alright, Joanna, seventeen years old. Junior College student. National Junior College. Not bad. He rolled his chair in front of me and pulled out a file with a pen. Now, its only you and me. Just you, Joanna Fung, and me, Dr. Ong. I nodded. So whatever we say here, no one else is going to know. Alright? So we have a pact. I nodded again, this time nervous. I just want to let you know that coming here is the right choice. You know something is wrong, and youre admitting it. Finally. I did not wish to nod, but still, I did. He was very nagging. Alright then, lets not waste each others time. So, come on, tell me whats bothering you.

Finally I got to talk. I told him everything that I had told Jacky about: The curse. Dr. Ong was amazingly attentive: he kept on listening, and while listening, he would write something on the file. Sometimes he would draw something and asked me irrelevant questions. Tell me frankly, do you have a boyfriend? No. Are you happy when chatting with your best friend, Landy? Yes. How do you feel if I tell you that youre a very creative thinker? I dont know. Finally, after an hour of confessing my problems to him, he closed his file. Do you have any questions for me? he asked me. I shook my head. Alright then. What youre suffering from is a mental illness called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD for short. I shrugged. I had never heard of this before. Before I go on to tell you what OCD is, Ill give you a simple example. Have you seen people in the coffee shop washing their hands almost every few minutes, rubbing their hands with soap till they tear their skin? I nodded. I had known someone like that in my secondary school days. She just kept on going to the toilet to wash her hands. I always thought that she was just paying more attention to hygiene than us. You see, theyre also suffering from OCD. They feel that their hands are always dirty, so they have the urge to wash them again and again. Theyre obsessed with the thought of dirty hands. And they wash their hands to make them feel better. Thats their compulsion. And? Youre also suffering from OCD. Your case is a bit different. Youre obsessed with the thought that youre cursed, hence you have the compulsion of not talking to others. It will make you feel better. Crap, I thought.

In mental terms, were in a cycle of thought, behaviour and feeling. You have the thought of fear when talking to others, fearing that you might curse them. So your behaviour will be to avoid talking to them. I toyed with my fingers. I was not paying attention. He stood up and began to draw the cycle for me to see. So, we cant change your thoughts. And your feeling, your fear, is created by your thoughts. So we can only help to change your behaviour. Through a change in your behaviour, your thoughts and feelings will change as well. Well go through a therapy called Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapy to change your behaviour. In other words, to be happy, you have to change the world or change your thinking. Were here to change your thinking. Okay, so, when can we start? Dr. Ong stared at me, his eyes and mouth wide open. I must have been the first patient to accept his diagnosis and treatment so straightforwardly. ~~~~~~ Obsession Disordering Of computing. I explained to Jacky. Eh, wait. OCD. Obsession Computer Disordering? I forgot the name of it. The short form is OCD. Sounds like the Police Force in Robocop, OCP. And what is it all about? I am obsessed with the curse. And Im controlled by it. So theyre trying to change my thinking-eh, no. Not thinking. Theyre trying to change my behaviour. So that my thinking will change. And my feelings will change. The Thought-Feeling-Behaviour cycle. Ive heard of it before. Whatever. I blurted. And Im supposed to meet this Mr. Kam later on. Hell do a therapy on me. Change my behaviour. Change my thoughts. Change my feelings. I was prescribed with medications that cost me well over ten bucks. It was Fluoxetine, some sort of SSRI (as mentioned by Dr Ong), or simply, an anti-depressant. We waited for another half an hour before Mr. Kam came forward to meet me. He was in his forties, with a lean build. We greeted each other and he led me to another room, leaving Jacky alone again. This time, the room was smaller. There were two small chairs, a small table and a desk. The walls were lined with drawings by children less than ten years old. I sat on one of the chairs.

Ive read your files. I know everything about your condition, but I would like to hear the whole story again, from yourself. And once again, I revealed my curse. Miraculously, I had now told three people about my curse within two weeks. Alright. OCD. Mr. Kam did not seem to be as friendly as Dr. Ong. This therapy involves doing something that is against your will. You think you can curse someone. So, come on. Curse me. I was taken aback. He was insane. He must be. I had never expected that the fourth person I had confided my secret in would ask me to curse him. Go on, curse me. I really have the curse I said. Dont play these games. He pointed at his forehead. Its all in the mind, Joanna. Your thoughts. Your thoughts are telling you its wrong. But I want to prove your mind wrong instead. Curse me. When your behaviour changes, so do your thoughts, and eventually, your feelings. And then youll be cured. Come on. I was thinking of Jacky. I wondered how he would react. This Mr. Kam was asking for trouble. He looked harmless though. No. I said. Do you want to be cured? Im not sick. Im cursed. Trust me. Just this once. Just say that sentence. Prove me wrong. I dont want to ruin you! You wont. Curse me leniently then. Well do it slowly. No, please Oh come on! Dont make me bribe you with candies. Please dont force me

Come on! Stop it Curse me! I could no longer take it. I stared at him, thought for a while then said softly, Youll break your arm within this week. Mr. Kam smiled. He must be sick in the mind. He was the sick one, not me. That sicko! Trouble seeker. Good, Joanna. How are you feeling now? I kept quiet for a while. Regretful. I just want to say sorry in advance to you. I hope youve bought insurance. Dont worry, Im insured. From a scale of one to hundred, one being least depressed, hundred being most depressed, how depressed are you feeling now? Hundred. I said. He showed me a piece of paper with a table drawn on it and wrote something. We chatted about irrelevant things for the next ten minutes. He told me about the various kinds of obsessions people had, like the fear of using a fork and the fear of crossing the road. I was kind of amused yet at the same time amazed by these real-life stories. After fifteen minutes, he asked me how depressed I was again. I said hundred once more. An hour later, he asked again and I said hundred. Mr. Kam did not look pleased. He got me another date to come back for the next therapy session. I believe by then your depression level wont be hundred. Maybe more. I said and went out to meet Jacky. When I told him what I had done, he just smiled. He did not believe in my curse as well. I would show him. I would show them just how powerful my curse is. Gosh, cant they understand me?

Chapter 9
Sometimes, I thought, strange things happen. For the past few years after my mums demise, I had not celebrated my birthday. I would spend the day daydreaming or watching television. Landy does know when my birthday is, but strangely, she never once made an effort to celebrate it with me. However, this year, it was special. I had gone to school as usual, absorbed in the lecturers droning voice and immersed in the countless tutorials. When school ended though, Jacky came forward. He was half smiling and not looking into my eyes. This was the first time I saw embarrassment in his expression. Hi, Joanna, well he zipped opened his bag and took out a wrapped box. It was rather small and the wrapping was done exquisitely. A red ribbon was tied on top. Happy Birthday. He said, and with two hands, passed me the box. I took a step back, inspected the box and then eyed him. A long period of silence went by. Jackys head was still hanging low. After a few seconds, he bit his teeth and whispered, Take it, quick! Im going to pee if you dont take it! Finally I took the present. Thanks. I said. It was very light and the box was hard. It had to be plastic. Ive got to go. He said and went off, leaving me alone with the box. Im not embarrassed! Im really not embarrassed! I just need to pee! Just, just wear it everyday! he yelled as he was far away from me. I went home and with Landy, we opened the present. It was a branded watch. From then on, I wore the watch almost every time I went out. It had become part of my life. That silly guy. Whats there to be embarrassed about? ~~~~~~ Jacky accompanied me when I went for my next appointment with Dr. Ong. How was the therapy with Mr. Kam? Dr. Ong asked. I cursed him.

Dr. Ong did not seem worried. He wrote something on his file. Good for you. Okay, I remember you once said youve got a best friend called Landy who is immune to your curse? I nodded. Can you get her to meet me next time? I dont think theres a need- Doctors order. It will help, a lot. Alright? Reluctantly, I nodded. When I told Jacky about it, he said he was eager about meeting Landy as well. And I felt something. Like a little anger directed at Landy. Was that feeling jealousy? ~~~~~~ When more strange things happened, I knew somehow or other that my life had changed. On one of those days, I woke up very early in the morning. Having nothing to do, I took out almost every scrap of food in the refrigerator. Then I took wholemeal bread and began to make a sandwich with all the trimmings. I completed my ten-centimetre-high sandwich after fifteen minutes and packed it into a plastic bag. At lunch break that day, after Jacky and I had finished our meals, I passed him the sandwich. You made it? I nodded, not looking at him. But I was curious to see what his expression was, so I stole a quick look at him, and my eyes never left his then. His eyes were red. He was munching on the sandwich as if it was some expensive food from a classy restaurant. He then folded the plastic bag into a nice shape and kept looking at me. Is it nice? I asked. Too nice. He said, and suddenly I could hear his breathing. He was blinking a lot faster, as if to combat any tears. Too nice. ~~~~~~

You made a sandwich for him? But youre such a lousy cook! I mean, two months ago, you tried cooking instant noodles with egg and you didnt even bother to crack open the egg. Wait a moment. Landy said, leaning forward to me. I could not tell whether she was serious or not. Did you actually use bread to make the sandwich? Or did you use sand instead? I pushed her away and I laughed. It felt so good to laugh. Bread. And yeah, by the way, Dr. Ong wanted to see you. Me? Landy crossed and uncrossed her legs a few times. Why me? I dont know. Youre my best friend. My only friend. Maybe thats why. Can I not go? Come on, go. Youll be able to see Jacky. Arh. Jacky here, Jacky there. Landy said, stuffing her mouth with a few mentos sweets. Alright then, Ill go for you. Tell me, is that Dr. Ong handsome? Is he married? Hes single and available. He has a body of steel and a nuclear-powered mind. But be careful: Hes spent his campus life learning how to read peoples minds. You wont wanna play with his heart. I love challenges. ~~~~~~ I was having my breakfast that day in school with Jacky beside me when my phone rang. Glancing around to make sure no lecturers were around, I took out my phone. It was an unknown number. It was a nurse from Childs Guidance Clinic. After confirming my identity, she said, Youve got an appointment with Mr. Kam this afternoon, right? Yes. I said, and looked at Jacky. He had stopped chewing and was darting his eyes at me. Mr. Kam was the therapist I had cursed not too long ago. Mr. Kam is on long term M.C. Hell be back next month. Ive checked with Dr. Ong, your doctor. He said hed get another therapist for you. You have an appointment with Dr. Ong tomorrow, right? Hell brief you on that. I nodded at the phone. I had been expecting this. Jackys mouth was wide open, trying to read something from my expression. I must be frowning.

And yes, Dr. Ong reminded you to bring your friends along. Friends? I asked. I thought it was just Landy? Yes, thatll be Miss Landy and Mr. Jacky. Oh. Jacky is just a friend. I will. Will do. Thanks. After I had told Jacky everything, he shrugged and then smiled. Dr. Kam must have a very high fever. He broke his arm. The nurse said that? No, I didnt ask- Then lets just presume he had a very very high fever, alright? Jacky argued. Please, Joanna. Mr. Kam had a very high fever. Come on, repeat after me. Mr. Kam had a very high- -fever. I said, feeling like a primary school child. No, you must read after me. Mr. Kam had a very high fever. Come on. Mr. Kam had a very high fever. I said. Then I realised something. When I was with Jacky, I felt like a child in a nursery. And he, he was not the teacher, nor the fellow children. He was the big brother who always stood outside the window, smiling, encouraging and giving me tips. And throughout the whole day, I would be staring at the window, wondering when I would be able to be with him again. Oh shit. What am I thinking?

Chapter 10
She knows how to get here? Jacky asked me for the fifth time. Yes. I answered impatiently. We were at the waiting area of the Childs Guidance Clinic, waiting for Landy. Jacky and I had come down directly after school. Landy had said she would apply for leave today just for this appointment. The lift opened and finally Landy came out. She was wearing a small tee-shirt and jeans. Landy, this is Jacky. I said. Jackys eyes were wide open, looking at the area behind Landy. Landy smiled broadly and extended her hand. Hi, Jacky. Ive heard a lot about you. Landy said, obviously trying to tease me. Jacky was still looking stunned, as if Landy was some superstar. His eyes did not meet Landys. Instead, he kept on staring at me, then at the wall behind Landy. Oh, Landy. He shook his head for a while. Landys hand was still extended. Oh, Landy, Landy. Hi, Landy he said, waving his hand instead. Then he massaged his forehead for a while. Whats wrong? I asked. Nothing. Jacky waved off his hand. Just another headache. Landys too beautiful, shes giving me a headache. Landy laughed and we went to the waiting area. Dr. Ong came out shortly, inspecting Jacky. Landy greeted Dr Ong but he was too intent on studying Jacky. Dr. Ong, this is Jacky. I pointed at Jacky, then at Landy. And this is Landy. Dr Ong turned and looked at Landy for a while, then said, Alright, Landy, can you follow me to the room? Jacky crossed his leg, looking uncomfortable. He seemed to be grinding his own teeth. I patted him on the shoulder. Its going to be okay. Dr. Ong is a nice guy. But still, Jacky stayed silent. I had never seen him so quiet before. However, there was nothing I could do so we just sat staring at into space. A few minutes later, Dr. Ong came out alone.

Mr. Wu? Dr. Ong called Jacky. He extended his hand and this time, Jacky shook it. Come this way please. Joanna, you stay here for a while, alright? I need to talk to them alone. I nodded. I killed my time by drinking water from the water cooler. About half an hour later, I was summoned into the room. Landy had left, leaving Jacky alone in the room. Strangely, I had not seen her walking out. But she had sent a SMS, explaining that she had something on. So I was left alone with Jacky and Dr. Ong. What an odd social cocktail. Jacky, you may go out now. I nearly laughed. Just when I thought things were going to be exciting, Jacky was sent out. In any case I felt more comfortable with Dr. Ong alone. Ill assign another therapist for you. Dr. Ong said. I cursed the pervious one. Told him that hed break his hand. He asked for it. Thats why hes on long term MC. He had malaria, Joanna. He didnt break his hand. I said nothing, knowing that he must be lying to make me feel better. Doctors always lie, dont they? Its true. Anyway, Ive decided to increase the dosage of your anti-depressants. Dont keep yourself hungry. Have some carbohydrates, like rice or noodles when youre hungry. Itll make you feel better. Dont let your stomach yell for food. Whatever. Ill call you again after Ive found another therapist. I was desperate to get out of the room suddenly. To meet Jacky, perhaps. After Dr Ong had given me the prescriptions, I dashed out and as I predicted, Jacky was relaxing on the sofa, reading one of the parenting magazines. But he was not smiling. That was not normal. In fact, that was very abnormal. He wanted to take a taxi. After much negotiation, I agreed to it. His stern expression somehow made me weak, as if I had to give in to his every request. When we were inside the taxi, Jacky said West Coast Park.

I disagreed, but he said nothing. And when he said nothing, it meant something was very wrong. So I went with him. Oh, gosh, where the hell is Landy when I most need her? ~~~~~~ We took a long walk along the beach, glancing out at the sea. The sun had just set, leaving a breathtaking image on the horizon. The currents of the sea slowly devoured the yellow light at the horizon. The tide was high, constantly threatening to push her tip to our feet. We chatted as we walked. Jacky told me more about his childhood and his mother. He said that he felt compelled to help others when he was young due to his fathers death. His father was his hero. I, having nothing to say about any hero, just told him more about Landy. I was about to mention one of Landys less desirable habits when he suddenly interrupted. Can I hold your hand? he said. I wanted to smile, to jump around in ecstasy and hug him tight, and then kiss him and tell him how delighted I am. However, I did none of the above. I balled my hand into a fist and snorted, I only allow my boyfriend to hold my hand. Can I hold your hand? I looked away from him, trying to find something to say. You cant be my boyfriend. You said that before. Youve got your reasons. Can I hold your hand? Now I really felt like punching him. No. Because only lovers hold hands. And we are not lovers. Not yet. Can I hold your hand? I am not your girlfriend. I cannot be, because I have this curse, and youve got your own reasons. Can I hold your hand? Only if youre my boyfriend and Im your girlfriend, then we can. Can I hold your hand?

Remember what you once said? I bit my lips. I was staring at the ground, my heart beating a lot faster. My body seemed to jerk and I was blinking a lot faster than normal. If we hold hands, your reputation will be spoilt. I dont want to do that. Can I hold your hand? he repeated, this time weaker. I continued walking. This was getting nowhere. I turned to him, ready to scold him aloud when I stopped in my tracks. His eyes were red, and a few drops of tears were rolling off his eyes. He was breathing deeply. For the first time since I had known him, the tough and jovial Jacky was crying in front of me. And he did not hold my hand. Instead, I held his and wiped off his tears. And as my blinking glistened back to normalcy, tears rolled out of my eyes as well and I jerked harder. We were like two scared, crying school kids who were lost. But when I felt his hand on mine, I felt no fear. Only warmth. ~~~~~~ We locked hands till we reached my house. Throughout the journey, we were silent, as if words had suddenly vanished from our mind. But when we reached my void deck, he released my hand and said, Joanna, Im always here. Im always here, if you ever need me. Here. He pointed to his heart. This time, I could no longer resist the urge to hug him. I wrapped my arms around him. The tough introvert Joanna was crying for the second time within a span of an hour. Thanks that was all I could manage to say. Jacky released me gently and took tissue paper to wipe off my tears. Remember this. If you ever need me and Im not around, just wait for me. Because Ill always be here. I nodded. I am just like the sun and you the flower. Ill provide sunlight for you to blossom. Sometimes, clouds will prevent me from reaching you. But youll know that Im always trying to reach you. Just wait for the clouds to clear if you cant receive my sunlight.

I nodded. If he kept on talking, I could flood the void deck with my tears. Remember: To be happy, you either change the world, or you change your thinking. To be realistic, you have to change your thinking to be happy. But me, I will change the world for you. I said nothing because my mouth had been choked with my sobbing. Gosh oh gosh. Dont wake me up. Please, let time reach a standstill now. Right now. Gosh. ~~~~~~ Landy was munching biscuits on the sofa when I reached home. When she saw my reddened eyes, we started our girls talk again. And finally I admitted my true feelings to her. Ive fallen in love with a guy. And his name is Jacky Wu Zhong Xian. But I dont know if he likes me or not. I said. I was lying on the sofa, still wearing my uniform. I did not feel like bathing all of a sudden, as if the water would wash away Jackys smell. Of course he likes you! I mean, he held your hand, he said all those mushy yet romantic things. Dont tell me he says that to every girl. Landy was saying. Strange. I had not told her what had happened yet she seemed to know everything. Although she made sense, I still could not forget what happened that night. But that day, he said that I could not be his girlfriend. She sighed. Guys. Maybe he wasnt ready that day. Now that he is ready, what are you waiting for? What am I waiting for?

Chapter 11
I took a maximum dosage of anti-depressants every morning. I got a call from a nurse the next morning when I was in class. I went to the toilet to take the call. Dr. Ong had assigned another therapist for me. I agreed to go, but I had already decided not to. I had ruined Mr. Kam with my curse. They had to believe in it. Jacky was back to himself. It was like yesterdays episode never occurred. He continued to wear that smile everywhere he went. I wondered if he would treat me like a girlfriend, but no. He treated me just like how he treated me before. There was no difference, but I guessed that was a good beginning. We spent the next few days studying and reading and by the next week, we were on schedule for the full-dress rehearsal of our play. We had agreed to sing the song together as the play concluded. And I had agreed to do the free-style play. After we had changed into our costumes, I waited backstage. The song was then played loudly. Two A.M and the rain is falling Here we are at the crossroads once again Youre telling me youre so confused You cant make up your mind Is this meant to be Youre asking me Jacky was lying on the stage, his eyes closed. I walked forward slowly, looking at the unconscious Jacky. Romeo. I whispered. No, Romeo I rushed forward and genuflected in front of him, holding his head up. I could hear his breathing and smell his sweat. Romeo I held his hand and clutched it tight. It was warm. I gripped it tighter, and then laid my head on his chest. Why are you going away now when Im so in love with you? Why? The audience (consisting of lecturers and our classmates) was so quiet that we might even hear the flapping sound of a mosquitos wings. My breaths were unsteady. I was blinking fast again. Please leh, stay with me. I love you. I should have given the cue to play the song, but I forgot to do so. Instead, I lay on Jackys chest, hearing his every heartbeat. Strangely, I had a fear: I feared that his heart might stop beating anytime. After about a minute of silence, the song was played again.

But only love can stay Try again or walk away But I believe For you and me The sun will shine one day So I just play my part And pray youll have a change of heart But I cant make you see it through Thats something only love can do When the song faded off, I looked at a cup of chestnut water beside me. Poison I said to let the audience know that that was not chestnut water. Poison I tightened my grip on his hand and I could hear a soft groan from Jacky through his closed mouth. Wait for me, Jacky. What for I live when you not around? And I gulped down the chestnut water. It tasted sweet. I shook and nodded my head for several seconds before dropping onto the floor, my hand still holding on to Jackys. After a while, I sensed movement. Jacky was waking up. He said something before lying on my back. Everyone clapped. We thought we had done very well when one of the lecturers spotted a very obvious mistake on my part. When youre on the stage, she said, Jacky is Romeo and youre Juliet. I wondered if she was trying to be sarcastic or she was serious about pointing out my mistake. ~~~~~~ Our literature lecturer Mrs Goh treated us to dinner after the full-dress rehearsal. Everyone was impressed with our performance. They said we had chemistry and it was a very touching play. I begged to differ, for I thought I could have done better. Call Landy and get her to join us. Jacky suddenly cut in after we had placed our orders. I thought that was not a good idea so I did not call her. But Jacky persisted, Go on, call her. No means no. I said. I felt like we were a couple having a small spat. Jacky shook his head slightly and did not press the issue. Almost every student got either their parents or partners to send them home. Mrs Goh offered to give Jacky and me a lift, but we politely refused. And so we took a long bus ride back home.

Call Landy. Jacky commanded when we were in the bus. There were less than ten people in the bus. For what? He glanced out of the window then pressed the bell. With that, he grabbed my hand and pulled me out of the bus. I pushed his hand off and looked around me. Knock it off! What the heck are you doing? We were in the middle of a highway. Why didnt you go for the previous appointment with Dr Ong? Listen to me, Joanna. Listen to me well. Go for the appointments with Dr Ong. Youre sick. He pointed to my forehead. You need help. I shoved his hand off again and snorted, What do you know about me? Why act as if youre me! I cursed one of them! If I had been harsher I stopped. I should not talk that much. Just I stopped myself. Im going to prove it to you if you still dont believe me. Prove what? Take out your hand-phone. I threw my bag to the ground and gnashed my teeth. Im not your servant. I dont do what you want me to do! Im going to prove to you that your best friend Landy is just an imaginary friend. I stopped breathing for exactly one second. That was it. That was too much. I slapped his right cheek hard, feeling the pain on my hand. He stared at me as if it did not hurt. But his cheek began to swell. Landy doesnt exist, he said. I gave him another tight slap. The loud sound of the impact echoed into the night. Our eyes darted towards each other and images of Landy jogged in my mind. You created her. She is the perfect portrayal of a lady, and you want to be like her. Thats very normal, Joanna. Nothing to be ashamed of. Many children have imaginary friends. They get over it. Youve just been talking to your imaginary friend for the- No! I yelled. My hand was too painful for another slap. No, no, no! This cant be! After all these after all these fucking fucking fuck! I turned. A bus came and I flagged it but it continued to drive past me. On its sign was Off-Service.

Joanna- Get away from me. Take out your hand-phone. Show me Landy is real. I did what he said. Now, read out Landys hand-phone number to me. I scrolled through the phonebook in my hand-phone. L Lay Hong, Lemon, Leslie, Luke, Luther I scrolled again. Still the same. Landy Wen Wen Lan is her full name. I strolled to W. Wendy, Winnie. Still no Landy. 9 I halted. I did not know what to say. 9 Her number had got to be there! Someone must have deleted her number off my hand-phone. Yes, her number was my last dialled call. I just had to get to my Call Register Last Dialled Number: Jacky Wu. No I looked up at Jacky. He was frowning, but I knew he must have been enjoying every moment of this. That bastard When you talk to the phone, youre just talking to yourself. But you saw her! You fucking saw her that day! I saw no one. I acted as if I saw her. Because I did not know what to do. I was so confused. Did you know what you did that day? He broke into a smile, and then pointed to the air beside him. Hi Jacky, this is Landy. He paused. This was what you did. She was there! I was screaming now. Dr. Ong saw her as well- He faked it as well. He thought if we were to tell you that day in front of so many people, youd be agitated. He said that the best remedy for an imaginary friend is to let it go away naturally. Make you happy, make you feel socially involved and the imaginary friend will go away. Thats the reason why he had increased the dosage of your anti-depressants. My grandmother can see her as well. Explain that to me then! Your grandma is three-quarters blind. She couldnt tell the difference between Landy and the door. Who else has seen Landy before? No one.

Youre lying. I said. Youre lying! I saw a taxi from afar. I seized my bag and held my hand out. Fuck off, Jacky. Youre ruining my life. Please- I could hear his fading voice, but he did not give chase. Before I got into the taxi, I took off the watch he had given me for my birthday and threw it far away. That bastard. That fucking bastard.

Chapter 12
I cried throughout the whole journey home. The taxi-driver did nothing. He must have had picked up crying girls all too often. When I reached home minutes later, I called Landy. Strangely, all I did was to press the last dialed number and Landys voice came. Landy, can you do me a favour? Come out now. I need your help. A few minutes later, Landy and I were out on the streets. It was nine at night, but the market place was still teeming with people. I approached the auntie who always sells fish soup to me. Hi, auntie. I said. She was an old frail lady, but when I greeted her, her eyes sparkled. She must be surprised, for I had never greeted her before. Oh, hi ah girl. She replied after some hesitation. I pointed to Landy. This is my best friend, Landy. I said in Chinese. She looked at Landy. I knew I was right all along. But after a few seconds, she took a step back and bit her lips. What? Huh? I started to shiver. This cant be This young and pretty lady here, I rested my hand on Landys shoulder. is my best friend. The auntie was lost for words. I Then she took out a yellow paper from her wallet and clapped her hands together. I stared in disbelief. She started to pray to her surroundings. God bless then she said something in Chinese that I could not understand. Before I could say anything, she turned to me and said aloud, Bye, girl. She then rushed off as if she had just seen a ghost. And Landy was still smiling. I did this experiment a few more times with some other people. They either told me to stop joking, or thought I was possessed by some spirit. None of them could see Landy. Except me. And just when I was about to probe Landy about this, she was gone. Just like that. Poof, gone without any warning. And, as expected, I tried calling her but I could not get through.

Oh. Bastard Jacky. He should have just shut the fuck up and left the truth unrevealed. ~~~~~~ I felt so lonely. I went to school as usual the next day, this time, however, feeling like it was the first day of school. I was trying hard to avoid Jacky, but he was, as usual, as sticky as glue. He tried to start a conversation but I would cut him off with these two words: Shut up. Finally lunch break came. This was the first time that I was not looking forward to it. Jacky bought my drink, but I went off and bought my own. Joanna- Shut up. I said it for the tenth time. Let me help- Why are you doing all this? Now I was boiling with anger. Could it be the laksa in front of me that spurred me? When I looked at Jacky, I realised it was not the laksa. It was his face: his compassionate face that fuelled the anger within me. Why are you doing all this, Jacky!? I was half-yelling. I want to do something meaningful- Fuck you! I screamed. The whole canteen went quiet. Only the sound of the fans whirring could be heard. Dont give me that fucking excuse anymore! Therere more than a thousand people in this school: Why me? Why!? He was quiet and seemed to be on the verge of tears. Is it because you pity me!? If he was facing me, I could have given him a tight slap. Is it because you think I need sympathy, thats why youre doing all this!? Yes. Maybe because I pity you thats why Im doing all this. He said softly. People were bending forward, trying to make out what he had just said. And when you knew that my best friend is an imaginary friend, you pitied me more?! Thats why you held my hand!? Be nice to me, because the best remedy for imaginary friends is to make me happy and socially involved? Thats why you said all those fucking idiotic things at my void deck!? I could tell that he was thinking. Maybe. He answered softly again. That may be the reason.

You bastard. A whisper this time. I splashed my glass of Diet Coke onto his face. Then I smacked his cheek hard. You bastard. I said again, and then walked off. I was expecting him to give chase. But he did not. He must have stopped pitying me. I went straight to the toilet. No one bothered to come forward to console me. After washing my tears off, it was time to go back to class. I was dreading having to see Jacky again. We did not say anything more for the rest of the day. I confined myself to my notes and he was absorbed in the lecturers voice. Gosh oh gosh. What the heck had just happened? What the heck had I just done? An imaginary friend? A one-sided love story? Suddenly it occurred to me. Now I knew why Jacky could not be my boyfriend. That night, when he said we could not be together, I had cursed him. I had cursed him not to fall in love with me when I was angry. My. Gosh. It was my fault. My fault! ~~~~~~ I went back to an empty house. My grandmother came home after a few hours. Had she been seeing things as well for the past four years? Grandma, I asked in Hokkien. Do you remember Landy? Of course. She replied. I looked around the living room. It was empty except for her and me. I pointed to the empty sofa and said, Shes here. She made an effort to look at the sofa then turned back at me. Her answer sent chills down my spine. Yes, she still looks so beautiful. Im going back to my room. You have a nice chat with her. Can you chat with me? I requested. Since my mothers death, I had not had a decent chat with my grandmother. We had a hi & bye relationship. She had earned her living through collecting cans and donations from the residents. All my allowances came from her and from my auntie. My grandmother rolled her eyes. She ambled to the sofa and sat down, patting the seat beside me. She must have forgotten that Landy was there.

Jacky had called me a few times but I rejected all his calls. I felt that he was just putting on a mask. Im feeling very lonely. I told my grandmother. It was just so weird. I meant, my grandmother had always been so close to me, yet I had always consigned her to one side, as if she did not exist. How old are you already, Gwan? she suddenly asked. Gwan was the name that my parents used to call me. It had such a forgotten history that I nearly couldnt remember that was my name. I told her almost everything about myself. My age, my school and my life in general. I did not tell her about Landy and my curse. Instead, I found myself talking to her about Jacky. It just came out of nowhere. Hes a very nice and handsome guy. I said. Tall, tanned and always smiling. I always tell myself that I had not fallen in love with him. Why? Because I dont know. I knew I couldnt love him. Grandma, what does love feels like? My grandmother took a very long breath. However, I could tell that she was not thinking. She was preparing for a very long chat. Easy. Tell me, two hours ago, who were you thinking of? I thought back. Jacky. Who are you thinking of now? Jacky. And if youre still thinking of him two hours later, youre in love. Gwan, love is a simple thing. Its either you love, or you dont. You can try everything, almost everything to prevent yourself from loving, but it all boils down to this: Either you love, or you dont. I pondered on her words. Doesnt matter how long the love lasts. Youll be contented once you know you were in love before. Have I told you about the magnet theory? I shook my head.

Youre like the North Pole of a magnet bar, and Jacky is also like the North Pole of a magnet bar. Theres no way for both of you to be close together. Theres a force thatll always push you both apart. This force is called the obstacle, like interest differences, communication problems and etc. However, if you put a metal bar in between, both you magnets will stick to it. And youll be close to each other. That metal bar dissolves the force that pushes both of you away. And that metal bar is what we called love. What a load of bullshit. However, when I realised I was thinking of Jacky two hours later, I began to ponder her words again. Our metal bar where can we find it? I wanted so much to ask my grandmother about it again, but she was asleep. And so I went to bed as well.

Chapter 13
Sometimes, it is so hard to say just three words. I smelled the rich aroma of Jackys coffee. The scent was overbearing. Jacky was sitting beside me, taking another sip of his coffee. I stirred my diet coke with my straw and yawned. He still sat beside me in class as per his routine, and I did not oppose him. And at lunch break now, we had our lunch in silence. Jacky did not buy my drink; instead I bought his for him. Yet he just passed me the money without saying a word. Through the corner of my eye, I could see that he had finished his coffee and was coughing as if coffee would create phlegm. On the contrary, my diet coke was still full. There were still about ten more minutes before we had to head back to class. Come on, say it, Joanna! I turned to Jacky. Stunned, he returned my look. His hair was dishevelled and his eyes were bloodshot. Despite downing the whole cup of coffee, his lips still looked dry. You look pale. I suddenly said and instantly regretted it. Is it? he twisted his neck. Lack of sleep. Been thinking I wanted so much to crack a joke so that he would regain the redness on his cheeks. But I did not. I must say it now, or never. Come on, be brave, just three words! Hey. I muttered, softer this time. I did not want others to hear me. Hey. He replied. That idiot. Cant he see that Im struggling to say something to him? Hey. I said again. Hey. Hey, hey. Can I he stopped. Wait. I felt as if this conversation was going nowhere. I- Hold your-

Love- Hand? You. When we both finished our sentences, his head dropped on the table slowly, creating a loud bang. His body began to sway towards me. I leaned forward to hold his shoulder, trying to break his fall but he was too heavy. He went tumbling onto the ground and all I could do was to lessen the impact of the fall. His eyes were closed and his cheeks were drained of colour. I shook his shoulders violently. Bewildered students crowded around us, whispering yet doing nothing. Jacky! I was shaking him, but he gave no response. Jacky! A lecturer came, dispersed the students and sent Jacky to the hospital. And I went along with the ambulance, my heart beating so fast that I could have had a heart attack anytime. ~~~~~~ Jackys mother was a beautiful woman it was obvious now where Jackys striking features had come from. She sat in the waiting room, muttering things that I could not understand. I was with Michael and Jackys other friends, all waiting anxiously as he was wheeled into the ward. Michael was trying to console all of us, and he was the one that introduced us as classmates of Jacky to his mother. The wait was over in about fifteen minutes. The doctor came out and talked to Jackys mother for a while. He was not smiling, nor was he frowning. When he finished, the nurse spoke to Jackys mother as the doctor went off. We went forward. I was trying to discern something from Jackys mothers expression. She seemed relieved. Jackys fine. Thanks a lot for all your concern. He just fainted due to stress over his studies. And hes not fit to see anyone now. Come back another day, alright? Jackys mother told us after the nurse had left. Everyone left but I stayed. I could sense that something was wrong. Jackys mother did not seem worried when talking to us. What left me dumbfounded was why Jacky should be hospitalised when he was merely under too much stress.

I entered the ward. Jackys mothers eyes were red-shot. She had been crying. When she saw me, she cupped her eyes for a while before opening them. Didnt I ask you all to go back home first? she said, a bit impatiently. Can I talk to you? ~~~~~~ Instead of talking at the hospitals cafeteria, we went to the park. Jackys mother was a reserved lady. Throughout the whole journey, she said nothing. When we reached the park, we sat beside an old man. The old man was wearing a patients uniform, and he kept smiling at me as if he knew me. Its not just over-stress, right? It is. Being hospitalised for over-stress? Not waking up till now simply because hes under too much stress? Ive- Please dont act as if you know Jacky very well. Youre just his classmate, a friend, or whatever. Please, I dont want to start a quarrel or whatever. When I said over-stress, its over-stress. What more can I say? But- Hes just under too much stress. If you dont believe me, fine with that. Im going back to my office. I dont want to be over-stressed myself. With that, she went off, leaving me alone with the old man. Young lady, the old man suddenly asked. Are you just his classmate, a friend? He must have been eavesdropping on our conversation. However, I saw no harm in telling him the truth, so I said, I believe Im more than that. Alright then, love him while you can. In love, theres only love or dont love. Since you love him, do it now. The old man said. Why do all old people say the same thing? For a nanosecond, I wondered if he was my long-lost dead Grandfather or not. ~~~~~~

Suddenly, it all made sense. It all made so much sense that I bought a pack of cigarettes and lighted one before going back to the ward. I wanna help you. To see you smile. I want to do something meaningful while I can. Jacky had said that before. To do something meaningful while he could. I shivered at that thought. I really hoped that it would not be what I had expected. I walked up the stairs with my head spinning. The cigarette had made me giddy. Jacky had awakened when I reached the ward. He was smiling. Hey. I said. He just nodded weakly, and pointed to the flask of water beside him. I poured him water. I like coffee better. He smiled. Why didnt you tell me? I said. I was biting my lips, taking deep breaths. I could hear every single beat of my heart, and it was so fast that I was unable to count. You know? Jacky mouthed. Your mother told me all about it. Cant be. I asked her not to tell anyone. She promised. How can a matter like this be kept a secret? I said. I realised I was smiling. Gosh. So, how many months more do you have? I suddenly asked, and then whispered very, very softly, Fuck. Jacky was avoiding my gaze. Please, say Im wrong, say you dont understand what I mean please. Please. It was a long wait. My hands were clutched and I felt the shape of my lips: I was smiling. Fuck, Im fucking insane. Im smiling. Im smiling. Im smiling! Then he did the most astonishing feat I had ever seen in my life. He grabbed a lump of his hair, shook a bit, and pulled it out. Almost all his hairs were in his hand now. His scalp was nothing but few strings of thin hair.

Two more years, to be exact if I dont have the operation within this few months. Fuck.

Chapter 14
Cant be I was shaking and smiling at the same time. Cant be not now not now! Cant be! How could everything come at this time? Just when I realised I had feelings for him, he had to say that he was dying soon? How could this be happening? No! Jacky grabbed my hand. Cool down- What disease do you have? I whispered. I was taking three deep breaths a second. What? I thought you knew- I lied. I said that so softly that I wondered if I had said anything. I stood up and looked out of the window. I could see a slight reflection of myself from the glass window. My eyes were half-closed, red with tears streaming down fast. I was jerking hard, as if there was an earthquake. Brain cancer. Its a hereditary disease, I think. My father had stomach cancer. And now Ive got brain cancer. Isnt there a cure for it? No. The doctors can only stop the cells from spreading. But theres a tumour in my head, so its hard to do treatment. The only way is Surgery? Right, but its a surgery on the brain. So the risk involved is very high. And the percentage of total recovery is only he paused. I waited as I did not want to interrupt him. Fifteen percent. Fifteen? One five, fifteen? Yes. I ran my fingers through my hair. Why why is this happening!? Why!?

No I was whispering. I stared at the reflection again. I was smiling yet shaking my head. No, no, no, youre lying. Oh, fuck, youre lying. I took out my lighter and ignited it. Then I put it out and ignited it again. I hauled out the pack of cigarettes from my pocket and played with the cover. Joanna, dont be like this- Stop playing with me, Jacky, stop playing with me. I let out a sigh and dropped the lighter onto the ground. Stop playing with my feelings. Love, leave, love, leave, love, leave. Stop it all. Youve got to calm down, Joanna. We can- Fuck you. Suddenly I felt guilty. I was scolding a guy who was going to die. What the heck am I doing? Fuck- I stopped. I rushed to the door and ran out. Oh, gosh, oh gosh. Gosh. What a fucking complicated life Im living. ~~~~~~ I had lit my fifth cigarette when I decided to think logically. I was sitting on one of the many benches in the park, glaring at every single person walking by. I had a giddy spell by my third stick, but somehow, I just wanted to smoke more. Cancer? Death? I had never expected such issues to rub shoulders with me. It had always been the least of my worries. For the past few years, I had always been worried only about the words that I said. The curse I have been carrying. And somewhere out there, someone close to me had been battling an enemy called cancer and fleeing from an adversary named death? Somewhere out there, a person has been smiling for twenty-four hours a day even though he was next to the gates of hell? I blew the smoke out of my lungs through my nose, somewhat like a dragon. What could I do? What could I do to make him feel better? I was at my wits end, trapped in a nest of confusion. My tears had not stopped streaming since I dashed out of the ward. I had two missed calls traced to Jackys hand-phone. I did not call back. I merely messaged him a Give me time. I knew I would lose control if I heard his voice. What must I do now? I flicked the cigarette butt away and knew there was no way I could find the answer here. I headed home. I might not have Landy anymore, but I had a new chat mate.

~~~~~~ Fortunately, my grandmother was still awake when I reached home. It was six-thirty in the evening. She was sitting on the sofa, just like what Landy used to do. She was massaging her legs while watching the news. I sat down next to her. This is my grandmother? Suddenly, I was hit by a tinge of guilt. We seldom talked, for I had Landy as a companion. But who did she have to confide in? Who did she approach when she was depressed? I have always been beside her, yet I lived in my own little world, ignoring the very same old lady who was sitting in front of me. I gently pushed her hand away and rubbed at her leg. She smiled and passed me the ointment. Wah, Gwan, so good today? she said. I shrugged. What kind of life had I been living for the past few years? A life of escape? A life of rebellion? Against this whole world? I said nothing as I continued to massage. When a droplet of water splashed on my grandmothers leg, I realised I was crying again. I dared not look up. Tell me what happened. My grandmother said. I recalled the days I spent with Landy. I would sit here, chatting with Landy while my grandmother would greet us and retreat to her room. Jacky changed everything. He chased away my imaginary friend and brought me closer to my grandmother. I told my grandmother everything about Jacky. I told her how he smiled in every situation, how he always kept his temper. I told her about the first day that he held my hand, and how he helped me thus far. I told her everything, from my curse to Landy. And finally, I told her that Jacky was dying. And I told her of how much I love him. I love him. I repeated the sentence, as if it would help. I love him a lot. My grandmother did not interrupt me at all. She just nodded and occasionally patted me on my shoulder. Her eyes held contact with mine as I mouthed every word. At times she would smile when I mentioned something funny that Jacky did. Sometimes a frown would appear on her face when I raked up sad memories. What do you intend to do? I was at a loss for words. Here I was, trying to get an answer to that question. Yet there she was, posing me that question. I shook my head. What can I do? I whispered.

You want me to tell you a story? I did nothing. I continued staring at the floor, counting the drops of tears that had escaped from my eyes. Ive never told anyone about the story of your grandfather and me. She grabbed my shoulders and held me straight up. I was amazed by her strength. Be strong and listen to my story. Because this story is all about courage. Thats what youre here for, isnt it?

Chapter 15
Your grandfather and I met when I was working at restaurant as a dish-washer. He was the cook of the restaurant. When we saw each other, we knew it was love at first sight. He kept staring at me while he was cooking and I could not concentrate on my washing. I stole quick glances of him, amazed by his awesome cooking skills and his good looks. By the fifth day of my work, he asked me out. I did not reject. And so we went to a park and chatted about almost everything under the sun. I tried to recollect memories of my grandfather. It was then that I realised I had never seen him before: He died before I was born. However, in my mind now, I was painting a picture of him: A young and handsome man who knew how to turn an uncooked egg into an omelette. We went on a few more dates. Unknowingly, we started holding hands. And as we continued dating, our love for each other grew so much that a day apart was intolerable. Whenever I woke up, I would wonder what he was doing. Whenever I walked to work, I would wonder if he was doing the same thing. If there were hand-phones during my time, I would have called him every single minute. Then one day, he brought me to a forest. Although I declined, he insisted. So we went into the dark forest, carrying only lighted candles. Suddenly, he disappeared. I panicked and nearly fainted, but he suddenly reappeared with a ring on his hand. He kneeled before me and proposed to me. I wiped off the remnants of my tears and tried to smile. Although I failed, my grandmother sensed my attempt and patted me on my shoulder. How could I have rejected? How could I have rejected such an offer? I cried on the spot, and within ten days, we were officially husband and wife. I realised that everyone had a story to tell: The auntie selling fish soup may have the most romantic love story; my old and stubborn Literature lecturer Mrs. Goh may have the most tragic story to tell. Yet I always pondered on the poignancy of my own story, as if my story superseded all of theirs. Our relationship was as strong as a rock during our first few years of marriage. But everything soon changed. We began to drift apart. We seldom talked. There was just no reason for this rift. You didnt love him anymore? I asked, curious.

My grandmother did not answer me. She sighed, and then continued, I thought of divorce. But during my time, divorce was a taboo. We continued living together, exchanging less than a few words a day. And as a tradition, we had to bear a child for our parents. And so your mother is born. Even with the addition of a new member in the family, we still behaved like strangers. Your mother, angry with us for not giving her a good family, married off when she was just seventeen. And when I was fifty, I decided to move out. I lived alone here for five years, until your grandfather called me. He said he didnt have much time left. I cursed beneath my breath. Jackys words rang in my mind repeatedly: Two more years, to be exact if I dont have the operation within this few months. So I went to the hospital. Your grandfather asked me a question that made me think a lot: Have you loved me throughout our marriage? I was lost for words. I spent the entire day thinking. And when I finally said yes, we hugged. Since then, I began visiting him in the hospital for his remaining days. He said something the day before he died which touched me very deeply: Ive been the happiest man in the world for two times: The first time is when you agreed to marry me, and the second time is when you said you had always loved me throughout our marriage. Because I have loved you all this while as well, but I just didnt dare to say it. My grandmother smiled when she finished her story. I knew that the memories of her dead husband were replaying in her mind. I, on the other hand, was thinking hard as well. There was a moral in her story, and with a twist of my neck, I finally knew what it was. Your grandfather was smiling when he died. Doesnt matter how long we live as long as we live with a smile on our face. Yes, now I got it, the moral of the story. At that moment, I wanted to kiss my grandmother, but I dared not. However, after I had picked my keys up, I leaned forward and kissed her. I love you. I said, and made my way out. Wait for me, Jacky. ~~~~~~ I had just finished telling the taxi driver my destination when my hand-phone rang. Joanna? the female voice on the other end sounded familiar. It was Jackys mother. I dont know who else to call. You are the only one who knows everything now. Jackys in trouble. My grip on the hand-phone tightened and I asked, Whats wrong?

The cancer cells are starting to spread. He needs an operation soon. Just come. When she hung up, I got the taxi driver to stop. And for the next few minutes, I stared out of the window, saying nothing. ~~~~~~ Look at this. the doctor pointed at a negative of a brain X-ray. A dark spot was visible on the left of it. This is the tumour. His case is Diffuse Astrocytomas Grade Two. The cancer cells will spread, but at a very slow rate. For the past few months, weve been trying to stop the cells from spreading too much. But its hard now. I tried to process what the doctor had said. He was explaining in laymans terms. Jackys mother sat beside me, her eyes wide open. The reason why weve not operated on him is because of the fact that his tumour is very close to his brain stem, a very important structure of the brain. However, his cancerous cells have now spread into the brain stem, growing near the cerebellum. The cerebellum is responsible for the movement of his muscles. Surgery is the only way now? Jackys mother said. The doctor nodded. Then what is the success rate? The doctor shrugged. Bad news. Fifteen percent. It is very risky as the cancer cells are inside the brain stem. What if he doesnt take the surgery? He will first become paralysed. Then he will begin losing his brain functions and become brain-dead after a few months. We were left speechless with that. He continued, as if he had no feelings. The surgery must be done by next week. If not, we will lose control over the cancerous cells. Who makes the decision? Hes under eighteen, so the final decision still rests with you. The doctor said. Jackys mothers expression was a fusion of confusion and depression. Great. She said, and walked off without saying bye.

Jackys dying within a few months. That thought whirled in my mind like a bad dream. Oh, please let me wake up from this nightmare. ~~~~~~ I had just finished peeling an apple when Jacky woke up. Actually, I had intended to eat the apple, but since Jacky woke up exactly when I had finished peeling it, I passed him the apple. He held out his weakened hand to take the apple. An apple a day keeps the doctor away, eh? he said, taking a bite. Get me more apples. Then Ill be discharged soon. He already knew the situation. Her mother had agreed to the operation, and he was to undergo the surgery next Thursday. He knew the success rate was only fifteen percent, and he also knew the consequences if he did not undergo the surgery. Yet his trademark smile still lingered on his lips. I wanted to say something, but when I opened my mouth, nothing came out. Talk to me, Jacky. I may have a bandage here on my head when the play comes around, so I may not be able to do the play. You make sure Johnny does a great job, eh? he said. Johnny, one of our classmates, was to take over him as Romeo. And yeah, I took up the role because I only needed to memorise two words and got to lie on a pretty girls back. But now its different. Its free-style. Thats why Im backing out. He laughed. It sounded strange. Rest. I whispered. Im lying on the bed with a blanket over me. Im resting. And Im eating an apple! With that, he dropped the apple. It rolled off the bed and hit the floor. I went towards it but he stopped me. No. Ill do it. He said, and slowly climbed out of the bed. With great effort, he lifted the apple up as if it weighed ten kilograms. I could not make out whether he was just joking or he was really suffering. See? I can do it. I can get an apple from the floor. Why cant I get a rock out of my head? The rock is so much smaller than this apple! I stayed with him for a few more hours before I left. As I was on my way out, I saw Doctor Ong, my psychiatrist. I tried avoiding him by looking at the floor, covering my face with my hair. But my uniform gave me away. Hey, Joanna. I heard his voice. Id really love it if you could come visit me some day. He said, obviously trying to mock me. Go to your clinic and curse more people? I wondered.

What are you doing here? I said. Im here to visit your best friend. He stressed the word best. Actually, I wanted to ask him about Landy. But before I could say anything, he was off into Jackys ward. How did he know of Jackys condition?

Chapter 16
I had come to a profound conclusion: I had the most complicated life in the world. Firstly, I had a fatal curse. Secondly, my long time best friend was imaginary. Thirdly, the guy whom I love so much is dying. Everything in my world seemed to collapse all of a sudden. I skipped school one day and visited Jacky. My classmates kept on asking me to go for the last full-dress rehearsal of the play but I declined. What good can a stupid play do now? Jacky, as usual, was snoring his head off in the morning. I refilled the water in the flask, bought fruits to top up the basket and dug out a book to read. It had been a long while since I had read a book. The book was entitled Destinys Cries, a romantic love story set in Singapore written by Low Kay Hwa. Not too long ago, someone (I forgot who) introduced the book to me but I had refused to read it. Now, in this forlorn ward occupied only by Jacky and me, I began reading the first page. I spent my morning listening to Jackys snores and reading the book. Amazingly, I finished the book within a few hours and was crying at the ending. The story was about a guy, Alan, who found a girl, Destiny, at a rooftop. Alan went to the rooftop another day and saw Destiny again, and realised later in the story that Destiny had always been waiting for him there. But when they fell in love, trials and tribulations appeared and Alan was faced with a challenge that would test his love forever. I began to peel an apple, hungry after all the reading. When I was done, Jacky moved and opened his eyes. When he saw the apple in my hand, he reached for it. Great, an apple a day keeps the doctor away. He said. Youre good. Whenever an apple is peeled, its colour will change within a few minutes. Yours, your apples colour is always so fresh. I shook my head weakly, saying nothing. My phone rang again but I rejected the call. Those classmates of ours are asking me to go for the play. I explained. Everyone knew of his condition by now. Most of them visited him during evenings as they had commitments in the afternoon. Go. Go and get a trophy for me. I dont wanna- I wanna see the trophy when I wake up. He said. Come back again when youre done with the rehearsal. Go.

I fought my compulsion and stood up. Make sure you get the trophy. Make sure you get it. ~~~~~~ The rehearsal went by smoothly. Our lecturers decided to add a special program on the day of the play. They wanted every one of us to dedicate a message to Jacky on stage. Many of my classmates instantly composed a message. I sat in a corner and thought of what to say on the actual day. Then I borrowed a pen from Michael and slowly, I penned my message. The play was scheduled for next Monday, four days after Jackys surgery. I kept on wondering whether I would be smiling or crying on that day. After we were done with writing our messages, I went off to the hospital again. Jacky had one more week left, and I was going to make full use of that one week. ~~~~~~ Jacky was reading a magazine when I reached his ward. He smiled upon my entrance. But his smile seemed to be too wide, too forced. Something was wrong. I sat beside him and said nothing. I did not know what to say. He had always been the one starting the conversation. Not me. Im going for the surgery on Thursday, 2 p.m. September 25, 2003. He said. I know. Curse me. I nearly dropped myself onto the floor. Butterflies flew around in my empty stomach and my tongue stuck out without my control. What did he just say? Curse him!? Curse me. Say Ill never wake up from my operation. Say Ill be in coma forever after my surgery. He said indifferently. I balled my hand into a fist. How can he play with my curse like that! I could hear the loud and fast thumping of my heart. Its not a joke. Its not a funny matter. Dont mess around with my curse.

You dont have a curse and Im going to prove it to you. Im going to wake up on Thursday night, a living proof that your so-called curse is a mental illness called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Landy is one good example that youre suffering from a mental illness. Youll- I stopped. I was going to say the word die, but I managed to hold back in time. Dont. I whispered. As I discovered my curse a long time ago, I had realised by now that the only way to prevent me from cursing anyone in a quarrel is by walking away. Without saying anything further, I dashed for the exit. ~~~~~~ Jackys mother called me a few hours later. Her voice was hoarse and choky. I was sitting at the cafeteria of the hospital, gazing at every single person who bought anything from the fruits stall. Jacky decided not to have the operation. She was saying. Every time she called me, it was always bad news. How I hoped I had not picked up any of her calls. He said the reason is because of you. What happened? I wanted so much to explain over the phone, but it would take a long time. Leave it to me. Ill go talk to him now. I puffed on two cigarettes outside the hospital, mustered all my courage, then went to the ward again. ~~~~~~ As I predicted, Jackys mother was inside the ward, talking to Jacky. Jacky was chewing on an unpeeled apple. Ah, here comes the expert in apple-peeling. Jackys mother was expressionless. She glared at me for a while, sighed loudly and went out of the ward. I was alone with Jacky again. He was still biting his apple. My mum doesnt really know how to peel an apple. So I have it unpeeled. I was lost for words. Sometimes, I wondered if everything had been a plot. How could he still be so jovial when he knew he was dying soon? Go for the surgery. I advised. Curse me. Go for the surg-

Curse me. You can do it. Curse me, and Ill go for it. What could I say? It was like him asking me to kill him. But if I dont curse him, and he doesnt undergo the surgery, the percentage of his survival is zero. But if I curse him Im going to wake up. Trust me. Im going to prove to you that your curses are nothing but mind games. Im going to prove to you that. Come one, curse me. If not Ive only got a few more months to live. Youll die with my curse! My curses are curses, not some simple mental illness! I was put in the most difficult position in my life. I thought hard. Both decisions would leave me on a losing end. I felt like running around the ward now, shouting and screaming at the top of my voice. You dont fuck around with my curse. I said softly and took out my pack of Marlboro, but it was empty. Throwing it to a side, I whipped out my lighter and tossed it away as well. I was really desperate for a puff of tobacco now. Will you really wake up? I asked. What a stupid question. I had lost control of myself. My lips were shaking and really, I felt like jumping onto Jacky and slapping his face for a million times. Yes. I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply. I did not let out my breath, staying in that position for a long period of time. When I finally exhaled, I began to say something. Then you bastard, you fucking bastard, youre not going to wake up once you undergo the surgery. Youre going to get into a deep coma, and then your body will be cemented like some fish in the market. I said that. I just cursed Jacky to death. Oh, fuck you, Joanna Fung Wai Gwan.

Chapter 17
I washed my tears at the sink. I did not dare to look at the mirror, for I knew in the reflection stood a murderer. Jacky is dying. I suddenly wanted to talk to someone, but who could I talk to? I had only grandmother to talk to now, but I did not feel it appropriate to talk to her about this. In the end, with my eyes still swollen from the crying, I went back to the ward. Jacky smiled when he saw me, waving the book Destinys Cries on his hand. Nice book, isnt it? I said nothing. I sat beside him, confused over what I had done. My curses always come true, isnt that the case? Always Look at you. Youve cried so much that your eyes are like tomatoes. Come; let me tell you a joke. Remember that day? Which day was he referring to? He acted as if I could remember every day. You know, that day, when I went on stage and said a joke, and you didnt laugh? Oh. That day. You werent listening to me that day, right? Okay, Im going to do an encore of it. You remain seated. He pushed his blanket away. I was blinking fast, feeling an unusual pain in my eyes. Then he stood on the bed. I could see his legs shaking, not sure because of his fear or his cancerous cells. What the- I pushed my chair away. Come down! What are you doing? Its dangerous! Miss Joanna Fung, sit down, if not, Ill keep on standing here till you sit down. Now, Im going to repeat my performance on 27th March 2001! I sank into my seat. He still remembers the exact date? Gosh. Hes amazing. There was once a matchstick who scratched its head. Then it died. I could not believe he was doing all these. The joke was funny in fact, very funny but I was in no mood to laugh. Before I could say anything, he cut in again.

He pointed at me and said, That girl didnt laugh. Then he jumped a step, lowered his eyebrows and raised the pitch of his voice. Which girl? Again he jumped a step and said in his normal voice, That girl with the glasses and long hair. In a high pitched voice: You mean the girl with tied up hair? His voice: Yeah, thats the one. She never laughs! High pitched: Joanna! You didnt laugh? Finally he jumped one more step and clapped his hand. He seemed to be more active now, but he was panting softly. He darted his eyes onto mine, and this time, he said very softly, Joanna, can you please wake up from your dreams and laugh at my joke? I beg you. I lay back on my seat and started shaking with uncontrollable laughter. He was replaying that day so brilliantly, as if we had taken a trip back in time. Suddenly I could smell the scent of that very day: The laughter of my classmates, my anger when he pointed at me and the embarrassment when I laughed sarcastically. It all came back like a bolt of lightning. Jacky seemed exhausted. He beamed weakly, and slowly, lay back on the bed. Beads of sweat were escaping from his forehead. You laughed. He said. You laughed. Thats nice. Its been so long since I hear you laughing. Can you do me a favour? Actually, I knew exactly what he was going to say next. Still, I asked, What? Laugh more often. I want you to hear my laughter. I proclaimed. I was shaking my head, biting my teeth. That bastard. If he survives, Im willing to do even a hundred favours for him. Just survive. Alright, I promise. You promise as well, okay? he whipped out his last finger. I crossed my last finger with his. I promise. You silly boy, just survive. ~~~~~~ On Saturday, I went to the hospital early in the morning. As I had predicted, Jacky was sleeping. So I peeled an apple for my breakfast and before I could take a bite, I heard his voice. Ah, an apple for breakfast. How nice. He held out his hand, as if waiting for me to pass him the apple.

I gave it to him. Soon after that, we started chatting. I tried not to talk about the surgery, but somehow, in the mist of the chat, I still blurted it accidentally. Its an easy operation. He told me, his face beaming with confidence. Theyd just open up my skull, pull out the rock and sew my head back. I said nothing and so he reached for the drawer. I helped him open it and saw a familiar watch inside. Can you take out the watch? His hand was shaking. Gosh oh gosh, I suddenly remembered what the doctor once said. Hes slowly losing his ability to co-ordinate his muscle movements due to the cancer cells in his cerebellum. Just dont let him do strenuous movements. I held the watch in my hand. It was the watch that he had given me for my birthday, the watch that I had thrown away in anger. Yet it still looked so new, as if it had just been cleaned. I really needed to pee that day. Thats why I ran off in such a hurry. I wasnt embarrassed! Okay, I believe you. And er remember the twenty bucks that I owe you? Twenty bucks? Yeah. That day when I needed a taxi to go home. Look, my wallet is- Can you return it to me after your surgery? I interrupted. Please. He shrugged, laughing. Okay. Gosh, Ill wake up with a large load of debts. Just one. I also promised my mother that Ill return her with a lifetime of love after Ive wake up. Oh. Can you also return me with a lifetime of love after youve wake up? ~~~~~~ Someone once told me the longest wait is not created by the amount of time passed, but by your mind.

I was sitting beside Jacky, peeling another apple. He could not eat, for he would be undergoing the surgery in an hours time. I took a bite out of my apple and understood why he was so keen on eating these apples: The taste was a balanced combination of sweet and sour. Jacky smiled, as if he was reading my mind. His face was an obvious victim of cancer: His bright and round eyes had veins snaking around. He must have lost at least three kilograms within this week. One more hour. He whispered. Or maybe he was shouting. That was his loudest voice. One more hour. I replied. And so, we spent the next thirty minutes chatting about anything and everything. He told me about his mother, and I thanked him for bringing my grandmother back into my life. I didnt do much. She was always beside you. You just didnt notice her till now. As usual, he was that modest. Suddenly, he asked, Can I hold your hand? I blushed and did not reply. However, my right hand automatically reached for him. And then we locked our hands. Wait for me, okay? I nodded. Ill be back. So dont you run off! Im still the sun, shining on you, the flower. Ill be back once the cloud moves away. Wait, just wait, okay? I turned my head to prevent him from seeing my teary eyes. A nurse came in, and for that moment I wanted to yell unlimited curses at the nurse. But I stopped myself and turned to Jacky. Hello, youd better come back. Even if youre in hell or heaven, or any other place, youd better come back here. Because Ill I could not continue. I paused, gave myself a breather, and said, Ill be here, waiting for you. He let go of my hand and used a finger to poke my hand. It was his last finger, intimating me to shake it. I held out my last finger as well and we locked finger, shaking up and down. I promise. I promise too.

And as he was wheeled off, I experienced the longest wait in my life.

Chapter 18
I tried to kill time by counting my breaths, but it was the dumbest thing to do. I gave up after my hundredth breath. I was waiting at the backstage, looking at plays staged by other class. One of our buddy classes did very well, causing the entire audience give a standing ovation at the end of the their performance. I wondered if our would cause such a stir. The wait was finally over. The host announced my class's name, and the curtain was drawn. AVA crew rushed onto the stage out of nowhere to position the microphones and other prop to our desired positions. I was expecting the break to last for more than two minutes, but before I knew it, two AVA members pulled the curtain opened and a round of applause rang across the hall. Johnny said something on stage, and when I heard a loud "thump", I took in a long breath and stepped onto the stage. and few people in the audience "ooh-ed" and "aah-ed". I continued strolling forward until I was just in front of Johnny. His eyes were closed. Slowly, I kneeled and held his head. "I want Joanna to be Juliet. J for Joanna." ~~~~~~ Everyone sat outside the operating theatre, just like the scenes from those melodramatic Channel 8 drama serials that always showed on TV at nine o'clock. Jacky's mother sat closest to the door. Our classmates were all close to a vending machine, and me, I was sitting the furthest from the door. I had told them to leave me alone, for I knew now words could no longer calm my soul. Memories of Jacky lingered in my mind. I imagined what would happen five hours from now: would I be dancing with happiness, or would I be crying in depression? Half an hour passed, but it felt like half a century. The lobby was so quiet and scary that nurses dared not walk pass us unless there was a real need to. I unleashed my pack of Marlboro - to the surprise of my classmates - and begun to unwrap it. I did not smoke there, of course.

Another fifteen minutes passed. I clasped my hands together. For the past seventeen years, I had not believed in the man above us. Now, I closed my eyes and prayed. God, if you're up there, do me a favour. Just this favour, please. ~~~~~~ The song played loudly in the playground. Someone in the stage was singing along, but her voice sucked, compared to Trademark's melodic voice. I stared at Johnny's closed eyes. "Wake up." I whispered, my voice amplified by my microphone clipped on my collar. "Wake up, wake up, please. I beg you, just wake up. You made so many promises. So many. Don't die on me, Romeo. Don't leave me alone here! Please!" Johnny had no response. He was, after all, a professional. I clicked my fingers, and the song played again. Beside me was a glass of chestnut juice that I had drank for more than fifty times during the rehearsals. "Please. Stay with me, I love you. That's what you've been trying to tell me, isn't it? I love you........" ~~~~~~ After an hours passed, I read the messages Jacky sent me again. Im sorrie if I say anything wrong u will still come for the appointment, wont u? Let me fetch you on that day, okie? Only you can help yourself. come on, reply a yesVent your thoughts to others please its the only way out. Ease your illusions! let me helpYouve gonna come for it! Only you yourself can help yourself Understanding yourself is most important He said that there was a message coded in it. what message? I read it, again and again. It did not ring a bell until I wrote it down in a piece of paper. Gosh. I dropped the phone and the pen. I dropped my head, and I nearly dropped on the floor. Now I knew what he trying to say after all. It all made so much sense. So much sense! I jumped up and dashed towards the door of the operating room. A few of my classmates caught me by my arms and shoulder. I continued to struggle toward the door, but their combined strength was too great for me. So I relaxed and went to my knees. Jacky's mother was still holding on to a calm expression.

I looked at my watch, the watch that Jacky had given me. An hour more before the operation ends. I stared around the lobby, and stunned faces were looking at me. I kept my feeling in check and went back to my seat, clapping my hands together again. Jacky, you'll better wake up. I've decoded your message. Silly! ~~~~~~ "Come on, wake up. Everyone wants a happy ending. Wake up, wake up...." My face was now with tears. I could hear a few soft in the audience, followed by a few "wows". My performances must have been impressive. I grabbed the cup of chestnut juice. "Poison...." I said, staring at it as if it would change colour. "Poison. What for I live if you're not around? I live because of you. Now that you're gone..." I recalled that I should add in some Singlish to inject humour into the play. So I said, "No use liao. I'll die then!" No one laughed. Instead, I heard people crying. I gulped down the chestnut water in one smooth feat. Soon after that, I was lying beside Johnny. A few seconds later, Johnny stirred, and slowly I felt him holding my head. I did not concentrate on what he said, for my part was already over. When he screamed, he lied onto my back and the song was played again. "But only love can stay Try again or walk away But I believe For you and me The sun will shine one day So I play my part And pray you'll have a change of heart But I can't make you see it through That's something only love can do..." Is there something only love can do? When everything fails, shall I turn to love? ~~~~~~ I did not pick up my hand-phone nor did I pick up the piece of paper on the floor. I was rooted to my seat, and when I examined my hand. At my tenth teardrop, the door opened, and almost everyone stood up except me. I dragged my head up slowly, and stared at the scene in front of me. This was the moment I had been waiting for, yet I suddenly did not feel like knowing the truth.

The doctor came out first. There were dark rings around his eyes, as if a victim of lack of sleep. As he talked to Jacky's mother, he shook his head once. Then Jacky's mother cupped her face with her hands, and the doctor tapped her shoulder softly. I dropped my head backwards and felt a sharp pain on my skull. FUCK. The doctor whisper something to her, and then pointed to the ward. I was trying to read his lips but he was too fast. Jacky's mother uncapped her face and stared at the doctor, then shook her head softly, mumbling something. A few minutes late, the doctor pointed to a nurse and walked off. The nurse said something to Jacky's mother. My classmates all crowded around, their expressions a fusion of fear. I ruffled my hair and snored aloud. "Jacky." I whispered, so soft that I wondered if anything came out from my mouth. ~~~~~~ "Jacky's not only a classmate, not only a friend. He's a role model, a leader's leader, a mediator and the best person I've ever seen in my life," Michael was saying. He put the piece of paper he had been reading into his breast pocket and continued "I've only remember myself crying twice. Once was when I watched the movie Titanic. And the second time..." The audience was so quiet that no one dared to cough. Michael finally squeezed a tear out from his left eye, and he muttered softly into the mic, "This is the third time." ~~~~~~ When I saw Michael stepping back, plunging onto the nearest seat, I knew it was something really bad. He enveloped his face with his large hands, and when he jerked a few times, I knew he was crying. I confirmed it when drops of water seeped down his wrist. Michael was crying. Jacky's mother was crying as well. All my classmates started to cry as well. Everyone was crying. I glanced at the piece of paper. Not only had it been dampened, the entire floor beneath me was a pool of tears. Is this how death looks like?

~~~~~~ "But." Michael cut in. Most of the girls in the audience were crying, including those in other classes who did not know who Jacky was. "But Jacky once told me, boys shall not cry. We're born with boarder shoulders to let girls cry on our shoulder. So," he wiped off his tears. Well, he failed. They kept on coming. "Let's go with Jacky advice. This is for you Jacky." He smiled, and walked away from the mic. There should have been two hosts, a boy and a girl. But the girl was nowhere to be seen. The boy went to the stage and announced, "Let's welcome Jacky's best friend, Joanna, to dedicate a message to Jacky." A round of weak applause greeted me. I stepped forward to the mic and adjusted it to my height. Then I pulled out a piece of paper from my pocket and stared at it. It was a page long, and i had spent two hours penning it. I started to read it. "Jacky Wu Zhong Xian is a very-" I paused. Then I crushed the paper into a ball and dropped it. Looking at the audience with my earnest eyes, I said, "there was once a matchstick who scratched its head, then it died." There was no response from the audience. "That boy didnt laugh." I said, pointing to an empty space in the hall. "The guy with glasses and short hair, yeah, that's the one. He never laughs!" I closed my eyes. It was too hard. I imagined myself in the audience, showing him an angry face look. "Jacky," I started, my eyes still closed. "Can you please........ wake up from your dreams and laugh at my joke? I beg you." ~~~~~~ I was still immobilised by the shock when I heard a voice. "You must be Joanna." I looked up. It was the doctor. Upon closer examination, I realised he could be less than forty-years-old. I nodded, waiting anxiously for what he was about to say. "Before Mr. Wu went into the operating room, he said these to me: "Doctor, I've got a stupid rock in my head. Get it out, because I wanna marry a girl call Joanna Fung. Alright? I'll invite you to our wedding. So you'll better get this rock out in order to attend our wedding." He paused, and then continued, "I'm sorry things turned out this way." I took in a deep breath but I did not exhale. My hands were glued to the sides of the chair.

"Well, Joanna, I don't know whether you're the luckiest, or the most unlucky girl in the world." I cried, and I forgot when I stopped crying.

Chapter 19
The doorbell rang when I was rubbing my grandmother's leg. I did not feel like going to the door, thinking that it must be some salesman trying to promote a new kind of 'super' vacuum cleaner. But Grandmother pointed to the door and nodded her head. I got her signal and went to the door. The moment I opened the door, my eyeballs nearly dropped out and I bit my teeth hard. It was Jacky's mother. She was expressionless, staring at me as if I had just done something wrong. I knew there were only two reasons on why she had come: Either it was good news or bad news about Jacky. Judging from her red eyes, I knew it had to be bad news. "Joanna." She started and I began to wonder how she got my address. But I knocked that thought off and concentrated on her. "This is from Jacky." She passed me a white enveloped. "He said if anything happened to him, I must give you this letter." I felt the letter with my fingers. It's over. If he still doesn't wake up next week, I'm cutting off the life support." I stared at the envelope for I dared not look at Jacky's mother. I closed my eyes and waited for her to say something. But she kept quiet. So I nodded, said good-bye to her and slammed the door shut. "If he still doesn't wake up next week, I'm cutting off the life support." Was this the guy who had told me a joke about a matchstick that scratched its head then died? Was this the guy who told me that he would always be my sunshine? Was this the guy whom I loved deeply? My grandmother made her way slowly to her room. She was singing some old Chinese song which I did not understand. I jumped onto the sofa, switched on the lamp and tore the envelope open gently. Was this guy Jacky? Gosh. My tears came again, and I knew they would keep on falling unless I drifted into oblivion. Dear Joanna, As I am writing this letter, a freezing remorse is washing inside my body. The ward is serene, and only in this quietness that I can fill my thought on this piece of paper. I regretted

so many things yet I can do nothing now. I should have, yet I did not. Joanna, what I wanted to tell you is that I love you. Since the day I first talked to you, I told myself that I must not fall in love with you. As we got closer, I continued to tell myself that I did not love you. I held your hand, I cried when you cried, I smiled when you smiled, but still, I told myself: No, I don't love you. I must not love you, for I may leave this world anytime. But just now, someone told me meaningful. I was taking a rest in the park when i saw an old man in his seventies. We chatted, and he said this to me: "In love, either you love, or you don't." It was then I remember the day when I walked you home. A frail old lady, also in her seventies, chatted with me. Somehow, our conversation also ended with this sentence, "In love, either you love, or you don't." In love, either I love you or I don't. Joanna, I have been thinking. I had been trying not to love you, but still, it boils down to this single sentence: I love you. My message. My SMS messages. I know you have not deleted it. Go decode it. If you're reading this letter, I must be in coma. But I just want to tell you, Joanna, I just want to tell you how much I love you. Just wait for me if I'm in coma. I'll be back. Peel an apple for me; I'll be still having it. This letter will be my motivation to wake up. Wait for me. Wait for the sunshine. Wait for the clouds to clear. Wait. For. Me. Jacky Wu ~~~~~~ Someone once said that time would dry the tears. It has been a month, yet my tears kept on dropping whenever I saw him. Jacky had been going on a glucose diet for the past thirty days. I tried talking to him everyday, singing to him every week but still, he did not move. Where're the promises you made to me? If I had one of the abilities of God, I would have chosen to relive my past, and slowly, tenderly, treasuring every single hour, minutes and second with you. Every single moment with you.

But it was too late. All too late. I laid my head onto the side of his bed. It had been an exhausting day for me. I had to hand up all my tutorials today and I was going to a tough economics test the following day. It had been a long while since I had a good night's sleep. The moment I closed my eyes, I drifted into a deep sleep. In my sleep, I forgot everything and dived into a beautiful dream. I was crowded bus. A masculine voice capture my attention. "Hey, hello!" I glanced up, looking for someone. A guy had just boarded the bus, and he was smiling at me. I smiled back instantly, feeling an urge to walk to him. He squeezed pas everybody in the bus and stood just beside me. "Hello!" He yelled although he was just beside me. I laughed, but still I said nothing, as if a force was sealing my mouth. "Hello to Joanna!" Somehow, I felt a familiarity in this scene. Even the voice sounded familiar. I took a very deep breath and regained control of myself. I looked around with my tired body and saw myself in the ward. "Hello. Where's my peeled apple?" The images had just been a dream, but the voice were reality.

Chapter 20
I stroked his hand softly, feeling the warmth. This is not another dream, isnt it? The image are so clear. I can feel beads of sweat on my forehead. There are so many colours. Jacky has just opened his eyes. I heard voices when I was sleeping. I thought the voices were just part of my dream, but the voices in my dream sounded so real, yet the images in it looked so hazy. Now, as I rubbed my eyes, both the voices and images were real. This is definitely not a dream. "Talk to me." I said, my voice a bit dry. "Hey, hello to my girl Joanna." His voice rang again, louder this time. His eyes were halfclosed and he was smiling. "Where's my peeled apple?" I could feel my mouth opening wide and my throat choking with phlegm. I wanted to jump onto him, giving him the hug of his life. But if I really do that, he may plunge back into a coma again. "You idiot." I whispered, toying with his fingers. "You idiot, do you know your mum was going to let you go if you had decided to wake up tomorrow? Do you know, huh? Why don't you just go hell?" Jacky laughed weakly, "I choose my dates carefully." "Sure you do." "Like, when I was in Secondary One, I chose Candy Tze as my date. When I was in Secondary Two , I chose Ru Hua. Well, when I was in secondary Three-" "Not funny." I cut in. "In Secondary Three, I chose Joanna Fung, and I'll make her my date forever." ~~~~~~

When I first saw my grandmother's photo in her funeral, I squeezed Jacky's hand tight. I did not shed any tears. I just stared, and stared, and stared. My grandmother had passed away peacefully two weeks before my A-levels. Initially, when I saw her lying on the sofa, I thought she was just resting. I went forward, wanting to wake her up. It was then I realised she was smiling but her eyes were closed. When I noticed that she was not breathing, I did not call the ambulance instantly. Instead, I paced up and down, and finally, I called Jacky. Until now, the cause of the death is till unknown. It seemed to be of old age. "You're a strong girl." Jacky said to me. There were less than ten people attending the funeral, and I felt sad for grandmother. Still I did not cry. "Come on, sit down. I've something to tell you." Jacky said, motioning to a chair. When I settled down, he passed me a packet of drink. "Remember the letter I wrote for you? I asked my mother to pass it to you if I was in coma." I nodded. "Well, I did say something about an old lady in your void deck, giving me some advice on love right? That love is either yes, or no. There're no other excuses." My heart skipped a beat. My grandmother had told me that before, and Jacky had heard this from some old lady near my void deck. "Your grandmother was the old lady." Now I really felt like crying. Firstly, my grandmother became my chat mate. The she became my advisor. And now I discover that she also contributed to bringing me Jacky. "Now, look here." Jacky pointed to my left. I turned my head and wheezed. It was the old man in the park at the hospital who had given me the advice of love as well. "What the......" The old man was staring at my grandmother's coffin with teary eyes. After awhile, he said something to himself and went off. "Ours is not the saddest story in the world. There're so many stories going on. Ours is just one of the many."

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