Thursday, November 21, 2013

#6


They say that as time goes by, your ability to remember an event deteriorates. You might still remember the gist of the story itself but before long, you start to notice that little by little, your memory of the event gets blurry. You might first forget about simple things like the colour of the shirt you're wearing on that day. Next you might forget about weather that day or how the conversation went. And in the end, all you have are the fuzzy details of what took place in that situation. That was not the case that I have had with my last conversation with Amy. Even until today, every single detail of what happened that day is still etched clearly in my mind. 

We were sitting on a hill overlooking the road below us, underneath one of the many trees found in our university. The sun had just begin to set and our figures cast a long shadow towards the road below. Amy's head was on my shoulder, her fingers playfully stroking the inside of my palm. The entire scene felt almost serene, romantic, like from the romance dramas that she used to loved. If it is not for the grey patches appearing all over her skin, I would have felt that I was starring in one.

"Do you still remember the day we first met?” she randomly popped the question. A slight breeze blew over us, carrying the leaves that laid unsweep on the ground. Her long hair floated in the gentle wind.

I told her that I did. One does not simply forget an event like that after all. It happened during the dance audition for our hostel's dance production. It was an annual dance showcase that featured our residents in various dance items. I have never danced in my entire life before and neither was I planning to break the streak, but after having lost a bet with my friend a day before, I was forced to. It was a silly bet on whether the lecturer in our class was married, and after that I swore never again to bet against my friends. As part of the punishment, I attended the audition alone as a few of my guy friends hung around to see how I was going to embarrass myself later.

There a few dozen of us that showed up that night, and we were all divided into groups according to our arrival time. Since I was forced to be there, I arrived as late as possible, and in the end, I was slotted into Group G. I did not see who else was in group G, but as I filled up my name on the excel sign up sheet, I spotted a name above of mine called Amy Lee. G5 was my number, and G4 was hers. I could only groan as I looked at my friends outside who were snickering at me.

As part of the audition, we were made to dance according to what the senior shows us. Being someone with absolutely no dance background before, naturally I found it quite tough to follow up. I ended up being the only person who looked utterly lost in the whole dance studio, confusing my limbs and performing random moves when I could not catch up. My friends who were watching from the outside laughed at my antics and when the senior was not watching, I showed them the middle finger. 

After practicing for a few rounds with the senior, we were told that we will be performing the routine that she had just taught us according to our groups. In addition to that, we would also need to dish out a free style dance by the end of the routine for one set of eight. I could only close my eyes in anticipation as what I guess would be my most embarrassing moment in university.

The other groups' turns came and went. I could not remember much of it as I could only imagine how badly things might turn out later. When it was finally group G's turn, I nervously took up position at the end of the line, positioning ourselves according to our numbers. An attractive girl in ponytail stood beside me. Judging at the sticker on the sleeve of her shirt that read G4, I guessed she must have been Amy.

A speech was given by the senior thanking us for coming, and how if we do not get selected, we should not be sad as there is always next year. The usual stuff. After that the music was played, and we all began dancing, or in my case, fumbling around to what the senior had taught us. As expected, I was the one with the ugliest movements around and the one who consistently forgot his moves, ending up with a blank face several times. The other four of my 'group mates' were performing the dance particularly well, especially Amy. She seemed so poised, so elegant that it was almost mesmerizing to watch her dance. If it was not for my penalty later, I could have just sat there and admire her dance.

As our routine came to an end and the music began to change, the senior shouted for us to free style. Each of the G group dancers began to move in their own unique way according to the music. One guy was twirling his arms and pointing at random directions while another girl did a turn on tip toe. Me, on the other hand, was the subject of greater plans instead. My friends outside all gave me the thumbs up sign. If it was legal to murder people, I would have most probably done so.

I closed my eyes, let off a huge sigh and then began screaming in my most monkey like voice possible, high pitched and loud. Everyone in the dance studio immediately stopped what they were doing. You see, the penalty of me losing the bet with my friend was to act like a monkey during the free style session, not to join the dance audition itself. I jumped and pranced about, my arms flinging below me and pretending to enjoy myself by howling in the most retarded way possible. I leaped and hopped around the dance studio, pretending to grab vines and swinging in the trees, just like how a monkey would. The seniors were of course too stunned to do anything while my friends laughed hysterically outside. Too bad the worst was yet to come.

True to the monkey spirit, I somehow slipped and fell. Right into Amy Lee. Just my luck. My friends howled with laughter. Amy, on the other hand, was not pleased at me having disrupted the audition session. The first words that she ever said to me was, "Do you think that this is funny?" And that was how we first met.

"I thought you were the biggest joker in the world back then," Amy said. The sky was getting dark now, and the stars were starting to show their light.

"Funny how fate did not let us go right?"

Fate. Indeed fate was a funny thing. After my monkey stint, I shot almost immediately to a mini celebrity status. People recognized me as the 'monkey dancer' and the term stuck with me throughout my four years there. I did not get the dancing part, of course, but one of the producers who was there that night was so amused with my "performance" that I was offered an acting role in the dance production itself. And that was how the monkey dancer became the monkey king, as how my friends would later say. It turned out that the dance production that we were putting out was a Western rendition of the Journey to the West story. And I just so happened to fit in the role of what they were looking for.

Amy of course got her dancer role. She was in fact one of the lead dancers in the show, joining three out of the nine items that we were putting on stage. I remember seeing her during rehearsals, and how she moved gracefully on stage. I was totally smitten by her. She had talent alright and it was evident from how the rest of the guys looked at her that I was not alone in my crush on her. However, as our roles differed, I never really could get a chance to talk to her. Even during occasions that we passed each other in the hostel, she often walked on without even looking at me. On better days, maybe we exchange smiles but that was it. I guessed the monkey stint did not do me any good.

For the first six months that I spent in hall, I could only admire her from afar. She was always in her own group of friends, I in mine, and there was no chance for us to interact. If life had been allowed to continue on its trajectory then, perhaps Amy and I would have never been friends. But as fate would have it, our paths would cross again in the second semester, in a random tutorial class.

People were chatting around me as I sat alone in the class, distracting myself with my phone. As usual, I was taking the class alone. I had missed my faculty's orientation period without knowing that in Singapore, it is during this period that most people get to know their fellow course mates and pick up friends. By the time I realized it, it was too late as everyone had already formed their cliques and I was one of the few lone wolves in the cohort. None of the people that I had already know were in the same course as me and so I had to contend with the fact that I would be taking most of my classes alone. I was fine with it anyway, since it allowed me to focus solely on lessons and nothing else.

However, it turned out that my days as a lone wondering student was pretty much short lived. I was just about to send out a tweet about how bored I was when I spotted a figure with a familiar ponytail entering the class. Lo and behold, Amy Lee popped into my class. She was dressed in a simple t-shirt with the ‘I LUV SG’ words emblazoned on it, along with a blue colored jeans. The t-shirt hugged her figure and underneath it, one could see the outline of her perfectly shaped body. That’s Amy for you. No matter how she dressed, she still looked great. It should come as no wonder that almost every guy in my hostel was pinning for her. I would not be surprised even if the whole male population of Singapore was going after her. But that can only be a biased perspective coming from a person that has a huge crush on her.

She looked around the class, trying to spot if she could find someone familiar. When she could not, and when she happened to see me nicely plopped near the back of the class, I could swear that a disappointed look flashed across her face for a brief moment. Back at my seat, I was wondering if she would pretend not to know me and sit somewhere alone, or would she instead come sit next to me. Just to increase the chances of the latter happening, I tried to smile at her, which felt pretty awkward to me. Her eyes did a final sweep around the class and realizing that there was no one else that she knew in the class, she walked towards me. If my heart could do a triple somersault at the moment, it would. Instead it just decided to beat really fast.

“Hi monkey boy.” That was the second sentence that I got from Amy since meeting her.

“Never knew that you were taking psych classes too,” she immediately added. “Are you planning to major in it?”

When I told her that I was, she was elated. She told me how she was planning to major in psychology too and how she was having a hard time finding a friend because she did not attend the orientation as she was overseas. It was my turn to feel elated as I told her I was exactly in the same situation and both of us complained about how hard it was to find friends and such when one has missed the orientation. It is amazing how a common topic could bring two complete strangers close so fast. It was not the only amazing thing that happened that day to be honest.

When our tutor entered our class, he gave the usual introduction about the subject that we were taking. He went on about the assignments that we need do for this subject and for the group assignment, he had already divided us into groups just to be fair. When he opened the excel sheet and just under my name, two words spelling out Amy Lee sat there. My jaw dropped. Just as fate would have it.

Gradually, we got closer. We still did not have much chance to interact back in the hostel as the both of us had very different interests. Still, the academic part of the school pulled us together. Both of us disliked getting to know new people and to save us the trouble of being the only lone student in class, we began to take classes together. Our university allowed us the freedom of arranging our timetable together, and before long, it became a habit for me to try and synchronize my timetable with Amy's. We became study buddies, with each of us reminding the other of deadlines and exams. We attended lectures together, sat next to each other and were practically project mates for almost every assignment. It was not long before we moved from school topics and started to share about our lives with each other. Our interests, our likes and dislikes, our future plans, our history, everything.

The time that I attended lessons with her was like a little island to me. One that I visited to escape from the demands of everyday university life. It became something that I looked forward to every day. I loved seeing the dimples that appeared on her cheeks whenever she smiled, I liked how she brushed her hair when it falls and I laughed every time I looked at her tongue sticking out when she was really focused in her work. But alas, it was something that I never told her.

“You had a crush on me for the longest time back then, didn’t you?” Amy asked, snapping me back to reality. “I could see it from the way you looked at me during classes. Or was I dreaming about it?” Her voice sounded so weak now. It seemed that with every word she said, it was sapping a great amount of energy from her. I nodded simply nodded my head. 

"If you have only told me." She said. And looked to the distance.

By our fourth year, everything was going well. Or at least it seemed so. By now the walks from our hostel to the classes were filled with laughter and heart to heart conversation. It was a place where we updated each other's life and we shared secrets. She sought my advice with guys and I pretended to ask hers on girls. Occasionally, we would catch a meal or perhaps a movie together. It was together with her that I shared most of my firsts. My first time on a reverse bungee jump ride, my first experience in a kayak, my first candlelight dinner (that we got from a discount website) and my first late night walk to catch the sunrise the next day. I was there when her boyfriend broke her heart in the second year and she was there for me when my girlfriend cheated on me in our third year. Even though we have been through so much, the thought of being together with her never really took a foothold in me, though it has crossed my mind before.

The relationship that we had during that time was special. It was something that I was afraid to lose. And so I let it remained there. I thought that it would last forever.

"I am moving to the US," was what she said during one of our late night walks to get supper. It was a cold night near the end of my fourth year's first semester, having just rained earlier. She said something had happened to her family and they could not stay in Singapore anymore. It was one of the few things that she never told me the full story. How long would she be gone? I asked. Probably very long, she said, without looking at me. We continued our walk in silence for the rest of the night and at the end of it, I declared that everything would be okay because we could still keep in touch via the internet. She could only smiled weakly at me. Our promise to keep in touch never really did work out amidst all our busy schedule and difference in time zone.

It was the same smile that I was seeing now again. The day after I filled my room with an endless supply of food, I found Amy standing outside of my door. She had just came back to Singapore for a few days, alone, to settle some of her family business. When she heard about all the protests, martial law and flights being cancelled, all she could think of was coming to me. And true to how she remembered, I was still in the same room in which she always knocked on to wake me up for classes. Fate has played its hands again.

When I saw her standing outside of the door, I could only stared at her in disbelief. We both stood there, at the empty hallway, just looking at each other. It has been more than half a year since we met and so much has happened in that short time. A smile began to form on her lips, that smile that used to brighten up my whole day. And next, the craziest thing thing happened. We kissed. There was no need for us to exchange words with each other. We seemed to understand how both of us felt. We kissed like there was no tomorrow. And then we got awkward about it and stopped. And we smiled.

The remaining days were spent like how we used to in the past. Jokes, small talk and how life has been. We never really talked about our kiss in the hallway that day, for some particular reason. Perhaps we were afraid of what would happen should we let our feelings out or perhaps we just wanted to enjoy our present first without worrying about what will happen in the future. At least for me, I was afraid that once I said it, I would lose her again. Feelings of uncertainty and fear of getting hurt kept me from doing anything. And now that we were sitting there, spending our last moments together, I wished that I had been an idiot like I was the first day that I saw her. Just tell her how gorgeous she looked and how much I had a crush on her. But then again, things would have turned out differently 
if I had done so. Perhaps this is how life is meant to turn out. 

"Promise me that you'll not let me turn into one of them," Amy's voice sounded hoarse now. Her breathing was labored and she was struggling to finish her sentence. 

"Do what you need to do to me, like what you guys did to James," she coughed. Her eyes were now closed, and her skin had more grey than her usual colour now. 

I protested. I said no. I screamed no. There was just no way I could bring myself to do it, no matter how much I know it needs to be done. My brain was telling that it would be the best for Amy, but my heart was having none of it.  Unbeknownst to me, tears had started streaming down my face. It was like someone had turned on a tap to my eyes. I told Amy I cannot and will not do it. 

"Please," she weakly said, gripping my hand, "and promise me you'll live on". Her grip loosened, and like how movies portrayed it, her hand fell limp on the floor. That sentence was the last thing that she ever said to me. 

I cried. A whole wave of feeling that I have never felt before crashed upon me. Never before have my heart felt so heavy, that everything felt so overwhelming that I could not do anything but weep. When people describe that they felt as if the whole world has come crashing down, they were not lying. It indeed felt that way to me. It was as if the pillars that were holding my sanity in line were broken away and together with it, my life came crashing down.

My brain kept on trying to convince me that separation and loses should be normal now, and I should not let this affect me, but somehow, knowing the thought that I would not see or hear Amy anymore, my heart just refused to cooperate. I sat there for what seemed like forever, cradling Amy's still body in my arms. I was not able to stop sobbing like a baby. But when I finally felt Amy's body stir, I knew that it was time to honour her last wish, as much as I refused to accept it. I really wished with all my heart that there was an easier way to have done it, or perhaps I would not have to do it, but I knew there was no way around it.

As I emptied the remaining fuel from the petrol can over Amy's body, I continued to sob. I cursed and cursed and cursed in between sobs, for what fate has given me. I punched at the air, I jumped, I screamed and finally, I dropped down and knelt beside Amy. There were growls coming from her now and I know that before long, she will be just like the zeds out there. Flicking the lighter, I dropped it on her.

I sat in the corner, curled up like a ball. Stream of tears continued to pour out from my eyes as I continued to stare in the direction of the fire, sobbing uncontrollably. And when I finally could not take it anymore, I howled.

"Why, god, why?!" It felt like a dam has been broken through in my heart and along with it, carrying with it all the grief, the pain that I have felt since the start of the the entire outbreak. First my family, now Amy. I cursed at the top of my lungs as I stood there, the wind carrying the smell of burning flesh back to me. It pained me to know who it had came from.

From a distance, I could heard the deep growls of the zed. They know I am here.

"I love you Amy. I have always do." I whispered, my cheeks still wet with tears. And with that, I quietly walked away. I swore that I will never again let this happen to me.

#BA

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P/s: As this is a work in progress and as I am trying to finish the story before November ends and not forgetting that I have work from 9-6 everyday, there might be grammar errors here and there and if you spot one, I would sincerely apologize for it. I am looking to publish this story, so if you spot any spelling or grammar mistakes, I would greatly appreciate it if you could let me know by dropping a comment after each post. Proofreading your own work is confusing after all. I won't forget your kindness!






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