Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Fairytail : Chapter 14

Mr. Foo Chee Seng is a proud man. At sixty four, he truly believed he have the world at his feet. Beginning at the ripe age of twenty two, he had conjured an obscene amount of wealth out of nothing and in doing so, he bestowed upon himself, unquantifiable confidence and an even bigger ego. His fairytale story of a lowly office boy to becoming one of the nation’s most affluent business tycoon glossed the pages of many publications. He advised would-be-taipans that sharp focus, unwavering determination and of course, hard work are the key ingredients he used in his recipe for success. What he failed to mention was that malicious shrewdness, horrifying blackmails and immoral back stabbings were utilised generously during his transcend from rags to riches.

As his business domain expanded, so did his name. That was how the once scrawny lad people in the office called Ah Seng became Raymond Foo. He chose Raymond because it rhymed with diamond. Diamonds are equated to luxury and extravagance and Raymond Foo had always aimed to live life luxuriously and extravagantly, regardless of whatever it takes to get there.

Raymond's life seemed perfect to the outside world. When he had made his first million, he also bagged himself a trophy wife. Felicia was the anchorwoman of the local news network. Charming, intelligent and gorgeous, naturally she became the prime target of countless eligible bachelors. Her list of pursuers consisted of business big wigs, entertainment artists, sons of very prosperous people and even a member of the royal family. It wasn’t long before the race to win Felicia’s affection narrowed down to two horses, Raymond and the other guy, Rob, an editor of the country’s hottest fashion magazine then. Both had their respective attributes that appealed to her, Raymond with his arrogant charisma, unshakable self-belief and financial stability while Rob was suave, highly intellectual and had his network with people in the industry. Finally, tabloid reports made the decision for Felicia as claims by a struggling fashion model that Rob had fathered her child surfaced. It wasn’t until much later that the model confessed to having lied to the media to smear Rob’s name. She admitted it was done after he turned her away when she auditioned to be featured in his magazine but a darker truth remained untold. In reality, a certain Raymond Foo had paid her handsomely enough to let the malevolent slander slip out of her mouth. By the time Rob’s image was restored, Raymond had sealed the deal with Felicia to carry his last name.

Now with most of his business ventures running like well oiled machines, raking in a combined profit enough to administer a small country, Raymond busied himself spending time with his bevy of mistresses, all of them young enough to be his daughter. He parked each of them in various luxury condominiums and would often switch from one to the other, depending on which tickled his fancy best. The one other thing Raymond was very particular with is giving back to charity. Through his Ray-Of-Hope Foundation, he frequently donated liberally to the needy. This was done not because he advocated in doing good but because he is a staunch believer in the universal laws of karma. For all the sins he had committed, Ray prayed that his benevolent nature would eventually help him escape the destined punishments decreed by the unforgiving Gods of his religion.

There is only one thorn that the great Raymond Foo isn’t able to get rid of. Tried as hard as he might, he hasn’t been able to get through to his one and only son. His son accused him of being morally corrupted, often abandoning his mother to be with his other women. To overcome her loneliness and depression, Felicia turned to the bottle and it wasn’t long before she drank to herself to death. He was wrong to assume that his son would in time, outgrow his rebellious personality and embrace Raymond as depicted by the status quo. As the boy grew, he took notice to the fact that their lavish life was being sustained by dirty monies earned through depraved methods. He made a vow never to be involved in his father’s dealings and have honoured it ever since.

Raymond realized that time is ticking and age is catching up on him. He had so far ignored his board of directors and investors to consider taking a back seat role in the company’s day to day activities. He envisioned them to be ravenous sharks, waiting to devour him whole at the first sign of blood. His strained relationship with his son was no secret to this ungrateful bunch and this knowledge only served to fuel their hunger to have him removed from the power seat. Raymond Foo desperately needed Gabriel Foo to willingly take over the reigns of his business empire before it’s too late.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Fairytail : Chapter 13

Cuddling against the immense trunk of the college’s angsana tree on a lazy afternoon, they tried to guess the shapes of the floating clouds against the sky’s blue canvas. A particular one caught their interest and a cheery debate ensued.
‘It’s a dog!’ Anna exclaimed. ‘Look, can’t you see its shaggy head on the left?’
‘If it’s a dog, then it’s a mutated one cause it has three hind legs,’ Gabriel retorted. ‘That’s its tail, dummy,’ she laughed out loud.
‘A tail that’s longer that its legs?’ he feigned ignorance and that earned him an elbow in the ribs. ‘Hate you’, Gabriel whispered as he planted a tender kiss at the side of her forehead. This is paradise, she thought.


‘So what would you like?’ Steve asked as he nervously fidgeted on the one page laminated menu, dog eared on all corners.
‘Hmmm, I’m still undecided,’ Wei Yee replied, her fore finger twirling her fringe habitually. ‘What about you?’
‘I always go for Set A,’ he said, referring to the value meal consisting of toasted bread with butter and kaya (coconut jam), eggs and a glass of iced coffee.
‘Hmmm, I might as well go for the same. It looks good in the photo here,’ she said, still scanning the menu.
Steve signalled the waitress over and placed their orders. All week he had been looking forward to this weekend where Wei Yee had agreed to go out on a date with him. Although it might have seemed weird that she suggested they meet up for breakfast because she was planning to finish her assignments in the afternoon and then visit Anna’s mom in the hospital later that night, Steve thought it would be the best to grab at whatever Wei Yee is offering now.
When the waitress left, Wei Yee was starring at the traffic outside the café. The morning rays were resting beautifully on her face, radiating what seemed to Steve like the very essence of beauty itself. His mouth felt as dry as the desert while his palms were moist like the dews of dawn.
She turned to look at him and with a puzzled expression said ‘What?’
‘Oh nothing,’ he tried to recover. ‘So what do you usually do on Saturday mornings?’
‘Well, I usually sleep in. It’s the only day of the week I get to wake up late,’ she casually answered.
‘What ‘bout Sunday? Steve continued.
‘Oh, my parents do their weekly marketing then, so I’ll help out,’ she said, squinting this time as a passing car reflected the sun into her eyes.
She looked astonishingly adorable, his mind gushed. ‘So I guess I wrecked your beauty sleep huh,’ he said bashfully.
‘Nah, didn’t they say the early bird catches the worm,’ she chipped in.
The waitress came and placed their iced coffees at the center of the table and as they reached for their drinks, the tips of their fingers brushed against one another. Out of reflex, Wei Yee instantly pulled back and Steve caught the action, causing his heart to slump down a couple of beats.
‘Sorry,’ she muttered.
‘What for?’ he replied.
‘Umm, nothing,’ Wei Yee said, suddenly feeling awkward.
Both of them were rather relieved when their food was served and they ate in an uncomfortable silence.
‘You like it?’ Steve asked referring to the breakfast set.
‘Oh yea. It’s really good and the butter is especially rich,’ Wei Yee lied.
As they resumed eating without conversing, Wei Yee surprisingly noticed how they actually ate in a similar peculiar manner. Both of them would discard the skin of the bread before slathering the butter on one side and kaya on the other and they would eat both slices separately. The eggs would be consumed last. This eating habit of hers had bugged her ex-boyfriend to no end and they even once had a silly argument over it in a restaurant.
Just then, a meow brought Wei Yee back from her thoughts. A brown and white stray feline had parked itself next to Steve’s feet and was shamelessly begging for food. Steve took the leftover bread skin on his plate and tossed it lightly on the floor. The cat moved in and was immediately chewing on it hungrily. Wei Yee took hers and bent under the table to feed the stray as well. Their gazed locked and she felt her stomach flutter, a sensation she haven’t experienced in a long time. Before she could even try to digest this newly developed emotion, she felt something else, something not good.
‘Steve, I need your help,’ she said embarrassingly.
Someone had stuck a piece of gum under the table and now it’s lodged between the strands of her hair. Steve immediately came over and he knew as soon as he saw her predicament. He tried to remove the gum by tugging it but it seems the more he tried, the messier it got. When he eventually gave up, Wei Yee’s hair was in total chaos. Patrons from the other tables were looking, some chuckling.
‘I think we need professional help,’ Steve said seriously. ‘We need to get you to a salon’.
She stared back at him blankly and then they both burst out laughing, attracting even more attention from the other people.
‘If I still look okay after my hair is fixed, how ‘bout I treat you to a movie,’ she said. ‘If you’re available this afternoon of course’.
Steve beamed and said ‘Now let’s get you to the nearest saloon’, oblivious to the dog shaped cloud drifting above.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Fairytail : Chapter 12

By now, news of Anna’s mother’s illness has spread within her close circle of friends in college. They offered their genuine sympathy and tried to help her out in ways they could. Knowing that Anna would head straight to the hospital after her classes, Steve negotiated with his sister to give Anna a lift there on days which they shared the same lectures. Katie insisted that Anna take her notes for all the classes she had previously missed and everyone knows there isn’t a more comprehensive set of notes in the entire college than Katie’s. Ivan and Jung Ho recorded a Japanese / Korean get-well-soon song for Claire. Though none of the rest understood a word from this horrendously tuneless collaboration, Anna appreciated their fine intentions nonetheless. The Outdoor Society sent a huge fruit basket directly to the ward and even Maya seemed to stop sneering at Anna whenever they cross each other in the college hallway nowadays. Her lecturers were also being understanding towards her as they thoughtfully rescheduled her tutorial sessions so that she could afford more time to spend with her mother.

None of their combined efforts could match Gabriel’s as he practically committed all his free time towards helping mother and daughter in any way possible. He made himself her personal chauffeur much to Steve’s sister’s delight, ferrying her to and from the hospital. This particular action earned him many brownie points from Claire as she often worried about Anna’s safety especially when she had to commute home from the hospital late at night. Many a times, Gabriel would ensure there’s a hot meal waiting for Anna during dinner hours and the two would enjoy their meal in the hospital’s cafeteria. He would collect mails from their home and deliver them personally to Claire. When the utility and credit card bills are due, he would help pass them to Uncle Leon to be taken care off. There were also occasions where he would sneak his family’s maid into Claire’s home and have the place cleaned and tidied up before Anna could put in her rejection.

Despite everything that is keeping her fully occupied, Anna couldn’t help realising that her fondness for Gabriel has grown deeper. She was secretly delighted that they were now spending most of their free time together even if it means running her errands or simply willing the hours away in the hospital. At least she now has something pleasant to look forward to everyday.


Notwithstanding how much her doctor and nurses tried to prepare her for, Claire couldn’t prevent the depression from showing when the first after-effects of the chemotherapy treatment finally kicked in. She was constantly shrouded in exhaustion. A trip to the bathroom to ease herself took so much effort that she gratefully traded her dignity for some assistance from the nurses in return. If it was even possible, Claire is looking even frailer than she has ever been. Her tremendous loss in appetite limited her food intake causing her body weight to plunge border lining a critical stage. Worse still, she vomited aggressively without fail after each and every chemo session, leaving behind only the bitter aftertaste of the regurgitated bile. Her sunken cheekbones magnified her popping eye sockets and her once healthy looking skin is now almost translucent white, radiating a sickly glow over the branching highway of her purple and green veins. The knockout punch came when clumps of her hair effortlessly came off while being brushed. It took only days before her thinning mane started revealing the obvious beige of her scalp. She began developing a natural fear to shower as the clogged drainage hole was a sight she couldn’t stomach. No amount of comfort could stop her heavy tears from gushing freely. Soon after, Claire refused any visitors apart from Anna, Wei Yee and Mrs. Chan. The three of them went shopping for a wig and found one that was more or less similar to Claire’s former hairstyle. It helped for a while before it began to irritatingly itch when worn over a long period due to sweating. In the end, Claire chose to don a cotton knitted bonnet instead and it proved to be a lot more comfortable. Gabriel still visited as often as before but courteously met up with Anna either in the cafeteria or the hospital’s garden area.


Claire was napping and Anna was completing her assignments as her mobile vibrated silently. She saw that it was Gabriel calling and answered it. ‘Dinner is served my lady,’ he said with a regal tone. She smiled and said ‘Make known that the lady shall be proceeding to the royal dining chamber immediately’. She packed her stuff and left a note to her mother before taking the elevator to the cafeteria. On the way down, a pair of young giggly nurses gave her knowing looks but they had already reached their floor before she could enquire more.

She found Gabriel by the entrance, leaning casually against the wall. When he caught sight of her, he straightened out himself and flashed her a heart melting smile and she still hated herself for feeling so flushed. When she reached him, she tilted her head slightly higher and said ‘Her highness wishes to know what’s on the royal menu today’. He gave a little courtesan bow. ‘Dinner today is a little special my lady. Shall we proceed?’ as he gestured towards the elevator. She gave him a puzzled look before saying ‘You may lead on, my good man’. She was surprised when he pressed on the 7th floor button, the highest level of the hospital. ‘Where are we exactly going?’ she questioned, a tinge of excitement welling from within. ‘Just wait and see,’ he answered, his eyes showing an impish glint. Once at their designated floor, he led her to the emergency staircase and proceeded walking upwards without a backward glance. She had no choice but to keep up from behind.

They stopped at a narrow passage way with a door at the end. He took a deep breath and swung it open, allowing a refreshing breeze to wash over them. He grinned at her reassuringly and cocked his head towards the outside. She took a step on the hospital roof’s flat surface and immediately a light source caught her eye. Like a shiny beacon, a table was laid out at the corner and a cluster of lighted thick pink candles were sitting on it. ‘Come’ he softly said. As they approached, she could see that the table was scattered with champagne rose petals and a basket laid waiting on one of the chairs. ‘May I,’ he asked as he pulled out the empty chair for her. Still recovering from the surprise, she sat down slowly but deep down, she could feel her insides performing a triple somersault, over and over again. Without saying a word, he opened the basket and took out two plates and two pairs of fork and knife. He laid them on the table like an experienced maitre’d. Next, Gabriel opened a container and immediately, a scrumptious aroma enveloped their surrounding. He placed a piece of succulent steak on each plate and drizzled brown sauce generously over it. Anna thought it looked mouth wateringly delectable. On the side, he spooned portions of potato salad and finished the presentation by arranging a few pieces of baby carrots for added colour. As for the beverage, he uncapped two chilled bottles of sparkling grape juice. Perfect.

Anna was utterly lost for words but Gabriel wasn’t done. He placed a cute pair of mini speakers on the table and hooked his Ipod onto them. Soon, the air was filled with the romantic melody of ‘Till We Ain’t Strangers Anymore’, a duet by Bon Jovi and LeAnn Rimes and also Anna’s favourite.

She could only look at him, her heart threatening to explode and her mind frantically trying to look for the perfect words to befit such a dreamy scenario. She realised then about the giggling nurses. ‘One last thing,’ he said. He carefully took out two cupcakes and placed them at the center of the table. Squiggled with icing on each of them was Happy and B’day. She was simply overwhelmed. Even she had forgotten that today was her birthday. This was an experience like no other. This was so special it was almost magical. At that moment, Anna felt like a princess in a happily ever after story.

‘I hope it’s not too much and errr ... I took the liberty of assuming that you would be available tonight. Good thing you didn’t have anything planned out,’ he bashfully said, ruffling the back of his hair, a habit for whenever he’s nervous. She could only continue starring at him and whispered ‘Thank you’. He replied ‘Hey, it’s your big day. You have every right to be treated like a princess. Besides, it was my pleasure to ...’. She cut him out mid sentence. Through glistened eyes, she lunged forward, grabbed him by the collar and put her lips to his. His was surprisingly soft and she tasted a hint of sweetness probably from some chewing gum he had earlier. They both knew this was what they had wanted all along and the sensation was purely wonderful. It’s as if nothing could go wrong and even if it did, it didn’t matter. After a while, they pulled away breathless. They couldn’t help but to exchange smiles shyly and he grabbed her hands. Lacing his fingers between hers, he said ‘Now try my cooking. I laboured the entire day for this’. But she couldn’t remember how the food tasted as every part of her body is bathed in a delicious warmth of love.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Fairytail : Chapter 11

The next couple of days whizzed by in a blurry daze. Anna soon became accustomed to the punishable routine, often using the bitter sorrow to numb her fatigue. By 6:30 a.m., she would have already collected the piping hot porridge Wei Yee’s mother had generously prepared. Anna wanted her mother to have at least one proper meal a day. She tasted the soupy macaroni served once at the ward and likened it to eating rubber pellets soaked in diluted bleach. After breakfast, she would read her mother the daily news hoping to take both their minds off the horrible fate that has befallen them. Her mother would then take a nap or watch chinese soaps on the fuzzy tv while Anna used the time to search for potential curing methods for her mother’s illness on the web. She soon became very familiar with the medical jargons and was comfortably applying them when speaking to the doctors. By 5:15 p.m. Anna would rush home for a quick shower before heading to the nearby coffee shop to buy her mother’s dinner. She would have Aunty Ho, the noodle seller to specially cook her mother’s noodles without oil or too much salt, usually just a dash of pepper in the aromatic chicken broth and sprinkled with some finely chopped spring onions. Fifteen years of patronage granted Anna this exceptional treatment from Aunty Ho. On the rare occasions that Claire is blessed with a better appetite, Anna would take away instead steamed rice topped with stir fried bitter gourd with chicken and black beans. It is her mother’s favourite but it pained Anna to see Claire being able to finish no more than half of what is served. By the time Anna reaches home at night, it is usually close to 11:30 p.m. and she goes to bed with an aching back from sitting too much on the unforgiving plastic chair beside her mother’s bed. She’s thankful that her exhaustion serves also as her nightly lullaby.

There wasn’t a day where Claire didn’t have any visitors. They comprised of distant relatives (some Anna had never met in her entire life), close friends (they are only a handful), neighbours (less than a handful) and Claire’s colleagues (Anna lost count but suspected they came as only an excuse to get away from work). By the fourth day she was warded in, Claire already had 3 standing bouquet of flowers by the corner of her room, all well wishes of a speedy recovery punctuated in bold. Anna hated the aroma of the daisies and gerberas because it reminded her of the same smell emanated in the funeral parlour when her grandad passed away. She beared with it since the colours added a certain vibrancy to the otherwise dull and depressing room.

Wei Yee and her mom came as often as they could for which Anna is grateful. Sometimes, Mrs. Chan brought along double boiled herbal soup which is supposedly good for revitalisation of the mind and body. Mrs. Chan being Mrs. Chan wouldn’t leave until Claire swallowed the very last drop.

To take care of her mother, Anna had missed the first three days of the college’s second semester. Although she was sure she’s falling way behind in class, it couldn’t be helped. No one needed her more than her mother now. Uncle Leon is trying his best to source for a part time maid to relieve Anna of some of her duties so she could attend classes but his limited income is making his search especially tough. Wei Yee would make copies of her notes and pass them to Anna by the end of each day but they weren’t sharing all the same classes. As far as Anna’s friends from the other classes are concerned, she wasn’t ready to share her recent family tragedy with them yet.

One day, Anna was washing up the dishes in the ward’s bathroom and she heard a male voice speaking to her mother outside. She assumed him to be one of her mom’s colleagues and didn’t give it a second thought as she began skinning an apple. When she was done, she walked out of the bathroom and was utterly stunned to see Gabriel sitting on her plastic chair, chatting animatedly with Claire. ‘What is he doing here!’ her thoughts screamed. They both looked at Anna’s bewildered expression and smiled. A few seconds passed before Gabriel spoke up ‘So … you’re just going to stand there all night?’ Anna blushed and quickly came over to the bed and said ‘What are you doing here? And how did you know?’ ‘Well, I didn’t see you in class and you’re not answering my calls. So I asked around and everyone’s as clueless as I am. So left with no other choices, I cornered Wei Yee and my boys threatened to scar her pretty face unless she spilled the truth,’ he joked. ‘You did what!’ exclaimed Anna. ‘Woah, I was just joking, silly. I simply asked her very nicely and she told me what happened. Besides I figured you needed the notes from all the classes you’ve been missing,’ he replied. He then looked over to Anna’s mother and said ‘Aunty, I asked the shop keeper and he said all you have to do is to boil it for three hours with the rest of the herbs and it’s ready’. Anna realised then that Gabriel was referring to the very big box of American ginseng he had bought for her mother. ‘Aiyo, I can’t possibly accept something so expensive from you. Please take it back,’ Claire said embarrassingly. ‘Don’t worry Aunty, that shop keeper is a family friend and I got a very good discount. So it’s actually not very expensive,’ Gabriel graciously countered. Anna wanted to say something but the door opened and Mrs. Chan walked in. The inquisitive lady immediately said loudly ‘Waaa Nana, who’s this hemsem young man? Your boyfriend ar?’ ‘Aiyo Aunty! No la! He’s just a friend and he’s here to pass me some notes,’ she replied very quickly as blood rushed to her cheeks. ‘I didn’t know they thought you all how to make ginseng in college. Waa! And look at the size of it, surely not cheap eh,’ Mrs. Chan replied as she playfully nudged Gabriel. ‘Eh Claire ar, looks like your future son-in-law is treating you very well hor,’ she continued teasing. ‘Who are we to control these young people nowadays,’ Claire said with a smile. Gabriel looked at Anna and a mocking grin was plastered on his face. ‘Nana?’ he silently mouthed.

Just then Wei Yee walked in and said ‘Ma, I parked the car on the street opposite the main entrance. The hospital’s car park is full already. Oh, you told Anna yet?’ ‘Tell me what?’ Anna responded. ‘Oh, nothing la. Just that from tomorrow onwards, I’ll be your mother’s full time caretaker. I’ve already arranged everything with Uncle Chan. So you can go back to college okay,’ she said seriously. ‘I can’t trouble all of you this way Aunty. You’ve already done too much for us as it is,’ Anna replied. ‘Don’t talk nonsense la. It has been decided. Next week onwards, your mother will be undergoing chemotherapy. She will need banyak (a lot of) nourishments to pull through. My cooking will do a lot more help than the ones you bungkus (take away) from the coffee shop. Also, you can’t miss anymore classes or you’ll flunk out of college. You want to give your mother heart attack some more ar,’ Mrs. Chan said wisely. ‘Besides, it’ll give us old ladies more time to gossip,’ she added less sagely as she launched into her trademark hyena cackle. Before Anna could respond, her tearing mother was already thanking her friend profusely.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Fairytail : Chapter 10

Wei Yee’s parents dropped Anna at the hospital and they left for home on Anna’s insistence. Wei Yee had persisted to stay with her to offer comfort and help in any way but Anna preferred to face this situation with family only, at least for now.

She found the caller sitting in the ward’s common area, his gaze fixed on the styrofoam cup he was grasping with both hands. He didn’t blink when the steam arising from the coffee connected with his eyes. ‘Uncle Leon,’ Anna sniffled. ‘Oh Anna,’ he replied while getting up and circling his arms around to give her a tight hug. Her uncle looked drained. His hair was ruffled and his expression pale. ‘Where is Ma? What happened exactly? I tried calling so many times but I can’t get through to you or Ma’ she asked as tears blurred her vision. ‘You must’ve called when I was in the doctor’s room and had my phone turned off. I guess there’s no point trying to hide it from you any longer. Did you notice any change in your mother lately?’ he said. Anna thought for a moment before answering ‘No, not really. Perhaps she has been going to bed earlier nowadays but I thought it’s because her age is catching up’. ‘Yea, she gets fatigued easily and her weight has dropped steadily over the last four months,’ Uncle Leon added. Anna was silent. She felt stupid for not noticing these signs earlier. ‘She’s in pain Anna. For the past couple of months, the pain had gotten worse. Earlier this morning, she was heading out to the market. She wanted to cook your favourite soy sauce chicken tonight but the pain came suddenly. It was so unbearable she collapsed and after a while, she managed to drag herself to the phone and called me. I rushed over and got her admitted,’ he said. Her tears were now streaming down her cheeks as she asked ‘But why? Why is Ma suffering like this?’ ‘The doctors did some tests and they just confirmed it. Your mom has leukaemia,’ he answered her dejectedly. When the words finally sank in, Anna felt her gut being turned inside out. Her head was spinning as if the entire building just crashed on her. ‘I need to go see her now,’ she said.

Claire was warded into a twin sharing room. Because the bed beside her was unoccupied, the lights on that side were switched off casting an overall gloom over the already dimly lit ward. The walls painted with pastel green shows signs on peeling revealing the truer age of the building. A 14 inch tv hung by the top corner of the room with the pieces of its remote held together with lots of scotch tape. The entire place stank of bitter medicine and artificially scented floor detergent.

Anna stood at the doorway starring at her mother. Her mother’s body looked shockingly frail under the bare fluorescents. Her face was ashen and her lips showed a hue of purplish blue. A drip was inserted into Claire’s left hand and Anna could clearly see the swell of her mother’s vein where the needle pierced through the skin and then flesh. Anna couldn’t bear the depressing sight and silently, the tears kept flowing. Claire turned her body slightly and the metal bed creaked fiercely in response. She grimaced before letting out a series of violent coughs. Anna rushed to her mother’s side and rubbed her chest to pacify the irritated lungs. Claire slowly opened her eyes and managed to give her daughter a very tired smile. ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ Anna said in between sobs, her tears splattering on her mother’s dry cheeks. ‘I didn’t know it’s cancer and wouldn’t want to worry you. I also wanted you to focus on your studies,’ replied Claire weakly before coughing again. Anna turned to her Uncle and asked ‘How come Ma’s condition changed so quickly? She looked fine before I went to camp’. ‘The doctor said with leukaemia, things can turn bad very rapidly,’ Uncle Leon explained. ‘Come Anna, we should let your mother rest. I also need to get you home to pack your mother’s stuff to bring over. We rushed here this morning we didn’t have time to take anything with us’.

Anna bent over to her mother’s ear and whispered ‘Ma, rest well you hear. We’ll be back real soon. Everything is going to be ok’. She gave her mother’s arm a reassuring grip before leaving with her uncle.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Fairytail : Chapter 9

Anna could already anticipate the questions Claire would ask and she will take pleasure in telling her mother everything over a lovely dinner. Although it had only been three days, Anna was surprised to find herself missing Claire. The bus dropped them off at the college and everyone started bidding each other goodbyes. The trip presented the opportunities for new friendships to be formed and the harrowing episode by the stream only served to deepen the sense of camaraderie between them. The very same Mercedes was waiting for Gabriel and he insisted on giving Anna a ride home but she stubbornly refused. A part of her wondered how her mother would react to the scene of her getting out of a flashy car with an unknown guy beside her no less. She didn’t dare to risk the consequences just yet. Gabriel then offered to stay back until she has safely boarded the bus but she literally pushed him into his awaiting vehicle telling him not to worry. ‘I’ll call you when I’m home ok,’ she said. Truthfully, she was touched by the nature of his concern. Wei Yee was also seeing Steve off in a beat up Ford TX3 driven by his elder sister. He wanted to wait with Wei Yee but his unaccommodating sister was having none of it. As the siblings drove off, Wei Yee could hear them arguing already. Anna walked over to her best friend and they sat on a kerb stone. The road was mostly deserted as the college is having its semester break and the next car that appeared belonged to Wei Yee’s parents. ‘Hey Nana,’ Mrs. Chan greeted Anna loudly. ‘Aunty! People actually recognize me here’ Anna faked a shocked appearance. ‘Aiya, no leng chai (attractive guy) around also,’ Wei Yee’s mom sportingly played along. ‘Eh, we’re going for a simple dinner. Come join us la,’ Mrs. Chan proffered. As far as Anna could remember, Mrs. Chan is a firm believer that it’s always better to give than to receive. Hence, she’s always being as big-hearted as she could afford. ‘Cannot la Aunty. My mom’s waiting for me at home. Am sure she has dinner prepared too,’ Anna politely declined. ‘Then we send you home first la,’ the generous woman offered. ‘It’s ok Aunty. You all go makan (eat). No need to susahkan (inconvenience) you all. See, my bus is here’ Anna said pointing to her oncoming ride. ‘Ok ok, you be careful ar. Sms Wei Wei once you’re home,’ she added maternally. ‘Promise,’ Anna replied with a smile. The girls embraced as Anna whispered to Wei Yee ‘Hey, don’t mention anything ‘bout the incident ok. My mom will get a heart attack and probably ground me for life. Don’t tell your family too. You know how your mom and my mom like to tittle-tattle with each other’. Don’t worry la,’ Wei Yee said adding a zipping motion across her lips.

Once she got off the bus, Anna trudged the path leading her home. For reasons unknown, an uncomfortable anxiety was brewing within and she hurried her pace, believing that she’ll be able to shake off the uneasy sentiment once she’s safely home. She heaved a sigh of relief upon arrival at her house’s lawn gate. Out of habit, she pushed the gate open before the piece of criss-crossed welded metal bounced violently back, almost slamming into her face. It took her a moment to reel herself out of shock and realised that the gate was padlocked. This is uncommon because Claire would usually lock the gate just before bedtime. Anna also noticed that none of the lights in her home was lighted up. Didn’t her mother knew she was coming home today?

Anna rummaged her bag for the keys and let herself in. Once inside, she switched on the lights and called out ‘Ma, you here?’. The only reply she got was a faint echo of her own voice. She ran upstairs to her mother’s room hoping to find her fast asleep but no one was on the bed apart for an old neatly folded duvet. After searching the entire house, Anna then whipped out her mobile phone and speed dialled Claire’s number. Her attempt went straight into her mother’s voicemail. Panic began to brew from within and Anna tried calling her Uncle Leon instead. Hot tears stung her eyes when she heard Uncle Leon’s voice requesting her to leave a message at the sound of the beep. Anna went out and asked for her neighbours. She prayed that they knew where her mother was. ‘Hi Mr.Ong. Did you happen to see my mother today?’ Anna asked. ‘Hmmm, if I’m not mistaken, I think I saw a car stopping by this morning and Claire got in,’ replied the seventy four year old retiree from next door. ‘Did you happen to see who the driver was? Or what car was he or she driving,’ Anna enquired nervously. ‘Oh, that I couldn’t tell Anna. I’m sorry I wasn’t particularly paying attention. I guess I was too engrossed tending to my bonsais. I’m sure your mom simply forgot the time and that she’ll be back soon,’ the old man said trying to sound comforting. ‘Thanks Mr. Ong,’ she replied. The added information worsened her fear.

Anna jittered from one end of her living room to the other and tried to think of the most sensible thing to do but horrifying thoughts keep clouding her mind. She contemplated filing a missing person report but knew that it wouldn’t do any good unless it’s past the twenty four hour mark. She called Wei Yee and her friend promised to rush finishing her dinner and immediately come over. Anna pondered if her mom could be waiting for her the college compound instead. Enveloped with a sense of dread, she decided to back track her way to college when she felt a vibration in her jean’s pocket. Her heart almost leaped out of her mouth when she saw ‘Mom’ on the caller ID. She frantically pressed the answer button and a familiar male voice on the other side of the line said ‘Anna, I need you to calm down and listen to me. Your mom’s in the hospital’.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Fairytail : Chapter 8

The loud clashing of metal against metal woke everyone up. Anna spied at her watch and it showed her the time was 5:33 a.m. Sticking her head out of her tent, she saw Bruce and Janice each had a spatula in their hands, banging it against the bottom of an empty pot. When Janice spotted Anna’s grouchy expression, she laughed out loud and banged harder. The next forty five minutes saw everyone washing themselves up by the well. Some of the guys were mocking the girls for bringing a barrage of facial wash and what nots on a camping trip. Everyone had to haul their own water through a bucket attached to the pulley and Gabriel aided both the girls to get theirs. Anna couldn’t help but to marvel at the sight of his biceps and triceps rippling in action to which Wei Yee teased ‘Look into a mirror and you know what you’ll see? A love struck dumb blonde’. Anna playfully smacked Wei Yee’s buttocks for that comment.

Breakfast was simple yet satisfying. They feasted on baked beans, canned tuna mayo, sliced bread and an assortment of Malay kuih generously supplemented by Pak Awan. Bruce then announced that the first activity for the day would be abseiling. This brought a thunderous applause from majority of the guys. Slipping their feet back into their mud soaked shoes, they trudged up to a little hill with a steep drop on the other side. Pak Awan briefed everyone on the proper methods of abseiling. No hero antics would be tolerated and that safety is their utmost priority at all times. Each of them had to select a partner of almost equal weight so that one can serve as an anchor while the other abseiled down. After putting on their helmets and fastening their harnesses, the group proceeded to the edge of the hill. With Bruce serving as anchor, Pak Awan demonstrated how it ought to be done. In a matter of minutes, the old man’s feet were both firmly planted on the foothill. He then motioned for the rest to begin.

Seeing that Anna was to abseil down before Wei Yee, Gabriel set himself to go as well but Steve came to ask if it is ok he went first. Weary in the beginning, Anna soon got the hang of it and was thoroughly enjoying herself. A couple of feet above her, Steve yelled ‘Hey Anna, wait up’. Anna stopped descending and it gave her a chance to catch her breath. When they were shoulder to shoulder, Steve grinned at her and said ‘Let’s go slowcoach’. They were almost half way down when Steve voiced out ‘Hey Anna, I just needed to ask you something ok’. Anna eyed him curiously and said ‘Shoot’. He inhaled deeply and blurted ‘By any chance, is Wei Yee seeing anyone at the moment?’ He didn’t dare look at her when uttered that question. Anna burst out cackling like a hyena and almost lost her balance. That earned her a nasty reprimand from Pak Awan. The guide wasn’t going to allow anymore hiccups after yesterday’s incident. After finding her composure, Anna said ‘Oh Steve. Haha. I never knew you had a thing for Wei Yee’. Steve looking embarrassed replied ‘Ok. Just forget I asked and don’t you go telling Wei Yee anything you hear’. He was suddenly very focused on reaching down below. ‘Hmmm, if I were her, I would be very grateful and not to mention, impressed by your display of bravado yesterday. We girls like that in a guy you know,’ Anna answered. His face glowed and said ‘You think I have a shot then?’ ‘You never try, you’ll never know Steve. You do realize we only live once right,’ she encouraged. ‘Yea,’ he said nodding to himself as both of them stepped foot on solid ground simultaneously.

By the time everyone have had their chance to abseil, the sun was already at its highest position of the day and that also indicated that it is lunch time. Instant cup noodles were passed around and most of them slurped on second helpings. They then savoured on some delicious bubur cha cha (sweet potatoes & yam in coconut milk dessert) courtesy of Pak Awan’s wife.

A free-and-easy session was allocated for the early afternoon. The students were allowed to roam around within a fifty meter radius of the camp site’s vicinity. Led by Gabriel and armed with their cameras, some of them ventured out hoping to catch breath-taking snapshots of what Mother Nature had to offer. Anna and the rest chose to take it easy and linger in their respective tents to rejuvenate from the earlier vigorous activity.

‘You know, a most peculiar thing happened during lunch time,’ Wei Yee said to her tent-mate. ‘Oh? Do tell,’ Anna replied interestedly. ‘Well, it’s probably nothing but Steve came up to me and sort of asked me out on a date, I think,’ Wei Yee said in a bashful manner. ‘And what did you say to him?’ prodded Anna excitedly. ‘Errr, I say I’ll consider it and let him know,’ Wei Yee answered. Anna laughed and replied ‘How typical of you. You know, when it comes to these kinda things, you think too much. Sometimes you just gotta go with the flow and see where it leads to. You might be pleasantly surprised to find the answer in the end’. ‘And being trapped in the jungle with Gabriel makes you a love doctor now?’ Wei Yee said mockingly. ‘Speaking of which, tell me everything that happened with him or I swear I’ll tickle you till you die of laughter. I want to know every single detail,’ Wei Yee threateningly joked. And so Anna spilled it all to her best friend. After all, they share no secrets between each other.

In the evening, Pak Awan escorted the entire group to a stunning waterfall hidden deep within the jungle like a buried treasure not meant to be discovered. On the way there, Gabriel was walking by Anna’s side. ‘So what was it that was going on between you and Steve earlier?’ he tried to sound casual. ‘It was nothing. Not any of your business anyway,’ she tried playing hard-to-get. ‘Oh ... ok,’ he sounded hurt. ‘I was just messing with you, silly. Steve’s got a crush on Wei Yee. So he’s sort of asking me to help him out,’ she explained. She was glad to know he was capable of being jealous. ‘Oh, haha. I should’ve seen that coming. He was acting kinda weird last night in the tent, as if totally lost in deep thought. I guess he must be thinking ‘bout her. Looks like the jungle rubbed off some of its magic on them too,’ he said. It was then that he tried to lace his fingers between hers but she dashed excitedly ahead, captivated by the beauty of a picturesque vista. From high above, the waters crashed down into a sparkling pool of jade crystal liquid. Its loud splashing muffling Gabriel's dissapointed sigh.

The boys took turns to fearlessly bomb dive from a colossal sized rock while the girls amused themselves chasing schools of red swordtails. As the sun began to set, most of them simply lazed around and permitted themselves to be enchanted by the therapeutic haven gifted by our creator. Anna spotted Steve and Wei Yee by the edge of the shore, enjoying each other’s company with a little chit chat. By instinct, she looked around for Gabriel and found him by himself, sitting on the sand banks, and leaning against a crooked tree. He was observing her and even from afar, she could tell that his eyes radiated nothing but affection.

That night, the sat around a campfire and grilled a galore of fresh seafood. Since they were scheduled to leave very early the next day, all of them wanted to make the most of their remaining time here. The students ate heartily, chatted, laughed and sang along to songs that Bruce strummed on his guitar. They also presented Pak Awan with a souvenier, the club’s T-shirt as a token of appreciation for the generosity he had bestowed to all of them. As the night drew to a close, one by one, they drifted back to their tents and capped the end of another fantastic escapade by the Outdoor Society.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Fairytail : Chapter 7

‘Do you even know where we’re going?’ Anna yelled. Back in the dense forest, with the rain still hammering furiously, the only way to be heard is to shout. ‘I figured that as long as we stick to the path, we shouldn’t go wrong,’ Gabriel hollered back. ‘What path!’ Anna said referring to the mud covered grounds they were tramping on. ‘We took almost two freaking hours to get here. Do you think we could ever find our way back under this condition?’ her voice loud but uneven. The cold, exhaustion and utter frustration are fuelling her sudden spike in anger. Gabriel stopped walking, turned around and said ‘Yea, you’re right and it’s getting dark. We better seek shelter somewhere’. They scavenged the area and stumbled upon an uprooted tree. The decaying trunk is easily forty feet long and its massive branches with its leaves attached provided just the refuge they were looking for. Sitting with a three feet gap in between them, Gabriel tried to console ‘Hey, it’s gonna be alright. They’re gonna find us soon’. Looking away, Anna ignored him and tried to appear brave but her trembling lips and shivering limbs ruined her poor pretence.

Shrouded in total darkness, they seem to lose track of time. It was hard to judge if a minute had passed or was it five. At least the rain had died down to a drizzle. At night, the jungle portrays itself in an entire different façade. Unlike the charming scene that greeted them earlier in the day, now everything around them exuded a sense of frightening menace. Threatening noises from creatures of the night send chills up Anna’s spine. Every now and then, rustling caused by unseen nocturnal animals would make her jump. At that moment, she wished she was curled up beside her mother, watching TV and sharing a tub of ice cream. The thought made her whimper.

Suddenly something touched her and Anna screamed. ‘Hey hey, it’s ok. It’s just me,’ said Gabriel. ‘Don’t you dare!’ Anna snapped. ‘I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you like that. I can tell you’re freezing and perhaps if we huddled together, you wouldn’t feel so cold,’ he replied apologetically. ‘Why do you keep pushing me away?’ he asked after an awkward silence. ‘Hah! I don’t need to explain myself, especially not to you,’ she retorted. Better to sound angry than weak she thought. ‘I just thought we’d be better off being friends than strangers,’ he countered. ‘Being friends’, those two words hurt her. ‘Stupid. You’re just so bloody stupid Anna,’ she admonished herself in silence. ‘I mean, did I do something wrong? If I offended you in anyway, I swear I didn’t mean to,’ Gabriel pressed further. She looked at him and could make out the outline of his slouching figure. The glow casted by the crescent moon made the forest undergrowth a little less creepy now. ‘No, you did nothing wrong,’ she said softly and realised it was the truth. She was being unfair to him all this while but she couldn’t help it. He edged closer, testing her reaction. Finally, only an inch separated his right shoulder to her left. ‘What’s your story with Maya?’ she asked. ‘I know it’s not any of my business but,’ she couldn’t find the right words after that and left her sentence hanging. ‘Maya’s just an old friend to me. Our families knew each other from way back, so naturally, I grew up as her playmate,’ he tried to clarify. ‘And that’s why I know her so well,’ answering her question from when they got off the boat earlier. ‘She’s more like a sister to me,’ he said further. ‘I bet she doesn’t feel the same way,’ Anna stated as a matter of fact. ‘Well, she may feel differently about me but it doesn’t matter cause,’ he paused. ‘Cause?’ she asked impatiently. He faced her and said ‘Cause I already fell for someone else’. Anna hoped the darkness had helped hidden her smile. The butterflies in her stomach are back after a long leave of absence and they’re obviously overly excited. ‘You’re still cold,’ Gabriel said as he pulled her towards him. This time, she did not resist and allowed him to rest her head on his chest. Her cheeks were pressing uncomfortably against his damp t-shirt but it didn’t seem to matter. ‘Feel better?’ he enquired. ‘Yea,’ she happily lied. With the heavy burden lifted from her heart, she willingly gave in to the demands of her worn-out body and fell into a deep slumber.

After a while ...

Anna woke up hearing faint noises. At first, she thought she had imagined them but the voices became clearer. She shook Gabriel who had also fallen asleep. No doubt, people were calling out their names and they could see beams discharged from highly powered torch lights slicing through the area not far away. They excitedly stood up but Anna crumbled straight down because of the pins and needles in both her legs. ‘Go get them. I just need a moment,’ she told Gabriel. Gabriel nodded and started shouting out at their rescuers. ‘Praise Allah both of you are safe. Now let’s get you back to camp,’ said a very relieved Pak Awan. He led the search group with Bruce, Steve and two other boys in tow. Wei Yee pleaded to come along but Pak Awan vetoed sternly against her request saying her wounded leg would only slow them down. Wei Yee dejectedly complied and had the injuries on her palms and leg treated by Janice.

When they arrived back at the camp site, everyone stood up to applaud. A couple of them wolf whistled. Wei Yee ran and hugged her friend so tightly she squeezed every ounce of breath out of Anna. ‘I was worried to death. I was so scared they couldn’t find you’ Wei Yee sobbed. ‘I know. But I’m ok now. See,’ Anna replied and made a 360 degrees twirl. Bruce came to them and said ‘It’s best Anna dry herself and get some hot soup into her system’. The idea of food made Anna’s stomach growl fiercely. She didn’t realize how hungry she was until then. Gabriel brought over a bowl of chicken soup with some white bread. Anna accepted them and returned him with a most endearing smile before he went over to chat with Pak Awan. Wei Yee immediately shot her a questioning stare. ‘What?’ Anna cried out. ‘You tell me. I know that look,’ Wei Yee responded. ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about,’ she said dipping her bread into the boiling soup before putting it into her mouth. It scalded her pallet but she didn’t care. Food never tasted this good. ‘Fine. Let’s see how long you can keep it from me,’ challenged Wei Yee. ‘Fine. Let’s see,’ Anna replied adding a mischievous smirk.

After cleaning up, Bruce instructed everyone to get some shuteye as the next day will be another tiring one. Two to a tent, Anna and Wei Yee zipped up the opening and snuggled into their individual sleeping bags. ‘Still not telling huh,’ Wei Yee said. Anna replied by sticking out her tongue. ‘Hate you,’ Wei Yee said as she turned to face the other side. ‘Hate you too,’ Anna responded giggling.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Fairytail : Chapter 6

Upon arrival at base camp, they had to board a speedboat taking them up the river before they could hike to the camp site. Unlike travelling on the bus, everyone enjoyed the bumpy cruise along the emerald river. Shaded by the lofty canopy of the rainforest, they mesmerised at the sights of siamangs (black furred gibbon) peeping from behind gargantuan tree trunks, the symphonic hums of the jungle insects and even saw a kingfisher, diving into the river before soaring majestically back up with a tiny fish clasped tightly in its razor beak. ‘It really is a whole other world here huh,’ Wei Yee said in wonder. Anna nodded in agreement, taking in every bit of sight and sound presented by the thousand year old Malayan jungle.

Twenty five minutes later, the boat docked beside a brittle looking wooden jetty and everyone carefully got off. ‘You need any help with your stuff?’ Gabriel offered to Anna. ‘Nope. I can manage a knapsack,’ she said. ‘I’m surprised your Maya isn’t here,’ Anna couldn’t help but to add. ‘Errr, firstly, she isn’t MY Maya. She did sign up to come along but I guess after last night’s drinking binge, she should still be having a heated argument with her toilet bowl as we speak,’ he said with a chuckle. ‘Besides, she’s not really an outdoor adventure kinda person,’ he said. ‘Well, it seems you know her incredibly well. I guessed as much that when I saw you, she was the other one who didn’t show up this morning’ Anna sounded with a hint of jealousy. Just then, Steve and Wei Yee caught up with them and Gabriel dropped what he wanted to say.

The camp site is actually a very generous open area surrounded by a myriad of age old kapok trees. They stockpiled their belongings at a corner and had lunch. Famished, everyone hoovered in the pre-packed combo of curry chicken, stir fried cabbage, steamed rice and washed it all down with servings of diluted rose flavoured cordial. With their bellies filled, everyone felt a surge in vigour and started setting up tents. Since the girls know as much about tent setting as they would how to build a space shuttle, Steve ended up helping Wei Yee leaving Gabriel with Anna. Gabriel it seems is an expert and only needed Anna to pass him the material. They only exchanged words when necessary. When the tent was up, Gabriel sauntered over to help Steve who seems to be having trouble untying the aluminium rods for the tent’s support structure. Wei Yee was looking on, unimpressed.

At 4:00 p.m., they prepared themselves for their jungle trekking expedition. After a quick briefing by the local guide, Pak Awan (loosely translated : Uncle Cloud) they started moving out. Walking in a single line, they treaded on a path led by Pak Awan who will stop every now and then to explain the characteristics of certain flora and fauna. They learned how to spot wild tapioca leaves and that it can be eaten fresh from the ground. They identified herb roots that supposedly contain a range of medicinal benefits. They overturned moss covered rocks to expose a community of angry fire ants beneath it. They were taught to distinguish the piercing callings of the monyet balanda (proboscis monkey). The outing was thoroughly pleasurable and educational.

Gabriel and Steve were bringing up the back of the group followed by the girls and the rest of the entourage in front. There were instances where Gabriel’s sweaty arms would brush Anna’s and she tried her best to think nothing of it although each accidental caress would send a jolt up her body.

Without warning, it started to pour heavily. The echoes erupted as huge water droplets pounded the jungle surroundings was deafening. Anna could hear Pak Awan shouting up front but couldn’t make up his words exactly. Finally, the message reached her. They have to hurry up and cross the stream before it overflows. As if by magic, the dry dirt path morphed into a slippery mud slide. The more they rushed, the more they tripped and stumbled. Amidst all the chaos, Wei Yee suffered a deep gash at her left calf when she sliced it on a sharp protruding tree stem. The pain brought tears to her eyes but she was relieved that the rain was able to mask this show of vulnerability. When they came upon the stream, the water level was already dangerously high. The once serene stream terrifyingly swelled into a raging river right before their eyes. To get cross, one would have to walk on a man made bridge constructed out of lime stones. Over the years, flowing waters have polished the surface of the bridge making it extremely slippery when wet. Pak Awan was the first to cross and even he lost his balance when a sudden gush of water took him by surprise. Fortunately, years of trekking experience and a solid physical core helped him to steady himself. Once safely on the other side, he threw a rope over to be tied to a tree trunk. Using the rope, one by one, the students inched their way across. As the fifth student reached the other side, the rushing waters was already above their ankle level. Panic began to register on the faces of those yet to be on the safer side of the stream. The rain showed no signs of yielding and the constant ear-splitting thunder only adds to the students’ rising tension. Some of the girls were screaming fearfully as the knee high water is forcefully trying to wash them down stream. Pak Awan and Bruce were trying their best to motivate the group by screaming words of encouragement. People from both sides of the stream were shivering uncontrollably in the relentless rain.

When it came to Wei Yee’s turn, the water had already risen above her hip level. Pak Awan was afraid that she might not be strong enough to sustain the might of the water. So he said that they have to risk two people crossing the river together. The added muscle from the guys should provide them a better chance. With only the four of them remaining, Steve took the nylon cord Pak Awan had flung over and double knotted Wei Yee’s waist securely to his. Wei Yee was scared stiff she wasn’t able to take the first step. With tears streaming, all the possible ghastly scenarios flashed before her eyes. The she heard Steve’s voice, very steadily saying ‘It’s now or never Wei Yee. Don’t worry, I’ve got your back ok’. Grabbing the rope for dear life, she plunged one leg into the murky water and immediately lost her footing due to the strong currents. She heard Anna scream but Steve was already clenching her shoulders firmly. ‘Don’t worry, take your time,’ he reassured her. Though still enveloped with a sense of terror, she nodded. One step at a time, they inched forward. The water being surprisingly warm helped calm a bit of their nerves. Nevertheless, Wei Yee could feel the sting as the roughness of the rope bit painfully into her delicate palms. The wound from her ankle was throbbing so bad it made her dizzy. The only consolation was knowing that Steve was there for her. Every now and then, he would offer words of support. It was his way to let her know he’s right behind her in every step. It felt like an eternity before they both reached the other side. By the time Bruce helped pulled them out, the water level was hanging above Steve’s shoulder, leaving Anna and Gabriel trapped on the other side. With no other options, Pak Awan shouted for them to seek cover at least until the rain dies down and wait for the stream to shallow itself. Right now, any attempts to navigate their way across would be suicidal. As Gabriel pulled her back towards the direction they previously came from, Anna could see a sobbing Wei Yee begging Pak Awan to save her best friend.

A Fairytail : Chapter 5

The first college semester is zipping by rapidly. The students were fervently going through the days without a minute to spare. In between the lectures, tutorials, assignments and exams, some were naively falling in love while others committing themselves to temporary best-friend-forever bonds. More often than not, neither will last through the end of the year. Sex and booze are all the rage and made more so by the fact that both are so easily attainable in today’s ungoverned society. To be involved is to fit in and hardly anyone dares to defy the status quo. The more daring ones were busy getting intoxicated by experimenting on substances readily made available by Josh. Frequently lounging in the alley beside the 7-Eleven store, the pusher is at all times secreting beneath his trademark crimson Timberland cap. The bright colour acts as an easy beacon for his customers to home in to. The unnatural ‘high’ guaranteed, coupled with the excitement from breaking the law infused an irresistible addiction in his regulars. Their insatiable hunger for more makes business very good for Josh indeed.

On the whole, the college community is exploring the limitless avenues granted by their new found freedom. Once a preferred avenue is found, they will tend to push the boundaries. For most, the phrase, curiosity kills the cat fails to come into play.

Anna and Wei Yee made a pact to keep each other grounded on the morals which they were brought up on. Each will police the other’s behaviour to make certain that neither one will be tainted by the sinful temptations offered beneath life’s mask of false veracity. Anna didn’t need reminders to recognize how difficult it was for her mother to slave through the job she so despised to afford Anna a comfortable education. Furthermore, Anna has been missing her mother lately. They hardly had the chance to see each other apart from dinner time. Locking herself up in her room on most evenings to complete her assignments, she would appear later in the night to find Claire already fast asleep, sometimes as early as 9:00 p.m. Times like these, she would be overwhelmed with guilt for not being able to help ease her mother’s fatigue.

Their little band of misfits consisting of Steve, a religious Trekkie and a devotee of all things science fiction, Katie, arguably the most intellectual human Anna and Wei Yee have ever met, Ivan, Katie’s acne prone twin brother cum die hard fan of Japanese music pop groups and finally, Jung Ho, an extremely bashful Korean exchange student who hardly speaks any English would spend their time in college hobbling between classes, the library and the cafeteria. On the rare occasions where weather permits, they would relax beneath a shady 65 year old Angsana tree towering high within the college compound, enjoying a silent game of people watching.

Three long days stand in between the girls and their first trip with the Outdoor Society. A two nights three days camping excursion at a forest reserve along the borders of Pahang (a state in Peninsular Malaysia) does sound awfully appealing since it gave them the opportunity to momentarily liberate themselves from the burden of lectures and assignments. Wei Yee had only ever camped once throughout her 18 years existence on God’s green earth and that was only in her school’s field. Anna is a self confessed camping virgin. So their rising enthusiasm as the day drew nearer was understandable.

On the night before the camping trip ...

‘You packed everything?’ enquired Claire. ‘For the hundredth time, YES Ma,’ Anna punctuated. ‘What about your insect repellent? The diarrhoea meds? You never know what they’ll feed you in the jungle,’ pestered her worried mother. ‘Oh and will you be having your period then? You need pads?’ continued Claire. Anna rolled her eyes and said ‘Yes Ma, insect repellent’s already in the bag. So are the meds. You packed them in yourself remember. Just so you know, we’ll be surviving mostly on canned beans, bread and instant packet curries and cup noodles, not leaves or any creepy crawlies. And no, I won’t be having my period seeing that I’ve just had it last week’. She gripped both her mother’s palms and soothed ‘It’s only for three days. I’ll be back before you know it’. ‘But it’s the jungle and a mother always worries. You’ll call me each night right?’ Claire replied. ‘Errr … I don’t think my mobile will have any signal in the middle of the jungle Ma,’ said Anna to her wide eyed mother.

At 5:30 a.m., the thirty seven eager beavers gathered at the designated assembly point, ready to board the bus that will ferry them to the camp site. Two members failed to show up and the annoyed group leader, Bruce was trying to get through their mobiles to no avail. Anna and Wei Yee were chatting animatedly as they chewed on lukewarm fishballs on a stick they had earlier bought from 7-Eleven. Steve was still deciding between a can of Milo or Nescafe. A gleaming Mercedes S Class screeched to a halt and everyone turned to stare. Gabriel climbed out from the back seat, flashed a grin to Bruce and ran over to him to apologize. At that instant, Wei Yee nudged Anna to close her opened mouth which revealed some rather disgusting mashed up fish paste. ‘What is he doing here?’ exclaimed Anna to her friend. ‘How should I know,’ answered Wei Yee before popping the last fishball into her jaws. Less than a minute later, Bruce announced ‘Ok listen up everyone. As I’ve explained earlier, we’re going by the buddy system here, meaning you pick a partner and you look out for each other. If your partner is M.I.A, you report to me. If your partner is ill, you report to me. If your partner goes berserk in the middle of the jungle … you report to me. Am I understood?’ Majority murmured ‘Yes’. Now if there’s anyone who doesn’t have a partner yet, raise your hand,’ Bruce instructed. Everyone looked around and two hands were up. One belonging to Steve and the other, Gabriel. ‘There you go fellas, a match made in heaven. Now let’s get a move on. In an orderly fashion, store your belongings into the bus’s storage compartment and then board up, one pair at a time. Nobody leaves the bus once their in. Janice here will be taking your attendance,’ Bruce said gesturing to the petite bespectacled gal standing beside him. Janice waved at the rest of them cartoonishly.

Anna and Wei Yee were amongst the first few on board and they chose to sit two rows from the front. When Steve came up, he said to Gabriel ‘Hey, these are my friends, Anna and Wei Yee. Girls, this is Gabriel’. ‘We’ve met,’ answered Wei Yee frostily. ‘Great. Lets sit here,’ Steve said to Gabriel as he settled into the seat behind the girls, obviously not detecting the coldness in Wei Yee’s words. ‘Only if that’s ok with you?’ asked Gabriel looking at Anna. ‘It’s a free country,’ Anna responded.

The journey took a strenuous six and a half hours. Throughout the ride, Steve was painstakingly trying to get the three of them to warm up to each other. At last, he gave up and slept instead. Anna could feel the back of her neck prickling, as if Gabriel was sending electric pulses through his gaze from behind.

A Fairytail : Chapter 4

Over the next few days, Anna avoided Gabriel the best she could. She would go into class at the very last minute and sit as far as possible away from him. When the lecture is done, she would be the first one out, not giving him the opportunity to approach her. Many a times, in the classes they shared, she could feel his gaze piercing into her very soul but she brushed off the feeling, persuading herself that it was no more than a figment of her silly imagination. Then there are moments she could have sworn she heard him calling her name but she crudely dismissed the thought before she has had the chance to confirm it. Anna was resolute to expunge him from her life and so far, it’s going according to plan. This pleased and saddened her at the same time.

The college organised a fair for its clubs and societies to recruit their respective members. Tents of all sizes and colours were pitched in the open assembly area. With the latest songs on the pop chart booming from the speakers, it looked more like a carnival. Existing club members were trying their best to entice newbies to sign up with them. Pens, key chains and candies were the common bribes used to lure in potential recruits and it’s no surprise how efficient these insignificant hand-outs get the job done.

After spending hours, literally rubbing shoulders with the rest of the college community and putting the fine art of verbal rejection to good use, Anna and Wei Yee finally put their name down for the college’s Outdoor Society. The panoramic photos of happy campers beneath a gushing waterfall and the view of the sunrise taken from the summit of Mount Kinabalu promised an abundance of adventure ahead. Besides, they got a water tumbler each which they both thought was rather neat.

Anna saw Gabriel hanging out with a couple of jocks at the Soccer Club’s booth. The guys were generally gorgeous looking and blessed with matching physique. They were talking and laughing without a care in the world, knowing full well the effect they were emanating to the rest of the envious people around them. The rays of the afternoon sun bouncing off this group of immaculately groomed individuals radiated an aura of absolute coolness. Anna couldn’t help being bedazzled and she hated herself for it.

As if tugged by unseen forces, Gabriel suddenly stopped chatting, turned and looked directly at Anna. Their gazes locked and he offered her his trademark smile. The butterflies in her stomach fluttered furiously. This overwhelming sensation panicked her and she hurried towards Wei Yee who was already on her way to get a vanilla milkshake from the cafeteria. Her hasty action caused Anna to miss the look of dejection that registered on Gabriel’s face when she ignored his genuine show of affection.

Queuing up at the drink counter, Anna pleaded ‘Wei Wei, you need to help me get a grip of myself. I saw him and all my defences just crumbled’. ‘Just be like me. I saw him too. So just ignore him la. What’s it gonna be ... strawberry or vanilla?’ countered Wei Yee. ‘Vanilla ... no, wait, strawberry,’ Anna replied sheepishly. ‘Two milkshakes please. One vanilla and one strawberry,’ Wei Yee told the grumpy looking Chinese lady behind the counter who in turn screeched to her teenage daughter cum helper standing no more than three feet away ‘Meelk sake! Vaaneela chee pueh! Stobelee chee pueh!’. She faced the girls and said ‘Lak kor (Six Ringgit)’.

They chose to sit at a quiet corner and the only audible sounds were emitted from their straws as they sipped on the blend of artificially flavoured fluids.

Out of no where, a figure towered over them and said in a shrilly voice to Anna ‘Hi, I’m sure you remember me. I’m Maya. For some reason, Gabe thinks that I’ve offended you the other day and insist that I apologize. So here I am ... apologizing for his sake’. Anna didn’t know how to respond. She only thing in her mind was that gazing up at Maya, she could observe her neatly trimmed nose hair very clearly. ‘Yeap, you were right. She looks like a bitch. She dresses like a bitch and now she acts like one too. No doubt, a bitch through and through,’ said Wei Yee out loud as she glanced up at Maya and shot her a very phony grin. ‘HA. HA. Jealousy breeds idiocy,’ snapped Maya as she strutted away. Anna reached across the table to grip her friend’s hand and said ‘Thank you’. ‘Believe me, it was my pleasure,’ replied Wei Yee warmly with a cheeky wink.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Fairytail : Chapter 3

Afraid of being late for Mr. Ananda’s class, Anna broke into a sprint towards Lecture Hall 2. A text message from Wei Yee just came in, informing her that the burly lecturer was already arranging his slides on the projector and was about to begin. Pushing open the door as quietly as possible, she slithered into the hall and instantly spotted Wei Yee waving at her. Anna tip toed and settled herself into the seat her friend had earlier saved for her. ‘Phew,’ sighed Anna as she paused to breathe before taking out her notepad. ‘Living life on the edge huh,’ teased Wei Yee. ‘You know me,’ retorted Anna smartly.

As they were busy taking down notes, someone from behind tapped Anna’s shoulder. As she turned around, that stranger handed her a piece of folded paper and whispered ‘For you’. ‘Errr … thanks,’ replied Anna softly before turning around with the piece of paper in her hand. She unfolded the paper and read the scribbling

Hey, just wanted to apologize on behalf of Maya for what happened the other day. Would like to make it up to you. Coffee after class? My treat.


Anna knew Wei Yee had read the note as well. She turned towards her friend and raised her eyebrows. Wei Yee responded by rolling her eyes and carried on jotting down notes on the molecular structure of methyl bromide.

He stood waiting for her at the entrance of the college. She halted her walking to savour the moment. He was almost picture perfect. The breeze was blowing gently lifting his hair up for a moment before dropping them lightly across the sides his face again. Gabriel reminded her of a leading male lead in one of those tragic Korean drama series. An upward curl escaped from her lips uncontrollably.

She tugged on his sleeve and trying to sound as casual as possible, said ‘Hiya.’ He turned around and at once, gave her a heart melting smile. ‘Don’t blush Anna, don’t you dare blush,’ the thought to herself. ‘So where’s this coffee place? Is it near enough for us to walk to?’ she asked. ‘Yea. It’s just two blocks away. It opened a couple of months back. Just wait a moment k. Maya should be here any minute,’ he said looking around obviously for Maya. Anna felt as if she had been stabbed in her gut. ‘Actually, I just remembered I’m meeting someone else. I really got to go,’ she stammered. Crossing the street hastily, Anna heard Gabriel shouting her name. She turned around to offer him a half hearted wave and saw Maya sashaying towards Gabriel from behind, directing a smile most sinister at Anna. A bus stopped in front of her, erasing her view of Gabriel. She got in without caring if it is the right bus taking her home. Staring out at the window through teary eyes, Anna was trying in vain to put back together pieces of her broken heart.

Later that night ...

‘Aiya, forget about him la. He’s hardly worth it. Guys with looks like his, they’ll be flirting with the next girl in a short skirt the moment you turn your back on them,’ comforted Wei Yee. ‘Besides, you two have hardly spoken ten sentences to each other right?’ she added. ‘Yea, you’re right. He’s not worth it,’ Anna answered, trying to convince herself of the fact. *Pause* ‘But you know, it just feels different whenever I see him. It’s like the insides of my stomach are doing cartwheels, my heart beats a little faster and everything around me suddenly appears more … colourful. I know it’s stupid of me to feel this way but it’s just the way it is,’ Anna explained over the cordless phone tugged between her cheeks and shoulder. ‘Okay, okay, so you’ve got a major crush on the guy. It’s not hard to see why but how sure are you this is going to lead anywhere? I just don’t want to see my best friend getting hurt. Then I’d be forced to kick his ass and I really prefer to keep a clean record in college,’ Wei Yee responded. Anna couldn’t suppress a smile when reminded how wonderful a friend Wei Yee is to her. ‘Alright, I’m going to forget ‘bout him,’ exclaimed Anna. ‘You do that,’ Wei Yee replied. ‘I will. And thanks for hearing me out. Don’t know what will I do without you babe,’ Anna said trying to sound adorable. ‘You can buy me lunch tomorrow and I need to go shave my legs now before the WWF declares it the next protected rainforest reserve. G’nite girl,’ uttered Wei Yee before clicking the phone off.

The last thought Anna had before drifting off to sleep was how ridiculous it was to allow herself to feel so deeply for someone she barely knew.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Fairytail : Chapter 2

Their common classes were Chemistry, Physics and Modern Maths. Wei Yee stuck with Biology while Anna opted for Accounting. Anna’s better with numbers and besides, dissecting a live frog last year made her lose her appetite for the entire week. Nothing could persuade her to go through that gut wrenching experience ever again. Wei Yee on the other hand aspired to pursue medicine ever since she sat in her cousin’s fiancé’s flashy BMW. The way Dr. Eric discussed medical procedures over the phone with his colleague set an everlasting impression on the teenage Wei Yee then. Anna hasn’t set her target on her career choice, so she figured it would be best to select general subjects that will equip her with the broadest range of knowledge.

Since Accounting has less than fifty students all together, the lecture was conducted in a large classroom rather than a hall. Anna selected a seat three rows from the front and positioned her notepad and stationeries neatly on the table. The rest of the students were taking their places when someone occupied the seat next to her. She peeked and it was that guy. Her heart skipped a beat before he said ‘Just for the record, I was late for class because my car broke down. I had to wait for the tow truck to haul it to the workshop. So if you can, please convey my message to your friend, the wise one.’ She desperately wanted to say something but she was again spell bounded by his boyish grin. He swiped his hair, tucking it suavely behind his ear and stared at her.

Her mouth moved without words, like a fish out of water, gasping for air. Something clicked in her mind and she stuttered ‘Oh, I saw you. I mean I saw your car by the roadside when I was on the bus to college.’ Just then, the lecturer, Ms. Tan walked in and said ‘Alrightey class, page three on your textbooks please.’ ‘I’m Gabriel,’ he whispered. ‘Annabelle. Friends call me Anna,’ she replied as rushing blood reddened her cheeks.

The minutes ticked excruciatingly slow and by the time the 53 year old tutor ended her teaching, more than half the class were on their way to dreamland. People started making a bee line towards the exit of the class when a girl came and stood in front of Anna and Gabriel. ‘Hey Gabe,’ she said beaming her megawatt smile. ‘Hey there,’ replied Gabriel not matching her enthusiasm. Dressed to impress, the girl wore a short chequered skirt and a white shirt with four of her top buttons opened revealing the scarlet tube inside. Her attire magnified her physical attributes particularly zoning in on her legs that seems endless until it reaches her vivacious buttocks. She is what college society would generally term a hottie. ‘She your new plaything?’ asked the hottie obviously referring to Anna without looking. Anna who was attempting to ignore her while packing up her stuff couldn’t help but to glare at the girl, stunned at the disrespect directed towards her. ‘What? No!’ answered Gabriel at once. ‘This is Anna and she’s just a friend,’ he continued. ‘Whatever! The gang’s heading to Starbucks at the mall. Wanna come? We have loads to catch up on,’ she said suggestively. ‘Sure,’ Gabriel replied briskly. ‘Hey Anna, you wanna join us,’ he offered. Anna just shook her head, stood up and left abruptly. For some unexplainable reason, she felt upset by his statement ‘she’s just a friend’. Not far behind, Anna could hear the hottie laughing uproariously and on reflex, walked faster away.

‘So tell me all about your first day in college,’ enquired Claire as she made preparations for dinner. ‘It was nothing Ma. Just like high school except no uniforms and longer breaks. The hall was freezing though. Remind me to bring along my cardigan tomorrow ok,’ said Anna as she drank the milk straight from its carton box. Her tastebuds registered a vile sourness that naturally caused her face to contort. ‘The milk’s bad Ma,’ squeaked Anna as she rushed to the sink to gargle on tap water, ridding her tongue of the nauseating aftertaste. ‘I’m so sorry dear. I’ll get fresh ones tomorrow ok,’ said Claire as she quickly tossed the carton box with its expired liquid into the trash.

In the next three hours, Anna had made five agonizing visits to the bathroom. It’s evident that the milk is not going to go down quietly. In fact, her stomach was churning so badly that the doctor had to give her an injection in addition to the usual diarrhoea pills. Anna is terrified of syringes but comparing that to the piercing stirring in her belly, she gladly endured the former. Back home and resting on her bed, she texted Wei Yee ‘TERRIBLE STOMACH UPSET. NEED HUG :( WON’T BE GOING TO COLLEGE TOMORROW. SAVE ME YOUR NOTES’. Two minutes later, her mobile vibrated with a reply ‘REST WELL. DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE NOTES. WILL VISIT AFTER CLASSES. XOXO’. Anna switched off her night light praying that she won’t need to use the bathroom until morning.

Anna spent the morning slurping on tasteless noodle soup prepared by Claire before she headed out for work. For lunch, it was cream of mushroom from a can and some re-heated honey & oat bread. In between meals, she was channel surfing on the devil box and was pleased that she only needed to go to the bathroom once. The doorbell rang and she picked her weary self up to greet a smiling Wei Yee who had brought along a packet of tau foo fa (bean curd dessert) to share. They enjoyed the sweet pudding as Anna lazily browsed through the photocopied notes her friend had compiled according to subject. ‘Oh, dunno-what’s-his-name asked for you today,’ Wei Yee said out of the blue, her eyes still fixed on the TV. The image of Gabriel immediately floated into Anna’s mind and she casually replied, pretending not to care ‘Ummm, what did he say?’. ‘Nothing much. Just asked how come you weren’t in Accountancy today,’ Wei Yee said as she flipped to the Discovery channel. ‘I see, Errr ... was he with anyone then?’ Anna said while stirring her spoon in the empty dessert bowl. ‘Didn’t notice. Why do you care anyway?’ Wei Yee eyed Anna curiously. ‘OHH. You’ve got a thing for what’s-his-name!’ she gasped dropping the TV remote. ‘No la! And he’s got a name for crying out loud. It’s Gabriel,’ Anna replied a bit too loudly. ‘Yesterday, one of his girl friend referred to me as his new plaything. So I just wanted to know if that bimbo is still hanging around,’ Anna offered the explanation. As soon as she said it, even she herself couldn’t deny how lame the excuse sounded. ‘If you say so,’ replied Wei Yee with a naughty smirk.

A Fairytail : Chapter 1

‘ANNA!!! You’re gonna be late. Hurry up. Your toast is getting cold and I AM NOT going to make you another one,’ screamed Claire at her 17 year old daughter. ‘You will,’ whispered Anna as she curled and snuggled deeper into the comfort of her duvet. The same one she has been sleeping with for the past 13 years. Hand sewn by her Po Po and given as a gift on her 4th birthday, Anna practically couldn’t sleep without first whiffing on the familiarity of her own buried scent wafted from this ragged blanket.

14 minutes later ...

‘That’s it young lady! You’re going on your first day of college on an empty belly,’ hissed Claire as she forcefully open the curtain drapes, allowing the morning rays to explode in basking over every inch of Anna’s tiny room. ‘Okay, okayyy. I’m up,’ replied Anna groggily. Anna fisted her palm and rubbed first her left eye and then the right. A habit developed since young. She nonchalantly reached for her mobile tugged somewhere beneath her pillow and registered 6 smses and 2 missed calls. All from Wei Yee, Anna thought to herself and she was right. She could’ve guessed the contents of the messages and the calls and so didn’t bother reading them.

Her Sony digital clock reads 7:19 a.m. Cramped up next to her single bed is her double door-ed wardrobe filled up to the brim with clothing bought 3 weeks ago to those she has been wearing since she was 3 years old. Sentimental values were her excuse for not discarding them away. Propped on the other side of her bed is her study table. There isn’t an inch to spare on the pastel blue desk as it was piled with pirated music CDs, a box of Kleenex, a 2nd hand Acer laptop given by her Uncle Leon, notepads, stationeries, a half eaten packet of Cheezels and a photo frame of Wei Yee and her, taken two years ago during their class trip to the waterfall at Kota Tinggi. That leaves about a two feet walking space leading to the entrance. Yes, her room is painfully small but that’s all Claire, raising a child as a single mother could afford. David, Anna’s dad left the family eight months after she was born. It seems his leggy secretary was too hard to resist and they have not heard from him ever since. Not even through an occasional birthday or Christmas card. As far as mother and daughter are concerned, he never existed.

Anna brushed her almost perfect set of pearly whites and doused warm water on her face. She doesn’t subscribe to using chemical enhanced facial cleansers and her porcelain smooth complexion agrees. She tied her shoulder length hair into a solitary pony tail and put on her plain circular white gold earrings, given by her mom when she scored straight As in her finals last year. She dressed herself in a navy blue hoodie, thought better of it and changed into a red one. Paired it with her regular jeans, she slung her bag across her shoulder and bounced to the kitchen downstairs.

‘I’m done Ma,’ chirped Anna, faking cheerfulness over excessively. ‘I just made you another toast but it’s going to be the last time you hear me,’ said Claire stifling a smile. It’s the same game they have been playing since Anna started schooling. ‘Butter’s in the fridge,’ her mother added.

The bus ride took no more than 20 minutes before Anna spotted Wei Yee looking anxiously at her watch in front of the college’s foyer. ‘Wei Wei,’ shouted Anna across the street. Wei Yee rolled her eyes upwards and pointed at her watch. Anna skipped across to the foyer, smiled and said ‘Ohayo Wei Wei-san.’ ‘Didn’t you get my missed calls and smses?’ questioned Wei Yee irritatingly. ‘Oh you called?’ pretended Anna dramatically. ‘It’s ok la. We’re just in time. See the timetable says Chemistry starts at 8:15 a.m. and it’s only 8:07 a.m. my dear. I took longer to get here, some car stalled and caused a li’ll traffic jam,’ said Anna. ‘I know ding dong but all the good seats will be taken by now,’ grumbled Wei Yee as she dragged Anna up the stairs to Lecture Hall 2.

Wei Yee and Anna are best friends since they were in Primary 2 and have been inseparable ever since. They first cross path at the school’s bookshop. Both had their eye on the electric pink Barbie Doll pencil case and there was only one left for sale. Both girls raced to save enough money to make the purchase of a lifetime but it was bought by another classmate of theirs, Ayu. The spoilt little 8 year old spent the next several days gloating over her new ‘jewel’ to anyone who would listen. An incensed Anna and an infuriated Wei Yee decided to gang up and ‘not friend’ Ayu from that very moment on. That was how their bond was formed and it has only grown stronger over the past nine years.

‘See. I told you. Now we’re right at the back and I could hardly see what’s written on the board,’ complained Wei Yee. ‘I think it’s time you need glasses la. I can see it crystal clearly wo,’ Anna said. ‘Didn’t expect there to be that many students this early though. All so kiasu, just like you,’ as she stuck out her tongue cheekily at Wei Yee. In response, Wei Yee drew a blue line across Anna’s right arm just as the lecturer demanded everyone’s attention to start of the class.

The lecturer, Mr. Ananda boomed over the microphone and gave his usual pep talk as he has done over the past eleven years to students attending their first Chemistry class in the college. Fresh meat he calls them and he enjoyed terrifying his wide eyed pupils with statistics of failure percentages. He believed the exaggerated numbers should at least keep them on their toes for the time being.

Wei Yee was absorbing every horrifying detail Mr. Ananda was dishing out while Anna doodled sleepily on her brand new notepad. She glanced around and soon noticed the different groups segregated across the hall. The front rows were typically occupied by the nerdy ones. The girls in short cropped hair along the fringes with double china doll pig tails on each side while the boys creamed their comb over till it’s shiny enough to reflect the beaming fluorescence from the ceiling. Almost all of them wore thick glasses. Anna smiled to herself as she observed this scenario of unchangeable status quo. Along the center aisles, the hip and happening people assembled. Girls in their miniscule hot pants and spaghetti tops browsed through the week’s tabloids, hungry for the latest celebrity gossips while the boys chatted noisily about last night’s Champion League match between Liverpool FC and Real Madrid. Two other blokes were focussing intently on their PSP games, oblivious to the on goings around them. On the back row, a heavily pierced guy was in deep slumber. His face plastered on the desk, drool dribbling from the corner of his mouth. ‘YUCKS,’ thought Anna.

The door suddenly burst open startling both girls. Standing there was a silhouette of a guy. He was about to take his first step into the hall before Mr. Ananda voiced out ‘Leave my hall immediately young man. I DO NOT tolerate late comers.’ ‘That goes for the rest of you,’ he continued as he perused his gaze across the audience. The man then resumed his lecture ignoring the silent interrupter. The silhouette turned around and shut the door behind him.

‘I like Mr. Ananda,’ Wei Yee told Anna without looking at her. Two hours later, the students made their way out of the hall in a steady file. A few from the front row swarmed the lecturer, bombarding him with pressing questions. Mr. Piercing was still fast asleep despite the heavy noises surrounding him.

Anna packed her pens and highlighters and dumped her notes into her bag. They got up and slotted into the queue heading out. ‘Which elements did he asked us to researched on again?’ questioned Wei Yee as she shuffled through her scribblings. ‘Never mind, I found it,’ she answered her own query. They were on their way to the library. Reference books were needed for their homework. More than a hundred students fighting over a handful of copies available. Anna sighed at the thought of that. ‘Arghhh. Haven’t we already gone through all these in high school? Why is he making us do everything all over,’ Anna groused. ‘He simply wanted to refresh our minds I’m sure and I want to make a good impression. Come on Anna, let’s hurry before all the books are gone,’ replied Wei Yee increasing her pace.

At the library’s information counter, scores of students were barraging the exhausted looking librarian with their demands. Before they could scrum in with the rest of the crowd, a guy stood in front of them and said ‘Hey, weren’t you two in the Chemistry lecture earlier? Mind if I borrowed your notes?’ ‘Yes, we were in that class and yes, we do mind you borrowing our notes. This should help remind you to not be late in the future,’ Wei Yee curtly replied. ‘Now excuse us,’ she added as she hastily manoeuvred both of them around the guy. Anna couldn’t hear a word Wei Yee said. She was transfixed by the way his hair fell stylishly across his face, revealing little of his peeping eyes and that mesmerizing grin in the end. It was a good thing Wei Yee dragged her away for she couldn’t remember the last time she ever blushed this way before.

A Fairytail ...

Goaded by wifey, I've decided to write. Yes, as in pursuing my dream to publish a fictional novel. Don't laugh la. I know it sounds absurd but I've decided to give it a go anyway. At least when it's done, I can cross this one out of my to-do list. The past 3 nights, I've managed to 'finish' almost four chapters now and wifey had been most supportive though me think her opinions are biased. Nevertheless, she's the reason I'm putting virtual ink to paper and hence, I'm dedicating 'A Fairytail' to her. Yea, that's the title of my story.

As it's still a work in progress, I shall publish one chapter at a time on Adrian's Nook and your comments are most welcomed. It's ok to be brutally honest with your feedbacks ... I can take it ... I think :p

Anyway, for now ... putting it up on my blog is the closest I'll ever get to actually 'publishing' my work. I hope you peeps will enjoy it as much as I do, writing it.

Now let the journey of once upon a time begin ...