I believe you (a contemp.., p.1
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       I Believe You (A Contemporary Novel), p.1

           Low Kay Hwa
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I Believe You (A Contemporary Novel)
I Believe You

  Low Kay Hwa

  Copyright Low Kay Hwa 2012

  1

  I had never expected my first day of school to be so interesting.

  It would take at least an hour for the bus to reach my new school, National Junior College. I had only brought a small bag that contained a few sheets of paper, a pencil case and a Discman. I presumed that the tutors would not teach us anything on the first day of school. After all, they claimed that it was supposed to be an “Orientation Day”. I was not looking forward to it. In fact, I dreaded it.

  I managed to find a seat in the crowded bus. Most of the passengers were students in unironed uniform. When the bus started moving, I closed my eyes, ready to sleep through the hour-long ride that would take me all the way from Jurong West to Bukit Timah.

  “Hey, hello!” someone in the standing crowd yelled. I woke up from my dazed dreams and looked up. A guy standing near the entrance smiled at me. He was wearing the same uniform as mine. “Hello!” he yelled again.

  Almost all the passengers looked at me. The bus was at Bukit Batok, which meant it was still pretty far from National Junior College. I squinted. It was Jacky Wu, one of my ex-secondary schoolmates. I did not reply. Instead, I searched for my Discman, pretending not to hear him.

  “Hello to the girl searching for something in her bag!” Jacky shouted again. This time, a few passengers giggled. I kept my head low and finally found my Discman. I inserted the earpieces into my ears immediately. “Hello to the girl listening to a Discman!” he continued. I pressed the “Play” key continuously, but there was no sound. “Hello to the girl wearing the same uniform as me!” he pressed on. The batteries must have run out of juice. Not now! “Hello to the girl wearing glasses! Hello! Hello! Hello!” Almost all the passengers were waiting for me to acknowledge Jacky.

  “Hello to Joanna!” He finally said my name. I knew there was only one way to shut him up and put an end to my embarrassment. I smiled at him. He seemed pleased and did not say anything anymore.

  The bumpy journey went on for another forty minutes. He alighted at the same stop as me, but I was quick enough to evade him and dashed to the school as fast as I could.

  *   *   *

  Jacky and I had only held one conversation when we were in secondary school, and it lasted for less than three minutes. We had never been in the same class.

  Jacky was one of the popular guys in school. He had sharp features, a lean build and whenever he talked, people laughed. Many girls drooled over him, but the rumour was that he did not have a steady girlfriend.

  One day, when we were in secondary three, Jacky was invited on stage to crack a joke during an assembly period. If he could get everyone to laugh, he would win a prize. He thought for a while before saying, “There was once a …” I was not listening to him. I was totally lost in my thoughts.

  When he finished his joke, there was a long silence. Suddenly, the hall exploded into ripples of laughter. My classmates around me laughed like mad people; even the teachers laughed aloud. I frowned, unable to fathom what kind of joke could set everyone laughing so insanely.

  When the laughter subsided, a teacher wanted to pass Jacky a prize, but he declined it. “Someone didn’t laugh,” he announced. For some reason, people laughed again. He pointed to my direction and said, “That girl didn’t laugh.” I glanced around me, hoping that he was not referring to me.

  “Which girl?” the teacher asked.

  “That girl with glasses and long hair.”

  The teacher stared at me. “You mean the girl with tied hair?”

  “Yeah, that’s the one. She never laughs!”

  I clenched my fists. How can a big guy like him be so petty?

  “Joanna!” the teacher said. “You didn’t laugh?”

  I kept quiet. To have my name called out in an assembly period did not feel good. “Joanna, can you please wake up from your dreams and laugh at my joke?” Jacky said and some people giggled loudly. “I beg you.”

  My classmates urged me to stand up. Feeling the pressure and the lack of time to go through my options, I stood up and said sarcastically, “Ha, ha, ha.” Then I sat down and buried my head under my hands.

  Everyone laughed—again. I promised never to forgive that Jacky Wu for embarrassing me in front of three hundred people.

  After school that day, he came forward and apologized. “Hey, I’m sorry about just now. Was just trying to be funny. I hope you’re not offended?”

  I shook my head.

  “Jacky Wu,” he introduced himself.

  “I know. The famous and arrogant Jacky Wu.” I had not expected myself to say that. “Joanna. Joanna Fung.”

  “I never expected myself to be arrogant. But famous? I agree.” He smiled. “Are you always so introverted and…unfriendly?”

  “Unfriendly?” I glared at him. “I never expected myself to be unfriendly, Jacky.” I walked off quickly, not wanting to continue the conversation.

  “But you’ve got like…no friends at all!”

  I pretended I did not hear his comment. I continued to walk off. What he said then was true. I had classmates, but I had like…no friends at all. Except for one. Just one.

  *   *   *

  Actually, there was no way for me to avoid Jacky completely in a small school like National Junior College.

  He was everywhere. I had tried all means to avoid him, but failed. “Hey, Joanna. What a coincidence! We’re going to be schoolmates for the next two years as well!”

  “Yeah,” I replied.

  “What class are you in?”

  “03A02.”

  “Oh my gosh!” He covered his mouth and jumped around like a monkey. “We’re in the same class! Can you believe it? Jacky and Joanna in the same class! How cool is that?”

  I was imagining how a monkey would blend into my class. The bell rang soon after that. We strolled towards the hall and searched for our class number. He offered to sit beside me. I glared at him, but he just smiled. I had no reason to reject him; therefore, I said nothing.

  Firstly, the principal told us about the history of the school, then several other tutors said more boring things. We were, by then, trying hard to keep our eyes open. When they were done, we sang the school song with the lyrics in front of us.

  “Okay, as you all know, we’re going to have an orientation programme for these first few days…” a tutor announced.

  “It’s going to be fun,” Jacky whispered to me. “I’ve got a friend in J2. He told me it’s gonna be very exciting.”

  When I heard what he said, I regretted not skipping school that day. We were led to the field, class by class, just like in primary school. Jacky kept on telling me how excited he was.

  “JC life is going to be one of the best!” he exclaimed. “You’re going to enjoy it; it’s unlike secondary school! There’s more freedom, schoolwork is called tutorial, the teachers are called—”

  “Sorry, Jacky…” I turned to him. “Would you please…shut up?”

  He just laughed it off and talked to other people, not offended. But I felt something. I headed to the toilet to wash off my tears. I had just told Jacky to shut up. I had just scolded Jacky.

  I had just cursed Jacky. Oh, damn it. What the hell have I done? I should just shut up.

  *   *   *

  The objective of the first game was to remember names.

  Water balloons were thrown at students who forgot others’ name. After an hour, we were able to remember everyone’s name. The next game was played with the aim of recognizing voices.

  The boys and girls were separated. A curtain partitioned them and, when a girl spoke, the boys had to guess who the gir
l was. After a few rounds, I was chosen to say something for the boys to guess.

  “Come on, say something! A joke, or something like that!” the seniors urged me.

  I did not know what to say, so I just muttered, “Ha, ha, ha.”

  Almost instantly, I heard Jacky’s voice on the other side. “It’s Joanna! Joanna Fung, that thin girl!”

  Ah, that bastard.

  2

  When I reached home that evening, Landy was lying on the sofa, crunching a bag of potato chips I had bought a few days ago.

  “How’s your first day of school?” she asked. She had small eyes and a sharp nose. I had always believed that she was one of the most beautiful women in the world—if not, the most beautiful Asian. For a long period, I had hoped I had the same features as her. I even desired to live her life: carefree, with boys queuing to hold her hand.

  I told her everything about Jacky and the embarrassment that he had caused. Landy was the only person to whom I could pour out my sorrows. She would often drop by my flat for a chat. When I was not in, Grandma would open the door for her.

  “So what, you’re going to avoid him for the next two years?” Landy said. “I bet he’s going to stick to you these two years.”

  “You know I can’t talk to him,” I muttered. “I can’t harm him.”

  “Make sense.” Landy poured herself a cup of coffee and relaxed on the sofa. “Don’t you fall in love with him.”

  “I’ll never!” I retorted. “I mean…I…”

  “Never is a very strong word,” Landy said. “Remember your curse. Remember. If you fall in love with him, you’ll harm him.”

  I lay beside her and memories of how Mum died came back to me. “I know.”

  We spent the next two hours trying to figure out how to stay away from Jacky. And two hours later, we fell asleep on the sofa with no solution in mind.

  *   *   *

  There was no way for me to avoid Jacky completely.

  During lectures, he would sit beside me and I had no right to decide where he sat. He would try very hard to start a conversation, but I would always hint him to shut up by giving him a glare. It often worked; but a few minutes later, he would be talking again.

  During lunch break, we would eat together. He always offered to help me buy my favourite drink, soya bean milk. I wanted to tell him off, to say that I preferred to eat alone; but when he returned with my soya bean milk, I would just give up and eat my meal in silence, trying hard to keep my eyes off him.

  Rumours about us being an item surfaced after a few weeks. Jacky was especially concerned about disclaiming them. However, no one believed him. One day, he even threatened to beat anyone who spread the rumours; that was the first time I saw his trademarked smile vanish from his face.

  “Why do you get so angry when people say something about us?” I asked him that day.

  “I don’t wanna tarnish your reputation. What if no one dares to woo you?” he said. “I don’t wanna destroy your future.”

  “Then why are you still sticking to me every day?” I said.

  It took him a while to register the question—or find the answer. “I…” He smiled once more. “I wanna help you. To see you smile.” He turned away, then whispered again, “To see you smile.”

  “Why?”

  “I want to do something meaningful while I can.”

  Ironically, I frowned and ended the conversation. That night, I told Landy about what Jacky had said, and we spent over three hours pondering on what he had meant. And, as usual, we had no conclusion.

  *   *   *

  Four months later, on a Tuesday morning, Mrs Goh, our literature tutor, declared, “Every year, we have a drama competition organized by ELDDS. Every class is encouraged to send a team forward. This competition, I believe, will help a lot in your literature. So I’m going to get this entire class to join.”

  The students whispered protests, but Mrs Goh insisted. “Every one of you will help out in creating a play.”

  Michael, one of the noisier guys, volunteered to be the scriptwriter. We spent the next fifteen minutes trying to find a suitable plot. In the end, we settled for the final scene in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. It was the scene when Romeo drinks the poison and Juliet wakes up to find a dead Romeo.

  However, there would be an interesting change to it. They would speak in Singlish—Singaporean creole English—to add a Singaporean touch. And Juliet would drink the poison instead. We reckoned that would add points to our play.

  “Okay, who’s good at acting here?” Mrs Goh glanced around the class. “Let’s find a Juliet first…hmm, whose name starts with ‘J’?”

  “Me!” Jacky raised his hand in ecstasy. “Me, me!”

  That idiot.

  “You wanna be Juliet?” Mrs Goh said and the class erupted into laughter. “We need a girl, Jacky. It’s supposed to be a sad scene, not a funny scene where a macho guy acts as Juliet.”

  Jacky giggled and said, “Okay, I volunteer to be Romeo then.” Several male students heaved sighs of relief. “But I have a request.”

  “What’s that?”

  I looked up at Jacky. He was staring at my eyes. Oh, shit. I don’t like that look. “I want Joanna to be Juliet. J for Joanna.” The whole class cheered as if Andy Lau had just sung a song.

  That guy just won’t let me study in peace, will he?

  *   *   *

  We had our first rehearsal in the school hall a few days later. It was unlike the normal tragic ending in Romeo and Juliet. We had to add in Singlish discourse particles like “leh”, “lah” and “oei” into our sentences to make it sound more interesting. I wondered if it would change the scene from tragedy to humour.

  “No…cannot be…you cannot die one…” I cried without tears. Jacky lay on the floor with his eyes closed. His lips were trembling, threatening to laugh any moment. “If you die, I also die then!” He could control it no more: He laughed out loud, infecting the entire hall with laughter as well.

  And I always frowned when they laughed because it would mean another round of rehearsal. Every time there was a rehearsal scheduled after school, I would think of numerous excuses to skip it; but in the end, I would still attend the rehearsal.

  *   *   *

  When I told Landy about my role as Juliet in the play, she laughed for fifteen minutes. “You, Juliet? Juliet!”

  I had not expected my best friend to react in that way. Actually, I was hoping for some comforting words from her. I kept quiet and when she sensed my displeasure, she lowered her voice and said, “You don’t like it?”

  “I don’t like it,” I answered. “I don’t like talking.”

  “Are you going to ‘curse’ anyone in the script?”

  “No. I’ll be following the script. No worries.”

  “Then it should be fine,” Landy replied. “You will enjoy yourself. After all, Jacky is Romeo. It will create a romantic—”

  “Landy!” I cut in. “Don’t start!”

  Grandma came out of her room and stared at both of us with her eyebrows lowered. She could not see well and often mistook any girl of my age as me while in the streets. She hobbled towards the kitchen with the help of her walking stick and muttered, “Is that Landy? You talking to Landy? It’s late. Landy, don’t you have to work tomorrow?”

  “Tomorrow is my day off, Grandma. I’m going to have a nice, long chat with Joan—I meant, Juliet!” Landy exclaimed and we chuckled. I helped Grandma to the toilet and then back to her room. When we were alone again, Landy said, “That Jacky seems to be interested in you, Joanna.”

  “Don’t give a damn. I will never like him.”

  “Let’s try to analyse what he meant when he said he wanted to help you.”

  With that, our girls’ talk lasted for more than three hours. And once again, we did not come to any conclusion.

  *   *   *

  We were supposed to get a song for our play.

  Almost everyone had his or her
own view. Some preferred a love song, whereas others preferred Mozart’s music. A few of us even thought that including a song in the play was a bad idea. After discussion, we decided to go to HMV in The Heeren to see if we could find a suitable song.

  When we reached the place, they rushed into HMV as if they were children in Toys"R"Us. I sat at the edge of a fountain outside HMV. To my surprise, Jacky did not go in as well. He sat beside me and cleared his throat. “Not going in?”

  I shook my head. The loud music inside the store always gave me a headache.

  “Well, me neither. Bad for the ears,” he said, slapping his ears. Then he laughed at his own joke. “Well then, I’ve dug out another secret of yours. Secret number ninety-one of Joanna Fung: She does not like music stores. It’s the same secret as mine. I don’t like music stores too.”

  “Good for you.”

  “Then how did you get your CDs?”

  “Through a friend.”

  “Okay, great, secret number ninety-two of Joanna Fung: She does have friends outside school! That’s good! That’s very good! That’s damn really freaking good!”

  “It’s not funny,” I mumbled and looked up. “I’m going up to Adidas to have a look.”

  “Count me in.”

  We went up and browsed for about ten minutes, then met up with our classmates. They had all decided on a theme song. It was “Only Love” by Trademark. Jacky and I both agreed with their choice.

  We went back to school that evening for another rehearsal. The play was due in three months. For the first time, we did the entire play without an NG. The song was played first, and then it faded away as I entered the stage to see an unconscious Jacky on the floor. I walked slowly towards him and sat beside him, my tears dripping (the magical eye drops).

  “Romeo…no…cannot be…you cannot die one…” I pressed my head to his chest and could hear his heart beating. “You promised me so many things…so many things! You must not die…open your eyes leh…” I then yelled, “No!”

  The song played again for a while. When it faded away, I held up the cup of poison beside me and said, “What for I live when you died already…? If you die, I also die then!” Then, I downed the poison (it was green tea) and, within the same second, I shook my head gently and fell on Jacky.

  The chorus of the song played loudly for a minute or so. I could feel Jacky moving a little, and then his voice came. “Juliet? Juliet! Juliet!”

  He must have found out about the poison when he whispered, “No, Juliet …” I knew he had stabbed himself when he slumped onto my back.

 
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