Dying is an art.
I learned this as I died a little more each day. Death was something dark and deep, threatening to suck away everything in life that held meaning. But still, it was covered up with colors and swirled with the paintbrush of time.
What lovely, beautiful words live inside my head! What deep, dark things spring to life, pushing through those beautiful words until I feel ugly inside. This is why I feel as if I am dying, shriveling away a little more each day.
Why do they make me feel stupid? Why do they think they are better than I? They laugh at me behind their fingers, as if I cannot see their lips moving. As if I cannot hear the words they speak so loudly.
Why do they tell such lies? Why do I listen to them?
“Jing-Mei!” Teacher Ana rapped the top of her desk with her knuckles. “Pay attention!” She waved a hand, trying to catch my attention and draw it solely to her. “We are discussing the quadratic formula for…”
Her voice faded from my consciousness, becoming an echo in the back of my mind. The Singapore Chinese School for Girls was a dream coming through for the innocent little girl I once was. Now I am sixteen years old, almost.
They told me I would graduate this year. I don’t believe them. I am behind in so much, math especially. In a country where math is prized, where I have studied it for years, only now my mind chooses to reject it.
Other girls have noticed. Hua no longer studies with me. Cheng continues to spread lies about me even though I have done nothing to her. Yet others avoid me still.
I am not stupid. I am not losing my mind.
I may be losing my soul.
Teacher Ana gave up on me. I saw it in her eyes and in the suit of school colors, gold and jade. She does not understand. Instead, she will send me to the counselors, because I am not paying attention.
How do I explain this darkness plaguing me, this sudden inability to appreciate life and think in philosophical sentences that seem so far beyond? I feel ancient, as if I have lived for many years, and now carry a cumbersome burden of knowledge.
Cheng teases me mercilessly, laughing at my sloppy homework and smirking in the mirror when I cannot follow in dance class.
I think I could hate her.
Class has ended, and I am sucked through the door into the flow of other students. If Teacher Ana wished to give me another counselor permission slip, she would have to find me another time. At present, I needed fresh air and openness, to be away from the confines of this strange version of normal.
Xia joined me soon. She is a friend I do not deserve and yet she is like a sister to me. “Are you okay?” She polished her glasses on the edge of her skirt. “Is Cheng still-”
“Yes.” I interrupted. “Yes.”
“You must stand up for yourself.” But as she speaks, she stares at her hands.
The thought terrifies her more than I. “I know.”
We sit in the courtyard, under the green trees, staring out in the beauty of Singapore, our home. We are distanced from the hustle and bustle of other folks living their daily lives. We live in a bubble promising to make our lives richer.
“Will you?” Xia asked, as the bells begin to ring, signifying a meal to be served.
I could not answer her yet, so I did not.
Somehow our friendship lasted through the silence of the remaining school weeks. When Teacher Ana finally hands out the grades. I do not want to know mine, but I have done my best.
Cheng glared at me from her desk across the aisle. My fingers trembled as I turned the paper over. The letter at the top is a surprise. It reads “A”.
Relief washes over me like tsunami, crashing to the rocks as Cheng snatches the paper from my desk. Teacher Ana can’t see her.
Xia shifted behind me, but she cannot stop the words coming out of Cheng’s mouth. The smile on my face remained fixed, as empty as the unsigned counselor permission slips I now use as bookmarks. The cruelness of her nature pierces deeper inside and before I can resist, I die a little more.
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