Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A Short Story : An Hour Ago

Submitted as the final assignment for a subject I'm taking.

I ordered a cup of Nescafe. I needed it, after the twenty minutes ride in the lift. Nothing much happened save for a few small events like helping someone pushing the cafeteria cart into the lift, or waiting for the lift’s doors to open and point and shout to surprise some waiting friends outside. There were also some familiar faces, who I had seen twice or more during the ride. The sound of metal meeting glass is only soothing when the sound is made by stirring a cup of coffee, or Nescafe in my case. I took a sip. It has a bitter taste. I could not afford the cup with the sweetener, so I had to settle with something that is exactly one ringgit. The money was from a reserved section of my wallet. I will replace it later.

I took the time to observe the behaviour of my fellow students in the cafeteria. The time was 4.30 in the afternoon and the cafeteria was deserted except for a small number of souls. No lecturers were spotted, and I assumed that either they are teaching their respective classes or they had gone home early. After all, tomorrow is the National Day and I guess that everyone is looking forward to it. The rumour that the first of September will be a public holiday certainly has an effect on everyone, myself included. If it turns out to be true, then it will be a long weekend and certainly a time for relaxation and to finish off the pile of work that is accumulating in my backpack.

My attention was diverted to a girl sitting at a table near the door. She was with her friend, and she was not wearing her usual attire this day. A white jacket with black stripes running down the arms. She is a little shorter than me, though I won’t use the word short to describe her. Petite, maybe. From what I could gather, she is from outstation and is staying in one of the Swinburne hostels. We were in the same class last semester, and that is how I got to know her. I could not see her face as she was sitting with her back to me. I have taken a liking to her, though I must say that this liking is not a crush of any sorts. No conversation had happened between us, except for once when I asked her to fill in a questionnaire for my research class.

A girl, wearing a blue jacket and glasses was reading a newspaper. What interested me is not the girl, but the newspaper. As soon as she left her seat, I slithered between the chairs to her table and grabbed the newspaper. The front page is full with pictures. Pictures of a garbage bin and letters. The letters told of a sad tale: a mother, who gave birth to her fifth child, was diagnosed HIV positive. It was written in a journal form, day by day as she learned of her disease and her baby’s fate. I could not make out anything else since the text is blurry and the header of the paper, which appears to have markings of a hotel’s name, has been censored. What appeared to be a normal, plain looking garbage bin to some people is a container of secrets instead. The photograph showed bags, papers and pieces of cloth strewn about the bin. It is likely that the letters came from one of the bags or are the papers themselves. The third page of the newspaper tells more about the mysterious writer. But I could only look at the pictures and guess the meanings haphazardly since I could not read Chinese characters, except for a few basic ones.

I took this time to message someone in Samarahan. I know her, but she doesn’t. Or so I thought, as when I called her on the 22nd, she indicated that she knew me. Four years of my life have been spent trying to pursue her, and not once had I opened my mouth to tell her about this, until the 22nd. Can it be done? I must admit, my social skills are lacking and I’m not up to date with the latest slang in the Short Messaging System. I whispered to God for help, and I pressed the ‘send’ button.

Since the girl who sat near the door had left, the coffee’s nearly finished, and having turned to the last page of the Chinese daily, I decided that it was time to leave. After all, when I sat there reading the newspaper and exercising the science of observation, I was struck with ideas to fill in a journal. A short ride in the lift later, I found myself at the sixth floor annex. At this time of the day, it is so empty that one could type essays on the computer while tapping the keyboard loudly and that will be the only sound heard, aside from the librarian’s constant mouse clicking. The occasional sound of a police helicopter broke the silence, as it is, after all, the night before National Day celebrations. I sighed with anger as I remind myself of another Malaysia Day, forgotten.

I believe it is time for me to go. The cold air has turned my fingernails purple, not with envy but with lack of oxygen. The librarian is arranging the chairs back into place, switching the lights in the discussion room off and tidying their desks. What amuses me is that two people have left their laptops on the table, apparently unconcerned about their possession. A moment. I heard something loud and noisy outside the door. Apparently, they had returned. I cursed as their return means the silence will be broken for the duration of their stay. Well, I guess it is quite hopeless to continue this journal without the pristine sound of silence. I would rather have Simon and Garfunkel singing their trademark song in this room. As I saved this file, I murmured something as I checked my phone’s inbox.

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