Caveat: This was a short story submitted to the Temasek Hall Creative Writing Competition and which won a distinction award of SGD$500. I wrote it in 2008. (I’d like to believe that my writing has improved since then, but please forgive a 17-year-old’s penchant for using big words.)
She hates this.
Every single moment it just gets worse, and worse. Of course she tried to escape, to close her eyes and to pretend nothing was happening, that it does not bother her at all. But it does not work; not at all. It simply mushrooms and engulfs her.
Whaam. Slurp. Burp.
Every single step that she takes seems to produce a deafening sound that resonates in the corridor, signaling for attention. The sole of her shoe kisses the floor at a regular interval, like a choir of altos humming monotonously. It is soft and loud at the same time.
Boom! Hmm. Boom!
Heads turn, and they all stare at her. People stop whatever they were doing the moment before. They know well that it is downright rude, but they also know that that look of amazement, disgust, embarrassment or pity – whatever it is – on their countenances cannot be masked no matter how hard they try.
Elaine is huge. It’s a fact.
She trudges in the bath of public attention, her eyes not meeting any of theirs. Not that she is oblivious to all this – she hates it so much. But the worst thing she can do is to manifest how fragile, how weak she is in front of the enemies. No, she is not going to grant them that sort of satisfaction.
Big girl with a sensitive soul? Ha, ha.
Little beads of sweat appear on her forehead as she walks on. She is panting, too. Thankfully her off-white blouse is only half-soaked – a tremendous improvement. (Maybe the anti-perspirant worked.) Much as she would want to think about something else – something other than her fat body which is perpetually drenched with sweat – she cannot; it is a burden that she can never evade.
“Ay!” someone calls after her.
The metronomic rhythm of Elaine’s footsteps came to a halt. Amongst the crowd she can spot Lim Jun Kai (big with a capital B), and a swarm of curious eyes. Figuring that it is probably a prank or, worse, a lower sec retard who has gasped a little too loudly, Elaine gathers her momentum and exits the scene. She is late for her running session.
Normality is restored and people get back to their own business, save for Lim Jun Kai.
He is staring into a blank space, the place where she stood just a moment ago. He has been through all this, too. He knows how daunting it is to have people goggling at you like you are a monster. He understands how naked it feels to be under public scrutiny. He remembers how much it hurts when you are stabbed over and over, crying like a baby deep inside but have to put up a nonchalant façade to show the world that you do not care, while secretly cursing, hating yourself for caring so much.
It frustrates him how overtly Elaine displays her disgust for him. While he understands perfectly that the prospect of making friends with an obese guy (“President of the TAF Club”, they call him) who is an object of ridicule (fine, maybe the object of ridicule) in school might not exactly seem thrilling, she shuns him as if she could contract a STD the moment they make any eye contact.
Slowly but firmly, Jun Kai ejects his gaze.
There is at least this one thing that he has to tell her.
She is dying. Running two rounds seems to be way beyond her limits – every tissue in her body is screaming at her, threatening to burst any moment. Her muscles are tearing. Words like “pain” and “agony” are circling in Elaine’s mind.
_ Why the pain?_
So far exercising has not done her any good – in fact, the activity itself seems extremely dubious, for, after several weeks of strenuous trainings, Elaine gained a considerable amount of weight instead of shedding it.
_ Maybe the authors who wrote the dieting books are all liars._
Daily workouts, fitness tips, slimming pills… all to no avail. She is still the same old Elaine, fat and round and sad. It amazes her whenever she evokes how highly motivated and determined she was, to the extent that she made a solemn pact with Shi Hui to have her as a personal trainer and mentor (and hence the running sessions).
_ Why the toil?_
Her emergent doubts are triumphing over her former faith; perhaps, no matter how hard one tries, there are some things that cannot be changed or achieved; an omnipotent obstacle that cannot be conquered. (The jargon is “social predeterminism”, she believes.) This essentially means that some people are just destined to be great and revolutionary, like Gandhi, like Hawking, like Shi Hui. The others, who are one or a few castes lower, are set to lead a brute and miserable life, wasting their time throughout. It will always be one fruitless attempt after another.
_ Elaine will always be Elaine. Not an iota of difference._
_ _ She feels slightly nauseous. Trembling, she drags herself to the nearest drain, bends down, and expels the sickly liquid.
Fifty metres away, Shi Hui has been watching.
Instinctively she wanted to rush forward the instant Elaine’s face grew pale, but Shi Hui has her reservations. First of all it might be rude or inappropriate to intrude; Elaine might prefer to be left alone. Secondly (and perhaps most importantly), she has no idea whether Elaine even likes her.
A mixture of envy and jealousy, that is for sure, plus a tinge of admiration at times; what troubles her most is the odd expression that is occasionally seen on Elaine’s countenance. It is something that Shi Hui could not quite name. It is foreign, and it scares her. She does not like it.
One of the reasons why Shi Hui has an affinity for Elaine is that she is tame and pitiful. She adores the rush of self-satisfaction and covertly embraces the air of superiority when the two of them are together. Sometimes she wonders if that qualifies them as friends.
After weighing the options, she thinks it would be the best for her to stay where she is, instead of marching up to Elaine and getting coated with vomit. Not to mention that it stinks, the smell would linger for days, if not weeks. Besides, Elaine has always been strong; Shi Hui knows that she will pull through. She trusts her.
_ Friends trust each other, no? This is well justified._
She sashays down the stairs without another glance.
This is folly; nevertheless Jun Kai already arrives at the Sports Complex.
It is now or never.
Then he spots Elaine, half-squatting, vomiting at the drain. It is complete mayhem, the greenish vomit forming a stark contrast with her decolorized lips. She looks like she might collapse any second. Naturally he searches for Shi Hui, her best friend, but there is no one else in sight.
It is now or never.
Jun Kai makes a dash. She is on the verge of unconsciousness, and gratefully accepts the water from Jun Kai. While she is guzzling it, he tries his best to clean her up. It proves to be a nasty job; he had to suppress his urge to vomit all the while. By the time blood finally returns to Elaine’s face and a delicate tinge of pink creeps over her cheeks (Jun Kai is smiling), she gradually opens her eyes.
Registered on her face is not a look of gratitude, but one of horror. Jun Kai’s heart sinks.
Elaine is nonplussed when the revelation strikes her; the fact that Lim Jun Kai is right beside her, touching her, and that he is, due to some unknown reason, smeared with puke – is simply too much to digest.
She wants to scream, but all there is is an awkward silence.
It is now or never.
Elaine was grappling to break away from Jun Kai frantically, but there is a certain authority in his voice that ceases her struggle.
“I am not gonna explain why I’m in this situation. It doesn’t matter, anyway,” Nervous, he habitually licks his lower lip. To keep Elaine’s attention from diverting, he continues. “There is one thing I want to tell you (Elaine gives an incredulous look).”
“You are not Shi Hui (at this point she begins kicking and twisting), so don’t try to be. You are Elaine, and that itself is brilliant enough (she is reduced to silence; the sudden confession makes her uncomfortable). ”
“You are beautiful the way you are. Please tell yourself that.”
Now he is blushing fiercely, his face scarlet. All of a sudden he looks minuscule. Without another word, he shies away.
Elaine is stunned. She has yet to see any logical link in the chain of events. Although, she has to admit, it feels good to hear someone tell you that you are beautiful.