This was originally written for a short story writing contest. It failed to get any awards but I am confident that with minor tweaks, it can be successful next time. Since I intend to use the same story (with tweaks) in the same contest next time, I'd appreciate if readers only keep this story to yourselves. This means that you may read, copy or transfer the copied story anywhere you like, but you may not publish this story anywhere else. If I hear this story published anywhere else, I'll be pissed. If I hear this story published anywhere without my name mentioned, I'll go ballistic on you, literally.
I knew her back when we were in college. I took notice of her in Islamic Studies class when she adamantly refused to wear a tudung. It created a bit of commotion at first because she said that she never believed in the religion and that she was only in this class because she was a Muslim by birth. An understandable fact since to be a Muslim in Malaysia, you only need to be born into a Muslim family. Muslim in Malaysia was defined as people whose identity cards state Islam as their religions, even when they hadn't practiced the religion for their entire life.
To think that such frank words were spoken by someone who looked as sweet and adorable as her, it just puts into perspective some things that never crossed my mind before.
That was the first time that I took notice of her, and admired her courage to stand up for what I saw as an injustice. The lecturer eventually gave up and left her alone, though throughout the semester, I could catch some snide remarks that were obviously aimed at her. I might've been the only one who detected it though, because if the others did, they didn't show it.
How sad was it? To be forced to be the person you're not. To be part of a religion of which you do not believe in? To be labelled a murtad when she was never given the opportunity to choose, when she never had any faith in the religion in the first place?
I spoke to her after that first class and we became best friends almost instantly. I told her how I love the fact that she stood up for what she believed in or in this case, not believed in. She told me how much she loved my outfit. For some reason, hearing that from her made me feel good.
She told me once during dinner that based on the constitution, she could theoretically un-Muslim herself. The only problem was, if she did that, she would not be Malay either since the definition for Malay included being a Muslim.
I asked her then, "IF you're not Malay, then what are you?"
"Exactly, if I un-Muslimed myself, it would also mean that I un-Malayed myself," she replied as she took her drinks.
"Then you would have two empty spots in your Identity Card."
"I know, if I don't consider it pathetic, I probably would've been rolling on the floor laughing out loud. I mean, I can't declare myself as Chinese, since I'm not sure if my family descended from the Chinese. Same problem with declaring myself as an Indian. It's not like anyone in my family ever made a research on which race we descended from."
She grinned, then continued, "Maybe I'll write myself up as French or Russian. Too bad I can't speak either language."
"Why not declare yourself as a Jakun or Penan?" I joked.
She replied by catapulting her coleslaw with her spoon, which fell right on top of my rice. That day I found out that rice and coleslaw really shouldn't mix.
That wasn't the only time we made fun of the follies of the system. There was once when we made fun of the authorities for giving tickets to people who parked at the correct places without paying but letting traffic offenders who openly defy traffic laws free reign.
I guessed in a way, we're sort of like anarchists, or separatists. Or was there a better term for it?
I'm ashamed to say that I was the direct opposite of Lydia when it comes to life and death. Where she celebrates life, I celebrate death. Where she always favoured life, I constantly sought death. I never did find out why I was like this, to see life as cheap and unworthy of treading on. To constantly seek my own end, repeatedly and without remorse. Maybe I'm just weird, maybe I'm one of those not suitable for a life in the fast lane.
Regardless, it didn't change the fact that I attempted suicide many times. Often, for some very simple reasons, such as failing an exam, running on debts, dumped by my boyfriend and even having a B- in one of my subjects. I've tried many methods of suicide, but unfortunately, either it didn't work, or I was too chicken to do it.
I've learnt from experience that a simple intention for suicide is not enough to end your life. You need to be in extreme pain and despair for it to work. Whoever said that committing suicide is a coward's way of running from reality must've been idiots. Have they themselves tried committing suicide? Did they have any idea how much courage you need to take that final step towards oblivion? Or how hard it was to move your fingers closer to the wrist and how hard it was to actually run the razor across your veins? Did they have any idea how painful and torturous it was when you're hanging by your neck? Have they ever thought how scared one felt before the knife stabbed into one's heart?
No, they didn't. They never knew how scary it was. How only those who had nothing more to lose were able to succeed. The only thing they knew about was how 'cowardly' such an act was and how ashamed and sad their families would've felt. How could they preach about feelings and families when it wasn't the families who would be taking that final step? Maybe someone should hold the person who dared to preach such things to the edge of a skyscraper's roof and let them feel the fear jumpers felt before they took the final leap. That should teach them not to preach about things they did not know anything about.
I was, for lack of better terms, one of these 'suiciders'. I attempted it many times, all failed. I attempted hanging myself, but I merely hung there for what must've been hours before my housemate found me and pulled me down. It was selfish, I know, and I gained nothing from it other than a lot of scolding and a very sore neck. Then there was the time when I attempted suicide by panadol overdose, didn't work either. Someone obviously had been exaggerating about the dangers of panadol overdose, because I felt nothing apart from an overwhelming desire to do nothing.
Finally, there was the jumping. It was the day after I got dumped by my boyfriend. I thought at that time that I was seriously and totally in love with him. I begged for him to take me back, even to the point of humilliating myself. Yet he only looked at me in contempt and said that it was over. That I was only the flavour of the month. I was crushed.
As I walked back to my dorm after lunch the next day, I looked up and wondered what it would feel like to be a bird. To fly freely and without burden. I must've blanked out at that time because the next thing I knew, I was on the rooftop, looking at the scenery around me from the highest point for miles around.
I thought, maybe this time I would succeed, maybe I would be able to kill this pain in my chest. Maybe I could stop being such a pain in the backside for my parents. As I was having these thoughts, I was steadily walking towards the edge of the rooftop, the final inch towards oblivion. But I couldn't. I couldn't move my legs. I couldn't take that final step that would set me free.
I closed my eyes and waited for strong winds to do what I could not. To help me plunge towards my end. It never came, those strong winds that I asked for. It never came.
Then I heard a commotion behind me. I opened my eyes and turned around, prepared to say the magic words "Don't come closer!"
When I saw who it was, I turned back around and looked out towards the open scenery. I was waiting for the words that people normally said to jumpers to prevent them from doing what they intended to do. Then I smelled something that simply didn't fit the situation nor the scenery.
I turned around, "What the heck are you doing eating KFC up here? Do you have any idea what I was about to do?"
With a mouthful of chicken, she said, "Mmf, you were about to do something? I thought you're only admiring the view."
Swallowing the piece of chicken in her mouth, she continued, "Nice spot though. I must admit, eating lunch in the open feels much better. I've never had an open air lunch before."
Then she continued chewing her drumstick.
"By the way, that spot is kinda dangerous. A strong urban draft could tilt your over," she said as she grabbed her soft drinks.
I was asking myself if she was being stupid. The point of standing here WAS so that the urban draft winds could tilt me over.
"How did you find me?"
She looked up as I walked closer to her, "I was just returning from KFC when I met some of the girls who lived on the 16th floor. They said they saw you entering the door going up the roof. So I thought, maybe you need some cheering up after what happened yesterday, you know."
I simply couldn't believe it. Was that the only reason? Was she pretending or was she really naive? People don't normally eat fried chicken while watching a potential jumper.
"Did you know that I was attempting suicide?" I asked her directly.
She looked up again, by this time I was close enough for her to leap and grab, but what she said afterward was so unexpected that I had to laugh, "Oh, I didn't know that. If I knew about your suicide thingy, I would've offered you the cheesy wedges as your final meal. I know how much you love cheesy wedges. Sorry."
She said all these with a straight face.
By this time I knew for sure that she came up here intentionally to stop me from jumping. Normally I wouldn't give a fig about anyone attempting to stop me or preach about suicides and how I would cause grief to my family and friends or how I would never go to heaven. As if I cared about heaven. Her approach however was so unorthodox that it annoyed me in a good way.
"Hey, do you have some Hot & Spicy in there?" I asked as I plopped down next to her.
She grinned widely, "Yups, got the dinner plate for you. Sorry, they ran out of chicken popcorn and I've finished the cheesy wedges".
"I think I'll live," I said as I took the box from her.
"Lydia! Where's my soft drink?"
We spent the afternoon eating the lunch she brought up there. She was right, having an open air lunch had a surprisingly calming effect on people.
I looked at Lydia, "Sing with me?"
She looked at me, "What song?"
"In The End," I said.
" ... why?"
"Because I like it."
That was how we ended our lunchtime adventure. Two boxes of KFC and a simple song by my favourite band was able to stop my suicide attempt. As I was walking back to my dorm room, I thought at that time, maybe I was just not cut out for this suicide business. That was the last time I attempted suicide. I simply lost interest in doing it after that last encounter although I did thought about it several times later.
One day, I was feeling moody and ended up going to her house. I needed some cheering up and she was always up for the challenge. She was always able to make me laugh when no one else could. That made her extremely special to me.
It was the day I had a fight with my parents about the direction my life was going. My father thought that I was a lazy freeloader and I needed to start picking up my life and be a somebody. I personally thought that he should go stuff himself with something nasty, though I didn't say that out loud and definitely not in his face. Being someone who has been living with him for my entire life, I could tell for sure that such words would only send him to an early grave.
I might be a worthless child, but I would never, even once, intend on killing my father.
I arrived at her house in the afternoon. Her house was a bungalow in the wealthier part of the city. It could be seen from afar as no other house in that area that has blue tiled roof. On most houses, it would look real ugly, but not this house. I remembered that I used to think it fitted with the sky and made the house look impersonal and less private than the other houses in this area. The fact that they never closed the gate at day made it felt even more welcoming than any of the other houses.
I pressed the doorbell the moment I arrived. The house was very quiet. I didn't get a response the first time.
So I pressed it the second time.
And the third.
No answer at all. It was as if there was nobody in the house ... which was unlikely since her car was there and she wouldn't go anywhere without her car.
I whipped out my handphone and pressed 3, which automatically dialled her number. I only put three people on speed dial. Number 1 was my mother, number 2 was my father and number 3 was her. I didn't consider anyone else worth the space, not even my oh so successful engineer brother, nor my oh so beautiful model sister. They have always been so distant from me, probably because of the age difference, or possibly because I'm the worthless little sister they wanted nothing to do with.
It took only two rings before she picked up.
"Hello, who is it?"
I was taken aback. I knew for sure that she had my number. Was she turning away from me? "Lydia, how could you. Am I no longer your friend that you deleted my number?"
It took her a few seconds before she answered, "Min? Oh, I'm sorry, baby. I didn't see your number. I'm on handsfree, you see. You know I won't ever delete your number, don't you?"
I turned to look at her car. "But your car's over here."
"I'm not driving, dear. I'm at home. Wait, were you the one who pressed the doorbell just now?"
"Yes, I did and you didn't respond," I said, distracted by the humming sounds I heard through the phone.
"So sorry, I'll come down in just a moment, OK?"
I looked around and my eyes fell on the walkway leading to her garden. Well, not her garden really, it was her mother who spent the most time tending it. The garden was green and open, with the exception of a round stone table with carvings of a chessboard on top of it, while the surrounding were decorated with a gentle touch of jasmine, orchid and morning glory.
I walked towards her garden and sat down on the swing her father made, while enjoying the wide open view of her garden. It was the kind of homemade swing hung on a low branch by strings of standard garden rope. She told me before that her father made the swing himself when she was ten. She further told me that she and her brother fought for it all the time until her father made a second swing hung on another branch. I was surprised that it lasted this long.
Then I heard her calling for me.
"Over here, Lydia," I shouted in reply.
I saw her opening the sliding door leading to the garden. She was wearing a rather baggy and worn out white t-shirt. The t-shirt had streaks of various colours on it.
"What happened to you? Chibi's acting up again?" I asked her as I pointed at those streaks of colours.
"What? Oh, you mean this," she pulled the lower hem of her stained t-shirt away from her body, while looking at those stains herself, "No, she's not here. My brother took her out shopping."
"I thought you do that with her all the time? The poor girl probably had enough clothes to last a lifetime."
She gave me a look that said, are you kidding, there can never be enough clothes.
She shrugged, "He's on vacation. You know how much of an absent father he has been. I just thought that he should spend some time with his daughter before she grew old enough and learnt not to expect anything from him".
She sat on the other swing, being careful not to touch anything with her stained fingers. I noticed that it had a touch of blue to it.
"Were you painting just now?" I asked.
She beamed, "Oh yes, I've been working on a project. Come on, I want you to see it". Then, she started tugging my hand.
I followed her in and waited as she locked the sliding door and went upstairs.
I thought she was going to her bedroom. We always laid on her bed every time I was here, talking about nothing and everything. I was never very social, but with her, I felt like I could talk forever. There were always something to talk about. She was so full of life that there was never a dull moment with her. Sometimes, I even fell asleep on her bed and we ended up doing an unplanned sleepover party instead. I blamed it on her calming baby blue decor.
This time though, she went to another room on the far end of the corridor. I thought for a moment that she was redecorating her parent's bedroom though I immediately pushed the thought aside. She once told me which room was for what and so I knew that her parents' bedroom was on the other side of the house. She then opened the door to what she once told me was a storeroom.
I followed her in through a short corridor-like passage, and upon entry, I saw a small children's table with three chairs in the middle of the room. The top of the table were printed with pictures of animals and the English alphabet. On the far corner of the room was a bookshelf filled with thin books and tiny ones as well, the kind of books a child would read. The bookshelf next to it had toys neatly arranged though some of the barbie dolls I saw were kissing the floor. On the walls were sheets with child-like paintings on it.
On one of the sheets was a picture of an adult woman and a little girl, on it was written, "MOMMY AND ME". On another sheet, there was a painting of what appears to be a family holding hands, on the sheet was written, "DADDY AND ME AND MOMMY".
I was intrigued, and so I asked her, "I thought her mother died while giving birth, how come she remembered her?"
Without looking, she said, "She was referring to me, silly".
She continued, "She thought of me as her mother. You can't imagine how many times she embarrassed me when she said something like, "Mommy, daddy, kiss". I never knew how to explain it to her, so normally I just laughed it off in an awkward way." I could sense her grinning as she said it.
"That's ... weird. Your parents' OK with it?"
"What's not to be OK about? It's not like we're really kissing or anything. Now THAT would be really weird, not to mention disgusting."
She was behind me now. Looking at the opposite wall from the one I was inspecting.
I turned around and was astounded by the ... mural. I didn't really know what it was, but I would call it 'the wall of butterflies'. There were so many butterflies painted on it that I couldn't tell how many there really was.
"Wow, how many butterflies are there on this wall?" I asked with mouth gaping open.
She shrugged; I noticed her picking up the palette and a brush. "No idea, must be hundreds."
"Who painted all these?"
"Me of course, you don't think Chibi would be painting all these, do you?" she said in a somewhat annoyed voice.
"But there's so many ... how can you manage all these on your own?"
"I had a lot of time," she replied as she started painting on a previously drawn butterfly.
"I doubt you would be able to paint this many even if you do nothing but paint for an entire year. Girl, you could make some money with this."
She chuckled, "A year? Try 10. Anyway, money's not my concern".
My mouth must've opened a chasm upon hearing that. "10 years? Since you were 12? Wow, if it was me, I would've gotten bored with it in a month. I can't even start to imagine how anyone could've stuck to it for 10 years."
Coincidentally, I noticed some butterflies that were definitely drawn by unskilled hands, which would fit the description of paintings by a 12 year old.
"Heheh, I know. You have a very short attention span, like a cat. I think it's cute."
Ignoring her patronizing words, I asked, "So what made you start drawing butterflies?"
"Well, feel free to tell me before the next century," I asked, annoyed that she didn't elaborate...
"Oh sorry, my mind was somewhere else."she put her finger to her lips, making me giggle inside as it left a smear of red on her lips, "Let's see, I used to write a diary everyday before that. I wrote about what happened in my life, my joys and my pains. The problem was I kept being reminded of everything whenever I opened it, whether it be good things or bad things. It made me wretched and calculative. I didn't like who I was back then," she said as she added some reddish paint to the butterfly.
"So you suddenly drew a butterfly?"
"Patience! I'm getting to that..." she said as she added some more colours to the wings.