Red.

(Written for my young&W!ld showcase during the last week of August.)

My mother used to dress me up as a boy when I was younger. My hair was cut really short and I would be in pants most of the time. I only wore blue. She would spend time with me and hold my hand and smile at me. She would call my name.

But once he was born, the dress ups stopped. So did everything else.

She never really needed me anymore.

After all, what my mother always wanted was him.

A real boy.

A God-given child.

That is what my mother always called my brother.

She will always say, “I prayed to God and asked him for a son. God gave your brother to me. I prayed for him. He is a God-given child.”

Whenever I heard her say that, I always wondered what that made me.

Is it better to be wanted or needed?

Sometimes I wonder.

What happens to the people that have not felt both before?

You know how there will always be some conversations or scenes in your life that you just keep playing over and over and over again in your head?

It is kind of like dying isn’t it? How when we die, our whole lives supposedly flash in front of our eyes in that split second that is made to feel like years. Reliving the memories all over again.

From the top to the bottom.

From the very first moment to the very last one.

From the darkest shade of a colour to the lightest.

Only to die a second time.

A third, or maybe even a fourth.

Like sunrises and sunsets.

As if everything just happened all over again yesterday. Once more.

All the little details imprinted in your mind – smell, touch, sight, sound and taste. Always the same. Occasionally new discoveries since every time you revisit a memory, you rewrite it with your new experiences and emotions. But the same.

Like stubborn stains you cannot wash off.

Because they are already a part of you.

Always there.

Like the scar in my eye.

I do not really notice it but it is not exactly something you can unsee either and simply not remember. The body never forgets.

A boy stabbed me with a red colour pencil in kindergarten.

He sat opposite me during class and we shared a huge tray of colouring pencils. He called my name. Nobody really calls me by my name anymore.

I remember looking up and I immediately felt a sharp pain.

The blood was hot and sticky and everything looked red from my right eye. I do not think that was what rose-tinted glasses meant. I was crying, but I do not really remember hearing myself. His laughter was really loud and there was a loud crash when he slammed his own face into the tray.

He never said sorry.

Or that one time my brother wanted the television remote so badly that he hit himself over and over until his left arm was red and swollen.

He showed it to my parents, cried and said, “See! Jie jie beat me. Very pain. Very pain. Jie jie also don’t want to let me watch tv!”

He said sorry to me after, but the apology did not exactly help me feel better at all.

It actually made me feel worse.

I remember reading somewhere that ‘sorry’ is a dirtier word than ‘fuck’.

I kind of agree.

How people just use this word when they do not mean it to fix something or to make themselves seem like better people.

Or they just say sorry after they took something away from you that can never be returned.

Thinking it will make everything okay again.

I am sorry, but sometimes it just isn’t that easy.

I like being alone. Or in darkness.

When I was younger, I kept crying on the first day of school and I did not stop. My teacher got so angry with me that she dragged me into the storeroom and locked me in there. A small dark space with curious objects I was not familiar with back then.

And after a while, I stopped crying and just closed my eyes.

Listening to my own breathing calm down and the steady rhythm of my heart. Just me. Alone.

I could only make out vague outlines of the things in the room and the shadows passing through the small slit between the door and the floor. I was fascinated by how I was unable to describe them and how they cannot be contained, or labeled.

They just existed in that moment and I accepted them.

It was a nice feeling.

I hope someone will feel that way about me too. One day.

Maybe then I may know what love really feels like.

But some people are not meant for love, apparently.

According to the Chinese belief, beauty spots on different parts of your body signify different things that are a part of your destined life. Kind of like the lines on our palms and the facial features on the face.

Well, mine means that I will never get married and all my relationships will end. Even the red thread of fate that will never break and is to bring soulmates together cannot help me.

Maybe mine is severely tangled and close to breaking point.

Once I read in a book while I was in the library that if the heart line on your palm matches that of your partner, both of you are technically soul mates and are meant to be.

So at that time, I just casually scooted over on the carpeted floor and placed my right hand next to his left. Before he could ask me what I was doing, I gave him a smile and went to place the book back on the shelf.

We left the library afterwards. Hand in hand, with our fingers gently resting next to each other and our palms facing.

A simple connection between the both of us just like the first time.

I did not tell him that our heart lines did not match.

He was not the superstitious kind.

We broke up after four years because of reasons.

But I still wonder if the heart line had something to do with it or not.

I like believing in magic.

Once, I caught sight of a shooting star when I was lying down on the beach with someone really important to me. I was really happy and my smile was as wide as the Cheshire cat that night.

I made a wish.

I remember telling myself how great it would be if I could just keep doing this for the rest of my life. Just be with someone I love. Under the vast night sky. Watching the stars. And just keep smiling.

Embracing the temporary light from these beautiful forms that are light-years away.

It is funny how I feel so much comfort in things that are near-death.

I think about my parents’ deaths from time to time. And I ask myself a lot of questions.

What will I do when they pass on? Will I cry? Will I miss their voices and their presence? By then, will they be proud of me? What will their last words to me be?

Will they be able to understand that I have many thoughts and voices in my head and that I am just like that?

Or will I understand that they were just like that?

Whenever I heard her say that, I always wondered what that made me.

Maybe it meant that I was born with red skin.

A skin as red as the blood running under it.

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Jamie.

You know those exercises they have in class when your lecturer asks you to picture your life in ten years? Or maybe twenty?

I always pictured myself with my own flat in another neighbourhood. Probably somewhere slightly away from the city and at least a few bus stops away from schools. Clean, peaceful and good enough for me to want to spend the rest of my life there. White, beige and blue – calming colours and easy to match. My furniture will be simple but interesting enough to brighten up the home. I will have a neat study and my own bedroom. Nothing too unnecessary or tacky, since I see myself traveling around a lot and spending most of my time with work and close friends. Maybe some photographs on the walls of my living room.

I will live on my own and lead my own independent lifestyle.

Sounds pretty good, huh?

I used to think it sounded pretty good too.

But after receiving Facebook notifications and wedding invitations, I am not so sure anymore.

You see, my friends are starting to get engaged, married or just talking about marriage plans. Most of them are already together or are getting together with people they are willing to take a chance at forever with. To them, having someone else to spend their lives with and maybe even forming a family is the best decision there is in life. They talk about their better halves at lunch gatherings or even on phone calls, and even when I cannot see their faces, I can imagine their eyes sparkling their new found excitement and happiness at their present and for the future. It fills me up with a heartwarming feeling and I feel happy for them. Genuinely.

After all, they have found their end of the invisible red thread, their soulmates and love.

It is something my parents always wanted for me but I never really wanted it for myself. I have always seen myself as a career-driven woman with no family to take care of or to go back to. And I have always liked it that way.

I am not really changing my mind or feeling jealous or anything like that.

I am just starting to wonder if I am really committed to my single lifestyle, or I am just afraid of having to open up. I still do not really know the answer. And for the first time in my life, when the new lecturer approached me with that question about my future self? i could not really give a confident straight answer.

Dillan.

Pain. Red. Drips. Scars. Cries. Stares. Silence.

Then footsteps moving further and further away.

Then silence once again.

I was asked to prove my love for her. Out of the blue, really. Until now, I do not really know what sparked that challenge.

Did I get her wrong flowers? Or was it the dinner after our fight? Or maybe it was when she insisted she was fine even though I could tell from her eyes that her heart was screaming the opposite of her words? When I accidentally stepped on her new shoes while we were trying to dance?

I do not know.

She never really clarified. Just said it quietly before she turned her back to me and walked home.

I chose to cut myself in front of her.

She said nothing while I bled. She said nothing while I cried. She said nothing while I slept. She said nothing.

Not a sentence, not a word and not even a sound.

I chose to bleed.

Maybe I was trying to bleed away the bad blood between us, if there were any. Maybe I wanted to show her how I was willing to be vulnerable in front of her. Maybe I was trying to show her that she was worth the pain. Maybe I was just desperate to make her stay. Maybe I wanted to bare my soul to her, so her doubts would leave and never come back.

I wanted a clean start.

A start as clean as the red thin lines on my skin. A start as clean as the red I was bleeding. A start as clean as the white bandages wrapped around my cuts.

I tried to prove my love for her in red.

Red for love. Red for passion. Red for desire.

But she left anyway.

Without saying a word.

Like my love for her was never enough to begin with.

 

 

Adela.

I want him. I always have.

Growing up, I have always been surrounded by the same four walls. The cold and dreary house with low, gossiping voices echoing down the dark hallways. Conversations between two women. Occasionally, three younger voices. All of them voices I know too well. Footsteps rushing up and down past my room door. I can hear the maid cleaning the floor and can imagine the same tattered cloth she uses all the time to wipe off the dust, and marks that hold memories that no one wants to remember. Sometimes, I hear the familiar rhythm of the cane. Shouting. And then, silence.

Some nights, the silence is welcoming. Like warm hands that hold me gently. Embracing me and comforting me. Reminding me that it is already night and tomorrow will be a brighter, better day. A possibility of change. Just maybe. Other nights, the silence is deafening. Making me fear sleep and my future. Cold, dark and nothing to look forward to. No sun, no moon and no stars in my sky. Just a sad dull black – like the mourning shawls swaying all around the house after Papa’s funeral. Drowning my hopes and dreams minute after minute. Painful to sleep through. Threatening me to grow up proper. To grow up like how everyone did. To grow up silenced.

That is why he means so much to me. Do you not see it?

He is the shooting star I have been waiting for. Lighting up my sky with burning orange and interrupting the dreaded silence in the middle of the night. Igniting my heart with passion and new love. Making life course through these veins and awakening me. He is hope. When I see him, I see endless possibilities of my life beyond these four walls. I listen to his stories of the town – different people, different voices and different rhythms. His voice takes me to so many places that I am yet to visit. He paints my life in so many different colours and for a moment, I forget the black veil that is blinding me to the beauty of the world.

He is everything that I have been dreaming of. Adventure. Freedom. Warmth. Excitement. Love.

He is what I have been wanting all along.

I have been waiting and now, he is here. Right before me. Opening my eyes and my heart.

So how can I just watch him go when I want him to be mine?

How can I just watch him go without trying to hold on to him and putting up a fight?

How can I just watch him go, and go back to the life that I have already forgotten?

How can I?

Georgina.

I know you can see them. I know you can.

His hand prints. His lip marks. His bites. Scratches, bruises and cuts.

His presence all over me.

Just there.

Lingering.

Sometimes, I can see them too. Behind my left ear. Down to the side of my neck. My right collar bone. Then chest, waist, hips, thighs, ankles and… They used to be physically present. Adding dull colours to my plain body. Blood red. Black and blue. Sick green. Making me look like a sad painting that has no more value. An art piece gone wrong. A drunken mistake.

It has been months now and the colours have faded over time, but the pattern carelessly drawn on me is here to stay. Showing itself every now and then when I look in the mirror, when I shower and when I am alone.

They live underneath. Definitely somewhere underneath this skin of my mine. Still.

I can feel them.

Those painful red marks of touch and heat. His disgusting breath. Him.

All over my skin in a chaotic, permanent mess. No part of me left clean and untouched. Like a bad tattoo job that I never asked for. The ink seeping into my bloodstream and staining my skin and bones. Like acrylic paint on cloth. Stubborn and unwashable. Just there to stay and never ever able to go away. After all, a canvas can never really forget, once marked and painted on. No matter how many times you scratch the unwanted paint away, shadows will still be left behind. A dark spot on the canvas. A scar on the body. A bruise on the heart.

I will never be clean or back to my normal self.

Because every look of myself reminds me of him.

I tried to get rid of him.

I tried to clean myself. Scrubbing myself in the shower twice a day. Using hand sanitisers. Face masks. I tried to bleed it out of my system. Biting my lips hard. Peeling my nails. Scratching open wounds. Cutting myself. I tried to purify my insides. Drinking alcohol until I puke my guts out. Tried to drink bleach. Ate toothpaste. I tried to get it out of my mind. Read positive books. Take part in activities outside of my home. Meditate.

And when I think that I am getting better. I see them again.

His hand prints. His lip marks. His bites. Scratches, bruises and cuts.

His presence overwhelming me.

Always there.

Lingering.

A constant reminder of that night months ago when my brother did what he did to me.

And I will never break free no matter how much I scream and say, “No.”

Poppy.

I used to try and make friends the normal way. I will have a huge smile on my face, be in my best outfit for the first day of school, stick out my hand and say, “Hello, my name is Poppy. What’s yours?” Usually, I just get ignored and I will awkwardly pull my hand back. If I am lucky, I get a polite smile that lasts five seconds and that’s it.

That happened every year until I just stop trying altogether.

You see, I have scars on my wrists.

I used to cut myself every single time something bad happened. When my older brother died from a car accident. When my parents kept arguing about whose fault it was. When my parents started arguing about everything. When my parents only talked about my older brother even though he was dead and I was the one alive, eating at the dinner table with them every night. When I started telling myself that maybe if I was the one that drove that night instead, I might have been more important to them than I am now.

It was just me trying to translate emotional hurt into physical ones, hoping that the plasters and bandages on my skin will heal my broken heart. Just a case of overwhelming sadness, low self-esteem and bad decisions.

But I do not do that anymore. I became stronger and decided that I am ready to move on. The past cuts made were too deep to really go away, so my wrists are still scarred today. But they are no longer raw and red and screaming for love. They are faded – just slightly darker than my natural skin colour – and smooth and quietly begging for acceptance.

It is a part of who I am now. I do not want to have to hide all over again with my jackets, long-sleeved shirts and pretend that all those hurt has never happened to me before. Because they have and they were real. Real struggles, real pain and real memories of mine. And I conquered them on my own because everybody else were afraid of what I was doing to myself.

I can understand why they avoided me back then. Even I was afraid of myself.

But now, I am not asking to be saved or pitied this time.

I am a healthy and happy person. A person with past struggles and new dreams. Just trying to reinvent myself and be a better person so I can live life the way I want to this time. Finally gaining self-esteem and embracing the value of my life. So why is everyone still so afraid of me? Are they not proud of me moving on? Why are they not moving on and still treating me the same way they did back then?

I am just asking for acceptance and a chance. And I think that is the least I deserve.

Enya.

I can feel it.

That familiar feeling.

That familiar feeling of falling.

It always catches me when I am not looking. A surprise that comes out of nowhere. Like a sudden warm hug from the back during winter. Totally unexpected. One moment, it was cold with the light falling of snowflakes upon my shoulders. Then suddenly, a gentle warmth spreading all over my body and making me forget all about the season. Like I am experiencing summer all over again in the month of December.

It is strange, isn’t it?

How it just seems to… happen.

I was going about my days perfectly fine. Healthy doses of the happy and the sad, the good and the bad. Spending afternoons with platonic lovers and evenings with warm cups of coffee to pass the time with meaningful conversations and clever questions without getting answers. Just like before.

Then, like a forgotten lover over the past few months, it comes back to me. As if it is only natural. Playfully covering my eyes with familiar hands and asking, “Guess who?”

Like I have been missing it while it went away and have been looking forward to its return.

And suddenly, it feels like this is what I have been wanting all along, or even a need that I just simply forgot, even though it has never crossed my mind. Maybe a random thought or two in a week but I have never viewed it as a sort of necessity. Ever since I fell once, getting my heart all black and blue, I decided I did not need it to be complete. I did not want to feel it again.

My heart is my own and it is whole. Beating its own rhythm and definitely alive. No holes to be filled up and no wounds to mend. I kept thinking that there is just no space in my personal apartment for it to move in with me again.

But this feeling is now back. With even more luggage than before. More smiles, more laughter and more thoughts. Like it is trying to build a home with me and hoping I will let it stay. Coaxing me to open the door again. Promising me that this time, it will be better and different. And that it might even stay even longer than the last visit.

Then, for a moment, a flood of memories come back to me in sounds, touches and pictures. Reconnecting me with what I had and making me want to have all that again. How I have always preferred the summer over winter. How sometimes, having someone might just be better than the mirror on the wall. How I took that chance for the first time back then and that I can do it again.

So this time, I open the door.

To the familiar feeling of falling in love.

Hoping I will remember why it was and will be worth it in the end.