Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Case of Curious Coincidences (Part 2)

Author's Note: My sincere apologies if today's story doesn't flow smoothly. I'm juggling two assignments that are due on Monday.

Crystal smelt the fresh morning air and curled her lips upwards as she disembarked from her bus stop and made the short walk to campus. Her shoulders were less burdened, knowing that the last twelve weeks of learning would come to an end after her last class. She was additionally relieved that she wouldn't need to face Ryan twice a day after this. Having to deal with his capricious demeanor towards her on top of her stress-inducing courses was draining her energy. Her head was hammered with such force by the knowledge thrown at her that she swore a headache was waiting to pounce on her around the corner.
    It was a different thought a couple of days ago, especially during one of her morning lectures. There she was, seated by herself in the half-empty lecture theatre, attempting hard to stay awake to the lecturer's tips and advice no thanks to her housemate. He, who she suspected was under the influence of alcohol to the point of criminal irresponsibility, was obstreperous, repeatedly shouting another occupant's name and laughing out loud at their late-night rendezvous until the wee hours of the morning. It wrecked her rest with such impact that she was a walking and snappy zombie, who desired to wring her hands on anyone who - inadvertently or intentionally - stepped on her tail. Inasmuch as she desired to skip that day's worth of lectures due to unexpected exhaustion, it was not worth the risk as it was now the dangerous race to the finish line. If she faltered in this last week of lectures, her chances of sitting the supplementary exams or retaking the entire course was significant. Fully aware of the blow of her temper whenever it exploded, she decided to hide in the basement area of the library after the lecture to regain her composure and stew in the annoyance. Her intuition guided her to the other end of the area, but not wanting to walk any further, she decided to go for the nearest available spot.
    She couldn't believe her luck when she heard Ryan arriving five minutes later. She had to stop herself from rolling her eyes and instead took a deep breath to mask her dismay. No matter how she longed to feed him a taste of his own medicine, she wasn't going to leave the moment he arrived. It was a risky move not worth playing when she was unsure whether he hated her with a vengeance or merely frightened of his impression of her and it was rather rude to do so.
    Although she sensed that he hoped for an acknowledgment from her, she didn't have the extra energy to deal with him when her focus was on maintaining her composure. The relaxed atmosphere tensed to the point where his face was coated with discomfiture and his body language fidgety, obviously uneasy by Crystal's behavior.
    After a fruitful rest, she was much more emotionally stable and less likely to bite. She nodded a smile to her postgraduate course mate, Tracy, who was waiting in the silent room and caught up with her.
    "Ready for the presentation?" Crystal asked, sitting next to her.
    "I'm anxious." Tracy sighed. "But I'm confident that I can nail this. Just don't ask me any questions because I'd be too nervous to answer."
    "I don't intend on asking any either."
    "That's good."
    "Because the article's too close to home, most of my questions would've been answered by interpreting the document itself." She looked around the room. "Eh, I'm surprised that Ryan hasn't arrived yet."
And at the mention of his name, she caught him walking up the stairs from the library, clutching a paper in his hand. He barely noticed Crystal and Tracy's presence until a moment later when he walked in to them rearranging the furniture for the umpteenth time.
    "Good morning." He wished them, slightly wary of Crystal.
    "Morning," Crystal and Tracy replied in unison before returning to their duty.
    Crystal almost raised an eyebrow at Ryan when he assisted them with perfecting the arrangement of the chairs. She thought that she saw the slight trace of perfectionism from him, not realizing that it was already evident when they collaborated in the previous group project. She smirked as she thought to herself: it's good that you're prudent of me, man. I'm just as capable of being temperamental as you are, Ryan. Don't let this pair of angelic face fool you into thinking that I don't come with a temper.

An incident that occurred shortly before the commencement of the previous week's class irked her when she pondered on it during the short break. What made it tough for her to comprehend was Ryan's reaction when he saw her engaged in a hearty discussion with a mutual course mate, who happened to be from the same hometown as Crystal. She noticed that Ryan's eyes bulged with horror and a vocal tone that left chills at her spine and immediately suspected that there was more to his body language than meets the eye. It could have been a mere coincidence if he hadn't given her the eyebrow flash when he noticed her change of attire a fortnight ago.
    Screw you, man. She mentally cursed. If you're jealous that I'm laughing with another guy, you've to be out of your mind. There's no standing for you to be jealous and we're not even that close.
    It was obvious that there was discriminatory treatment on Crystal's part, but to her defense, she was growing exhausted with Ryan. On some days, she could feel the cold air radiating from him. On other days, she could feel a faint trace of warmth whenever they crossed paths. Their eyes accidentally landed on each other when they looked at the tutor, who addressed the class with the discussion topics after the break. Crystal looked away, opted to focus on the carpeted floor ahead of her as it was straining her neck to look at the tutor. Not wanting the tutor to assume that she was zoning out and feeling that the coast was clear, Crystal turned to face her tutor again, it was Ryan who glanced in the opposite direction instead.

Ryan sat on the benches outside the building with furrowed brows after the class was dismissed. He couldn't quite place the cause of his emotions the last couple of days and nothing has been able to make him lose his concentration either. All he remembered was a long awkward silence before he realized that the tutor asked the class a question, to which he awkwardly cleared his throat to answer it. Now that he reflected on it, he was surprised that none of his peers took the opportunity to gain brownie points for their contributions.
    Much earlier in the semester, when the assignments for all three courses were released for the autumn break, he remembered Crystal's hesitance when she approached him about it after their afternoon class.
    "Oh yeah, Ryan?"
    "Yo," was what he replied, and knew that he must've said the wrong thing because her eyes betrayed her surprise.
    "Have you completed that piece of assignment for our morning class?"
    "Nah, I'll do this weekend."
    He vehemently shook his head, bringing his mind back to the present. It couldn't have been her messing with his emotions, but it made absolute sense on another hand. If he regarded Crystal as nothing more than a fellow legal colleague, he definitely would've ignored her when he saw her laughing with her compatriot.
    He definitely wouldn't have wished her by her name on the first day of lectures when they returned from summer break three months later for another round of studies.
    He definitely wouldn't have forced her to move to another seat in the morning class or seated in close distance from her for the afternoon class.
    And lastly, his focus wouldn't have lingered on Crystal more than necessary during his class presentation when he spoke to the class.
    He covered his face with his hands, realizing that there was a possibility that he was intrigued by Crystal's personality. On the bright side, he'd be done with exams and could finally smell the roses during his break in less than a month's time. As he was confident that Fate wouldn't allow them to be in each other's view at the exam hall, he gathered his items and decided to head off-campus to clear his mind.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Preserve, and you'll reap the rewards in time

Trust me, only the dedicated folks wouldn’t let the chilly weather be in the way of a good exercise on the hills.

Although my friend was rather hesitant to invite me for the expedition because he knew that I’m knee-deep with the workload, I was game for it. I needed the time out from a packed schedule and smell the fresh fragrance. The workload has greatly impacted my emotions and, as such, it’s making me reconsider the plans for the future (read: after graduation).

The more I ponder on it, the more it feels like the right move for me.

But that’s a story best left for another day.

Back to today’s post.

It definitely was a hectic weekend trying to balance the readings, tutorial work and the outing. I almost tripped on the steps in the library after a late night with a friend (I wish it was for our assignments instead, though) and crashed in the Administrative Law lecture due to the inadequate sleep over the weekend. I should’ve realized that disaster was around the corner when I slept at 1 am on both days and woke up 6 hours later for classes.

Mea culpa.

With that, I introduce to you, Black Hill Conservation Park in Athelstone.

Its terrain is similar to that of Bukit Gasing but the atmosphere is much fresher and ‘tastier’ due to the unpolluted environment. It didn’t radiate the claustrophobic aura that Bukit Gasing sometimes had, especially in those shaded areas. I mean, sure, it’s good as a protection from the sun, but it also makes the place feel . . . cold and dingy.

The landscape, additionally, was breathtaking to the point where I continuously interrupted my friend to stop for pictures while we trekked the chosen path. As we gingerly made our way up, we were surrounded by beautiful trees and the colorful flowers that greeted us with a smile.

(I've obviously captured more pictures than this, but I'm not going to bombard the entire post with it, lol.)

He even added that the panoramic view changes into a stunning beauty if you are there later towards the evening, where you can hug your loved one close to you and watch the sunset in the distance. I know what some of you are thinking, but I’ll have to unfortunately disappoint you, folks. Neither did my friend and I wrap each other in an embrace (that’d be super awkward, and I would’ve elbowed him instead) nor did we watch the sun return to rest either.

The only issue that we encountered while trekking was the unexpected winds. While the projected forecast was a cloudy day, there was no indication of dancing trees up at the hills. Look, we may have been insane enough to trail the park in winter, but at least we were intelligent to bring a furry, warm coat with us.

We adjourned to an Italian cafe in the adjacent suburb of Campbelltown for a late tea/early dinner over rounds of coffee and pizza. I was tempted to order a medium-sized pizza, but figured that it was safer to stick to a smaller plate since it’s just the two of us.

Guess what? I gaped at the pizza when it arrived. It looks more like a medium than a small!

Top: Mocha
Bottom: Flat White

Magharita Pizza

As my friend was aware of my hesitance to loiter outdoors after dusk, the conversation and laughter continued at my place. Due to the sensitive nature of topics and jokes, it’s best to leave it out of the public domain, but I can briefly mention on something: I finally know what in the world ‘tickle my pickle’ means!! Bya, you should’ve just explained its definition to me back then.

It wasn’t until my eyes threatened to shut on me that my friend (not Bya) and I knocked off for the night and went our separate ways at a little past 1 am on a Sunday morning. How I managed to wake up in time for Mass is beyond me, but that left me like a walking zombie on Monday.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Short Story: A Blend of Independence with Weakness (Part 5)

The sky poured its grief on the mourners six weeks later, participating in their grief for the loss of a prosperous life that was tragically shortened. Shelby had everything going on for her: a close-knit family, the wonderful friends who loved her to bits and a stable career that afforded her yearly vacations. With a deep breath and squeezing his fists in the pocket of his coat, he needed to keep his emotions in check before he entered the crematorium hall. If he allowed himself to bawl his heart out now, he didn't know when he'd be able to stop.
    In the middle of the crematorium hall was the veneered word casket with the enlarged framed A3 picture of a grinning Shelby attached at the front of it. Wreaths of flowers possibly from her peers in her field of work were scattered behind the casket, but clear enough for the mourners to read the messages if they wanted to from this end of the area. Rows of plastic chairs were placed for them to have their quiet moment in grief or prayers. Greeting him as he entered was the book of condolences. He refused to pen his message on it because no amount of words illustrated the sadness he harbored at Shelby's death. He additionally believed that his physically being there for Shelby's family was a better comfort than the messages in a book.
    His peripheral vision caught the sight of Mrs. Winters seated alone at the front row of the chairs and he offered his condolences to her.
    “I’m sorry for your loss, Mrs. Winters. I really am.”
    “Thank you, Jerry. I really appreciate it.” Her eyes were rimmed raw and swollen. “Can I ask for a favor?”
    “Since you’re Shelby’s good friend, would you mind to offer the eulogy at the funeral mass and lead the seven day prayers tonight at eight?”
    “I don’t mind it at all. I can do both.”
    Mrs. Winters gripped Jerry’s hand as her way of saying thanks.

The decision to return to the park a month after Shelby's funeral left a sour note in his throat, but it was something that he had to do if he wanted to overcome his grief. While he felt emotionally lighter and less burdened now, it was still a working process through the five stages of grief with acceptance a far distance away. He leaned over the wooden railing and sighed. Although he knew that Shelby would be upset to see him in the depressive state, the journey of closure was harder with each passing minute. His face lost all traces of cheeriness. It was fixed in a permanent frown. Most of his nights were accompanied with silent tears, which affected his sleep. He was barely eating, which was evident on his five-foot-eleven frame. He lost additional weight and was dangerously close to emaciation. Functioning in his daily life was draining the remaining energy that he had, but he was also relieved that it wasn’t affected his work. Work was his only escape from reality.
    Their friendship spanned for such a long time - seven years now - that her absence was sorely missed. Her departure blew the brightest candle in his life, killing all of his happiness. It would take the right person to replace the darkness and mend the hole in his heart. He was unsure whether he’d be given another opportunity for that to happen or if he was capable of loving again.

His mind returned to the time when Mrs. Winters informed him that Shelby was admitted to the hospital after collapsing in her bedroom.
    Armed with the information provided by Mrs. Winter earlier over the phone, Jerry dashed out of his parked car and into the hospital. As he walked closer to the ward, he could hear Mrs. Winters’ soft cries and pleas to her daughter to make a full recovery. With a deep breath, he knocked on the door as a sign of his arrival.
    “Hello, Mrs. Winters.” Jerry forced a smile. “How’s Shelby?”
    “She isn’t in a good condition, I’m afraid, Jerry.” Mrs. Winters rose to her full height and repeated the doctor’s words before turning to her daughter. “It’s the beginning of the end now. Since it was Shelby’s choice to forgo medical treatment, we can only wait for the time when her body’s decided to throw in the towel.”
    “Can I have a word with you outside? There’s something I have to ask.”
    Mrs. Winters took hold of her purse and followed Jerry out.
    “The thing is,” he continued after they were out of earshot. “I’ve asked Shelby why she refused further treatment, but she avoided the subject. I was wondering if she’s told you the reason?”
    “She has. She told me that whether she continues with another round of treatment, it’ll ultimately rob her of her limited time to enjoy life. She doesn’t want to be plugged into the machines monitoring her every move and holed up within the four walls. Plus…” she trailed off, finding the appropriate words to express herself. “Another reason is you.”
    His eyes furrowed. “Wait, what? I didn’t ask her to stop treatment, Mrs. Winters.”
    “No, let me elaborate.” Mrs. Winters raised both hands. “When I pressed Shelby on this, she replied that she didn’t want you to spend your time on her when there are better girls than her out there. To be more specific, she was falling in love with you.”
    Jerry paled.
    “She couldn’t see a bright future with you, Jerry, if you two got together. Her illness will always be an issue that you two will have to tackle with and now that it arrived at this stage, it’d be a matter of time before goodbyes have to be said. Although she knows that it’s a tough thing to ask for, she wants you to love again and think of her as a distant memory of your past. If you ask me, Jerry, I actually believe that she sacrificed her short-lived happiness in exchange for your eternal one with someone.”
    What Mrs. Winters revealed left him speechless that he lost his voice.

Looking up at the bright blue sky above him, he now wanted to rewind the time to their first encounter and seize his chance while he could. He swore that instead of beating around the bush, he would come clean with his honest feelings with her. He made one of the gravest mistakes in his life and now that Shelby was gone, there was no way of correcting it.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Travel Wishes

Before I pen today’s post, remember the crying dream that I had about a Goldie sometime in March? Now that I’m reflecting on it, the online interpretation makes an awful load of sense.

If you’ve been frequently reading this blog lately, you’ll know that I was swimming in a pot full of tremendous pressure as its contents for the entire semester - to the point where it threatened to take a toll on my emotional health. I’ve never mentioned about the event that transpired after the Thursday afternoon lecture to the group of trustworthy friends and I’m never going to speak a word of it to them either. It wouldn’t have made any difference - and it’s not as if they’ll be able to help me out.

I know that it carries a twinge of sting to it, but I’ve learned that some things are best left buried in the Aegean Sea.

Reading about the dream online connected the dots together. It was my subconscious sending my favorite breed, which is the Goldie, to comfort me in the dream (hey, Bruno!) The serenity it brought along made me so relaxed that it hinted heavily at one of the weekends I spent in One Tree Hill, Mt. Eden, where I played Frisbee with a … you guessed it, a Goldie.

So, there we go.

It’s almost 9 pm Adelaide time - yet I’m still awake, nursing a mug of warm cocoa on this awfully chilly night when I should be in bed. I should be refueling my body's sleep bank for tomorrow's 9 am lecture on Creative Writing and the 11 am tutorial for Politics awaits me after that. It’s evident that my academic workload has increased this semester (and it’s still manageable), but it doesn’t mean that the pressure has tapered down, either.

I’m in need for a travel break. You know, the one where we embark on a road trip into the country towns, experiencing the local culture and delving into the cuisines of the family-owned cafes. The unpolluted, refreshing air is our silent observer while we share memories with the right people. The car windows are rolled down with the music softly humming from the radio or CD player with its memory-evoking emotions. Throw in some food and wine on the way - and it’s all perfect…



How am I going to make that a living reality when I’m car-less and license-less? *scratches head* I don’t intend to study for my driving test yet because I’m not fully sure where I’ll be: whether I’m heading back to KL, moving interstate to practice, or killing another two - three years’ worth of postgraduate degree in Creative Writing in Sydney. (Let’s assume that I manage to pass the test in KL. I’ll still need to take an additional paper here before I’m a full license holder.)

I wouldn’t even count the yearly flights home, lol.

Well, in that case, I’m stuck to waiting it out until I’m financially independent. Like I’ve mentioned years before, it never mattered if I’m traveling solo or with a group of friends to the familiar places.
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