Written by Varrick Kwang
Art by Akshar Dave
It was my first time going to a university party–a party hosted by young people, anyway. The smoke of the chargrill and the stench of cheap whiskey permeated the night air, and hip-hop music blasting from Bluetooth speakers mesmerized some of the drunk into wild dancing and singing. At one corner there were the foodies who came for the stars of the show: grilled chicken wings, hotdogs and fish balls. I would avoid that corner the rest of the night–the foodies grabbed at the snacks like wolves pouncing on a herd of drugged sheep.
I bobbed my head to the songs as I scooped up a generous serving of grilled treats onto my plate. In my defence, there were around twenty people at the party, while the amount of smoked BBQ chicken wings alone were enough to feed sixty. And the thing about BBQ treats is that no matter how much you eat, you always get hungrier. I was simply helping prevent food waste.
As I settled down in my seat to devour my food, I heard someone say:
“And here was how I got the scholarship back in Year 2…”
I looked up, mouth stuffed with juicy chicken meat. I was seated at a table of young men no older than twenty-five: fresh-faced kids with bulging biceps, and big pecs on chiselled frames indicating that they were in that stage of their life where they wanted to achieve a physique for either the ladies, for a vanity competition or for a fight they fantasized about after watching Kung Fu movies.
These were my new campus mates, talking about all the exciting times they had when they were younger. Their adventures in other countries, getting drunk at wild parties, silly struggles with exams, all the antics they did in their Pre-U years–apparently, things people do in the past matter more than the future.
But I hate talking about the past. I fear it. I fear being asked what I did in secondary school and what my favourite clubs or subjects were because I did not have those experiences. And then people dig further and ask things like “So what did you do, really?”
Normally I would just walk away from conversations like these, but that would not make me any good social connections–apparently, in university, connections matter a lot. This is perhaps the only reason why, ever since I got out, I have done my utmost to be on top of things. To build myself back up again.
I have nothing good to say about my past and my decisions back then.
Back in secondary school, I was an angry 14-year-old who had no friends. I was the weird guy who was picked last for the sports teams in P.E. classes, if at all.
I wanted to run home to cry to my parents but they were never home, always busy with work. Either that or some other commitment, as if I wasn’t supposed to be that too.
One day, my father came home at 12 a.m, I ran up to him and hugged him. I sobbed because I missed him so much and I had suffered from being ostracized so much at school.
“Are you crying?” He asked in what I remembered was the coldest, condescending tone I’ve ever heard. “Oh come on, you are a man. Stop it. And also, why aren’t you sleeping? Go sleep.”
“Go!” He raised his finger and told me to go to my room, dismissing everything I had to say even before I opened my mouth.
This was where the gangs from outside school came in. They picked me.
I felt special because after an entire life of not being chosen, I was chosen. It did not take my naive self very much to say yes. All I needed to earn their membership, which I mistook for acceptance, was to take a puff of smoke. I found it way easier than to be accepted into any of the cliques of my schoolmates.
I channeled all my pent up rage into sparring and gang fights. Thanks to that, I rose through the ranks in the gang as the top fighter. I was feared–no, I was respected. From being the last kid picked for sports, I was now the top choice for the gang to fight their battles. I was someone’s first choice for once.
And then came one fateful day, when I chopped off someone’s hand in one of our fights.
I did not know how to feel when the judge sentenced me to ten years of imprisonment. For the first time in my life, I had a guilty conscience biting me in the gut.
My best memories in prison were having a silent sigh of relief for every night I survived without getting attacked in the showers by people armed with weapons made from god-knows-what. Nothing that I would want to go through again.
I was only allowed to attend GCE classes in prison school on account of good behaviour, and even that opportunity did not come by easily. It was hard not to get provoked by the inmates.
I do not know how to explain what I did. But all that matters is that I have changed. If only my family were here to see me now.
I’ve said the words: “I’m sorry father and mother, I love you two. I’m now trying to wash my hands clean; I’ve long thrown away the sword before I die by it” to my parents so many times, but it will never be enough.
I don’t want to talk about my past, and I hate even trying to recall what I’ve done, unlike those frat children who had a pampered life. They have the luxury to miss childhood. I don’t.
Instead of reminiscing about the past that cannot be brought back, I love talking about the present and what the future brings because of the seeds sowed today. During the few opportunities I’ve had to speak to people around campus, I’ve mostly stuck to what I was doing in the present.
I will tell them that I’m majoring in engineering and minoring in anatomy at college. Sounds like a tough choice, but it was better than rotting in a cell where you are cramped with six people all day.
There was not a day where I felt lazy or burnt out compared to the young children who kept complaining about every little assignment they had to do. They do not understand how ten years of wasting your life behind bars will make you reassure every page of homework you are given.
I want to be the engineer of my life.
Most importantly, I wish to merge my knowledge of engineering and anatomy, so that I may one day invent the first fully functioning bionic hand, and give it to the person whose hand I chopped off all those years ago.