Beyond the heavy, iron gates exists the gloomiest swift of air, which slowly rids any sense of happiness or freedom, how little that may be, that remains in every soul. The sight of neglect and the sound of weeping as one examines the perfect detail sculpted onto the nearby colonnades. Following the endless trail of colonnades, empty halls appear, accompanied by huge acres of fields. Then the sudden appearance of students, each so formally dressed in suits, with recently polished shoes and scarves (too long for some of them) draped over their frail shoulders. But somewhat strangely, instead of happily talking among their friends, they sob. Instead of standing tall, they limp with their heads lowered. Peering at them closely, I gasp in horror as they become horrifyingly familiar. The guy I have been staring at for so long, with his thick square glasses, stubby chin and ginger hair, cut in the most ordinary fashion. I did not believe it was him at first, at least not until he started to walk, that familiar strut that identifies him as Martin Young. From the crowd emerges a girl, who immediately runs towards him and they meet in a passionate embrace. The girl had beautiful curls, which shine in the most amazing golden ginger, her face buried in his arms. She was no other than Annabelle Thomson. Then more and more of my friends appeared around them. I could point out Jennifer, Holly, Wendy, Tanja and running crazily, Callum. I was almost happy at seeing people I knew so well, but the usual friendly welcome they always gave me was replaced by a sinister glare. I stared at their sullen eyes and tear-stained faces. Then they started chanting my name, over and over again. To my horror, everyone else in the crowd started pointing and advancing towards me, repeating my name at me until I could not bear it any more. I screamed and screamed for them to leave me alone. I started to run. The steady beating of my heart became a continuous thundering beat as I forced myself to run faster and for longer than I could ever imagine. On and on I ran, never daring to look back.
Gasping for air, I witnessed a miracle. Ahead of me there appeared a faint glow, shaped so specifically that it could not be passed for something ordinary. This light automatically became my goal, and I felt a familiar desire to reach it, embrace it and never let go. How strange it was that my wish suddenly appeared; how strange it was that someone up there finally showed me they understood. I forgot the taunting crowd behind me, forgot my worries, forgot everything that could ever make me upset again. I felt wild with hope, my eyes sparkled like a million diamonds as I prepared to run into the arms of the most special person to me. As I approached the light, his striking features became even clearer, so remarkable that I could not take my eyes off him. I'm almost there I told myself, I knew he would never leave me behind, never. I leapt into his arms, waiting for his warmth, his love, the familiar smell of protection.
But it didn't come. Opening my eyes, I realised that everyone had disappeared. In its place, there appeared a waterfall. The crashing and splashing of water so great, that I could not hear anything else. Being unable to control myself, I walked towards the waterfall and peered in closely. Salmon, one by one, began to swim up the waterfall, each swimming so effortlessly that it almost seemed magical. The waterfall seemed to be telling me something, something that I could not fully interpret at this point in time.
In the confusion of what I had experienced, I opened my eyes and saw again the familiar messy room to which I belonged. Groping for the switch, I finally managed to turn on the lights and stared at my shocked expression in the mirror on the facing wall. Never before had I had such a weird dream. It seemed almost real, as if it were telling the future. Grabbing my water bottle from the bedside table, I gulped down a huge mouthful of water, only to spit it out again as I choked in my shock. Running to the bathroom, I splattered my burning cheeks with freezing water, gasping at the cold as it wakened me fully. I scolded at my pale face in the mirror, and in the centre, I saw that same huge nose that dominated the whole of my face. I can't remember when I started to realise its hugeness, it seemed like ages ago, but it was always big to me. My sister pointed it out to me too. At first she just made a statement about it, telling me she had never realised how big it was.
It was about a few months ago, during the Christmas holidays. I had arrived home carrying something I had received as a Secret Santa gift. Secret Santa was something me and my friends did almost every Christmas. I was not particularly fond of the idea, since I missed receiving presents from each of my friends. And although the presents would be smaller that way, I felt it was more special to receive something from everyone. Even so, I gave no comment, as everyone else seemed to like the idea. Earlier that day, I had been invited to Holly's house, to exchange presents as part of Secret Santa. It was supposed to be a surprise, as the person bought for was not supposed to know. But we always messed that part up. It seemed we could not keep secrets from each other, which was not surprising as we were all pretty close. But this had proved to be wrong, as I had found out later that my friends were hiding things from me and this was what drove me into such a state of low self esteem that I had lost any sense of confidence.
On returning home from the gathering, I rushed up the stairs to get changed. I always did that when I came home. Getting changed seemed to be the only thing I was swift at. I guess it helped me take my mind off things as I searched for and folded up my clothes. But I always had to face what I hated the most, no matter how hard I tried to avoid it. In the corner of my eye, I would always get a glimpse of my reflection, whether it be from the mirror in the corner or the windows of my room or any other reflective surface that seemed to contaminate the Earth. Then I would stand speechless for ages, telling myself that I looked absolutely normal, like everyone else. That day I had caught my reflection in the mirror again. I ogled at my face, acne spots out of control, my hair stuck out in all directions. No matter how long I spent every morning trying to fix it, no matter how much I spent on hair products and remedies, it would always end up looking horrendously disgusting. Whilst that happened to me, everyone else's appearance seemed to be fine all day. I felt repulsive as I stood next to my friends. No wonder why I don't smile in pictures and refuse to get tagged on facebook. I get asked reasons for the way I act, but of course I never tell anyone my true feelings. I tend to rather keep things to myself. And all that stuff about pouring your heart out to your friends? Bullshit. One moment they act like they're there for you and that they understand everything, and then behind your back, they insult and laugh at you. I've learnt from experience who is trustworthy and who is not, and believe me, it's the ones you least expect to be spiteful that are the worst back-stabbers of them all.
While I cursed myself, Mum's impatient voice roared from downstairs. Clutching onto my present I hurried down the stairs, only to hear her moaning at me again,
"For heaven's sake Jade! How much time do you spend in front of that bloody mirror! I wouldn't mind you spending ages if you were going out or something, but you're at home at the moment! No one here to impress!"
"But I wasn't staring at myself Mum! Why do you always make me sound so vain?"
"You didn't try half as hard to look good at your aunt's wedding yesterday. You even refused to try on that expensive dress I bought you!"
"Well...that's cos it didn't suit me!"
Mum just gave me a cold glare, but didn't say anything else after that. I felt so angry. Adults think they know everything. When you try to explain something to them, they would always reply it with "Oh, I've been through that" or "I understand how you feel, teenage years really are harsh" or even worse still, when you win them in an argument they would follow it up with "I've experienced more than you, so I should know what I'm talking about". Adults never understand, not even parents recognize fully how much stress their children feel at times. I've given up trying to explain things to them. They seemed to make it worse rather than any better.
Being annoyed, I got out the dishes and set the table. I could feel my Mum's anger as she checked the soup for the last time, ensuring its flavour was perfected. My sisters all rushed in. Their voices loud and irritating as they immediately struck up in some interesting conversation. Having been taught that it was rude to talk with your mouth full, we always had dinner in silence. Mum had begun including background music during dinner, trying out something her friends have told her. Apparently background music made you eat slower, improving your digestion. It seemed to work for my family, but to me, the annoying music made me eat even faster as I tried to get away from it. Whilst it was awkward for most people to have dinner in absolute silence, for us, talking meant something was wrong. My family seemed totally different to that of my friends, and sometimes, they even comment on how different I am. But I guess it can be good to be different, right?
After washing up the dishes, I began to unwrap my present. Yes, I know I'm supposed to wait until Christmas day, but I guess I've stopped being childish now. I remember how my belief in Santa Claus was shattered when I was young. Christmas isn't as good as it used to be, but I can live with that...I guess. Gosh, Holly had wrapped it so tightly that it took me ages to open! I wasn't too surprised about my present, as I had hinted at everyone that I wanted it a long time ago. But I was grateful Holly actually listens to me. Switching on the computer, I had plugged in my new webcam. I stared at the screen. Did I really look like that in real life? And what is that big blob in the middle of my face? Out of no where, Charlie appeared and gawked at my image on the screen,
"Woah...oh my god Jade! I never realised your nose was that big! Turn around and lemme see!"
"Waah?! Is it really?" I turned around to look at my sister. The smirk on her face made me so angry. She didn't understand how shocked I felt. No sympathy in her eyes at all.
"Oh my daizz...it's huge! And the shape is so weird!" Then she just ran off laughing. What a nice little sister I have. At first I guess I wasn't too bothered about her comment. But she got worse, and even used my flaw against me. Whenever I took pictures, the first thing she would do is point out my nose and insult me. It made me feel terrible. I guess I can't really blame Charlie, she was only telling me the truth. But it hurt so much, too much for me to forget. Now I am constantly paranoid about it and it has become the most hated feature of my face, amongst my other features...
Reflecting last Christmas for the final time, I sighed and left the bathroom. I can not bear looking at the mirror anymore. It displayed me too clearly for my liking. Returning to my room, I reached to switch off the lights, but to my shock, I heard a huge clunk as something fell off my desk. Immediately, I crouched on the ground to retrieve it, praying so hard for it to not break. Hastily I unlocked the box and lifting up the velvet fabric, I reached in to check the contents. I breathed a sigh of relief as I picked up the figure, but somehow, the texture felt different. Holding the figure against the light, I could make out that it looked jagged on the side. One of its legs had been fractured. I could not believe it. I had promised him I would keep it safe. I had promised him I would return it back to him when I see him again. Sitting in the dark I began to sob. Thinking of him made me cry even harder, the memories I have of him stabbed at my heart, fracturing it into thousands of pieces.
I had met him during mandarin class two summers ago. To be honest, the idea of lessons during the weekends didn't seem too appealing when it was first mentioned to me. The thought of my free Saturdays being taken away almost drove me to tears. But for some reason, something drove me to attend the classes. It was a weird sort of feeling. I remember sitting in the car and protesting about the idea as my dad drove me to meet the head teacher of the school. My protests lasted throughout the whole car journey. I have to admit I'm quite annoying at times, but that's only when other people ignore my opinions! But bizarrely, as soon as I climbed out of the car and walked through the entrance, I felt different. There was an unusual sense of protection, a kind of warm feeling. It melted my heart.
"Jade, are you all right?" I turned to look at my Dad. He had looked concerned.
"Eh? Nothing's wrong, why do you ask that?"
"You're smiling so much! And...you look different... did you see some good looking guy aye? C'mon, you can tell old Dad!" He started to raise his eyebrows and nudge me. A burning sensation spread across my cheeks.
"Dad! How can you say that! I didn't see anyone!" I fell into a strop for the rest of that day. I get embarrassed so easily I don't think it's good for me. But in the end, I agreed to attend the school. I hadn't made that decision out of desire, but because I had felt that the strange feeling I had experienced earlier meant something.
The classes were not particularly helpful or interesting at first. But as my parents put it, it was better than nothing. The lectures we had about Chinese history and politics became somewhat more fascinating. The only real problem I had was actually speaking mandarin. To get the pronunciation perfect was difficult and I often stressed over even the least useful word. Nevertheless, I have learnt to love the language. Striving to learn it gave me a sense of determination. It made me feel as talented as everyone else. For that, I treasured every lesson.
I guess I had concentrated more on my lessons than the people around me. I couldn't really indentify most of my classmates, but that didn't seem a problem to me. I wasn't too concerned about what happened to them outside of school. The only person I really talked to was Grace. But she thought I was a bit weird too. I was somehow different to them. While they were more interested in each other, I preferred the lesson. It sounds geeky I know, but the lessons gave me a sort of motivation and I admired that. Even so, I could not avoid getting to know everyone completely. Although I didn't know much about my class, I recognized that there were four guys who were most popular, at least among the girls anyway. It was not until Grace pointed them out that I started to take notice of them. She had always talked about them, so much that I couldn't avoid the subject in our conversations. I learnt from our talks that she liked Nathan, who was supposedly the most popular of the four. But I couldn't see anything special about him. All I saw was an arrogant jerk and this angered me. Looks aren't everything. Just because you may look better than someone else doesn't make you superior to them. The way my class highlighted those four guys as popular showed perfectly how most people disagreed with me.
I decided I preferred to talk to the less popular members of my class. They were modest, they were kind and they had the same motivation about the language as I did. Nothing much happened to me and my friends, most of the time we just got on with our work. But for the popular side, there was always gossip. Life went well at school for me, until that one time when I bumped into Nathan in the queue. We were queuing in the school hall for registration, and some stupid person had pushed me into him.
"Sorry! Someone pushed me..." I spoke quite quickly and I still don't understand why I did that. But I looked around quickly, only to find myself surrounded by the other three popular guys. God they were tall. One of them had a smirk on his face. I had wanted to punch him.
"Oi Dave, quit doing that." Nathan looked angry and that had made me feel uneasy. He looked back at me, "Hey, you al'right? I'd give Dave a slap if I were you." Then he started to laugh. Not a nasty laugh, but somewhat friendly. Maybe he wasn't as bad as I had thought. But I still didn't see why most girls liked him. What surprised me was the change of tone in his voice when he spoke to me. He seemed calmer, his voice softer, like as if he was my friend. Hah. Maybe that's the way he tries to get girls to fall for him- by being falsely nice. Grace had spotted me by then and came over straight away. She seemed excited to finally get a chance to speak to Nathan. I was too happy to see her. I finally had an excuse to move away from those guys. How unlucky I was to bump into them. But at least I didn't have to talk to them again. Well, that's what I had thought. Only a few weeks later did I realise that most of the girls in my class started to turn against me. Even Grace was harsher when she spoke to me. I didn't understand what was going on. The four guys didn't seem to leave me alone either. They were so irritating and wouldn't stop picking on me in class. Them being the popular guys? More like the four biggest pricks. The only people who were there for me were my friends on the less popular side of class. They listened to me and helped me. Their concern for me touched my heart. I will always be there for them too. Nonetheless, even my lessons became affected. I got blamed in class. I was continuously picked on. The guys may find it funny. But they didn't realise how much I had grown to loathe them.
I recall that time he got me into trouble. Our teacher had ordered Nathan to clean out the store room as a punishment for talking and causing a mess in the classroom. Instead of accepting his punishment, he blamed me. I knew it would get as bad as this. But the teacher seemed to be on my side. She seemed to understand me. Yet she still sent me out along with him to clean the room. The satisfaction on his face drove me to the point of wanting to strangle him. I stomped out of the classroom in fury behind him.
"So how are you eh?" He started to laugh again, acting as if nothing happened. Gosh I wanted to slap him.
"What do you mean how am I?" I felt myself starting to shout now, "You guys never stop picking on me. It may be fun for you, but do you ever think of how other people feel?" I felt so angry. I wasn't able to look at him as I spoke. He was the biggest prick ever. Why did girls fall for him? He's the worst guy I've ever met- the biggest, most useless prick. I felt myself starting to cry. I tried to think about something else and stop, but it didn't work. I couldn't help it anymore. This was too much for me. I had tried to cope with all the teasing and harsh attitudes of the girls in class. But now I couldn't stand it anymore. I noticed that he hadn't replied. The prick, what does he know? I couldn't show him my weak side. I had to stand up to him. Show him he can't mess with me. I was prepared to shout again. But I felt hands on my shoulder. In my anger I wanted to turn around and slap him. How dare he touch me. I wouldn't forgive him, ever! But before I could slap him, he did something which surprised me so much I couldn't breathe.
"I'm...I'm sorry Jade. You must think I'm an arsehole now. But I really didn't mean to get you so upset. I really am sorry." I was speechless. I really didn't expect him to apologize, let alone hug me even. It was awkward. I felt that familiar sense of warmth and protection. The exact feeling I had when I first walked into this school. It was strange.
I started to avoid him in class. He somehow scared me. I didn't know why. That same feeling that returned when he hugged me. I didn't understand it at that time. But those guys stopped teasing me. They were even acting nicer and even the girls stopped being harsh, but they still didn't tell me why they acted strangely before.
On my birthday, I noticed a small card on my desk. I don't remember telling anyone when my birthday was, apart from Grace. But she had already given me a huge bear, so it couldn't have been her. I still remember opening that card and reading the words written on it. I recall Nathan's expression when I went to see him. His coy appearance puzzled me. Never before had I imagined such a confident and popular guy could become so shy. We were near that store room again. Reaching into his shoulder bag, he took out two glass figures and held them in front of me.
"Happy Birthday Jade!" I stared at the figures in his hand. The perfectly tinted glass formed a cascade of wild colours as the sun shone in from outside. The flawless detail, carved so impeccably that one could easily identify the figures. A woman, dressed so extravagantly in pink robes, her hair grasped in the most profligate style, and the man, with his dashing tunic, sent a surge of exotic shades of blue that tinted the surrounding walls. This must be the Butterfly Lovers I had thought.
"Thanks...but how did you know it was my birthday? I..." I didn't want to accept it from him. It seemed awkward. Plus, I wasn't even a good friend of his. That's another thing about me. I hate receiving gifts from people I didn't know well. Maybe because I feel guilty taking things from someone, even though they intended to give it to me. Whatever the reason, I still didn't like the idea.
"Well, it's a kind of sorry present for being a prat earlier on, so yeah..." He acted so differently that it was strange, "Just take it yeah?" He handed it to me and just went. I looked at the glass figures. Maybe he wasn't so bad after all I had thought.
It was from that day on that our friendship started. I didn't notice it at first, but we became closer and closer. Eventually, we were more than just good friends. Reminding myself of the times we had spent together, how he made me laugh so much- it's something I don't want to ever forget. He would make my worries go away. He was always there for me. Before he went, he had told me he would never forget me. He had made me promise to think of him whenever I looked at those glass figures. I vowed to never let anything happen to that gift that started our relationship. No matter what happened, that gift was something I would always rescue first. But now I have failed. I have failed. And for that I hate myself. Hate myself for being so useless, for being so clumsy. Tears streamed down both sides of my face, like torrents of the Xanthus. How pathetic I felt. Dense. Ludicrous. Ridiculous. My eyes swelled, my huge nose became blocked. But I felt too tired to care. I could not stop thinking about him. I cannot forgive myself for what I've done. In my distress, my eyelids became too heavy to lift up.
 * ‘The Butterfly Lovers' is a Chinese legend about two lovers, who were forbidden to marry. But their strong love for each other could not be broken and they fought until death in order to stay with each other.