“Let’s not waste time,” he said. “What is your telephone number? I’m interested in you and want to be your friend.”
That was the first time that someone had asked for my number. And that someone was Michael. He did not recognize me, but I remembered his cocky face and that crooked smile. Ever since his expulsion from Jurong Primary School, I lost touch with him. I went to Jurong Secondary School, one of the better schools in the west. I was slowly forgetting Michael, and had not expected to see him again on the second day of school.
“I’m from 1D,” Michael continued. That meant he was in the Normal (Technical) stream. “I know you’re from 1/1. What’s your name?”
I had walked out of the school alone, as I had not made new friends. I did not notice Michael waiting near the gates. When he approached me, I nearly wanted to run away.
“Don’t be cocky,” he said. “If you don’t want to be my friend, just say it.”
I trained my eyes on the path ahead of me, my legs suddenly feeble. Just one more minute to the bus stop. He will not get onto the same bus as me, I thought. There are three buses to Boon Lay bus interchange. I’ll skip the first bus if necessary. If I say anything, he will recognize my voice!
“Are you mute? Or deaf? Or did my handsome face give you a shock?”
I crossed my fingers.
“Look, girl, I’ll follow you all the way till your house unless you either say something or give me your number. If I want something, I’ll get it.”
It will be disastrous if he knows where I live, I thought. I pondered for a while and came up with a solution. I scrawled a telephone number and a name, Kathryn, on a piece of paper. As I thrust the paper to him, I faked a smile.
“That’s more like it.” Physically, he had not changed much. He had a longer fringe, centre-parted—those that teachers would always catch. “Actually, my friend is the one who wants your number. I think he’s half-blind or what. His name is Kang Zhi, and he’ll be calling you tonight. So, see you around, Kat…how the fuck do I pronounce this name? Why not give yourself a simple name like Mee Goreng or Lor Mee?”
* * *
“Your mother said that you were dead,” Michael mouthed.
It was recess time and I was still trying to blend in with my new classmates. Many of them only talked when the teacher posed a question. Michael plopped himself down on the seat that my friend had wanted me to reserve for her. I dropped my chopsticks, and the appealing laksa suddenly looked disgusting.
“You told me your friend was the one who wanted my number,” I said and regretted immediately. Would he recognize my voice? Realizing that there was no turning back, I continued, “How would you know?”
“My friend told me,” he said. “You think it’s funny to give a fake number? I lost twenty dollars because of your fucking joke.”
“You used an expletive in school,” I muttered.
“Okay, high-class girl, then I won’t use expensive language.” He banged the table with his hand. My laksa jumped. “So you fucking think it’s fucking funny to fucking give me a fucking fake number? You fucking dead, is it?”
“Well.” I had always been the obedient girl, following instructions and avoiding confrontations. That day, something must have elicited my rebellious side. “Maybe my mother is telling the truth, and that I’m dead. So get your coward friend to talk to me directly. You’re his dog?”
Michael raised his hand. I closed my eyes involuntarily, expecting either a slap or a punch. But there was nothing. Just a weird sound, a few girls screaming and my skirt feeling warm.
I opened my eyes after a few seconds. Michael was gone. My laksa was overturned, and the gravy was dripping on my skirt.
That day, when I went home, I realized that throughout the incident, I had not cried. Nor did I have the notion to call a teacher for help.
* * *
When I was in secondary one and two, I was approached by strangers on the street at least once a week. My experience with Michael had made me more daring to either reject them or tease them with witty answers.
Michael finally recognized me when I was in secondary two. I was alone outside the old Jurong East Community Library, waiting for my friends to join me for a study session. We had no handphones; if someone was late, we would just wait until he or she arrived. Twenty minutes later, a man who looked to be in his late thirties sidled up to me. His hair was dishevelled and he wore a T-shirt usually worn by teenagers. I thought he was asking for directions when he said, “I am Jia Yao.”
I nodded. “Okay.”
“I’ve noticed that you come to this library every Saturday at 11.00 a.m., and leave at around 4.00 p.m. You know, since your friends are always late, you should come at 11.30 a.m. instead next week.”
I swallowed. Though he wore a pair of unique wire-rimmed glasses, I did not remember seeing him around before.
“Anyway, I’ve noticed that you often skip your lunch. Here, I bought you lunch.”
He extended his arm. He was holding a red plastic carrier with a cup of takeaway noodles.
I waved my hand. “No, thanks. I’ve, erm, got to go.”
“I’ve noticed that your friends are not here yet. Just hold this, and eat when you are free. I can wait here for you, if you want to eat with me.”
I hurried towards the library, looking sideways. I had people asking for my number, but not stalkers buying me lunch. I always thought that only celebrities had stalkers. When I felt a touch on my shoulder, I nearly screamed. I quivered and slapped the hand away.
“Go away,” I hissed.
Jia Yao’s face became lecherous. “Please, take the lunch—”
Michael appeared all of a sudden. I saw his hands first, pushing Jia Yao away. Jia Yao took a few wobbly steps backwards before falling to the ground, the noodles spilling out from the cup. Michael was about to kick him when I grabbed his arm. “Don’t! You’ll be punished!”
Michael turned to face me, and I could never forget his expression. He looked like someone who was ready to kill. He growled and got down on one knee. I tried to pull him towards me, but he shoved me off. He grabbed Jia Yao’s T-shirt and said, “What the fuck were you doing?”
“I…” Jia Yao trembled with a flushed face. “I’m sorry, sir…”
“If you continue to harass her, I’ll make sure you land up in hospital. You hear me?!”
Michael pointed at me while still staring at Jia Yao. “You stay out of this!”
“Yes, sir, yes, sir, yes,” Jia Yao said. Tears were seeping out of his closed eyes.
“Fuck off.” Michael released his grip. Jia Yao fell to the ground, jumped up and scampered off—all within a second. Michael stood up, huffing and puffing.
“Why did you do that? You could have injured him! If not for me, you could be expelled from school again!”
Michael looked fixedly at me. Jia Yao had left the spilled noodles on the ground. “Noodles. You’re welcome, Noodles.”