I had never expected my first day of school to be so interesting.
It would take at least an hour for the bus to reach my new school, National Junior College. I had only brought a small bag that contained a few sheets of paper, a pencil case and a Discman. I presumed that the tutors would not teach us anything on the first day of school. After all, they claimed that it was supposed to be an “Orientation Day”. I was not looking forward to it. In fact, I dreaded it.
I managed to find a seat in the crowded bus. Most of the passengers were students in unironed uniform. When the bus started moving, I closed my eyes, ready to sleep through the hour-long ride that would take me all the way from Jurong West to Bukit Timah.
“Hey, hello!” someone in the standing crowd yelled. I woke up from my dazed dreams and looked up. A guy standing near the entrance smiled at me. He was wearing the same uniform as mine. “Hello!” he yelled again.
Almost all the passengers looked at me. The bus was at Bukit Batok, which meant it was still pretty far from National Junior College. I squinted. It was Jacky Wu, one of my ex-secondary schoolmates. I did not reply. Instead, I searched for my Discman, pretending not to hear him.
“Hello to the girl searching for something in her bag!” Jacky shouted again. This time, a few passengers giggled. I kept my head low and finally found my Discman. I inserted the earpieces into my ears immediately. “Hello to the girl listening to a Discman!” he continued. I pressed the “Play” key continuously, but there was no sound. “Hello to the girl wearing the same uniform as me!” he pressed on. The batteries must have run out of juice. Not now! “Hello to the girl wearing glasses! Hello! Hello! Hello!” Almost all the passengers were waiting for me to acknowledge Jacky.
“Hello to Joanna!” He finally said my name. I knew there was only one way to shut him up and put an end to my embarrassment. I smiled at him. He seemed pleased and did not say anything anymore.The bumpy journey went on for another forty minutes. He alighted at the same stop as me, but I was quick enough to evade him and dashed to the school as fast as I could.
* * *
Jacky and I had only held one conversation when we were in secondary school, and it lasted for less than three minutes. We had never been in the same class.
Jacky was one of the popular guys in school. He had sharp features, a lean build and whenever he talked, people laughed. Many girls drooled over him, but the rumour was that he did not have a steady girlfriend.
One day, when we were in secondary three, Jacky was invited on stage to crack a joke during an assembly period. If he could get everyone to laugh, he would win a prize. He thought for a while before saying, “There was once a …” I was not listening to him. I was totally lost in my thoughts.
When he finished his joke, there was a long silence. Suddenly, the hall exploded into ripples of laughter. My classmates around me laughed like mad people; even the teachers laughed aloud. I frowned, unable to fathom what kind of joke could set everyone laughing so insanely.
When the laughter subsided, a teacher wanted to pass Jacky a prize, but he declined it. “Someone didn’t laugh,” he announced. For some reason, people laughed again. He pointed to my direction and said, “That girl didn’t laugh.” I glanced around me, hoping that he was not referring to me.
“Which girl?” the teacher asked.
“That girl with glasses and long hair.”
The teacher stared at me. “You mean the girl with tied hair?”
“Yeah, that’s the one. She never laughs!”
I clenched my fists. How can a big guy like him be so petty?
“Joanna!” the teacher said. “You didn’t laugh?”
I kept quiet. To have my name called out in an assembly period did not feel good. “Joanna, can you please wake up from your dreams and laugh at my joke?” Jacky said and some people giggled loudly. “I beg you.”
My classmates urged me to stand up. Feeling the pressure and the lack of time to go through my options, I stood up and said sarcastically, “Ha, ha, ha.” Then I sat down and buried my head under my hands.
Everyone laughed—again. I promised never to forgive that Jacky Wu for embarrassing me in front of three hundred people.
After school that day, he came forward and apologized. “Hey, I’m sorry about just now. Was just trying to be funny. I hope you’re not offended?”
I shook my head.
“Jacky Wu,” he introduced himself.
“I know. The famous and arrogant Jacky Wu.” I had not expected myself to say that. “Joanna. Joanna Fung.”
“I never expected myself to be arrogant. But famous? I agree.” He smiled. “Are you always so introverted and…unfriendly?”
“Unfriendly?” I glared at him. “I never expected myself to be unfriendly, Jacky.” I walked off quickly, not wanting to continue the conversation.
“But you’ve got like…no friends at all!”
I pretended I did not hear his comment. I continued to walk off. What he said then was true. I had classmates, but I had like…no friends at all. Except for one. Just one.
* * *
Actually, there was no way for me to avoid Jacky completely in a small school like National Junior College.
He was everywhere. I had tried all means to avoid him, but failed. “Hey, Joanna. What a coincidence! We’re going to be schoolmates for the next two years as well!”
“Yeah,” I replied.
“What class are you in?”
“Oh my gosh!” He covered his mouth and jumped around like a monkey. “We’re in the same class! Can you believe it? Jacky and Joanna in the same class! How cool is that?”
I was imagining how a monkey would blend into my class. The bell rang soon after that. We strolled towards the hall and searched for our class number. He offered to sit beside me. I glared at him, but he just smiled. I had no reason to reject him; therefore, I said nothing.
Firstly, the principal told us about the history of the school, then several other tutors said more boring things. We were, by then, trying hard to keep our eyes open. When they were done, we sang the school song with the lyrics in front of us.
“Okay, as you all know, we’re going to have an orientation programme for these first few days…” a tutor announced.
“It’s going to be fun,” Jacky whispered to me. “I’ve got a friend in J2. He told me it’s gonna be very exciting.”
When I heard what he said, I regretted not skipping school that day. We were led to the field, class by class, just like in primary school. Jacky kept on telling me how excited he was.
“JC life is going to be one of the best!” he exclaimed. “You’re going to enjoy it; it’s unlike secondary school! There’s more freedom, schoolwork is called tutorial, the teachers are called—”
“Sorry, Jacky…” I turned to him. “Would you please…shut up?”
He just laughed it off and talked to other people, not offended. But I felt something. I headed to the toilet to wash off my tears. I had just told Jacky to shut up. I had just scolded Jacky.
I had just cursed Jacky. Oh, damn it. What the hell have I done? I should just shut up.
* * *
The objective of the first game was to remember names.
Water balloons were thrown at students who forgot others’ name. After an hour, we were able to remember everyone’s name. The next game was played with the aim of recognizing voices.
The boys and girls were separated. A curtain partitioned them and, when a girl spoke, the boys had to guess who the girl was. After a few rounds, I was chosen to say something for the boys to guess.
“Come on, say something! A joke, or something like that!” the seniors urged me.
I did not know what to say, so I just muttered, “Ha, ha, ha.”
Almost instantly, I heard Jacky’s voice on the other side. “It’s Joanna! Joanna Fung, that thin girl!”
Ah, that bastard.