I first met Landy in a “magical” way.
My father died when I was twelve. My mum blamed me for his death. Since then, I learnt about life the wrong way: I hung out with a group of hooligans who smoked at stairways and got their pocket money from stealing. I always felt a great sense of satisfaction whenever we successfully shoplifted.
That day, we plotted to steal shoes again. Stealing shoes had always been a routine for us. Our targets were usually World of Sports, Royal Sporting House and Bata. Our plan had never failed until that day.
Three of us entered Royal Sporting House, wearing stern expressions. We pretended to browse around the clothes section indifferently first. As we progressed to the shoes section, we showed signs of excitement by saying, “This is nice!” or “I wonder if they’ve got size six for this pair or not?”
After some acting, a sales assistant marched towards us. He looked young, and we believed he was only a temporary employee. We smiled, knowing a temporary worker was an easier target. “What size are you looking for, madam?”
I always felt proud to be called “madam” at the age of thirteen. My friend, Maggie, replied, “Do you have size six for this?” She showed the sales assistant a particular design. It cost a hundred dollars.
The sales assistant politely told us to wait and went off. Within the same minute, he came back with a pair. Maggie tried one on and it fitted her perfectly. However, she frowned and then looked up at the sales assistant with a seductive smile. “This feels too small. Do you have, like, size six and a quarter?”
We all howled in laughter. The sales assistant looked amused. He put on his smile and said, “How about size seven?”
“Will do!” Maggie chirped. “You go look for size seven. If there isn’t any, I’ll take this one.” She began to trace the design of the shoe with her finger. The sales assistant hinted to her to take the shoe off, but Maggie was totally immersed in appreciating the beauty of the shoe—or how much we could sell the pair of shoes for. Finally, the sales assistant gave up and went off in search for size seven.
In one smooth motion, I took out a Royal Sporting House plastic carrier from my bag. Maggie took off the shoe and threw it into the box. We glanced around the busy shop. When we were sure that it was safe, we placed the shoebox into the plastic carrier and I strode out of the shop, feeling victorious.
No one stopped me. The alarm did not ring. After all, how could anyone steal a pair of shoes? They were all supposed to be stacked neatly in the storeroom. When I was out of the shop, I imagined Maggie and the sales assistant quarrelling. Maggie would not lose; after all, customers are always right. I could only pity the poor sales assistant who must have been wondering whether he did place the size six shoes back into the storeroom. He might even consider quitting his job.
While I was lost in my thoughts, someone tapped my shoulder. A pretty lady with shiny, long hair smiled at me and said, “Put that pair of shoes down. They’re coming to get you.”
She looked a little older than me and had perfect features that teenagers would envy—like a real-life Asian Barbie doll. “What the fuck are you talking about?” I demanded.
“Trust me. That sales assistant is the supervisor, not a temp. He has met all sorts of people. He’s coming for you. Drop it, or you’ll regret it forever!”
I stared at her. She seemed to know everything. For some reason, I decided to trust her and threw the shoes into a rubbish bin. A few minutes later, to my surprise, the sales assistant, together with two security officers, approached me. When they found nothing on me, they gave up and I let out a long sigh of relief. It was my closest encounter with a criminal record.
After that incident, the lady showed up at my house. I had no idea how she got my address. We chatted a little. I later knew her to be Landy. Soon, we became good friends. She was older than me by four years and was working full-time as a clerk. Mum died when I was fourteen and I cut off all links with all my friends other than Landy.
Somehow, Landy stayed with me through thick and thin. Knowing that I disliked going out, she came to my house to chat with me instead. I had thought then that if there were only one blessing in my life, it was definitely having a friend like Landy.
* * *
We realized our play lasted for only five minutes if we had no NG. Our play was supposed to be ten to fifteen minutes.
“Look, I think we’ll have to rewrite the script,” our director, Delvin, suggested. He was one of our classmates with the most outstanding leadership qualities. “I’m open to all ideas.”
We brainstormed and a few ideas were proposed, but none of them seemed to work. Amid the dejected atmosphere, Jacky stood up and told us, “Trust Joanna and me. We’ll be able to extend it with our acting. Won’t we, Joanna?”
I sank deeper into my chair and frowned. What does he mean by that? He was smiling at me again. I felt my hair standing up. What is he thinking now? I gritted my teeth, hoping that he would not suggest some outrageous idea that would embarrass both of us.
“It’ll be a lot more realistic if we do the play without directly following the script. For example, if the audience laughs, we’ll extend the humorous scene. If the audience is crying, we’ll extend the sad scene. Of course, that would mean we’ll have to add our own lines to the play. You understand?”
After some discussion, they all agreed to that idea. I wanted so much to disagree; but, upon seeing their exhausted faces, I gave in. After we were dismissed, we all headed in different directions except Jacky and me. We stayed together as I wanted to confront him about the idea.
“Why propose that stupid idea?” I asked.
“For fun, Joanna! For fun! And don’t you think the play will feel a lot more realistic if we don’t follow a script? I—”
“You won’t understand! I need to follow a script! I can’t…I can’t talk well. I…I’m afraid I will say the wrong thing and—” I choked on my words and halted.
“Tell me what’s stopping you from opening your heart, Joanna. Please.”
I was shaking softly. His warm hands embraced my shoulders and he lowered his voice. “Please tell me more about yourself. Why are you keeping everything to yourself? Why are you living in your own world? Please.”
“Get away!” I pushed him away, my face burning red. After I had taken a few steps back, my phone rang. It was Landy. I rejected the call and turned back at Jacky. “You won’t be able to help me! No one can! No one!”
“Let me help you, please! Believe me! You won’t fail if you keep trying!”
“No! You can’t, you’ll never! I’m going to withdraw from that fucking play, and you and your fucking good friend can be Juliet!”
“I killed my father, my mother and many other people! I’m a fucking murderer, a fucking killer, a fucking sinner!”
I turned and dashed out of the hall. The moment I was out of the school, I raised my hand and a taxi pulled over. I wiped off my tears before opening the door, searching for respite.