The taxi ride to West Coast Park took fifteen minutes. By then, night had fallen and I had stopped crying. There were not many people around. Landy came an hour later and we climbed up the tall rope pyramid, lying on the ropes.
“You really want to tell him everything, don’t you?” Landy said. “You feel like you’ve got a…bond with him.”
“He’ll get killed by me,” I whispered. “I don’t want danger to befall him.”
“But you really want to tell him about your problems. You really wanna tell him about your curse. I support you.”
“I don’t know.”
“Okay, why not we play a game? If he’s here within fifteen minutes, you’ll tell him about your problems, okay? If not, we’ll sleep here for the night. Are you game for it?”
I looked up at the starless night. He won’t be able to find me, I thought. “Deal.”
“Well then, I’m going down.” Landy grabbed the rope below and slowly made her way down.
“Look down, my friend.” By then, Landy had reached the ground. She waved at me and I understood what she meant the moment I looked down. Jacky, still in his uniform, walked past her. When he saw me, he smiled broadly and climbed up the ropes, flaunting his lean biceps. Within a few seconds, he was sitting beside me.
“How did you know I was here?” I said. “Landy called you?”
“Who’s Landy?” Jacky asked.
“The girl who just walked past you.”
“Did anyone walk past me just now?” His brow furrowed. “I didn’t notice.”
“Then how did you know I’m here?”
“I installed a tracer in your handphone. You know, like those tracers that secret agents use? I bought it in a black market. Cost me a bomb.”
I bit my lip and ignored his pointless remark.
“Joanna, can I tell you something?”
I nodded, stunned at his seriousness. He had never bothered to request permission before. My eyes were fixed to the ground, my hands toying with the ropes that supported us.
“I know it’s one of the hardest things to do in the world…I know it’s like asking you to stuff your fist into your mouth or it’s like asking you to eat caterpillars, but…” He paused. I shivered. Gosh, he looks really serious when he is not smiling. “Would you…would you believe me?”
“Believe you?” I twisted my head, almost relieved. “What do you mean?” I was not expecting him to say something so simple.
“Lend me an hour of your time. In this hour, I hope you can believe in everything I say. Would you?”
I clenched my fists, thinking hard. I then recalled the deal I had with Landy. “Okay, I believe you. Now, what do you want to say?”
“Tell me about your problems. Joanna, you’ll not fail if you keep trying.”
“No. No one can help—”
“Joanna!” And he did it: He held my hand and cried, “Believe me!”
I shook my head a few times, trying hard to believe him. I will not fail if I keep trying? I had always been trying…but I always failed. I had given up hope on everything, choosing instead to live in my own world.
A minute passed silently. I gazed at the starless sky. Time seemed to be crawling. I grabbed a rope, preparing to leap down when Landy’s words came into my mind again. With that, I looked up at Jacky. He stared at me with such sincerity that I nearly could not recognize this man. It was then that I realized he was still holding on to my left hand.
“Believe me,” he repeated as he released my hand. I felt a weird surge of loss. “What is the reason that causes you to be so reserved? How did your parents…pass away?”
Tears started to well up in my eyes. I wanted so much to lay my head on his shoulder, but I feared he might feel uncomfortable. I shook my head a few times to hold back my tears. It was not easy. “I killed them.”
“Tell me more. Let me help.”
“You can’t help!” I yelled, my voice echoing in the quiet night.
“Believe in me!”
“You have to be—”
“No one can help—”
“I can help you. I really can. Let me help, please. Believe in me.”
Believe in me.
Somehow, my heart melted and I gave in. I had always thought that belief was not strong enough to change anything. However, it was something else that made me believe him.
I believe you.
“I was born into a perfect family. I had a father who drove a taxi and a mother who cooked for others,” I started, not daring to face him.
“That’s very good. Go on.”
“We lived simply, yet happily. My father worked seven days a week. Every night, I would wait for my father to buy supper for us. The three of us would eat while watching television. That late-night meal was the only time for us to be together. I would tell them about the new bully in school. They would teach me how to fight back.”
“You’ve got very good parents,” Jacky cut in, obviously just to prove that he was still listening.
“Life was perfect. Just so perfect. Until one day…one day…” Whenever the memories flowed back, I would close my eyes to let the tears flow smoothly. Jacky stroked my back, encouraging me to steady my nerves. I knew if I were to tell him about myself, I would have to overcome those memories. “One day…that day…” I took a long, deep breath. “It all happened.
“The day started like any other day. My father ate his breakfast in a rush and then went to work. As usual, I yelled, ‘Drive carefully, Dad,’ before he stepped out of the house. Hours later, I was in school, listening to the teacher attentively when I saw my mother outside the classroom.
“I remembered that day we were supposed to have a spelling test, yet I had forgotten to bring the exercise book. I thought my mother was just there to pass me my book. Little did I expect it to be something more than just a book. Or a test.
“She grabbed my hand and we left the school. No word was exchanged. We went into a taxi, and when she cried, I sensed that something was wrong. Then, she hugged me, and I knew it was bad news.”
I paused. I needed a break from the bad memories. Jacky flashed his trademarked smile and patted my shoulder. We stayed that way for a few more minutes.
“My father had died in a car accident. In his desperate attempt to get a passenger, he neglected his own safety. A lorry crashed into his taxi. He died instantly. I was only twelve then. I cried every day, waiting for my supper to come. But every night, only memories of my father came back. I could no longer tell him about the new bully in my school.
“My mother, strangely, indirectly blamed me for his death. She claimed that had I not told my father to drive carefully, he might not have died. It made no sense at all. With my father’s death, my mother quit her job and turned into a drunkard. She would return every night stinking of alcohol. I had no idea where she got the money.
“I was totally dejected with my broken family. Then I met a group of friends when I was in secondary one at a stairway. They showed me new ways to relax: smoking, drinking… I was lured in by the thought of not having to care. I smoked my days away.”
“I cannot imagine you were once a smoker,” Jacky said.
“Home was just a place for me to seek quarrels. I tried my best to stay away from home. My mother would always call me names like ‘jinx’ or ‘bitch’ even when she was sober. Finally, one day, I had had enough. I put all my clothes into a bag and shouted to her, ‘I hope you’ll die in a car accident, just like Dad. And I hope you’ll get crushed by a big lorry!’ After that, I stayed in my friend’s house for two days.
“And, two days later…” I was shuddering, my tears rolling out faster. I tried to wipe them off, but they kept coming. I felt like jumping down to the ground, ending the ordeal. Without warning, Jacky embraced me, his body warming me up. He was shuddering along with me. I dropped my head onto his shoulder and whispered, “Two days later, my mother was crushed by a big lorry. She died on the spot.”