by Timothy Yeo
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Valentine’s Day. As was tradition in their school, the girls prepared their freshly baked offerings for the community, making just enough of each member of their class, and little extra for members of their clique. For Yixin, she baked a set of cupcakes for the class, as was customary of her position as the Class Monitor. They were layered with chocolate with a marshmallow on top, considerately small, and she packed them tightly in the Tupperware so they wouldn’t move around and spoil. She’d like to think she put in more effort than the rest in preparing these treats, but the reaction she received was always a cool lack of interest; the girls somehow enjoyed the store-bought chocolates of their close friends, instead.
This Valentine’s Day, however, was slightly different. When they received the cupcakes, they regarded her with blank surprise, but not at the food. Some looked impressed. Even more seemed threatened. Yixin didn’t care what they thought. The Tupperware emptied and one last one remained. She brought it up to Jeremy.
He stared at her intently, but only briefly; the other girls were watching them, after all. He said, “I don’t think we allow skirts to be that short.”
She had researched on the Internet all night to find out how to make herself more attractive, even if the school regulations held her back. Rolling her skirt up to her waist made her figure petite and demure. But too much makeup was tacky; her attempts would scare any educated man off, even if such blatant blush was allowed. She settled for a French braid, toiling through the night to link her strands together, trying, failing, but learning, as she did in her exercise book every day.
Her teacher folded his arms and said, “Please roll that skirt down, Yixin.”
She wasn’t offended. She did what her teacher told her and went back to her desk. Meanwhile, the whispers of the class were already kicking into high gear. Who had she met? Where was he from? Was he from across the road? Since girls of this school were taught never to stare at anything except their own textbooks, such gossip to them were nuggets of gold. Cliques which had typically ignored her descended with questions, interrogations, and unsolicited advice. She replied to each one of them politely and deceitfully. She was sure none of them would guess her real partner. No one would ever expect boring old Yixin to be capable of such degeneracy.
That thought made her grin.
One of her acquaintance-friends, Jessica, confided that queen bee Jade was out for her. Yixin didn’t care. Classroom politics had never mattered. If there was something worth learning in the classroom, it wasn’t that.
The rest of the day passed without any contact with Jeremy. He had already texted her the new meeting spot: the Annex, a forgotten area in the school used to store the student’s records. He had booked the room for the evening and had the door on auto-lock so they would be able to block any unexpected visitors. Principal Kong had elected him Head of Logistics, he reassured her, so all the school was more or less his domain.
In the evening, when she entered, she saw him sitting against the wall, the lights dimmed such that she only saw one side of his jaw.
“Listen,” he said. “Yixin, before you do anything, let’s talk. You’re only eighteen and—”
She leapt into his arms, smothering any future protests.
With her sitting on his lap, his voice echoed around the room, teaching her more lessons, the ones the government didn’t dare to tell you. About the dark ages of the fifties, the communist plots and the city hall bombings, police crackdowns where families were torn apart and placed in jail cells.
She was genuinely shocked. Their government was supposed to be infallible, one step ahead of their stone-age neighbours. When he started to outline the details of how their beloved leader drove an innocent man to bankruptcy simply for telling the truth, the sheer injustice chilled her heart, and she huddled closer to him.
“Don’t believe what others tell you,” he concluded, rocking her back and forth. “Always question. Always doubt.”
Yixin could resist no longer. Her grief had emptied her stomach. She raised her head. Clasped the side of his ear with her teeth. Delighting in his surprise, she continued to nibble deeper, until the whole of his earlobe disappeared inside her mouth.
He laughed and tossed her gently to the ground. The floor was carpeted in this room, so she landed quite comfortably, and she closed her eyes to wait for him to feast. But instead, he only stroked her hair and continued his lecture. Confused, she turned around so that she was lying on her belly, because maybe he preferred her behind? But he didn’t make a move.
Her tongue darted about, longing to soothe her lonely mouth. Even though she had eaten a full lunch an hour ago, she was still hungry. The carpet felt soft enough. So Yixin dug her teeth in and tore out a chunk, swallowing it whole down her throat. The taste was flat, but the texture was amazing. Jeremy continued speaking unaware. All she had to do was close her eyes, listen to his voice, and continue eating. Following those three steps soothed the inferno within her.
After he had tired of talking, they spent the night together, their bodies about a centimeter apart. At least she had the comfort that she didn’t sleep hungry.
* * *
Saturday. Her phone read 3000 new messages. Apparently, someone from school had run into some trouble. The lines upon lines of shocked emojis told her absolutely nothing, so Yixin stopped reading a few 100 messages in. Instead, she got dressed. It was a piece ordered online from China, a grey blouse with lace on the chest. She even put a little eyeliner this time, even as her brush trembled in front of the mirror. Mother would have a breakdown if she saw Yixin now, but fortunately Mother was knocked out on the couch as she always was during weekends. Yixin quietly slipped on her shoes and went out.
To counter her recent, inexplicable mouth cravings, she had eaten no less than four slices of toast, and somehow her figure had remained as petite as ever. Her efforts went to waste when she arrived at the meeting spot and saw Jeremy in his casual attire, because she had to salivate all over again. Sporting a denim jacket and skinny jeans, she wanted to enshrine him in a museum, an exhibit she could study forever.
“What did you learn yesterday?” he asked.
She knew he meant: Did you do your Maths practice like a normal person?
“No,” she said, and when she told him she had spent the day trying out an unproductive roast pork recipe, she flinched at his disappointment.
“If you’re going to be a dropout, you’d better do it right,” he said. “Let me introduce you to a new subject.”
In the café, Jeremy showed her a few paintings of noble men dressed in English garb, went on to outline the basics of how to appreciate literature as a genuine human being. Shakespeare was perhaps the greatest storyteller of their generation, his allegories still standing true even in today’s modern era, so Jeremy said. It just so happened that a performance at the park, aptly titled “Shakespeare in the Park,” was happening this evening. Would she be willing to come along and see what it was like?
Of course, Yixin said yes.
An hour later, she found herself perched beside him atop clean-cut grass, facing the large amphitheater in the middle where Macbeth would speak his final words. The audience around them were young folk, their ears pierced, and they were smoking from strange canisters. She noted with a strange thrill that she was younger than them all.
Jeremy excused himself for a moment, told her to stay on the blanket. She watched as he went over to an area marked by a yellow box, took out a pack of cigarettes, lit one, and expelled a mysterious cloud. She restrained herself for a grand total of five seconds before leaping up to join him.
He saw her coming and frowned. “You’re underage.”
She tiptoed and plucked the cigarette out with her teeth.
With a sigh, he reached in between her lips and showed her the correct side to insert. “When you inhale, breathe in deep, but slow. Like you’re breathing normally through your mouth. Stop if you feel a little lightheaded.”
This taste was icy, a new one. Yixin could practically feel the smoke smother her throat, creep down the windpipe to destroy all that was good in her lungs.
They returned to their spot. When the curtains finally opened and the stage darkened, Jeremy stopped talking, focusing on the actors with rapt attention. She tried to be as attentive, but their strange accents confused her and, although she recognized the words, she had no clue what they meant strung together. Instead, she felt her eyes drift back towards him. Horn-rimmed glasses, lined with years of wear and tear. She couldn’t stop examining every detail of those frames.
Her stomach grumbled. To her dismay, the mountain of carbs that morning had already dried up.
Their picnic basket had long since been drained empty. Jeremy himself was munching on a KitKat as he watched the play, and of course Yixin didn’t dare ask to share. She looked around but couldn’t see any food stalls. Only grass, and although she sneaked in some clumps of soil into her mouth, she found that was no longer as effective as that night in the Annex. She needed flesh.
A candidate appeared. Crawling around their tablecloth, cautiously poking its head about for any food from the nearby picnics, was a small white lizard. Yixin’s hand shot out, faster than an eagle’s descent, and she had it wriggling in her palm. The movement was so quick, none of the other play-goers nor Jeremy stirred. She allowed it to struggle for a moment longer before biting into its torso, slowly, so that the blood didn’t spurt out. She sucked its organs out, spat out the bones onto the grass, and swept the remains under the tablecloth.
After the play, Jeremy’s chatter was on full blast. “It’s amazing how believable Macbeth was,” he said. “He’s a man who has it all — fame, accomplishment, power — and yet he threw it all away. Humans have always been that way, even in Shakespeare’s time. There’s no changing it. We all take our own path to self-destruction.”
The lesson today was an apt one. The meals forced down today were nothing but poison, but even as Yixin’s body corroded, she couldn’t wait to find out what tomorrow’s menu would be.
* * *
The first Monday morning was different. The crowd tittered as Principal Kong herself got up the podium, and she repeated over and over in her magnanimous tone that none of them had anything to fear while they were within the hallowed halls of their institution. After that, they were shuffled off to their classes, but only Yixin’s class was directed towards the Multi-purpose Hall, where the students filed inside in neat rows, sweating through their shirts. One by one, they were called out by several men in blue.
When it was Yixin’s turn, she sat in front of a police inspector. He had a greying mustache and a strange smell about her that made her uncomfortable. Two other policeman stood behind her where she couldn’t see. Basically, they wanted to know where she was on Friday evening. Did she go anywhere near the music room? Did she loan her student card to anyone? Did she see anyone suspicious hanging around the school?
She told them about the blonde foreigner, but that was weeks ago, and the inspector’s face remained unchanged. She was beginning to recognize the smell wafting off this policeman. It had lingered with her that weekend after the play. Cigarette smoke. That was it. She felt as if she had just solved a long withstanding puzzle, and began to feel better already.
The inspector finished with a set of instructions, delivered as he stared past her at a spot on the wall. She wasn’t to tell anyone else about what happened. There was no need to panic. The police force was working hard to find the culprit. They would make sure to protect the girls of this school, the jewels of the country’s future.
“We’re not jewels,” she said.
For the first time, he looked shocked.
“Not yours,” she added, and smiled at him.
When the girls finally got back to class in the afternoon, chaos descended, and Yixin had to work hard to herd them back to their desks. The teachers were all absent, probably hauled off for questioning, and it was Yixin’s job to make sure the class’s “silent reading” time was as productive as possible. Once she had settled everyone, she opened her exercise book and began practicing her questions as usual. Daydreaming about where Jeremy would bring her next. Her square roots and Booleans trailed off into meaningless doodles as she lost herself to complex theories of a different design.
“Jessica’s neck was like, twisted...”
That caught her attention. Jessica was not in class today, but then again, that girl was one of the tardier ones, so Yixin had paid it no mind. But the dots were starting to come together. Principal Kong had mentioned someone had gotten hurt. And the way the inspector had avoided making eye contact. As if he was handling a damaged flower about to shatter into a million tiny pieces.
“The blood was so deep, right, they couldn’t get it out of the floors. I heard they’re gonna close down the music room forever.”
Yixin crept up to the gossipers. “What happened to Jessica?”
They regarded her with narrowed eyes, amazed she hadn’t heard yet.
One girl said, “I heard someone ate her.”
Someone online had leaked photos of the police investigation, but the girls were too squeamish to click on the link themselves. Yixin herself had to know. She opened the link on the phone and saw the interior of the music room. In the corner, a human figure stained red and pink was stuffed in between the drum set. She couldn’t make out anything comprehensible, least of all the deformity that was Jessica’s face. Only their familiar uniform, stained with a dark shade she never believed could exist.
All three plates of chicken rice she had for lunch rose to her throat. She ran to the bathroom and regurgitated them all, one after another.
* * *
Copyright © 2020 by Timothy Yeo