Highly Commended Story - Senior Category
“Help” by Yung Cheng Ze Javier, Chung Cheng High School (Main), Singapore, is the Highly Commended story in the senior category of the second biannual Short Story Contest 2018.
Perhaps, just any mediocre student who had developed his passion for writing, Yung Cheng Ze Javier has been writing short stories since the age of 10. He attends Secondary School at Chung Cheng High School (Main) in Singapore, a well-known school which recognizes both English and Mandarin as their first language. Rather than fantasy such as Harry Potter, he prefers to touch on stories more relatable to everyday life, as reflected in his entry. He likes reading adult fiction in comparison to those designated for youths at the bookstore, and would spend donkey’s years just to perfect a story to the best of his abilities.
I was just eight when I first met her. She was transferred from China, with a relatively delicate frame, bobbed hair and dark brown eyes. Due to her mediocre English, no one could really interact with her and break the ice. She was Lucy.
Demure, and she seldom spoke. As a newcomer, many did harbour any intention of befriending her. Over a span of two months, Lucy had gone for recess unchaperoned, and was occasionally folding small Japanese origami papers. Oblivious and in my own world at that point of time, I had absolutely no intention to chum up with her either.
It was not long after the start of the school year until one day during the lesson, I found it arduous to read the minute words on the whiteboard. From where I sat, the once comprehensible letters just seemed like blotches of black. Squinting but to no avail, I could not copy scrupulously and had a strenuous time studying for my examinations. To everyone’s vexation, my grades plummeted from straight As to Cs.
“Mary Tan!” Our teacher, Ms Leong’s voice penetrated through the silence. It was the last examination paper to be given out. I dragged my feet perturbed towards Ms Leong’s desk, praying deeply inside to sail through with flying colours while trying very hard to perceive clues from her wooden face. With trembling hands, I received the paper and to my utter consternation, I had failed!
That day after school, I hid in a corner, tears strolling down my cheeks, leaving salty tracks behind. Why? Envisaging how I would be satirized by my classmates and berated at home, I could not bear but bury my head in my hands, letting out stifled sobs.
Just then, a colourful object which fell before me caught my eye. It was an origami crane. Shooting a quick glance in all directions, no one was in sight. Curiosity got the better of me as I reached out for it. The paper crane had been pedantically hand-crafted, with small flowers and smiley faces all around it. As I examined it fold by fold, it finally revealed a small note, writing, “Don’t worry; you can do this! ;)”
I felt a surge of confidence within me. Notwithstanding the fact that I thoroughly had no idea of the person behind this, I was more than grateful for her encouragement. After my ever-discerning parents took me to the optician, I was fitted with a pair of spectacles with some Cinderella decorations on it. With them, I could regain my vision in no time, and my academic grades ameliorated again.
However, it was soon before my classmates started to pour scorn on the fact that I was wearing spectacles. When I landed my footsteps into the classroom one day, with the glasses resting on my nose, I was greeted with derision and mockery.
“Look!” someone chaffed, “Mary has become a four-eyed pussy!” A roar of laughter followed the comment. Every single tease sent ripples of pain through my heart. Why did my classmates always have to pick on me? I racked my brain for ways to retort but utter not a word except for sobs. On the brink of tears, I scrambled out of the classroom with the speed of an equine, not knowing how to face my classmates from then on.
The next day, as I plodded into the dreaded classroom and plonked onto the chair, I found another paper crane on the table. This one had more daisies and smiley faces. Opening it up, trying my very best to decipher the scribbled words of broken English on the paper, I knew that it was from the same person who dropped me the paper crane when I was feeling down, despite still having no idea who was behind it. Yet again, that small symbol of encouragement buoyed me up tremendously. Only then, I managed to ride out the series of name-callings. A uniquely different origami crane would appear on my desk every morning since allowing me to kick start the day of school with a smile like a Cheshire cats without fail.
I knew that someone in my very own class was behind all these. And I was hell-bent on finding out. It was not until one day before I uncovered the truth.
It was English lesson. While everyone was immersed in the lesson, I could not help but divert my attention towards Lucy. Her eyes were darting from right to left, and when the teacher was not looking, she fished out pieces of coloured paper fervently and started folding instantaneously, thereupon slotting them under the desk once it was done. In seconds, she had a dozen of them cluttered underneath her desk.
Then, it dawned on me that Lucy had always been the one supporting me every day! She, whom I at first, thought was nobody but a taciturn transfer student, had helped me tackle one of my greatest problems! I had to reciprocate the favour.
Unlike other days which I trudged back home, I was at my doorstep in minutes. Taking out a piece of origami paper, I meticulously folded it petal by petal into a rose. Despite not cutting the mustard at origami, I burnt the midnight oil, resolute to finish it by the next day.
I was too late. Lucy had left for China. Nevertheless, I was undaunted. I had to requite her! After asking around for her whereabouts, I managed to send it to her in the fullness of time. Attached with it was a small note: Thank you so much, Lucy!
Eight years later, I had the most indelible surprise of my life. Upon yanking open the door when the doorbell rang, it took a moment for me to realize who was at the doorstep…
Still as rangy, her smile still as bright, just that she had outgrown her bob. It was her. It was the person who reached into my hollowness when I needed help most. In her hands was an origami rose which had yellowed over the years.
I could not help but embrace her tightly, not willing to let go of her. Tears of warmth and gratitude glazed my face. Then, in the most soothing voice, Lucy said, “I’m always here to help.”
That was the most heart-warming sentence I had ever heard.