Followers

"Come here Malin,you're not having fever,are you?"

Malin jerked away, not fast enough for Mak Eton's reach on her forehead. She made every quick body gestures possible to portray an instant denial.

"That's my girl..I'll make you a nice glass of winter melon drink right after this,would you like that?"

"Uhuh!" Malin nodded like a choking old machine.

"But not until you finish your meal. Now eat up," Her smile followed her tender words,ever so soothing it always is Malin's cure of pain.

"Malin dear,how have you been doing at school?"

"Hmm?"

"Unnecessary repeat,you heard me...how do you find school?" Mak Eton pinched the girl lightly on her nose.

"Um,it's fun," said the girl,giggling.

"Really? I'm happy to hear that,well have you made lots of friends there? They're all lovely aren't they?"

"They're lovely,they all are,"

Malin stopped chewing. A sudden change on her face caught Mak Eton's attention.

"Listen to me my dear,I want you to grow up a graceful young lady. And I want you to be brave too,you know that?"

Mak Eton embraced the child into her arms.

"I know you love school,don't you?"

"I love school!" The child snapped in.

"Well that's good,that's good," Mak Eton nodded in pure expressions of satisfaction.

Malin's words died away for the second time. A slight unclear sign of disappointment.

"Malin..." Mak Eton held her tight. "You'll see one day,that I'm telling you the truth. You'll grow up good,and you'll find friends all around you. Be good to everyone around you,it matters not if they treat you the same,but it matters most for you to bear this in mind;you understand me?"

There's no other safer place in the world for the little girl except where she was then.

"Mak Eton,why can't I go out and play with friends? Why not even-"

A humming noise near the living room brought Malin to a halt. Mak Eton hurried to the passageway.

"It's fine Mak Eton,I'll carry this upstairs. Malin,have you finished your homework?"

Malin Struggled for words in between her gulps.

"No,not yet,"

"Get it done,then come back down for dinner. I have plenty of things to talk about."

"Yes mum,"

The lady threw her an unexpected smile,too unexpected Malin failed to resolve herself into a reaction germane to her mother's gesture,as if she was studying and exegesis of a hundred torturing pages long,which in turn transformed her into a completely fatuous looking stranger. It lasted but not for long before Marlia turned away,her attache' case swung back and forth in an easy oscillation.

Mak Eton and Malin looked at one another,their eyes met in an interval only a couple of seconds following the first glance.

Why her mother smiled,she knew not. But it served the little girl a better non-deliberate obfuscation for the day. Perhaps. Malin dragged herself upstairs into her room again and closed the door gently behind her. She stood holding her head up by the chin,looking out across the window into the darkening dusk skies. The sun shamed away into cool hugs of the clouds,and somewhere across,the moon peeked out to bless pale rays of shine on Malin's complexion.

"Alex-I'm sorry,I really am,"

Mulling over,her thoughts travelled a greater distance than her feet could ever carry her. Where it met Alex's.

The boy bestrode on a tiny chair for ten minutes and shifted when he felt a slight cramp on his back.

Tomorrow I'll meet her again after school and it will all be fine again! He whispered in no doubt to himself-a benison,together with it a hopeful tireless grin.

"What?" replied Alex, obviously too far away to hear Malin's soft squeak.

She held up a finger to her best friend, "One minute", it's supposed to mean. She quickly put on her outside clothes and ran down the stairs, stopping at the bottom to check if Mak Eton, her maid was around. After confirming that she was nowhere in sight, she apprehensively opened the door to see Alex already waiting right on the doorstep, sitting with his back towards her.

"What took you so long?" said Alex with a grin as he turned to face his bestest friend.

"What are you doing here? Do you know how much trouble I'll get into if my Mom found out? How did you get here anyway? And how did you get here so fast?"

"Whoa, aren't you gonna invite me in first?" Alex said as relaxed as ever, the grin still there.

Malin took his arm and raced with him upstairs. Just before she could close her room door, a voice from the kitchen said "Malin? Aren't you going to come here and eat? Mak Eton made your favourite."

"Er, maybe later Mak Eton. Right after, er, I finish my homework," said Malin unconvincingly as she closed the door.

She exhaled in relief, only to see Alex jumping on her bed.

"Come on Malin, join me!" Alex said as he bounced on the pink and white floral motif of her bed.

"You can't do that!" Malin now with her pale skin suddenly turning a bright red. "Get down from there right now! You want us both to get in trouble?"

"Party pooper," said Alex as he climbed down the bed, to meet his friend face to face. "So what are we gonna play first?" asked Alex expectantly.

"No, we're not gonna play! Play time is over!" Malin heard herself say. She has never been angry towards Alex before.

"Okay then," Alex shrugged, as he turned around and jumped out of the open window. "Bye!" Malin managed to hear him say.

She sprinted a whole 5 steps and, panic-stricken, searched the ground for her friend. He was nowhere to be found. She heard a knock on her door. She turned to see Mak Eton.

"Did you call me just now Malin? I'm sure I heard you say something," inquired the maid ever so softly, so as not to cause her to drop tears again.

"Er, no. I was just er, practicing my er, story-telling in front of the mirror," she said as she again felt guilty for lying to the closest person to her in the family, if she can be regarded as kin.

Mak Eton smiled sweetly, showing the lines of experience on her face. "Come, join me in the dining room. It's already nearing 5 o'clock and your mother would not be happy if she were to find out you haven't had your lunch yet."

Malin followed, her face still red and her heart still in her throat.

Marlia sped her imperious colossal luxury at full tilt. The 10 minutes journey home seemed more like a ride in a hearse to Malin,however. There was no conversation,no stopping by and honey-would-you-like-a-Slurpee or anything. The only things that kept her awake were the hum of the engine together with the cool blow from the air-conditioner on her face. She leaned her forehead against the window glass.

"We're home."

Malin leaped out the car and ran off towards the door.

"Malin!"
"Oh no,"

Malin turned to her mother. Her face dread-struck. Another act of disrespect done,two misbehaviours for the day in total. And it's only 2 hours past midday,while the evening's still a long,long way to go.

"Thank you mum,"
"I want you to wait for me until I get back from work at 7."

Malin was silent,uneasily sniffing. Thank God she forgot,she whispered to herself.

"We'll talk about it when I get back."

The child stood stiff as a statue,her eyes fixed on the pebbles on the pavement. She understood too well just what the word 'it' meant.

"See you later in the evening."

Malin nodded. She walked daintily towards the enormous door. Through the stained glass,she could see the housemaid hasting over to open the door for her.

"Hello there princess,come on in. I got your favourite dish ready on the table!" She greeted with a smile. Malin didn't reply. Colourless drops fell on the floor before her feet.

"Oh dear,what's wrong now..?"
"...mum,mum doesn't love me,"
"What,no,that can't be true? Hush...your mum will be sad,don't you say such things..."
"Of course it's true,she never smiled to me and she never brought me out to play the swing-and,and the slide..."

Some of the words fade in between of her sobs.

"...unless Pa tells her to. I love ice-creams but she never cared to buy me one,she isn't nice. She's not nice like my friend Alex. She doesn't love me."

Only then did Malin look up,her adorable face was already wet of tears by then. Her eyes spoke persistent words of solemn. The lady who was kneeling down in front Malin stared blankly. Suddenly the girl gasped,with both her palms covering her mouth.

"I didn't mean that! Please don't tell Mum!" She begged. Then,without another word,she sprinted upstairs to her room.

Malin reached out to the door knob,twisted it and sunk into her bed in five seconds to cry herself to sleep. She was way into her deep eye-shut half an hour later,when a voice came out from nowhere.

"Hey,Malin! Hey,over here,"

Malin rose with her swollen eyelids.

"Who's there,where are you?"

" 'tis Alex,come on here,look out the window. Hurry up now,"

Malin popped her head out the window to see Alex looking up to her in between her dangling hair.

"Come on!"
"What Alex,how am I supposed to get down,I can't go out,Mum told me not to," She replied sluggishly,wiping her face. It was not too long when Malin jumped in shock that she almost threw herself out the window.

"But wait! How did you get in here?!"

***


-Catch,anak pak man!-

"There's one!" exclaims Malin, spotting a maroon Myvi passing by.

"That's not red! Maroon doesn't count! No cheating!" says Alex with arched eyebrows paired with a smile.

"Aww, gimme a break.." Malin begs ever so mildly to her best friend in the whole wide world.

"No! There's a blue one! Yeah, I'm leading now!" The score was now 17-16 and Alex can't resist rubbing it into his best friend in the whole wide world's face.

They both had been at it for half-an-hour now, and the game would probably go on until Malin's mother came and fetched her, but they didn't care.

Malin would see Alex everyday after school waiting for her just outside the gates and they would do anything any healthy 7-year-old kid would do while waiting for Malin's mother to come fetch her.

Everyday, Alex would have a new game to play, or a new story to tell, or an ice-cream to share. Never was "boring" used to describe the "after school period". Malin, in her school uniform, and Alex, in his green long-sleeved t-shirt and khaki shorts. Nobody got in their way (except Malin's mother when she comes to pick her up) and they felt like they had the whole world to themselves.

"There's two! Haha, now I'm leading!" joy filling every syllable of the words coming out of Malin's mouth.

One of the red cars was her mother's 5-series, concluding the game that afternoon and oficially making Malin the victor of the spotting duel. Malin entered the car and waved her best friend goodbye, and caught the facial expression of fright on Alex's face. She had disobeyed a promise that Alex had asked Malin to pledge the first day they met and became best friends, "Never talk or wave at me when your mother is present."

Marlia, Malin's mother said with a scowl, "Who in heavens are you waving to?"

"My friend, Alex. Didn't you see him mum? He was right there beside me when you picked me up," Malin replied.

"Don't make up stories Malin! You were waiting on your own, like you always have. Which brings me to the questions, haven't you made any friends at school? It's been almost a year since you entered," enquired Marlia while they drove off.

-continued-

But then,on the eighth day,Anne misjudged this half-conscious man,thinking that he was fast asleep. He wasn't and,

"Make sure you don't miss the schedule Anne,we won't want to miss this chance. His condition is rare...you understand?"

"Yes I understand doctor,but for how long?"

"Nobody came so far,he'll stay here as long as nobody's taking him back."

"But who'll pay for his cost sir?"

"He will."

"What do you mean? I don't expect him to be able to do so,it seems that he has no relatives,"

"He will. Once I've finished studying his case,he sure will pay me back. I'll patent my discovery,Anne,and don't you worry,your name will be in my thesis." He said,a supercilious tone red and alive.

"Doctor,"

"Do your work,no more."

He heard the sound of foot stamps fading away. But he was awake,eyelids glued. The doctor's leaving.

Then some annoying sound of scribbles on a paper.

"Sir...it's time for your medication,"

The man refused to open his eyes at once. This camouflage must go on for another couple of seconds,he thought.

"Sir..?"

Then slowly,he woke up. Anne's smile greeted him. He didn't smile back,but gave a lost,hollow gaze.

"Take your pills sir,"

He thought again. It's been almost a week,or more than a week,he wasn't sure. But he believed it has gone over a week by then. It must be.

"Here," Anne repeated.

He could see two white pills on her palm,each looking massively frightening to be swallowed. And he didn't feel like swallowing it.

"Um..later. I'll take it later.."

"No sir,you must take it now or you'll miss the hour," Anne persuaded.

He realized that Anne was insisting. And he couldn't keep on resisting. Then a light from above lighted up his mind.

"Okay,"

He stuffed in the pills,carefully placing it beneath his tongue and pretended to swallow it with a gulp of plain water which Anne had brought in a glass.

"Good,that's it. Now rest,sir."

"Nurse,why am I here?"

"Why,you're still recovering,that's why you're here sir,"

"Please,I need to go home."

"I can't let you sir,you haven't recovered your memory. Until you've got it back,you'll stay under supervision. I told you not to worry."

Frustration. Again,why again,and it's everyday. He closed his eyes,and Anne left.

"I must find a way out here," He said to himself. No one should hear him,he's alone in there. It felt more worse everyday. The first day it felt like hospital,the next day a pure boredom,then it felt like prison,next as if he's in a zoo cage. Today it felt like being in a Soviet Union research lab. He fantasized what if they're going to cut open his chest and study him?

Nonsense,nonsense. But it really did look like a lab. The glass walls,and him being alone in it. Why is he alone,and why aren't them letting him go? He didn't manage to remember much,really. And what's this thesis,that the doctor was talking about? He couldn't help thinking. He felt desperate to. He was suffocating for answers.

-to be continued-

A week passed as the man, still very much amnesic, struggled with his memory. He didn't get much, except for the boy.

While sitting in a bed all day long might seem enthralling to some, he found himself bored a good 90% of the time. He spent the remaining percentage passing the time by by observing the sad white-yellow ceiling, the ever-present dripper, the "beeping thing" as he now calls the pulse monitor, and also the people on the other side of the four glass walls of his room. You don't call a place where only one patient stays a "ward", right?

People in white robes going back and forth, scrutinizing him with their eyes and more often than not, scribbling something on their clip-boards. The room was illuminated by four mild spotlights, but he can't make out anything that was within 5 feet of the glass cage that he was in.

He felt like zoo attraction more than a medical patient. He asks Anne where he was, but Anne had a template answer ready each and every time: "Sir, you need your rest.."

But then, on the eighth day, Anne

~to be continued~

Puzzled, the nurse's face made some fine lines visible on the edges of her forehead,which looked like that of a painting on a mildly peach coloured canvas. Having well reminded that a patient posses a high tendency of imitating them nurses' reactions,she hid her worries,and at once remembered one of the principles she had learned when she was a young trainee. That was during her first months of wearing the firm starched white uniform.

"Don't you worry sir,we'll take a good care of you here. You just lay down and stop moving your arms that vigorously-"

The man didn't stop,he might have not noticed,or he had lost his sense of pain,or he just didn't care. To remember what happened and why he was lying helplessly then and there was more important than anything else on the world.

"Help me,"

He uttered,which sounded more like an order than a request.

"You're making your hands bleed,Sir,"

'Anne',spelled the bold white letters on her nametag, as the man studied.

He started to reach up to his forehead,and his rough fingers touched the texture of gauze cloth. It hurt,very much. Anne eased a pillow behind him,and he sat-half comfortably,much disturbed.

"The police sent you yesterday evening,do you remember?"

"Not a single thing." He answered unsteadily.

"Try slowly,Sir. Don't force yourself. You can take a rest if you want to,don't worry."

"No,wait-"

"What's the matter?"

"There was a boy,there was a boy with me. Where is he?"

"I'm afraid you were alone when they sent you Sir. I'm sorry but there wasn't any boy,"

Anne made up her mind that this man needed a rest. He seemed to be giving her this new idea of a boy-but there was none,he was sent in an ambulance alone. The descriptions provided by the officer was not helpful indeed. And now he mentioned about a boy,which really gave her a mild anxiety. He was found in a car by the roadside,head bashed to the steering,glass shattered all over his shoulder. But there was no boy,she was sure. Hemorrhage could do a patient brain damage,and she was afraid that this man was experiencing it that he went delusional.

The man however,was crestfallen for his failure to remember any occurrence,let alone to relate one event to another,to finally answer the questions which had deluged his mind. Despite Anne's doubtful expressions,he was sure that he remembered perfectly. There was a boy indeed.

He mused over time,trying his best to recall additional details. He must know where the boy is,but not many options were laid before his eyes. He had to make Anne believe him first.

Maybe it was the Formeldahyde fumes and painkillers that were playing tricks on him, but the man seriously pondered how he got there on the bed of a cheap general hospital in the first place.

When he opened his eyes for what seemed like the first time, no doctors were by his side to tend to him, no nurses by his side to check how he was doing. Everyone seemed pretty happy running around doing other things than to notice him, but then again, who was he to be noticed by anyone?

Yes, who was he?

He was completely baffled, dumbstruck, but at the same time, not too bothered to go into a panic driven rage either. He lied there on the bed with stained sheets that he found himself upon and tried to remember.

"Sir, are you up?"

A voice broke his now 10-minute long meditation. Startled, he stared at his enquirer.

A nurse. Fully dressed in the scrubs that you have come to expect nurses to wear, she was most probably in her mid-30s. From the look on her face, she has had a long-day, but is very well motivated for the job. Judging by the way she stood so comfortably, she must have been working in the hospital for more than 8 years now.

"Sir? Can you hear me?" the nurse asked again in a mildly more urgent tone. He nodded, mouth slightly ajar.

"May I know your name Sir?"

He hesitated, but just for a moment as he only had one answer to that one.

"I don't know my name."