He hurled the little girl’s toy into the sand pit a distance away. Then while she went to retrieve it, he dragged up a chair and watched as she sank in the quicksand.
He stood on the edge, his insides shaking, looking down at the waters below. Knowing he had only one try, he leapt off after taking a deep breath and the crowd erupted in cheers at his perfect dive.
For my favorite sport of the Olympics: diving (:
Hi everyone! This is a story translated from my Chinese short story 马车上的雏菊! There are slight changes in terms of plot, but not the story, and the feel is slightly different. At least, I felt different when writing the English version, that was why it took so many drafts. But writing English stories was always different from writing Chinese ones. In any case, enjoy!
“Wow! Daisies!” I said aloud, obviously elated by the mere sight of them. “They’re so pretty!”
“You like daisies?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Yeah! It’s my favorite flower!” I nodded ecstatically. My eyes were probably even glistening, but I wouldn’t know without a mirror.
“Why would you like daisies? Women should like roses.”
If there had been any glistening in my eyes at all, they would have disappeared that very instant.
“Daisies are pretty too,” I continued softly, but I could feel my willpower of convincing him about that fact slipping away. He always sounded so firm, like everything he said was right.
“They look like common wildflowers. You should like something more unique! Like roses! All girls love roses!”
This was a conversation him and I had a long, long time ago. Something which I always remembered whenever I walked into the flower conventions, looking at the daisies waving daintily in front of me. I really did not understand how he could contradict himself in just one statement. If all girls loved roses, then that did not make roses unique anymore, especially on Valentine’s Day; every girl on the street would be carrying a stalk or a bouquet of roses. Did guys ever wonder whether their girlfriends liked them? What if they were like me? What if they preferred something else?
I was never a strong believer of roses, or flowers for that matter, being a symbol of love or romance. But somehow I was very taken by daisies. Something about them always cheered me up, leave me light-spirited whenever I see them. Roses looked like a bunch of tissues squashed together – red roses reminded me of a bunch of tissues soaked in blood. How was that romantic? I could not understand.
But I was not a person or a girl who could contradict anyone, or even express my opinions. Therefore I let the matter go, not saying anything. A few days later, he turned up at my doorstep with a bouquet of roses. I acted all ecstatic, as I should, but I was not at all happy, yet I still said nothing.
If you knew me well enough, I came from a rather traditional family whereby the elders were always right. Actually, no, it was just that I had a very strict mother who believed rather extremely strongly in instilling a right set of beliefs in us. But that was quite a mouthful, so I always ended up telling people I was brought up in a traditional family. Anyway, back to my main point – I had a strict mother and she would not allow any opinions differing from hers. Strictly none. For example, the Ferrari accident at Bugis Junction… You heard of it? Well, you should if you are a Singaporean. If not (meaning if you haven’t heard about it or if you aren’t a Singaporean, or both), Google it. Anyway, she was very adamant that the driver of the Ferrari was the sole culprit – after all, he was drunk and was speeding and he ran the red light and caused a crash with a taxi which resulted in three deaths. But my father said something different – he said the impact of the accident could be brought down by a notch or two if the taxi driver had been more alert and careful and not to be as impatient as to take off the moment the traffic light turned green. I agreed with Daddy, but before I could even say anything, Mummy lashed out at him saying that my father “deserved to die for thinking that way”. That was already euphemized, by the way. They were the exact same words, but they were in Hokkien and so they sounded a hundred times less malicious.
So, that was the environment I grew up in. As a child, I could not do or think whatever I want. Once, I told my mum that a friend Daniel told me to watch Pokemon on Saturdays because it was really good, I could never be friends with Daniel again. We connected again recently on Facebook though – he is currently a part time gym trainer, for real, no pun intended. When I was a teenager, I could not take the train to meet my friends even if I wanted to; she would ban me from taking the train that day and she would call to check that I took the bus instead. And when I was waiting to go into University, I could not apply for the course I wanted to. You see, I badly wanted to be a photo-journalist for National Geographic. Huge dream, I know. But my mother wanted me to be a teacher. Journalism was a ‘wrong’ career path, while teaching was ‘right’. Those were her words. But I had a different opinion – there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ career choices in life, just ‘difficult’ or ‘easy’. To me, doing something default is the easy way out, especially if you have no passion for it. But I applied to pursue a Degree in Education anyway because I wanted to make her happy. You see, she was already upset when my brother refused to stay in the army as an Air Force pilot, but chose to be a nurse in a dilapidated hospital in Cambodia instead. She was livid when he made the choice, I couldn’t be more proud of him. I hated seeing Mummy cry, so I decided to do as she wished. I hated it when the people I loved get upset.
So that sort of permeated into my everyday life. I would sacrifice anything for my friends and family, like time, studies and even beliefs. Everyone said I was nice, even my boyfriend. He said that he loved me because I was nice. I did not understand. Is nice even a word to describe someone? Anything can be nice. That girl next door was nice, the pen I was using for my written essay earlier was nice, the char siew bun I had for lunch was nice… If he loved me just because I was nice, how was I different from anybody, anything else? Did he love every other nice girl he met on the streets then? I’m sure there are plenty.
But being young and passionate lovers fresh from the honeymoon period, I had slowly eased into sacrificing things in my life without knowing. I had stopped playing basketball just because he wanted to spend more time with me, I had stopped hanging out with my friends because he wanted to be my ‘one and only’. I did not realize how much I had lost until one day, I received a letter in my mailbox. A real letter, not an e-mail, and it was from a good friend of mine.
“Dear Xiaoqi, you might have heard, I don’t know, but I’m leaving for NZ for 3 years to study. I decided to drop you this letter because they couldn’t reach you to invite you to my farewell party. Look, I just wanted to let you know that you are the nicest friend I’ve ever had. But you know what? In this world, nice people get taken advantage of in every single way. You have to know when to protect yourself and your rights. Nice isn’t a bad thing, but it isn’t a good thing either, so it shouldn’t be what defines you. You can’t please everybody anyway, no matter how nice you are. “Nice” is not a personality, and it shouldn’t be. Being nice and yet knowing when and how to stand up for yourself, to protect your beliefs and your rights, that is what we called personality. Think about it. Someday, you’ll know what I mean. Take care!”
His letter left me puzzled, and that was because it got me thinking – not about what he said, but about myself. I needed some answers; I wanted to know what to do, what my next step should be. When I asked him over Skype the other day, he said I would know when the time was right.
And who knows, that time actually came fairly soon.
“Hey sweetie, look! They have an inter-faculty basketball championships game this semester! I want to take part in this!”
“What?” My boyfriend was practically a geek. A cute one though. He was really serious about academics and had no interests in sports. “What for?”
“For fun? Come on. It’s gonna be so exciting!”
“No. That wouldn’t look nice on you. You’re a girl. You shouldn’t even be playing. Besides, you haven’t played for a long while. Who knows if you’re still good at it.”
“I can always go back and play with my friends again. I was thinking of that anyway. They have been asking me since forever.”
“What? Go and play? With those guys?” He was appalled. Like literally. What was so surprising about playing basketball with boys? Most basketball players in street basketball courts were boys. What was he talking about?
“Yeah. And they’re my friends. You could come along and meet them too. They’re great people, you’ll-”
“No. I don’t want to. And you shouldn’t too!”
“A girl playing such a rough sport with boys? What would others think of you? What would they think of me?!”
“What has that got to do with you?!”
“You’re my girlfriend! What you do affects me! What are others going to say about me letting those boys touching you while playing on the court?!”
“Why do you care what others say?! And they’re not touching me. They’re-”
“I will never allow it, Xiaoqi. Don’t you even think about it.”
What? Who was he to ban me from basketball? Was he my mother? My mother already banned me once from the sport when I was fifteen. I was not going to let that happen again. I’m already twenty-one. What did he know about it? Basketball was the only outlet I had for any emotions that I bottle within myself – anything I was unhappy with from home, from school, from friends… As long as I get to play, as long as I had the power to control the ball, the odds of winning would entirely be within my control as long as I persisted. I would play until I won every game, I would shoot until I scored every ball; it was the place where I could make my own destiny, it was the sport which I could taste the success of my own work but not my mother’s. He had no idea how important the sport was to me. And he wanted me to abandon my friends? Dude! They’d been my friends for ten years! Way before I knew you! They were with me whenever I was happy, angry, sad, discouraged… They were there to pull me through everything! And you just wanted me to leave them like that? And you believed I would do so just because you told me to? Are you nuts?
So I went ahead with the inter-faculty competition anyway, and that was the first time our relationship went downhill.
You see, it was like releasing the gate of a very large dam. I could almost taste the cloying flavor of freedom on my tongue and I wanted to do more. I signed up for photography classes, I took journalism courses as electives, I started buying cameras, books on photography and started up my own blog, posting up my own photographs and articles. My mother was furious and my boyfriend thought I was going crazy. But what did they understand? All their lives they had control over my choices, they did not understand the sense of liberation I felt, and not only that, with it came a sense of self-identity. I knew what I liked, what I did not. I knew when I could tolerate certain things and when I had to stand up for certain rights – not just for myself but for others too. I dared to challenge my mother’s opinions even though it meant that she would curse me to go to hell, but it did not matter. I knew she did not mean it from the bottom of her heart. I started to express my opinions more and more, I started going out with my friends again and I returned to basketball. It was exhilarating. I knew who I was. And it felt good to know who you really were. It was like filling in the colors of the black and white images in a coloring book, filling your world with the colors you wanted, with colors that suited your mood, with colors you loved, creating a world that truly belonged to you.
One day, I won a photography competition and on that very same day, I received an e-mail saying that I had been awarded a scholarship; a teaching scholarship, to be exact. Although my mother said nothing much, but she treated my relatives to dinner. She was proud of me, I could tell. The smile on her face was nothing like those she wore. She was literally beaming so widely I was so impressed that she could hold it there for so long. My relatives were proud too. They were patting me on my back, discussing the possibilities I had for my future. I announced that I had decided to take up the teaching scholarship and be a teacher. They were stunned.
“I could do photography for leisure and still pursue courses in it while I teach, can’t I? Who says we have to be stuck doing just one thing? In this generation, there is simply no time for that. Whatever we do, we have to multi-task. Even when it’s just learning new things, we have to learn multiple things at once.”
My mother had no objections, possibly because I had fulfilled her wish of me becoming a teacher, or perhaps, she had finally realized I had grown and matured and could make my own decisions. The only person who was sulking about it was my boyfriend.
“Why would you do something like that?”
“What do you mean useless? This is-“
“Photography? Come on. Look, I’m happy you decided to take up the teaching scholarship. But how is photography going to help you? Why don’t you read up things on psychology or pedagogy, something that will help you in your job! You’ll promote faster that way!”
“Hey, hey, hey. What you said makes sense, alright. Learning and reading is good, of course, but we can’t just stay in the world of books. Yes, we learn a lot of things through theory from books, but nothing beats experience. Have you ever wondered how many things I’ve been able to see through the lenses of my cameras? I can see things which books can’t make you see. It’s a different kind of learning experience. It isn’t useless!”
“Are you really still going to continue doing that?”
“You mean photography? Yes.”
“I don’t get it. Why have you become so ridiculous and unreasonable lately?”
At that moment, I realized he did not love me because I was nice. He loved me because I had no mind of my own and he could will me to do whatever he pleased.
But that time was over. He was right, I had changed, and perhaps because our personalities really did not match, I did seem demanding to him. That was the last night we were together.
I went on with life, happier than ever actually. The breakup was actually a relief. I had lifted the burden on my back for ages and I could fly. I went to learn social dancing, I volunteered at animal shelters, I took part in my basketball and photography competitions, I started going for teaching internships. Two years later, my blog was nominated for the best blog in the region. Although I did not win, I managed to meet a group of fellow civilian photo-journalists online and we had endless things to talk about. It was like seeing different parts of the world through their eyes. We even set up a common blog to post our pictures, like a collaborated online photo-journal for the world to see. Each week, we had a theme. And this week’s theme was flowers – which was the reason why I was standing here today, in front of the daisies in the flower convention and thinking about the past we had together.
Do I wish that we get back together? No, of course not. I still miss him, but I knew there was no chance of us being together anymore. He was in the world where all girls should like roses, but I am in my own world thinking that girls should have their own preferences of flowers, and mine was still daisies. Since young, I had always pictured a prince pulling up in a carriage full of daisies in front of my small, little cottage, whisking me off to a daisy field where we would have a picnic together. It’s just that now that I had no prince in my life, the last being him, I could not help but picture him as that prince who would bring me that carriage of daisies. I’d hate to have my prince’s face to be blank as a piece of paper waiting to be drawn on. Till then, he would still be the prince in my mind, although the possibility of that happening was less than zero.
“She was so demanding, I could no longer stand it!”
Oh, wow. Such a coincidence! He must be really lucky. We had not seen each other for two years, and the first thing I overheard when he ran into me was him badmouthing me behind my back. Nicely done, love.
“Wow! Look! Daisies! Aren’t they pretty?”
That voice was new, one which I did not recognize. I whirled around to look; standing next to him, holding his hand was a girl with a ponytail, huge eyes, fair and petite with gentle smile. She was so cute! She looked like she was a princess cut out from a children’s fairytale book. My eyes travelled to the stalk of rose she held with her free hand. He caught sight of me and his eyes widened.
“Hey. How have you been?” I said, smiling, resting my hands over my DSLR. Well, it was not like we did not know each other. We had been the most important person in each other’s lives once after all. It was only right to be polite, at the very least.
“Who is this?” the girl asked curiously. He shifted uncomfortably.
“I’m Xiaoqi! Nice to meet you!” I grinned.
Her eyes rested on my camera. “Wow!” she said again. “The online photo-journalist Cai Xiaoqi?!”
“Yes.” I laughed, amused by her enthusiasm. Her eyes widened even more, doubling her level of cuteness. He really knew how to pick his girls, I must say.
“Wow!” her jaw dropped. “My friends from my photography club love your work! I love your work too!”
“Thank you!” I said. “I’m really glad you like them.”
“Wow…” she exhaled a deep breath which I presumed she had held since I said my name and smiled widely, showing two little dimples and a perfect set of white teeth. He shifted awkwardly again and gave a slight cough.
“Do you like daisies?” I asked her, nodding towards the flowers in front of us.
“Yes! They’re my favorite flow- Oh I mean…” She gave him a frightened look, the smile sliding off her face, the dimples vanishing in a split second like they had never been there before. It was painful to look. “I mean. Roses are nice too. They are prettier than daisies. I like roses best.”
I looked at her gently, an odd feeling rising in my chest. It was as if a creature within me had just awoken – a creature which I had abandoned and hidden away in a corner of my heart for so long that I had forgotten its existence until today. I was nothing like this girl; I did not have her eyes or her petite frame, but somehow the feeling that rose in my chest was all too familiar, and I was pretty sure she was feeling that way too.
“You should give her daisies next time. She’s still waiting for that prince who would give her her first ever bouquet of daisies!” I addressed him, trying to catch his gaze but he was staring at my feet.
“Wow! How did you know?” Her jaw dropped again.
“Because I’m waiting for mine too! I had a dream of a prince who would give me my first ever bouquet of daisies ever since I was a little kid. That dream never changed.”
For the first time that day, he looked up and into my eyes. It was the same pair of eyes I knew two years ago, the same pair of warm, brown eyes which I was so familiar with. But there was something different about them, about the look he was giving me. His eyes had lit up in slight wonder, an expression which I had never seen before. He was so smart, nothing ever made him wonder like that and I had no idea how that look in his eyes came about. Perhaps, it was because he was seeing the real me – for the very first time.
A Carriage Full of Daisies © 2012 by Aubystories. All rights reserved.
Two grave diggers were digging hard one hot afternoon. “Keep it down, we’re trying to sleep here,” came a muffled voice from the freshly dug grave next to them.
Ellie drew her coat closer nervously, squeezing back into the closet a much as she could when she heard someone moving in the room. When the lights were switched on, she sprang out with a loud chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ for her cousin.
Dedicated to my beloved cousin, Heng Shun. Happy Birthday!
Josie fell asleep during History lecture and dreamed that she threw her shoe at her lecturer, hitting him in the face. When she woke up, she found the lecturer, bruised in the forehead, holding her shoe and staring at her from the front of the lecture theater.
When the shooting star streaked across the sky, she asked him to close his eyes. Then she leaned towards him and spat him in the face.