It’s become a habit
to sneak into the house
after midnight

so I don’t have to face
my mother.

I don’t want to see her
and this makes it easier

to blame the father.

‘You’re not honest at all,’
Mr. Ahmad says.

I ignore the cat,
bury it under dirty clothes.


The next morning,

I think of ponning school
I see the chameleon cat

—a furry extension of my piano.

I get out of bed,
open the door,
and myself staring

into coal-black eyes.


I close the door,
open it again.

Just to make sure.

‘Rowan,’ I say.

Her eyes burn into mine.

She doesn’t laugh
at my reaction.

‘I found Ria.’




No matter how much I pester her,

Rowan refuses
to take me there
or tell me where.

‘School,’ she says.
‘I’ll tell you after.’

So after,
I tell Ming
to tell the rest

I won’t be joining them.

Ming doesn’t even
stand still
long enough to hear me speak.

the whole thing.

I need to do something
about him.

But right now,



Rowan takes me to IMH.

This time,
we go to the glass cube.

It’s where patients wait
to see the doctors.

Ria is sitting there,
a ticket in her hand,
staring at the wall.

She’s alone.

Even though I sit next to her,
she doesn’t glance at me.

Her lips are dry,

Her nails dull,
          without colour.

She’s skinnier in her pink jacket
then when I last saw her.

‘Ria,’ I say.

Her head turns.

Her eyes don’t light up.


My name sounds strange
on her lips.

Because it’s not adoring?
Because she’s not whining?

‘How are you?’

She doesn’t reply.
(Is that the wrong question to ask?)

‘Where have you been?’

(Wrong again.)

What should I talk about?

‘Recently, I’ve come to hate the taste of Red Bull. I remember you used to tell me that drinking too much Red Bull was bad for my health but I never listened. A few days back, I drank it and for some reason, it was gross. So I’ve started drinking oolong tea instead. Tea is quite shiok after all. I think I like it.’

Ria wordlessly
plays with her ticket.

‘Also, my parents got divorced and it’s a good thing. Now we don’t have to pretend to be a family anymore. I don’t feel sad about it at all since we were never really a family in the first place. I doubt this will make a difference. I can’t wait to grow up and live on my own.’

The queue number changes.

It’s not Ria’s.
But she stares at it
for a long time

‘I’m really dating Rowan now. Back then, I said I was with her, but I said that because I was a thoughtless bastard. I actually really like her now though, so we’re in a relationship, really.When we were together, I blamed you a lot for many things but actually, it’s my fault. Ria, I’m sorry. I’m glad you’re okay.’

Finally, she turns her head.

Eyes gleaming.

Rowan puts a hand
on my shoulder.


Ria’s voice is choked.

She blinks tears away.

They form a river
down her face.

‘Why aren’t you interested
‘in what happened to me at all?’

I stare at her
in confusion.

‘I did ask,
‘but you…

‘didn’t want to talk about it, right?’

She’s breathing hard now.


Her face is turning red.

I’m not sure if she’s crying
or screaming.

A nurse from behind
tells her to breathe,
to calm down,
and asks if she wants
to go back to the ward.

Another nurse
takes her hands,

starts to drag her away.

She struggles.

Cries harder.

‘I want someone
‘to take off my mask,’
she cries.

‘Why won’t anyone
‘take it off?’

She screams,
fighting the nurse,

stretching her hand out to me.

Everyone is looking
at us.

I stand,
torn between wanting to touch her
and wanting to run away.

‘You can’t depend on me,’ I reply.
‘I’m just as broken as you.’

She’s laughing now.
No, she’s back to crying.

She’s been dragged
halfway across the room.

‘There are no perfect people
‘in this world.’

I curl my fingers into fists
and find Rowan
has slipped one hand

into mine.

‘It’s hopeless for me, isn’t it?’

I can’t read her eyes.

There’s too many tears
streaming from them.

Ria stops fighting
the hands that want to help her
and they become more gentle,

loosening their grip,
telling her to go willingly.

One nurse is stroking her back,
helping her breathe.

No, it’s not, I want to say.

‘Say it,’ the cat tells me.

Ria turns leaves,
the nurses supporting her.

The other patients
turn away,
talking to their caregivers

or staring at spots on the spotless walls.

I don’t say it.
I can’t.

It’s weird.

And it’s too late.




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