X | Ice

‘Why don’t you introduce yourselves to Rowan?’
Mrs. Lim suggests.

We’re the only group
still in the classroom

after receiving the ‘team-bonding activity’

I roll my eyes.

Julie stares at me angrily.
She looks angry whenever she’s thinking.

(Is she angry with Mrs. Lim?)

(Or with us because we’re useless group members?)

Rizwan sighs out loud.

‘I’m Rowan,’ Rowan says.
‘Nice to meet you.’

She doesn’t look at me.

‘Rizwan,’ Rizwan says.
‘Julie,’ Julie says.

Mrs. Lim walks away,
satisfied at having
‘started the ball rolling’.


The four of us lapse
into awkward silence immediately after.

Julie notices Rowan doesn’t ask for my name.

She asks,
‘You know him already?’

The tip of her ears
turn red.

‘We’ve crossed paths.’

It’s funny,
the way her gaze wavers,
darting like a frog.

Honestly, everyone knows me.

It’s not a big deal.

Discomfort over such a dull incident.

I lean forward.

‘Come on,’ I add in a low voice,
‘We’re much closer than that.’
Rizwan looks less bored now.

He’s grinning.

‘She’s your new girlfriend?’

I hook my arm around his shoulder.
‘Here’s what happened–’

Rowan interrupts.

She grabs the instruction sheet off the table
and rushes out of the classroom.

We follow behind slowly.


Rizwan nudges me in the side.
I remove my arm.

‘Eh, aren’t you gonna tell me?’


The ‘team-bonding activity’ is a scavenger hunt:

Take as many of the group photos in the list as possible (20 min).
          using scientific apparatus.
          with a non-teaching staff.
          an interpretation of the school song.
          recreating a movie poster.
          spelling out a non-vulgar four-letter word.
          conveying that the earth is round.
          showing the progression of an action.
          being as tall as the school building.


‘which one should we do first?’
Julie peers over Rowan’s shoulder.

We’re strolling along the corridor.

‘We could have done the science one in class,’ says Rizwan.
‘I have a calculator in my bag.’

I peer over Rowan’s over shoulder
even though I’m not interested in this activity.

Rowan: That’s not scientific apparatus.

A pause.

Julie gets it though.

She has an angry expression on her face
but she smiles.

‘So lame, Rizwan.’

‘What? It’s a scientific calculator!’

Julie: Can we do this properly?
Rowan: I think that’s a creative idea though.

I take the instruction sheet from her.

Her fingers are soft.

‘For now, let’s find a cleaner.’
I decide to take the lead.

Rowan doesn’t react.

Let’s get this over and done with.


‘Hey, for the four-letter word, let’s do “help”.’

‘Good idea!’

For the rest of the twenty minutes,
say a word.




We return to the classroom

two pictures:

the scientific apparatus
the four-letter word.

Because Julie refuses to spell the word “help”
or use the scientific calculator.

Me: What’s wrong with those ideas?
Julie: I think we should be serious.
Me: It’s just team-bonding.

Rowan speaks up

‘but attitude is important.
‘if you excuse this as just “team-bonding”,

‘then it’ll be “just brainstorming”
‘and “just a draft”
‘and eventually it’ll become “just one subject”
‘and “just A Levels”.’


I roll my eyes at Julie.
(Look what you did, now she’s nagging.)
She glares at me.
(It’s not me, it’s you.)

She’s still talking:
‘If you treat this small task frivolously,
‘how will you take responsibility for bigger tasks?’

A cloud darkens the sky.

It’s stuffy in the classroom.

I laugh
before she continues nagging.

‘Stop preaching.

‘This is not a church.’

‘You’re not our Sunday School teacher.’


Julie glares at me again.
(Why are you so mean?)

Rowan glances at me.

Her eyes are impassive.
Like she’s used to it.

She turns her eyes away.

A fearless courage
rises in my chest.

No matter what I say,
She won’t respond, huh?

So sensitive.

‘You present the photos kay,’ I continue.

The first group is already sharing their pictures.


She’s staring out

the window

but i know she heard me
because the tips of her ears

turn angry red.


When it’s our turn to present
Rowan doesn’t budge.

Julie gives me an exasperated look.

Rizwan swears under her breath.

I pick up the paper,
unlock my phone,

plug the device to the projector.

I glance at Rowan
          one more time.

I notice

on the grassy lawn outside the classroom,

blocks of ice are piled
one on top of the other,
like a pyramid.

Cold vapour emanating from it,
haze forming legs,

trampling on the eyes of the grass,
fingers reaching into the door

pulling its shapeless body into
the classroom.

Her eyes,
are locked on the pile of ice

that isn’t melting
even though it’s almost noon.

There’s a flash of fear.

The first emotion I notice
in her coal black eyes.

Her mouth opens
and closes again,

as if knowing no one will understand her.

no one else can see


          after all.


Julie is right next to me,
introducing our photos.

Cold mist wraps around her legs

but she doesn’t notice.

It climbs around
the shoes of Rizwan and the others,


Rowan’s eyes meet mine

for a brief moment

and she knows immediately.

I also see

the mountain of giant ice cubes,
the cold vaporous mist,

the winged donkey



the classroom


the concrete





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