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Who Am I?
"When you look into my face,
I shall never lie;
Instead be but a window into your soul,
whether there light or shadows hide;
As in me many see their deaths
where others see their lives;
In this deny me many try,
but they simply twist their knives;
For though prejudiced to some I may seem,
THE LIE IS THEIR OWN LIVES.
What am I?"
I've seen Malia's room from before her move to the beautiful suburbs of Atlanta, infamous at this time of the year for their monstrous winter weather. I preferred her old room to her new one; the walls were then a dark orchid colour and had white flowers blooming from the ceiling down, where they thinned out. Now her room is all grown up with its midnight blue walls, adorned with shiny silver floral prints.
They settled me in her room right across from her bed. Just to the right of me is a bay window trimmed with a dark walnut frame. That's when I noticed the moving red flare just beyond the window, and it was walking up the pavement to the house.
It was a fiery hue of red, that hair. It was fine, but coarse and rustled in the biting wind, so clearly standing out against the white wonderland of snow and ice. The girl, as I now see better, walks up to Malia, who is bending down over a box of trophies and framed pictures. She looks up when the red-head's shadow meets her; then smiles a warm Spalding smile.
That's how their friendship, so to say, began.
Three months in and I can already sense the boredom in the red-head, Abby's, face.
It's Monday, which means Malia doesn't get home until after four. Courtesy of the school's natural sciences club.
Her room is all furnished now, as opposed to the day we first moved in. Her twin-sized bed remains pushed up at its headboard to the wall opposite me. Its covers are the usual white cotton sheets topped with fluffy comforters. Malia likes to feel safe and cozy, I've heard once.
Thud! The sudden opening slam of the door to her room caught me off guard. Here comes Malia prancing onto her bed and rolling around to lie on her back. She's followed by Abby, coolly walking into the room with a devious smile on her face as her closes the door shut. Still facing the door, Abby probes her hand into her purse, shifting it around to find whatever important thing she was looking for. After a minute of Malia curiously eyeing her, Abby's shuffling stops.
She turns around, revealing her open palm. Resting on it was a capsule container.
"Say hello to Qnexa," she announces while tossing it to Malia.
"Hello," Malia mutters curiously as she examines the labels. Her pupils and eye-rims widen in confusion as she reads something. She adjusts her focus from the container to Abby and back again.
"What exactly are you up to?"
"Oh don't be such a kid. It's just some weight loss medication my mom bought." When Malia's eyes grew in accusation, Abby remarks with a shrug, "It's called borrowing." Eye-roll.
"Well, return it. We won't be using them anyway-" Malia said starting to sit up and handing the container back to Abby, but then a spark of comprehension flashes before Malia's eyes, as if she'd remembered something. "You weren't really serious about that thing you said at school. Were you?"
Abby had the container in her right hand, tipping the opening towards her open palm, revealing its contents: a duo-coloured yellow-purple capsule. As soon as she heard Malia, she screwed the lid on and whipped herself up, discarding the three capsules in her hand onto the room's hardwood floor.
"Jeez, Malia. If you can't even say eating disorder-. You know you don't have to be such a coward about it."
Something isn't adding up; I've missed something, a conversation between the two. But about what? Eating disorders? Abby was tall and slender, and Malia, average and proportionally built.
Abby collected her neon-green purse from the floor and shot Malia look that twisted with impatience but that said, Think about it.
And so that night, in the chilling air of late January, scrunched up under the bunch of comforters, Malia thought about. Or at least I think she did. That night, she stared up at her ceiling for a long time before warily walking up to me. She stopped about four feet away and looked me up and down. After repeating the gesture several times, she locked her gaze on my eyes. There was dissatisfaction. And fury. A fury as hot and fierce as the time I first spotted Abby's hair.
Malia removed herself after being so fixated on me and dropped to her knees, scouring the shadowed floor of her room with her hands. Once she found what she was looking for, she straightened up, popped something unhesitatingly in her mouth and tipped her head back with force.
Turning around slowly, she retreated to her bed and pulled up the sheets, finally going to sleep. But not before shooting me another look at.
It's been three days after the Abby-meltdown. All the while I had hoped and prayed that the capsules would be sucked under the pull of Malia's mother's vacuum. A nice lady she was, with dark brown-ash hair like Malia's, though hers was always tied up in a knot. I've always watched and admired her work at making the house clean and ordered. If a single vase was out of place, she'd be sure to fix it.
She looks exhausted now, flopping herself down on the grey-matted lump of Malia's bean bag. She observes her daughters room, trying to take in the features and elements that make up Malia, I'm guessing. Their family's had it hard, what with the absence of their cerebral-palsy-infected daughter since two years ago. I'm not sure where she went, but it must have been somewhere pretty far for them to get so worked up about it. After that, it's seemed that the light of their family dimmed by the slightest.
The girl was lovely, that other daughter. She would fidget and rise in excitement when Malia pushed her wheelchair to face me. She'd mumble something like "abba" or "mama"; things I didn't understand.
She was the most readable person in the family; you could get to know her just through her facial expressions. Her eyes were wide and fascinated and adorned with intrigue when she looked at me; somewhat resembling Malia's.
It was a Friday, which would mean Malia was expected to be home by three. The family was always out during Friday afternoons, probably stuffing themselves with unheard of foods (they like variety) for dinner.
I heard her before I saw her. She was greeting her mother, then walked down the hallway and opened the door. She slid her fat messenger bag down her shoulder and tumbled onto bed, closing her eyes for a while. That gave me the chance to fully inspect the darkened circles under her eyes.
When she opened them, they pierced my direction.
Malia's been looking at me an awful lot these past few days, and the stares she gives me aren't the kind ones either.
Before long, she resorts to her the table and picks up her classic retro telephone, punching in the numbers as it turns clockwise.
She was being a bit paranoid, I noticed. Her fingers were fidgety and her forehead was beaded with droplets of sweat, which is outrageous considering the minus degrees of the weather. She half whispered, half mumbled into the phone, but I thought I heard snippets of what she has said. Abby. Pills. Later.
After she'd placed the phone back in its cradle, her brother, Tom, peeped his head in. "Mal," he hissed. "Mom told me you won't be joining us tonight? Doesn't fajitas and cornbread smothered in gravy sound seducing to you?" he cooed, flashing a grin and wiggling his eyebrows.
Malia feigned disgust. "Pass. I have homework." She extracted thick text books and crumpled sheets of paper from her bag for emphasis.
"Whatever," Tom called over his shoulder as he left. "Your loss."
It was seven pm when I heard a tapping on Malia's window. She was crouched over a novel she had been transfixed on since after school but scrambled out of bed immediately when she heard it.
A blob of red came hopping through the opened window. Malia was watching Abby expectantly as she took out the same container from her back pocket; but there was something in Abby that I never saw before. Hesitation. Worry, maybe?
She tipped the capsules out the way she did before, cupping them in her palms and passing it on to Malia. Then she lost interest again and began moving towards me, scanning up and down but with eyes filled with fear. She quickly turned back and said, "I'm not making you." It sounded firm and mean as always, but she sounded breathless saying them.
Malia stared at Abby, then at the pills. Then, she looked up again, her face set. "I want to," Malia responded with resolve in her eyes.
Weeks since her secret meeting with Abby, Malia's become pasted to me. I'm sure it must have left an imprint where her foot stood four feet away from me, as they do now on an overly-daily basis.
She would close her eyes and take a deep breath before prying them open; then her breathing would quicken dauntingly, her chest, rising and falling with not even a second of time lapse in between. Her eyes would penetrate through me with hate and her forehead would crease. She looked about really to explode.
One night, she did.
I could hear it.
She'd just come from the dining room, her face all numb and empty. Also, I noticed that she'd hunch her shoulders now. They were sagging down from their usual, up-right place. Then she looked at me, and after one look she threw her hand on her hair and began pulling down and in on herself. She whimpered, but there was no weakness in it. Only repressed fury and a jumble of emotions. It was a terrifying cry, a screeching sound like when nails scratch a board. All the while she couldn't draw her eyes away from me.
Then, her face mean and full of loathe, she darted up and marched grudgingly towards her bathroom. She sank onto her knees in front of the toilet, rocking back and forth as if a last-ditch effort to calm herself, before heaving into it.
I didn't think she looked sick. She hasn't complained of any nauseousness or stomach-aches; that's why it was considerably odd that she would throw up. And then there's the mystery why she had her hand poked in her mouth just before her stomach emptied itself of its contents.
The room smells of crisp pumpkin spice now, alive and exhilarating in its blend. Malia blew out the match she'd lit after alighting her new Yankee Candle, letting the smoke wrap around her tear-ridden face as she inhaled the stench. After that, the smell dispersed and was engulfed by the sweet and spiciness of the candle's fragrance.
It's been two days after her purge, but I can tell that, to Malia, two days have felt like eternity.
She looks heavily fatigued now. Her eyes give her away; the life and hope that sparkled beneath them was now dusted with fragility and desperation. Her cheeks have hollowed and her hair was always pasted to her sweat-drenched forehead.
If it was fury I saw in Malia before, it is exhaustion I see now. She stays in her room a lot, her choice of attire limiting down to her old pink spotted pajama pants that I haven't seen her wear since moving here. If anything, she looks like she could use a good, long sleep.
Now, I spend the nights with her. Four feet away from her to be exact. She would drag herself out of bed and recline herself on her side, looking at me but not really seeing anything. Her eyes are hollow voids that, lately, have been curtained by her mass of wavy hair. Her pupils focus in and around me, searching for something, but I know that whatever she's looking for isn't there because she would just cry.
To be fair, it wasn't really crying. It was just tears watering her solemn face, like people would water flowers to keep them alive. This flower was dying.
Malia's been staring at the candle for a while, probably fascinated by it, though I couldn't tell by her lack of expression. The red-framed clock above her bed reads eleven-fifteen pm. I'm not surprised that she's up so late; she has been since she took the pills.
What I am surprised about is Abby's lack of presence. I haven't seen her since the night she crept into Malia's room like a criminal; to me, she had always been one. She stole from Malia her light and hope. She's a black hole; a big, dark, lethal one. I don't know where she got it but-.
I've been ridiculing Abby so intently that I didn't realise Malia was now standing up against her desk. Her fire-lit eyes scan for something, then locks on an object.
Her right arms stretches and her fingers hook onto something that looks like a stiff bow with a sharp, thin end. A scissor. The ends slice open like as Malia's fingers pry the oval ends apart, like an inverse relation.
There was something so sinister about it. No matter how destructive the path she's been going on is, this step is so instantaneous and unthinkable that, if I could, I would lunge at the object and run away as far as I could get it from her.
But I could only watch.
Watch her as she traces her wrist with her eyes.
As her eyes empty with the last of hope. Then, ever so sudden, she presses down and across her arm in one quick moment. Her breathing is heavy and slow; her body must be pumping with adrenaline from realising she'd done. Not too long after, as my sight remains preoccupied on Malia with disbelief, something changed.
Before, Malia's face was crooked and contorted with tension, desperation. Now, slowly but gradually, something like relief spreads across her face. I could see it clearly in those big, brown eyes of her; with her, the eyes were truly the window to the soul. Evidently, I just can't get a moment's rest from the mental tension because, just then, Malia's door flies inward. And standing in its place as light shines from behind her is Malia's mother.
That was when I found out what time was like to Malia. Slow motion. Two days for her is like eternity.
Malia's mother looked like she was about to crumble, her knees likely buckling under the weight of her breaking heart. She's looking at Malia and down at her wrist, where trickles of blood have now seeped its way out; but she just stands there, with an observant face but heavily layered with confusion and pain. I expected to see Malia crying; instead she stood her ground with her head shifted down, knowing no defense would alleviate the startling reality.
Her mother has willed her legs to move, properly directing herself towards Malia with collectedness. If only she were the one that witnessed her daughter's decline from the beginning. She would've been in ruins by now.
Her mothers arms now wrap gently around Malia, careful not to touch the wound. Once she made sure of that, her grip tightened as her muscles worked and relaxed, worked and relaxed; she was shaking.
"Don't," Malia began, wrenching herself away from the grip.
"Honey, stop," her mother's voice began ringing with desperation.
"I'll stop, but let go," she replied with force now; but I could see her face caving in.
Her mother's face began collapsing with hesitation. If only I could tell her that she was so close to reaching Malia-.
Wait. I could.
I willed and pleaded with everything in me that she would look my way. And see her daughter's face for herself, to know that, it too, was collapsing.
"I'm just," Malia said, her voice strained and quickening, "tired. That's all. Please."
Her mother's eyes met mine. And she saw; she saw Malia.
"I want you here, sweetie. I want to."
The words rang clear and familiar to Malia and I. It came from the night she told Abby she wanted the pills. I heard the words in Malia's voice, still strong and certain; it sounded like the old Malia.
At that recognition, the walls holding back her tears collapsed. Whether it was Malia that released the tears, or whether the pressure of it all got too overwhelming, I'll never know. All I'll know and remember about what happens next is that Malia's mother kept her hands around her daughter, firm and reassuring, as she broke down with her.
There are so much secrets that still need to be unveiled, I thought as I looked down at the two. Her mother doesn't know a thing. I was being impatient.
Regardless, they stayed that way for some time, maybe 14 minutes. Malia might have even fell asleep, though uncomfortable her position was, until her mother stood up, tugging on Malia's good arm and leading her to the bed.
Malia looked foggy and hazed from her small nap but didn't argue.
It was cold, this late February night, but the candle was still burning and the air still smelled of pumpkin spice. Its light wavered from the sudden movement of the two bodies.
Then finally, finally, Malia got into bed, looking like she'd been in anguish and grief for years, but ready to let herself sleep the long sleep she deserved.
Her mother began tucking her in, but Malia gripped her moving wrist, willing her to stay.
I'm not going anywhere, I heard her whisper.
In two long strides, she walked over to the desk where the candle sat, all plump and red as the bulb of fire burned it away, and blowed it out.
In some ways, blowing that candle out could have symbolised death of a life, of hope; I, however, would like to think of it as a new beginning.
Malia's mother let her sleep in the next day and the day after. Malia wouldn't let anyone in though; it was the one time she made use of her door lock.
When the weekend rolled by, I found Malia waking up at seven-thirty am, sitting up in her bed and looking around slowly with her puffy eyes as if to find her bearing. She looks like she'd just woken up from hibernation, her hair all tousled and prickly and her face dry.
There was a tiny stain of dried blood from where her wrist rested on the pillow while she was sleeping. The flaw stood out in the pile of white comforters and bed sheets; but at least the wound on Malia was now wrapped in some kind of medical cloth with a colour that matched her olive skin.
Slowly walking to her closet, she pulled apart the squeaking doors and surveyed her clothes. Then she extended her arm and unhooked a hanger from its place. Hanging from it was a pine-green lace dress that took my memory back to Malia's ninth birthday.
Malia had just blown the pillars of candles lining the edges of her yellow cake. The family was taking turns handing her their own gifts. Most of them were the usual: rotating snow globes, a barbie doll. I saw them scattered on the floor of Malia's pink room. I saw the last gift, her mother's, when Malia walked in her room, all round and stout in her nine-year-old body, in a dress that looked much to big on her. Malia walked in front of me but halted abruptly. She scrunched her face and whined, "It's too big on me."
"You'll grow into it, sweetie," her mother replied, poking her in the tummy. That turned Malia's disappointed face into a myriad of giggles .
And she did grow into it. It doesn't matter that the first time she'd be wearing was to a counsellor's office; she's grown since then and will continue to grow. She'll get stronger.
I was dumbstruck the next time I saw Abby.
I was merrily listening to Malia's family and her giggling and laughing to a movie they were watching in the living room, when suddenly the doorbell rang.
I didn't hear anything next. There was only the clicking of the door opening and closing, then some murmuring. Malia's dad called out, "Go ahead," with his deep, alto voice. Footsteps were now scurrying its way down the hall. Malia's door burst open.
What I saw were skeletal, lanky limbs that joined at angles so visibly clear and evident that I wish I could look away. Her skin might as well have been transparent because her bones were jotting out from all over her.
I thanked the stars that Abby still had on her faded capris and denim tee; I'd much appreciate not having to bear the sight of a walking skeleton.
But I'm probably just being mean.
Meanwhile, Malia was just looking at Abby, trying to comprehend the situation but with soft, sympathetic eyes. They seemed to say, Why? How? Instead, she said, "You're beautiful. And I've been convinced of that ever since the day I met you. I envied you." I hadn't expected her to say something like that, but I was sure Malia knew the situation better than I did.
Abby drew a sharp breath, like she couldn't believe what she was hearing. She paused for a while, her mouth trying to form words.
"I'm tired," she finally whispered. The words were so simple and ordinary, but the way she said it, like talking in itself took effort. Like she could no longer bear hearing the words; like she was, indeed, tired. Dying, even. "And please don't tell me you understand because I've heard it so many times before, but I'm sure nobody does." She was pleading now, as if begging Malia for her life.
Malia face told me she was thinking about. Her eyebrows were scrunched and her lips pursed. Then, slowly, she reached her arms out and wrapped Abby in a gentle hug the way her mother did to her. Abby arms were still pasted to her sides, tense and unconvinced.
Malia kept her arms around her. Abby used to seem so tall and invincible with the vibe she was radiating, but she was now small and vulnerable, shuddering like a scared puppy. Malia then pulled back and took a good look at Abby, searching her eyes.
She motioned to a Bali blanket that sat neatly folded on top of her bed. Reaching down to it, she whipped the blanket open and smiled to Abby with a devious smile that perfectly matched Abby's old one. With her eyes still locked on Abby's, ever so slightly, she nods in my direction.
Abby, still looking unsure and hazed, gives the barest of all smiles but reaches down to clutch the other side of the blanket.
That's when I finally had the two girls in perfect view. Standing next to each other, eyes glinting with a shared, new hope, walking towards me the way each of them had done separately. Each motion filled them with a new rush of energy, I could tell, because their footings became secured and stable.
Stopping right before me, they smiled, but not at their at themselves; each person at each other's reflection.
In one synchronised, sweeping motion, they twirled the fabric up and above me. I began losing sight of them. Their face. Their shoulders. Their fingers, just starting to interlock. And then, nothing.
So, what am I?
I am a mirror.