Good morning! It’s Monday, but I’m not having the Monday blues because I was part of the Kordel’s Walk for Healthy Joints 2014 yesterday. All that energy probably carried forward to the next day. 🙂 The distance we walked was 7km, which is the longest distance I know for a walkathon in Malaysia. It had rained the night before. The ground was soaked and puddles were everywhere at Padang Merbok, Kuala Lumpur. But thankfully, we had good weather and a nice breeze during the walk. Imagine having to walk 7km in the rain. Bummer.
To top off my Sunday morning buzz, my name was called as one of the lucky draw winners as I was walking to the car to drive home. I had to run all the way to the stage, which was quite a distance to run after walking for 7km non-stop. They gave me a pretty peach-coloured passport holder and 2 boxes of herbal supplements (60 tablets each). I don’t quite know what to make of the supplements, but I like the passport holder. Somebody up there must want me to travel. 😀 2014 is the 4th year I’ve joined this walkathon, but the first time I won something from the lucky draw. 😀
On the day before the walkathon, I wrote a short story for a charity book project. I started it on Friday night and finished it on Saturday afternoon. The book is a project by Taylor’s College and the series is called STORIES FROM… This is the 2nd book in the project, and it aims to raise awareness about people with special needs. The story is based on a real person, but it is a work of fiction.
To kill two birds with one stone, I also wrote the same story to be submitted for The Writer’s Tower FB Group September theme, which is SUMMER. If one were to include the bonus words ‘ice bucket’ or ‘chewing gum’ in the submission, that would qualify the piece for a Writer’s Tower Medal.
So here it is. Hope you like it. 🙂
The sun was rising at the beach. She closed her eyes and enjoyed the warm feeling of the sun’s rays on her skin and listened silently to the waves as they crashed and foamed on the sand. She loved the sun, the sea and the beach. It was ‘Summer Time’, as we liked to call it – Summer’s time or Summer’s moment. We were enjoying quality time with her at our friend’s family’s beachfront home after our SPM exams.
Her name was Mei Li (which means ‘beautiful’ in Chinese), but we coined her Western name ‘Summer’ because she was such a warm and loving person. Summer was a bright and warm season in the West, and her friends thought the name fit her perfectly. She was petite and pretty, sporting a trendy short hairdo. I loved her eyes, which were eloquent and emphatic. Most of the time, she was an affectionate friend who was always concerned about the people around her.
However, she was in pain because of her C-shaped spine, the result of her condition. She has suffered from muscular dystrophy since childhood, which is a genetic disorder which can also occur spontaneously in a mother’s egg or developing embryo. Her condition was classified as the latter, because nobody in her family or extended family suffered from the disease.
However, as Summer liked to say, ‘Life goes on, come what may’. Life was full of opportunities and possibilities. We just have to go out and find them. That was how she viewed life. She hoped that brilliant doctors will one day find a cure or design effective treatments for the disease. In the meantime, she just lives one day at a time. She believed that everything happened for a reason, and has accepted her situation. She had a lot of faith in the larger scheme of life, and it has helped her immensely.
Summer felt she was blessed to be surrounded by loving and understand family and friends. She felt their unyielding support helped her get through the rough patches, like on days when the pain was exceptionally bad. I would help to carry her school bag, while Danny would push her wheelchair. If she had to take MC, we would lend her our notes, and bring homework assignments to her house, so that her studies and homework would always be on track. She went to a normal school, because that was the only available option in our little town. Nobody was going to douse her resolve and enthusiasm like an ice bucket. She would make sure of that.
She was advised to quit school and stay at home, and her doctor advised her to undergo a risky operation to insert a metal rod into her spine to keep it straight, but she vehemently opposed both. So, she went from primary school to secondary school, and soldiered on. Sometimes, she wondered if her life would begin and end in this sleepy town. Was there more out there for Summer?
SPM came and went. She geared her life towards getting passes in all her subjects… and succeeded. We threw her a surprise party to celebrate her achievement. But after years of thinking only of passing her SPM, she found that her life had abruptly screeched to a halt. What now? What next? The future seemed ominous and elusive.
One by one, our classmates set off to pursue their dreams. Sheela went to Kuala Lumpur to study at Taylor’s College. Suraya took up an accountancy course in Penang. Wing Hock flew off to Taiwan, where he had an uncle. Devi decided to go to Form 6. Summer was at a loss. Her family could not afford to send her to a private college, and the nearest school that offered Form 6 was very far away.
But Summer was not one to be idle, so she decided to take up a short public speaking course at the community centre in town. She was not a shy person, and the prospect of talking with people and sharing her thoughts and opinions was exciting for her. She enjoyed herself very much, and spoke eloquently during her presentations. Even the trainer was impressed by her positive outlook, humour and general knowledge.
She called me up one day soon after that, all bubbly and excited. I was waiting to go to college too. In the meantime, I was my mother’s little elf.
“Slow down! Tell me what happened from the very beginning,” I said, the cordless phone sandwiched between my left shoulder and left ear while I helped my mum to cook dinner.
“Do you remember the public speaking course I attended last month?” she asked.
“Yes, I do. You enjoyed yourself very much. You said the trainer complemented you on your final speech,” I said, in between stirring the soup and checking the rice cooker.
“Well, the trainer, Mr. Thiam, called me just now. He asked me to be the MC for the mooncake festival event at the multipurpose hall next weekend,” she said excitedly. “The organisers will pay me for it. He said they wanted somebody who was young and spontaneous. Someone who can connect with the younger generation.”
I almost dropped the phone. “Wow, your first paid job! We should celebrate!”
“Not so fast! I have to be a good MC and live to tell the tale.”
I laughed out loud. “Do you think Mr. Thiam will eat you if you don’t live up to his expectations?”
“Shhhhhh…! Don’t jinx it! Promise you’ll come to the event?”
“Of course I will. I’ll bring my whole family too. See you next week.”
I e-mailed all our former classmates who were still in town and we all planned to meet up at the event to show our support.
The mooncake festival was one of my favourite cultural events from childhood, and I always adored the colourful lanterns and seasonal mooncakes. Summer and I had good times together playing with candles and lanterns when we were in primary school, and I always cherished those memories. Back then, she was not in a wheelchair yet.
When we arrived at the event, Summer was already in action. She was a sight to behold, decked out in a lovely pink cheongsam decorated with magnificent peonies in full bloom. Her light and bubbly voice was pleasant to the ear, and the guests were enjoying her witty banter and funny jokes. The fact that she was sitting in a wheelchair did not seem to hinder her performance.
Summer went through the evening effortlessly, just like a pro. She ticked off the items on the programme, one by one. At last, the event finished without a hitch and we all gave her a standing ovation. Mr. Thiam came out on stage to surprise her with a bouquet of roses.
As I was leaving the venue, I heard her calling my name and I turned around.
“I have good news and bad news. Which one do you want to hear first?”
“Errr… The good news,” I said, mildly worried.
“I’m going to DJ school!”
“Say what?” I was in disbelief.
She smiled from ear to ear. “I’m not joking. Mr. Thiam’s friend is a producer for a radio show. He was at the event just now. He said he runs a DJ course and offered me a place in it.”
“What’s the bad news?”
“He’s based in Penang. That’s where the DJ course is. And that’s where you are going to study. So I’m going to hunt you down there. You’ll never be free from me. Muahahaha…”
“That’s the bad news?” I said, overjoyed. “It’s wonderful. Flipping fantastic. I’m so happy for you!”
So, Summer and I went to Penang together two months later, in her old family van. We managed to rent a modest three-room flat, on the ground floor. Suraya occupied the master bedroom, I took the middle room, while Summer took the back room. While Suraya and I drowned in our books, Summer immersed herself in the world of music, talk shows and events. She was really enjoying her DJ course, and she paid for her rent by working as an MC at various events, ranging from cultural shows to company CSR events, to product launches.
Eventually, she finished her six-month DJ course, and became a full-time MC. Slowly but surely, she gained popularity and built up a fan base in Penang. Sometimes, I would moonlight as a waitress at the events where she was the MC to make some extra money. It was great to see her shine, as she was in her element.
One day, as I was coming back from college on Bus No. 337, the bus driver, who was busy chewing gum, turned up the volume on the radio. He mumbled something about a new radio programme. Just then, a familiar chirpy voice drifted through the airwaves…
“Hi, everybody! This is my first day on the show… It’s Summer Time!”
By golly, Summer made into the mainstream media! I always knew she had it in her. She is an inspiration to us all. I rummaged through my backpack to find my phone to tell all our friends…
An original short story by
Khor Hui Min
20 September 2014