Good evening! I wrote another short story right after finishing ‘Summer Time’, but did not get a chance to upload it till now. This short story is also for the STORIES FROM… series by Taylor’s College. 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. So, here it is…
CEREBRAL PALSY IS THE SCIENTIFIC TERM FOR SUPER HUMAN
I met him on his first day in the company. I joined a group of colleagues in the cafeteria for lunch, and he was sitting at the end of the long table. Since he was new, a few colleagues were asking him all kinds of questions to find out more about him.
“Where did you study, Justin?”Ai Li, the chatty admin executive, asked.
“I went to Taylor’s, then the UK. After I got my degree, I worked there for 2 years before I came back,” replied Justin.
The murmurs of a few impressed people were heard.
“Where do you live?” asked Chee Leong.
“I live in Selayang, with my parents,” answered Justin politely. There was no getting away from the customary questions and answers.
“Why is your hand shaking?” asked Lily, the young receptionist, who was fresh out of college.
Suddenly, there was an awkward silence.
“It’s called a tremor. I get them when I’m nervous. What to do? This is the first day of work and I’m meeting all of you for the first time,” Justin answered nonchalantly.
“Why do you have tremors?” continued Lily, ignoring the nudge from Aini.
“I have tremors because I have cerebral palsy. It affects my nerves, so sometimes I can’t control myself very well, especially when I’m nervous. Sometimes, I might do certain things a bit slower because of this. Other than that, everything’s fine.”
“Oh, really? I’ve never heard of it,” replied Lily, unaware that a few people were glaring at her.
“Yeah, don’t you know? Cerebral palsy is the scientific term for super human.”
Everybody laughed. The tension in the cafeteria dissipated as quickly as it had built up. The ladies started to talk about buying a wedding present for a colleague. Justin looked like he was used to handling questions like this all his life.
I took a good look at my new colleague. He was slim, but not scrawny. He was neat and tidy, dressed in what looked like a brand new short-sleeved white and blue checkered shirt and grey long pants. His hair was slicked back with some gel. He made the effort to look smart, pleasant to the eye. He wasn’t suave like Mike, or an incessant talker like Devina, but when he said something, he made sure he got his point across. He was serious about work. When he did something, he made sure he did it properly. I thought he was all right.
A year ago, Justin had come back from the UK. He had a good job as a research assistant at Newcastle University, and a good life there, but his parents were not getting any younger. He decided that ultimately, family was more important than all the money in the world. So, he took a plane back to Malaysia and never looked back. Once in a while, he did miss the steak, salmon and lobsters though, which he could get for a good price for his dinner, because he knew where to look to get the best deals in the grocery shops and supermarkets.
Justin was born with cerebral palsy. But instead of feeling sorry for himself like so many other children who were born different, he believed wholeheartedly that he could achieve anything, if only he put his mind to it. To him, nothing was impossible. With this mindset, he worked very hard throughout his school life, scoring A’s consistently, graduating top of his class in his final year of secondary school. He then enrolled in Taylor’s College and signed up for a twinning programme at the end of which he earned a degree in mass communication and business, majoring in economics. He finished off his final year in a prestigious UK university. He was very proud of the fact that he was the first in his family to go so far away to the UK to study for a world-class degree. For this, he was most thankful to his parents. He felt that their love, support and unwavering belief in his abilities helped make him what he is today. They knew the importance of a good education, and made sure he got it.
Justin was in marketing, I was in sales. Our paths crossed frequently. Over the next few months, I got to know him better. For a young man, he was quite matured and philosophical. We would hang out during lunchtime, at promotional events or after work to chill out and talk about anything and everything.
We both studied business. While I majored in IT, he majored in economics. He was into the latest technological advancements, gadgets, e-commerce and the like, and I found great satisfaction in discussing these topics with him. I was not very good in economics, but was impressed with his knowledge in this area.
“I believe that economics plays a very important role, not only in global markets and countries, but also in our daily lives,” he said, looking very earnest. We were hanging out at a café after a long day at an international trade fair at the Putra World Trade Centre.
“Oh, really?” I said with interest, sipping my hot latte.
“Definitely. Economics is a basic tool. With a good grasp of economics, we can develop better reasoning when doing stuff like buying things and doing our personal budgeting.” He ordered a glass of iced tea. He kept away from coffee because it did strange things to him. Sometimes it made him feel hyperactive, and at other times, it made him depressed.
“Oh, cool. I never thought about it in that way,” I said.
“Well, we should apply the knowledge we have picked up in our daily lives to make it work for us.” He smiled his megawatt smile.
“That’s so true. I’ll keep that in mind,” I replied.
“This is fun. We should do this more often,” he added.
“Yes, I totally agree.” We laughed.
After that, I did not see him again till three months later. It turned out that he had been busy helping out with a marketing campaign gearing towards an important product launch. He had to travel to different states to help promote the new product, and even give talks. I bumped into him in Sarawak, when we were doing a major promotional event at a tech fair.
“I like your T-shirt. It looks smashing on you,” he said by way of greeting.
“You don’t look too bad yourself, Justin,” I replied.
We laughed out loud. We were both sporting our brand new company T-shirts. The bored people at the other booths glanced at us, wondering what the joke was about.
“I heard you gave a talk yesterday to a bunch of industry professionals. Did you get nervous?” I asked.
“No, not really,” he said, looking smug. His confidence bordered on arrogance sometimes.
“How did you do that? Not get nervous, I mean,” I enquired.
“Well, I actually psyched myself up by thinking – what would Obama do? How would he do it? I would put myself in his shoes and ace it.”
“Wow, that’s quite something. Is Obama like your idol?”
“Yup. I really admire him because he’s the first black American president. He faced a lot of pressure, but he succeeded. I followed him in the news when he was campaigning – he had the best set of policies. Also, he’s the only president who is standing for change. In fact, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was the first bill signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2009. The Act makes sure that women have equal opportunity for work and pay. No other US president has done it.”
“You don’t look like a women’s rights activist,” I joked.
“Well, more and more women are now working and contributing to their families. They are educated and skilled, so they deserve equal treatment and equal opportunity. They are an emerging economic force all over the world.”
“I concur,” I said in agreement.
“I also think he did the right thing by focusing on improving medical care. He inspired me to think out of the box to solve problems.”
Just then, the VIPs came by, and we busied ourselves explaining about our new product. We only got the chance to talk again after 6pm.
“You know, this might sound totally random, but do you intend to remain a marketing exec for the rest of your life?” I said, looking busy by rearranging the products on display.
“Actually, I have an open approach to life. People usually have one big ambition, but I’d like to think – why stop at one? Why can’t we have more? So, the answer is – I’ll keep my options open and see where the opportunities take me.”
“I know. I also don’t intend to be a salesman all my life.”
He looked thoughtful. “You know, we should start something. A new start-up company.”
“Doing what?” I asked, with excitement.
“Well, we should do some brainstorming to find out,” he said slowly. “With my knowledge in marketing and economics, and your know-how in sales and IT, we could actually come up with something workable. Plus, don’t forget I’m super human, you know. Superman better watch out.”
At that, we both laughed to our heart’s content.
We got busy thinking of possible business ideas and what consumers were into these days. We met up once a week to brainstorm, but no idea was good enough for him. He kept throwing all of them out. His perfectionism was getting in the way, and it was getting on my nerves.
Finally, when I thought I had ran out of feasible ideas, we settled on an online tech business idea, which was totally paperless. Environmentally friendly was the way to go. We were going to offer a suite of products and services that complemented each other. But first of all, we were going to start by selling useful mobile apps. Then, we would progress to offer mobile games. We thought that was the way to go.
“Are you ready for the rest of your life?” he grinned from ear to ear.
“The rest of your life starts now,” he announced theatrically, like a royal court herald.
“All right, partner!” I said, enthusiastically.
We spent all our extra time on our new business venture. We thought that starting something that had no connection to our present company’s business made it all right. Kak Yati operated a catering business with her sister, and it was all right. Pak Zam painted oil paintings for sale in his spare time, and his boss was okay with it. But to be sure, we discussed it with our bosses. They told us it was fine as long as it did not affect our performance at work.
We started off with a market study. Then we did a consumer survey. With all the information we collected, we tweaked our business proposal and came up with a five-year business plan. Being first-timers at this, we wanted to do everything right.
Then, I set up the web portal for our business. The first thing we developed was a budget-making app to help people plan their monthly budget or activity budget. Then we offered a calorie counter app, for people who were on a healthy eating plan. We progressed to offering how-to apps, where people could download little modules on how to start up a garden, how to troubleshoot car problems, how to play the piano and so on. Because we did not have a big budget, all our promotional activities were done online. We placed ads in Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, and other well-known sites. To increase the hype, we did festive promotions, and special offers in conjunction with public holidays. To make sure our customers were happy, we set up dedicated chat and e-mail accounts just to answer questions and help troubleshoot problems.
After 12 months, we sat down during lunch to review our performance. How did we do? How did we think we did? Were we ready to start phase two, our mobile games section? I thought sports games and racing games were the first things we should look into. Just then, my boss came up to us.
“Hey, J and J,” he said. I was sure he was trying to be funny.
“You mean Johnson and Johnson?” Justin cracked a joke immediately in response. “I thought their warehouse sale ended yesterday.”
That wiped the smile off my boss’s face in a flash. “There’s a management meeting at 3pm, Justin and Jason. We would like to see the both of you. Don’t be late.”
“Okay… sure,” I gulped. Why did I feel something bad was going to happen?
Three o’clock arrived in no time. Justin was pacing up and down the corridor outside the meeting room, while the top management deliberated on important things, like staff performance and operational issues. When were they going to call us in? My insides felt all twisted up in tension.
Finally, the CEO’s personal assistant came out to get us. We went in and sat down in front of all the big bosses. Sweat was beading on my forehead, as if I was in a sauna. Justin wore a poker face. The only indication of tension was the slight tremor in his left hand, which he hid under the table. Justin’s boss was the first to speak.
“Over the past year, we have observed your ‘activities’ with interest,” he said.
My thoughts were a mess. What did he mean? What was he getting at? If they had found out I was using the company printer to print stuff after work…
Next, the CEO spoke. “It’s not every day that we see two enterprising young men working very hard at something else, right under our noses.”
Oh no, is it about us using the company laptops to work on the portal?
“We want to make you an offer. We want to buy over your business and turn it into one of our subsidiaries,” the CEO continued.
“We think your business idea has great potential and fits in very well with the current trends,” Justin’s boss added.
“If you agree, we will make your company our subsidiary, and you will stay on to run the business, like what you are doing now.”
Justin spoke up. “This is a very important decision. We need some time to discuss it. Is that okay?”
“We understand that. We would like you to consider our offer carefully and come back to us in a week’s time,” the CEO said.
I walked out of the meeting room in a daze. The scene kept replaying itself in my mind over and over again. I was in a state of disbelief.
“But they are going to buy our company. After that, we won’t be the owners anymore,” I protested.
“Then we’ll start up another company,” Justin said simply. “And if somebody wants to buy it, we’ll sell it too…”
“Oooooh… We’ll be like super entrepreneurs,” I beamed. “I like it!”
Justin turned to look at me.
“Are you ready for the rest of your life?” He gave me his megawatt smile.
“As ready as I’ll ever be.”
“The rest of your life starts now!” he announced, with a flourish.
We both laughed out loud…
Suddenly, Justin put on his serious face. “You know, ‘Managing Director’ seems to suit me very well.”
We laughed again. The corridor echoed with our loud antics. We did not care. We were on top of the world.
An original short story by
Khor Hui Min
21 September 2014