I like being alone in my room, surrounded by the structure of concrete walls, knowing that I can decorate it however I want, frame pictures and posters of whoever, and throw my jacket on the edge of my bed at the end of every day. I can do it all, in the little semi-autonomous region of My Room. 

I have a hundred books on my shelf, maybe, and a couple more lying on the bedroom floor. I’ve read half of them, I want to read the other half when I’m free or when I have time, I tell myself. I go back to the books I love: The Great Gatsby, Fortress Besieged, and Revolutionary Road, and I dismiss the new ones that I’ve bought. I’m trying to get rid of the ones that I bought to look smart, like a scientific journal or a guide on photography that I never read. I find it difficult to get rid of the ones that I’ve forgotten, but the sight of them seems to recapture my attachment to them – the book about One Direction that was discarded to the bottom of a box when I realised that they had gotten Niall’s middle name wrong, a textbook on Psychology that I had borrowed from the library in Primary Five when I thought that it would be a viable career path, and a book I bought for my best friend that I never got to give to her…They all remind me of things that could’ve been

I remember being ten when I first started liking One Direction. Sure, everyone at that point had heard What Makes You Beautiful and One Thing, but it just never stuck out to me. Then again, at eleven, I was exclusively listening to my dad’s mixtape in the car, or Lite FM on the way to school. And then Niall Horan had come to me on a random night in a dream, to marry me in a ramen shop with the other members as his groomsmen. Perhaps the dream was a message, though I don’t know for what, but it just seemed so odd that they would all come to my dream only for Zayn to leave the band a few days later. Nothing encapsulated my youth more than the obsession with bands and pop stars – reading fanfiction at night as my mother drifted off to sleep, buying CDs, learning the lyrics to every song, liking every picture of them on Instagram, and imagining a different reality. It was all within my grasp for one minute but fell like sand slowly. And those days are gone now. Shawn Mendes no longer arouses excitement within me, I don’t even follow Niall Horan on Instagram anymore, and I haven’t listened to a 5 Seconds of Summer song in a long, long time. 

I have one box on the shelf, and another on the floor. I keep my postcards and letters from pen pals in one box, and letters and notes from my friends in another. In a pink cardboard box that I carelessly painted blue, I still keep the dried and rotting flowers from my Secondary Five graduation, along with the countless notes I passed with my classmates. 

It is bittersweet, looking back now, that these notes have been reduced to memories. What once was a norm, a small chunk of my routine has been lost to the fragments of time. When I try to stay awake in my college classes, there is no one to pass notes to, no one to draw silly caricatures of, and no one’s books to scribble on. My deskmate, Lya, would often be on the receiving end of my caricatures, as I crudely tried to make the most of the art classes I took when I was eight.

Lya made sure that I ate every day. She would bring two red bean ang ku kuehs, one for her, one for me. I was only ever loud around Lya, and I would keep to myself whenever she wasn’t around. She’s got one of those voices that would be ideal in a village emergency, loud enough to get people running towards safety. I don’t understand her when she says that she’s afraid of me when I’m angry when I am afraid of her raising her voice at any time whenever we start talking about someone she doesn’t like. Her voice followed me, through every corridor, to the toilet stalls. We went everywhere together. She was my best friend. 

We had the same lunch every other day – she had a sandwich, white bread with a piece of ham in between, and mayonnaise oozing out of it. I had the same, only without mayonnaise, and occasionally it was egg instead of ham. And we would share the kuehs, even on the days when I wouldn’t have a lunchbox. We would sit in our classroom and spend twenty precious minutes together as if we weren’t already spending the whole day together. Sometimes we’d eat in the hall with Ari, sometimes we’d eat outside the workshops with Nazhan and his friends, but we never ate in the canteen. We’d walk around, looking for our friends, and we would always make it back to the classroom begrudgingly on time. At seventeen, there was nothing that made me happier than seeing Ari waiting for me outside my classroom for recess. Most times I’d be let off earlier than him, and I’d wait for him instead. I would make silly faces at him, and he would ignore me while his other classmates looked on. Ari and I were, and still are, like cousins. Not quite siblings, and just a level above best friends. 

The days would be filled with gossip and small-scale scandal, talking about exams, post-SPM plans, and joking about the silliest things. In retrospect, it is all so muddled. We only went to school for the sake of it, just to see each other, to have someone to talk to, never to learn. I remember every bit of it all, sure, but it will start to slip from my mind, slowly and surely. I will remember the important things – decorating the English Club notice board with Lya and Ari, making inappropriate noises while playing badminton in PE, and tearing my pants during a Merdeka celebration, on the morning of my seventeenth birthday. They will all be stories I tell my children, but that’s all they’ll ever be. Just stories and memories. Never reality. At least, never again. 

I think about these days when I’m in class now, or just roaming around college, waiting for my friends to come out of class so that I’ll have someone to talk to. My school uniform is gone. My friends are gone for the week and only return on weekends or term breaks. My friendship with Lya is rocky, but when we are on good terms, it is sufficient to transport me to a different time. A better time, maybe, depending on the mood of the day. Whenever I’m with her, I’m still sixteen, and I am still stuck in my little unsuspecting town, and she is by my side, talking about our classmate or complaining about a teacher. I wish I could say it’s just like old times, but it’s not. I am not part of this chapter of her story, and she is not a part of mine. We are merely readers in each other’s worlds, once characters, but now reduced to bystanding actors who wait for any bit to play. 

But perhaps it’s for the better that we’re all off in search of a better life. If I had to continue living in the cramped bubble of my town, seeing the same faces that I’ve seen since primary school, having a crush on the same guy since Secondary Two – there was a real and widespread scarcity issue –  I would be plain. Every day, every minute of my boring commute to college brings me closer to a different me, a version of myself that my old classmates would not recognise. I’m starting to become someone I don’t recognise; for better or worse, I don’t know yet. 

There’s something so beautiful about being a faraway entity, I may not be perceived physically, and I let my pen pals perceive me the way I’ve always intended: through my words, and every stroke of my pen. I keep every postcard they send in my box, and on my whiteboard, put on display for everyone to see. They let me think that I could put myself in a box and be shipped far, far away. I don’t like being the proverbial frog in a well, I want to ride a magic carpet with a man and overlook the lights of a city as well. A girl can dream, after all. Every stamp and every postmark is a mere pin of where my presence has been felt. So for every postcard you’ve sent – Colleen, Rania, and Elisa – thank you for bringing me along with you, and expanding the corners of my mundane life, and my unsuspecting room. 

On top of my bookshelf, I keep the things I’d like to be reminded of every day. There is a pile of CDs: Antonio Carlos Jobim, Queen, Glenn Miller…We stopped in Ipoh for lunch a few years ago, on the way home from Melaka, and there was an old CD store. I’m not even sure there are other CD stores anymore. I bought a Glenn Miller CD and a compilation of Old Shanghai songs. I’m sure it’s all very eerie for my parents to hear the wailing sounds of Yoshiko Yamaguchi and Bai Guang emerging from the crevice of my door. It would happen more often if my stereo would work consistently, but for something that was bought as recently as 2013, it has its days of age. In faded marker pen ink, my mother’s handwriting is on the side of the stereo, her initials in big, bold letters. We used to use it in primary school, to do listening tests or for music class. When stereos went obsolete, I got to take it home. And ever since then, it’s been on the bookshelf. I’ve provided a companion, a wireless speaker, to delude myself into thinking that the crisp sounds are emitting from the stereo. But it’s too good to be true. I mean, I could listen to the local radio stations, but why would I? 

I keep two photo frames next to the CDs and stereo; one of P. Ramlee, one of me and my mother. In Secondary Two, I heard Getaran Jiwa for the first time, and I could say that that was the moment that maketh the man. I learned to sing it while playing the guitar, I improvised a variation on the piano. But there is nothing I could do to reach the heights of a legend, except linger in the clouds. I long to own a P. Ramlee record or a CD, but those cost an arm and a leg, maybe even a lung. If my mother would let me, or if I could find a proper picture, I would frame photos of Leslie Cheung and Frank Sinatra. Speaking of my mother, I am not smiling in the picture of the both of us. I rarely smile in pictures. But in that particular picture, it was the look I was going for. 

I have this agenda to fulfil every family dinner, every first morning of Chinese New Year – to take a picture that I could frame up. It has to be a picture like the ones I’ve seen of every other old Peranakan family; they are not smiling, maybe only slightly, and perhaps they are frowning. There’s a timeless quality to it, something only a stranger could admire. I have this vision of my father sitting in a chair, in a suit preferably, and my mother and I standing behind him, not smiling as a picture is taken in black and white. Every time I propose this idea I get shot down. My father will say something about me being insane, and repeat that he’s created a monster. I’m starting to think that I might have to get married for this vision to be fulfilled, and I may execute the plan with a willing husband. 

I have, for every odd reason, a Lego police car guarding the two photo frames. It’s a special gift that unintentionally led to further yearning for additions to my potential Lego cosmopolitan. When no one else is around, I joke with my best friend Kyra, about building a Lego City of my own and running it like a crazed dictator. There will be minions who do my bidding and perform tirelessly as policemen, garbage truck drivers, and nameless civilians. On my birthday they shall celebrate me. They shall keep a portrait of me in their homes. And those who oppose me and my regime will be politely asked to leave (exiled and excommunicated) the land. The longer it goes on, the longer I start thinking I’m not joking at all. Now, before the world ends, I just need an addition to my Lego City. For the greater good of humanity, and my sanity. 

I circle the four corners of my room, like an aimless pinball. It’s like paradise in a jail cell. I stay cooped up in here some days, with nowhere to go and no one to talk to, just like how I supposedly enjoy things. But just like me, my room is an amalgamation of the people I have once loved, and the people I love still. My favourite show is a TVB series from the 2000s that my parents left on the TV when I was growing up, and my favourite song is one that I heard as a child in my dad’s car. My friends call me a nickname that an old friend chose for me, and even though we don’t talk anymore, a part of her follows me still, throughout my day and across my life. Birthday and Valentine’s cards, old notes and letters, still pictures up on my wall, and unfinished crochet projects: I bring a part of myself to them because they have completed me. I’m not trying to justify my hoarding tendencies. They are physical belongings, yes, but it is not the physicality that I’m attached to, it’s the sentimentality. They are the belongings that make my room mine, the ones that make me belong.

Written By: Leya

Edited By: Merissa

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