CW: Suicide Attempt
It’s been a rough few days. A few days? Hasn’t it been a week? Or was it months? I think it was months, why did I think it was a few days?
Oh, yes, never mind. I should be continuing with my maths paper on my desk. That’s right. My black pen was almost about to run out of ink, but alas, I wasn’t bothered to replace it. I mean, I’ve been scribbling the same equation again, and again, and again, but I still haven’t figured it out. I should probably get another one. I pulled the drawer next to me and searched for an identical black pen, which I struggled to find. I don’t think there was one. I manoeuvred my spine upright once more, and looked down on the equation I had to solve. There was a problem though, there was truly no equation.
I was utterly confused. Very confused. The moment before when I was searching for another pen, the maths question was still on the worn page. But, as soon as I finished my failure of a search for a new pen, the entire question had just disappeared from my page. I couldn’t see it, anywhere. I see all my void-like ink ramblings, but not the actual question itself.
“Where’d the question go Ebony?”
I turned my head around to see if someone was there talking to me, usually it was my younger sister Ivory. She would often come and see what I’m doing, even though she’s busy enough herself. And fulfilling my responsibility as an older brother, I would always tell her to go back to what she was doing.
But Ivory wasn’t there. She wasn’t even home yet, was she?
I looked back down again, at the empty grid of paper that was the supposed maths question. Confused, tired, and uncontrollably frustrated out of nowhere, I threw the entire piece of paper in a hurl of rage; at where the supposed person was talking to me.
“Oh, don’t throw that at me, you know that has no use right?”
It was all quite sudden. I was drained from completing the same maths question over and over just to not get the correct answer. After the impromptu throw, I sighed and leaned back in my chair. I spin around for a few moments, before completely slamming my head onto my wooden desk. I don’t know who was talking to me. Probably Ivory engaging in some silly antics again, but she was nowhere to be seen. I haven’t seen her all day since I left school. She was with Naomi, and the rest I didn’t pay attention to. In a state of curiosity and concern, I walked over to her room rather quickly.
Flipping on the lights, I was expecting to see her quietly getting on with her chemistry or biology homework, completing each task in complete silence. Ivory would be at her desk, dillengitly scribbling through her paper. Her bag would be laying on the floor, after it was most likely the victim of her drop kicking it. The books would all be laid out on the desk, and black ink scribbled through and thin, but there was not even a pen on the desk. Now, I have just become even more perpexled by the current state of things.
“Wouldn’t she usually be home by now? School finished a good while ago…” I muttered to myself, running my hand over her desk, trying to ground my sudden anxiety.
“Check the time. Maybe then you’ll know why.”
Dully, I turned around and looked behind my shoulder. No one was there.
“Ivory, stop kidding with me…” I sighed, sitting down in her chair.
There was a digital clock on her desk that shined brightly through the cold and rainy evening, and was the only other source of light other than her psychotic white room light.
She should’ve been home ages ago.
Looking around the entire room once again, I found no trace of Ivory whatsoever. Her bag was missing, her pens, her glasses, everything that resembled her. I wasn’t panicked, but it was like a little child being lost in a grocery store. You know, a good idea would be to call her phone and see what was going on. But I didn’t want to. I couldn’t force my legs to manoeuvre itself all the way back to my room, nor could I even bother lifting up my arm to pick up my phone. The thought of such things only exhausted me further. I continued to further catatonically mould into Ivory’s chair, staring at her plain white wall for longer than I could imagine.
“Did you upload your photos today?”
No, seriously, who is that?
I chuckled, maybe finally thinking it was Ivory returning home well after dark. But once I turned around, there was still no one there.
I mean, how long could she play this entire scheme on me? Ivory can’t hide for that long, can she now?
Once again, I shook my head, trying to toss out whatever thought that was disturbing me, and finally made it back to my room. I had completely forgotten about uploading the photos for my school’s news committee, hopefully my boss doesn’t get mad at me for it.
My watch said it was twenty-four minutes to nine. I definitely had time.
I took my SD card from my camera and inserted it through my laptop, which was easy enough. The harder bit would be sorting through the vast sea of photos I had taken today.
The National Victorian Maths Competition this year was held at my school, and organised by none other than Tuna Kang. Over two hundred schools sent one singular student to sit the rigorous exam. Looking through the photos, there was not one singular photo where Tuna and Eden were separated. It was like seeing two stars shine brightly in discreet harmony. Their neatly patted down blazers with glistening badges pierced the fabric from top to bottom; now I wonder how I failed so miserably. The two of them were a year below me, and yet I got nothing but a puny ‘News Committee’ badge that hangs on my sweater. I sighed, putting the better photos into Lightroom and began to edit.
“You have other badges too, don’t you?”
“Ivory, can you come out… stop speaking over my shoulder all the time.” I sighed, sick of the joke.
Well, that’s what I thought to be Ivory anyways. Even though she wasn’t home, I assumed she was up to something silly again. If Ivory wasn’t home, and no one else was, who kept talking to me? I shook my head again, trying to continue with my work.
I heard the fateful ding on my phone, boss man Steven Lin finally asked about my absence of photos in the folder.
“I’m uploading them now.”
Yes boss man Steven Lin, I am indeed uploading my photos now.
The first image was Tuna giving a powerful speech to all the contestants, anecdotes about his own experiences with the NVMC. I remember him telling me; he swept the competition before he even got to highschool. Mind you, the age range for the competition is from the first year of intermediate to the last year of highschool. Tuna was pooled in with near adults, and somehow came out on top. He didn’t tell me the rest of the story though. I continued to scan the photo, looking at every minute detail. Eden was right beside him, smiling and brightening up the mood as usual. His sleek brown hair and clear brown eyes sure gave off some sense of motivation.
With a click of a key, I was onto the next photo. A glorious photo of the massive cup and medal which was going to be awarded to the winner. The cup was made out of glass, and had a diamond-like pattern internally reflecting within it. Then, on the base of the cup were the words engraved into the magnificent item. It read, ‘The National Victorian Maths Competition 2023 – Perseverare –” the blank was left for the school name to be written in, I mostly anticipated for it to be ours again. The medal was nothing short of the quality and the shock factor that the cup had, some may even argue it had more.
The medal – just astonishing. A gold plated medal with lab-grown diamonds sparkling around it, perfectly executed and cut on every single edge. I kept admiring every single detail about it, whether it was the finely woven fabric that would touch the student who was going to be graced with such glory, or the mesmerising focus on the sparkling diamonds. But still, I took a step back and hauled myself out of such a fantasy.
I really wondered where I went wrong.
Eden and Tuna, two of the most well-known students throughout the entire school, were giving speeches and awards because they have already done so much. Yet, here I am, editing photos on my laptop in the dark rainy night with not one soul but my own. Or, two if you counted whatever voice that was.
“You shouldn’t use this photo, it has too much focus on the diamonds.”
Yeah, you’re right.
Who am I talking to?
I turned around, once again, to meet no one.
I finished up all my photos, and boss man Steven Lin was happy enough with the result. He praised me for taking the job up when he couldn’t, and that was the end of it. Despite the fact I’m one of the higher-ups in the news committee, it feels like I’m not important at all. Take Ivory for instance, my younger sister, she’s densely close with Steven. They work together a lot; I see them chirping together down the hallway all the time. Of course, Ivory works hard, incredibly hard, but for some reason, I just feel completely isolated from everyone else in the news committee.
The clock flashed 9:09. And there wasn’t even a door knock. Might as well continue to browse through my photos.
“Are you not going to call Ivory at all?”
“What?” I muttered disorientedly, rubbing my eyes.
“No, she’ll be fine…”
I stared back at my laptop’s screen, looking at another photo.
This one was of Steven, Tuna, and Eden. They were all in their stark blazers, with gold and blue, red, orange, black – an entire array – of badges pinned through the delicate fabric. They stood in line, with Tuna in the middle. Their hands all clasped in the same diplomatic way, and surprisingly, none of their smiles were fake at all. After all, they were celebrating Tuna’s seventeenth birthday, and Steven wanted me to take a photo of the moment. Despite the fact I was having a good time with the three of them, there was still a barrier between Tuna, Eden, Steven and I. I was simply looking at them through the photo, and wasn’t in the moment with them. It felt surreal. They were my friends, yes, but, are they?
Immediately, a large noise snapped me out of my spiral of thoughts. It was a very heavy door knock. I was intrigued and opened my thick oak wood door, and saw Ivory clutching her arms in the cold. Without saying anything, I let her in and tried to pat her down like usual, but my arms became lethargic and struggled to even close the door. Ivory’s hair was all wet and sloppy, drops of water were still dribbling from her long eyelashes. Her blazer was a little better, but at the same time, it was drowned in water.
“Ebony!” Ivory smiled, greeting me by holding my hand. I let her, but somehow couldn’t reciprocate it back.
Ivory stumbled to the living room and took off her blazer and placed it over the heater. Usually, I would say it wouldn’t do much, but my mouth refused to move. Her dark navy pants became darker because of the rain. Ivory painfully idled in the living room, trying to pace her thoughts out.
“I’ll get changed, wait here.” She muttered, zooming upstairs. My eyes followed, but my head didn’t. I was still fixated on the same spot as before. I think it was a couple of minutes later, Ivory came back to the living room, expecting me to be sitting down on a couch. But I was still staring. Staring in the exact same position as before.
“How was your day Ebony?” Ivory grinned, finally embracing me in a hug like always. But I wasn’t able to wrap my arms around her, like she did, and could only stare.
I didn’t respond.
Ivory looked at me for a couple of seconds before chuckling a little to break the awkwardness, until her bright smile faded as soon as she broke away from the hug. Ivory’s sweet, charming voice instead became a scowling gruff one, as she sighed and lifted up her blazer, disappointed at the amount of badges scratched.
“You should go to bed soon. Don’t leave yourself here all day.” Ivory sighed, clutching her hand to her face. Her voice was much deeper and fatigued, unlike the persona she displays at school. Ivory turned to me, only revealing her eyes.
They looked so tired and simply brutal. Dark brown engulfed my vision, and I soon blinked rapidly to walk towards my bedroom.
“Sleep well Ebony.”
“Why were you home so late?” I blurted out, after not being able to speak over half an hour. Ivory looked at me and sighed, cleaning her glasses.
“Just go to bed.”
I climbed onto my soft mattress and closed my eyes. And then opened them again.
Something took me by the nerves and forced me wide awake. I wonder if it was that annoying voice again. I sat up and looked straight forward, into complete darkness. I was confused again. Why I was up at such an abnormal time? My thoughts began to spiral back to Ivory, from why she came home so late and bandaged, to how her tone changed immediately after she broke away from the hug. There are only very rare instances where she becomes serious and forgets the cheerful side of herself, it only really happens when she’s under severe stress. Was there something really stressful about her night? Or, did she have some sort of conflict with her friends again? Maybe Steven was being harsh on Ivory again, and she took it to heart.
Speaking about Steven, my thoughts derailed to the man, the myth, the legend himself, Steven Lin. I’ve worked with that guy for five years now, and it doesn’t feel like an inch of him has changed. He’s the same, brutally honest, mean but with good intentions, harsh with valid points, a man I’ve known ever since I decided to join his news committee. Ivory was still considered a little baby back then, a junior with no experience whatsoever. But Steven and her have grown close. I haven’t. Even though the two of us are in good relations, there was always something defining the relationship between Steven and I.
Despite the fact I run the photography department for him, meaning I am ‘authority’ within the news committee, I feel completely obsolete. I take good photos, sure, but they feel meaningless. I get compliments, sure, but they feel empty. Slowly, over the years my hobby of photography has taken a toll on me. The more photos I took, the more detail I took in, and the more I became nervous with everything happening around me. I remember taking a photo of a teacher, whom I forgot, and when I was editing the photo I saw a group of boys jumping a younger student, completely beating him up. The younger student was defenceless, and could only try and make it out alive. The teacher was simply unaware, and I never saw that junior boy again.
Another instance would be the time I took a photo of Steven for a portfolio, and in the background I saw Ivory completely breaking down in a corner. This was only at the beginning of the year, but I forgot why she was crying. The memory was so vivid to me, finding out your younger sister was falling apart but you were too busy to notice. Her arms were wrapped around herself, trying to comfort her own internal ephialtes. But, there was something unusual about her mental collapse. To an outsider, you wouldn’t notice she was struggling at all, instead, you would just think she’s a little sleepy. But because I’ve known Ivory since she was a little infant, she was showing all the signs of spiralling doom.
She pointed her face down, trying to mask whatever emotion there is. Even though I could immediately tell she was crying with how her body was positioned. Whenever Ivory begins to cry, she usually seeks some sort of physical comfort. When there’s no physical comfort, Ivory would lean onto some inanimate object and caress her own hands so she could feel like someone was holding her. Every single detail was portrayed even in a blurry image in the background, while Steven was brightly smiling in the centre of the photo. What this entailed to me was that there was always something horrible going on in the background. Whether it was the back of a photo of Ivory crying, or that one junior boy getting beat up, there’s always something to be watching out for.
It had been a few hours ever since Ivory instructed me to go to bed. I’ve been sitting up and staring at my wall for a good while now. Completely lost track of time. Might as well go through some old photos, maybe make myself feel something so I can escape my corpse-like state. I opened up my laptop, and even though it was an hour past midnight notifications flooded in like usual. Most of it was just likes and comments on the photography post, and some messages from Steven which I’ll check later. Just getting bombarded with more and more work like usual. I had a gallery where I would store all my best photos, and they would never fail to make me smile. Although they were the same old photos, I would still be able to find new intricate detail within every single one of them.
I flipped through without worry, looking at the same memories over and over. Although, I began ruminating a little. Why are Eden and Tuna so close? How are they so close? Why can I never reach that level of intimacy? How can Steven confidently talk to anyone he pleases? Why can’t I talk to anyone except for my only three friends? And that’s when I’m not even excluding Ivory. I looked through all the photos once again, all of my ‘friends’ happily smiling and laughing, enjoying their time while I captured it through my lens. But I then soon realised, I was never in any of the photos. Completely discarded from their reality. I was always put behind, put alone, all by myself. And it’s been happening for almost thirteen years as I reach the end of my highschool chapter.
After I don’t know how many hours of repetitive negative thinking, there was a slow burning realisation that finally surfaced. The more I looked at the photos of my ‘friends’ being happy, the more I was hurt by their staggering joy. The more I looked at the smaller details and cracks between each shot, the more I realised the dark evil behind all those smiles. These people were happy living their lives without me. They were happy I wasn’t in their life, and were almost actively trying to push me out of it. The only reason Steven doesn’t like me as much as Ivory was because, he never liked me in the first place. I am just a worker to him. Nothing else of speciality.
They’re all going to hurt me.
Yes, all of them. Every single face in those pictures.
They were all out to get me. From the start.
Safe to say I did not sleep that night.
I didn’t even wake up the next morning. I was always awake, thinking of every single micro-aggression that was pushed towards me by my ‘friends.’ While continuing to monologue in my head in my room, Ivory finally knocked on my door and said it was time to wake up. Oh, don’t worry Ivory, I was never asleep in the first place. I did what I always did, as monotonically as possible. Stepping out the door with Ivory waiting for our forever-late bus, arriving on campus and getting yelled at first thing, and trying to hold my oxymoron-self together in form time.
Orchard house always had the biggest commons out of any other house. Although it wasn’t two floors like Ash house, the surface area was quite large. I didn’t need to collect my books from my locker like anyone else did, because I carried all the books in my bag for the day. It was too frustrating to put books in and out, because I had the most awful memory out of everyone. I sat down in my chair, hoping for the next thirty minutes to pass quicker than usual. I thought I was just going to be doing the same maths question during form time, until one of my, genuine friends sat down next to me.
“Did you even sleep last night?” A voice that felt like the colour grey brushed through my ears, which made me turn my head around naturally.
Ambrose Ying, the friend who I had from my first year and now who probably has stuck with me the most. Whether I was taking commerce or food tech, you bet Ambrose was going to be present in the class, sitting next to me. I wonder if this is going to carry on after school. Ambrose was also a photographer for the news committee, meaning he would be skipping classes with me constantly to photograph events. There was one day where Ambrose was sick, and Steven asked me where he was.
“You look incomplete without him.”
“I guess.” I mumbled back, pulling a chair for him to sit on.
“Saw your photos, Steven was talking about them as usual.”
Yeah, of course he was. Was definitely talking about how every single detail was off or something. I wouldn’t know. Steven is almost like he’s casted in this mysterious unknown shadow, where you genuinely can never see his true intentions. I wonder if he was like that with everyone, Ambrose and Ivory included. I began to think about every single trump card that Steven would use against me if he were to fire me from the news committee. It might’ve been the fact I always upload my photos late, am never attentive in meetings, or make Ivory do my work sometimes. Whether it was small or big, Steven would definitely pick on every single thing I do. I just knew it.
I sat in my chair, spacing out while Ambrose went to talk to the other people in my form class. It was a splitting silence, the silence that split me from the vibrant class and the inner turmoil that I had. The right side of my ear would constantly demand answers from me, it was the same voice I heard from last night while editing my photos. The left side of my ear would continue to tell me it’s alright, and everything would be okay. It was two conflicting sides, like my mind was split in a way. It made me spiral into something like a ruined loop of depressing monologue, every single time I tried to say the same things over again there would always be something on top of it.
The bell signalled the first period. I walked out onto the dark concrete floor through the less crowded routes. The immense rain made me shiver under my itchy sweater, and made my head tuck itself below so I wouldn’t get wet. There was something eerie about the way I walked and responded to every single word spoken to me today. In one way or another, it was some sort of defensiveness that made me want to curl up in a corner and never come out. Ambrose would be in my physics class as usual, but he took another route with his popular friends. I wonder how that guy still talks to me. I continued to walk through the cracked concrete pavement, maybe that’s why no one took this route. But in the midst of the howling wind and thundering rain, there were little echoes of noise coming from the side of me.
The problem was, I was by myself.
There wasn’t anyone else around me. It was just me, walking down the dark corridor, trying to get to my physics class. Am I losing it? Was it because of the lack of sleep? Definitely because of the lack of sleep. It had to be the lack of sleep. Maybe it was because of how out of the blue it was, the small echos of people talking instinctively made me want to sprint away. There was something chasing me, I knew it. I was sprung immediately on my heels, and merged into the larger crowd of people, maybe trying to hide away.
“Oh, didn’t see you there Ebony.” Ambrose smiled, waving. I messily waved back, trying to keep my head down and continued to stride forward.
I safely reached my physics class in Sky house.
After the entire run and tag with the little echoes of voices, I sat down in my assigned seat like nothing had happened. Despite the fact, several people were looking at me in concern. Ambrose didn’t say anything about it and sat down next to me, but even though I felt I was ‘safe’ in the classroom the little giggles and laughs continued to persist. They felt far away, but close enough to a point where I could feel it itch under both my sweater and my skin. I looked straight forward, maybe trying to blend in with all the other students so they wouldn’t come for me. Whatever the voices were.
After my teacher called out my name for attendance, I tried to keep my head low from the windows. So, maybe, just maybe, they wouldn’t see me.
Because exams were approaching, the teacher let us have a study period, just to revise since we’ve covered all the content. Although I attempted to look through the syllabus, it was hard for me to ignore all the distractions from outside the classroom. There were a couple of things I could only hear. My ever-increasing heartbeat, the voices from the outside, and Ambrose talking with his friends. He wasn’t studying at all. I was, but not the content. I was studying the pattern of the voices from the outside, and the more I made deductions from them the more stressed I became.
When I was walking from Orchard House to Sky House, the small voices only began appearing when I trespassed from the south to the north side of the school. However, they followed me all the way to Sky House, despite the fact this classroom somehow leans more on the south side. It was the dimly lit corridor where the voices began to pick up and trail onto me, but then lost me when I came to this haven of a classroom. There was a two-beat pause every single time I heard something. Little hushes of voices would go silent for a moment or two, and then come back up to haunt me furthermore. It was every five minutes that they got louder and louder, which I assumed they were coming closer to me. The voices from outside sounded like they were making plans, plans to kill me, plans to kidnap me, plans to take me away.
Half of the period had passed, but the deep anxiety within me did not budge one inch. Although the pattern of voices didn’t change, I knew they were most likely somewhere near me again. I shivered, I shook, I breathed, all trying to tell myself it’s going to be fine. Once again, I began to hear the loser-like monologue coming through. How was I so afraid of a few voices? Because they’re all going to hurt me, I say. They’re all going to hurt me, I say. Every single one of the condescending laughters, every single one of the comments made towards me or my photos; they’re all going to hurt me, I say.
I looked back at my notes with apex eyes, trying to concentrate on my studies. For a while, I thought the little echoes of noise were far away from me because I couldn’t hear them, or maybe it was because I was too engrossed in my past exam. The Arial text casually told me how bad I was at physics, and called me out on everything I did wrong. I must say, it was quite disheartening. But even if the font spoke to me, literally, I was going to have to pass this subject anyways. There was no other choice.
When it was about five minutes to the end of the period, I heard the ever-increasing laughs and giggles. Whatever was out there, it was out to get me. Sneakily, I slid my physics textbook into my bag without my teacher looking or noticing me, and then slid the past paper into my lecture book to store away afterwards. As soon as the bell rang, I would be able to blend into the ever sea of people, and I would lose track of whatever was out there. Ambrose was still talking to his friends, and didn’t notice how it was almost the end of the period. Sorry Ambrose, I think I’m leaving you behind on this one.
Once the bell rang I immediately paced outside, submerging within the crowd. I couldn’t hear the voices anymore, but instead, I could hear the loud murmurs of students talking to each other. Although the rain stopped, the clouds were to be turbulent any moment now. It can never truly be not raining at this time of the year. My English class with Ambrose was in Ash house, meaning there was quite some distance to cover. I usually expected myself to walk to class alone, just keeping my head down and pacing forward, but this time, Ambrose caught up to me.
“You know Xander right?” Ambrose began, scoffing a little bit. I nodded, letting him continue to talk.
“Yeah right, of course you know Xander. Big head boy with a massive reputation to keep up or whatever, apparently he’s been talking smack about me.” He sighed, placing his arm onto my shoulder.
Not gonna lie, I think the reason why Xander talked smack about Ambrose was probably because he can be a massive jerk sometimes. Despite Ambrose being one of my only friends, he can be quite the prick. Most of the time, it’s from his verbal judgements. Whether you tried to ask him for something, or asked him about anything, he would always snap back with a snarky remark because Ambrose was just constantly in a mood. Of course, deep down inside he doesn’t really mean those things. It’s just the way he presents himself on the outside that really shows him off as an egotistical bastard. But, he’s tolerable, I guess.
“What did you do this time?” I exhaled, laughing a bit. I could take my mind off of the voices for now.
“Basically…” Ambrose inhaled, probably doing a bit again.
“Alice,” which was Ambrose’s friend,
“Tried to speak to Xander about promoting the human rights event in assembly some time ago.”
“Xander said he’ll do it, but the following assembly he never did.” Ambrose’s eyes fell to a more tired look.
“Alice asked why, and then she never got a response from him.”
“Ugh, and then I called him a loser of a head boy for poor communication. And then apparently Xander called me like, annoying or something. It’s child’s play here.”
“Oh well… at least you got enough promotion for Alice with the news committee anyway.”
“Yeah, sounds about right. I wish I became head boy to be honest.” Ambrose sighed, putting his hand back into his pocket.
Indeed, Ambrose was a captain. He was Orchard House’s academic captain, and a school prefect too. I remember him telling me all about how he wanted these leadership opportunities because he genuinely enjoyed helping people out, but somehow Xander Rayde became head boy and not him. I don’t think Ambrose wanted to talk to me for a few days after that staggering announcement. In a way, Ambrose was somehow always in Xander’s shadow.
There were several times where the two of them were in some academic competition, and Xander having pure luck coming out first. He said it himself. I think it was last year. Xander and Ambrose decided to take the biology competition test for fun. However, I now struggle to remember the memory. I have photos of it, all stored away, taken by my camera. But I simply only remember these things in fragments of memory, like broken pieces of glass. I vividly remember Ambrose’s facial expression when Xander admitted that he guessed half of the questions on the test, but somehow still performed better than him. Ambrose was a literal legend in biology, but somehow Xander’s “stupid” luck overturned his hardcore skill.
That’s why I suppose Ambrose Ying will forever be enemies with Xander Rayde.
We sat down in English and began to hear about another lecture that stringed on for what seemed like forever. But, I could tell something was off. Despite the fact the voices left me alone, there was a sombre attitude towards everything Ambrose did. Instead of his natural confident attitude, which was smooth like silk, he became robotic, having all the life in him seep away.
Ambrose is truly not a bad person. From day one, he was the only one who could understand how messy my mental state was. Whether it was a blurt of words, or mumbled speaking, Ambrose stuck out with me until the very last. When Ambrose was a first-year like me, he was one of the most cheerful people I’ve met. He helped me study for my non-important exams, always tried to help me out whenever things got tough, and pestered me to hang out after school. I always chose to stay home though. But it’s somehow like the years passed, something had changed about him. It was like a silent bomb ticking, ever since we became friends. A ticking bomb that would ultimately lead to what he is now, a moody bastard.
Maybe I could say the same about myself. I’ve been in the news committee as a photographer ever since I arrived at highschool, and this is my final year taking photos for the school. It was like a gradual build-up, a gradual build-up of my inner turmoil. From day one, it was a constant struggle trying to make out words and speak. Especially to my teachers. Many thought I was an international student because of my poor speaking skills, but in truth I was simply just terrified to open my mouth. That’s why I always preferred the photographer role; the shutter of my camera could speak for me. But after doing the same events for five years in a row, I think I’ve been quieter than ever; I’m all too much in my head.
We’ve always been together, thick like wood, the two of us. There wasn’t one thing separating Ambrose and I. You’d think we’d get sick of each other after being together for so long, but that’s not true. We keep our distance. Ambrose has his own friend group and I have, well, me, myself and I, I suppose. But in the end, we would always be the ones remaining of a friend group fallout. It will forever be Ambrose and I, tag teaming on mega field events when Steven’s sick. Steven most likely did not approve of all the informal photos Ambrose and I took, but he couldn’t do anything about it as he was in a literal hospital bed.
I don’t think I’ll ever tell Ambrose about all the things that goes on in my head. Even though I’ve tried explaining how everything feels foggy, or how I can’t differentiate reality and fantasy, I don’t think he’ll ever understand. On a public appearance, Ambrose seems to be one of the most ignorant guys out there. But, there have been several cases where he’s the most genuine man alive. He’s tried to listen to me, again, and again, and again. He’s tried to listen to me about how I don’t feel alive, about how I can’t differentiate who’s talking to me, how I’m maybe just making up voices in my head, and how sometimes I see ghosts around me, even though they’re not real. I’ve tried. So many times. And as hard as Ambrose tries to empathise, he really can’t grasp such concepts.
I look back up at the teacher again, trying to focus on her words. But the giggles and echoes of voices came through the hallways again, coming to get me once more. I balled my hand into a fist and clutched it tight, just to hope that whatever was coming for me wouldn’t be coming for me. My mind balanced itself on a line between life and death. If the small indistinct laughter got quieter, it would lean itself onto the life side. If the voices felt like they were right around the corner, boomingly loud, my mind would throw itself over to the death side of things. It was this constant survival mode, having something lurk around you, and you don’t even know what it was.
Could it be Steven Lin? About to rampage me for my poor photo quality? Or how Ivory performs better than me in the news committee? That man, that damned man, Steven Lin. Even though I’ve known him for almost five years, I can feel the hostility getting tenser and tenser. Even though he has a good smile and a confident attitude, there was more to the iceberg than that. Something, just something about him. Whenever he reached out his hand to me to shake it, he would always chuckle a little. And what did the chuckle sound like? The little voices coming through these corridors coming for me. And what are they trying to do? End me. They’re trying to end my existence, the living breathing power of myself, they’re trying to forcibly wipe my existence off of the face of the planet.
That’s what Steven Lin was. Trying to execute me before anyone else could.
The bell signalled for interval, and Ambrose went off to a meeting he had to attend. I walked out of my class, grabbing my heavy bag filled with textbooks and began to walk to Forest house. I was hiding in the crowd of people once more, away from those hideous voices. Looking around, I think I was safe for now. Students looked the exact same, just in varying sizes and shapes. Most had their sweater on due to the blistering weather, and some even had their elegant blazer on. The only distinctive difference between everyone’s appearance was either their facial features, or the bag they were carrying.
“Ebony!” A cheerful voice came from the side of me. I would usually immediately register tones and voices in my head, knowing who they’re from and what they’re feeling. But this time, I was simply unable to decipher such information. There was a gap, the emotional gap. Because of my sudden anxiety of being hunted by the voices, I didn’t have the energy to suffice emotion in me. I couldn’t feel any sort of response from whoever was talking to me. I looked to the side of me, and turns out if was Ivory.
“Oh, hi, Ivory.” I muttered, waving.
“What are you up to?” A staggering voice that almost made me topple to the floor, like a pyramid of cards just being blown away in fear. I looked to the side of Ivory, it was no one but Steven Lin. Tall with broad shoulders, short hair, and always wearing the school jumper, he was instantly recognisable as the ‘news committee guy.’
It took me a couple of minutes to blink all the information in. It was all too much. I saw Steven raise his hand, maybe for a gesture. But it was under his jumper sleeve, where I noticed he carried a small pocket knife. It was stainless steel, and the light from the sky reflected the sharp blade. Steven was pointing it downwards, which made my heart skip several beats. What was literally below Steven’s arm right now? Ivory, Ivory’s body. I could see it all happening in slow motion. He had his pocket knife sliding through his fingers, every single movement was captured in the retina of my eye. It didn’t feel real. Seeing your own little sister getting shanked by the guy you worked for.
But my arms and limbs as lethargic as they are, couldn’t do anything about it. I mustered all the strength to try and push Ivory out of the way, but I couldn’t even have enough strength to do that. I was scared, scared not for my life but Ivory’s life. What’s going to happen next? I was already forwarding my thoughts in future time. My little sister would be bleeding on the floor, while Steven runs away with the knife still in hand. I can’t just let Ivory die like that, on some average winter school day. No, it can’t be. It can’t be!
“Ebony?” Steven muttered, snapping me out of the entirety of my thoughts.
“Huh?” I stammered, finally focusing back into the ‘real’ life.
“Are you okay?” He asked, in some what of a concerned voice.
I looked back at the exact same scene, but this time to an incredible degree of difference.
There was no pocket knife in Steven’s hand, and nor was Ivory bleeding. The two of them were just walking with me, peacefully; like nothing had happened.
“Yeah, yeah. Sorry about that.” I quietly mumbled, trying to wrap my head around what just happened. I pulled Ivory closer to me, holding her arm. Just to make sure. Steven noticed with how his eyes gestured, but didn’t say anything.
Was I seeing things? I can’t be going insane right? I graphically just saw how Ivory was about to get shanked, and how she was going to be bleeding on the floor, but now everything suddenly returned to normal? I don’t understand. I thought she was about to get killed a few moments ago. I sighed, and walked away from the two of them. Heading into a more secluded place was the best way I could figure out my thoughts. Ivory tugged onto my arm, trying to make me stay, but I forcefully pulled away. I was in a certain mood of distress, panic, and disorientation. Wow, what the hell was just that?
I walked into an empty, unused bathroom and stared at myself in the mirror. Steven never had a pocket knife with him, nor was he even attempting to harm Ivory at all. So what was it that I saw? What were the crystal clear visions I just had? My eyes began to burn with tears; I felt stupid for crying over such a dumb delusion. So, if Steven not stabbing my sister was the reality, then why was my mind so coerced to think that Steven stabbing my sister was the reality?
“Because Steven is out to get you, Ebony.”
This is the exact same voice I heard when editing my photos last night.
“Why would Steven hurt my sister if he was out to get me?” I began to vocalise my thoughts for once, which felt like a monumental achievement.
“If he has a problem, he can come to me about it! But don’t get Ivory involved!” I hissed, digging my nails into my face out of pressure.
“Steven’s going to hurt you, one way or another. Even if it is through using means like Ivory.”
“Why? What did I ever do to Steven?” I cried out, continuing to slam my hands onto a surface to relieve tension.
“I don’t know. But he’s out to get you, so that’s that.”
I continued to stare in the mirror. At myself.
I began to reverse my thinking back to memories, fragmented ones anyways. I couldn’t think of one that had a straightforward timeline.
Steven and Ivory have always been close. No matter what anyone says. It was when Ivory first arrived to highschool and joined the news committee, I can’t really remember the earlier period of that. But, what I can remember was that around later in the year when exams began to rack up Steven began putting his trust in Ivory. I forgot what specifically happened for him to just suddenly place responsibility on her. But, what I do remember was that Steven was spitting out poison again, and Ivory was unfortunately the victim of such dealings. I remember comforting her that night, telling her, her photos aren’t all bad.
The stinging bell rang once more, signalling the end of interval and the start of third period. I had library study, meaning I didn’t exactly have to think as much. I saw Ambrose in the corner, still looking mentally beat up and sad. Oh, Ambrose, what has gotten into you again? I sat down in my place and began to revise as well, trying to take my mind off of all the horrible things going on in my life. Whether it was the hallucination of Steven attempting to kill my sister, or Steven trying to come for me directly, maybe I would be safe in the sanctuary of textbooks and work. What’s even worse was that Steven was in my study period, meaning I could feel the hostility all around me.
Oh, huh? Ambrose? No, it wasn’t Ambrose. It was the same voice talking to me from the bathroom. When I was completely staring into the mirror, that was.
“What paper are you working on right now?”
I was working on my English paper, an assignment that-
“Are you sure it’s your English paper?”
What? What do you mean, am I sure?
I flipped the paper over to its first page and read the title, and no, it wasn’t English.
It was my economics paper that I had neglected to do for the last couple of weeks, days, months, or whenever I got this. I simply can’t remember.
I wasn’t bothered studying right now, after everything that had just happened. Even trying to think back on it now, I can’t even seem to remember one single ‘clear’ memory from the past. It was all mushed together in fragile emotion and shallow vagueness that somehow still carried meaning. Out of pure fatigue from the day, I laid my head down on the table, hoping the supervising teacher wouldn’t notice. I was exhausted. Why do I keep seeing things that aren’t what they are? Was it a maths paper first or was it an economics one? Which visual is the real visual? Endless questions flooded my head to point where I couldn’t conceive one single thought, diving deep down into the depths of despair.
Is everything alright? I wish everything was alright. But I don’t think anything was alright. But was it alright?
The sharp bell ending my so-called nap session, which was actually a ruminating one, stung my ears and forced my eyes open. Everyone began to pack up their bags and leave, except for Ambrose, waiting for me at the door.
“Do you wanna go somewhere?” He asked, waving his debit card in the air. I forgot we ended early today because of senior year shenanigans.
“Sure, I’ll grab something to eat.” I mutter, monotonically shoving all the papers back into my bag.
The two of us headed out to the bus stop, where we found a multitude of other students waiting as well.
“Something special happening?” I asked, still in a low voice.
“Not that I know of. Maybe everyone’s just getting sick of school at this point.” Ambrose shrugged, exhaling the school air from his lungs.
“We have exams soon anyways, I’m sure everyone wants to get their peace.”
“How are you coming along for studying?” I asked, curious.
“Good, as I always should be. Nothing below the expectations as usual.”
“You?” He asked back.
“I was just doing my maths paper back in the library, hoping to get a good mark I suppose.”
“You always say that, do you get good marks though?”
“Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. I’ve forgotten most of my results at this point…”
“Also, weren’t you literally sleeping the entire period? Ebony, you can’t just do maths in your sleep.” Ambrose chuckled, attempting to make out some sense of humour.
But I didn’t find it funny.
Did I say maths paper? Or economics paper? Or even English? Which one was I supposed to be revising? I can’t remember which paper I was revising, it felt like they were all mushed together. Everything was so fallen apart, broken, fragmented, torn apart to pieces that you can’t put back together.
The bus came and Ambrose and I clambered into the small container. We continued to talk, echoing whatever was needed to be said.
“You should probably take a nap, you look so done buddy.” Ambrose laughed, nudging me on the shoulder.
“Well, I can’t sleep if you’re constantly nabbing me like this.” I scoffed, smiling a little.
Despite my massive vacancy of emotion in myself, small moments like these made me want to flourish open like a flower and bloom in the sweet spring temperatures. But it wasn’t spring. It was turning winter. Where the cold months would both freeze and fly by, and I could do nothing but watch it all wash away into the drain because of the rain. Usually, in these moments I wouldn’t feel anything. I wouldn’t feel the vibrations of the bus when it was idle, I wouldn’t pick on the small gestures of Ambrose’s happy mood, I wouldn’t pick up on my thoughts as peacefully as this. But in the midst of all the fragments of life, there are moments that are created whole. And maybe this is one.
Yet, it still feels like there’s a gaping bleeding hole inside of me. Something no veteran doctor could treat. Thoughts and feelings internally bleed inside of me, making me feel things that could only be described as internal bruises. Internal bruises that I don’t know… work like bruises? When you leave them, they usually are fine by themselves. Left ignored and untouched, wallowing in its own blood. But, when you try and attend to such things, like patting or holding it, the entire surface area begins to hurt. Every single time I feel something, it always leaves a bruise behind. Sometimes they’re small, sometimes they’re big. Big enough to a point where I don’t even want to touch it because of how much it hurts.
Most of the time they’re people, people making me seep these emotions through my blood and out onto my skin. The invisible part anyway. Whether it’s someone scolding me personally, or being socially ostracised, every single thing, even down to the micro-things, would leave a mark behind. There was one time someone took my camera from me while I left it unattended during an event. I was running around trying to find it for around ten minutes before I found it back at the original spot where I left it. Even though the original thief was identified and punished, that left me with a bruise where I didn’t want to walk the same path as that guy for weeks. People, words, and actions, really are some of the most hurtful things known to man.
I wouldn’t want to admit this to anyone, but Ivory is one of the biggest bruises there is.
No, it’s not because she’s ever hurt me. No, it’s not because she stole my camera. I’d happily lend mine to her any time; in fact, there have been numerous cases where I was the one helping her with photography. No, it’s not because of the fact Steven likes her more than me. It’s something much more backward instead. I’m afraid to be the one that causes the forever longing bruise for her. There was always this prominent fear in me, a prominent fear where I would be the one causing her distress and misery, and it would all lash back onto me because of the immense guilt I would feel. The immense guilt I would feel for not being able to protect her, the immense guilt I would feel for not being there for her, the immense guilt I would feel for her as my younger sister. My irreversible actions would hurt her more than anything and would come back all onto me.
Because, if she were to be a bruise, I would completely ignore her. And that would destroy even the strongest of ivory.
Ambrose and I got off at a miniature mall, where most of the places were filled with home restaurants and a C grade for the health rating. We went into this tea shop where we always went to after school, oftentimes we even crammed out last-minute studies here. We sat down and placed our orders, while Ambrose was beginning to talk again. Even though I listened to his words, and perceived them for what it was, I don’t think I was in my own body at all. I was spaced out, watching him drink the milk tea, eating the little confectionaries, almost as if this was all just some weird video. But it wasn’t. This was real life, with a real person, and real emotions. I keep having to remind myself of that.
I don’t know what’s real. Well, sure I do. But I have to constantly remind myself that what is in front of me is real. Although this sounds backwards, and almost insulting, I sometimes forget to remind myself Ambrose is real. He’s my friend. One of the best people I’ve met. But the more I look at him now, the more I feel like he’s fading away. Maybe it’s from all the years of growing up, maybe it’s from all the years of facing the cruel world that made Ambrose’s brightness fade away. He used to be this charismatic and enthusiastic kid, and I took his energy as annoying, but now, it feels like he’s been muted to a puddle. Every single two blinks, I’m unsure whether that’s Ambrose or just another ghost I’m seeing.
My tea arrives and I solemnly stare at it. Japanese green matcha tea, warm, only quarter sugar and quarter ice. I’ve ordered the same drink ever since Ambrose and I began to be regulars here three years ago. I stare at it. The cubic but somehow circular ice cubes float in the green liquid, and the little bits of chopped-up leaves float on top. It must feel so small and daunting, being one of those bits of leaves. Being drowned by the everlasting environment, and having no choice but to sink. I can empathise with them. Being drowned out by the saturation in my photos, or being drowned out by the endless noise from the photos inside. There was always something that made me stay up past midnight editing photos; but half of the time I’m not even editing them.
I look at photos and imagine how good life would be if my life was like that. I look at photos and wonder how people can be happy like that. Especially when they’re my ‘friends.’ Unless it’s Ambrose, he always looks cranky in my photos. They’re always so happy, and I never really understood why I can’t feel the same way. I’ve always been told to smile in photos. Whether it was family ones, friend ones, group ones; in fact, I tell people to smile in my photos to capture their joyful essence. But I wonder, how many of those smiles are real? How many times were people really smiling through that lens of mine? The so-expensive one that I use to capture all the ‘happy’ moments of people? How many of those were genuine? How many of my own ‘happy’ moments were genuine?
I continued to stare at my matcha tea, until I noticed a sudden ripple through the drink. I blink for a moment, trying to process the moment.
“Ebony?” Ambrose asks, in a stiff voice.
There was something strange about his voice, now that I just realised. Most of the time, Ambrose sounded relaxed and tired after a good day’s work. But now, his voice sounded cracked, vulnerable, and maybe even childish.
“Yeah? Sorry.” I apologise, not hearing what he said.
“Because you’re crying, I’m assuming you understand what I said, right?” Ambrose looked at me with his eyes all faded, blurred from his tears. It would be an understatement to say I was stunned.
The bastard, the jerk, the unpopular but popular, the annoying one, the bright one, the tall one, the mean one, but never the crying one. Ambrose’s striking brown eyes were now replaced with fatigued tears. His entire public image, of being this reserved and terrifying, but popular person just broke itself right in front of me. Ambrose did not look this distraught ever since I found him crying on the field one time. His posture was decomposed, his nose was sniffling, and most of all he was crying. Ambrose was crying. Something I thought I would never see. And it wasn’t just small tears running down his cheeks. Instead, it was the very audible, unable-to-breathe, crying.
“Ambrose… I…” I stuttered, trying to comfort him. But I couldn’t. I fell back into my lethargic state and could do nothing but watch.
“It’s okay, sorry, didn’t mean to just burst out like that.”
And soon, he was back to normal.
“But look at you, shedding a tear or two for me.” Ambrose sniffled, chuckling a little.
I rubbed my eyes a little, and indeed I felt sweet tears coming down my cheeks. Was it because of my deep rumination? Or was it because of Ambrose’s story that I did not hear at all?
“Sorry, I just got a little…” I trailed off, trying to laugh it off.
“It’s alright. Thanks for listening anyway.” He smiled, drinking the last of his tea.
“I should be heading off home now, shouldn’t you as well?”
“Yeah, I should be.”
“See you later then.”
Ambrose walked to his bus stop while I waited for mine. I stopped for a moment, thinking of all the things that had just happened.
It took me a while, but it worked. I guess. Ambrose just cried, something he would never usually do. Falling apart to pieces is quite literally the meaning of vulnerability. However, with the way he reconstructed himself back like it was a simple switch of tone, it felt like there was an irregularity with how Ambrose presented himself in that way. He recovered too quickly. Too quickly where all the fragments would not be rearranged in the healthy way where he would recover and be happy, but in the same way as before, where he would only bawl his eyes out once more. That smile when he thanked me for listening, I doubted that was real at all. To him, maybe it was a coverup for himself. But to me, I think it was a facade he’s had for longer than I’ve known him.
Looking at my watch, I was wondering what Ivory would be doing right now. Half past two. Did the two of us really stay at the tea cafe for that long? Whatever it is, Ivory should be home by the time I get back. I hope she’s not failing in chemistry right now. The sky began to look like another natural doomsday with the impending rain, sloshing on the bus window while getting home. I returned, with my hair downed with rainwater.
“You should go take a shower. You’re wet with rain.”
No thanks. I can’t be bothered.
Whoever, or whatever that voice was, it’s almost like it’s become company towards my fragile self. Because I barely have any friends, and almost no one to rely on, this consistent voice in my head was the only thing that would constantly talk to me. But, I don’t know if that was a good or bad thing. It would speak to me, which made me feel happier, but what it said would always make me feel worse in the end. I get changed and sit back down in my bedroom chair, continuing with my economics paper. Numbers piled up, negatives and positives, pluses and minuses, all monotone numbers that reflected my current state of life. That was until Steven messaged me again.
“Are you free tomorrow?”
He asked, I bet this was another photography event again.
“Bring your camera tomorrow, I’ll explain tomorrow. But don’t expect to be home by four.”
I moved over to grab my camera bag and made sure everything was set in place. I always carry my telephoto lens with me, just in case I need it in those types of situations. However, I hope Steven Lin doesn’t throw me under the bus and make me stand in the most uncomfortable position for good shots with my lens. He likes it anyway.
“I’m back.” A nice voice came from the distance, which I knew was Ivory since she was finally home.
Walking over, I greeted her like I always did.
“Do you really greet her like you always did though?”
Yeah, of course I did.
“What do you do when you greet her when she comes back?”
I say hi to her, ask how her day was, and we usually get along with our stuff, why?
“Hey Ebony!” Ivory smiles, reaching in for a hug. I stand there, frozen as always, unable to reciprocate.
“Hi, Ivory.” I mutter back, sounding half-dead.
Ivory sighed, pulled away and nodded like a distant greeting.
“I don’t get it, why are you so distant now?” She quietly stammered under her breath which she thought I wouldn’t hear.
“I’m right here…” I tried to call her back, but Ivory was already gone.
“See the difference now?” I was asked again.
I see the difference.
I really do see the difference now.
But, I don’t know why it’s like this now. I want to hug her, pat her, and see her smile. But, I just can’t. I’ve taken a backseat to my own life, and let the natural forces of the world blow me away like a singular leaf in the wind. There used to be a heart in me, I think, but now inside there’s nothing but bruises all over; I don’t really want to deal with any of them anyway. It was always this contrasting difference, between the real world and I. Between the real, touchable surface of a person, and the pixelated digital file of a photo. I’ve been jammed between the lens and the real thing, and I don’t think I know how to get out.
Returning to my room, I decided I would just continue to study economics and forget any of that happened. It hurt too much to think about. Steven messaged me multiple times through the night, which were all trivial questions about my health and I. I didn’t trust it, nor did I trust him. Of course, I responded with the normal response of my state being alright, but with every message I sent forward, I would always be confused as to whether that was the apparent image or the real one. My camera has a shutter speed that can take several photos in a singular second, meaning, if someone remotely smiles only for one millisecond, I’m able to capture it. Now, it felt like the same thing reoccurring. I would look fine for one moment, and the next, I’m completely dying.
I tried to peek in on what Ivory was doing, she was studying biology as usual. I sighed and left, not disturbing her peace. But, she saw me in the corner of her eye like she always does.
“Did Steven ask you to bring your camera tomorrow too?” Ivory asked, in the most exhausted voice I’ve heard from her. It was deep, quiet, and sounded like me ruminating my thoughts in my head.
“Yeah, why?” I nodded.
“Just wondering, Steven asked me too.”
“Oh, I see.”
“It’s getting late, you should sleep soon,” I suggested, lightly patting her on the shoulder. At least Ivory felt some sort of reciprocation, I could tell from her bleak smile.
I nodded and packed everything in my bag for tomorrow. I wonder what the hell Steven’s gonna pull off this time.
I got to school a minute before the bell rang. It was an incredibly lucky clutch. I slumped in my seat, groaning and trying to charge up enough energy for the day. Ambrose looked about the same: tired, fatigued, and probably wanting to slam his face on a desk. However, I noticed he had one of those messenger bags on the side, but it was oddly formed. I glanced down to get a better look, I guess Steven ratted Ambrose out too to do some work.
“I’m carrying like two lenses in here… have to be extra careful with people today. Not enough energy to deal with any tomfoolery.” Ambrose cried out sarcastically.
This was probably due to one awful time, which was earlier in the year, when someone almost broke his lens by bashing into his camera bag. Well, he was carrying two together, so he was probably bound to break both of them in that incident. It was one of the rare moments where Ambrose finally spread his misery towards the world, and spit out a fevering rage. I was surprised he wasn’t presented with a school or principal’s detention for how outrageous he had been. If anything, his social reputation hasn’t fallen down a bit since. Steven and I restrained Ambrose back from committing battery and physical assault that lunchtime. Safe to say though, his lenses were perfectly fine.
I looked out the window, taking in the weather of the morning. It was surprisingly sunny for winter, but many of us still had to reluctantly take our scarves and jackets off because the teachers said so. Despite the bright sun beaming down on the earth, the cold air breezes around and haunts us anyways. I keep thinking about all the possibilities of the weather today. Would it suddenly turn cold, gloomy, and dark? Would it suddenly become one of the most scorching days known to man? Or would all rain fall from the sky like heaven’s opening gates, and flood our entire school? I kept thinking to myself, expecting the unexpected.
“Hi miss, could I talk to Ambrose and Ebony, please?” A stinging but familiar voice came from the door.
Ambrose and I instinctively turned our heads around, to see none other than Steven Lin.
The man has literally treached upon my own form class now. Steven is really getting closer and closer, by the day.
“Look, everyone’s staring at you two now.”
Is that supposed to be a good or bad thing?
“You two are very, very important news committee members. Now go before you keep Steven waiting.”
Alright, whatever it is.
Ambrose and I walked over to the doorway with him, and Steven began to walk into the commons; you could tell he had something on his mind.
“What is it now boss man?” Ambrose sarcastically asked, still sluggish.
“Tuna and Eden are to present the National Victorian Maths Competition winner at the harbour bridge today at noon. They need the three of us to take photos from all angles.” Steven explained on the spot. Straightforward, no beating around the bush, just plain information given out like text.
“So, are we getting any special treatment?” Ambrose yawned again, rubbing his eyes.
“Leave period three early, come up to the office and we’ll be transported to central city with Eden and Tuna. We’ll have time to eat lunch and maybe hang around, but we’ll need to be on the harbour bridge by three.”
“Is Ivory coming with us?” I mutely asked, with a voice quieter than a mouse.
“Sorry?” Steven eyebrowed me.
“He asked if little Ivory was coming or not,” Ambrose repeated for me, which I thanked through telepathy.
“Ivory decided not to. She has exams, unfortunately.” Steven nodded, acknowledging the point.
“Why do you still call her little Ivory though?” He laughed.
“It’s been her nickname ever since she got here, Steven, I can’t call her anything but ‘little’ Ivory.”
Steven and Ambrose shared some mutual laughs, and soon Steven disappeared off after patting both of us on the back.
“Little Ivory…” Ambrose chuckled, trailing off.
“That’s never gonna get old, is it?” I asked, slightly smiling.
We sat back down in class, and our form teacher, Mrs Grain, was already aware of our leaving notice. I guess that’s the perks of being both a long-standing and important member of the school’s news committee. The bell rang for the first period, and Ambrose and I were about to be stuck together for longer than six hours.
Having maths first thing in the morning was never fun. Agonising numbers that made me want to churn and vomit, it was sick. Listening to my teacher rant and rave about graphs, variables, and other things I really didn’t want to listen to, really hurt my brain in one way or another. Yet, I complain about how I get median scores in maths. I look at the whiteboard and look at all the diagrams presented there. Whether it was a red-inked one, or a blue-inked one, I mechanically copied everything down like I always have. I was sitting in a classroom which was situated in Ruby House, meaning the voices weren’t able to get to me now. Instead, I was protected from them simply by my geographical location.
The three periods flashed by quickly, probably because I was anticipating the harbour bridge event. Ten minutes before the bell, Ambrose and I departed our English class to meet Steven, Tuna, and Eden by the office.
“Hey you two!” Eden called out, in his normal cheerful voice. Rest assured, you can’t make Eden sad.
“Hello Eden…” I muttered back, faintly waving. Steven shook both of our hands as usual.
“Another year done I guess, doing this one last time next year and I’m off.” Tuna commented, holding the NVMC badge pouches in his hand.
“Surely, I get one right?” Ambrose smugly asked, leaning on me for support. Tuna looked at him with contempt, while his little bit was still going on.
“I can’t believe you’re still like this, after all these years.” He scoffed, turning around and beginning to pace around the group.
“Got your stuff?” Steven came back from the office, confirming the final details about the event.
“How many lenses have you got?” Ambrose asked in satire, knowing Steven probably has more than he can ever afford. Steven looked at him dumbfoundedly but laughed it off.
“Oh yeah, we won this year, aye?” Steven eagerly asked Tuna and Eden.
“Yeah, as we always do. But it was close, someone else almost got to us.” Eden sighed, while Tuna pat him on the shoulder.
“I bet it was Verdure College, was it?” Steven shook his head, jokingly disappointed when Tuna and Eden both nodded their heads, confirming that fact.
“Who was it though? Who won this year?” Ambrose curiously asked.
“Naomi Sakana, you know the head girl,” Eden responded, proudly smiling.
Oh yeah, her.
“She’ll be coming later than us though, since we have to get there early to set up.” Tuna explained.
“Where’s Mr Henderson? He should be here by now.” Ambrose asked, looking down at his watch.
Mr Henderson was the head of maths at our school. He would be the one assessing the students to see who could compete in competitions like this. And oftentimes, it looked like he was late.
“Teacher in charge, but never in charge of his time…” Tuna exhaled, now even more disappointed. Eden laughed a little to try and lighten his mood, which did work, but in the end both of them looked a little like they were in shambles because of this result.
It was this sudden motion that made me step back and take everything from a bird’s eye view. Eden and Tuna were standing together, with their proper and formal uniform as always. Their masses of badges, awards, pins, and ribbons, were an array for anyone to see. Steven was right in front of the office door, waiting for Mr Henderson to show up. Ambrose was still leaning onto me like some pole, but it was nice that he was here. It took me a while to realise, this is how my entire world is warped. Warped in a way where I’m simply unable to be involved in social circles like this. Steven, Ambrose, Eden, and Tuna, were all very familiar faces within the school. They were social, and people talked to them. Me on the other hand, I was nothing but just the photographer that was about to be vaulted into a legacy status, and leave absolutely no mark on the school.
“Is it because you’re out of touch?”
No, it wasn’t because I was out of touch. Even if I was out of touch, there would be nothing for me to touch anyway. Everything feels fragmented or transparent, where there would be nothing to hold onto for support. As the four of them continued to talk about their lives, achievements, and maybe even girls, I was completely transported to a total other consciousness. Their words and conversations began to sound muffled and became nothing but soreness to my ears; but I was back into my languid state. Maybe this is how every rejection just goes. Being pushed out by a single group because you’re unable to talk or contribute, and in the end you’re socially ostracised again.
Maybe it was because I struggled to have things in common with them. Ambrose, Steven, Tuna, and Eden all have significant achievements in their life. They all have some special skill or talent that defines them from the rest. Whether it was Steven’s god-tier management skills, Ambrose’s instinct, Tuna’s academics, or Eden’s English ability, they would always stand out. They would always be the ones in focus, and I would forever just be in the blurred background, or the one taking the photo. It felt as if I was never truly alive. I was in a constant blurry slumber, where there would be nothing but eternal muteness in my life. There would be nothing, but the company of staring at walls and listening to the voices. Oh, the voices, at least they talk to me.
Mr Henderson eventually arrived and we were transported to the city within an hour. The traffic was a little heavy. I sat all alone by myself in the back of the van, while the other four members were all happily conversing with each other. But who would I talk to now? If Ivory came, yeah, I would talk to her. But she isn’t here. The voices aren’t talking to me either. Maybe this is the consequence of trying to dismiss their company. Ambrose shot me some worried glances from the front, but I gave him the same ‘Don’t worry about it’ stare back every time. Obviously, he was having fun, enjoying his people skills and talking with his friends. But out of every single person in this vehicle, Ambrose was the only friend I had.
Sudden anxiety began to pour through my stomach, which soon infested the rest of my nerves. Steven’s getting close to Ambrose, meaning now he’s closer to me. Maybe it was the same, like what’s happening with Ivory. Steven is weaponizing the only friends I have against me, to hurt me, and to utterly destroy me before my last breath. But Ambrose is different to Ivory, and knowing Steven’s wide array of manipulation skills, he might as well be Ambrose’s new puppet master when it comes to his friendships. The thought of Ambrose departing from my life made me want to scrunch up into a piece of crumpled paper and shed tears, but I couldn’t; I was still in that lethargic state.
I could already envision what would happen in the near future if Steven got too close. Ambrose would be led on by him, offering him new opportunities within the news committee while completely neglecting me. Even though at first, Ambrose may try to protest the fact I’m being left behind, the benefits would be too good for him to turn down. I would eventually be fading away in dust, irreverent, ignored, and insignificant. Steven would just be able to call me a ‘measly’ photographer from there on now; even though I’ve been here since day one. It would be a slow slope, but a slippery one, where I would eventually succumb to total social isolation, and Steven would eventually finally get rid of me.
Ambrose would be celebrating graduation with him, and not me, unlike what we’ve always planned.
“Leave your bags in the van, just take what you need.” Mr Henderson suggested, stepping out of the van. The five of us carried the essentials, which was our camera bag, wallet, phone, and maybe some other things.
There was a harbour bridge meeting house where everyone would first gather, and then the actual cup and medal would be presented all the way on the harbour bridge. The meeting house was situated so close to the harbour bridge, that it would only take you five minutes to experience the high gusts of wind and the loud honking of cars. The meeting house was small but fit for a stage to present something to someone. Our little trio of photographers began to crack down on the preparation. Cleaning the lens, setting up the mode, and working out the angles. This was standard work by now. After all, I’ve been doing it for almost five years now. Steven covered the middle, while Ambrose ducked on the right and I snuck under the left. The carpet was egregiously dirty, and Ambrose and I continued to complain about how our pants were going to look awful after this. Steven laughed. He wore shorts with long socks instead.
“Looks like we don’t have time to roam in the city.” Ambrose complained, shaking his head.
“No we do, let’s grab some lunch.” Eden chuckled, looking down at his watch.
We didn’t actually eat lunch. Instead, the five of us spent our money on overpriced ice cream because we didn’t feel like waiting a long line. It was a little awkward with the cashier looking at us in our uniform, we were supposed to be in school right now. The five of us went ahead and began to enjoy our ice treats, like we did almost a decade ago.
“Can you come with me, Ebony?” Ambrose asked, seemingly out of the blue.
“Sure.” I muttered quietly, getting up from my cushioned seat and following him.
Ambrose sighed heavily and kept his head down, while we walked outside to the windy afternoon of the city. Small sparrows flew in and out between skyscrapers, and sunlight leaked through several patches of buildings. I followed Ambrose down the road, and into somewhere more quiet. We came across a small patch of water that was connected to the harbour sea, it was a miniscule lagoon of some sort. Ambrose slumped himself on a rock nearby, not giving a care for his uniform.
“Have you ever been here before?” Ambrose asked me, sluggishly like it was still the morning.
“I remember being here about a decade ago now. Wild to think about how time passes, isn’t it?”
“I was here when I was eight years old. I was playing in the sand by myself while my parents were somewhere else I didn’t know.”
“It was around Christmas time I think. So, this entire place was, like, packed with people.”
“Everyone was eating ice cream because it’s always so hot in the summer, and I would get sunburnt to an absolute crisp. I was almost taken to the hospital because of it.” He chuckled a little, but you could tell it was empty.
“When I was eating the ice cream back there, it kinda just made me think of what happened here, you know? Nostalgia makes me physically ill.”
“What happened here?”
“Oh well, I was left here by myself when I was like eight because my parents forgot to take me to the restaurant they went to after.”
On the spot, Ambrose casually, painfully, admitted a part of his iceberg like it was just some old memory. I looked at him, eyes peeling off in despair, but Ambrose kept staring off into the ocean, facing the horizon. His eyes began to swell up again with tears, and his tone of voice pitched up in stress, and the rest was like always.
“I just want to feel…” Ambrose trailed off once more, not letting me hear the rest of his words.
“Come on, let’s go before the three of them get confused.” He half-heartedly smiled, and the both of us walked back to the shop, seeing the group relaxing as ever.
No questions were asked about where the two of us went. Shortly after, we were called back to the harbour house as the event would finally commence. The wind got stronger, and the sunlight got brighter. I really wonder how people like Tuna and Eden survive in their blazers like this.
When we got back, our equipment was fortunately untouched. The five of us were now just waiting for everyone to come in, and soon the knee-crumbling job of photography would begin. Naomi shortly arrived after, in her blazer with several dazzling gold badges pinned. She wasn’t alone though, the entire committee of the maths competition joined her. Mostly, the elders with grey hair sat down in the chairs, listening to the heads talk about the history, winners, and their own personal experiences with the competition. It dragged on for quite a bit, I could see Naomi looking a little daunted because of it. She just wanted her handshake, badge, cup, medal, and to leave.
Even though I can’t relate to such stardom, I sure can relate to the indescribable boredom of when someone’s telling an anecdote that’s not entertaining. Or maybe it’s because I’ve heard the same speech over and over for quite a while now. After all, doing the same events for five years straight really does something to you. It’s sullen, repetitive, and borderline abusive. Although I’ve enjoyed my work as a photographer over the years, I’ve never felt less and less alive than anything; especially reaching the finality of high school. Ambrose and I have completely carried the photography department both in the school and the news committee for almost half a decade now, and yet, I haven’t found any fulfilment in such things.
“You’re not alive, Ebony. That’s why.”
Yes I am alive. I breathe, so that works.
“But are you alive, alive?”
The voice was getting louder and louder, with every echo of every syllable. I shook my head out of it, trying to focus on taking photos of Naomi and her ode to glory. Eden and Tuna later came up on stage too, speaking their small but significant stories to the crowd, but I couldn’t hear anything but the repeating words in my head. I could see their mouths move and stutter, but I couldn’t hear what they were saying. Eventually, a large round of applause came around and soon it was finally time to face the harbour bridge. With a quick turn and twist of machinery, and an awful lot of money being put on the line, the little photographer trio returned to face the light for photos.
A bridge made out of skeleton like metal bones, carrying the weight and achievement of the Victorian cup and medal. There was a pathway for pedestrians to walk through, and this part was sectioned off for this monumental moment annually. Eden and Tuna stood on one side of the bridge, with their backs facing the sun. Ambrose and Steven were evenly spaced out between each other, getting all the shots they could. Naomi stood about ten metres away, having a smile on her face, seeing the fruits of her labour. For a first, you could tell her smile was genuine and real. She kept nudging her cheek probably because it was hurting so much. Even though Naomi tried to keep her posture composed and neat, like the head girl she is, in the end it all fell apart because of her excitement.
When Eden and Tuna began the glorious speech of finally announcing the winner, you could see Naomi’s smile finally bloom out. Her walk of glory began, and soon applause and cheers came from the sides. This was going to be her glorious moment. Winning the NVMC, and I would be the one taking photos of everything. The energy was bustling high, and everyone looked happy. Everyone except for Ambrose. Even though Steven and I were smiling behind our cameras, he looked as dauntful as ever. Naomi finally got to hold the Victorian cup and had the Elysian medal around her neck, and soon, it was all over. She got what she wanted, and our job was done.
“That’s a wrap.” Steven announced, placing everything in his bag. Ambrose and I put our equipment back too, letting him take it away.
“I have to go back to the place first, wait here.”
Steven left Ambrose and I on the harbour bridge together, staring at the early fading sun. Because it was winter, he looked duller than usual.
“What is it?” I quietly muttered, trying to comfort him.
Ambrose’s eyes began to twitch and swell again, but this time, his composure wasn’t able to be collected.
He began straight up crying. Just, there wasn’t even a preheader as to why he was crying, Ambrose was crying. He screamed out in pain, in agony, in torment, and he just kept crying and crying. His shirt was getting wet and damp, his hands full of his own depression, and his eyes more red than the blood of a murder.
“Please, what’s wrong?” I stammered, desperately trying to settle the situation.
“I can’t do it anymore!” He screamed out, the awful despondency consumed his voice.
“Ambrose, what?” I stuttered, trying again.
“I’m sorry, Ebony.” Ambrose looked at me with his tearful eyes, held me on the shoulders and looked at me in sorrow.
“I’m sorry this is the last memory you have of me.” His voice calmed down from the wailing, and his eyes turned towards the sea.
“Ambrose?” My voice perked up a little, a gut-wrenching feeling that something wasn’t right.
Ambrose was often known for his high skill level in agility. He was able to jump up and down from rooftops, buildings, and even slide between creases easily. And this time, it was the only time he did not put his skill to good use.
He hopped over the fence in a blink of an eye, and soon Ambrose was on the verge of falling through. There was no doubt in what he was doing, he was about to kill himself.
“Ambrose!” I screamed out myself, able to hold a good clutch on his forearm as he was almost dangling from the underside of the bridge.
“What?!” He spat back out, treating me like I was just some annoying kid he met.
That was true, I was the annoying kid he met. And I’ve known him ever since I was a photographer, I’ve known him ever since the first year.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?!” I cried out, trying to overpower him with my voice.
“What the hell do you think I’m doing?!” He lashed back. The anger in his voice was strong, both made out of fear and depression.
“Don’t do it, I’m begging you!” I sobbed, letting tears leak down my face.
I was holding onto Ambrose’s life, both mentally and physically. My eyes were wide open, trying to take in everything that was happening around me. There was no more awful monologue in my head, but the rapid thumping of my heart and my words. My knees were shaking, my body was shivering, I could feel the wind swoop the hair in my face to slice it. My senses were in alleviation, revitalised for once in my life. I was holding onto someone’s life, someone’s dear life to mine. You can’t expect a dead man to hold a man’s hand, nor can you expect a corpse to swim with another.
Everything became rapid and fast, nothing was of the slow and monotone life I had lived for all the time. It was like breaking through glass, I knew it hurt, but I knew I had to work through it. Every single second counted, trying to support Ambrose all back to life. I could see his face, I could hear his voice, all of them were on the verge of collapse, literal collapse. But I wouldn’t let it happen, I would never let it happen to him. It was getting exhausting to hold onto his forearm further, but I had to keep holding on. Because for once in my life, I knew what to do. I knew what I was going to do, and I had a good reason to do it. I wanted Ambrose to stay. I want Ambrose to graduate with me. And I’m going to do just that.
“You’re never going to graduate with me if you do this, you know?!” I called out, still crying like he was.
“We’re never going to apply to the same universities and drink our worries away when we don’t get in!”
There was desperation in both our voices; but of opposite types. Ambrose desperately wanted to die, to end it all and be free of the curses bestowed upon this world. I desperately wanted him to continue pursuing, pushing through, and continue to fight for his own journey.
After I said those words, Ambrose’s eyes widened to a point of vulnerability, and it looked like he was listening to me.
“I want you to live! Who else has dealt with my stupid shenanigans since Year 9?! Who else is going to deal with me and live with me until we graduate university?! Who am I going to celebrate my life with?! Who am I going to laugh with?! Who am I going to take photos with Ambrose?!”
At this point, I was spitting nothing but my own raw feelings out to him, hoping it would at least convince him a little more.
“Please, Ambrose! I want nothing but for you to keep going, not for me but for yourself! Everything you do is so good, I can’t tell you otherwise. Please, live another day!”
“You mean more to me than you think! More than you can ever think!” I cried out again, in an anguished plea.
“Just give me one more day.”
“Just give me one more day.”
“Live another day! Please, Ambrose!” I begged once more, exhausting my lungs and my heart.
There was a split moment between my final words and the look on his face. Ambrose was completely disoriented, the broken pieces finally emerged like icebergs on water. They floated onto the top. All his insecurities, the tragedies of both himself and the past, they all came up, one by one. Only more and more tears leaked through; it never stopped until he could finally be within my reach once more. He closed his eyes. There was the most heart-stopping thump in my heart, despairing thinking it would be the last time I see his face. Was this going to be the last time I see my only friend? Was this going to be the last memory I have of my companion since day one? Was this going to be the end?
“One more day Ambrose! One more damn day!” I yelled out one last time, just one last time.
“Fine, give me one more day.” He sobbed quietly, finally folding forward and back onto the bar. Once he climbed over the railway, I grabbed his hand and forced him into an embrace he hadn’t felt for years.
The loneliness, the pain, the sorrow. You could feel it through his beating chest.
“Don’t you ever dare try that again.” I cried, still hugging him.
“I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.” Ambrose apologised, over and over again, trying to think of every reason on why he was in the wrong. And I just corrected him, every single time.
Finally, the two of us broke out and looked each other dead in the eyes.
“Maybe this is the time you begin to realise how precious life is, Ambrose.” I sniffled, wiping away my tears.
“And maybe, this is the first time in your life, you felt alive.”
I was alive. I was alive with Ambrose.
Written by Emma Li and edited by Aaron Huang. Published on 22/10/23. Header image by Emma Li.