I struggle for the reins of my life. Every single day. The reins are always either  held by the medications, the doctors, or the machines that hold my organs together. Rasping for breath everyday, attempting to survive to what seems like a millennia, just for nothing.

My back became sore, after all, the pressure of my feeble muscles are all impounding onto my spine. I attempted to swiggle around a bit, moving to the other side and having a sense of relief before that bone gets crushed too. I turned sideways, the pressure was lifted away but the constant nagging of the machines made my new position even more unbearable. Beep beep, you’re going to die soon. I turn over to the other side. Though the abundance of the machines was away from me for now, I was met with nothing but the hard cold white tile wall. That was another thing taking away the reins of my life. Every single plaster, every tile, and every wall all took away my dignity of control.

Finally, I turn back to my original position. Looking up at the ceiling, it was the same old, same old. The message was much more persistent than the beeping machines to the right of me, with that crusty mellow yellow sign, written in 70’s cursive. It sarcastically bothered me every single time I looked up at it, as it’s flowy, carefree but, patronising text kept advocating for me to smile. Don’t forget to smile, might as well be happy on your deathbed! There weren’t enough words in the Oxford dictionary or thesaurus to help describe the agonising anger I have for this place, a place that’s supposed to help me. To cure me.

The creaky old wooden door pushes open, an old woman with crinkles around every part of her body sits down in the chair, right in front of me. Her measly hands flip over some paper and dug out some files. It was completely silent. Her face looks tired, especially her eyes. They look darker than a black hole. She swayed her head towards the machines, and gave a sigh that looked like it was the finality of me. It was always the same. Quickly, the oak door opened again, but this time to a younger doctor. She quickly slammed the door shut when the old one peered over at her, signalling for her leave.

“Alan.” She heaved her voice to even bring out the words.

“I think we need to raise your medications.”

This is how all of our conversations start. This woman will never know any other conversation starters. 

My eyelids drooped over, just giving me enough space to see. Her face was defeated; tired was an understatement. I sigh again, forcefully nodding to her statements. The truth was, I never kept up with the avalanche of medications being thrown at me every single week. Their appearance became too fuzzed up into something that didn’t look like medications. Some tiny orange people would be taken away, while sometimes an entire new group would be added. They were really small, not even midget wise. Like a small cylinder block. Constantly, like the machines, they would nag me until I actually die. Take your medications, but you’ll die anyway!

I always forgot the doctor’s names. Usually, I give out nicknames to them so I can remember them easily. The one sitting in front of me is Medication Lady. Always frothing at the mouth when spitting out the name of medicine. She always looked tired. No matter what she did. The little-orange-medicine-nagging people were always introduced by her. She would make me sign a form that would make them temporary residents on my table beside me, almost as if they were rentals of the place. Each and every week, I don’t even bother to skim through the part that she emphasised on so much. I was ‘endangering’ myself because I didn’t read that part apparently. 

Once more, I pathetically signed the paper and gave it back to her, and a new batch of orange people arrived upon my desk. They would holler awful things at me, but in a high-pitch tone voice which only decreased my spirits. The Medication Lady gave me instructions that I barely could follow-up along, and then soon left the room. It was me again. All alone. Every night. Through the musty and mould ridden window, the sun beamed its light into the room. However, it entirely missed me. Its light, its warmth, all missed me entirely. I was merely being forcefully kept in the shadows.

If you turned around and tried to face the horrendous comments they would say to you, you’d feel weaker than a singular ant. Being belittled by tiny orange people sounds pretty pathetic, don’t you think? But sometimes, you can’t help but deviate from your own morals and ideals. 

After a few hours of half consciousness and half dissociation, I realised rain began to violently shiver onto my window. The atmosphere became cold, but still isolated. As usual. Even though the rain was louder than a banshee, a small voice creeped to the inside of my ear.

“Psst…” It hissed.

Was it the machine or the orange people? To be honest, they sounded all the same. I looked over my shoulder to find the group of orange people still standing there, inanimate. But the whispers got progressively louder, thumping through my skull at one point. Attempting to be avoidant of what seemed like another pestering thing I really did not need to care about, I shut my eyes. Of course, I was blinded and there was simply nothing in my sight. It felt peaceful in a peculiar way.

“You’re dying, right?”

Oh my god. It was the orange people again.

“Yes, I am. Now, can you stop for a moment?” I finally broke out into a hiss, but was conscious to not raise my voice. The nurses and doctors would come in and would begin to lecture me on something I don’t understand. Their voices came out fuzzy anyway.

“Just use us and you won’t die, right!” The voice was of something like a five-year-old, high pitched. It was literally telling me I was going to die pretty soon in the voice of an annoying brat.

“Shut up.” 

“Don’t you want to live? Don’t you want to breathe? Don’t you want the machines away from you?” 

The repetitiveness of the squeaky little voice made me want to violently slam down on the table, maybe silencing them for a while.

“Shut up.” I repeated once more. I had no energy to say anything else.

“You’ve been bed-ridden for how long?” It asked in an annoying innocent tone. The rest of them giggled, like a group of teenage girls talking back and forth.

“Five months.” I forcefully answered, hoping it will finally make them go quiet.

“That’s actually so pathetically long! No way you can survive another week!” Another one giggled, just in the same high-pitched intonation.

“Please be quiet.” 

My voice heaved in a desperate attempt to get those words out, but I spent so much energy trying to reason with them that it only made the voices even more head-splitting. 

Hours passed to no avail, the group of orange people could only continue their spiel of spitting out nonsense. To be honest, I’ve already accepted the fact that I am going to die sooner or later. With my bed-ridden stance, I am most likely never going to experience anything anyone else my age does. For example, going out to the mall, sleepovers, driving a car for the first time, learning how to tie a tie. Sometimes, I can’t even remember when my birthday is, I’ve been rotting here for far too long.

The clock ticked around, showing that it was already ten in the night. I was a little shocked by the discovery, but I soon realised my dissociation had become worse than I thought. Last time, I would be able to go on for around five hours of staring out into space and losing the concept of time, but now it has been a straight eight hours.

I had dissociated for an entire work day.

“Alan, Alan!” A voice snapped me out of my thoughts, looking towards it.


I looked around my room, but there was no one there.

Usually at this time, there wouldn’t be anyone visiting or checking up on me. After eight in the night, I’m usually all by myself. I couldn’t say a word, frozen of the fear that an intruder would be hiding right in my cell.

“Can’t believe you fell for it!” 

It was the squeaky voice that I so wanted to punch.

“Can you shut the hell up!” I finally burst out, slamming the entire table. All of the orange people fell down to the ground. They began to scream and shriek in pain, but my fuming anger wouldn’t let me drop them one point of sympathy.

“Shut up! Shut up!” I kept continuing to yell my pitiful screams, wanting some peace for once. I had no energy to fully blast out a tantrum, but my lungs decided to lend out some air to scream at the loathing orange people who tormented me for the past five months of my life. They slowly crept in, every single week. First, I was just introduced to one of them, and then soon an entire residential group arrived. They live with me. I will forever be in captivity because of them.

It was all too tiring. This battle was nothing but a merciless fight with no end. Why should I keep continuing to throw rocks at a titanium shield? The machines held me back like restraints, and the orange people could only belittle me back down to my core. There was nothing I could do. There was not one singular atom of the reins that was still in my hands. I stared through the intense night clouds, reconsidering everything I’ve done at this very moment. There were no tears, no screams of agony, but the internal realisation that my life had been taken away by this place and my hands were left with nothing but dust. So, there was only one thing left to do.

Give in.

Forcefully, I walked towards the sink. In disoriented methods, I swung the cabinet door open and took out the biggest cup that was available. I filled it with water to the very brim. Shoving it down on my table made some water spill out, but I didn’t care, why should that be a priority now? Scooping up the orange people from the floor, they embraced my hand and gave out cheers of joy. I was finally going to use them. Sitting back down on my bed, I snapped open one of the orange capsules. The other shrieked in fear, knowing that I cracked them entirely in half. I took a big gulp of water and threw all of the twenty pills into my mouth, and swallowed them. 

I must say, the aftertaste is pretty bad.

One by one, the screams kept getting louder and louder. But this is what they wanted me to do in the first place, right? To use these things, to help me get better. To finally maybe revive me from this bedridden state. What I didn’t realise is that there were way too many to get through.

I had eaten about fifty households at this point. 

I felt good about myself. I felt good about doing what I should have done in the beginning. Take my meds. Listen to the machines. Talk to the doctors. Should have just stopped being miserable to be honest. Gracefully, I smiled and closed my eyes. The guilt and despair felt lifted off my heart and chest, and now maybe I could get better. The voices are gone. The tiredness is gone. I took one final breath, and closed my eyes. Nothing, a complete void of darkness. My other four senses had already disappeared, now this is going to go along with it.

But something made me feel awake.

The sudden opening of eyes, wavering around side to side trying to find something of interest, suddenly having the jitters to do something. I beamed straight over at the ceiling, finally smiling at the crusty old yellow sign. It smiled at me back, with its clown red makeup and yellow eyeshadow. I rolled around in bed for around five minutes until I seriously could not keep the elation inside of me. I saw everything, even outside of the swollen window of mine. Each and every single detail, every single crack, and every single noise that awoke in my ear. I was transcending into the heavens, so free and joyful, away from the sin that’s been keeping me in bed. 

My mind begins to jump around happily, almost as if something awoke the chemicals in my brain to do something. I haven’t felt anything like this before in the entirety of my life, especially this happy. The euphoria bursting me out of a bed-ridden state made me feel alive, free, and joyful. Everything I wanted to do, I could do right now, right here. I couldn’t stop the giggling coming from my mouth. I was foaming at the mouth with those. Immediately, I jump out of the bed and break away from the machines holding me back, they beep loudly, but soon their loud nagging also goes away. 

I kept on laughing and laughing and laughing, until I simply had no breath anymore. My hands didn’t want to stay still, I pushed random buttons on the machines to see if anything worked, and soon I was acting like an entire engineer figuring out the system on how they operated. It was as if I was a higher being, someone more intelligent and more intellectual than anyone else in the entirety of this hospital. No other patient would be gifted the strength to be immediately freed from their pathetic state like me.

I push the door wide open, right out of my way. Jolting through the hallways like they had no power over me; it felt liberating in ways I couldn’t describe. I continued with my outrageous laughter in the hallways, but then soon stopped as I ran out of breath. I look around.

In a monochrome setting, everything has turned into black and white. There was no space for expression. I sulked onto a bench beside me, why was this place so boring? All it was was crusty mould-ridden walls with no colour or place of thought. I spotted a small can of paint in the corner, most likely used for repairs. But it was the same mouldy milk white that was going to stain soon. I sulked again. Skipping through the hallways once more, I reached the children’s section. Most of the babies were asleep, so I had to be real discreet with this one. But I couldn’t, there was no self-control left in my body as I happily squeaked through the area, desperately trying to find paints that could lighten the room up. 

It was stupidly easy to find a can of paint, it was a bright shining red in the corner of the playroom. Like a disoriented mouse, I grabbed the canister immediately and threw the entire thing out onto the ground. There was now some colour in this plain hell hole. I held another, and another, and held until my entire front view was covered with paint canisters. I danced through the hallways to no stop, reminiscing all the times I almost killed myself in ballet. Soon I remembered every step and position I was taught in those gruelling and tormentful years. 

My entire life has been dull like nothing but a patch of dust. There was no point or time where I could even pick up a brush and customise to my liking. Being taken back by the tedious scrunge of boring white pills and grey beds. Or even the wearisome bland blue walls and tiles scraped around ever since my birth, I’ve spent the majority of my seconds, minutes and hours inside a ward with those same colours. 

More and more paint cans were being thrown around, my eyes glimmered at the bright atrocious aftermath of the entire place. Red, yellow, orange and green dashed the walls and floors, making things seem more alive than they are. Sometimes I see colours that resemble the middle memories within me, such as that orange paint being slipped around the entire wall. It reminds me of those orange people, who finally gave me the spirit to jump high and laugh. A dash of green came along down the floor, finally letting me roll in the grass I so longed to be in.

With every jump, twirl and spin, one more splash of colour was added to my world. I could repaint everything, how this entire ward looks would be in the hands of me. It would be in my power, and everything in my control. I squealed again, and soon began to scream aloud in the hallways. The power of God had been passed down through to me, ascending to a divine state where no one would stop me. Everything looked so colourful and bright, vibrant in this deep night; I was alive again.

With the last step of my flawless performance, I bowed and looked around me. Everything was painted so perfectly, even in an abstract sense. This was of my work, from my control, and my power. With one final twirl, I at least, know that I, ended on the good note.

Written by Emma Li and edited by Maisarah Madawi. Published on 16/5/2023. Header image by Mabel Zhang.

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