Monday, October 10, 2016

10 periods (Part II)

Welcome back to Part II! If you're here for the first time, please do read Part I before proceeding (:

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"You're hurt," she said, looking at my right elbow.

I followed her line of sight, to my scratched up arm. I don't remember feeling any pain before this, but now I'm beginning to feel a little stinging from the bloody wound. I must've gotten hurt as we slid past pieces of fallen concrete earlier. She pulled a handkerchief out from her pocket and tied it around my elbow, letting my blood stain the white linen.

"Thank you," I said awkwardly.

"No no, I should be the one saying that to you. If you didn't help me earlier I would've been badly hurt, or I don't know, died or something. That was really brave of you to do something like that. People were running out as fast as they could to escape from being buried and crushed by the falling bricks. You could've escaped with them."

I don't know what I should say to that. I can't escape when you're stuck in here, I thought. I can't tell her that, it might freak her out. Then things will get really awkward in here. 

I shrugged, and said, "just trying to help a fellow classmate out." Lame. LAME. SO LAME, DUMBASS. I mentally gave myself a hard punch in the guts. I could've just shut up. I suck.

"Well, I'm glad you did," she replied, and her lips curled up a little, just enough for me to miss it if I didn't just happened to glance at her. She quickly diverted her eyes to some random calculator crushed beneath the concrete beside us. 

We continued being quiet for a while, then decided to try to scream out for help. If the rescue team hasn't arrived, at least others who are also stuck nearby will hear us. Perhaps we will feel a little less awkward and alone knowing that there are others who are trapped beneath these rubbles, just like us. We called out, and heard voices replying to us somewhere, but we couldn't tell from which direction as they were too faint from our little cave. Well, we're not alone. That's reassuring.

I looked at my watch; 10.15 a.m., recess time. I caress my grumbling stomach, regretting for missing breakfast this morning. Jing Yi, suspecting that I'm hungry, digs into her pinafore pocket and pulls out a small packet of half-eaten Julie's Cheese sandwich crackers, "Here, have this."

"You're not hungry?" I asked. If it was Boon Wei offering me food, I would've devoured it in a heartbeat. Heck, I would've eaten it even when he did not give it to me. But I can't take food from a girl, if she's famished herself. My mother did not raise me to steal food from girls.

"No, it's fine. I had some earlier, before all this happened. I always have some food stored in places in case I got hungry, otherwise my stomach will start to ache. Gastric," she answered,

"So you're like a squirrel then?" I asked jokingly, and she smiled, even giggled a little. Yes, good job Jun Kit.

I took the crackers from her and ate it slowly. It's the only food I have till who-knows-when, I can't just stuff it into my face. With some fuel in my system now, my brain started working again and I thought about some things to talk to her about while we wait to be rescued.

We talked about school, gossiped about teachers, and told each other about our friends; usual, mundane topics. Then we talked about our daily schedules, the tuition classes that we attend after school, and our hobbies and interests, because why not. Occasionally we'd stop and listen to the sounds coming from the outside world, and prepared to scream out for help so people would know that we're here, and come to get us out. The survivors of the earthquake nearby have started scouting for other survivors like us, and if they're able, help those who are trapped underneath the rubbles. The Search and Rescue team have also arrived with their tools and search dogs, and they too begin their tasks to rescue victims as fast as they could. It is now 12.13 p.m., seventh period. We listened to the sound of the crew members working to move pieces of bricks and walls to get to the victims trapped underneath. It won't be long before they work their way to where we and our other schoolmates are. I decided that it was time.

"The Monday school assemblies," I said.

"What about the Monday school assemblies?" she asked.

"I always look forward to them."

"You do? Why? I always find them boring, sometimes unnecessary."

Nnnnnope. Can't do it.

"Because...the piano."

"The piano?"

Abort! Abort!

"Ya, the piano. I really like listening to the piano playing in our school hall." 

I lied. I got cold feet. Maybe I need more time to plan this out. 

Truth is, I couldn't care less about the sound, or the music, or the acoustics of our majestic school hall. I look forward to the assemblies every Monday morning because I knew that she would be playing the anthems on the black upright piano right below the main stage. As soon as the national and state anthems are sung, I started to count down until the end of the assembly, when she will come out to the front once more and play the school anthem before we return to our respective classes. Those were the highlights of my Mondays.

"I really like playing the piano. It makes me feel so happy whenever I see my fingers gliding along the keyboard and listen to the sounds flowing out of the instrument."

She wanted to be a pianist someday, or a piano teacher. In fact, she doesn't mind what she will be in the future, as long as she gets to be around music and the piano every day. She told me that all she needs in this world is a piano, and she would be happy until the day she dies. 

"What do you want to be when you grow up, Jun Kit?" she asked. 

I liked the way she says my name: gentle, and soft, like she only wants me to hear her speak. But then there are just the two of us in this small-confined space, so it made sense to not speak too loudly. I think too much.

"I haven't thought of it much. My parents wants me to be a doctor, or an engineer...typical. But I much rather help my dad out in his business and take over the company one day. Science is what I can do, but business is more up my alley," I answered. I thought about my parents, wondered if they're okay. Are they safe? I hope they are. Jing Yi falls silent. Maybe she's also thinking about her parents. I continued,"but for now, I'll just try to do well in school, and stay alive till it's time to graduate," 

"Stay alive?"

"Yeah, stay alive through all those band practices coming up, if this earthquake didn't succeed in stopping Mohan from giving us a break from the sun. Have you seen him in action before? With his whistle and hailer in the field."

She laughed. "No, I haven't. But I know him from music class and he's a nice guy. Are you exaggerating things?" she asked, skeptical of my description of the newly-elected drum-major.

"Of course I'm not! Don't be fooled by his gentleman-like demeanour. He's vicious on the field!"

"Haha okay! I'll take your word for it then" she giggled. "How did you end up in the school band though? You don't seem to be the 'musical' type."

I didn't want to answer that question, because it's embarrassing. But it's Jing Yi, so, I'll just suck it up and tell her regardless.

"The uniform," I answered, then she burst out laughing.

"Are you serious?! The uniform?!"

"Yeah, c'mon man, I was 13. I didn't know better, and it looked cool to me. But now I don't feel that wearing a cool uniform is worth risking my life for."

"Why do you stay in the school band then?" she asked, since I complained so much about it. 

"Because I'm only one year short of graduating as a band member. If I quit now, I'll have to start all over again with building a reputation and proving myself worthy of being elected as a committee member in other uniform bodies. It's my turn to have minions working under me, after being others' minion for four years. And I already made a pact with my band mates to stay till the end. And, I can't deny that despite the endless torture under the sun, I had fun."

We heard people approaching and called out for help. When suddenly the hole that provided us light and air went dark. We heard a soft sound of a nose sniffing, followed by some barks. Then we hear more footsteps approaching our hole.

"Is there anyone down there?" someone asked from above.

"Yes! There are two of us!" I answered on our behalf. It was about 1.50 p.m.

The rescue team has finally reach us and are now removing the debris so we can get out. Occasionally, one of them would talk to us a bit, just to make sure that we're still there and patiently waiting for freedom. They also asked us if we're hurt anywhere so the paramedics can be on standby with any medical equipment necessary when we get out.

The realization that we're going to be free in a short while somehow brought us back to the fact that we barely knew each other until today. No, only she doesn't knew me until today, because I knew who she is since the first time she sat on the piano bench in the hall and played Negaraku. We fell silent and the awkwardness creeps back into our little cave, filling up the space between us.

"Hey, thanks for coming for me again. I owe you my life, honestly," she said to me.

"It's nothing. I wouldn't forgive myself if I'd left you there just now," I replied.

She looked at me, perplexed. She wanted to say something as the hole above us suddenly opens up and sunlight came flooding into our eyes, and we saw hands extending towards us to pull us out of the space beneath two desks. It was 2.30 p.m.

The paramedics did a quick check on us to make sure that we're okay, and send Jing Yi off to the gathering area to wait for any family member that comes for her, while I was brought to the ambulance nearby to get my wound cleaned and bandaged. We looked at each other's dusty faces, not wanting to be separated as the school grounds have transformed into a foreign land filled with uniformed men and women hustling around hunting for trapped victims under heaps of concrete.

Suddenly, I had an idea. It's the best one that I've had so far. So, I pulled away from the officer and walked towards Jing Yi.

"Can I have your number?" I asked, with a goofy smile on my face. It's the only right thing to do. 

She smiled and told me her mobile number, which I repeated a couple of times to make sure it stays in my brain.

"Call me when you get home later, okay?"

"For sure."

I returned to the officer and after my wounds are nicely bandaged, I was instructed to the gathering area. Jing Yi was no longer there when I arrived at the field, where many other students sit under the trees, waiting for their family to come and take them home. I found my three friends under one of those trees, and plopped down between Sarah and Boon Wei.

"Hey! Oh my God I'm glad you're safe!" exclaimed Sarah.

We told each other about where we went when the disaster struck and what happened to us throughout the day. I, however, did not mention much about what happened to me except telling them that I had hidden myself under a desk, and it had protected me from the bricks that trapped me under the table until some Search and Rescue crew came to my rescue. Sarah and Arif was apparently trapped along with a few other students when the building started to collapse, and one of the students got his leg crushed by the concrete. The boy stayed strong until the end and was sent off to the hospital immediately after the rescuers got them out. It was lucky that the SAR team came on time to free him as he was beginning to lose consciousness from the excessive bleeding. Boon Wei was a luckier. He managed to get to the car park right beside our building and saw it tilt and crashed into the building next to it. I concluded that he's just born lucky. Then, I nonchalantly asked if they had seen Jing Yi, and indeed they had: Boon Wei saw her leaving with her parents just a while ago. I breathe a sigh of relief, and repeated in my mind her number. Yep, still got it.

I looked out to the main gate and saw my parents' car drive through the guardhouse. It was dented at certain places, and was a lot dustier that I'd seen it this morning, but I can recognize that navy blue Hyundai Elantra anywhere. So I got up and almost ran towards the car when Arif asked, "Eh, what's that thing you have in your hand?"

"Oh, it's nothing!"I answered and sprinted towards my parents, with relief shown all over their faces when they see their only son running towards them, slightly hurt but unbroken. I pulled open the door and got in, and was greeted with a huge hug and lots of kisses from my worried mother and my father pulling her away before she smothers me. They had quite an adventure this morning when the earthquake happened, and had driven to a nearby field where people were gathering with their loved ones and whatever they managed to grab hold amidst the chaos. Many buildings collapsed and roads were destroyed; they couldn't have been able to come to get me if the road to my school was compromised by the quake.

I fastened my seat belt and started telling my parents about my day and how I survived the earthquake, all the while looking at the blood-stained handkerchief in my hand.

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Word count: 2,426 words