BOOK EXCERPT: Two Worlds - Chapter One
As the light-blue sky faded towards indigo, a siren tore through the silence. Suyin dropped her pointer on the glassy touch-screen desk, breathed in deeply and exhaled quickly while turning her head to see if everyone else had survived the gruelling three hours.
She tapped her fingers on the desk, trying to quicken her exit from the large, sterile hall but was in the last row to leave. After finally walking out into the thick blanket of hot air, she joined her hysterical friends, all asking each other how they had done.
‘I think I did okay,’ said Josephina with a rising inflection.
‘Me too!’ added Erica, smiling.
‘I did terribly!’ Jie whined with false humility. ‘I forgot everything! And I think there was something wrong with my pointer or screen. I swear I hit the answers, but they didn’t save!’
‘I don’t care how I did,’ Suyin added, her words an attempt at forgetting. ‘It’s over. We can finally start to live our lives!’
The last string had been cut, the weight lifted. The euphoria of being at another year’s end was compounded by this bigger completion. The cyclic nature of time was to be happily disrupted as the girls would most likely never set foot in these school walls again. A shift was already in the air before any of the ceremonies and formalities had even come to pass.
After the friends had finished sharing their elation and second-guessing their performance, they jumped on a zip-train that shot itself into the downtown area of Newsyd where they could have something to eat before the official celebration, an occasion that would not be tainted by the results they awaited. They found a food court, and despite the celebratory moment, all their giddy stomachs could handle was cold tapioca ball soup. The name of the dish did not capture all the other ingredients: processed intestines, algae and insects made palatable. A mechanised trolley delivered the large bowls to their table; the small, green blocks of ice clunked around when the inanimate waiter came to a halt, yet miraculously nothing spilled.
‘What’s the plan now?’ asked Jie, her face gleaming with a smile that her eyebrows ignored.
‘We’re going to the party,’ Anna plainly replied between slurps.
‘I know that! I mean plans for the future – big plans!’ Jie explained, despite the fact that the group had talked about the subject numerous times.
‘Stop!’ insisted Suyin with frustration. ‘I get enough of that from my mother. Just let me be!’ She wanted to swim in the euphoria of escape, not get pulled back into the world of study, exams and vocations.
‘Okay, okay,’ said Jie. ‘Let’s just enjoy the night. No more stressing!’
They turned the conversation to what they were going to wear to the party, and after their meal, purchased an outfit, discarding their uniforms with joy. Their hair and eyes, which were varying shades of dark brown and black, and their skin, ranging from vanilla to caramel, contrasted with the reds, purples and greens of the shiny, tight clothing they now wore. They stepped out onto the steamy street, surrounded by the crowd dressed in dark business attire that was walking frantically in every direction, either going home from work or pursuing its own consumer urges. The one body of arms, faces, legs was so engrossed in its own ends that it completely ignored the brightly dressed girls.
They made their way to the complex where the party was to be held. Inside, there were only a few others, their faces fading from blue to red under the strobe lights. Those not yet present were preparing themselves in other ways – with various chemical concoctions designed to disintegrate inhibitions and make one more personable. The girls stood in a circle, half chatting, half looking around for others to enter. Eventually, the rest of the cohort arrived, licking fluorescent lojupops, dressed in tight outfits, some almost see-through, and the party was truly underway.
After enough of the alcoholic lollypops had been consumed and had congealed with the mind-altering substances already in their systems, the ex-students made their way onto the dance floor. With nothing to temper their energy, the dancing was dauntless. Although Suyin was not drunk or high – she loathed anything contrived – of all the dancers, she was the one most absorbed in the music. The primal rhythms of the deep drums pulsated inside her, and the electronic grooves urged her on. A catharsis erupted within, unleashing a wild array of movements. A shirtless and sweaty male moved up against her trying to lustfully lure her, but she was in her own world, with years of bridled emotion gushing out. She instinctively moved away from him and sank deeper into her trance, each movement freeing her of a past that had clenched her being.
Suyin’s friends stood on the edge of the crowd, catching glimpses of her and wondering what had overtaken her. But now that exams were finally over, they indulged in some lojupops and soon joined the body of drunken dancers.
The party ended late. All staggered home just as the blackish sky was about to turn indigo again.
Long after the indigo sky had turned the light blue that it was for most of the day, Suyin awoke. She woke tired but relieved as if a weighted cloud had been lifted from her. It was Saturday, so her parents were in the kitchen having lunch.
‘Do you want some noodles?’ her mother asked.
‘How was the party last night?’
‘Fine,’ Suyin answered, still sedated by lingering slumber. She sat down opposite her father who was reading the daily news on the touch-screen table, began to slurp up her noodles, then flatulated.
Her mother eyed her intensely. ‘People might think you were raised by wolves! Who will marry you?’
Suyin’s head began to bob in and out of her bowl, and her father continued reading the touch-screen without raising an eyebrow to her mother’s disapproval. They were both numb to her constant criticism.
‘Looks like there are hard times for the Indonesians – another famine because of the rice crop failing,’ her father announced.
‘That’s terrible,’ said Suyin.
Like many others, Suyin’s mother was largely indifferent to this type of information. Busy with preparations for the evening meal, pizza dough made from cricket flour, she dropped out of the conversation.
Her father, still fixated on the digitised table, kept swiping. ‘At least our government will send food aid this time.’
‘Better than nothing.’
‘I’d hate to be Indonesian, stuck on one island with nowhere to escape to. Even though the drought’s hit hard here, we still have it quite good. We have to be grateful.’
‘Everyone in the Protected Zones does!’
Since the ice caps had melted, and the lands had shrunk, food and resources had become scarcer. The flood of migrants that had been steadily flowing for hundreds of years from the developing world to the developed world had been halted through increased border controls. These Protected Zones, which included North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and some of East Asia, continued to develop economically and technologically. The rest of the world outside of these areas lived in dire need. The disparity of living standards was vast. It was as though there were two worlds on Earth: the privileged and the desperate.
Suyin had another gaseous release, which unglued her mother’s eyes from the thick brown dough she was kneading. Her mother scowled at her and shook her head disdainfully. Her father finally took his gaze away from the screen and looked at his daughter. ‘So today is the beginning of your adult life.’
‘Yes, it is!’ Suyin replied with more animation than usual.
‘Have you decided what you are going to study next year?’ pressed her mother.
‘I told you – I still don’t know.’
‘Don’t worry! You have time to think about it,’ her father added.
‘Well, it’s only a few weeks before uni applications are due,’ her mother firmly stated.
Suyin’s mother was always the pushy one obsessed with grades and future prosperity. Her father was much more easy-going. He didn’t care too much what Suyin decided to do. He had always been relaxed about her homework and school grades. But his laid-back attitude also meant that he always acquiesced to what his wife wanted.
The couple’s temperaments aligned with the cultures they came from. Suyin’s father was half Australian, half Nicaraguan. His own father was an Australian engineer who had done repair work on the canal cut through Nicaragua that had almost collapsed. He had met a young woman there from the Mayagna indigenous group, and after he had completed his work on the canal, they moved to Australia, still ‘the land of plenty’, where Suyin’s father was born. Her mother, on the other hand, had been raised in China where the high population had continued to encourage fierce competition. So, like her forefathers, she was taught to carefully consider the future and the contenders around her. She continued to pass on this attitude to Suyin, who was not receptive to it.
Suyin’s appearance was also obviously a result of her parents’ histories. She had the Asian shaped eyes of her mother and the tall, thin-yet-athletic frame of her father. One might attribute her hair to her Chinese ancestry. However, it was beyond black, with a slightly bluish tinge to it that could only be Amerindian. Her skin also, could either be taken as southern-Chinese or mestizo-American with its bronze glow. Her mother’s skin had the same glow; it had skipped her father, who was many shades paler – their common feature, their dark-pearl eyes.
Suyin lazed around most of the day watching documentaries on the Omninet and skimming through books, the antique paper kind. She didn’t have the state of mind to delve into anything too deeply but just wanted to inhale the old-paper scent and catch a glimpse of the thoughts they expressed.
By the time the light-blue sky had dropped back a few hues, she had grown restless. While she was a very pensive person, she also liked to get outside and do things. In fact, she could never stay inside the entire day; she had to leave the house, if only briefly, otherwise she would be left with a tinge of guilt that she had done nothing. She went to the nearby park and sat watching the children playing on the translucent equipment. She was amazed at the fact that they could be so active in such oppressive heat.
While Suyin sat on the park bench, she started to think about life. She had finished school, the place that had felt like a prison for so long. She knew this day had been coming; she had been looking forward to it. But now that it was here, she didn’t know exactly what to do. She felt the social pressures to get educated and get a job, especially since her mother was always lecturing her about it. But she wanted to push all that aside and just live, at least for a time, and not get pushed into a career. She wanted to decide things for herself at her own pace. But she also knew that she would have to start thinking about it. What do I want to do with my life? she asked herself. There was no answer, only a white canvas calling to be coloured.
She sat half-watching the happenings in the park and half-thinking about her life until most of the people had left. When ample darkness had overtaken the place, the night lights came on, and now the park was lit up, and soon a new lot of children arrived who had finished their evening meal. Suyin got up to leave and looked above to try to catch a glimpse of a star or two. Nothing could be seen through the sheet of light stretched across the sky. Now hungry, she briskly walked home to see if her mother’s pizzas were ready.