It was the second day of the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia. It was a wet day, and the four of us woke up late. As always. As we sleepily walked to the closest bathrooms, people were already having breakfast, notes in their hands. I hurried to the most comfortable shower room, i.e. one with properly attached door.
I grinned stupidly as my three friends groaned in defeat.
Half an hour later, we walked in the heavy rain towards the examination hall, still munching on the last pieces of our Oreo. I was soaked wet as I took my place a few seats behind Lynn. I mouthed her good luck and she gave me a thumbs up.
When instructed, I went through the English 1119 question paper. My eyes automatically scanned the last line of the question, the open essay option. 'Beauty' was the title. Nice, I thought. I winked at Amy who chose that moment to glance in my direction. It was going to be easy.
To say that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder would be cliché. But then, truth is truth. It would be a senseless action to deny the long-acknowledged quote. Everyone is beautiful, in many ways that not everyone can see. My name is Hana Alia, and I am, of course, beautiful. Beauty is abstract, and if you would not tell me that I am indeed beautiful, then I will myself.
I reread the first paragraph on my essay. Snobbish, really. But I liked where this is heading. And so I continued..
I first met the guy who changed my life when I was turning 25 years old. It was probably the worst day of my life, but also a turning point. I woke up early; it was a red letter day. I was momentarily dazed by the clear blue sky outside my window before lazily walked to the bathroom to shower. I took my time, knowing that it was still too early to head off to college anytime soon. Little did I know that I haven't ironed my best blouse and had forgotten to pick up my laundry from the dobby. Despite my early rise, I was running late. I was forced to resort to a faded jeans and a striped tee, which in any case, was mismatched.
I had to skip breakfast. I noticed the silence in the apartment, which had to mean that my mates had all left me. I sighed. Rushing to my Mini Cooper S, I almost tripped in panic. I cursed the 4-inches stiletto heels and changed into my worn out sneakers. I checked my Swiss watch and breathed a sigh of relief. I will make it in time, I said to myself. Only to find out seconds later that I had left my car keys in my bedroom. Again, I hyperventilate. I went back inside and grabbed the keys. As I started the engine, I breathed in another gulp of fresh air, I had half thought the engine would not start just to complete the series of bad kismet- not unlike what always happened in bad comedies.
I hummed to Aerosmith's I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing and my heart started gaining it's normal rhythm yet again.
Did I mention it was the worst day of my life? The silver baby skidded to a halt five minutes from college. The engine went dead. I clenched my fist tight and tried thinking straight. The exam was to start in ten minutes and I would have just enough time if I made my way on foot. I thanked myself for changing into sneakers instead of heels. My pace quickened with every passing minute. I tried to recall the notes I had gone through the night before and forced myself to ignore weird stares from the people on the street. Of course, I had to walk only a few minutes before I fell flat on my face. It was the last straw.
My left knee was bleeding. I stared blankly to the earth I fell on and to the other passers-by. I cried my lungs out. Having been born and raised with a golden spoon in my mouth, I rarely recognize pain. That particular fall was such a blow. The embarrassment was unthinkable. I sat on the pavement, hugging my knees, wondering why it had all gone wrong.
Ahh. The first few paragraphs full of unfortunate events. Was I exaggerating too much? But there was no backing up by then. I put down my Pilot and looked around the hall. Invigilators were chatting and moving around, nosing in our papers. Lynn and Amy looked bored. Sha was grinning to herself, so did I when I saw her. I let my eyes travel further. And I saw him, the back of his head. I smiled. He looked hot even while writing a bloody essay. Even if only seen from the back.
"Miss.." I heard someone saying. I looked up.
"Err, mind if I ask you what's wrong?" A gentleman asked me.
"Everything is!" I half-shouted.
"Come, let me walk you up to college."
"I want to watch sunset in Japan. I want to plant a Sakura and watch the flowers bloom and fall and fly. But all I did was being stupid today!" I sobbed.
And then I let him walk me straight to the exam hall. Along the way, I did not stop talking, whining to the perfect stranger. I cried and he wiped my tears. He assured me everything would be fine and he'll always be there for me. I did not know why, but at that moment, he had my faith, all hundred percent of it. He wished me luck and said he'll pray that I do well.
"And by the way, you are very beautiful. No matter what the world think of you." His last words echoed at the back of my mind as I made my way to the allocated seat. I was fifteen minutes late, but none of the invigilators asked anything.
The final paper of my final semester exam mercifully ended 2 hours later. I hurried to the cafeteria to satisfy my grumbling stomach. And there he was, the perfect stranger again. He waved at me, inviting me to come over to him. I smiled, and although I didn't fancy making friends with any stranger, he had been kind to me. And I was somewhat embarrassed to act like a baby. As I walked through the thinning crowd, I caught my reflection on a full-length mirror. I was horror-stricken.
I looked downright ugly. My hair was all over the place. My face shone in the sun, it was too pale. My eyes were blotchy, owing to the fact that I cried my heart out right before the exam. My nose was red and I was everything the opposite of beautiful. How could he utter the words about me being beautiful? He must've been blind. Or maybe he was just trying to make me feel better.
I later learnt that his name is Adzlan Hakim and that he had always had his eyes set on me. He was afraid to approach me before because I was this rich, smart, spoilt girl that everyone had been talking about. At the sight of me being vulnerable, he decided that I was only human. A special human, as he put it.
I paused again. Where is this heading? I eyed him again. My eye candy. He ruffled his hair. Put down his pen. Stopped writing. And looked around. If my looks could burn, his skull would be on fire. I remembered a few nights before, during the traditional BBQ fiesta. He snatched an earphone from my left ear and plugged it to his. We sang along to the song 'True' by Ryan Cabrera. Our song. He has been mine, for three months technically, but I could never let myself accept that fact. It was too good to be true.
Four years later, we are happily married.
As I'm writing this today, I am sitting on a rooftop on one of the most magnificent building in town, watching sunset and falling Sakuras. 'Lovers in Japan' by Coldplay could be heard distantly, sometimes drowned by the laughter of our twins. I am happy to be beautiful for him.
Everyone is beautiful. As for me, my beauty lies in the eyes of one Adzlan Hakim. In my ugliest state, I am still his beautiful. And if you don't have any Adzlan Hakim to tell you of your beauty, look in the mirror, look into your heart, and say that you are beautiful. And you will be. In time, your own personal brand of Adzlan Hakim will come along.
Just remember of your beauty.
I concluded my essay with a smile. I had just enough time to check for errors, and I gave my Adzlan a final look before the invigilator picked up my paper.
I caught up with Sha, Lynn and Amy. All four of us did question number 5, of beauty. And three months later, all four of us was rewarded with an A+ by the kind examiner who marked our papers, whoever he or she is. And I got a 1A for my GCE-O. I guess the people from Cambridge don't mind crappy love stories after all.
"Hey you. Masih cantik. Semakin cantik." He told me.
In the fall of 2010, Lily was boarding a transit train heading to Paris. It had always been a dream of hers to go there, but she never thought in a million years that it would be so soon. As she was reading Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War, a man approached her and tapped her on the shoulder.
"Excuse me miss, is that seat taken?" he said.
His finger was pointed to the empty seat next to hers, blocking her view of the book. Annoyed, she answered with a hint of anger in her voice but did not look up as she did not want to take her eyes off the book.
"I said, is that seat taken?"
She looked up to the man and was left in a state of awe, as if she had never seen anybody like him before. Brown hair with a tint of auburn, green eyes that pierced through her skull when he stared at her and a smile that made Ryan Seacrest's grin resembled that of a two year old's undeveloped smile.
"Uh, no," was the only two words she could say. It was obvious that she was a little flustered by his presence beside her. As he made his way to the empty seat beside her, the camera that was hanging on his neck made unexpected contact with her forehead.
"Ow! Hey, watch it!" she yelled. The sharp pain to her forehead made her raise her voice at him.
"Oh my, I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to. I guess my mum was right about me," he said in a sombre voice.
She was puzzled by his statement. With her hand touching her forehead, looking for any signs of swelling, she asked, "Right about what?"
"She said one day, I would be the reason a person has to be sent to the hospital," he explained.
She couldn't help but giggle at his response. Must be a mummy's boy, she thought.
"Well, I'm Lily. Nice to meet you,"
"Hi, I'm Colin. Sorry I hit you in the head with my camera. Wasn't my intention, honest!"
He tried to explain himself, but there was no need for an apology, as she started to grow fond
of him. He was of her too, but neither one of them made a move. Lily was a student from Malaysia and Colin was a backpacker from London. They both bonded on the train heading to Paris, as if they were old friends reunited. Since neither one of them knew anybody there, they decided to make it easier for the both of them and explore the city together. As they reached Paris, they got off the train and promised to meet again in the morning. They both got into their taxis and went to their respective hotels, anticipating the week they will spend together in the beautiful city.
Over the course of five days, they have explored the city through and through. It was as if they planned to travel to the 'City of Love' together as lovers, not random strangers who met on the same train. Colin couldn't help but question his feelings towards Lily; feelings that he never thought he had. He knew he had developed strong feelings for her, mainly because of her carefree and outgoing personality. It's as if she has no care in the world, he thought. Every time she laughed, he would smile and stare at her like she was the most beautiful thing he had ever laid his eyes on.
On the fifth night during a stroll around the city, they found themselves under the brightly lit Eiffel Tower standing tall above them. He knew this would be the right time to confess his feelings for her.
"Hey Lily, I know we've only known each other for a couple of days, but I can't help but think that you're the best person I've ever known, and I-- uhh,"
"You what?" She wondered, as she nudged his hand to quicken a response.
"I think I'm in love with you. Your eyes, your smile. You are the best thing that's ever happened to me. You make me feel as if I don't have to have a care in the world, as long as I'm with the one I love. I love you, Lily. There, I said it. And to think that I met you on a random train, "
She froze. Her face quickly changed. That was not the reaction he wanted to see from her.
"I can't fall in love with you. I'm so sorry to have led you on, Colin. I never wanted anybody to get hurt," she mumbled.
"Well, can I know why? At least give me closure, so I wouldn't beat myself up too much," he said.
He could see the tears in her eyes. Her eyes started to transform into two pools of water, and the glimmer started to crawl down her cheeks. She broke down.
"I'm not going to be here for much longer. I'm going, Colin. Going. Gone, into oblivion. I have only days, if I'm lucky, maybe months. That's why I'm here in Paris. At least before I die, I want the streets of Paris to be the last thing that I see. But then, you happened. And I-- what I'm trying to say is that I'm not going to live, and I know if you fall in love with me, I'm going to have to leave you soon. I don't want to leave you here hanging. I never planned for this. I never wanted for this to happen to me. To you, especially you. I'm so sorry, Colin. I really am," she cried.
"Hey, you know I'm never going to leave you. I love you so much. I don't care that I've only known you for a week, I promise you that the next few days we spend together will be the best moment you'll ever have. As long as you're still here, I'm not letting you go. I promise, Lily. I'm not letting you go,"
Although those words came out of his mouth, deep inside he felt lost to know that she will be gone soon. He knew the week he spent in Paris with her was the best thing that has ever happened to him, and he wanted her cancer to be the last thing she'll remembers when she's going. Over the next two days, they spent every waking moment with each other, knowing that they will never get that chance again. They were now lovers in the 'City of Love'.
On the last day of the trip, they made their way to the train station together and waited. Waited for the train that would part them. While waiting for the train, they gaze into each others eyes and had the same exact look in their eyes. They knew exactly what the other was thinking. They laughed, and their hands were now intertwined as one. They walked slowly towards the railway and laid down in each other's embrace. They knew that they couldn't possibly live without each other.
"To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die," she said, with a smile on her face.
They could now hear the sound of the train that was going to be their demise. It's coming. It's getting closer and closer. As the train was just seconds away from stealing their existence, they looked at each other and smiled meaningfully.