“You know, I thought you noticed me long before that,” she interjects, as he takes a breather and drinks another gulp of the ice lemon tea.
The muscles in his lower jaw slacken and loosen, his mouth forming an O.
“You were magnificent in the inter-year debate competition last year. Your eyes bore into mine so intensely that I absorbed every word and emotion from you. I felt something connected between us that time. ”
“Oh my God, that was you?” his mouth is now hanging so wide that a bird could easily fly in and nested comfortably.
“Heads” He mumbled as the coin was executing its majestic spin in the air. He watched intently as the coin did its routine inverted U-shaped trajectory and fell into the cupped hand of the emcee.
“Heads it is” announced the emcee while letting the head of Queen Elizabeth being observed by both participants. “So you will go first, Ken. All the best.”
He stepped onto the podium tentatively. He had practiced the speech in front of the cupboard mirror 28 times the previous day until every word was etched in his subconscious mind. He knew all the theories on what it takes to draw the crowd in. He read about all the do and don’t of public speaking. “This should go well,” he assured himself, “As long as I can get the first word off my mouth.”
His eyes wondered to the various cliques caught in their own world. A few curious glances, a split second attention shrugged off as nonchalantly as it was picked up. No one was paying attention, he realized, starting to feel the first prang of panic building in his heart. His mind was suddenly a jumbled mess till it drew a blank slate. His first instinct was to hide and run away.
“Find a focus point” he suddenly remembered one of the advices he read. Desperately, he threw another look at the sea of spectators and zeroed in on a girl who seemed to be looking at him. He clenched his fist into tight balls, took a deep breath and uttered the first syllable. And off he went, maintaining his gaze on the forehead of the girl throughout his speech.
He couldn’t believe that he managed to finish his speech without much hiccup and even received claps of a quite respectable decibel at the end of it. His palms were now sweaty, aftermath of the coldness he felt just now. He walked back to his seat, where his friends gave him words of encouragements and pats of well done. He mumbled thanks and the offered smiles. In reality, he could really feel nothing, his mind glazed over, exhausted after the Herculean efforts, relieved that it was all over.
“Gosh, so you are saying you only gaze at my forehead the whole time?”
“I afraid so,” he replies, smiling rather sheepishly.
“I thought you were attracted to me, and was trying to send signals to me. How embarrassing!” she covers her whole face with her hands like a child.
“I don’t think it is as embarrassing as what I am going to tell you.”
He would have forgotten about her just like most of the girls he sketched if she didn’t keep on appearing within his range of vision. If she was transparent for the first seven semesters of his University life, she seemed wanting to compensate for that now.
He saw her again that day between lectures in the cafeteria, he sitting in the corner by himself reading the next lecture’s notes, she sitting facing him two tables right in front of him, eating an apple while chatting with a couple of girls.
He saw her again in the library, he searching for passages to augment the day’s lectures, she rushing in to drop a book into the return bin and rushes out, leaving the tail of her royal blue scarf gasping the air, desperately trying to catch up.
The next day, he saw her alighting from the tram across the street, nodding her head left and right to the song emanating from the earphone partly hidden by her scarf as she make her way to the campus.
If was as if she was waving a red flag above the crowd, or emitting an unique sound that was attracting him to her, or radiating light of a distinct color differentiating her from the sea of people in the campus.
He noticed her so much that he got a cornucopia of terms to describe her. Refined, like how she daintily cuts her sandwiches up into little pieces before eating them. Graceful, like how she swirls around the grass, exposing the pale skin of her calves. Cute, like how she poses as sailor-moon while she fooled around with her friends.
To his horror, he realized that he had become obsessed with her, but he could not control it. He drew sketch after sketch of her, capturing every sighting of her on paper. Late at night, he kept marveling at those sketches, spending hours making minute modifications before he was satisfied. After a couple of weeks, the green file became so thick that he had to acquire a new one.
He stared at the big red C on his Statistics assignment paper for a long, long time. He can’t recall the last time he didn’t see an A on his paper. He had always been a consistent over-achiever since his primary school days. It doesn’t require the mental prowess Sherlock Holmes to deduct the cause on this sudden drop in form.
The pin had dropped.
“It had to stop,” he muttered to himself. He was determined to put a stop on this spreading cancer before it totally consumed him. He needed to talk to the girl. To demystifying her, to assure himself that she is just a plain and unworthy girl….