Survival of the fittest

Two-by-two, the students of Jasper High lined one after the other, following their creative arts teacher Ms. Richards who, in turn, followed the museum guide. It wasn’t the first time that eight graders took a field trip to the Museum of Ancient and Modern Art. It was part of the annual curriculum, and there was always something new each time.

This year, it was a pining mother lamenting her stillborn child. Visitors queued all along the hallway, awaiting their turn to see the well-guarded portrait. World renowned artist, Huge, had replicated humankind’s most primitive emotion—love—in its unadulterated form. The enthralling special exhibit was on loan the art museum in New York. To all this information, Ms. Richards nodded with polite curiosity.

“Love like I’ve never seen before,” read the placard. Students oohed and aahed when it was their turn to ogle at the art. Ms. Richards couldn’t help agree with the artist—she had never seen love so pure.

“I apologise for the delay,” the guide was saying. “We had to increase security ever since someone tried to steal the portrait two weeks ago.”


Back at the police station, the policeman’s eye gleamed with joy. He’d apprehended the culprit—a twenty-two year old unemployed art graduate.

He admitted to the crime, “I don’t care about love. I’m trying to survive.”

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If I were to die next week…

Here’s a thought: If I knew today that’d I’d be dead by this time next week, what secrets would I want buried with me?

As I sat down to think about all the things that I hold precious, the physical baggage that I won’t be able to carry to my grave, I realised none of it matters as much.

A few weeks ago, I was on a trip with my colleagues. We were at a dam called Manimutharu, and although the waterfalls were too savage for us to shower in, we still explored the lower end of it where the water washed through polished and uncut rocks. I was climbing up one rock from the one I stood on and slipped. I fell face forwards into the water, right in between two big rocks. My head grazed the stone but missed a catastrophic collision by mere inches. My immediate reflex was to get back on my feet and protect my phone. But it took me a couple of seconds to recognise I’d lost my spectacles in the interim. It was a heavy current and all our efforts to find my glasses went in vain. 

Now that was an expensive pair of spectacles. It was sun tinted with a cat’s eye frame. No one in my family liked it, but I’d insisted on it. I loved the way I looked wearing it and washed it every day to ensure maximum clarity. And it was gone.

To my surprise, I didn’t care. I knew I’d lost a lot when I lost my glasses, but it didn’t bother me at all. I was just thankful to be standing on my feet again. 

That’s when it hit me. Even though I valued that spectacles so much, the experience of falling into the water changed my priorities altogether. 

The moment I knew I’d escaped colossal accident, nothing material mattered anymore. 

With that experience, I wondered again: do I have anything that I’d want to take away with me when I die?

It took me a while, but there was one thing I didn’t want my family to see: my diary.

When I started writing a journal, it was my emotional outlet. I poured out my happiness, sadness, pain, anger, and frustration to an inanimate character I named, X. 

I complained about homework, summarised episodes of my then favourite television series, Robin Hood, and droned on and on about my parents. My family was in disarray, and I was going through a hard time. Every day was a struggle against the depression and self-deprecation that engulfed me.

It was an account of a disturbed teenager’s life. Now that I think about it, I took my inspiration from Anne Frank, one of the many Holocaust victims who died in a concentration camp. Her father published her diary years after her death, and it at once became a chilling reminder for the rest of the world of a time we all wish we could forget. 

Although I read and appreciated Anne Frank’s thoughts and emotions, I never wanted others to read mine.

My journal portrayed me in the most vulnerable state I could ever be in. And years later when I moved out of my parents’ house, the diary remained there. I’d made my mother swear never to read it, but I’ve spent many days worrying for the secrecy of its contents. It disturbed my peace so much that I regretted having written it in the first place. 

That’s the only thing I’d want to take to my grave.

But last week, I burnt it all.

My dad was getting rid of some weeds in his garden and wanted some papers to help ignite a fire. And as I watched years of diary entries crumble into ashes, I felt an incredible sense of calm. 

I’m happy I wrote those emotions down—it was a physical way of letting them go. Now I’m also glad that all that I’d let go will stay gone forever.

If I die next week, I will take nothing but memories.

How about you?

Lessons

California's University of Technology

If you pay the price

education is priceless

else, you pay for life

It was war

“Do you have all the bullets? We can’t afford to lose again. We have to make this our best effort yet.”

Mark was pacing as he always did before the final face off.

And as always, Karl was there to assure him. “Don’t worry, I’ve got them all.”

“Good,” Mark replied, punching his right fist into his left palm, “those imbeciles won’t know what hit them!”

Mark had always been too competitive for his own good. But even his partner, Karl, knew this was a pivotal point in their lives. If they win, they’d become the senior school debating champions.

The unchanging

Pies and bars were his life. Percentages became everyday parlance. And his tallied spreadsheets set him a class apart. It was picture perfect. He was the ideal high school student: teaches doted on him, classmates frowned upon him, and parents spoilt him for love.

Who needed good friends when you could have great grades?

Pies and bars are his life. Percentages… his wife. With tallied statements stacked in the bank, the picture remains perfect. Raises and praises shower on him, as colleagues thank his genius and bosses appreciate his smartness.

Who needs good friends when you can have great toasts?