Thursday, 25 December 2014

Merry Christmas, little children

The streets are adorned with ostentatious festive lights. The angelic voices of the Christmas choir tingles my auditory senses. Garish banners of Christmas sales are being displayed along the entrance of every store. It's finally time for me to don my Santa Suit once again. 

I straighten my beard and inhale a huge breath of air. "HOHOHO. WHO. WANTS. PRESENTS!!!" Curious glances, bemused faces. Within seconds, children start sprinting towards me from all directions. They ambush me as though they are wanderers of the sea who have finally found shore. With great zeal, I draw out my gigantic bag of fastidiously wrapped gifts.

Despite their parents' attempts in persuading them to give way to one another, they brush each other aside aggressively to race for their gifts. Without a word of gratitude, they snatch the parcels out of my hands, uncouthly ripping them open. What breaks my heart isn't the fact that I'm not receiving a single "thank you" in spite of my hours and pounds. It is the disappointed sighs and disdainful expressions on their faces that makes it difficult for me to mask my crestfallen face.

I'm not frustrated, or even offended. Instead, my heart cries out to these little children. For the happiness that they can never buy. For the covetousness that burns in their hearts. For the gift of Christmas that they don't realise even exists.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Manchester Christmas Market

It's the time of the year when students return home to their families. School's out. Roads are covered with thin layers of frost. The misty air sends shivers down your spine. The best place to be is home; surrounded by the warmth of your parents' smiles and the laughters of your mischievous little siblings. Here I am out in the cold wondering why I'm not on a flight back home like all my other friends. I fonder with my phone and scroll through the Snapchats and Instagram photos. "I'm coming home!" "Goodbye Manchester!" Picture after picture of friends en route to home. Tempted to sulk, I scoot over to my boyfriend to seek comfort. Indeed, it is heart-warming to have someone you love to brave the winter with.

In an attempt to lift my spirits, he suggested a visit to the Christmas market. It sounded like a fantastic idea! After all, the Manchester Christmas Market made it to the top 10 (9th specifically) in the European Best Destinations poll few days ago. I stood up in excitement, ready to head towards the joyous sounds and flamboyant lights.

The Christmas market was indeed as pleasant as I had imagined. Stalls after stalls of christmas toys and merchandise fascinated me, bringing me back to my childhood days. The air was filled with the aroma of fresh piping hot German sausages - perfect for a chilly night. Exclusive chocolates and pastries that couldn't normally be found in the supermarket certainly appeased my sweet tooth. The night was made perfect by the squeals of little children at the array of colours that were on display. The jubilant mood of the earnest stall keepers and satisfied customers inevitably infected me.

I left the Christmas market with an unexpectedly high morale. I was excited for Christmas even though it would be spent thousands of miles away from home. The peaceful lullaby of Silent Night encapsulated me into a reverie. It was only after walking for some time that I realised that my boyfriend had halted. I retraced my steps and saw him drawing out some spare change for... That was when I saw him. The person who was creating that delicate melody with the miniature flute that was in his hand. He was reaching the end of the song. In my head, I was still humming "Christ the saviour is born." My boyfriend stooped over to place the coins into the small basket in front of him. "Thank you very very much Sir! Have a blessed Christmas!" He was grinning from ear to ear. It was impossible to contain a smile at such a beautiful sight. He caught of glimpse of me and added, "Merry Christmas to you too Miss!" His genuineness and zeal moved me.

The Christmas market was impressive but it was the unpretentious basker at the entrance of the market that blessed me with an important reminder. It is better to give than to receive. That's the spirit of Christmas.

Friday, 5 December 2014

White flag

I look into her - their - cold hard eyes.

I try, with all my might, to think of a comeback. Nothing.

I dig deep into the recesses of my memory for the phrases that I spent hours crafting, memorising and rehearsing. The expressions that I practised countless of times that my cheek muscles started to turn sore. The one phrase and expression that was meant to be used in tandem to show them that it was my very last straw. The one that I swore to myself I had to remember even if the fear I felt made me forget everything else.

But now, I can't remember a single damn thing. Instead of determination and rigour, fear is spelled all across my face. It's okay. I shut my eyes, for a moment of reprieve, and let out a deep breath. As long as I don't cry, they will know that I can't be bullied. I will endure. I will. 

I shift my gaze away from them, to anything that I can catch hold of. I ignore their sniggering, their mocking. I refuse to listen to them. But somehow, like a surfer being engulfed by the ocean tides despite all his efforts, their piercing words seep into my ears against every ounce my will, and into the depths of my heart. It settles there...

I must not cry. I feel hot tears gathering at my lower eyelids, at the brink of spilling out. I forcefully glare into the sun, stinging my eyes with its radiance; yet succeeding as always in suppressing the tears of shame. I smirk.

They are not deceived. They see right through my feeble attempts to mask my fears. They aren't leaving. The feeling of dread overwhelms me with greater fervour than before. I keep my eyes wide open; stubbornly refusing to blink, determined to hold back my tears for as long as possible.

My eyes are bloodshot. I can't hold out any longer.

5... 4... 3... 2... 1... I blink. A drop of tear slips out of my eye, caressing my cheek before landing on my collar. That's when it starts. The tears surface - a little, and then all at once.

I raise my white flag and let the world tumble down on me.

I see them closing in but it doesn't matter. I've lost.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Conwy, North Wales

Freshers' Week is probably one of the most disorientating albeit intriguing weeks of anyone's stint as a university student. I stood in the midst of the building they call the Students' Union - the equivalent of the student council in high school. Everyone was being tossed around like waves in the ocean. Even I, someone who never empathised with one's claustrophobia, felt slightly claustrophobic and lightheaded. The air was filled with human perspiration, contagious laughter, and flyers being thrown around. I barged my way against the tide and miraculously emerged from the crowd at the women's football booth. Sports. "I'm going to do sports this year." 

It was satisfying to finally be back in the comfort of my bedroom after a laborious day hunting for a society in the Freshers' Fair. I crawled into my duvet and snuggled up in bed, prepared to look through my loots of the day - a whole stack of information sheets ranging from the Dance Society to the Skydiving Society and the Mountaineering Society. How was I ever going to decide? And then there was the International Society. The most unpretentious flyer among them all. I didn't even remember taking that particular flyer. However, the exuberant faces of the people on the flyer grabbed my attention. They possessed different hair and skin colours; yet, they seemed to gel perfectly like a family. International 16. That's what they were called. 16 people handpicked to represent 16 unique countries. My curiosity got the better of me as I headed down to the society the following day to sign myself up for the interview. 

The first meeting left me with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I kept questioning myself if I signed up for the right society. The first thing we were made to do upon reporting to the society was jumping jacks. In public. I had enough of jumping jacks in military training. Furthermore, we were informed on the commitment level that was expected of us. My hopes of joining a sports team were shattered. On the other hand, the icebreaker games fuelled my anticipation of the friendships that were coming my way. I held on to the belief that this was indeed the right place for me. 

They weren't kidding when they told us to expect late nights. The preparation of the first evening that we organised, Diwali Evening, lasted till 5a.m. It was almost dawn before my head hit the pillow. I remember the fatigue that weighed down on me as I prepared the Daal Makhani for the next day. I glanced at the people around me, religiously working on their respective tasks, and I was struck with a pang of familiarity. Drained, yet motivated by the comrades around me. Just that this time, I'm not in the field digging trenches, I'm in the society preparing for our evening. Indeed, what a love-hate relationship that I'm somehow always in. Arduous. But I held on to the belief that this was indeed the right place for me.

1...2...3...people left the 16. They said there has never been a batch which started and ended off with the full 16. I, we, were determined that our batch would be different. I guess every batch was determined, except that it never happened. It was extremely disappointing. Yet, I held on to the belief that this was indeed the right place for me.

Finally! It was time for our long awaited weekend away to the lovely North Wales! Spending more than 48 hours together, with hardly any internet connection, definitely catalysed our friendship. There was literally no sign of human activity, apart from ourselves, in the vicinity of our apartment. Yes, we basically had the company of each other, and sheep.

What's the point of going to Wales without hiking its terrain? On the 2nd day, we ventured out to the peak of the knolls. The journey was therapeutic; a perfect break from the hassle of lectures and tutorials. The streams of water trickling down in a homogenous rhythm. The sheep persistently gnawing on green grass like its never full. The scorching sun that encouraged us to remove our windbreakers. The consistent old lady who caught up with us, young lads, in our hike. All of it, accompanied by the melodious voices from 14 different countries, contributed to the perfect midday hike. 

It was the final day. Surely, we couldn't have left Conwy without visiting the Conwy Castle. Personally, I wasn't impressed by the architecture of the castle. What fascinated me was in fact its location. Apparently, it was built on high ground to facilitate early warning on incoming enemy attacks and to gain advantage on firepower. (Firepower referring to arrows and not guns at that period of time.) Truly, military strategies were evident since a long time ago.

That concluded our 3 days and 2 nights stay at Conwy, North Wales. Wales, as many people have testified, is indeed a magical place. If you're going alone, it presents you with the perfect opportunity to seek tranquility. If you're going with your lover, your best friend, or even a group of friends, it rewards you with the unabated attention of one another. Precious memories with my 16 have been created in Conwy. I no longer hold on to the belief that this is indeed the right place for me, for I know that it is.
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