“Wake up, sweetie, you’re gonna be late for school,” a soft voice calls out as my eyes flutter open. Oh, Mum, I muttered, as I saw the familiar red, burn mark on her face, which have never faded after the day we walked away from my father’s house. I saw my father hit her right across her cheek. Mum did not say a word as she picked me and our bags out of the house. Somehow, the redness has stayed the way it was for ten years, and nobody seemed to notice, except for me.
That was the same day I saw my grandfather developed a purplish bruise on his right fist, while my grandmother’s left eye looks almost permanently bloodshot. As for me, I sported three, dried-out kitten scratches on my left palm. Considering it hurts only on the first day, I can say I am almost unscathed.
I stopped asking Mum to check on my scratches but she noticed how I kept touching her left cheek. Eventually, I stopped doing it because I saw the tears well up on her eyes. Years after, I still struggle not to fix my gaze upon it for more than two seconds. Thankfully she seemed to always think it’s because I was still trying to pry my eyes open to sober up from the drowsiness.
After Mum was sure I would not fall back to sleep, she patted my shoulder and left me to wash up and get dressed. I quickly grabbed a toast, bite it as I took my backpack and headed to the doorway.
“Anna, your lunch!” Mum called out from the kitchen, which stopped me from wearing my shoes and made me take a sharp turn to collect the neatly packed lunch box. I yelled out a gibberish Bye, Mom, as I was still chewing the toast, to which she replied by telling me to be careful on my way. I took the stairs down to the apartment lobby and met Jun to walk to school together.
He sported fresh bruises again. Lately, this has been happening even more often ever since his uncle decided to stay together with his family. He followed my gaze fixed in his upper arm, just below the sleeves before the elbow. He smiled a weak one.
“Got it just yesterday when that piece of bullcrap went home drunk. What pisses me off is that this stupid pattern from his cheap belt didn’t fade away this morning. Don’t need your ‘gift’ to see this one.”
“You mean ‘curse’. And because of it, I know that one’s gonna stay.”
“Oh cool, another one to add to my invisible tattoo collection. Do I wear them well?”
“As much as I admire your sense of humor, that is not funny and we’re getting late for school. Come on.”
We made it just in time to our classroom before the last bell rings. Shuffles from other students passing by, grabbing and settling for seats makes the morning sounds busier, alerting me that another day at school has started. As usual, I spotted our friend Somchai–with his burning red right ear which the ‘curse’ allows me to see–had already sat comfortably on his seat at the back near the window, while Jun and I are still catching our breaths from sprinting. He turned his head to give us a knowing look, which Jun ignores by waving his hand saying, “Yeah, yeah, we know. The early bird catches the worm and that bird is you, Chai. Gosh, I thought I’ll get used to the running eventually but the only thing I’m familiar with is the taste of blood filling my lungs.”
“We could’ve just walked comfortably to class if Jun didn’t insist to get a toast at Aunt Mui first,” I teased.
“Hey! You would’ve saved us ten minutes if you had shown up at the lobby on time!” Jun retaliated as I snorted. Somchai shakes his head slowly as he grabbed our shoulders and have us sit at the spots in front of and across from him.
“Ms. Lim is coming soon. You better try to memorize something from yesterday’s lesson before she surprises us with another pop quiz.”
“Oh, shhh–” I immediately rummaged my bag for a glimpse of my notes while Jun complained about why after being our homeroom teacher Ms. Lim didn’t cut us some slack.
As I was concentrating with my scribbles about Mendel’s laws of inheritance, Ms. Lim opened the sliding door and all of us students stood up to exchange morning greetings. Returning to focus on my notes as fast as all students sat back down, I completely missed out the announcement Ms. Lim made about a new transfer student joining our class until Jun tapped my shoulder and signaled me to look to the front. It was not just Jun’s nudge breaking my reverie, it was also the new student entering the class. To be more specific, it was what the curse made me see from the new student which took my attention completely off of whatever heterozygous means: she has blotches all over her skin, dried blood over thin scars all over her body. The most haunting one is fresh blood coming out of her eyes. She looked like she just fell off a cliff with sharp rocks underneath.
“Everyone, meet Naomi Yeo.”