Just a little more…
RIGHT! No, left! Evade!
That was close… I was almost killed by this puny underling.
Now, my real target. Where is he?
Yes, I see him!
Almost there! I could almost feel the taste of his blood in my hands…
Closer… aim… FIRE!
The sudden blinding light caught her by surprise as the controller slipped from her grip and her hands flew to her eyes acting as a shield. Her accusing glare was directed to the towering figure standing by her door, an eyebrow raised in a question.
“Aimi, don’t tell me you’ve been at it since last night?”
Almost as an answer, a yawn escaped her lips as she stretched her stiff arms. “Good morning, Mai. Is it fajr already?” Her eyes glanced to the screen that they had been locked onto since after last night’s prayer time. GAME OVER, it practically shouted at her. She guessed her avatar must have been shot by a rogue bullet in the short exchange that occurred. Strange, she pondered fleetingly, how your life can end in a second, in a most terrible death, when you’re not even paying attention. A cold shiver ran down her spine as the terrifying thought carried too much of truth in the reality they were living in. “Wait for me to freshen up a bit.”
She had thought her nonchalance would save her from the lecture she knew was coming, but when lithe hands tugged at her shirt’s sleeve, holding her in place as she was walking out the door, she knew her housemate wasn’t going to let her off easy.
“This wasn’t the first time, was it?” Although posed as a question, Aimi knew her friend meant it as anything but. Had it not been true, she would have been indignant at the accusing tone that was used.
“I’ve been having trouble sleeping,” she confessed, hands raised in defeat. She was exhausted. Her eyes burned and her head pounded. Aimi absentmindedly rubbed the skin below her eyes, the dark circles surrounding them acting as proof to her claim. “I just thought playing some games would make me drowsy enough to sleep.” It was true, for some reason or another, insomnia had been at her throat for almost 2 weeks now. She tried almost everything just to get through the nights. “I’m trying. I’ve caught up with a month’s worth of reading and had watched all the movies and series in my hard drive. When that wasn’t working, I tried texting…” she left her sentence to trail off as a pair of brown eyes scrutinized her in silent disapproval. “What I’m trying to say is that with the subtraction of sleep in my daily schedule, I just have a lot of time in my hands, okay?”
She left her friend as she headed for the washroom. And when she emerged, Mai was already in the living room, reciting the Quran on the prayer mat spread out on the floor. Silently, Aimi took her place and called out the Iqamah.
“Come with me today.”
Her finger quickly tapped on her space-bar, pausing the movie in effect. This wasn’t the first time that Mai had invited her in the numerous activities that she so diligently participated in. “Where?” she asked, nonetheless, her eyes still fixated on her computer screen, paused on the frame of a male Japanese actor caught in mid-sentence.
“We’re going to visit some orphanages, playing with the kids there and help to paint their new nursery.”
This intrigued her. “Really? Is it okay for me to join in at the last minute?” she asked hopefully, already pulling off her headphones. She was an only child, so Aimi absolutely adored children.
Mai smiled. Bullseye. “That’s not a problem. Some volunteers canceled at the last minute, they had mistaken the date so that it collided with their trip to Rome. So, it would help a lot if you could fill in.”
Grinning excitedly, Aimi switched off her laptop and grabbed for a towel.
The orphanage was filled with loud children running and laughing around, excitedly pulling the sleeves of nervous volunteers, demanding their attention. Aimi had just finished hanging up some origami they had made earlier with the children, a few kids surrounding her pointing and giggling.
“Aimi.” Mai was looking at her with a pleasant smile but there was something in her eyes that betrayed her worry. “Can I ask you for help on something?”
The ‘something’ was apparently an 8 year old boy, sitting by himself, playing with blocks of Lego. There was a distant coldness in the boy’s posture. His shoulder’s hunched up rigidly, as if he was trying to prove that he was fine without the company. When Aimi started towards him, she could see his body tensed.
She sat on the ground beside him and wordlessly took a few blocks of the Lego and built up a square. The boy stayed silent and didn’t made to stop her.
- Try talking
- Keep building squares
Command: Option 1
“Could you pass me the green Lego?”
The boy stilled. After a few moment, he placed the green Lego beside her left foot. “Thanks,” she replied shortly. After a brief hesitation, he nodded in reply. Now, what?
- Ask his name
- Ask why he doesn’t play with the others
- Tell a joke
- Keep building squares
Command: Option 3
“What do you call a bear with no ears?
The corner of the boy’s lips twitched and he considered for a moment before giving up. “What?” he asked with undisguised anticipation, eyes crinkling with mirth.
- Tell the punchline
- Tell the punchline and ask his name
Command: Option 2
“A ‘B’.” It took exactly 5 seconds for the boy to get the joke. The moment he did, he bent at his sides laughing, his childish cackle echoing in the room, surprising the other children by the unfamiliar sound. Smiling, Aimi handed him the Lego square she had built and patted his knee. “So, what’s your name, tiger?”
Later that day, Mai approached her with wonder in her eyes. “How did you do it? The others had tried since we arrived but the boy didn’t speak a word!”
Aimi shrugged. “It’s just like an interactive Sim game. I mean, if this was a normal game, I could have simply looked up his profile and gathered his Intel,” she snorted to herself, imagining a command window beside the boy’s head; detailing his likes and dislikes, aspiration and fears. “But, since that obviously wasn’t going to happen, so I had to improvise and observe.” She turned to look back at the boy then, shyly showing the others the Lego he had built. “He was building a penguin and a bird with incredible precision. So, I figured he was into animals.” Quietly, she whispered to no one in particular, as if speaking to herself. “Every person is different.” A beat later she chuckled, putting back a cheerful grin. “So, we have to learn how to deal with everyone differently. Besides, you know I’ve always had a knack for interactive games.”
Mai smiled, shaking her head. “You really are a wonder to me.”
-“I’m so tired!” she gasped, collapsing onto her bed. Despite her words, Aimi had a satisfied grin playing on her lips, stuck there like glue since she had blown a goodbye kiss to the small orphans waving after her that evening. She sighed happily at the memory.
Her attention was caught by the vibration of her phone, and as she saw the familiar name popped up on her mobile screen, her eyes lit up in glee. She was just about to reach for it before she noticed someone standing by her door. Mai looked at her, eyebrows arched like a scolding mother, and like a child being caught in the act, Aimi bit her lower lip guiltily.
After a few excruciating minutes, to which Aimi waited patiently for the reprimand she fully expected to receive, Mai finally spoke, giving her jurisdiction. “Read the Quran for the night.”
That was it? Phew, she thought, letting out a relieved breath she didn’t realize she was holding. Aimi frowned at her friend’s retreating figure. Some might say that Mai was a bit controlling, but for Aimi, her friend’s gentle way of scolding and almost subtle reminders weren’t unwelcome. Although it gritted on her nerve at times, she appreciated every word of advice spoken which she understood was genuinely for her sake. Resignedly, she walked to her bookshelf and after a quick scan, grabbed for the small black book that laid absently at the edge of the compartment. She noted how dusty the covers were, the infamous Egyptian sands caught in the leather from the weeks of neglect.
And be not like those who forgot Allah, and He caused them to forget themselves.
Those are the rebellious.
She felt a tug in her chest as her fingers leafed through the worn out pages, her fingertips recognizing the feel of the paper like the reconciliation with an old friend. Then, slowly – almost carefully – she began to read.
-Mai noticed that the light was still on in her friend’s chamber. She allowed herself a small sigh as she slowly turned the knob of the yellow door. The sight that greeted her came as a pleasant surprise; Aimi was sprawled on her bed, her eyes closed and a soft snore escaping her. She was holding her Quran close to her heart in an embrace, as her chest rose and fell in a slow rhythm and her lips curved upwards at the corners in a small contented smile. Smiling to herself, Mai walked the small distance towards the bed and slowly untangled the book from her friend’s hold. She set it on the table close to the door, next to the cellphone, laying where Aimi had left it earlier, untouched; before she switched off the light and slowly closed the door behind her.
SHARIFAH ALIMAH SYAMSIAH BINTI WAN MOHD YUSOP
TAHUN 5 KULIAH PERUBATAN