When do I know I’m Spider-Man? You won’t. That’s all it is, Miles, a leap of faith.
I am still in my bathtub, wondering how my voice got so great in the bathroom.
The karaoke version of Radioactive by Imagine Dragon is playing along with my humming vocal. I know I should get going. Class starts at 12:30pm and I am 7.54 kilometers away from school, naked in the water.
But… I don’t want to go to school. I am so tired of being told what to do.
I’ve spent 13 years thriving for the things that don’t really matter. All these As don’t really matter. I know I should appreciate what I have as many people out there are wishing for this power―the power to please our Asian parents, the power to make ourselves happy because this society teaches us that these As make us good enough.
But then… all these As got me into one of the best universities in Cambodia. They make my parents happy. I’ve been told that family loves you for you. What if I am not a good student? Would they still love me for me? I should visit a parallel universe and say “hi” to another me. A universe where I am not considered a smart or a dumb person. A universe where I am being talked to rather than being stared at. A universe where I am not so…alone.
Enough!!! Just one more class until the flight.
Sadly, there’s no excuse. It’s time to get my butt out of the bathroom. I get into the first jeans and T-shirt I can find. Ignoring the glare from my lunch, I throw that grey backpack on my right shoulder and set off onto my pink motorbike for one heck of a ride under the boiling sun.
Did I mention my helmet is also pink? Gosh, it just occurs to me that my glasses are pink too. It’s a shame my hair isn’t. You might think my favorite color is pink. AH HAH! It’s not. It’s ultraviolet. Since the damn color can’t be seen, my room is also purplish pink. Sigh!
I am late…for only two minutes. But when I open the door, everybody stares at me like I got five heads and three legs in a pair of underpants. Don’t ask me. I don’t know how three legs can fit in these. Worse, I don’t even know how three buttocks sit. So I just grab one seat with my normal two.
“I’ll upload all the exercises for you to prepare for your final on Canvas. Keep in mind that it’ll be in auditorium C3 on Wednesday next week,” said my professor, of course.
Great!!! I’ll be enjoying my trip and reading your notes after midnight.
“Look, don’t forget that your bonus exam will cover everything we’ve learned so far in this course. There will be no MCQs, just questions, excel calculations, and the…”
I don’t wanna do this anymore, I don’t wanna be the reason why. Who turns up Rihanna’s song in my head? Look, brain. If you do not want to get screamed at for failing the final, just hold on and listen for five minutes, can you?
“Alright! Back to Capital Leases. For a lease to be classified as a capital lease, one or more criteria must be met. In chapter 17 from the textbook…”
17 is my favorite number. Even my basketball jerseys number is 17. Wait, why 17 again?
It keeps happening. Once I regain my focus slightly, my neighbor starts showing me a thug-life meme on her phone. Parts of me want to ignore her and maybe throw her phone away, but that might make her cry. So I just smile wryly, putting myself in her fluffy shoes and gesturing her to look back at the whiteboard.
No one knows I am not paying attention.
There are times in life when time just skips itself, moments flashing by as if you accidentally press fast forward. What I recall are very mundane. A drive to the airport. A short flight. A couple of seaweed snacks. A speedy metro. Crazy traffic. A long walk. A big comfortable bed.
As my body lays me down for the typical ceiling stare, I wonder whether anyone else in this Malaysian suites is missing something that makes them whole.
I jolt awake from a nightmare that’s already been fading. The only thing that stays is the horrible shadows I can neither remember nor shake. It’s one thing to pluck out a thorn from your bleeding hand. It’s another to not be able to find the cut at all. Not knowing what hurts you is possibly the worst feeling in the world. You don’t know how to start healing.
Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre is huge for someone who gets lost everywhere like me. The registration line just refuses to end as more people pour into the hallway. All around me are unfamiliar faces, waiting in line as though we were waiting for the judgment in hell.
With a brochure of the event in hand, I still can’t decide where to attend. I have no choice but to enter the Plenary Hall for the opening ceremony. Among thousands, I don’t see anyone else who came alone. It looks like I won’t be talking much.
I’ve kept my mouth shut for what seems to be an eternity. Most people have left the hall. Leaving means you find a purpose in this summit. I am pretty sure there are a lot of people who left without one. It is, after all, in our nature to want to belong somewhere. Even if we don’t really belong there.
I am one of the last people who left the hall.
My first ever research paper as a freshman was about Dark Matter. I get that most people tend to stick to their majors to get ahead, but I seriously didn’t see myself spending the rest of my life thinking only about money.
So I came here to meet Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist whose work I’ve always cited. It suddenly hits me that I found someone who came alone. He’s sitting in the third seat of the row. I pick the first seat, leaving a gap between us which is quickly filled by a blonde woman.
Then Michio Kaku asks the audience a question.
My attention is shifted from the question as soon as I raise my hand. The guy in the third seat raises his hand too.
Out of hundreds, we’re the only two people who raise our hands.
There is another session in the same hall after Kaku. When the newcomers are settling in, the guy speaks to me.
“Hi! I’m Alex,” Alex says, peering over the blonde woman to see me.
And we couldn’t stop. We talk until the pretty lady in the second seat offers to exchange seats with me. One time the person in front of us turn to give us an are-you-even-listening expression.
“Are you interested in this session?” Alex asks.
“No,” I smile. I’m more interested in you. I obviously didn’t say that out loud, did I?
“Do you want to go outside?” Alex asks.
The park outside the Convention Centre is beautiful. The couple is holding hands on the grass. The seniors are walking by. Some teens are smoking in the cafeteria, enjoying the sight of the leaves falling slowly towards the ground.
All those words I never said start fighting their way out of my mouth. How is it that I never confide in the people I know but have this comfort with a stranger? What is it with humans? Why do we strive so greatly for meaning?
“Why is your favorite color ultraviolet?” Alex wonders, shaking his legs slightly.
“It’s simple,” I shrug. “It’s one of those colors invisible to humans. It’s me secretly telling the world that I’m so much more than they can see. It’s me wishing that people would seek what’s within.”
“Yeah!” Alex nods with his Malaysian accent. “But if everybody can see the value within us, what makes this conversation so precious?”
I laugh. I am the one who always gives people that sentence. Always!
“What made you realize I’m not Malaysian?” I ask after a while.
“At first, I thought you were,” Alex beams. “Then whenever you agree with Kaku, you keep shouting ‘yes’ like a crazy woman. Malaysians are somewhat…reserved. They keep their thoughts to themselves.”
“What’s the fun in that?” I ask, laughing.
I can say no when Alex asks if I wanted to grab some Malaysian street food, but I didn’t. He claims the food will be so good that it’ll make me cry. We end up taking blurry selfies while waiting for a cab next to the Petronas Tower.
“What’s Cambodia like?” Alex says at one point when we’re stuck in traffic.
“What can I say?” I say. “Smaller buildings. Wider sky. More smiles along the street. Prettier stars. Less traffic. It’s not perfect, but it’s home.”
“You’re the only Cambodian I know,” Alex says, playing with the case of his phone. “Now I want to meet more Cambodians.”
The journey took more than one hour. He could have abducted me, but he didn’t. Not to mention that we also get lost after dark. My phone is out of battery. Even if it wasn’t, I don’t have a workable sim card here. There is no way I know where we are.
“You’re not from here, are you?” I ask. “Do you know where you’re going?”
“I’m from Malacca,” Alex says, frowning at the map on his phone. “I only came to KL for the summit. Oh wait, I think I got it!”
He did. This street food place looks amazing. Restaurants are on both sides of the street. Cars are speeding between the places people eat. Street performers are showing off their honey voices.
We buy ourselves two Malaysian burritos with the name I can never learn and two cones of McDonald’s ice cream. The food doesn’t make me cry like he promised. I don’t really love the taste, but I wouldn’t want to change a single thing about the feeling that comes along with it.
We sit and watch a rock band performing while eating the food under the purple sky of Malaysia’s capital. I am having a ridiculously good time, and I can’t imagine how different it would be if I came here alone.
“I love this music!” Alex screams loud enough for me to hear under the earth-shattering sound of electric guitars.
“What?” I scream back.
“SO GOOD,” Alex screams louder until I crack up. That cracks him up too.
When one song ends and the music dies, I clap hard. I’ve never been into this kind of music but, just like that burrito, I’m feeling amazing. Like I’m in heaven. It’s crazy how little it takes for you to be happy considering how easy it is for you to be sad.
Alex follows my lead and claps noisily. Everybody is staring at us now. That dares me to stand up and clap some more. To my surprise, Alex mimics my gestures. To my even bigger surprise, everybody follows us to create this thundering sound of applause that echoes across the streets.
“I thought Malaysians are somewhat reserved,” I whisper into Alex’s ears.
“Well, they deserve it,” Alex whispers back, his eyes glinting with joy. “You deserve it.”
Alex walks me to my hotel. What Asian guy does that? On the way back, he tells me about a time when he went to see Marshmello concert only to leave early because the DJ took forever to appear. He tells me how he wants to try investing in Bitcoin. How he likes so many things but he can’t decide what he wants to be. I tell him that he can be everything. He smiles.
“Why is the sky so purple?” I ask, looking up above. I could feel Coldplay songs in my head. For the first time since forever, those songs don’t make me sad.
“Welcome to Malaysia,” Alex looks up too. He has a soft expression that doesn’t seem to be smiling or serious. “There is way too much light from down below.”
“The stars are always there,” I say. “Even when you can’t see them.”
“Ultraviolet Malaysia Sky!” Alex smiles again. “I don’t have a color as cool.”
“You do,” I press my lips together to suppress my smile. “It’s called colors of the wind.”
To my soulmate from another country: it’s incredibly insane that fate brought us together. The moment you sat beside me, I knew you were a diamond in thousands of sand. Upon conversing for minutes, we felt like we’ve known each other for a lifetime. In 24 hours, we’ve been through so many moments that we won’t ever forget, and we’ve confessed that we’ve never felt that level of true connectivity with anyone else before. It’s pure love and passion, I suppose. Or maybe it’s your American accent haha. Those talks about life and the universe in the park. Talking about our first love in the taxi. Getting lost in the city. Cheering for the awesome street band even though nobody else’s doing it. Talking to successful entrepreneurs and getting to know student startups. Playing with our first encountered AI robot. AND leaving our footprints on each other’s heart and soul. At last, we still had to say goodbye. You said you’d breakdown if you turned back after our goodbye hug. It’s so miraculous that I’ve met you at the right time in the right place. Thank you for being the unexpected gift before the end of ‘17. We immersed ourselves with love and understanding. It felt like a perfect dream, except it wasn’t. It’s real. We shall meet again, now and forever.
He never sent that to me. He just let it float on the Internet. Maybe he hoped I would find it. Maybe he didn’t. I read those words with smoke from my ears, tears from my eyes. I’m amazed at how beautiful life can be. I’m amazed at how little one can do for a person to be remembered for a lifetime.
Strangers aren’t scary. If you’re open enough, strangers can teach you life lessons. Those are the lessons you will take to your grave. Those are the words, the feelings, the moments you will always remember. Those things will calm you down when you wake up from your ugliest nightmares.
People around you may not treat you the way you wish to be treated. You might never fit in. You might never have a place in your heart called home. Maybe you might. If you dare to take a leap. A leap of faith.
Maybe that is what it takes to discover what you are capable of. Finding your true home will probably require you growing wings and flying out of your sweet spot.
Just like how I survived getting lost in the freezing rainstorm for two hours. Just like how I believed I would live after that car crash which broke my windshield. Just like how the amusement park reopens for the first day after winter break on the day I asked to be on my first Superman roller coaster. Just like how my university car parks are always full except for one free spot watching out for my arrival.
Just like how I trusted Alex.
There are a million things left in store for you. Don’t beat yourself up for standing out. Don’t swim in the fishing trap and let them suck the soul out of you. Do what you can’t. Do what scares you. Find where you belong.
Only then will you be a bird set free. Only then will your wings be unclipped.
Maybe the idea of belonging somewhere will finally fill that void.
That emptiness you never knew can be full.
© VITAK CHEAV