It was the second day of the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia. It was a wet day, and the four of us woke up late. As always. As we sleepily walked to the closest bathrooms, people were already having breakfast, notes in their hands. I hurried to the most comfortable shower room, i.e. one with properly attached door.
I grinned stupidly as my three friends groaned in defeat.
Half an hour later, we walked in the heavy rain towards the examination hall, still munching on the last pieces of our Oreo. I was soaked wet as I took my place a few seats behind Lynn. I mouthed her good luck and she gave me a thumbs up.
When instructed, I went through the English 1119 question paper. My eyes automatically scanned the last line of the question, the open essay option. 'Beauty' was the title. Nice, I thought. I winked at Amy who chose that moment to glance in my direction. It was going to be easy.
To say that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder would be cliché. But then, truth is truth. It would be a senseless action to deny the long-acknowledged quote. Everyone is beautiful, in many ways that not everyone can see. My name is Hana Alia, and I am, of course, beautiful. Beauty is abstract, and if you would not tell me that I am indeed beautiful, then I will myself.
I reread the first paragraph on my essay. Snobbish, really. But I liked where this is heading. And so I continued..
I first met the guy who changed my life when I was turning 25 years old. It was probably the worst day of my life, but also a turning point. I woke up early; it was a red letter day. I was momentarily dazed by the clear blue sky outside my window before lazily walked to the bathroom to shower. I took my time, knowing that it was still too early to head off to college anytime soon. Little did I know that I haven't ironed my best blouse and had forgotten to pick up my laundry from the dobby. Despite my early rise, I was running late. I was forced to resort to a faded jeans and a striped tee, which in any case, was mismatched.
I had to skip breakfast. I noticed the silence in the apartment, which had to mean that my mates had all left me. I sighed. Rushing to my Mini Cooper S, I almost tripped in panic. I cursed the 4-inches stiletto heels and changed into my worn out sneakers. I checked my Swiss watch and breathed a sigh of relief. I will make it in time, I said to myself. Only to find out seconds later that I had left my car keys in my bedroom. Again, I hyperventilate. I went back inside and grabbed the keys. As I started the engine, I breathed in another gulp of fresh air, I had half thought the engine would not start just to complete the series of bad kismet- not unlike what always happened in bad comedies.
I hummed to Aerosmith's I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing and my heart started gaining it's normal rhythm yet again.
Did I mention it was the worst day of my life? The silver baby skidded to a halt five minutes from college. The engine went dead. I clenched my fist tight and tried thinking straight. The exam was to start in ten minutes and I would have just enough time if I made my way on foot. I thanked myself for changing into sneakers instead of heels. My pace quickened with every passing minute. I tried to recall the notes I had gone through the night before and forced myself to ignore weird stares from the people on the street. Of course, I had to walk only a few minutes before I fell flat on my face. It was the last straw.
My left knee was bleeding. I stared blankly to the earth I fell on and to the other passers-by. I cried my lungs out. Having been born and raised with a golden spoon in my mouth, I rarely recognize pain. That particular fall was such a blow. The embarrassment was unthinkable. I sat on the pavement, hugging my knees, wondering why it had all gone wrong.
Ahh. The first few paragraphs full of unfortunate events. Was I exaggerating too much? But there was no backing up by then. I put down my Pilot and looked around the hall. Invigilators were chatting and moving around, nosing in our papers. Lynn and Amy looked bored. Sha was grinning to herself, so did I when I saw her. I let my eyes travel further. And I saw him, the back of his head. I smiled. He looked hot even while writing a bloody essay. Even if only seen from the back.
"Miss.." I heard someone saying. I looked up.
"Err, mind if I ask you what's wrong?" A gentleman asked me.
"Everything is!" I half-shouted.
"Come, let me walk you up to college."
"I want to watch sunset in Japan. I want to plant a Sakura and watch the flowers bloom and fall and fly. But all I did was being stupid today!" I sobbed.
And then I let him walk me straight to the exam hall. Along the way, I did not stop talking, whining to the perfect stranger. I cried and he wiped my tears. He assured me everything would be fine and he'll always be there for me. I did not know why, but at that moment, he had my faith, all hundred percent of it. He wished me luck and said he'll pray that I do well.
"And by the way, you are very beautiful. No matter what the world think of you." His last words echoed at the back of my mind as I made my way to the allocated seat. I was fifteen minutes late, but none of the invigilators asked anything.
The final paper of my final semester exam mercifully ended 2 hours later. I hurried to the cafeteria to satisfy my grumbling stomach. And there he was, the perfect stranger again. He waved at me, inviting me to come over to him. I smiled, and although I didn't fancy making friends with any stranger, he had been kind to me. And I was somewhat embarrassed to act like a baby. As I walked through the thinning crowd, I caught my reflection on a full-length mirror. I was horror-stricken.
I looked downright ugly. My hair was all over the place. My face shone in the sun, it was too pale. My eyes were blotchy, owing to the fact that I cried my heart out right before the exam. My nose was red and I was everything the opposite of beautiful. How could he utter the words about me being beautiful? He must've been blind. Or maybe he was just trying to make me feel better.
I later learnt that his name is Adzlan Hakim and that he had always had his eyes set on me. He was afraid to approach me before because I was this rich, smart, spoilt girl that everyone had been talking about. At the sight of me being vulnerable, he decided that I was only human. A special human, as he put it.
I paused again. Where is this heading? I eyed him again. My eye candy. He ruffled his hair. Put down his pen. Stopped writing. And looked around. If my looks could burn, his skull would be on fire. I remembered a few nights before, during the traditional BBQ fiesta. He snatched an earphone from my left ear and plugged it to his. We sang along to the song 'True' by Ryan Cabrera. Our song. He has been mine, for three months technically, but I could never let myself accept that fact. It was too good to be true.
Four years later, we are happily married.
As I'm writing this today, I am sitting on a rooftop on one of the most magnificent building in town, watching sunset and falling Sakuras. 'Lovers in Japan' by Coldplay could be heard distantly, sometimes drowned by the laughter of our twins. I am happy to be beautiful for him.
Everyone is beautiful. As for me, my beauty lies in the eyes of one Adzlan Hakim. In my ugliest state, I am still his beautiful. And if you don't have any Adzlan Hakim to tell you of your beauty, look in the mirror, look into your heart, and say that you are beautiful. And you will be. In time, your own personal brand of Adzlan Hakim will come along.
Just remember of your beauty.
I concluded my essay with a smile. I had just enough time to check for errors, and I gave my Adzlan a final look before the invigilator picked up my paper.
I caught up with Sha, Lynn and Amy. All four of us did question number 5, of beauty. And three months later, all four of us was rewarded with an A+ by the kind examiner who marked our papers, whoever he or she is. And I got a 1A for my GCE-O. I guess the people from Cambridge don't mind crappy love stories after all.
"Hey you. Masih cantik. Semakin cantik." He told me.
(May 30, 2006)
Life is full of unexpected surprises. There are many opportunities when one can secretly wish for something exciting to happen – something out of the ordinary. The real surprise is when the wish unexpectedly comes true. I never believed that something like this could ever happen to me; such a thing that would make me stop and look back at the events in awe. I think you would agree that something as simple as being lost in the forest for less than ten minutes should have no influence on my life. If you do agree, that makes both of us wrong.
Throughout my childhood, I loved the wild. My family and I would always go for a walk in the downtown forest of Coote’s Paradise. There were many times I thought of what could happen if we were to lose our way from the trail and have to live off of the land until we found our way back to civilization. I thought it would be the greatest experience ever.
As my brothers and I grew older, we continued to go for these walks with our parents but the dreams of living in the forest I soon forgot. That’s when it happened. We decided to take a different path off the main trail. Before I knew it, the path had disappeared and no one in my family could tell where we had come from. It was so unexpected. It gave me a feeling of excitement that can’t be described. Everything in the forest seemed different. The trees were a deeper shade of green. The birds chirped in a different tone. Vines covered almost every inch of the ground. One part of me never wanted this moment to end. I felt completely free from the stress of my life outside of the woods. It was this moment that I realized that I would much rather stay here for the rest of my life than go back to society.
I think that another reason that I felt carefree was because my parents didn’t panic. They took the situation under control and headed for any open area in hopes to find a map (many of these maps were found throughout the grounds, telling you where you were). From my point of view, at the time, it seemed as if they were excited as I was about losing our way. In the end, it only took my parents ten minutes to find such a map and we were back on the trail in no time.
An experience like this made me think about my place in life. I’m the type who loves seeking out adventures. When we were lost, I realized that I had everything I would ever need with me – my family. They’ve always supported me in everything I do. This experience made me realize that families need to stick together; you don’t realize how much you need them until, for a moment, you think they’ll be the last people you see for the rest of your life.
It’s incredible how much a simple thing like being lost in a forest for ten minutes will affect your outlook on life. Things like not being able to find your way back to where you came from make you appreciate the little things in life. Looking back on the day, I realize now that it was fate. Moments like that are few and far between and should be taken as a lesson. Surprises like this were, and always will be, an unexpected gift for all.