Inspired by some personal thoughts and experiences, and told in the perspective of another fellow introvert. I do hope some of you are able to relate.

Enjoy the Silence


I was born without the gift of the gab. The surgeon had been shocked to find out that I — the newborn — wasn't crying at all. My mother had fainted on the spot right after labour. She thought I was a stillborn. The surgeon later found out that I looked like I was crying, but no sound ever came out.

I was mute.

My childhood was silent. I grew up without ever hearing my voice. My mother would sometimes just hold me in her arms and cradle me and weep. I was too young to know what was happening.

And so I often rely on my sight and hearing. I see certain things that people never would, things that were profound, yet meaningful. I see their real character, hidden deep within their exposed selves. I hear sounds that people would never hear — sounds of nature, all forgotten and lost in urbanisation.

Yet I never see myself. I never hear myself.

– – –

"It must be terrible not to be able to talk," Zach remarked, our footsteps accompanied by the crunching sounds of fallen leaves.

I nodded. I want to talk. I want to, very badly. I even wish that I can tell someone — verbally — how I really feel inside. But I know it is impossible. And I can only blame Fate for taking away my voice.

Sometimes, people speak ill of me. They know that I am mute. They know I cannot fight back with words. But they forget that I am not deaf. I can hear every single word they're talking about.

The solution?

I thrash it out with them. There is nothing else I can do. I slug them and I clobber them till blood comes out of their noses and mouths and my tears stream out as I continue hitting them. In the end, I am always the one who crumbles and breaks down. The others simply flee. Almost always I am caught and punished by the principal. He has even considered expelling me.

But I cannot afford to. I have too many responsibilities. My family overestimates me. They think I am smart, that I am good in every subject ever taught in school. They think too highly of me. Whenever I fail a test, they suspect that the test paper belonged to somebody else.

"You heard what I was saying?"

I come back to my senses. Zach's steely grey eyes are staring into mine. I nod my head again.

We stop in the middle of the arched wooden bridge. I grip the cold brown fencing and look down at the quiet flow of the river below.

He sighs. "I know how you feel. I sometimes wish I were never born. No one just understands me. Not even my family." He stuffs his hands into the pockets of his jeans. I watch as he stares into nowhere, the last of the swallows calling, flying, in a V-shaped formation, towards the warmer north.

I wonder at them. They get to escape from their present circumstances. They get to leave their past. They get to look forward to a new, better world.

But us? We do not have wings, we cannot fly. We can only remain where we always have been — trapped, forever, in our memories.

I close my eyes.

I finger the long sleeve of my sweater, then my dark blue button-down shirt, rubbing one of the black buttons. It feels cold to the touch.

You don't understand, Zach. You don't understand how I feel. You can talk. I can't. I can only suffer in silence.

Of course, he cannot hear me.

I smile bitterly to myself. Sure, he always claims that he's in my shoes, that he understands my feelings perfectly. Is he trying to comfort me? Is he trying to hide the fact that behind my back he is in fact sneering and laughing at me: this useless, pathetic mute who can never voice his opinions?

Maybe he is. I am not blind, but sometimes there are things about him that I cannot see. But there are other things about him that I can, and one of them is the fact that no matter what, he is standing on better ground than I am.

And that, I know, will not change.

– – –

I watch as he examines the array of computer games displayed alluringly in the shop window. "Good lord," he breathes. "I really, really want to get that CounterAttack 5! But — look at the price! It's going to burn my pockets if I buy it . . ."

I can only stand beside him silently. Sure, I am happy for him that he can merge with others more easily, by choosing to like things that the other boys can associate with. He has something to be passionate about. And he takes great pride in his ability to control the joystick so perfectly that people stop and look on in awe.

And people think that is cool. He displays his talents to everyone, and no sooner than you can say 'wow, he's good', girls will be crowding around him, giggling and clapping and practically batting the lashes off their eyelids.

But I have neither the interest nor the talent he has in gaming.

If I were to find myself an equivalent of that passion of his, it would be drawing. I can pick up a piece of charcoal and sketch whatever I want in a matter of minutes. I can do a rough picture of a falcon swooping down with amazing speed upon a frightened mouse trapped in a corner. I can chalk out a vessel in the raging sea of spraying foam, under an ominous sky of thunderclouds and forks of lightning. I can portray the mouse's fear, the sailors' anxiety, every single emotion of every single character in every single portrait, using just charcoal and my own fingers.

But that is not what I live for. It earns me nothing, not even basic respect. In school, when some teachers see me holding a charcoal stick, they say I have been living in the dumpster for too long. The boys jeer and tear my drawing papers and send it down the shredder in the secretary's office, right before my eyes. The girls frown and wrinkle their noses when they see me washing up the black stains on my hands at the public sinks.

Drawing does not earn me fame. Instead it earns me names, and labels me a laughingstock in the entire institution. It does not earn me grades, either, because the school is not keen to develop its students in art. When the principal learnt of my inclination during one of my regular meetings with him, he said it was just a mess of lines, a frenzy of curves, a disgusting way to vent out emotions. It was a mistake to prove him wrong by showing one of my artworks to him, because he simply scrunched it up and tossed it casually into the wastepaper basket.

I drift away from my thoughts, and look at my friend again.

Friend. What an ironic word it is. There is never a definite definition for it. In this instance, maybe I am just someone else in his life to him, someone who is just a very little bit similar to him. But at the very least, he does not sneer at my drawings.

"Oh." Zach tears his eyes away from the game. "Sorry. Guess I got too carried away." He laughs nervously, and I shrug. "You don't like those game stuff, do you?"

I sign to him.

"Come on, then." He nods, in comprehension. "Let's grab a bite."

– – –

"Do you mind if we sit here?"

I raise my head to see two girls smiling brightly and looking down at the two of us at the table — the only one occupied in the entire library. I glance at Zach for his opinion: he always has a way with girls.

But at that moment the Geography project is far more important to him than any eye candy, so I shake my head with a smile, thinking that he has no objections about it.

He must have felt the infrared coming from the two warm-blooded bodies, as he suddenly snaps his head up and comes up with a surprised "Oh, hi." They smile brightly at him, quite charmed. I can only sigh quietly.

Girls are always a mystery. You never know what they're thinking. But there's one thing for sure that fits both males and females: they say a person's character is far more important than looks, but once a girl — desperately searching — spots someone of the opposite sex, the first thing she notes is his looks. And vice versa.

I observe the two girls. I don't know if they are as stereotypically superficial as everybody else, but I would like to know if they would even approach if Zach and I happened to be wearing chunky black glasses and poring over algebra textbooks.

"Working on a project?" the Asian girl asks Zach politely, breaking my flow of thoughts. Obviously she has taken an immediate interest in him.

Zach smiles easily. "Yeah."

The other girl, her auburn curls of hair shining in the fluorescent lights, spreads her books over her area of the table and eyes shyly at me. I guess this is the first time I have ever made any direct visual contact with any girl. Not for Zach, though. I would be surprised if he doesn't start flirting in the next two minutes.

"I'm Jo," the Asian girl introduces graciously, "and this is Andie."

"The name's Zach."

They look expectantly at me. Somewhat ashamed, I sign meaningless words to them.

Andie's eyes fall visibly. "You . . . you can't speak."

I nod slightly.

For the next few minutes I am abandoned from the discussion. I cannot talk. I cannot say any words to get them to notice me. Neither do I have the looks to deserve any attention. Maybe I am really worth that little, both outside and inside.

Is this what I have to go through all my life?

Am I fated to suffer in silence all my life?

I pack my things and leave the trio alone. Zach calls my name, but I pull open the entrance door, and step out into the welcoming cold air.

– – –

It is forever the same row of rusty lockers, the same tangy, chemical smell of the detergent on the floor, the same hallway full of other students.

A few seconds later Zach is surrounded by his friends, and he gives me this 'sorry-I-didn't-want-this-to-happen-either' look, but I know he loves their company.

"Hey Zach!"

"Hey, mate. What do you know, the exams are finally over."

"Yeah, we're going for a movie later. You want to come along with us?"

Zach looks over at me hesitantly, and I look away. "Um, sure, why not?" I hear his reply.

One of his friends, with a black leather jacket, a metal-studded wristband and thickly gelled peroxide blond hair turns to me with a sneer, one which he thinks I cannot see. "How about you, kid? Or do you want to have a date with your black, dusty girls?" He mimics a crazed artist scrawling away on a canvas, and the others laugh. Zach, my friend — my friend — forces a helpless grin as well.

Another one in the group — this time a freckled redhead — mutters, "Who cares."

Zach fumbles around in his backpack for a pen and some paper and whispers to me. "If you want to say anything just write them down."

I hear the desperation in his voice, and I know he really wants to be accepted, by this group of people who regard him as a 'mate'. But seeing that obvious contempt they have for me, I have no such desire.

I scribble on the paper, and show it to the entire group.

I won't do what I don't like to do.

Zach's grey eyes widen in surprise. I know he's expecting a plain and simple request to let me tag along with them, but I refuse the offer as frankly as I can.

"Well then." Peroxide shares a wry smile with the others before turning back to me. "I guess we'll just have to leave you alone here. All I can say is — you're dumb. Really dumb." He jabs his index finger into the side of my head.

One by one the others get the pun. And they laugh at me. As they stride down the corridor they knock the paper out of my hand. The pencil clatters onto the floor. Zach is the last to leave. He trails behind the group, and out of the corner of my eye I catch his guilt.

I do not blame him for what he has done, actually. All because I do not have the right to control him, to tie him down with me, to make him suffer all the way along with me.

For now, I will be the nobody I always have been — the miserable, lonely mute I was born to be.

– – –

The desire to thrash and talk finally dies down in this fifteenth year of my life.

– – –

It's a miracle how Zach and I became friends anyway. We are so different, in character, in interests, in looks, in everything. And yet he claims to know me better than anybody else does.

Such lies. We're living in a world full of them.

Has Zach been pitying me all this while? Is that why he befriended me in the first place?

I do not need all the disguises, thanks.

I hear the satisfying crunch of the gritty tar and dead leaves under my sneakers. I see the sycamore seeds spin their way helplessly, right into the canal of water.

Maybe that is the way we will all end. Where we don't want to be.

I smile to myself. People always say I think too much, so much that I fail to observe any of the things that are happening around me.

And I realise the simple yet saddening truth to that statement as the bonnet of the truck connects with my backpack.

– – –

The accident took away my hearing and lower half of my body. Now I am trapped in eternal silence, in both senses of the word.

Zach has never visited me once. The news is that he signed up for a talent search contest, and became a star overnight.

That was another irony. He got out of burdened past by shrugging me off. Now he's free and famous and loved by all. I am still the same as ever.

But my daily routine is now much, much simpler.

The nurse in charge of me wheels me to the bus stop just outside the hospital. I sit there watching, watching people from all walks of life, people of all ages and religion, people transformed into slaves, forever time-concerned, waiting impatiently, walking briskly past, ignorant of the quiet, unmoving wheelchair-bound boy that is me, watching them, hour by hour, day by day, week by week. People. People and people and more people.

And every single one of them wear disguises — cold, hard disguises that hide their true selves underneath, perhaps good, perhaps evil. I see all that, because of the fateful incident that took away my hearing. I am left with just one body sense connecting me to the outside world, without having to move physically. I see through every pair of eyes that move past me, hazed in their stereotyped lives and fazed in this ever-changing world. I focus on their smallest of actions, and bring to light their innermost secrets — their competitive, glacial, vengeful personalities, all snugly and smugly hidden under a mask.

And I never come in conflict with what they say. For I am now deaf.

I wish the crash had blinded me in permanent darkness as well. But Fate has given me one more chance. And I treasure it.

Someone taps me gently on the shoulder.

It is time. Back to my white prison. My nurse is behind me. She doesn't see me — the me that I wish to be, with four healthy limbs, perfect hearing and articulate speech. Of course she doesn't. She's with the rest of them.

I do not hear the wheels against the path. I see my scope moving quietly, like a lubricated slide projector. I smile to myself.

Enjoy the silence.

-fin-