The light from her study lamp flickered, and Su-Lin rubbed her eyes wearily. Her head was throbbing from the glaring luminescence of the computer screen, and her eyes screamed for rest. It was lonely being the only figure still up in the dark apartment, where she was trying to finish yet another piece of homework. She raised the mug that had accompanied her into the wee hours of the morning and drank, wincing at the thought of all the dust particles that had to have collected and was floating around malevolently on the surface of her water.
Su-Lin frowned at her half-completed essay. It was not going smoothly; the scavenged result of one bad idea tacked onto another. "Okay. What next?" she squinted half-heartedly at her notebook. Her headache was getting worse, not helping her unsuccessful attempts to think through the thick fog that seemingly permeated every nook and cranny of her brain. The heavy silence grew loud; stretching balefully, seeming to pound at her with barely suppressed ill-will, relieved only by the emotionless electronic whirring of the computer.
It was hard being a good student. Producing straight 'A's had always been a norm for her, something that parents, friends and teachers constantly expected. In their eyes, she was THE model student, always dependable, always collected, always achieving. Her life had begun splendidly, her starting education in the best and most expensive pre-school that her anxious parents could find. And they never regretted it. Every time they met old friends or relatives for a cup of tea, they would never fail to recall the good old days, and proudly name the school as the main factor behind Su-Lin's steady incandescence to the top. Primary school was a breeze, with her easily getting the school's top aggregate. After that, scholarships came readily, and awards rapidly filled the large glass cabinet standing shiny and polished in the living room. As could be seen, it did not take much for Su-Lin to climb up the rungs of the academic ladder.
For her whole life, she had been extremely hardworking as it pleased her to see the delighted smiles on her parents' faces every time she brought home teachers' praises and good grades. Studying was something that she never questioned, just did, constantly and liberally fueling the admiration surrounding her. But ever since she entered secondary school, there had been a lot more talent, and performing consistently had become much harder. It was the first time she found difficulty in remaining at the top, and completing the heavy workload deposited onto the students every week. It was the first time she had to stay up late to finish her work, the first time she felt tired and distracted the next morning. For once, she began to question the need for such achievements and glory. What was the point of so much effort if it simply did not pay off? Her parents and friends and teachers were not the ones studying – she was. They would not be affected greatly by her grades. So where then, would the meaning of her frantic paper chase be?
The computer gave a teeny beep, and Su-Lin sagged down into the straight, uncomfortable back of the swivel chair. Her eyes glazed over and she stared blankly at her well-stocked rack of classical CDs. Maybe her lack of sleep was finally taking its toll on her. Maybe all her frustrations simmering in her started overflowing. Or maybe she simply could not bear continuing with her essay any longer. Either way, some tiny part of her snapped. She was suddenly tired of it all. She was sickof the endless expectations that she had to fulfill. One only led to another, a warped, monotonous illusion of ever-increasing glory. Maybe she should try other things. Things she never dared to even think about before. Experiment. She could start off in little steps, there was no need for rush. What if she simply did not do her essay? What could her teacher do to her? What would it matter if she shocked her parents and friends? They were not her. They would not understand. All they cared about was the unbelievable brilliance and adoration found in little marks on a piece of paper. Why couldn't she? She could. She could.
Opening another document, Su-Lin started typing, her hands racing over the keys, pouring out all her frustrations onto the whiteness of the page, struggling to fill the yawning void of her pale, predictable life with the cutting black letters. Alien, desperate, her feelings threatened to overwhelm her, her thoughts tearing through her like the words tearing darkly and possessively across the screen. She switched off the computer with a flourish and smiled feverishly. Adrenaline coursed through her veins, potent and intoxicating as she stepped into the wild, new territory, exploring notions she had never before explored. Giggling madly, she flung herself onto her bed. Gone forever would be the good, sensible girl of the past. Her experiment would start. NOW.
She got up and dragged her file onto her desk. Grabbing her penknife, she began slashing with wild abandon at her worksheets and assignments she had so painstakingly done, the grades she had worked so hard, and so meaninglessly for. "Go. Go. Be destroyed. You fraud. You've lied to me for so long. Don't lie anymore." Her eyes glittered and she tore the papers into tiny squares which floated gently to the floor, littering the place with white. Gouging a long scratch onto the cover of the file, she tore the vile thing apart and slammed the remnants down to join the bits of paper on the floor, laughing hysterically in the carnage of her gloriously ruined academic career.
Everything that should have happened a long time ago was happening at last. She would not be bound to the tyranny of academic pursuits, the endless slogging to please, the lifeless chase of ink on paper any longer. Su-Lin was free. She was free. She was free. She was…
Su-Lin stopped. Her hands stilled and she blinked helplessly, her gaze falling onto the unresponsive keyboard. Was she really free? Would she have dared to carry out her wish she had just so passionately blazed onto the screen? That, in truth, was the experiment – no, it was the failed results of the experiment. Typing, pathetic and weak, instead of actual doing. She would never have dared to; that she should have known from the moment she started. The whole time, she never had had the courage to carry her experiment out, to risk the wrath and disappointment of those around her. She had been ensnared too deeply into the web, too caught up with everyone else in the paper chase to realize she had been lying even to herself.
At this thought, all of Su-Lin's determination and anger crumbled, leaving behind a worn-out, frightened, vulnerable young girl. Curling herself up in her chair, she buried her head in her hands and wearily closed her eyes. Then, brushing away the dampness that trickled down one cheek, she turned once again back to the pallor of the computer, to try her best to salvage the pitiful remains of her essay.