The Girl With No Arms
This is a story about me and her. She changed my life. Through her, I have discovered the real joy that lies hidden in this humble body of mine. I saved her. She saved me. It is such a simple story, really. I was a boy with no soul. She was as girl with no arms. Through each other we grew and matured.
My story with her started out a few years ago. I was twenty-one years old. She was nineteen. Is this a love story? I'm not sure. In some ways it is. In other ways it is the story of her giving me the ass-kicking of a lifetime. But certainly this is a story that I will fondly remember. And maybe, you will too.
Where was I? Right. I was twenty-one years old and had just started my first job. I worked at a small firm, editing and writing code for their new software product. Some of you might think that the ability to read and write code is amazing. It isn't. It's much like playing an instrument. It looks amazing until you learn it yourself. I just graduated from university and had gotten my first job. I was living with my grandfather as my parents went abroad when I was at university.
I didn't have any dreams. I didn't really think about what I wanted to do. I just did what the rules of the pathway of life told me to do. I went from a good high school to a good university. I then joined a good small company and received as good monthly salary. I was the ideal good person. I happily work, do not challenge the flow of my life, and I don't try to make any big changes. I didn't think too much and start asking questions. I was in every sense a "good" person.
Then one day, I met her. Both of her parents had died in a car accident, and she survived with two broken arms. Grandpa announced one day when I came back from work that she would be living with us for the foreseeable future. I was quite surprised. She seemed to be a very distant relative. I didn't think too much of it. I came back from work, heard the news, discussed them with Grandpa, and then went on with my usual routine.
I was a good person. I did not object. I smiled and was glad that we could offer her support.
Her name was Mai.
I was a bit tired from editing code all day, so when I came back home, I first took a hot shower and then relaxed on my bed for a bit. A few hours later I went to sleep after watching a few episodes of my favorite TV show. The next morning I went back to work, the days passing by one by one like this until Mai was discharged from the hospital with her two broken arms.
Grandpa and I picked her up from from the hospital much like how someone would pick a person up from the airport. There were nurses and doctor bidding her good-byes and wishing her well. But just looking into her eyes once was enough to see that she didn't hear any of it.
Her black eyes were as soulless as the dead hair growing from her head. Her hair could make anyone stop and turn around to have a second look. In the time that she was in the hospital, it had grown incredibly long. For months since the car crash she hadn't let any scissors anywhere near her, safe for the scissors the surgeon used during the operation. This was my first time seeing her. Grandpa had visited her almost every day since we received the news that she was hospitalized, but I never came along as I was too busy with work. It was a good life for someone with a good body and a "good" mind.
During his visits Grandpa asked Mai's doctor about the costs, and everything else our house would need in order to take care of her.
I watched as she walked towards us. Both of her arms were in a cast. According to the doctor, he couldn't be sure when her arms would heal. We could only wait and see how her body would slowly recover. But now looking into her eyes, the aura of hopelessness surrounding her, I didn't think if her body would recover or not. It was her mind and soul that needed time to heal first.
Grandpa and I were her only relatives in the whole world. I wasn't even sure how I was related to her. We walked towards her and grandpa gave her a careful hug. She didn't hug back. She couldn't. I made eye contact with her, smiled and nodded. She simply stared back at me, her eyes blank. She didn't acknowledge me.
I understood her. Or at least I think I did. I knew why she was acting this way. I was a good person.
I took the luggage from the one of the doctors who helped her carry it out from her room. I thanked him, and he told me to take good care of her. I understood. Mai must be in an incredibly fragile mental state right now.
Little did I know that it was nothing like that. Much like any other guy in this world, I would learn to fear the woman in the house.
The three of us walked to our car. Grandpa made some one sided chit-chat with Mai while I loaded the suitcases into the trunk. I stared at the luggage for a brief moment. These slightly weathered boxes, along with the contents and what she has got left of her body were the only thing she had left in this world. Through the rear view window I could see the back of her head, with Grandpa sitting next to her, waiting for me to close the trunk and start up the car. What must she be feeling right now?
"Your name is Mai, right?" I asked once we were on the road. I adjusted the rear view so I could see both of them.
She stared silently back at me through the rearview mirror, and was silent for a few moments before she answered. "Just drive."
Stunned by her simple, blunt response, I drove on in silence. I was a good person. I could understand why she answered the way she did. She had lost both parents and both arms in a car accident. It was a miracle that she was willing to sit in another car at all, especially right after she came out of the hospital. Later, when I asked her why she wasn't afraid to sit in cars after such a traumatizing accident, she started off into the distance and said: "death is but a certainty. I've met death before. Death isn't so bad. Unlike you."
At that time I didn't understand why she would such harsh words, but in the end it turned out that she wasn't being cruel at all. She just being honest. She was stating the way it was. I was a good person. I understood.
Half an hour later, we arrived at the house. There was no big welcoming party since Grandpa and I lived alone. The biggest luxury we called our own was a small backyard were stray cats would sometimes come and drink the grandpa put out for them. Even when grandpa didn't put out the milk, the stray cats would find other food sources. I told Grandpa this and asked him why he kept giving out free milk to the cats. He smiled and said: "an act of kindness will go a long way."
In the end, it would be Mai who would help me understand these words. There was no one else in the house, hence there was no one to greet us when we came in. Grandpa walked with Mai into the house while I stayed slightly behind to unload the luggage and carry it to her room. She watched me carry the heavy suitcases into her room. Without saying a word, she motioned for me to leave her alone in her new room. Respectfully, grandpa and I exited. Mai didn't say a single 'thank you'. But I didn't mind. I understood her. Or at least I think I did. I was a good person. Grandpa and I only had to make eye contact to understand. Mai simply needed some time alone.
After a short while, I went to the kitchen to prepare dinner while Grandpa entered Mai's room to help her settle in. Although Grandpa was old, he was as energetic as any other young person. And so, since Mai couldn't make use of her arms, grandpa helped her unpack. I could hear him chatting away, while Mai stayed silent. I started cooking.
To be honest, I didn't even notice Mai all that much in the beginning. I would wake up early, hours before she did, to go to work, and when I came back she would be asleep already. About a week passed before I talked to her for the first time. It was the first Saturday since the three of us became a little family, and I was finishing off some leftover code from Friday. I was typing on my laptop in the backyard when I heard someone step behind me. The sound of those steps didn't belong to Grandpa. After all those years of living with him, I could instinctively tell if the sound of certain footsteps were his. No, these footsteps belonged to a girl.
Surprised, I turned around.
"What are you doing?" Mai asked in a stoic manner.
I smiled, turned around and showed her the code on the screen.
"I'm finishing off some work from yesterday," I said. "I'll be done soon. Then I can cook lunch."
Mai leaned in closer. I could feel her long black hair tickling my neck. As a good considerate person, I did not complain.
"What is all this?" she nodded at my screen.
"I work as a programmer and editor," I said. "This is just some code I was working on for a client who had requested custom server infrastructure software."
Mai didn't say anything for while as she stared at the code. She neither nodded, nor made any sign that she was reading or understanding the code.
"Do you understand all this?" I asked.
Mai let out an audible breath. "Do you enjoy writing code?"
I automatically opened my mouth to answer, then closed it again. It was such a simple question, yet it felt so strange to hear such a strange question in my ears.
"It's alright I guess," I shrugged without thinking too much about it.
"Do you dislike it?" she asked.
This time I was the one who let out an audile breath. Why was she asking simple questions that seemed so hard to answer? There were some things you enjoy, some things you don't enjoy, and then there are just some things you do because you just do them.
"I don't dislike it," I said. "But this is something I can do, and I'm grateful to have this job."
Mai walked around the seat where I was sitting. In the late morning sunlight, her entire figure was enveloped in a subtle golden aura. I was impressed by the length of her hair. It had grown down to her hips. Her arms were still wrapped in casts and were hanging at her sides.
"When did you start working as a programmer?" she asked with her back turned to me.
"About a year and a half ago, when I graduated," I said. "I mean, in this economy, I was just glad to be able to get a job, not to mention a job in my field. Most of my friends are still jobless and job hunting. I was very lucky."
"What did you study?" Mai asked, seemingness disinterested in the extra details that I added.
"Programming," I shut my laptop. "When I finished high school, I wasn't sure about what to do with my life, so I applied to some universities and somehow got in. When the second year came and I had to choose my major, I didn't really know what I wanted to study. I didn't really think about and just went with the flow and choose between what most of my friends choose. Finance or programming."
When I finished talking, Mai turned around and her glowing hair swung with her. Yet such beauty was deceiving. Her words would be sharper than any knife I used in the kitchen.
"And out of those two, why did you choose programming?"
I let out a breath. "I don't know. Some of my friends choose it and it seemed like a good and reasonable choice since many companies needed programmers to maintain and develop their software, especially in the era where everything is moving to the cloud."
"But did you want to do it? Programming?" she said. Her voice grew darker.
I stopped for a moment. I wasn't sure how to answer that question. The idea of wether or not I am doing what I am doing now never occurred to me. I never really thought about it. A lot of times I just didn't know and I simply went with the flow.
Realizing that I wasn't sure about what to say, Mai walked past me with a 'hmph'. Startled I turned to look after her. Why was she mad at me? Was it because I couldn't fully answer her question? Was it because I couldn't show that I had the will to do what I wanted to do?
I shook my head. She was such a childish girl. I now understood Mai better, even if it was just a little bit.
I went inside to prepare lunch. About an forty minutes later the three of us sat down together at the table as one little family. Eating was tricky at first. Since Mai couldn't use her arms to eat without help, we had to work out a system. Either grandpa or I would spoon feed her like a little baby. While she protested and found it humiliating at first, after a few meals it became natural. And after a few weeks I would be the one spoon feeding her full-time whenever I was around the house during mealtime. While grandpa was strong, I couldn't possibly let him feed Mai while I sat there eating.
On Monday I went back to work and another passed before I had a proper conversation with Mai again. I was sitting in my room, playing a game on my laptop when I heard someone kick against my door. I smiled. Grandpa never did this.
"I have a favor to ask of you," Mai said when I opened the door.
I nodded for her to continue. Mai then asked me if I knew how to sew. Surprised, I said I knew how. A few years ago, when I was still living with my parents, my mother taught me how to sew together rips in my pants and shirts. We weren't poor, but mother always told me that "old and broken things have value too."
"Can you add some extra cloth to my pajama sleeves?" she asked.
Confused, I wasn't sure about what to say. Her sleeves looked fine, and her pajamas were only a few weeks old with two more of the same kind in the closet as backups. Why would she want to extend her sleeves?
"My sleeves are alright," Mai explained. "But I just want to have longer sleeves that can cover up the casts."
"Why would you want that?" I asked.
"Are you going to help me or not? Or I'll just ask one of my friend to do it," she said with a scowl.
"A-alright, I'll do it," I stammered.
I didn't understand this girl. She didn't show any grief, she asked me sharp questions, and now she wants to extend the length of her sleeves. I really didn't understand her.
"Thank you," she nodded.
Without another word, she turned and walked out of my room. It was the first time I had heard her thank me.