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“And………..3, 2, 1…begin!” Time started to flow.
Sabrina Kim scanned the first question. Her chocolate-colored eyes reflected the numbers and symbols that blurred and merged together to become black dots splattered on the paper. The first page stared back at her. She took a deep breath before putting pencil to paper, and the dirty graphite was imprinted on the crisp white surface. Her breathing started to mirror her mind, and fears so carefully hidden in the shadows cast by sharp precipices filtered through. She cleared her mind lest she slip from the edge and sink under the placid surface of the lake, filled with the monsters of her childhood.
Sabrina glanced at the desk next to her. Celine, her best friend, had flipped to the next page. Warm and supportive was how everyone described Celine’s parents, but Sabrina never chimed in, her mother’s voice making her head ache. She pulled her black leather jacket closer to her slender frame in the chilly high school classroom lit by fluorescent lights, the door a footstep away from where she was seated.
Sabrina strained to catch the shadows crouching in the corner between the wall and the door, moving and shifting as [they] pleased, some creating darker patches where there should’ve been none. She had always been able to see imaginary shapes that nobody else could, well defined, noisy three-dimensional creatures in her mind that rested on the boundary between imagination and reality. They came to her whenever she was eating, sleeping, and doing schoolwork. They became a normal fact of her existence, always threatening to intrude into her thoughts. She closed her eyes to suppress them like her emotions, but it never worked.
She wasn’t normal, after all. Everything she did was to avoid falling into the precipice of her own doing.
Seconds became minutes, and minutes became an hour. All Sabrina heard was the meticulous ticking of the clock behind her, keeping her mind anchored to the present. The intense scribbling of the students around her filled the air. There was nothing written on her own paper, and her stomach tightened as she flipped to the next page. She knew for a fact that they yearned to score a perfect 25 on this math contest to type yet another line on their photoshopped resume to attend the college of their choice, or the college of their parent’s choice. She felt like a cat among a pack of loyal dogs whose goal was to gain that single word of affirmation from their owners, independent and uncaring of the invisible, competitive tension that seemed to always wedge itself between her classmates.
Celine walked with Sabrina out of the school, her athletic strides getting wider and wider. She was an elegant cheetah, cunning in her approach and breathtakingly beautiful in her coat. Celine’s long, sleek black hair flew strand after strand. Her shiny white tennis shoes created new footprints in the dirty, receding snow that sported the first breaths of spring.
Celine was better than her in all aspects. Everything was her own fault after all, and life was a struggle against her own mind. It was always like this, and it always will be. Empty and worthless, day by day.
The only people in the school courtyard were from the classroom, faces red and scratchy in the bitter wintry air, breath mixing to create tendrils of fog. They huddled close together as they discussed their answers and tricks from the test. Loud whoops of relief and cries of disbelief erupted as each answer was revealed. She stood apart from them, silently observing the pack, a lone animal in the corner.There was a disconnect in space and mind. She had grown and fell with these people among the same Asian culture and community, but she was an outcast, a wandering deer caught in highlights expected to walk on the straight, well-beaten path like her ancestors. She could hear their whispers even now.
Sabrina made the long trek home to Koreatown, situated in the midst of Manhattan, New York City, the city that never sleeps. She passed busy, crowded spas, fried chicken joints, and bookstores of different levels sporting flashing, neon lights, snippets of idle conversation floating to her in bits and pieces. The community ajhummas were congregated in groups of three or four, squatting on the crooked steps in front like always to get the latest news on who was getting married, who had gotten together recently, and who they predicted would make a name for themselves in the near future. The shadows lengthened as the day waned and chilled, her hallucinations blending with them as they trailed those around her. It was an outline of their figures, all of them seemingly looking at her.
“Do you guys think Sabrina did well on the competition like her friends?”
“Ya, I’m sure she got at least 15 questions, right?”
“I’m not sure. She’s always been...”
Their voices faded into background noise.
Sabrina stopped, the moon leading to her home. It was a peaceful facade of winter’s quiet, but her thoughts were too loud to notice the scene, only noticing the outline of a silhouette. Her mother stood in her usual place near the stairs since she joined the heavens, faceless to the eyes. She was another shadow among the whispers in the air and mind, for Sabrina was her thoughts, and they were her very being, her only jaded companions in the battle for life’s breath.