A plump dark-haired woman busily disarranged a bouquet of white roses, gardenias and violets in a slim blue vase, annoyingly unsatisfied with any way she put them. Each time she slipped the fresh stalks in, she would hastily grab them out.
She wore a faded brown cardigan too spacious for her and a messy ponytail. When I looked down to her toes, I saw flat black sandals taut around two veined feet. I could see why the flowers had suffered such ill attempts to beauty. After a moment of utter frustration, she surrendered and haphazardly stacked the stalks into the narrow hole. At last, they could have some peace.
She turned and saw me awake, immobile in a spotless white hospital gown on a spotless white bed. For a split second, I glimpsed a streak of relief and joy flash in her black eyes. But the spark instantly burst into an ugly rage. Her right hand sliced the air and landed squarely on my unsuspecting cheeks.
Did this woman just slap me? This stranger has just assaulted me!
Strange though, the pain was vaguely familiar like I had known such a cruel injustice for a long time. My mouth gaping, I propped myself up. AWWW!
Fatigue and soreness surged through my body like a tsunami with no warning. My muscles stiffened and limped. I feared my bones had softened. I collapsed helplessly on the mattress. How many years exactly have I lain here?
“Don’t push yourself, you moron! Lie still,” she barked.
A moron? How the hell could she call me that?
I tried to fire back but only a strident snarl came out. She poured me a glass of water from a pitcher next to the vase of besmirched flowers. She shoved the glass against my chest. “Here, drink this.”
If this was poison, I might know later. But I drank it nonetheless.
When I regained my voice, I asked, “Uhm, who are you?” It sounded like a whisper but I figured she heard because her jaw dropped. She was shocked. I was puzzled.
Her brows furrowed, “Don’t you kid me, bastard.”
Now I am a bastard too. “I’m serious.”
A shade of horror fell on her freckled face. “What are you saying Wilson?”
The name lit up clouded memories and pain in my head. “Who’s Wilson?”
“Of course you’re Wilson. Stop this right now!” The tears she’d been holding back gushed free.
That’s ridiculous. Of course I knew my name. “No, I’m Francis.”
The color escaped her skin. The name hit her like a bombshell. “I’ll call the doctor.”
She was my mother. And I had amnesia. At least, that’s what the doctor said. But a person with amnesia only forgets. But I, I remembered things. I knew my name. I knew my school. I knew what my house looked like. My real house, not the messy little bungalow for the demented. I knew I was Francis, not Wilson. But all the pictures and the things about me told me I was the latter. Then who was Francis? They wouldn’t tell me.
Two weeks had passed since my release from the hospital. And in my stay, not one soul except my mother visited me. So I thought I had no friends. So who could these addicts in school uniforms be?
The classroom was huge. Yet enveloped by these nosy assholes, I felt it shrink in my face.
“You don’t remember us?” Said the porcupine. He had blond spikes for hair that stood like he was always horrified. But he was horrifying. He had yellowed teeth and a breath of cigar smoke.
I stiffly answered. “No. I really don’t.”
“We’re your buddies, bro,” croaked the tree frog. He had wide bulging eyes that his sockets barely restrained. Beneath the sleeve of his polo, I could see a skull tattoo. He couldn’t be a buddy of mine.
“Have you got amnesia?” exclaimed the last of them, the tiger. Dark orange hair. Strong jaws. Robust build. Fierce grey eyes. Who the hell are they?
“Yeah. I have amnesia. I’ve forgotten a lot.” That’s all it took to silence the animals. But after a moment, an evil grin drew across their snouts.
The tiger growled, “Well then, we’ll make you remember.”
Throughout the day, I could see this girl weirdly gazing at me. I guessed she could be someone I knew too. But she didn’t accost me until the dismissal of our last class in Mechanical Engineering.
Up-close, I saw she had sincere blue eyes, cascading brown hair, cream skin, and a stunning figure. So, I might had had one decent friend at least.
She spoke in a voice that I ought to have loved before because it made me want to hear it more. “Wil, I heard from your mom you have amnesia.”
She’s close to my mom. I thought that a good thing.
“Yes. And you are?”
She blushed. “It feels awkward to reintroduce myself you know. When you’ve known me for four years. Anyway, I’m Gwen.”
“Gwen.” The name squeezed out a few images. And they became vivid in her presence. The smiles in those memories, the vibrancy were all repainted by her meek grin. And the notes and melodies in them were all plucked into music once again by her voice. It was painful but it was bliss. Yet, something was still amiss. In those moments that searingly flickered to my reminiscence, it was not just the two of us. There was another face.
She said, “Anyway those three assholes this morning, they’re telling the truth. They’re your friends. Don’t worry.”
I was more scared than surprised. “They are?”
She mumbled gently, her cheeks reddened, “You know, you’re more like him now. I can almost see him in you.”
“I’m more like who?”
Mr. Joeffrey Gil was far left back in the old days. He had this wavy mustache and well-combed goatee. He was a man of terror but those facial hairs made him look like a joke.
Boasting his full six-feet and two-inch height, he loomed over me and groaned, “In your current state, you have to review for two years to take the remedial and special exams. You’ve missed a lot Mr. Hurthon and now you’ve forgotten everything.” He coughed, “Anyway, even without amnesia, you won’t remember a thing.” He snickered.
I loathed him right there and I could bet my life I had wanted to murder him once before.
I’d stab him in a different way. “I’ll take them all tomorrow.”
He snapped to his strict posture. “Tomorrow? You’re committing suicide?”
“Well it seems that I am.”
His lips arched to a silly devilish grin. “Tomorrow it is then.”
Someone was texting me, maybe one of my animal friends. His phonebook name was Fart-thing. “The abandoned house off Green Street. 12 midnight.”
I didn’t know any abandoned house in Green Street and even if I did, I won’t go there. I needed to read eight books this evening for tomorrow so I turned off my phone and started to flip my book open. Then my mom stepped in.
“Wil, I thought you might want to have this. You were holding it after the accident.” She said as she unfolded her palm to reveal a ring, its silver surface glinting. Upon giving me that, she left bearing hope I might remember something. But then she came back, displaying an astonished look in her face. She mused, “You’re studying?”
“Well, I’m hungry and I’m just dining on these books, if that’s what it seems.”
“Studying on your own?”
“Come on, Mom. Is there anybody with me besides you? It’s not like you can do engineering.”
“No, it’s just – Never mind.” She left. It didn’t seem like she knew me after all.
I scrutinized the ring. On the inner surface, it was etched in flowing letters: We are One.
I didn’t have much time to waste to give it much thought. I flipped my book open and saw a pitiful sight. What a mess! This isn’t even writing anymore. Mysteriously, as I turn more pages, another handwriting appeared. More legible and not crooked. It was more like mine.
“YOU CHEATED YOU SCUMBAG OF AN IDIOT!” Mr. Gil yelled at me, his voice booming about the faculty office where many professors watched eagerly. He went on, “I’ll see to it you get expelled.”
I couldn’t hold it in anymore. “You were there, Sir.” Guarding like a filthy vulture waiting for meat to scavenge. “If I have cheated, you would have noticed.”
“Your scores in my last exams are mostly zeroes. Your highest score is half the passing. Then you suddenly perfect all your tests with a review of one night!”
“With all due respect Sir, next time find more difficult questions so that I would need what I reviewed on. If I hadn’t read those books, I would still have perfected them.” I went for the door and slammed it in their stunned faces.
Now, I’d stabbed him. Deep.
The miracle spread by word of gaping mouths. I suddenly became the most popular guy in school. Many came to see me, asking what cheating tricks I used to pull it off. If using stock knowledge to perfect exams is cheating, then let it be.
But what terrible scores I had had before. Zeroes? Seriously? Was I that bad at it? Well I think amnesia changes a lot.
Gwen came to see me too. She congratulated me with a kiss on the cheek that my mom kept on hitting. Then she shook my hand and I saw it. The silver ring.
Why did she have the other? And why was the other with me? I couldn’t gain the courage to ask her.
Opportunities came along. I became a quizzer for the college and I always brought them the highest prize. Every club wanted me in. I refused half of them. With my schedules tight and crowded, I still found time to read. Then my fourth-year theoretical explorations was featured in an international journal. It was about a nearly ideal energy-generating device that used magnetic suspension and concepts that not even my professors could understand.
I did not go as far as special relativity, it had suffered enough vandalism. I won’t put my name on such a field that almost every physicist had explored. However my career reached its pinnacle when my face made it to the Times, naming me as The Most Intelligent Man on earth.
Soon enough, Harvard came for me. They offered a course that’d get me into working at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland in three years. It meant I won’t come to my fifth year with my classmates, with Gwen. I’d have to leave them behind.
It was the night after the graduation day. My three forest friends came up to me and Craig Furtein, the tiger, said, “You still don’t remember us?”
The frog, Henry Harrison, walked up to me, holding a handkerchief. “We told your mom we’re having fun for a while.” He thrust the cloth to my mouth and heavy sleep overwhelmed me.
I felt like I had slept through another coma when I found myself in a dingy dimly lit mansion. My body felt so heavy I could not stand. Squinting through my eyelids that weighed like tons, I could barely make out the shadows that moved around me, their voices fading in the incessant ringing in my ears. I could hear people yelling, an erratic siren of an approaching ambulance and the whispering of my own voice.
A man lay splayed next to me, bathing in a pool of blood.
Then someone stirred me awake. “Wil.”
It was the porcupine, Dan. “You’re finally awake.”
It was already the break of dawn. I demanded, “Why did you bring me here? I’m off to Cambridge this afternoon. I have to go home.”
“It’s that stupid scholarship!” Craig growled.
“This is kidnapping. It’s a cruel way to treat a friend.”
Craig said, “You almost sound like him.”
“Do you know who I am?”
Henry replied, “You have amnesia, we don’t.”
“I am the most intelligent man on this planet.”
They stared blankly at me. I won’t talk to them ever again.
Dan looked encouraging but with the indelible look of menace in his eyes. “It’ll take only a while. Let’s do it.”
He passed me an orange shabby basketball. “It’s two on two.”
“Look I don’t play ball.”
Henry chuckled, “It was Francis who didn’t play ball.”
I had to admit the curved edge of the sphere fitted my palms so perfectly as if they were molded to hold it. A tinge of desire welled within me. One heavy sigh and the trembling in my knees yielded to comfort and confidence.
As I played, everything was instinct. The dribble, the pass and the shots. My feet had their own minds. Why have I forgotten so much?
Toweling ourselves in the basketball court in the yard of the deserted house, Craig looked unlike himself. He sat so pensive, deep in his thoughts.
He spoke, “You’re gonna regret it.”
All three pairs of eyes were suddenly on me. “It’s my future.”
Henry said, “We don’t know how you turned into a freaking genius but you won’t be happy there.”
“I’ll be happy there and I want to go there.” I stressed.
Craig shrugged, “You don’t even know what makes you happy anymore. You’ve forgotten everything.”
“Then tell me, who is Francis? Is he dead?”
Dread surfaced in me. They nodded. Craig explained, “We’re your lifelong buddies. He was your college best friend.”
A throbbing pain shot through my skull. The images that flashed were clear as daylight. I have killed my best friend.
Francis had calm blue eyes, dark silk tufts, and a smile that could put entropy at ease. His voice floated, “Hi, I’ll be your tutor. I’ll help you.”
They were at the library. “This is Gwen, my girlfriend. You must have met in class.”
The motorcycle ride. “The light’s green! WAIT!”
“Wow, that was dangerously awesome.”
He was scanning his books. “What a mess! This isn’t even writing anymore.”
Francis was with Gwen, their hands fastened inseparably. And I was trying to blink away my thoughts but still they materialized. If Francis was not here, will I have a chance with her?
Then the rings. He was saying to me, “What do you think? Are they good enough?”
Then the accident. “Hold it slow. We still have to graduate.”
I shouted, my voice lost in the winds, “IT’S FINE!”
“Wil, we’re going too fast!”
A truck whizzed from a corner. Then it was pitch black.
I woke up dazed, my body sprawled on the pavement. I suffered bruises and a few fractures. A couple of feet away, Francis lay maimed and bloody. A pool of red spread rapidly around him. His breathing was labored. He was still alive, but barely.
I forced a few words out, “You have to live. You cannot die.” My only thoughts were I should be in his place. I ought to have met this fate alone.
When I snapped out of my recollection, I only found more reason to leave.
The baggage was ready. It was time to part with my past and live out an entirely different future. But I went to gaze upon the violated pages of my books for a last time. My handwriting was once a mess. How humiliating. Francis, how did I become you? How did I even surpass you? My will ought to have been so determined.
I reached for another book and toppled a pile. A few books dropped to the floor. Then as if summoned, the silver ring rolled towards me, its sound so eerily familiar. Another fragment of my lost memories seeped into my consciousness.
It was the night of the accident. Francis lay helplessly but he managed to speak against all that pain raking his body, “I know what you feel for her. Promise me you’ll take care of her.” He gruelingly slipped the ring from his finger and rolled it towards me. “Please…” Then his eyes shut with a smooth finality.
I ran as fast as I could. And then she was there, sitting in solitude in the silence of the city library. It was their favorite spot.
She looked up curiously. “You’re off to Harvard. Have you forgotten something?”
I did. A lot. I panted, “No. I remembered something.”
She looked perplexed. I reached into my pocket and showed the ring to her. “I have a promise to fulfill.”
She didn’t speak.
“You see I was the worst idiot. My life is laid in front of me and I was too blind to see it.”
She found her voice, “What do you mean? How about your dreams?”
“I’ve hurt you more than you could feel,” I said, “You see, you are my dream. Although my mind forgot, my heart remembered.”
I slipped the ring into my fingers and held her hand, “Now I’ll take care of you.”