Chapter 3:

His Perfect Mask

Second Chances

"Shin.”Bookmark here

“Just one more minute.”Bookmark here

“Shin, wake up.”Bookmark here

“One more minute.”Bookmark here

“MR. SHIN!”Bookmark here

I woke up from my table, only to find everyone in the lecture hall staring at me.Bookmark here

Hideki who sat beside me is turning his face away from me, covering half of it with his hand, acting as if he doesn’t know me.Bookmark here

Our lecturer is now staring at me, mad. No one is presenting now, which means that it’s my turn since we are the last group.Bookmark here

“MR. SHIN, are you ready to present now? Or do we have to wait for another five minutes?” our lecturer said.Bookmark here

I stood up and bowed at him. “I’m sorry, sir. We are ready to present now.”Bookmark here

He took a deep, long breath, loud enough for the rest of us to hear it. “Very well, you might come to this podium and start your presentation, along with MR. HIDEKI.”Bookmark here

I only noticed now that Hideki is actually laughing, while trying to hide it from me. I elbowed him to stop, but he continued to stifle his laugh with his palm.Bookmark here

“Oi Hideki. Let’s go,” I said.Bookmark here

He didn’t reply me but only gave me a thumbs up with his other hand.Bookmark here

We then walked an awkward and silent path to the podium in front of the presentation slide. None of the others were saying anything, just some were quietly chuckling at us.Bookmark here

Ah, the embarrassment.Bookmark here

This is going to be recorded as my first ‘top embarrassing moments’ in my university’s life. I might not be able to form a team with anyone other than Hideki again. Unless I change my study course, or I wear a disguise for the next four years.Bookmark here

I sighed.Bookmark here

After what felt like an eternity, we made it to the podium.Bookmark here

I plugged my USB into the laptop attached to the projector, then I opened the slides Hideki and I had prepared.Bookmark here

Hideki whispered to me, “What was our topic again?”Bookmark here

I frowned at him, and replied with a low voice, “Seriously Hideki? You prepared half of these slides!”Bookmark here

“So, what was it again?”Bookmark here

“MR SHIN and MR HIDEKI, are the both of you ready to shock us all with your presentation, just like you did with your test scores?”Bookmark here

I cleared my throat. “Sorry about that, we’re ready, sir.”Bookmark here

“You may start now,” he readied his pen as he sat in one of the empty seats in our hall.Bookmark here

I cleared my throat again. “A very good morning to everyone present, including our lovely teacher, Mr. Mori. I’m Shin, and this is my partner Hideki. For today’s mythology class, we will be presenting ‘God of Death—The Grim Reaper’.”Bookmark here

I clicked on the slides, showing our topic in capitalized words. “Now, God of Death, or known as Shinigami in Japanese culture, is a demon that could possess a human, any human, and plant these suicidal thoughts on them. In other folklore, Grim Reapers are also known to devour one’s spirit, lead them astray, filling them with evil intentions, as to create a society with people that fears one another, leading to betrayal, and eventually death.”Bookmark here

Hideki suddenly clicked on the next slide, then a wave of “wooo” followed.Bookmark here

He grabbed over my mic. “However, what we are discussing today is not how omnipotent, or how destructible the power of Grim Reapers are. No. Today we are going to discuss how you could, and you should defy your fate, if it leads you straight to Shinigami.”Bookmark here

I clicked on the next slide, taking my mic back. “No. Ignore my silly partner. Let’s continue. Shinigami, is the God of Death in Japanese culture; while in Western culture, they are known as the Grim Reaper. In certain eras, a Shinigami is said to have the ability to possess people, leading them to mountains, seas, and railroads, making them die there. Now this gets creepy, as if there is nobody to die there next, the dead can never ascend, and it was even said that people who were alive would be invited by the dead to come next.”Bookmark here

“Booo boo,” Hideki mockingly said as he clicked on the next slide, grabbing my mic again. Some of the crowds start to laugh. Noticing this, Mr. Mori ticked something on his paper.Bookmark here

“Everyone,” Hideki raised his hands and called out. “What if I tell you that Grim Reaper is but a mere puppet of fate and destiny itself. What if I say that Reaper himself is subjected to the flow of time and an eventual destiny of death as well? Wouldn’t it be interesting to know that the God of Death himself cannot live forever too?”Bookmark here

Some of our course-mates started to grin at us, likely anticipating where Hideki would lead us with his idea. “The truth is that mythology is nothing but the study of myths. We study the “might have” of tales and cultures, good and evil, judging whether they exist or not, evaluating how they are accepted by society at those times.”Bookmark here

“But Hideki—” I said.Bookmark here

“AND YET!” Hideki continued, as he clicked on the next slide. “We never once reflect on ourselves. On our actions, on our cultures, and the reason that our culture differs that much from them in the past. Grim Reapers are scary, not because that these beings actually exist, but that their actions might have happened even without them being present. There is a reason why society is divided, judged on good and evil. And definitely, it is not because of the presence of Grim Reapers or fate itself.”Bookmark here

“Ohhh? Are you saying that, Hideki, it is our one choice at different times that decide which side we are on, rather than hopping into the boat that flows on the river of fate?”Bookmark here

“Yes, Shin. That is oddly specific, but that is what I’m saying. When there’s a cat in front of you that’s about to be hit by a car, there are two choices for us: stand by and do nothing, or rush out and save the cat. It is in these decisive moments where we either tend to overthink or not, and as such, our actions at these times define who we are.”Bookmark here

Hideki slapped the podium to reaffirm their attention. “PEOPLE!”Bookmark here

“People, they once compared plague or diseases to the birth of the Grim Reaper. But this is not true. No no no. If people had learnt more about medicine, vaccines, how to protect themselves from being infected by diseases, or how to get clean water, food resources, the plague wouldn’t have taken so many precious lives.”Bookmark here

“But that’s impossible,” I said.Bookmark here

“NO!” I shouted, without the mic. “That’d mean that all this time, we were blaming the illness and diseases on the concept of Grim Reaper, when we can change our destiny by ourselves, and even evade death awaiting us! That’s just not right!”Bookmark here

Mr. Mori wrote something down in his notes, and ticked something again.Bookmark here

“Yes! Young Shin gets this! The Grim Reaper was but a mere concept of death that we create, and some needed to believe in. We are not here to prove that there is no such thing, but we are only for one reason.”Bookmark here

Hideki then approached one of the girls in the front row of the lecture hall. I believe she’s Sakura, the girl with the largest racks in our class. He opened his mouth again, as his eyes locked on Sakura, “That you can walk your own path, make your own destiny, even if Grim Reaper is out to get you. Be not afraid of moving forward my dear, be only afraid of standing still.”Bookmark here

Sakura covered her mouth in shock, like Hideki’s just confessed to her.Bookmark here

The crowds started to clap.Bookmark here

He winked at Sakura. The girls beside her started to yell softly, as they grabbed Sakura and shook her by her arms.Bookmark here

I chuckled, as I joined them in clapping.Bookmark here

Hideki then walked back to the podium, and with him by my side, we bowed to our class.Bookmark here

Mr. Mori coughed.Bookmark here

Our class fell into deep silence.Bookmark here

“…79, Mr. Shin and Mr. Hideki. The contrast is not bad, but next time, maybe try showing something else on your slides other than just a few pictures.”Bookmark here

“Understood, sir,” I said as I high-fived with Hideki.Bookmark here

Mr. Mori then looked at his watch. “Alright, that’s enough for today, class dismissed. Go on.”Bookmark here

I ejected my USB, and was already on my way out of the lecture hall alongside Hideki. Hideki smiled and waved at Sakura, as we went our separate ways for our next lecture.Bookmark here

Hideki has always been the energetic, cheerful type. I didn’t know him until the first day of my university orientation, which was one year ago. I was taking forms at the entrance of our assembly hall, when he approached me and asked for my pen.Bookmark here

Of course. I respectfully declined.Bookmark here

He has short, grayish hair, and a pair of bright eyes accompanied with a genuine smile. He kept elbowing me that day, and eventually, he just took my pen away from me. Then he offered to sit beside me for our first lecture, having not known anyone in the class.Bookmark here

“You can call me Hideki,” he said. “I like girl with big racks.”Bookmark here

Not going to lie, but I choked on my water when he introduced himself. I don’t know if he purposely did it or what, but there’s something about the sincerity in his words that I doubt he’s a playboy. He’s more to the open-type that just goes along with his ideas, and takes action without giving it too much thought. He likes to make things fair, by just stating his preferences out loud, not hiding any of his thoughts.Bookmark here

Some said he is reckless, as he once jumped into our university’s swimming pool because he felt hot. Some said he is stupid, as sometimes when our professors were shouting at one of our course mates, he would just shout back and reason with them. Some said he is fake, as he never shows us any reaction other than his smiles.Bookmark here

I disagreed with them. At least, when they said he was fake.Bookmark here

Hideki cared about what people thought of him, more than anyone. The reason he’s never torn his smiles away is because he thinks that it’s his role to do so. It is because he acts this way that he can choose to do what he wants to do. Against all odds. Even when others would ostracize him sometimes.Bookmark here

He wanted to make people feel comfortable and can rely on him, whenever they face difficulties. He can decipher emotions from people’s faces better than anyone I know, which made him more impenetrable than anyone. Stronger, than anyone.Bookmark here

So, I think that’s why he has this self-assurance and self-denial stage all mixed together. He wanted himself to be a friend that’s irreplaceable, but at the same time, he believes that he doesn’t have the ability to do so. So, he tried hard.Bookmark here

That day, during our lunch, he suddenly got a bit emotional and told me a story.
Bookmark here

A story about a heroic boy that was flawless.
Bookmark here

A prince, he called him.
Bookmark here

The prince came from a wealthy family, had good looks, good grades, and a good figure. The prince made friends with everyone he’s ever met, adored by most teachers, and was nominated the role model many times. The prince’s charming personality attracted many and took him further than he could ever imagined. The prince was at the top of the social hierarchy in his school.Bookmark here

Until one day, one of the prince’s classmates stopped coming to school. The prince asked his friends about it, asked his teacher about it, but they all feigned ignorance, saying he shouldn’t worry about the girl who dropped out. The very same girl that he got along to, better than anyone. The very same girl that attracted the boy with her racks. The girl, which encouraged him in the dark for his every success, and the one he could talk to whenever he’s feeling pressured or down.Bookmark here

The common girl, that he can put his mask down whenever they are together.Bookmark here

But that day, the prince realized something.Bookmark here

The girl was always listening. The prince didn’t even know what her reaction was, he just kept talking. On and on, without asking her a single question. Without actually learning, knowing about her life. Her social life. Her family life. These thoughts never crossed the prince’s minds.Bookmark here

Not until he stood in front of the girl’s house.Bookmark here

The house was sold. The prince later found out from the neighbors that the girl’s parents were suffering financially, so the whole family had to move back to their hometown. The girl left, without being able to properly say goodbye to the boy, without being able to say where she went. Because the prince never cared about her.Bookmark here

priankBookmark here

The prince’s heart broke that day. And his perfect mask had a crack, which he could never fix again.Bookmark here

“Shin? Hey Shin, are you listening?”Bookmark here

I snapped back to reality. “Yeah, what?”Bookmark here

“Sakura finally gave me her number,” he said, showing off his palm to me, with a set of phone numbers on it.Bookmark here

“Oh… good,” I said. “Good for you.”Bookmark here

He smacked my back. “Aren’t you being a bit cold to me now? I've worked hard for this, Shin.”Bookmark here

He whispered to my ear, “For those racks.”Bookmark here

I pushed him away. “Ugh, now I have to wash my ears.”Bookmark here

But he then wrapped his right arm around me. “So how's it going with her?”Bookmark here

“Her?”Bookmark here

“Oh, you know… Chiaki.”Bookmark here

“I—We’re fine,” I said. “Nothing much is going on between us. I just decided to confess to her this coming Sunday. After the countdown, under the fireworks. Maybe I’ll buy her a necklace with a sunflower on it.”Bookmark here

He stopped walking, and he stared blankly at me.Bookmark here

“Shin… SHINNN!” he shouted, and then he started to rub his face on my sleeve.Bookmark here

“I’m so proud of you,” he said.Bookmark here

“For?”Bookmark here

He paused at me. “For going along with me for that presentation, of course. I knew you’d always have my back.”Bookmark here

I was stunned at his words, as he continued walking.Bookmark here

“And you’re finally confessing as well, that’s two great pieces of news at once! We should celebrate these; lunch is on me. We’ll have the most expensive lunch sets in the cafeteria!”Bookmark here

He doubled back. “Shin?”Bookmark here

I’d always have his back… right. He said this before.Bookmark here

“You’re looking gloomy all of a sudden, is there anything wrong?”Bookmark here

“No… just tired,” I looked at him. “Of you.”Bookmark here

He paused for a while, before smiling at me. “Everyone, run! The negative Shin has emerged. There’s no saving him now, run for your lives!”Bookmark here

He started to shake the shoulder of every student that walked past us. “The Moody Shin is upon ussss!”Bookmark here

“Get off me!” one of the students pushed him back.Bookmark here

I chuckled, before bursting into laughter.Bookmark here

“Now are you feeling better?” he asked.Bookmark here

“Yes… thanks.”Bookmark here

“You know,” he wrapped his arm around me again. “I have your back too. So, if you want to talk about something, I’m always available.”Bookmark here

“Thanks,” I said again, with a lower voice.Bookmark here

“Don’t worry, Chiaki’s weren’t big enough for me to steal her from you,” he whispered.Bookmark here

I pushed him away, as he ran from me, laughing like an old man who has managed to trick a villager into buying a stone.Bookmark here

I smiled.Bookmark here

This time, I will save him.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.