Chapter 21:

Discovering Myself (END)

Gifted Education Project (GEP)

“Last day?”

I decided to confront the matter faithfully. Yes, she’d just made a hole in my chest, and yes, I understood that painkillers weren’t supposed to work this fast. Of course, I also understood what she was trying to say behind her camoflauge of euphemisms and bad lies, and I was still reeling from the ringing ears and the static from yelling at her, but something in her voice was so weak it didn’t feel like Erica at all.

Not that anything about her felt like Erica.

Erica was proper, proud, and perfect.

This Erica was dishevelled and distraught.

Not that dishevelled and distraught felt like Park Jiwoo either.

Maybe “dark and mysterious”.

Maybe “someone I feel like I should know already”.


Not that I understood what Park Jiwoo was supposed to be.

To me, I mean.

“Yes,” she said after a long bout of silence. “This is my last day.”



“Why suicide?”

“It’s a long story.”

“You’re not going to tell me?”

“Well, considering how angry you got when I tried explaining things earlier, no.”

“But that was in the past,” I protested.

“…That was five minutes ago.”

“So in the past,” I said. “Hey, take off these restraints already, would you? The kidnapper BDSM isn’t doing it for me anymore.”


Her grip on the towel loosened. That much I could still feel.

I thought that was a precursor to getting slapped, or stepped on by her bare feet, or maybe even yelled at and called names if I was lucky enough… er, I mean unlucky— but all she did was sit there, lesbian and unmoving and expressionless. Maybe this was her idea of silent treatment. If it was, then fine — but I wish she’d make it more explicit that this was her idea of punishing me. Like by pinching my nips. My nippy nip nips.

Make me feel something.

But sadly, there’s only so much delusion a man can harbour before the stimuli overflows again. Because even if I want to look at everything that’s grim and make it comedic, which in this fleeting moment is easier because I’m high on whatever she mixed into the painkillers and I can finally see her again, there’s still a hole in my chest, there’s still the exams, and she’s frowning.

The truth is, I was very afraid.

“Why… do you do that?” she asked me.

“Do what?”

“Why do you keep pretending like nothing’s wrong?”

“You should look at the person you’re talking to during a conversation. It’s basic courtesy.”

The idea that someone like Erica could cry scared me.

Don’t turn away from me.

I want to see your face.

“It’s also basic courtesy not to chain someone, so go on. Take off my restraints.”


“I would appreciate it if you took off my restraints.”


“Please take off my restraints?”


“Prithee, taketh off mine ropes!”


“Wagwan fam, ya better take off man’s chains.”

“What the fuck..?”

“Pwease twake off mwy westwain—”



She turned around and gave me a tight slap. Mission success. One can never run away from their womanly instincts to slap a dumbass, not even someone who knows about the dumbass’s masochistic preferences. Unfortunately, I couldn’t feel my face, so the pleasure was all feigned.


“Stop saying brainless things half the time and threatening to kill people the other half! Can’t you just be normal?”

Erica was heaving now, and she had an expression of genuine exasperation I’d never seen before on anyone. No tears yet, but only barely. Her face was as pale as snow, and her voice wavered like a child exposed to their first winter.

“Speak for yourself, suicidal teen.”

“I’m going to stab you again, doggy.”

“The doggy renaissance!”

“Are you incapable of taking things seriously without getting murderously angry?”


“You have issues,” she sighed. Her hand was resting on her forehead now. As I watched Erica move her hair away, over and over, I idly wondered what the world record for weight loss in 72 hours was.

Also, of course I had issues. Firstly, she wasn’t letting me move. Secondly, I was overdosed on painkillers. Thirdly, I needed an MRI. Fourthly, I could hear her sniffling. Fifthly, sharing rooms wasn’t allowed. Sixthly, you could get expelled for that. Seventhly, I like girls with long hair. Eighthly, a woman has never been charged with rape before in Singapore. Ninthly, since self-expulsion and suicide seemed to be synonymous, Erica practically murdered me by bringing me here. Tenthly, there was a hole in my chest.

Lastly, I kind of wanted to hug Erica, to tell her everything was alright, to let her fill up this void in my memories.

The hospital.

Ask her about the hospital.


She winced at the sound of my voice.

“…Call me by my name,” she said.

“I just did.”


“Can I ask you something? I promise not to get mad.”

“Do your promises mean anything?”

My antics were evidently working, since she was tilting her head in response to me now. All I needed at this point were some slow blinks from those amethyst beauties of hers and I’d be able to diagnose her with cat. Mrrow.

The only problem was that her eyes were glistened over by this point.

“I won’t get mad. If I get mad, you can kill me.”

“You don’t actually mean that.”

“Not really. If I get mad because of what I’m about to ask, then I realise I’m better off dead.”



“...I don’t know if I’ll be able to do that.”

She pursed her lips awkwardly. Probably a reflex from telling yet another dumb lie. Come on now, you dumb bitch. You literally just stabbed me moments ago.

“I mean, it’s okay. I’m not going to get mad.”

Then again, I didn’t blame her. Emotions were complicated. They’re the same things that delude you into thinking you’re chasing something of your own volition, when in reality, you’re chasing something that only mattered to a past you.

I was desperate for those memories. I thought they’d give me purpose to keep going on in a place which I’d known from the start was a dystopian hell, not a wonderland. To find out what the names meant: who Chong Huiling was, why Park Jiwoo was on the exam results, how the words hospital and Shelly kept repeating in my mind like a mantra as if past me knew this would happen and forcefully turned it into a habit. If it was even possible to forget something as significant as taking a scholarship when I couldn’t even forget the things I wanted to, when I absorbed trauma and gore and prejudices so readily and never let go. But once I stopped to think about it for a moment, with the help of drugs and restraints and a drained Erica in front of me, I realised I was doing the exact same things society mandated which made life so meaningless.

Education is a cancer that takes away 20-plus years of your life before you get to live the “real thing”. Since I believed that, which was the reason I immediately understood something was gravely wrong when I woke up on “government scholarship”, chasing my past would be stage four of it. People go through their entire lives chasing their past, not just twenty years, never truly living because of it.

No matter what Erica told me, it wouldn’t matter. If she told me Chong Huiling is my mother. That Shelly was my sister. That she was at the hospital to do something sinister to my mother. That the rumour Giselle was talking about was true. That Bryan and Marie had to do similar things to get a recommendation. That I had to do a similar thing. That I was kidnapped. That I came here by choice. That we were all going to die here. That she felt guilty for what she did to me, so she wanted to kill herself.

That I should hate Erica Park.

No, I didn’t really care. I wanted to make a decision based on what I feel now, not what I should feel based on the feelings of someone that used to be Darren Chong. And, for some superstitious reason, I was convinced whoever I was living for in the past would feel ecstatic I’d arrived at this conclusion.

I wanted to, for the first time in my brand new life, make a choice that wasn’t dictated by an identity I never chose.

I wasn’t a student, or an orphan, or a citizen.

I am Darren Chong.

Is that what you truly believe?

Of course.

“Can I live for you now?” I asked.


She blinked.

I picked up the towel nonchalantly to check on my wound, and noticed the blood circle stopped growing in size. Part of it was out of genuine concern for myself, the other part was because I found it difficult to look at Erica.

“Uh, sorry. That was kind of cringe.”

“It was,” she said.


“You changed your mind in minutes.”

“I guess it was because… uh… I hyped up this reunion to be some sort of climactic revelatory showdown, but now I realise I don’t want it.”

I felt something on my thigh.

“Is it because you felt sorry for me?” she asked.


“How about Giselle?”


“She lost her brother. Why didn’t you feel sorry when you saw her worse off than me?”

“I don’t know.”

“You need to make amends.”

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to look at her again.”

“You’d better.”

Erica’s head was on my lap.

I laid there too, chained by ropes and zip-ties, on a King-sized bed that wasn’t my own, in a room that was off-limits, with butterflies in my stomach, in a school which both of us realised was actively trying to kill us.

“Can I—”

“Shh. Let me enjoy this moment.”

“Just one question.”


“Silence means consent,” I said. I fought the urge to put my free hand on Erica’s head, to stroke her, to tell her that she deserved some rest. “I just wanted to ask if, by any chance, you remember ever yelling at me in a toilet.”

I looked at Erica.

She was facing away, her arms making a cradle for her head as she nestled on me.

“…Is that your idea of a joke?”

“Sorry. It sounded funnier in my head.”

“Just shut up. I’m so tired.”


So I was right, I guess.

No one here remembered who they truly were. We were only shells of ourselves. Some like Erica regretted things they did for a cause they no longer remember, and punished themselves by being absorbed in guilt. Some like me got desperate finding reasons to exist in a world they should never have woken up in. Others simply followed their loved ones, or let themselves focus on excelling in this fool’s paradise just for that small chance of hopefully becoming whole again, or maybe to overthrow the system from the top.

I’d decided I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to be any of those things.

“I forgive you,” I said.


“Whatever you did, I forgive you.”

“…You don’t even kno—”

“It doesn’t matter.”

I reached out for her, and touched her.

Since we were only shells now, it was entirely up to us to find meaning again.