Thin cotton clouds floated calmly in heaven’s sea, swaying freely amidst nature’s gentle breath. The afternoon sun exuded its golden charm, bright and warm, depicting an ideal Sunday for outdoor activities.
Contrasting the beautiful atmosphere was a small apartment building, trapped between the shadows of two run-down houses, lacking the hustling and bustling of society. Exotic trees and flowers were reduced to shriveled husks while wild grass overtook its place, invading every crevice and corner.
In this district, people were as scarce as its flowers. Not even stray dogs or cats would set a paw on its streets. Only the extraordinarily impoverished would consider living in such backwater conditions. Most people living in the capital were well-to-do so unless one was caught in a particular situation, moving back to the countryside would be a more favorable option.
Amongst the numerous vacant adjoining apartment rooms, a dim light radiated from the uppermost right, signifying the presence of life. The room was divided into three sections: the bedroom, bathroom, and a kitchen and living room combo. Although its outside looked dilapidated, its inside was well maintained, tidy and neat.
Inside the bedroom, a sling bag was hung across a chair that was paired with a study desk. On the desk rested a reading lamp that illuminated the surroundings, the source of the dim light. A small electronic fan silently cooled and circulated the air, flapping an opened book’s page from time to time.
A humanoid figure was wrapped in grey blankets on the bed, his head of inky black hair stuck out, soundly resting on the pillow. Wireless headphones clasped both ears, directing all sound inside.
“…the Artificial Chip Enhancement is still only theoretically verified. The government publicly stated that only five has been created so far. These beta versions are to be given to specifically chosen individuals who meet the academic, physical, and social requirements. If the A.C.E program is successful, mankind can look forward to faster and more efficient advancements in technology and knowledge…” A monotonous and apathetic male voice was being played.
The person was engaging in a long, torturingly plain speech with the occasional ‘turn your devices to page’, ‘please see figure’, and awkward silence at every ‘any questions?’ With such a boring tone, even the most restless of infants would be knocked unconscious within a matter of seconds.
Suddenly, the voice of the professor was abruptly cut off which was replaced by a high-pitched default ringtone that drilled painfully deep into the youth’s ears, almost shattering his eardrums.
Instantly, a pair of bloodshot eyes akin to that of a beast opened. A hand stretched from under the blankets and forcefully pulled the headphones off. Fortunately, his eyes regained clarity and rationality before he could fling it into the wall.
The youth propped himself up. The blankets fell off, revealing the black T-shirt and jeans that he fell asleep in last night. The ringing still echoed in his ears, akin to the effects of a stun grenade. After massaging his temples for a while, the mental and physical affliction slowly receded.
After a mound of blankets was cleared, a smartphone was immediately revealed. The phone was warm since it was active all night while playing the recording of the professor’s lecture. Although the recording contributed to a quick and peaceful sleep, it was also the cause of this morning’s ear assault. Who told the professor to speak in such a boring and low tone? But at the same time, who said that maxing the volume was a good idea?
Before the phone was switched on he squinted his eyes, narrowly missing harming another sense organ. Slowly adjusting to the light, the culprit of the call was seen— his girlfriend, Amara. Even though she was partially responsible for his aural pain, a smile crept up his cold features, but only for a moment.
The call ended, but she left a voicemail. After a moment of hesitation, he lowered the volume before playing it.
“JAYLIN, WHY HAVEN’T YOU BEEN REPLYING MY MESSAGES?! Don’t you dare forget that we have a date today! I don’t care if you miss your appointment with that artificial intelligence chip place or whatever, but if you forget our first date, I’ll never forgive you! Hmph!”
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Luckily, he decreased the volume. That soft, shy and gentle ‘love you’ at the end of the loud barrage of scolding sounded so out-of-place. Under the influence of the low volume, it almost sounded like a whisper. However, those few sentences perfectly described Amara.
She had a loud mouth with the temperament of a rebuking mother most times, but she was actually very loving and caring deep inside. She was his only kin, enrolling as his mother, girlfriend, and emotional support.
Checking the time, it was currently 12:03 PM. He had an appointment at The Agency of Technological Development and Robotics at 1:00 PM and a date with his girlfriend at 2:15 PM. Although Jaylin didn’t show it on his cold and indifferent face, today was a meaningful day for him.
Not only would he receive the renowned A.I Chip, A.C.E, that only a selected five would receive, he also had a date with the girl that loved him most. It was a day he could enjoy, a day without continuous, painful studying and mental exhaustion.
After a good stretching of the joints, making his bed and tidying the bedroom, he went to wash up. After exiting the bathroom, he looked both mentally and physically refreshed. With the towel spread across his neck like a docile snake and plain, grey underwear covering his crotch, he went to prepare some food. Considering his shortage on time and the fact that Amara would definitely prepare lunch for him, he only made a bowl of instant noodles.
In the midst of the eerie silence in the living room, only the slurping of noodles was heard. Jaylin wasn’t a fan of using his phone while eating. Most of the times his mind would be blank or just filled with dark, grievous memories, and thoughts about his life.
Looking at the walls and the sofa that was once resplendent and sturdy, now bleached and old, his sad past memories came flooding back to him like a rushing tide.
Before Jaylin was born, his father and mother were just a normal couple, having their own little sets of troubles. They had average jobs and an average home. Later on, his mother bore a child, his sister, Gwen. Luckily for them, she was a blessing from the heavens. At three, she could speak more fluently than most six-year-olds. At five, she could sing and paint beautifully. Furthermore, she was as pretty as a gem, smart, and a scholar at school.
Not wanting her talent to be wasted, his mother sent Gwen to an annual kids’ talent show where she shocked the country and came on top as the youngest, most multi-talented child. She was eyed by many, and soon got big contracts by large companies of all kinds: modeling, advertising, singing, dancing, art, et cetera. Naturally, because she wasn’t an adult, the money was managed by his parents.
By the time he was born, she was around seven years old, a young idol— a star! He grew up in riches, all earned by his big sister. His parents didn’t even have to work anymore. Sadly, even with the extra time on his parent’s hands, they didn’t even spare as much as a glance at him.
All his achievements, whether it be getting second place at his school’s spelling bee competition, getting an ‘A’ in Mathematics, even the hard-earned third place in his whole class, were all overshadowed by his sister.
It even came to a point where they would go out to expensive restaurants to eat and leave him at home with a caretaker. They only focused on her, doted on her, and neglected him. Only his sister, the origin of his problems, showed him some sibling love. But how was that supposed to make up for his lost paternal and maternal love?
In front of his perfect sister, all his imperfections were exposed, resulting in mockery from even the dunces in class. Combined with his naturally taciturn and cold disposition, he had no true friends. The only people that sucked up to him only sought benefits.
Unfortunately, as the saying goes: ‘Good things never last’. On Gwen’s fifteenth birthday, when he was eight years old, she died when the private jet that was carrying her home to celebrate crashed. It was explosive news, the ‘little star’ had been extinguished prematurely, dying tragically. From there on, everything went downhill.
His father became an extreme alcoholic, and his mother fell into a deep depression, locking herself in her room. After a time, his father became worse. He started gambling, buying more expensive alcohol, throwing away thousands at gogo clubs, cheating and letting gold diggers mine him dry.
Soon, he started abusing Jaylin. Twenty-five slaps and kicks would be considered getting off light for the day. His mother was scared of his father and didn’t intervene to help him. Soon enough, she started getting abused too. Her beautiful face would be swollen and uneven until another beating the next day, making it even again.
After a month, his mother finally regained her senses and silently moved out with Jaylin, taking with her the little money left in the bank after her husband’s spending spree.
And so, this is how Jaylin ended up in this apartment, albeit was a livelier district in the past. After buying the apartment, the little money his mother had left diminished after a couple of months. Unbeknownst to him as a child, his mother resorted to prostitution to gain quick money in order to repay owed debts as well as to facilitate household needs and his school expenses.
Gradually, his mother started showering him with love— the love he deserved from long ago. With his sister out of the picture, after eight years, she realized what an excellent son she had!
Jaylin’s heart which had been tempered by eight years of solitude began to thaw under her warmth. Those days were total bliss, he remembered them clearly: The days he slept on the same bed as his mother, indulging in her warm embrace; the days they ate delicious meals together; the days his mother acknowledged his school accomplishments, patting him on the head; the days she assured, “I love you, Jaylin.”
Eventually, rumors about his mother being a prostitute were caught in the ears of the school populace. Some sympathized about the fall of Jaylin’s family while others gloated. However, whether their gazes be filled with pity, scorn, or mockery, they were all akin to the wind, apparent yet negligible.
All he yearned for was his mother’s tenderness. That was all he wanted, yet the heavens wouldn’t allow it. Fate was cruel, the reality was cruel.
It was just a few weeks after Jaylin’s ninth birthday. His mother was in the bedroom dressing because they were preparing to eat out at a restaurant that evening. Suddenly, there was knocking at the door. His mother told him to check who it was since she wasn’t presentable at the moment.
As soon as he pulled the lock to look, an unkempt figure, reeking with alcohol, forcefully pushed in— his father. Followed by Jaylin’s shout, his half-dressed mother rushed out worriedly. Mother and father met gazes, the former was petrified while the latter was deranged.
The nightmare began when the door was locked. His father tossed aside his bottle of liquor, took out a pistol and forced himself on his mother. She told him to run, but when he saw the sorrow and despair in her eyes he did the opposite.
Making use of the bottle of liquor, he struck down hard on his father’s head. Unfortunately, his childish strength was far from capable. Jaylin suddenly found himself face to face with death when he stared into the gun’s pitch black barrel.
Before his father could shoot, his mother tackled him, sadly suffering two shots in the struggle. After the bout, his mother somehow got ahold of the pistol, clumsily firing a fatal shot to the face.
After realizing her son was safe, it was as if all her energy was drained from her. All she managed to say to Jaylin before departing forever was: “Sorry. Live on.”
This was the scar of Jaylin’s heart, only bearable by being sealed deep in ice.
Jaylin was snapped out of his stupor by the sound of his chopsticks falling into the empty bowl. He used the towel to wipe his cloudy eyes before regaining his usually cold demeanor.
Jaylin glanced at a framed portrait of his mother and sister located on a small table in front of the sofa.
Why was my childhood filled with endless sadness and tragedies? I don’t know. Whether there is such a thing as fate, God, or the heavens, I don’t know either. But, I will continue to live on. After all…
Jaylin’s phone vibrated, displaying a message from his girlfriend asking if he’s alright.
I still have something to live for.