Head in the Clouds

August 24, 2018 0 By Geraldine Choo

The door opens and Jeanie Chen steps in. Her gaze sweeps across the room, her eyes searching intently for a burst of colour they can devour. But she’s disappointed, as before, by the muted monochromes and lean lines. The pristine white walls have remained free of blemishes since her last visit two weeks, one month, or even since her first visit a year ago?

She glances up at the silver clock just above the door. 10:16 AM, 8 April 2013, Monday. Has it really been one year? And three hundred and sixty-five pills? “Oh, those pills will make her feel better,” Dr Wong had said.

“Don’t worry. Did anything happen? Did anyone bully you, Jeanie? Well, you see, basically there’s no trigger–”

“But I can’t read anymore, Dr Wong! I can’t read anymore, Mama! The words just bounce–”

“Now don’t worry, they’ll all come back once you feel better.”

They have. Now she can read the titles of the books on the shelf–The Female Malady, The Protest Psychosis, The Gene Illusion… She glares at them with much vehemence–maladies don’t have a gender, psychosis is a made-up word and genes are real–how pretentious, how senseless! Those namby-pamby books aren’t worth anyone’s time–yes, time, she can feel its heavy, hot breath on her neck as it struggles to move with its chained feet.

The ordinary will never be able to develop a penchant for colours, like she has. How ridiculous this world has turned into, choosing black and white to be the latest fad. Even Dr Wong, whom one expects to be a notch above the ordinary, doesn’t embrace the stunningly vivid hues that make up the sunset. Look at the black sofa that surrounds the coffee table. Jeanie longs to spray some gold paint on them–but more than that, she wrestles with the temptation of curling up in it, weary from keeping the night company.

As Jeanie turns her body towards the sofa, she feels someone touching her arm. She glances at her mama who smiles and points (“over here, darling”) to the two mahogany chairs, at the other end of the room, which Dr Wong has pulled out for them.

Damn it, why does he always have to do that?

“So how have you been, Jeanie?” Dr Wong’s eyes are a deep shade of hazel, unblinking. His fingers are arched and ready to hammer away at the keyboard. Better watch what she says.

“Good, good.”

“Tell me a bit more. What have you been doing?”

“Was at Genting Theme Park for a while. I could feel the wind in my hair on those roller coaster rides! And yes, the crazy tea cup! Spun me round and round, round and round, I thought time finally–”

Those eyes. They dwell on Jeanie in an effort to decode her. Never faltering in spite of the cold, stern look that she puts on to ward him off. Soon, she succumbs to fits of giggles.

“Jeanie, don’t do that.” She turns to look at her mama, whose brows are knitted above her saggy eyelids. Those eyelids seem to be wilting away, having lost their youthful vigour to sleepless nights keeping Jeanie company.

“I’m glad that you enjoyed your trip to Genting.” Dr Wong smiles at the screen and moves his mouse. His hand caresses against the cherry satin tie around his neck.

Jeanie’s eyes sparkle. Ah, a new tie. Did his wife buy it for him? Or was the tie a gift from his lover who thought a change of taste (red, their volcanic desire for each other) would do him good? After all, he always wears–

“You said you will be going to school next week?”

“Yes, yes, on the NAC scholarship. I’m going to take a Creative Writing course at Ngee Ann Poly and I do expect that I’ll top the class. Only ten scholarships are awarded each year and I don’t think anyone else in–”

“That’s nice.” But Jeanie knows he doesn’t mean it. She can sense his insincerity with what she’ll like to think of as an antenna–the ordinary calls it intuition–that readily decodes information about the behaviours and feelings of people. It’s become a habit of doctors to bundle up their emotions in fancy paper and ribbons. Yet, how unfair it is, that patients are expected to lay bare their emotions–plain, raw, and unruly–on the surgery table where doctors claim they’re confident of fixing both the heart and the mind.

“Now, Jeanie, I’ve spoken to your mother about this.” He looks at her mama, who reciprocates his gaze with a nod. They have been exchanging information about her.

“I know that you are very excited for school and that’s a good thing–to be looking forward to things in life. But being over the top is not the best state to be in–”

She starts to dream. Of emerging champion in the rat race with her peers. She has a head start after all. With her mama’s guidance, she was reading The Rainbow Fish aloud by the age of three. Today the book sits on the shelf at the side of her bed. Occasionally, she uses a piece of tissue paper to wipe away the dust on the cover. Facing the window with the book in her hand, she is, as always, enthralled when the afternoon sun rays peek through, stroking the metallic scales of the fish. She kisses The Rainbow Fish before returning it to the shelf, vowing to become the best wordsmith in the world. She is Roald Dahl’s Matilda, intelligent yet sensitive and kind-hearted. She’ll be her mama’s pride when she finally publishes her best-selling debut novel, and a few years down the road, her nation’s pride, after winning the Man Booker Prize. On second thought, the Pulitzer Prize isn’t too bad either. She won’t mind applying for that award too, just to spice up Singapore’s record of literary prize winners.

Now she watches him as he yaks away. How pointless these visits are. He just wants to prescribe her pills. She knows it all too well. But pills, what can they do apart from dulling her senses and raiding her well of inspiration?

“I will be changing your medication, Jeanie–”

“So I’ve been taking the wrong medicine all this while, Dr Wong?”

Dr Wong blushes. His face two shades lighter than that of his tie. Jeanie purses her lips to stop them from acting on her amusement.

“No, Jeanie. You see, your mother has told me you’ve been unable to sleep for the past few nights. You’ve also been feeling high and restless. All these are symptoms–”

Jeanie yawns and stretches her arms.

“Okay, that’s enough, Dr Wong. Well done–”

Dr Wong’s face is now the colour of his tie. He averts his eyes. Jeanie’s mama looks at her daughter who is struggling to collect her breath and relax her contorted facial muscles. It’s the look that Mama dispenses to construction workers, toilet cleaners, and public waste collectors when they are in her vicinity. A look that makes Jeanie feel so awful about herself (and every single thought and feeling that has led up to this moment) that her stomach somersaults in protest. To dispel the queasiness, she tries swallowing her saliva and clenching her fists.

“Are you okay, Jeanie?” “How are you feeling?” “Do you need a–”

No, she doesn’t need anyone’s sympathy. That’s the last thing she’ll ever need–she dashes out of the room. “Where are you going?”

Please wait, she begs of time. I’m searching–but time’s managed to unshackle its chains. She stares at the vomit outside Dr Wong’s door and lets out an unrestrained sob.

(The above is an excerpt of my FYP project. I would like to thank my FYP supervisor, Dr Boey, for his feedback.)