The intensity in the overcrowded classroom was heightened by the numerous noises made by the forty two students apart from the scorching hot sunlight penetrating into it. In one corner of the classroom right at the back sat there a new student whom Miss Kalyani had never seen before. The new English teacher in SMK Semerah, who had been teaching for barely two years in the new school, was extremely shocked and somehow terrified by the look of the new boy.
“How to describe the boy in nicer words so as not to hurt his feeling if I’m to be heard by someone who will tell him of my first impression of him?” Miss Kalyani contemplated for a while.
The boy of fourteen years old is of no difference from the other boys in the school except for one thing, one particular feature. He possessed a hideous look which most probably would scare off anyone who looked at his face for the first time. The moment Ms Kalyani saw Zen she thought that she saw a ghost in broad daylight. The gaze of his eyes gave a cold shiver down her spines. His eyes were bigger than a normal person’s eyes. People with bigger eyes are the envy of many but not for Zen in his case. Not for him, definitely, absolutely, without doubt. His big eyes are popping out, looking similar to Miss Kalyani’s pet fish which suffered from exophthalmus. FT, named after her favourite Korean rock band, FTISLAND, the fish died last year and this caused deep grief to Miss Kalyani as her pet was getting along with her for quite some time. She loved it so much until it took her about a year to recover from her great sadness on the departure of her precious pet. The look of Zen somehow evolved her past memory of FT and this had caused Miss Kalyani to heave a helpless sigh. Zen’s eyes, his eyes bulged out abnormally in pop-eye, awkwardly, unsightly and uncomfortably to people who saw him for the first meeting. His presence in the classroom had evolved total curiosity in Miss Kalyani’s mind.
Zen was placed in 2 Seroja the moment he transferred back to SMK Semerah. He scored 5As in his UPSR and he was in 1 Seroja for barely a few days before he was offered a place in MRSM Batu Pahat, Johor. Since that particular day, all his friends had not heard of him anymore until the first day of schooling for 2012. He was back to SMK Semerah again but he brought back a new look in which his friends could hardly recognise who he was; a new look that would frighten many of the teachers and students in the school. The reason of transferring back was unknown but the Form Teacher had mentioned something about peer pressure in the boarding school which eventually brought him back to his former school.
One afternoon, Hasif and Afiq were sending books to Miss Kalyani’s table and the boys were heard when whispering to each other.
“Isn’t that boy, Zenmani?” What has happened to him? Is that really him? I can’t believe my own eyes!”
“Yes, it’s him.” answered Afiq calmly.
Afiq, who was once in the same class with Zen for a few days in 1 Seroja last year, related the whole incident to his friend. It was a heartbreaking misfortune for Zen’s mother especially when Zen was her only child, her precious son. The dreadful incident happened during the school holidays when Zen and his buddies went for a kenduri kahwin in his village. There was a party after the wedding and the boys stayed back to enjoy themselves.
“Zen, aren’t you going to meet up with Nadia in a short while? Do you want me to follow?” asked Riz.
Riz was seen teasing Zen although he was actually the one who introduced Nadia to Zen the very first time they met during the sports event early in March last year. Riz thought that both of them should be together as an item. They could form a couple who excelled not only in studies but also sports at the same time.
“Emm… I don’t think you should follow me, Riz,” replied Zen adamantly.
“Well, are you sure you can meet her on your own, can you manage?” Riz continued to tease Zen.
“Thanks, my friend. I’m a grown up already. I’ll have to tackle this on my own.”
Zen was trying to act bravely and manly though his heart was pounding tremendously the moment he thought of meeting Nadia in a short while after the party ended. Zen looked remarkably attractive with his blushing cheeks revealing his shyness.
Zen was on his way to meet Nadia but at the end of the day the ill fated boy was not able to meet his new found friend and they did not see each other after that. Something else had happened. This had caused a great sorrow for Zen’s mother who all the while had been pinning high hope on him, always hoping that he would be the one for her to proud of in one of the days. Yet the prospect of this day happening was getting dimmer and dimmer for her after the dreadful accident that night. Zen was racing on the road with another of his friend while on his way to meet Nadia. The faster he rode his bike the more dangerous he put his life to and the mishap really happened. To make thing worse Zen was without his helmet that fateful night. In the night of darkness, without any single clue of the taxi turning right, Zen was trying to overtake it when he was actually hit by the taxi. The moment he gained his conscious, it was about a week after the near fatal accident. The accident had disfigured him, leaving an awkward look on his face to accompany him for the rest of his life. His eyes were popping out due to the accident. Zen was lucky enough to be saved but the time Zen lost his gorgeous look his confidence also vanished thoroughly into the thin air. He lost his focus, he lost his interest and he lost his ability. He lost his everything.
In school, Zen’s wild mind was always wondering somewhere. His physical self was in the classroom together with his peers yet his soul was nowhere to be found. It had been barely a month since the very first day of meeting Zen yet the condition was getting from bad to worse. He was setting a very bad example for his peers in his class. Numerous teachers had complained about his bad attitude; not following the school lessons, not doing the work given, creating commotion in the classroom and doing all sorts of nasty things to the teachers and the classmates. He was not interested in doing anything pertaining to studies; he always went against the flow and this created uneasiness for the teachers and apprehension for the students in 2 Seroja.
The other day, Liesa could not take it anymore so she brought up the matter and mentioned about Zen’s case to Miss Kalyani.
“Miss Kal, I’m really fed up with Zen. He’s not giving cooperation to the group at all. I know we need to tolerate as he’s a new student but there’s a limit to my patience, Miss Kal,”
Liesa poured her heart out. She really needed to get it off her chest or else she might explode any moment from now.
“What’s the matter, Liesa?” asked Miss Kalyani to her student. Liesa was one of the highly performed students in 2 Seroja.
“Zen does not even contribute a single thing for the group project on the prepared speech. On the other hand, he is finding faults with all his group members, opposing to this and that. It is impossible to work with such a horrible person like him!”
“Liesa, do give Zen more time, all right. He’s in the process of healing his heart now and it’s actually a critical period for him. To succeed or fail, your role as a friend is of utmost importance. Give him support physically and mentally, please,” Miss Kalyani tried to talk Liesa into believing that Zen would change for better one day.
Zen could not do anything but to spend most of his time in the cybercafé in town. He was all alone most of the time immersed himself in Second Life. In reality, he detested him own self. He avoided his own look. He hated his own feelings. But he could not help from getting drowned in the rough sea of life. He hated the reality that he faced. In SL, Zen was not himself anymore. He was a free avatar, with the look he preferred he embarked on a new path and he gained confidence in communicating with the others in the virtual world. SL was more like a total escapism for Zen who was still unable to accept his current situation. In SL, Zen explored the world, met other residents, socialised, participated in individual and group activities, and the other avatars created and traded virtual property and services with one another. Zen was very into acoustic guitar performance and he traded in his pieces of work in SL. Most of his works were covers of FTISLAND’s songs in the form of instrumental pieces. No doubt, the rock band was Zen’s favourite since the time when he was still in primary school, in Year Five.
Miss Kalyani had tried digging and preying into Zen’s past in the hope of bringing him back to the real life. Her FT had left her for about a year and its departure caused her to reflect on her ability. How helpless she was, for being not able to retain FT in her life. The similar look in Zen’s eyes stirred a strong emotion within Miss Kalyani. FT was gone forever but Zen was alive in front of her eyes! Miss Kalyani strongly believed that there was surely something that she could do about this, something within her ability. Miss Kalyani finally managed to find out something interesting about Zen, about their common interest in music preference.
One sunny morning, Miss Kalyani stepped into the Language Laboratory, this time around bringing something different for the first time in her life. She had learned playing acoustic guitar for the past few months during the school holidays and now she was ready to show her skill to her students in 2 Seroja. An acoustic guitar was in both of her hands. The loud cheers came from all her students the moment she stepped into the laboratory. As what the students had promised her, they were ready with the lyrics of the songs copied into their Literature exercise books, obtaining from Miss Kalyani’s blog entitled Like English.
“Students, are you ready for the song?” Miss Kalyani asked her students with full enthusiasm.
“Miss Kal, you have to sing it for us first!” requested many of her students with full anticipation.
“No problem, my dear students. The lyrics of the song are written to sum up the short story One is One and All Alone and it is sung according to the tune of FTISLAND’s rock ballad, Love Love Love.”
Miss Kalyani introduced the origin of the song’s melody to her students. Many students knew the song due to the Hallyu wave and it was an in thing for her students in 2 Seroja. From one corner of the lab right at the back, suddenly a boy was stirred from his dreamy world the moment he heard of his favourite Korean rock band. For the first time in the past one month, Zen was listening to Miss Kalyani, indeed, for the very first time. As Miss Kalyani held the acoustic guitar in her hands, her fingers move at the strings of the guitar and she sang the song at the same time she played the musical instrument. And the song went on and on.
“I know a little girl
Her name is little Trish
She is eleven
She goes to planet Trion
With her dearest father
In a big spaceship
The journey takes about two years’ time
She will be thirteen years old then
She misses her mother
Who is there
Setting space station
What a lovely lonely little Trish
Longing for a human companion
She only has her private diary
VP gives her school lessons
Teaches her on clone and cloning
And she clones herself in BioLab
Her perfect friend and companion
She is in front of Trish, there she is, Clo as her best friend
Trish, Clo are best friends, best friends, best friends
But not for a long time, long time, long time
Trish hates Clo who is always intruding her thoughts and feelings
She wants to get rid of Clo, of Clo
Forever and ever from her life
By disposing her using the spaceship’s disposal system
Clo knows of her plan, her plan, her plan
Turns the table on Trish, on Trish, on Trish
Trish is disposed by her clone but Dad is not aware of this
The one who remains is Clo, is Clo
Now she’s using the name of Trish
One is One, One is One and All Alone”
The whole class cheered for Miss Kalyani’s ability in playing the acoustic guitar and singing the song beautifully and they requested for encore. Miss Kalyani’s cheeks were blushing like the cherries hanging on the cherry tree. Her heart was fluttering with excitement. The most nervous moments had passed! Miss Kalyani guided her students singing the song and the teaching and learning process ended with writing activity where the students had to write the summary of the short story in three paragraphs by using the lyrics of the song taught as guidance. The whole class unquestionably were enjoying the lesson of the day with a difference this time around, with Zen taking part in the learning process together with his peers in the laboratory.
The other students, when looking at how Zen began to show interest in the lesson also started to give full support to him. Miss Kalyani always reminded her students not to judge a person by his or her look and her advice had indeed shown result as the classmates were busy volunteering lending their Literature exercise books to Zen so that he had a copy of the lyrics too. He took part in the lesson for the first time ever in the one month time he was back to SMK Semerah. After the lesson, Miss Kalyani talked privately to Zen.
“Zen, we’re not genius and for this reason we’re not perfect. But we’re people who can gain ability through experience. You’re still young and you’ve a long way ahead of you. Take your time to experience everything. Try everything which is good for you.”
“But, Miss Kal, I’m not sure if I’m able to do it again,” Zen hesitated for some time.
“Zen, by experiencing, you gain ability. With the ability you’ll gain more confidence. You’ve taken the first step today and you should continue doing so. No matter how inferior your look is, you’re still special in our heart as there’s only one Zen in this world who is you, yourself,” Miss Kalyani went on slowly with her words trying her best to persuade Zen.
The moment Miss Kalyani finished her words, Zen was suddenly awakened. Zen was indeed a lucky person to stay alive after the near fatal accident. The tsunami in Japan last year had robbed the lives of many people and caused big disaster for the people there. The survivors were still struggling on to survive in harsh condition. Others tried so hard to live on yet he was wasting his life just like that! He regretted spending the past one month doing nothing but only causing trouble for the others. It was undeniably very foolish of him!
“Miss Kal, is it too late for me to turn over a new leaf?” asked Zen eagerly with a pitiful puppy look.
Miss Kal held both of Zen’s hands tightly and she whispered softly to him.
“Zen, I’m glad that you’ve finally realised what your mistakes are. Pick yourself up from the place where you fall. Do promise me, make your mother proud of having you as his son,” said Miss Kal as she looked deeply into Zen’s popping pathetic eyes sincerely for the first time.
“Do you have any dream, Zen?”
“Yes, Miss Kal. If possible, I want to be a musician one day. A real musician who can compose the best lyrics just like you, Miss Kal. I’m truly amazed by your song just now.”
“A musician cum composer you mean?”
“Yes, but with my look now, I doubt my dream can be fulfilled though.”
“Zen, a dream is a wish your heart makes, believe in your dreams and someday your rainbow will come shining through.”
Miss Kalyani did not say a single word after that but hugged him tightly in her arms. Zen finally understood. That day Zen cried with all his heart. And Zen thanked her so much for her kindness in giving him a guide in the path of growing up and chasing after one’s dream regardless of whatever the obstacles or challenges one might be facing. He had grown up that day and he would continue growing up in future. He was not going to be controlled by his avatar in Second Life anymore. He did not need his virtual world anymore. He would move on with his very own life in the real world and chase after his dream!