Linh C

In the zone!

103

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A Pair of Eyes on Me

At 8, I had my own little world and my little secret. I liked looking at a boy playing soccer for no reason. I liked biting my nails and interpreting the cloud shapes when doing homework. We lived in a small coastal town where the time dragged on. In the town’s small elementary school , classes were open either on morning or afternoon, on an alternative basis. Class 1 for kids at 7 started in the morning while Class 2 for kids at 8 like me started in the afternoon. All the classes were operated in that same method to utilize our classrooms.  My class 2 started at 1pm; which meant I was granted extra morning time to sleep. However, my mom didn’t let my joy run that long by sending me to my teacher's tutoring class in the morning. I had to go to the teacher's self-run tutor class/ house to get grilled on some math quiz. “Just to get her studying in good shape,” said my Asian mom in a quiet, small, uncompetitive town. When kids got all sweaty on deserted streets with their games, I sat in the room with the other two kids getting bored with all the quiz. The quiet room was filled with the sound of rumbling fan and my teacher’s flat voice. During that silence, I felt a pair of eyes on me, on us, from the corner of the open door connecting directly to the kitchen. I felt a creepy stare at me, silently judging me. When I looked up to the direction I felt, I saw a person fading into the darkness. I could feel the sense of those eyes, sense of silent existence.

My mom was pregnant during that time, and parents worried that I couldn’t get a decent lunch at home due to mom's health and dad’s tight working schedule. Again, while those two kids I studied with got home at 11 am to eat lunch before going to real afternoon class, I had to stay at my teacher’s house to eat lunch and get myself ready for afternoon class. When the morning tutor class ended, ‘he’ appeared from the darkness of the kitchen. He cleaned our table silently and intently. He did everything in a precise, orderly manner. He didn’t speak a word to me. My teacher told me that he was her eldest son, who was five years older than me. When I finished my lunch with my teacher and him,my teacher told me to go to his room to take a nap. “Don’t worry. He has a couch here,” said my teacher, waving hand at the small crappy couch at the corner of kitchen. His room was dark and too boring for a teenager. No posters, no pictures. Simply a bed and a table for studying. The room was so strange to me that I couldn’t even close my eyes to sleep. It had an unbearable silence. When a kid couldn't sleep, she had to explore the room. There, I found a big unlocked metal trunk.  When I opened the trunk , I found the biggest treasure for me: a huge container of manga and comic books. I was a huge fan of manga but to my mom, manga was a no-no because of ruining my reading skill.

Book by book, I excitedly checked all the books, and read the manga hungrily and hurriedly. The clock was clicking; it’s time for me to get ready to go to my real class. I finished a manga that I couldn't buy, closed the lid and pushed it under the bed like it was supposed to. I left no trace. I didn’t want to talk to anyone about my secret finding. I didn’t want to ask for permission and I didn’t want to get my secret little world exposed. Reading hurriedly under the fear of being exposed somehow excited me. That trunk didn't belong to me but I shared a secret with it. I left my teacher’s house with a smile hanging on face; a sneaky victory smile of getting fun in a mundane world. I could finally get something to expect in the morning, to feel excited about, and forget all the bore, the rumbling sound and teacher’s flat voice. That treasury trunk was like an endless magical world to me. In that trunk, I got all cool, favorite manga and comic books: Spider Man, Sailor Moon, Doraemon, Tin Tin etc. And in that trunk, I knew what is an adult magazine. I remember finding in on the side of the trunk, sandwiched between comic books. On the cover of the magazine, a beautiful girl was pushing up her boobs (no tits exposed by the way). I saw nothing strange but a beautiful, attractive lady. When I flipped through the magazine, I saw more pictures of women bodies coming out. Her full boobs with nothing to cover, a flat, smooth belly with a hand slipping into the black underwear, the side curve of her ass, the sweaty cleavage etc. As innocent as a little girl, I wowed at these girls’ bodies. They looked all perfect comparing to my mom’s swollen body. But I still knew that this magazine was what he would get real mad at me for reading it. The magazine was so different from all the comic books. I put it back between the the pile of comic books like it used to be and I cleared all the trace. Like a professional burglar.

The next day, I continued my habit: entering his room to take a nap (in fact to read stuff). But for some reasons, I knew that it was my last day of being a secretive reader. It could be I knew about his big secret or I could feel his stare on my back more clingy and heavy. I could feel that. The heavy, invisible stares hanging on my back. When opening the lid, I saw the newest issue of Doraemon and I forgot about all the staring. At the end of that manga, the final page informed that the author just passed away due to illness. I got stunned upon reading that little board of notice. That's such a sad new for my reading ritual in the dark room. And it occurred to me: I wanted to keep this book, as a souvenir, as a trophy for my badass ritual, and as an ending to my secretive reading days. I didn’t know how to do that as he slept really close to the room. I couldn’t pass him without being noticed. There, my mind raced hard, and I got what I gotta do. I went out of the room, passing him and take my school uniforms in my bag. Instead of turning to the toilet to get changed as usual, I walked straight back to his room to get changed in that dark room. He saw that. I knew. My plan would be as I got changed, and I would hide the manga book under my dress and walked out of the room like nothing happened. When I undressed my clothes with nothing left but the underwear, I suddenly felt the invisible, existing stare at me. I heard a distant crumbling noise from the close-by room. I tried to ignore the stare by slowly unbuttoning my uniform shirt. I slightly turned my head to my right side, and from the side of my eye corner, I saw a pair of silent, cold eyes staring at me. Staring at my naked body from top to toe. Suddenly the pictures of women bodies in that magazine rushed to my mind. I wanted to faint. I felt exposed, totally exposed. My white, small body got exposed. The eyes were running on my body, scrutinizing my skin, my slight curve. Suddenly, the sentence popped up in my mind : “This is the price I pay you for what I will do next."

I kept my pace of dressing. No panic, no rush.  At the final minute, I took the manga on the bed which I put it on in advance, and quickly slid it under my dress. At that moment, I felt the stare was moving, it was racing on rage. The tense from the stare was like creeping into the room to strangle me. I couldn’t breath. I was suffocated. My heart was racing, and my mind was blocked. I couldn’t do anything but standing there for a minute and walking out of the room like nothing happened. I was a person sticking to plan especially in shitty situation. In the light-filled , bright living room, I still couldn’t bring myself to breath properly. I wish my teacher will drive me to my school soon.I nervously looked around the room, and then I saw him. He emerged from the dark kitchen with his cold,pointy eyes. He stared at me directly. I couldn't escape from that stare. I looked back, mind numb. And slowly, he opened his mouth and his high-pitch screechy voice came out. “Stealer.” The only words slipped from his mouth. He stared directly at me a long 2 minutes. I sat there, not even trying to stir. I got caught and let him punish me. He may tell my teacher, and my parents. But he turned his back and walked away towards his darkness. I sat there, motionless till my teacher walked out of her room and tell me to get going. That was the last time I saw him because the next day, I got real sick and my parents had to let me stay at home. And then I pleaded to stay at home in morning till my parents had to agree. No adult understood why I suddenly wanted to quit my teacher's class. 

Today, I am a grownup woman, who has never stolen since that time. Now, I can buy anything I want and need no approval from anyone to do anything. But sometimes, when I reach out to grab one things in stores to buy, I felt a cold, silent pair of eyes on my back, creeping into my skin, and judging me. 

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