If I ever had to pick a dreamland, waterfall would be my ultimate heaven.
I could never understand how I am not supposed to be anywhere near one until I am seventeen. Although it is less than one month away, it seems like an eternity to my miserably everlasting thoughts. All my life, I always wish so badly to see any beautiful fall. I have been to the ocean before and if anyone ever asks me, I would say it feels like paradise: the bright blue sky, the beautiful sunshine, the blissful breeze and the sound of sea babbling slowly, demanding to be touched.
It is not peculiar around here to love what I do. Mainly, it is because our family does not travel a lot. Don’t get me wrong! My brother and I are always bugging dad, hoping he would take us somewhere during Summer. I, as you may have guessed, always suggest waterfall. I know I can never dwell on him to take us to one, but my humanitarian project schedule is coincided with my birthday, which makes a perfect excuse to eliminate the distance between me and the waterfall, even just for one day. It does sound ridiculous, if you ask me, to rearrange the appointed date of my obligation for the sake of this personal little trip.
But hey! It is not like I did anything wrong. If you were a desperate little thing like me and your parents never took you anywhere except the nearest beach, you would understand. Okay! Maybe you wouldn’t. I admit I might have crossed my line since I have never been allowed to go anywhere on my own without anyone watching me like a Cyclops Shark wanting to tear down its prey. I am going to make it happen no matter what it takes for the sake of my project (and my waterfall).
“Stop daydreaming, little princess!” Mom yells from somewhere downstairs. “Get your butt off that bed and get to work.”
“I’m coming, mom.” I yell back. A little gently…in case I could get in trouble for “not being grateful” again.
“Can you hear me?”
“YES, MOM.” I scream back, giving no more thoughts to the earlier statement.
I wanted to stop myself from rolling my eyes because I am running quite late, but I still did. I never understood how the wind could carry the gentle voice of my mom all the way up here considering the fact that she could never hear me back when I reply. But never mind that, I am running late.
Suddenly my phone beeped. I rolled my eyes once more, thinking that my mom has called me through messenger. It turned out to be my most favorite cousin in the world.
- Payne: Hey Little Bookworm!
- Me: Hey…!
- Payne: I’m taking you to DQ Ice Cream tonight.
- Me: Sorry, Brother. I am poverty-stricken.
- Payne: Who says anything about you being broke? I said I am taking you.
- Me: You’re paying?
- Payne: Darn right, I am!
It strikes me as extreme weirdness. We are pretty close, but never in his entire life has he ever bought me anything on a random day like this. I have a feeling he is going to pull a prank on me.
- Me: Wait… What do you want?
- Payne: Nothing. I might have won a tiny trip to hell.
- Me: OMG… YOU DIDN’T.
Payne is basically an “uncle”. His dad is my grandpa’s brother. But he is the youngest child of my great-uncle and, therefore, he is too young to be called anything other than a cousin. My so-called cousin has been applying for a scholarship in Australia for a very long time, but he has failed so many times that everyone lost trust in him. He used to call the scholarship examination “a trip to hell” because it made him feel small. I am the one who never gave up on Payne, although I never really did much of anything.
- Payne: It is all thanks to you, Little Bookworm.
- Me: I did nothing.
- Me: I am so happy for you.
- Me: Your mom is so gonna get you your car.
- Me: OMG… This is the best news ever. You’re gonna get to see the Great Coral Reef.
- Payne: I’ll bring you.
- Me: THANKS FOR THE IDEA. YA DE BEST.
- Payne: Alright. Working time. Go, Little Worm. You’re so gonna get your ass kicked if you always go to work this late.
- Me: *sigh*. Alright. Ttyl!!! Hellish guy.
Before my mom comes and slashes my phone in half, I spray the shower all over my head and throw on some clothes. It all takes approximately four minutes before I crash myself down to the kitchen, spilling some milk in the process of making a bowl of vanilla-almond cereal, and stuffing them all in my face. All that and more before my mom starts nagging over my head again.
“Mom,” I mumble funnily, chewing my food in my mouth.
“Yes?” My mom talks from the sink, washing and perfecting every dish. “What is wrong?”
“Nothing is.” I reply gleefully. “Payne passed his scholarship to Australia.”
“Oh dear…” Mom smiled, looking over her back at me and laughing when I spill some cereal from my lips. “Payne is a good boy. He deserves to live his dream. I am glad you are always there to support him.”
“I am so happy for him as well.” I start, spilling some more cereal. Seriously, what is wrong with me today?
“Alright. No more spilling cereal. You should eat properly.” Mom turns back to her dishes. “You’re running quite late, little girl.”
“And about that project of yours—
“That’ll have to wait until tonight.” I mutter. “I am also going to DQ with Payne because he wants to celebrate.”
“Alright, then.” Mom shakes her head slightly. “Until tonight…”
After forty minutes of motorbike driving and people giving me are-you-crazy looks due to the fact that I can never seem to resist my singing habit while I “fly” across the city, I finally arrive. Oh shoot! I forgot to tell. I am working as an intern for a company that produces Biodegradable Bags which take up to five years to be completely biodegraded. You know, Plastic Bags outlive humans’ lives by seven times as they take about as long as five hundred years to be “gone”, leaving a giant container of consequences behind them. Beside destroying the earth’s once flawless landscape, Plastic plays a major role in polluting the biodiversity’s food chain by poisoning the marine creatures once they enter the ocean and, therefore, poison every single life that eats them. Yeah, if you cannot already tell, it also includes us. We suffer from cancer and blah blah blah due to BPA within Plastic. Redeem yourself, order our Biodegradable Bags now!
Are you convinced? If you are, then I probably did a very good job, explaining it to you. And that certainly means I am a good employee too. It was not easy, entering this place. I spent a huge amount of time (2 days) perfecting my resume and cover letter. I even asked Oggy to go through it for me. Ogyma Washerom (To which I prefer Oggy Wash-Room) is my team leader back in the university and, believe me, he is smarter than his name seems. He is going to lead the project that would take me and other twelve people to help children in Cambodia (and waterfall). He claimed to not taking credit for my effort; however, his encouragement is probably one of the fundamental factors that got me here.
Let’s get down to business. Other than an uncomplicated requirement of my job—emailing piles and piles of customers, classifying customers’ information, exploring people, contacting companies, meeting with clients, collaborating with new plastic-free projects, organizing and rolling Bio Bags, inspecting orders, creating invoices, transporting bags across the city, controlling stocks, handling suppliers, experimenting new Bio Bags, tracking plastic-free Facebook posts, designing plastic-free posters, answering Q&A from random people, being a marketing superhero and dealing with social media comments in the middle of a Saturday night—I basically do nothing!
All of which, doing experiments with new bags is the most enjoyable for me. I am that typical “science girl” back in High School. Presumably, that is the reason why I didn’t have friends there. High School is totally not a place for prodigy as popularity is the only big thing on everyone’s mind back then. Not that I am a prodigy.
“Valencie,” Tara whispers quietly. “There you are!”
“Hey Tara,” I say, smiling like an idiot even though nobody cares enough to look at my face. “Sorry for being late. Family situation.”
I could primarily hear Payne laughing at me when I blurt out “family situation” as if we Atheshyra Family ever got a bigger situation than siblings being mad at each other for throwing birthday cake in one another’s face.
“That’s okay.” Tara manages before going zombie again. Going zombie, for me, is the act of staying so still like you have just been paralyzed by some mysterious magic.
“Is there anything I can help you with, then?”
“I’ve already organized all the bags and dealt with the orders online. Kenton said we need to meet new collaborator.” Tara replies, scrolling through her files in laptop. Her phone keeps on beeping and each time she glances at it, she couldn’t help but smiles. “Looks like you’re coming with instead of driving ‘round.”
“Alright…” I say, wiping my forehead. It was probably sweat, or it could be people spitting from the top of their balcony during my little journey here. The idea makes me want to throw up. I mean… come on! I wear helmet. “When are we leaving?”
“In seven minutes.”
Typical Tara and her timing! Unlike me, she has never been late or early; she is always on time. For that alone, it makes me feel bad for my existence. While Tara surfed through her countless messages on her phone, the entire office gets so awkward that I pulled my Carve the Mark book out. Instantly, my phone gave out a tiny vibrate.
- Payne: Little Worm…
- Me: What is it about me that makes you keep coming back?
- Payne: Sorry to interrupt your work. I stalked your Goodreads and ordered you another copy of Legend Trilogy.
- Me: *Screaming and crying*. What did I ever do to deserve you?
- Payne: It is not any copy. It’s pure hardcover for your collection.
- Me: You!!!!
- Payne: You’re right. You don’t deserve me. I am Liam Payne, the star.
I always make fun of Payne by calling him Liam. My celebrity crush, Liam Payne, has recently released his first single called Strip That Down. Payne is a classic guy. He doesn’t understand me and my Pop Lyric-Queen vibe. That Australia Scholarship, hell or no hell, is definitely going to get me my way. At least for now.
- Me: Strip that down, baby.
When I need to switch screen, my stupid thumb accidentally pressed the Home Button on my iPhone 6s plus three times (1 time more than necessary), causing the device to babble in a robotic Siri-like voice despite the fact that it is on silent mode.
“Voice Over On…” says my phone, echoing the voice across the office. My stomach turns itself inside out and I have a feeling I just want to crawl inside that itsy-bitsy hole on the ceiling and die. It might be unbelievable but this enormous workplace—with all these machine-like people occupying themselves with who-know-what—is always in its best “tranquility mode”. Nobody really talks or look at one another much. But now…. I can literally feel all eyes on my back as if I was some mermaid coming off shore.
Believe me when I say I try to reverse it by pressing the stupid Home Button thrice. Somehow, it never works until it finishes pouring all shame on me.
“Facebook…” it continues, describing what application I am on. If being revealed that you are playing Facebook in your working hour is not humiliating enough for you, then I do not know what is.
“Messenger…” it announces. Oh my goddess! If arriving here late is not an issue for my record, what comes next will methodically kick me out like a child tossing off his shoes in Shoe-Fly-Shoe game. I want to save myself and run, but the door is too far away and the time is running out.
“Strip that down, baby.” Says the darn voice. “Voice Over Off.”
There we go! The insanity of pressing thrice finally comes into an end as the voice stops dead, leaving the whole room in a heart-wrenchingly beautiful laughter. I should be proud of myself to have conjured such a brightened mood, but I am currently feeling like a Naked Mole Rat. My injured pride and dignity are solemnly in need of an ambulance to the nearest hospital right now.
I look helplessly at Tara, who ignores me and is the only princess in here that pretends nothing actually happened. Don’t get me wrong! Tara is the only friend I have over this place and the only person I can ask if I want “professional” assistance. Here I am, staring at her like she’s oxygen and I am dying to breathe.
Tara’s phone beeps Ting, casting a spell over everyone to go back to work. For that particular moment, I feel like she could use a foot massage or two. Only if she could hear my thoughts… Tara might slap me for touching her feet.
“That’s our ride.” Tara starts. “Let’s go.”
“Yay!” I say, sounding and smiling like an idiot. I could never be more grateful for the distraction. What a superlative relief. “Let’s do this.”
The carriage for we “Disney Princesses” is none other than a Tricycle Motorcycle (some people call them Motorized Tricycle). We see this type of vehicles driving around the city almost every single day, but it is not conventional for us to be its passenger daily. Since it is quite expensive, only Kenton can afford it for our occasional meeting once in a while. Being the pop girl and all, I personally prefer my car as I can dance and sing however I want. Nonetheless, I could not complain. This feels like a royal ride towards my rapture demise.
After what seems like an infinity away (thirty minutes in reality), we finally reach another
slaughter house beautiful building. This site contains so many cars and people that everything looks as small as little ants. By the sign of it, I really wish I had stayed in the office instead. I may appear to be all cheerful and girly, but I have this People Phobia which means I get really anxious around too many Homo sapiens. I do not spill a word in front of Tara though.
“This way.” Tara commands, leading us both with her phone. I am a terrible tech person and I honestly do not know what she has on her gadget that could get us to where we need to be. “I think we are on time.”
Yeah…right! Timing is everything and blah blah blah. I just want to go home. Following Tara despite myself, we stop dead in front of a glass door. The sunlight shines so bright it almost burns through my skin, teasing my patience with its gleeful summer breeze that flutter through Tara’s straight hair and her fashionable flannel shirt.
The door opens to a luxurious living room with many smiling faces. I want so bad to smile back but it comes out like a guru gurn. The first thing I smell is coffee. Although I never know what coffee tastes like (except Coffee Candies, if that counts), it strikes me as undeniable that its smell is one of the best things in the world. Only then do I see the minor Coffee Stall in the chamber itself.
“Good Morning.” says Tara to two blond women dressed in dark blue blouse matching their skirts who immediately shake hands with her. I had not even noticed them until then. “We are here in the name of our company representatives.” Sometimes I believe that I am living my life to the fullest and some other time I just wish I was not so much of a potato. I should be more professional. A little flexibility would not hurt.
“Good Morning.” I say, offering my hand for them to shake too.
“Please follow us.” One of the women says. “The ladies are waiting.”
With the women guiding the way, Tara and I climb up the stairs to another glassy office. My gut drops to the floor as soon as the door is opened and my vision adjusts what I see. Sitting right in front of my sight is my boss, Kenton, sipping his coffee with the best smile he can put up. Opposite of him sit four women all in suit, smiling up at me. I am so going to get myself murdered. You might think I am crazy, but I could not handle with clients with my boss judging me. Much less the clients from the ministry.
“Good Morning,” says one of the two ladies on the right. I could tell that the two ladies on the right are in higher positions the other two on the left side. My best guess is they probably are their secretaries.
“Good Morning,” says one of two ladies on the left side.
“Good Morning,” says the other lady on the right side.
“Good Morning,” says the other lady on the left side.
Is it just me? Or they are speaking in pattern? I wait for Kenton to introduce us and am sure that they have no interest in shaking our hands. Let alone learning our names.
“These are my two youngest interns.” Kenton begins, putting on his charm. “They are both freshmen from two different universities. Such young and talented individuals.”
“Hello,” Tara jumps in formally. “My name is Tara Sean Orion. You can call me Tara. I am so glad to finally meet you. I hear great things about you.”
“Cool,” says Woman Number 3.
“Cool,” repeats Woman Number 1.
“Nice to meet you too,” says Woman Number 4.
“Nice to meet you too,” says Woman Number 2.
I glance at Kenton for help, but he seems to think the repeating process is okay. What on earth is going on? Is this all in my head? I admit that I always panic, but never in my entire life have I ever let my anxiety get the best of me.
“Valencie…” Kenton says impatiently.
“Oh right, sorry.” I stumble over my own words. “My name is Valencie Mira Atheshyra. My friends call me Vemia.”
Woman Number 3 and Number 4 do not even look up from their documents and they could not be bothered to go through another four-pattern repeating process anymore. I am secretly glad they did not because I could not afford another round of that weirdness. Before the hope shines any brighter, the pattern starts again.
3 1 4 2. 3 1 4 2. 3 1 4 2. 3 1 4 2. 3 1 4 2. 3 1 4 2. 3 1 4 2. 3 1 4 2. 3 1 4 2. 3 1 4 2. 3 1 4 2. 3 1 4 2.
Even worse than that, Woman Number 3 and Woman Number 1 always say the same thing. Woman Number 4 and Woman Number 2 follow suit. Sometimes it is a little different with variety of words, but the meaning of their sentences is exactly the same. Why can’t there be just two women? Why are they making this so difficult? I could not focus on a darn thing. When I am so out of it, I dare to look pleadingly at Kenton and Tara again, but they act as if nothing was ever wrong. I am missing out on something. I am sure of it.
It has been forty-five minutes. The ladies barely talk about anything, so Kenton and Tara have no choice but to keep convincing them.
“Our company strives to eliminate all the plastic in the world and retrieve the perpetual green landscape back to our planet by initiating the sales of Biodegradable Bags with reasonable price.” Tara explains, behaving like a true heroine. Being a true potato as always, I keep my mouth shut because everything would come crashing down otherwise. “As you may have learned, our bags are manufactured from cassava, a type of plant grown all over Southeast Asia, which is considerably affordable, is effortless to seek, and is available anywhere at any time.”
“What is there for us to help?” Woman Number 4 responses arrogantly.
“What is there for us to help?” Her so-called dummy, Woman Number 2, repeats the sentence with a little less confidence. I really need to do something. The conversation is getting nowhere.
“In order to transform our fantasy into reality, we are looking for collaborators who are willing to assist us in the process of expanding our business.” Kenton announces masterfully. Perhaps others do not notice this, but his smile has been stolen from his face since the first thirty minutes of this “round & round” drama scene. “This process includes raising awareness throughout the country by hopefully forecasting the information and the latest news on National Television Channels, as well as improvising websites and advertisement on the Internet.”
Because nobody talks afterwards, Kenton continues.
“Additionally, we are very delighted to officially declare that we are sketching a project of running our own factory in the country rather than being dependent on the ones in Southeast Asia.” Kenton pauses, sipping his coffee. I was too nervous that I did not realize that there are three glasses of coffee, chocolate and water in front of me. To my surprise, my appetite has committed suicide.
“What we ask of you is the financial support, either donation or in kind, to fund our new factory based in the city. Here is our proposal which demonstrates our sponsorship package and your benefits.”
After Kenton lets the four booklets find their way in front of the four women, he looks at me. I just shrug and give him a small smile. Since Tara goes zombie again, he continues. And the speaking pattern arrives again. I could not help but zone out. For the first time in what seems to be forever, I also go zombie.
Tara and I are on the way back to the office when my sense comes back to me.
“Tara, can I ask you a question?” I blurt out, recovering from my ancient silence. My coworker gives a slight nod as I continue. “Was there anything strange with the women at all?”
“Not that I know of,” she mutters devastatingly slow then looks at me. “Why?”
“Really?” I knew there was something wrong with me. “It wasn’t strange for you?”
“Not at all,” she gives me another shrug. “Nothing except the fact that you went to a pitch without talking.”
Ouch!!! That hurts a lot. I still do not think it is my fault. I was too distracted with the pattern that I do not even know if we got the sponsorship. Not that I will ever let her know.
“Why are there four women then?” I keep trying.
“Why not?” Tara eyes me with a are-you-possessed look. She sighs and says, “The two women on the right are the ones who decide whether they will fund us. They are…not from here. The two on the left are their translators.”
Horror flashes through my bloodstream. Someone just played waterphone in the back of my swimming brain. A CPR would be so convenient right now.
“You mean…those two wealthy women on the right did not speak English.”
“The left one is French. The right one is Russian.” Tara explains. “Wait, what?”
“Well, er…I grew up traveling. Both languages are kinda like English to me.” I immediately lie and am rewarded with a suspicious look.
“In which case, you should have said something. If you had, we would have gotten some money out of them.”
So we did not get the fund. I am careful not to let myself say that out loud. But that is not something that worries me. My problem is I could understand both Russian and French so clearly that I could not tell the language apart from my own. And I have never even traveled anywhere, much less across continents. I have never even talked to anyone who does not speak Khmer or English. Wait a minute, I do not know that. How am I sure they do not speak my language if I cannot even tell my language from others? I remember when we had Chinese people as neighbors when I was really young. My mom always say I can play well with the neighbors’ children even when we speak different languages. That means I know Khmer, English, French, Russian, and Chinese. What else do I know?
I do not know how to feel. I knew there has always been something weird about me. At this moment of confusion, I pull my phone out and dial Payne’s number. I want to share my despair, shame, and joy with my cousin. He, of all people on earth, would find my new superpower fascinating. Plus, we could watch videos from all those three languages to test how much I know. It is going to be the most awesome summer break ever.
Payne is unreachable. He must be partying with his friends and cheering for his Australia scholarship. I shake my head and smile. I just found out that I have been ignoring Tara all the way back to the office and I have zero problem with that. The sound of my ringtone seems to also agree with me.
“Hey mama,” I say gleefully. “You called just in time. I just have the weirdest day of my life.”
“Hey baby,” Mom whispers. “I have something to tell you.”
“Mom…” my mom’s voice freezes my spine. She never sounds like that. Not even when she cannot solve my math problem. “Mom, what is it?”
“What is it, mom?” I hear the desperation in my voice.
“Just fifteen minutes ago,” Mom’s voice breaks. “Payne died in a car crash.”
I was wrong.
It is not going to be the most awesome summer break ever.
I put my phone in my bag, fingers too shaky to hung up.