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Grace Ow

Singapore

Since I was young, I was a voracious reader and had a deep love of words and the way they could be used to convey meaning. I hope that my words and my stories would have a positive impact on others.

Message to Readers

Just comment on anything you think should be improved. I haven't written a short story for a long time, so I'm still rusty

Elena

May 2, 2016

FREE WRITING

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At dawn, Elena walked through the streets of her neighbourhood, with a pile of letters in her hand, searching for answers. It was so quiet that one could hear a pin drop, and not eerily quiet in the way that scared people, but peaceful so that she could be alone with her memories.
*
Growing up, she always saw her mother from a distance, as her mother always woke up earlier and came home later than her. She never understood why she was different from other children never had nice clothes or birthday presents like them, or more importantly, why she had never had a father. When Elena asked her mother what had happened to her father, her mother just turned away and after a long silence, said distantly, “It’s getting late. You should be in bed.”

With an absent father and a distant mother, Elena was used to being alone. She hardly had any free time, because she had to help out with household chores, but even if she did, she had no one to spend it with. Children would call her names as she walked through the neighbourhood, with her red cheeks and head hung in shame. Even in school, she had learnt to drown out the stories they whispered to her about her mother. She would mumble in the face of their cruelty, "It isn't true." This became her constant refrain as she dodged flying stones and words like bullets. But was it? Her mother never spoke of her past. It was as if her life started when she had Elena.

Elena understood that this was the life she would have, the existence she would be stuck with, if she did not do anything. She studied extremely hard through the night, until she eventually fell asleep on her desk, dreaming of the day she would be successful and return to her neighbourhood, just to see the looks on the faces of those who had insulted her, mocked her, caused her misery. She would show them.

She eventually secured a scholarship to a university. On the day she left, her mother looked at her, as if she was truly seeing her for the first time. She clasped Elena's hand in hers. "I am so proud of you," she whispered. "So proud. I wish you all the best."

This was the first affectionate gesture she had ever seen from her mother. She just nodded, and started to walk out the door. Outside, she happened to catch one last glimpse into her house through the window, just in time to see her mother wipe the tears that had been steadily falling from her cheeks.


After that, she lived overseas, and had only been back to her neighbourhood once, to help her mother move into the new apartment that she had bought for her. As she sorted through the her mother's belongings, she found- to her surprise- a pile of books.

"I never remembered you ever reading when I was a child," Elena remarked. 

"I was always very busy. But when I was younger, I was an avid reader," her mother replied. 

This was the first time her mother had ever spoken of her past. Elena waited for her to carry on, but she seemed to lapse back into one of her usual silences.
*
After her mother had settled into her new apartment, Elena returned home, but kept in contact with her mother through letters. When she had learnt that her mother had fallen gravely ill, she called for the doctor. The doctor had kept her updated on her mother's condition, and informed her that her mother had terminal cancer. "You should visit her very soon," he had warned, but between endless meetings and projects, she had no opportunity to visit her mother.

Two months later, Elena finally found the time to visit her mother. Upon arriving at the airport, she had received a call from her doctor. "Yes, what is it?" she asked.

The doctor sighed. "Her condition has grown very serious, Elena. You might want to start making arrangements as soon as possible."

"Arrangements?" Fear and panic made her voice sharp. "What are you trying to say?"

There was a long pause on the other end of the line, before the doctor spoke. "... She's not going to make it. It's time."

Elena had never run faster in her life, dashing through the corridors in her high heels and bumping into annoyed doctors and patients along the way. "Sorry!" she shouted, as she nearly collided into a group of doctors moving a patient in for surgery. When she finally reached the room room, she barely recognised her mother, who was no longer the strong, tough woman with calloused palms she had remembered when growing up. Now, the old woman in front of her was half Elena's size, and looked so frail and brittle, as if she could knocked over by a huge gust of wind. Her face was ghostly white, her pupils were dilating and she was gasping for air. 

"Mum-" she cried, rushing forward.

Her mother's eyes widened at the sight of her. She clasped Elena's hand, her grip surprisingly firm. She opened her mouth, but only sounds of pain and anguish came out instead of words. Finally when she could speak, she looked directly into Elena's eyes and said, "Elena, I-"

Her eyes rolled back and her grip slackened. The beep machine gave out a long and terrible wail as Elena's eyes moistened and she buried her head into the blankets and cried, kneeling by her mother's bedside with her hand in her mother's.
*
After her mother’s death, Elena went back to her mother's apartment to sort through her possessions. She began to pick out books, flipping through the pages and placing them back when she found nothing interesting. Elena noticed envelopes poking out from the midst of the forest of books and picked it out. 

The envelopes were all written by her mother, and the receiver seemed to be a friend of her mother, but was a stranger to Elena. Cautiously, Elena opened the envelopes and took out reams and reams of letters. There was an address scribbled on the envelope in a handwriting Elena instantly recognised as her mother's. It was somewhere in the neighbourhood that she grew up in. Without hesitation, she turned the corner and began her journey in search of answers to her past.

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