The small rectangular slot at the top of the door opens up, sliding in a paper plate with mashed potatoes, a chicken thigh and a plastic spoon. Before the arm holding the plate can fully retract, she pushes her own arm through the rectangular slot, scraping her skin against its edges. She grasps onto the hand of one of her captors, picks up the plastic spoon with her other hand, breaks it against the wall, and attempts to stab her captor with the now sharp end.
In the awkward angle, the spoon scrapes against his skin, taking with it a layer of skin. Her captor screams as he buckles to his knees, attempting to take back his arm.
“The door.” She snarls, digging the plastic spoon in deeper. The man frantically attempts to stretch out his free arm and places his thumb against the fingerprint reader. As the door slides open, sinking into the wall, they both hastily pull their arms from the food slot.
In the next second, she strikes her elbow across her captor’s face. Blood gushes from his nose as he falls forward. He looks up at her, reaching out with his injured arm, his mouth opens to speak. On her feet now, her bare heel crashes across his face before he can speak. She does it again, and again, and again. Until the ends of the white onesie they had forced her to wear for the past few weeks were stained red.
“Don’t leave.” The words drag themselves out of his blood-filled mouth. Irritated, she kicks him again, his body limply flipping over. Finally, he is knocked out. Then, she begins to run.
She runs through hallway after hallway of white walls and white doors with food slots just like hers. The smell of antiseptic so strong it burnt her nose and each hallway as eerily silent and empty as the first. Suddenly, the lights that had lighted the hallways turn off and she is abandoned in darkness. She skids to a halt. Her chest burning but her body refusing to take a breath.
The light just in front of her turns on. It was yellow which was weird because it had been white just moments before. She looks behind her. Wondering if maybe she should return to her prison. Maybe it was safer there, locked in that tiny white room. Goosebumps form on her arms at the thought or maybe it was because of the sudden cold. Hugging herself, she faces forward again and her gasp of surprise gets stuck at the back of her throat, momentarily choking her.
The source of her surprise were the two little boys in front of her. Toddlers really. They stood side-by-side, creepy reflections of each other. They were dressed in blue onesies similar to hers, but it fit them so tightly that it looked as though the boys had outgrown them and on top of their heads was a matted layer of orange-brown hair. They looked up at her, their faces blank of any emotion. Their hands casually stuffed into the pockets of their onesies.
“Hi,” she says, though her words came out as a whisper. She wants to believe these little boys were allies, victims just like her, but their creepy appearance made that hard. The one on her left speaks first.
“They cut open our heads.”
The one on her right continues.
“Emptied it with a spoon.”
“Then they carved on a face.”
“So we only had one face.”
Then together, “They did the same to our parents too.”
Suddenly, their skin begins to move, rippling as it turns as orange as the hair on their heads.
She wants to leave; wants to go back to her prison; wants to beg her captor to lock her back in. Mentally, she begs her legs to move, to turn her around and take her back in the direction she had come but they remain fixed in place by her fear. Her stupid useless fear.
“Do you want to see the face they gave us?” they ask, excitedly. Like someone practising emotions in front of a mirror, their faces slowly and uncomfortably transition until they resembled crying children. Their eyes and mouth squished into a frozen expression of despair.
Eunice Owusu-Amoah is in their 2B term of GBDA at the University of Waterloo. You can find Eunice on Instagram at @world_of_eu.
“In the Hallway” by Eunice Owusu-Amoahuwimprintadmin2021-03-06T23:42:46-05:00
the unfortunate thing about having a good memory is that
i cannot simply forget
while this does well for the tests and the speeches,
it also means
i cannot simply forget
everything i have learned about you
i ponder on this thought, as i recall your favourite colour,
and each name of your cousins and the way you knew me like no other,
i think we learn each other’s lives as we see it as our futures
but the unfortunate thing about having a good memory is that
when we part and you are just past,
i remember everything
no matter how long or little we last
I’ve always found myself thinking of the past, and how we tend to gather so much information about other people because we find it important to know. Once someone is no longer in our lives, we still carry all the knowledge about them that we thought would be useful in our future.
Raquel Paredes is in her 1st year of Honours Arts and Business Co-op
You can find her here:
“a curse of good memory” by Raquel Paredesuwimprintadmin2021-03-06T21:26:53-05:00
the sun cascades over a maze of vibrant and varied foliage.
A hearty Oxalis
on top of a novella called Helping
leans towards the window, off its table,
spying the sun go down in those later hours.
A cat that, luckily,
rigidly flaunts her carnivore status,
stretches back and forth in her own bed by your client’s side.
By the door there are several second-hand instruments and art supplies,
clouding some minds with vague potentialities,
and on the other side, instant coffees and teas eagerly primed for usage.
You both first glance out and, for a moment, take the day in:
someone’s half-painted birdhouse,
a barking neighbourhood dog,
and the gentle echo of homeward-bound traffic.
The day eventually comes to a close,
and your client looks to you.
Smiling, eyes in their subtlest hinting of rainfall:
like a passenger on a train, watching Oxgodby disappear.
They hand you a thank you letter,
and several minutes later are once again whisked away
to that other town, into a different story:
one as complex as your own.
You grab a pen, wanting to write a date inside the card,
but under its cheap, faded exterior
you find that its ink reservoir has dried up.
‘Oh, right,’ you think.
That was one you vaguely remember a past client three years ago brought,
and never cared to return for.
Your hand returns it and fishes for another.
you think as you swipe down the numbers.
‘They’re doing my job for me.’
This piece is a 2nd person look into a worker who finds meaning in their life by helping their clients. It starts with a description of a welcoming environment, and in the end shows how this particular worker commemorates these achievements with souvenirs of sorts: thank you cards, or oddly enough even a dead pen.
The job in mind is a therapist with a very customized office – but that is purposely left vague in order to let readers project any other job that might make sense.
Fun fact: It references two short stories: Robert Stone’s Helping, and J. L. Carr’s A Month in the Country, which partially influenced the theme.
Matthew Mina is in his second year of Social Development Studies, and you can find more about him here:
“Outro: In a Sunroom, Elora” By Matthew Minauwimprintadmin2021-03-06T21:28:28-05:00
Jacob Neal is in his 4A term of English Literature and Rhetoric. On his poem: “Cycles is a poem about how people can get stuck in a way of thinking or a certain perception, and how some ideas create their own confirmation bias and continue to grow in an unhealthy way.” You can see more of Jacob on Instagram: @jacob_d_neal
Rather than tasting the greed that seeps from prying eyes.
I write to avoid the damnation of a wordless existence,
To allow the light that escapes from these shaky fingers to shine,
To embolden the shadows attempting to invade the feeble heart
Of a young body,
And wipe them from existence through this blinding faith.
I write to enjoy the freedom of writing,
Of releasing passions intense as the art of words,
Of flooding my emotions through the gates of expression,
As they open to welcome the stream of words that trickle in,
Seemingly untouched by the waves
I write to create a place for my soul to rest,
In the arms of beloved family and friends,
But also, in the embrace of poetry,
A word of only six letters,
That gives meaning to more than six thousand –
I write to you.
While this is an older piece of mine, I always come back to it when I feel uninspired or lost. This poem reminds me that no matter where I am, what I am doing, or how I change, the fever that comes with writing and reading will always be there. I hope reading this makes at least one person feel the same way too.
“Raison d’Être” By Ishita Ananth Krishnanuwimprintadmin2021-03-06T21:32:03-05:00
Silence falls over the auditorium as a lone boy steps in front of the microphone. Stared down by the audience like a pack of hungry wolves, he nervously grips his only ally, a set of hastily made cue cards. It is orientation day, and I am about to deliver a speech to become a future student council representative. Hundreds of students stand before me, as eager as I was to leave behind their past and start anew in their first year of high school. I wanted nothing more than to believe that everything was going to be alright. Yet even amidst cheers and applause from the audience, it was clear to me that something was very wrong. That day, those doubts would begin a slow but methodical assault that would permanently seal my fate.
High school is a crucial rite of passage for any teenager to traverse, not just for necessity, but to determine your future in life. It is a place of trials, learning, and growth, but also the revelation of a cruel society that only values what you can offer to the status quo.
Before Waterloo, I came from a prestigious high school that is consistently ranked by the Simon Fraser Institute as one of the top schools in the province every year. When your school has the funds and subsidies to afford the brightest teachers, the newest classrooms, and the latest equipment, these students can often go on to become very famous or successful. It is no surprise that the school receives hundreds of transfers every year; everyone wants to attend a reputable school famed throughout the province for its success.
I am friends with a vast number of students there who are downright obsessed with their grades. When you live in a city filled with affluent upper-middle-class families, it’s hard to miss the connection between the students and the absurd amount of privilege wafting throughout the school. Their parents will spare no expense to ensure their precious jewels succeed in a school brimming with limitless potential. Private tutors? Expensive field trips? High-end gadgets? Consider it done. Though they are ambitious, motivated, and extremely talented, the relationships I have with my former colleagues are strictly professional for good reasons. In the academic cult known as Utopian Secondary School, not one day passes without someone shrieking about how the latest assessment dropped their 98 by a single percentage. With their comfortable and luxurious backgrounds, I find myself more often than not shaking my head in disgust because I know that they don’t live in the constant fear of being unable to achieve the heights that everyone else expects you to meet. You’re spoiled to the core. I get it.
After all, they need that small margin to get an acceptance for a competitive STEM or business program at a major university. Though a few deviate and pick alternatives such as college or the military, the majority of students usually choose from the same set of first-rate and second-rate universities: Waterloo. UofT. McMaster. Western. The ambitious ones shoot for UBC or one in the U.S. Everyone wants to become a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, or any career with a six-figure salary because those are the lucrative jobs that offer stability and high income.
Unbeknownst to my peers, I am an imposter. As an only child, I am the one chance my parents have of making sure their efforts to immigrate to Canada was a worthwhile endeavor. We are far from well-off, so they work tirelessly to pay the bills and make ends meet while I must study and ensure their efforts don’t go to waste. The only time we reconvene is at the dinner table, and most times, not everyone can make it. We sit down and eat in silence.
My parents want me to be successful in life. In blunt Asian terms, this means getting a good degree, finding a well-paying job, and escaping the lower-middle-class hell we’ve been stuck in for years. They want to mold me into society’s ideal version of an obedient servant.
But that’s not what I want. I don’t want to confine myself to a desk for eight hours a day, five days a week, living on a paycheck. I want to object, to refuse a destiny that so blatantly goes against everything I hold dear. But I can’t say no because I was never given much choice in the first place. Not right now, anyway. I desperately cry out for help, but no one comes to my aid.
With almost no options left, I am trapped. Everything suffocates me all at once. The ridiculous standards set by my peers. The expectations of my waiting parents. The society that wants me to conform to its norms at all costs. The doubts that manifested within me so long ago have become a psychological monster that threatened to tear me apart.
As a last resort, I retreat towards my only salvation: my fascination with world-building and storytelling. Drawn into a world of possibilities, I tried to read as much literary fiction, historical works, or even video game plots I could find. I spent countless hours escaping the nine-to-five grind to embark on a grand adventure to worlds unknown and slay dragons, conquer kingdoms, or wield magic. Between the work, stress, and deadlines, the mysterious realms became a fortress of solitude from the constant assault of an unforgiving reality.
But I am not an Italian plumber destined to save the princess in another castle, a knight fighting to save a magical realm from a great evil, or even a wizard prodigy attending Hogwarts. Despite the namesake, I am just an ordinary teenager who hates having to grow up. Dreaming about a better life will never get you any food on the table or a roof over your head. It only awards you with a cold hard slap from reality. And so, with the help of countless supportive teachers, I dove into the last alternative that almost no one would ever expect: the classroom.
I immersed myself in learning as much as I could about humans and society. This time, I wasn’t looking for the highest marks; I was looking for the solution to create a world without conflict, one with equitable standards of living, and one where I could decide the kind of legacy I wanted to create. I refused to drown in my prime while there was at least a glimmer of hope.
I explored the ancient civilizations of long ago and of their uneasy cooperation to survive what the vast world had decided to throw at them. I learned about various world issues and humanitarian aid efforts working to alleviate crises around the globe. I imagined what it would be like to play politics and be the leader of an influential country, speaking to an assembly of UN delegates on the international stage. I combed through the teachings of famous philosophers such as John Locke and his beliefs in the fundamental human rights of life, liberty, and property.
I always hear the grown-ups say we are lucky to be living in the 21st century because our development and progress have allowed for dramatically improved standards of living. While that is true, today’s young people are inheriting a world riddled with systemic issues left and right. And unfortunately, our world leaders still foolishly believe sending thoughts and prayers will solve the wealth divide, the gender gap, the climate crisis. It has been without a doubt that these past few years have been disastrous. Police brutality. Stagnating wages. Climate change. I can only watch helplessly as the world around me begins to collapse at an accelerated pace.
As much as I wished for change, the world does not revolve around anyone. Was it even possible for everyone to have the bare necessities and successfully pursue their dreams? How could we convince our governments to work together and equitably help those in need? And what about people like Jeff Bezos who seek to accumulate wealth and power at the expense of others? As the questions endlessly piled up, the number of realistic answers to a broken world remained pitifully small. The future I desperately sought seemed increasingly out of reach.
Eventually, the coping mechanism that has kept me sane for so long begins to crack. Unlike fairytales, there are no happy endings. I grow jaded and cynical. I still try to look for the best in people, but sometimes, your best isn’t enough. Something always goes wrong. No matter how hard you try. For some reason, I keep fighting. At this point, I’m not even sure if it is out of desperation, stubbornness or sheer resilience. The odds are slim, but I keep searching anyway.
Silence falls over an empty school building. The pandemic has shut down everything, including the education system, but life moves on. We quietly go our separate ways. The vast majority of my graduating class leave to study at top universities, save for a few niche interests.
I have gone under the radar and cut myself off from almost everyone I knew. Except for a select few, I haven’t breathed a word about my program or scholarship to anyone.
In light of this assignment, I dug out a similar essay I wrote for my high school AP English teacher several years prior. On the last page is a comment written in a bold blue pen that reads, “I think you must form deep attachments, Harry.” Since then, I have written enough essays and articles to fill several dozen binders. After all this time, I think I can finally give a response.
My highschool experiences are bittersweet. Regardless of my resentments, I have been blessed with an education that many others could not hope to receive, yet I am directly complicit in the injustices that lurk within our society and education system. I haven’t learnt to make deep attachments because I can’t. Someone else will always need help. I have to keep fighting. Not just for me, or my friends, or my family, but for everyone. For a better life. For a better future.
No one else has the power to control what kind of legacy you want to create during your lifetime. Your future is ultimately decided by you, your outlook on life, and the choices you make. If anyone in your life, whether it be your friends or family, thinks they have the right to dictate how you should spend the rest of your life, kindly tell them to screw off on my behalf. — Harry Cheung
Cheung is in their 1st year of Geomatics at the University of Waterloo. You can find him on Instagram at @harryzc68.
“Stepping Stones” by Harry Cheunguwimprintadmin2021-03-06T21:24:48-05:00