祝你生日快樂， Happy Birthday to you,
祝你生日快樂， Happy Birthday to you,
祝你生日快樂 (Taylor)， Happy Birthday dear Taylor,
祝你生日快樂 。 Happy Birthday to you.
And now we are in the present. Present Taylor. Sixteen-years-old. At the hospital. Dying.
My brother takes out the cake that he got on the way back from City College. It’s white, decorated with pink and green frosting, topped with sixteen little candles. Henry carefully lights each one and places the cake on the table attached to my bed.
He sings the birthday song for me in Cantonese, just as my parents did when they used to have the time to celebrate this annual event. And then he quickly adds the monkey verse (you smell like a monkey, and you look like one too), making me laugh. I know that he’s just trying to make light of the situation.
“Happy sweet sixteen!” Henry says enthusiastically.
For me, sixteen was never the age that I looked forward to.
Sixteen the minimum. Twenty the maximum.
This is my reality: a limited lifespan.
What a joke when I had already reached the edge of my life.
“Geez,” I say, giggling as I hit my brother’s back a few times. “Thank you, Henry.”
He turns the light back on and smiles. “Let’s eat,” he says.
We share slices of the cake until it is about time for Henry to return home. I tell him that he should go, even though he insists on staying at the hospital with me for the night as usual. He waves goodbye to me as he leaves the room.
I sigh, sinking into the bed and covering my head with my blankets. Am I afraid? I am reaching my limit. I am missing days, no weeks, of school. Studying by myself in the hospital isn’t the same as learning with my peers in a classroom environment. I don’t even think I have friends in my class anymore because I missed so much school. I bet people think that I’m skipping class and don’t even care about school.
Teachers ask me all the time, Why don’t you tell the truth?
Tell everyone that I’m dying? Receive pity for being different? Get special treatment? Expose my true self to numerous people? Never in my life would I want that. I’d rather have everyone think crap about me. I’d rather have everyone think of me as a delinquent. It’s better than living like an open book, revealing myself to everyone.
I wonder if I sound stupid for wanting that.
Well, I am not completely crippled yet at least. I can walk, but occasionally I will lose strength in my legs which is why I go everywhere in the hospital with a wheelchair for safety.
Most patients aren’t supposed to leave their room at this time (there are bathrooms in the private rooms, so that isn’t a problem either), unless they have an issue, which is why there is a red button near the bed to call a nurse.
I turn off the lights with a remote after the doctor gives me my last checkup of the day and I lie in my bed. I yawn. It is always so hard to get a proper rest at the hospital. There are always people walking around. But my parents worked really hard to get me this room, where higher-class patients usually stay.
For someone like me, I could not ask for any better.
I close my eyes when suddenly I hear rustling outside my door. My eyes widen.
What was that?
The rustling continues. I feel adrenaline run through me. What is that sound? A thief? Maybe a ghost? What am I saying? There are no such thing as ghosts. No such thing. No such thing. Or are there? ARGH! What am I thinking? I’m being ridiculous.
“I’ll just check it out,” I mutter to myself. “I can prove that it’s not a ghost or whatever. It’s probably the wind after all.”
Okay, fine! The air conditioner.
I creep out of my bed, stepping on the cold tile floor. I try to quietly approach the door. The rustling noises continue as I get closer. I hold onto the doorknob and take a few deep breathes.
“I’ll prove it,” I mutter. “There’s nothing out there. Nothing to be afraid of.”
Quickly, I throw the door open, and at that moment, I see a large object, falling toward me.
“WOAH!” I hear someone shout loudly.
The large object falls on top of me, slamming my body to the hard floor. What is this? It’s heavy and warm-ish. I try to get it off me, but it is too heavy. I get the remote control out of my pocket and turn the lights on.
“Huh?!” I exclaim.
It’s a person?
WAS IT REALLY A THIEF?
I am about to scream but this person quickly covers my mouth. “Shush,” he says. “Be quiet.” He lets go of my mouth and tries to get off me, but instead falls back on top of me again.
“Get away from me you thief!” I scream. I grab my remote. “I’ll call the nurse!”
“What thief?” the man shouts in annoyance. “I’m a damn patient!”
Huh? I take a better look at the man and see that he is just a boy my age in a patient’s gown as well. He has a cast around his leg and his crutches have fallen on the ground. He has tan skin and his hair is a bit dyed, perhaps bleached.
“Geez,” he says. “Have you calmed down now? I was just leaning on your door when you suddenly opened it, you crazy maniac.”
“Crazy?” I argue back. What the hell is with this guy? He has no manners at all. And it wasn’t my fault that he was leaning on my door to begin with! “Patients aren’t even supposed to be walking around at this hour, you dumbass! Of course, I would think that you’re some criminal or something!”
I hear walking in the distance. Oh crap, is that the security guard? I’ll definitely get in trouble if the guard were to see me up at this hour, especially with another patient in my room! I immediately roll the guy off me and run to the door, closing it and turning off the lights.
The guy rubs his back, probably in pain. “What the hell are you doing to a patient, you crazy—”
“Shut up,” I hiss. This guy is so loud. “The guard is doing his rounds.”
Instantly, the guy sits up, alert. We both try to stay as quiet as possible as the guard walks past my room. Once he is gone, we both sigh in relief.
I turn to the guy again, pressing the light switch. “So tell me,” I say. “Why were you in front of my room?”
The guy sighs, scratching his head. “I thought I heard a guard, and since your room was near the corner, I thought I could hide a bit. I didn’t know someone was staying here.”
I shake my head in disapproval. “What are you even doing wandering around this late?”
“You don’t know?” he says with a grin. “It only happens every eleven years!”
“What do you mean?” I ask, confused.
“A meteor shower!” he exclaims. “I really want to see it. It’s been so long! You have no idea how pretty they are.” He suddenly takes my hand. My heart suddenly jumps out of my chest in surprise. “You should see it! The view is always so amazing!”
“A meteor shower?” I ask. “But isn’t it too bright in the city to watch it?”
“I’m going to the roof,” he replies. “I can watch it from there.”
But if he is trying to sneak up to the roof, he definitely can’t take the elevator. There are always nurses around there. But we are on the top floor of the hospital, so going up one flight of stairs wouldn’t be that bad for me. But what about him? I look at him. He still has a cast, so should he be going up those stairs by himself? Wouldn’t that be difficult? I think about those times when I suddenly became weak. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to help him out.
“I’ll go with you,” I say, standing up and giving him a hand.
“You want to go?” he says, excited. “Heh, that’s great! It’s always more fun to watch it with someone else.”
“D-Don’t get me wrong,” I say, stuttering for some reason. I cross my arms defensively. “I’m just worried about you going up those stairs with that cast.”
“Got it,” he grins, taking my hand. I wrap his arm around my shoulders and help him stand. Then I grab his crutches, handing them to him.
“Okay,” I say. “Let’s go.”
We quietly step into the dark hallway, making sure that there are no guards around. Then we quickly go to the stairs. I help him walk up, allowing him to put some of his weight on my shoulders. But my weak body makes this difficult.
I really want to see it.
He had said that. I wonder why. I understand that meteor showers are pretty, but is it really worth going through all this trouble? He could see it from his room’s window too, right? I’m assuming his room is pretty high up after all.
“We’re here,” he says happily.
We sit on the ground, looking at the sky. It looks like the shower hasn’t started yet.
The guy lies on the cold cement with a bright smile on his face. “Thank you for helping me,” he says, turning toward me. “Even though I scared the crap out of you. I’m really grateful.”
Huh? How did it suddenly get so hot? My face feels like it is burning. I take a few breaths and try to fan my face with my hand. Am I getting a fever? I really hope not. “I-It’s no problem,” I say. “Why did you want to watch it from the roof so badly though? You could just watch it from your room, right?”
The guy tilts his head a bit and smiles softly, as if he were remembering a bittersweet memory. “I came here with my mom eleven years ago, back when she was at the hospital,” he replies. “She couldn’t walk, but she insisted on seeing the meteor shower. So I helped her and dragged her wheelchair all the way up here. And we watched it, right here, on this spot. It’s one of my only memories that I can recall of her.”
“May I ask why she couldn’t walk?” I ask.
“Ah…” he says. “She had muscle dystrophy.”
My eyes widen. Less than 200,000 cases a year and I have met someone with a relative who was like me. But eleven years ago… She must have passed away by now. No wonder why he wanted to see the stars so badly, despite his leg.
“Thank you for telling me,” I say. “I’m sorry if I brought up bad memories.”
“They aren’t bad,” he says. “The memories I have of my mom really give me strength, so I’m not hurt. Don’t worry about it.” He takes my hand, holding it to assure me. He seems like a nice guy. I regret calling him a dumbass now. I should probably apologize.
“Hey, I’m sorry about—”
“What are you doing here by the way?” he suddenly asks. “At the hospital.”
I feel a lump in my throat. My heart begins to pound faster. What do I do? I can’t tell him that I, like his mom, have muscle dystrophy. Nor do I want to tell anyone in the first place. “Uh…” I say, trying to stall to think of an excuse. “I had a really bad fever!” I quickly say. “So I got stuck here for a couple of days. But I am feeling much better!”
“I see. I’m glad that you’re feeling better,” he says. “For me, I was crossing the road carelessly and got hit by a motorcycle.”
“Ouch,” I say. “I’m glad that you are looking better.”
He nods. “I’m leaving the hospital hopefully by the end of this week.” He lifts his cast up, resting it on a stand. “Honestly, I could’ve just been out the next day since I just broke my leg, but since my dad is the CEO of this hospital, he insisted on me staying until I got better.”
Wow, a son of a CEO. Just as I thought, he was from an affluent family.
“Ah!” he exclaims, pointing at the sky. He grabs me by the arm, pulling my back down to the cement. “The meteor shower started!”
“Oh!” I say. My eyes widen when I see the beautiful lights falling from the sky. I have never seen something like this in my life. I open my mouth to speak, but this sight just puts me at a lost for words.
“You know,” he says. “My mom told me this here.”
I tilt my head a bit. “Told you what?”
“That when people die, they become stars,” he says with a smile.
Stars… I’ve never heard of that. When I was a kid, I just thought that people turned into ghosts or something. And now I don’t know what to believe. When I die, where will I go? Will I turn into nothing? Will I just disappear? Maybe I’ll become a star too.
The guy reaches for the sky and opens his palms, as if he were trying to catch something. Perhaps he was pretending to catch the falling meteors.
“And meteor showers,” he said. “My mom told me that meteor showers come to remind the living that the deceased will always live in their hearts.” He makes a short chuckle. “I actually believed her as a child. I really thought that she was there in the sky, watching over me as a star.”
“Do you still believe it?” I ask.
“Do you still believe that she’s watching over you up there?”
The guy smiles, but for some reason, it looks sad, almost pitiful. “Maybe,” he replies.
Maybe. I wonder how this guy felt when he lost his mother. He looks so lonely, even though he is smiling. When I leave, will Henry have that look too? My chest aches just at the thought of that same lonely smile on him.