Copyright © 2013 by Raine Koh
“Writing is a very lonely profession,” she said. Is that why she accepted me so easily? I tried to understand why she allowed me in her house. How could anyone be so naïve? What if I was a murderer or a rapist? Maybe it didn't matter who I pretended to be. She just needed some company that will stop her from going mad. Although I still doubted her sanity.
The next time I saw Project 13 awake was two nights later.
I usually have three different roles I play whenever I am on a project – the struggling artist, the cancer patient or the illegitimate son of a magnate. There was even a time when I combined all three roles into one. Apparently there is something sexy about art, sickness and money.
I had my first project when I was sixteen, turning seventeen. I had spent a year in the orphanage until the Boss came to take me in. Project 1 was what the Koreans call a “study mama”. She was in her forties and had accompanied her children, sans the father, to Singapore for their education's sake. I made friends with her son who was two years younger than me and offered to give him free English tuition. I played the perfect student, the type mothers love. Project 1 had a kind heart and deep pockets. Her husband and kids were never able to give her the affection she craved. I was soon coming to her house even when her son wasn't around.
Three months later, she noticed that I was looking thinner and more sickly than ever before (I was on the banana diet). When she asked how I was, I broke down into tears and told her that I had contacted a rare form of cancer. Treatment was only possible in the United States and if I didn't go for it I only had a month to live. She cried more than me that day.
The following day, Project 1 handed me a cheque for $20 000 (half of which went to the Boss) and I disappeared from her life since then. Two weeks later, she received a letter, sent from America. I made sure I forged the overseas postage stamp to a tee. I guess my artistic talent has its uses.
Dear Mrs Kim,
I will never forget the kindness you have shown me in my last days.
You are a beautiful angel and my love for you will never fade.
Those memories we shared are forever precious to me.
I am sorry I could not say goodbye in person,
but I will watch over you in heaven.
Goodbye and thank you.
And that was how my first project ended. I heard that she was so devastated that she packed up the whole family and flew back to Seoul. Well, life was never a bed of roses and most women like it when there are thorns.
None of my projects were as weird as Project 13 though. I had to think of a way to stop her from sleeping so much. The more she sleeps, the less time I have in trying to convince her to give me the money.
“You don't go out much, do you?” I asked Project 13 on one of the rare nights she was awake.
“Not really, except for this one place,” she said, her eyes fixed on the laptop.
She turned to look at me and said, “Come, I'll show you. Remember to bring a slice of bread.”
That place happened to be by the mango tree, where her bunny was buried. She placed the piece of bread on the ground and said, “My bunny loved chewing on bread. Before that, he always chewed on paper till he discovered bread. It was probably a more delicious version of paper for him.”
“How did your bunny die?” I asked.
“He started becoming very skinny and couldn't eat anything. He even had diarrhea and started pooping everywhere in the house. I really regretted scolding him then because I didn't know how sick he was. When I brought him to the vet, they said he had a liver problem and they would try to pump some fluids in him. He died that night at the pet hospital.” Tears started to well up in her eyes. “What I really regretted was not letting him die at home. His final moments were spent in a cold cage, alone in the hospital. I should have let him die in my arms instead...” She couldn't continue her story because big fat tears were streaming down her cheeks. I reached out and held her tight. She was still sobbing uncontrollably and my shirt was wet from her tears.
“It's okay, your bunny never blamed you for all that. He was just happy that you existed in his life,” I said, patting her head. “He loved you so much that nothing you did could ever make him hate you.”
“You think so?” she asked, looking at me with watery eyes.
“Yeah, isn't that why he still appears in your dreams?”
She used her hands to wipe away her tears away and she calmed down. “Maybe that is why he sent you here as well,” she mumbled to herself.
“What did you say?” I asked.
“Let's go back to the house. I feel better now.”
“Alright, let's go.” I said. I suddenly looked over my shoulder. I had been having this weird feeling that someone was watching us. But there was no one there. I could not shake off that feeling, even when I was at Project 13's doorstep. “You go in first, I'll join you later,” I said as she entered her house.
I turned around to see someone in the hallway. I recognised that figure instantly. It was Daniel, a fellow conman. Otherwise known as Daniel, the Devilish Dancer. I approached him and asked, “What are you doing here?”
He didn't answer me but just smiled. “Come on,” I said, grabbing his wrist and I pulled him down the stairs. I did not want him anywhere near Project 13.
Daniel, the Devilish Dancer earned that title ever since he conned an heiress of $100,000 after one dance with her. Rumour has it, no one had ever danced with him without parting with their money. He fits that stereotype of being tall, dark and handsome. The exact opposite of me. I always thought I was more on the cute side. Anyway if you recalled one of the roles I took on, about being the illegitimate son of a magnate, Daniel was the real deal. His father owns a chain of hotels in Asia. He doesn't need the money. He was just doing this to out of boredom.
I brought him safely downstairs. “Daniel, what are you doing here?” Daniel was wearing a white fitted shirt and plaid pants. His dark brown hair was brushed back and held in place with a little gel.
“I was in Paris for a business trip. Did you miss me?” he asked, putting his arm around me.
“No way!” I cried, shrugging him off. “Why were you spying on us?”
“She's interesting, isn't she? You must be really good to convince her to let you stay over at her house.”
“You're interested in the money too?” I asked, alarmed.
“Actually I am interested in her. Ethan, you were always so focused on money. You should try to have some fun,” he replied with a smirk. His smile really irritated me because it showed off his two dimples.
“Only the rich can say that,” I said, crossing my arms.
“Whatever the case, you'll soon have competition. So be careful,” he said. He then blew me a kiss before skipping off.
That's another nutcase, I thought, sighing to myself. But then, you never know, two nutcases may be able to communicate with each other. Should I be worried? I wondered as I made my way back to Project 13's house. I was basically staying with her now as I didn't want to miss any of her precious waking moments. I figured that was what a good pet does anyway. Pets pretty much wait for their mistress to wake up, just to spend time together. Although sometimes, after cleaning up the house and spending hundreds of dollars on groceries, I wondered who was the pet and who was the owner.
When I returned to the house, Project 13 was just staring at her laptop screen, not typing anything. “Are you alright?” I asked.
“I was just thinking, if I am able to finish my novel in time.”
“You have a deadline?” I asked, surprised. I didn't think that someone who slept the days away would have a deadline.
“Well, this publisher is accepting manuscripts and the deadline is next month.”
I sat down next to her on the floor. “So how much have you written?”
“I think I need ten more chapters. I have already written five.”
“I see,” I said, glancing at the laptop screen.
“Do you think, if I didn't sleep as much, I would be able to write more?” she asked.
“Not that I am one to say, but normal humans sleep six to eight hours a day.”
“But I am not normal though,” she said. I burst out laughing at her comment. “No you are definitely special.”
“Bunny, how do you not sleep?” she asked, looking at me seriously.
“For me...” I thought about it, “Well, you told me that you sleep a lot because of good dreams. I don't sleep because of bad ones and I also tend to sleepwalk.”
“So sleep is a bad experience for you?”
“For the past few years, it has been,” I said. “Maybe, another way to do this is if I show you how wonderful being awake is.”
Project 13's face brightened at my words. “Maybe it'll work. I didn't sleep as much when my bunny was awake!” she said.
I smiled at her but inside I was worried. The truth was, I didn't find being awake particularly wonderful either.