I met Ming at the cafe that was situated near the place we used to work. He was dressed in a black tee and black skinny jeans and was wearing big glasses that held no lens. He waved coolly upon seeing me.
“Long time no see,” he said.
“Yeah, how are you?”
“The usual. I was busy with final projects at school. But now it's a little more relaxed.” He passed me an envelope which had a few hundred inside.
“Thanks,” I said, accepting it from him. “Ming, this may be sudden but do you draw manga characters?”
“Sure, I did a few before, wait, I can show you some.” He reached for his black backpack beside him and took out a sketch book. He flipped through the front pages and showed me some of his work. They were impressive and looked good enough to be published.
“Can you give me some pointers on how to draw in this style?” I asked.
“Sure, I have a spare sketchbook I can pass it to you,” he said. Ming took out a smaller sketchbook (A5 size) and handed it to me. He also gave me a pencil.
“Manga style has a strong emphasis on the eyes and mouth,” he said while sketching out a typical female character's eyes on his book. He then went on to explain about shapes and proportions with regards to the eye. Using his characters as a guideline, I started drawing my own.
“Ethan, you're quite talented. These are really good. Why aren't you in art school?” Ming asked, examining my drawn figures.
“Art school is really expensive and I'm in need of money right now for other purposes.”
“You can always opt for a scholarship if you are really serious about it. There's always a way. I mean, I'm not rich either.”
I couldn't believe how positive some people were. “Ming, do you have a dream?” I asked. I could see his eyes sparkling. “I want to design game characters for top Japanese companies like Capcom or Square Enix!”
It's nice having a dream, I thought. I envied Ming. Just like how I envied Project 13. With or without her money, Project 13 was going to pursue her dream until it came true. Unlike the both of them, I spent everyday just surviving. I didn't even expect to live past 30. Maybe a part of me felt that I should have died with my family. But instead, by some fluke of nature, I was still alive, while everyone else was gone.
That night, after Project 13 described to me her story characters, I attempted to flesh them out on paper.
The main lead was Rye. She was a Chinese teenage girl with a chin-length bob. And then there was Karma, her mentor, who had a long braid and dark skin. The last character she wanted me to draw was Damon. He was a part of the enemy camp but seem to have something going on with Rye. He had short brown hair with a long fringe.
While Project 13 was working on her novel, I sat next to her, crafting out the characters. Luckily, Ming gave me some of his sample sketches because I couldn't remember everything he taught me earlier. The both of us were so engrossed in our work, we didn't speak at all throughout the night.
It was 5 am by the time I had character sketches I was satisfied with. “Are these okay?” I asked, showing them to Project 13.
“These are perfect!” she cried, observing them closely. “Bunny, you are a genius.”
“I'm glad you liked them.”
“I've also finished my manuscript. Please read it when it's printed out,” she said. She stood up and stretched. “I can submit my manuscript together with your drawings by tomorrow night.”
She went to her laptop and clicked on “print”. Project 13 let out a loud yawn. “And now it's time to sleep. Please tell me what you think about the story,” she said as she headed to the bedroom with her eyes half-closed.
I looked at the canvas. It was still blank save for a few rough sketches. So many people were asking me to draw lately. I wondered how Annabelle was doing. Our last date did worry me a little. Women are always troublesome when you start caring about them. I don't even know why I should care about a married woman.
I went to the printer and took out the documents. It was a thick stack, about two hundred pages. She really did work hard, I thought.
I sat down on the sofa, next to her laptop and started to read. Her story was titled, “The Photizo Project” and to be honest, it was a little confusing. Rye was this super smart girl who was running away from some crazy robots who wanted to steal her will. These robots have been going around, stealing the wills from the elite student body. Their victims then start to believe that they had no control over their own lives.
To be fair, the story was interesting but Project 13's writing was all over the place. It seemed like her writing had not matured enough to handle the story. It was like asking a new driver to drive a bus.
“Still, there is potential,” I muttered to myself. Maybe the publisher can see that and help edit it for her. Again, I caught myself caring about others again. However I did have a nagging suspicion that Project 13 will not take it lightly if her manuscript was rejected.
I suddenly felt drained. I didn't know drawing consumed so much of my energy. I shut my eyes.
I dreamt of that fateful night, five years ago. I saw myself sleepwalking out of my house and down the stairs. I was shocked to find myself standing at the grass patch next to our flat in my pajamas. I quickly walked back home but I found numerous policemen and inquisitive neighbours standing outside my home
“What happened?” I asked, looking around.
“There was a serious gas leak at your house,” explained the police officer. “Your family members are now at the hospital. I need you to come with me to the station.”
“What? Is my family okay? What happened?” Tears started to well in my eyes.
“Come with us,” whispered a female voice. I turned around, but there was no one there. That was when I knew that my whole family was already dead. It was also the first time I heard her calling me.
I woke up with a start. I was back in the present time. I glanced at my watch, it was 2pm. This is why I hate sleeping. The memory always comes back to me.
“Bunny, come have lunch,” called Project 13. I was shocked to see her in the kitchen.
“Yes, to celebrate me finishing my book and you finishing the character drawings,” she replied brightly. Two bowls of instant noodles, topped with hotdogs and egg were laid out on the dining table.
“Thanks,” I said, as I sat down. She handed me a pair of chopsticks and I brought the noodles to my mouth and started to chew slowly. The noodles were a little hard and the soup was diluted. It was still edible though.
“Did you read my manuscript?” she asked.
“Yes, I did. The story was very interesting,” I said, not telling her my complete opinion.
“I want to tell people through this book to always believe in themselves. No matter how hard their circumstances are, they always have the power to change it. You inspired me with that part, Bunny.”
“Your existence gave me strength to carry on,” she said.
I didn't know why, but I started to feel guilty. I asked, “What if one day, I'm no longer here?”
Project 13 dropped her chopsticks in shock. “That can't happen. I mean, you can leave for a few days, a month or even a year but you must always come back. Isn't that why you became a human? Humans live much longer than bunnies.” She was starting to panic and I didn't think her words made sense.
“I was just joking,” I said. “Don't worry, I will never leave you.”
She held out her clenched fist and lifted her pinky finger. “Do you promise?”
I did the same and hooked her pinky finger with mine. “I promise.”