“I can’t remember a thing. I don’t know what I did.” Jina says repeatedly but no one believes her.
It happened a week ago when the most handsome and popular boy on campus asked her to go out for bubble tea and talk over an article. Jina is the acting editor of the college newspaper. The only reason that Jina could get the job is because nobody else wants it. This is a technical college and most students are not interested in humanity subjects or writing. Jina is quiet and reserved, coming from a family that runs a little durian grove on the outskirt of Penang City, Malaysia. She has no enviable background to speak of and no connection whatsoever.
Her college life has been unexciting and uneventful. Everything is so typical and dull that a girl brought up in better circumstances would have screamed boredom long time ago. However Jina was brought up to endure, to help with house chores, to attend to her siblings, to assist with durian harvest when needed. Her school life is equally tedious. She has developed the habit of sitting in the classroom listening to didactic lectures she hardly has an interest in.
Then the young assistant professor Arya Muniyarayar becomes the instructor for her English course. Arya is a Tamil Malaysian and she is working on a fictional short story collection about Tamil’s diaspora in Southeast Asia and the rest of the world. She is knowledgeable, talkative, vivacious, and interesting. Jina has never had a teacher like her before. Other students only take English as a necessity, but Jina falls in love with it. The teacher and the student become friends–other faculty members are much older than Arya and Arya feels quite lonely, in a new city, on a new job. Many times they would talk and talk nonstop. Often they are forced to go back to Arya’s faculty’s dorm to cook some simple food, have dinner together since the talk can’t be stopped. Several times Jina even sleeps on the floor since it is too late to walk back to her own dorm afterwards.
Dalan is the most handsome and popular boy on campus. He had never paid any attention to Jina before, but then suddenly about two weeks ago Jina felt that he was observing her when they were taking the same class together. Then Jina received an email from Dalan to inquire about an article he contributed, which Jina had not read yet but she sent back a message saying that she would revise it to fit the newspaper layout. The invitation for bubble tea came soon afterwards.
Jina was so excited. Dalan was completely out of her league. For a while, Jina thought Dalan is probably mad, but even a mad Dalan is a good thing, Jina thought. The news of Dalan and her sitting in the school cafe would spread wide and invoke envy. How wonderful. She can tell him all the exciting things she has learned recently.
It’s a date. At least Jina thinks so. She dresses carefully and even borrowed cosmetics from girls who kept on asking her question, “how did you get to know Dalan?” Jina told them all the details she knew but nobody believed her. So many girls want to date Dalan and how come Jina, without any effort on her part, gets to go out with him.
When the two of them sat down in the school cafe at the scheduled time, Jina was lost in her own revelry. Dalan’s so handsome–wherever he goes, admirable eyes follows him. The conversation with Dalan was dull. Jina distinctively felt that. Her friendship with Arya had awakened her to this aspect of human relationship. Not that he couldn’t talk. He can talk very well, but he is obviously not at the level of Arya. But still Dalan’s physical presence made up for all his colloquial deficiencies.
And Dalan even encouraged Jina to talk about Arya. At first Jina felt it’s strange, but her vanity helps her to reach the conclusion that Dalan admires her and is charmed by her improved knowledge and her intellectual pursuit with Arya. Jina felt so flattered by her imagination of Dalan’s regard that she starts to talk about the books she read and the characters she loved.
Then suddenly, Dalan interrupted her, obviously a little bored by what she was saying.
“Look, I am not asking you here to talk about literature.” He says.
“Oh, I thought you like me.” Jina says in very soft disappointed voice.
“Like you? Well, you know I’ve never met a lesbian before and I just want to, you know, see what kind of person you are.” Dalan says.
“What do you mean?” Jina is puzzled.
“There’s a rumor that you and Arya are …”