A New Life

She had left last week, quietly slipping away. No fanfare, long farewells or emotional parties.

When you leave in the middle of a pandemic, when everyone is isolated and apart anyway, it takes a while for anyone to miss you. This is a good thing, she thinks, especially when you leave, having paid all your bills, turned in your notice the prerequisite months ahead, and having notified your landlady that you won’t be needing the flat anymore, also in time that the last month is paid by your deposit.

No one misses you when your loyal dog has already gone ahead of you to the mysteries of the next world which your parents are also exploring, having ended their struggles with the virus that has claimed so many lives all over the world, and when your sole cousin is on the other side of the South China Sea, wrapped up in his own life, as he should be with three children under the age of five, each with a bank account subsidised by the Singaporean government that is greedy for citizens to procreate (as if there were no such thing as human overpopulation on the planet).

When you leave the world you were once a part of, that connected group of human beings whom you thought you had so much in common with and with whom you felt safe and loved and belonged together in an impenetrable bubble, you realise that it is actually easy to disconnect and to be alone. Truly alone, not just isolated because the government tells you to be so in the midst of this strange new deadly virus.

So, what do you do? Start a new life in another part of the city, in a different flat, in a new job, talking to new colleagues via Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams. Start new Facebook and Instagram accounts with a new version of your name, a new haircut, a profile picture of a caricature of your new silhouette, new background, new quotes from authors you’ve never mentioned, with hobbies and interests of anime and an obsession with a TV series that you never had time for in your old life.

So, this is what freedom is, she thinks, months later, as she sips green tea from a Yunomi Sushi tea cup in her new flat with a Japanese screen etched with plum blossoms behind her, blocking off the tiny kitchen where she now shapes up meals that any anime fan in Malaysia would be proud of. When she talks to her new colleagues and clients in virtual meetings and chats, even her accent has changed, and she peppers her English with smatterings of Malay and Cantonese and sometimes even Japanese in ways her old self would never have done.

I like this, she tells herself. I am new. The pandemic has created me. It has given me this chance to build a new life, a new world. I am truly alone. No one knows me, not really. I can be whoever I wish to be. I can make myself anew. How many of us can do this? How many would dare?

Will anyone miss me? I doubt it. And this way, I needn’t miss anyone either. Because everyone I ever cared about in that old used-up life, has already left me. They’ve gone ahead and I’m just biding my time. Whatever I achieve or fail, whoever I meet or leave, none of that matters really.

The phone rings. It’s one of her new colleagues. She sees his name flash on her brand-new smart phone.

“Hello, Kai?”

“Hey, Joey. What are you up to?”

“Watching anime, of course.” She laughs. “What about you?”

“Of course! You are the biggest anime fan I’ve ever known. Have you ever done yourself up in cosplay?”

“Well, I don’t know if I should admit it…” She gives another laugh. Her new self is carefree and happy to talk about nonsensical matters.

“Joey?”

“Hmm?”

“Would you like to go out when the MCO is over?”

She has planned for this question. For this moment. Yet, now, when it arrives, she hesitates. She can hear in her mind, her new voice speaking. But such remarks should not be spoken.

CA Yin lives in Kuching with her husband, two children and two mixed-breed dogs. Her fiction and nonfiction writing have appeared in Anak Sastra, eTropic, New Writing and TEXT, among others.

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