Caduceus
Cycles M22 Nicholas Wong I always loved Physics lessons. Our physics teacher was one of those rare teachers that both understood fully what they were teaching and were able to captivate a full class of students through interactions. Sometimes he would slip in some lewd jokes, which never failed to cause an uproar in class. Today he was going on another ‘rampage’, so to speak as he frantically waved his arms to represent the heat cycle. Coupled with a few teachers walking by the window looking cluelessly at him, the situation was made even more comedic. A student tried to capture the footage and post it online, which I suspected our teacher actually knew but pretended to be oblivious. It was a slightly breezy autumn day and the temperature was a comfortable 18oC, but after all that work, our teacher was already panting and a thin film of moisture accumulated on his forehead half visible under his long erratic hair. ‘I think we should switch on the air conditioner,’ as he walked next to the door and flicked the switches on. I sat by the window and was quite enjoying the fresh air. I doubted we would require the air conditioner at this state. Henry, my classmate sitting right next to me, stood up to voice out his objection, ‘But wouldn’t that quicken the increase in entropy in the environment?’ He paused for a second, then gave out the most common justification, trying to end the argument, ‘Well, technically yes, but considering the scale of things, our contribution is infinitesimal.’ Henry swept his steely gaze around the room, and seeing the lack of response, he sat down with a note of discontent. Those eyes have never shown a shred of desperation since the day I knew him, as if the defiant strength was a universal constant. I used to admire them, but now I was afraid to cross their paths. Turning my attention to the textbook, I tried to decipher the enigma the passages were. Our teacher slipped in a joke about how in the field of Physics, a small margin of error could be ignored and how physicists were practical creatures. The whole class laughed. A few classmates even glanced in his direction, and Henry’s unflinching face was all they received. ‘You know, not many people would dare stand up against Mr. Chan. He was being irresponsible and I should have voiced my objection as well.’ I whispered, hoping no one else would be able to hear it. It had been such a long time, and I forgot how to start a conversation with him. He glared at me for a few seconds, and for those seconds I felt naked in front of the whole class. He faced forward again, replying coolly, ‘Focus on the class, Tom.’ Now the passages transformed into a heap of mess and no matter how hard I focused, the words just danced around, escaping my sight and my mind. I wondered if that’s how a dyslexic feels every day. It was in recess that my best friend, Kelvin approached me, accompanying me for a walk around the school. He was a head taller and his shoulder was wide enough to block half of the corridor, but with his goofy face and actions, he still managed to look more immature. We walked side by side silently, listening to the bristle of leaves of the palm trees. I remembered how I used to sit under them in my junior years, toying with novel ideas while observing my friends in the field playing their games. Kelvin kept stepping on the field, a unified patch of deep green in the summer, but usually slightly marred by a few spots of yellow in the autumn. The grass moved in a wave-like motion, as regular as the finest timepiece. It would have been a great day, if not for the looming clouds now hanging low in the sky, covering any sight of blue. It almost took strength to cut through the palpable haze as I dragged my feet forward. I kept thinking about Henry, how we used to be great friends and shared every secret. He would tell me about advanced calculus and physics with such an intensity that I felt content watching the display, even though his utterances were a complete puzzle to me. It was my turn when I started on the topic of literature, claiming how certain plot devices were used to accentuate the protagonist’s personality, and how intricate details should be scattered around to keep the big picture subtle. With the same amiability, he would accept my suggestions and come back the other day complaining how those books were boring and archaic. Two freaks bunched together by a common fervent passion on their interests, my classmates once joked. He was shocked when he found out I did not select English literature in F.4 as my subject choice. He followed me, nagged me and refused to give up until I gave him a reasonable explanation. I turned around and told him, near exasperation, how I didn’t want to be called girlish or a sissy behind my back anymore, how I just wanted to act and be treated like a normal boy. That was the only time I saw a tinge of frustration and disappointment showing through the cracks of his icy armour. We exchanged little except daily pleasantries after that. I tried out some ball games, got fairly good at it and made my own friends. People stopped looking at me like some sort of weirdo, which I was grateful for. A basketball clanked on the backboard and landed with a soft thud, accompanied by high-pitch squeals as the junior students raced towards the ball. Henry used to say that sports was a blatant waste of time and useful energy, and even claimed sarcastically that it was an invention by the government to keep people in check. Pick up the ball, aim, shoot. Repeat the process for an indefinite amount of times and you have sports in essence. Stuck in an endless cycle, just like those cycles in his beloved Physics. ‘Hey’ ‘Yes?’ I snapped out of my thoughts. ‘There is a writing competition coming up, and I think we should both join.’ Kelvin broke the silence with the request. ‘I’m not sure, I haven’t written for quite a while.’ ‘Oh come on! I’m sure you are the best candidate for this.’ ‘Not really.’ ‘Not everyone could have their work accepted and posted on the school’s yearly editorial in secondary two.’ I smiled in spite of the terrible day I was having. ‘Okay, I’ll try my best. Just don’t expect much from it.’ ‘I knew you would say yes,’ he beamed. After struggling through the monotonous day, I returned home briskly. My father was already sitting next to the laid-out table, focusing on the television. His eyes might be fixed on the screen, but judging from his stern face, he was certainly displeased about my decision. I chewed each piece of food meticulously, trying not to meet my father’s eyes while pondering on my replies for the later argument that was sure to come. ‘So, I heard you were going to put English as your first choice on the list,’ And so it began. ‘Yes,’ I replied as casually as possible, but my other hand under the table would not stop trembling. ‘And I guess you know my answer.’ ‘Yes, but…’ ‘Son, you have good grades, you could easily choose a path in law or medicine, professions with a better future.’ He was trying to handle this tactfully. ‘But what’s the point if I have totally no interest in these subjects?’ ‘People always change, you have to remember that. You may not necessarily see your path right now, and quite frankly it is impossible to make the right decision. All you could do is to weigh your options through objective factors. And at this point, a degree of medicine trumps a degree in arts in terms of any tangible traits.’ I tried responding to his arguments futilely for a few times, but they were all refuted easily. I had been in a hopeless battle all the while, lost the second this discussion started. ‘Even if they have by any chance admitted you, I have to remind you, to an Asian receiving traditional Chinese education this is a highly unlikely situation, I would not provide your fees and finances.’ That was the last straw. I nearly choked with the anger and frustration coursing through my veins. I half-hoped I had choked, so at least my father would have shown me some care and not be the merciless creature now in front of me. At any rate, it would have put an end to my embarrassment. ‘How’s the writing going on?’ Kelvin asked me nearly every week, hoping to have a glimpse of my work. ‘Fine.’ The truth was that I had not been able to make any satisfying progress on my work. Every day of toiling in front of my desk ended up with me tearing the drafts into shreds. It was not like they were terrible pieces of work, but when I set my pen down I couldn’t stop thinking how my ideas were expressed by my precursors in much more fluid and articulate manners. Cliché, that’s the word for it. ‘Have you submitted your composition?’ ‘Yeah, it came along quite well, just entered it yesterday,’ I lied. How I wish he would have seen through my lies, and instead of facing me with eyes full of anticipation he would view me with disgust. And not just eyes of disgust but contempt, the contempt of how I was only a normal student with no style or flair whatsoever, and without the simple strength of saying no! I sat on the second deck of the bus, with a degree of dejectedness. It was odd how the city was all covered in grey, and the buildings, no matter new or old, all felt the same. The city was homogeneous. As the bus careered down the road, I could not distinguish one street from another. Looking at the emotionless faces of the pedestrians, I tried piecing together their stories, how twists and turns led to their current lives. I tried giving each of them an illustrious personal history, but I sighed after keeping the act up for a few minutes. The branches didn’t matter when they all led to the same end. Maybe my father was right after all. His rejection didn’t sting as much as I thought it would. Maybe subconsciously I understood how ludicrous the idea of studying literature was. A last-ditch attempt to escape, a rush of blood to the head, that’s what it truly was. Just like those people who would try to leave the second before their weddings because they couldn’t bear thinking that their lives would be set from that point onwards. Honeymoon, have kids, watch them grow, maybe sneak in a couple romantic dinners, look in the mirror and see themselves growing older and one day die, hopefully peacefully. People tried to blame others for trapping them and limiting their potential, but I understood today that it was more or less self-protection. There was no one there to blame but you. I clenched my fists so hard that the veins on my arms bulged. They were powerless. I sometimes thought whether there was true escape, a salvation at the end of the treacherous path. I thought about Henry, his defiant strength and his inexhaustible fountain of passion. Maybe there was truly an end for him, but it was never meant for me. A doctor, I started toying with the idea. I wondered how I would look in a white coat.

Caduceus, Medical Society,Hong Kong University Students’ Union

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