Mirror, Mirror: A USP Fairy Tale

This story was written by Chua Xin Rong, Mathematics + USP, Year 4. This story was originally posted at http://archiveofourown.org/works/847305.

Mirror, Mirror: A USP Fairy Tale

On the morning of open house, they have breakfast under the big-S fan in the dining hall.

“The flashing shadows are really distracting,” Hui Yee grumbles, lifting the thick frame of her glasses to rub irritably at the bridge of her nose.

“At least you’re in a t-shirt.” Joseph points at the sticky sheen of sweat under the collar of his shirt.

Hui Yee fingers the cotton of her bright blue USP Ambassador t-shirt. “Yeah, I guess I should be glad my duties require a cooler – well, at least literally – uniform, even if it does involve repeating the USP introduction a hundred times.”

“You have a presentation on your optics project today, right?” Hui Yee continues, when Joseph just gives a noncommittal shrug. “What’s it about?”

“The industry optics setup makes use of curved mirrors,” says Joseph, tracing out an arc with one hand. “We’re proposing an economical corrective system that enables the use of flat mirrors.”

“Can you two not be so geeky first thing in the morning?” asks Du Ling as she appears next to Hui Yee, tugging at the mandarin collar of her form-fitting blouse. “Unless this is Hui Yee’s plan to get Chee Boon’s attention.”

“Chee Boon’s in his room, mugging,” Joseph supplies helpfully, happy to egg the duo on.

“Considering what you’re wearing, it looks like you’re the one out to bewitch him with your PRC charms,” Hui Yee laughs, sketching out an hourglass figure with her hands.

“That’s xenophobic,” sniffs Du Ling, affecting a hurt look.

“It’s like a really clichéd drama serial with the hot PRC hostess seducing the lonely beer drinking guy, isn’t it?” Hui Yee says. “They haven’t done fantasy in years—what do you think? You cast a spell, and Chee Boon becomes aware of his burning desire for you!”

Du Ling rolls her eyes. “Go back to your geeky science talk.”

“Who said we were being geeky?” Hui Yee counters, as Joseph leans back in his chair to watch them snipe at one another.

“I heard you guys talking about optics, and mirrors…” Du Ling replies.

“No, Joseph was saying that he looked into his mirror this morning and asked ‘Mirror, mirror, on the wall’–” begins Hui Yee.

“Nonsense!” scoffs Du Ling.

“No, I’m telling you – fine, let me start from the beginning,” Hui Yee insists, before assuming the dramatic tones of a fairy-tale narrator.

“Once upon a time…”

*

Once upon a time, when the cumulus clouds were floating past Cinnamon College like cotton candy,

Du Ling sat gazing out of her window. She gazed in wonder at the sun rays glancing off the Edusports infinity pool. The dazzling patterns in the depths of the pool looked so beautiful that she thought to herself, ‘If only I could find someone as tall as the sky, as fair as the clouds, and whose brilliant wit sparkles like the pool.’

Soon afterwards, Du Ling’s wish was granted.

“He’s perfect,” Du Ling gushed to Hui Yee. “Tall-”

“Fair, and brilliant, I know,” Hui Yee said, completing her statement from long experience. “Do I know him? What’s his name?”

“Chee Boon,” Du Ling said lovingly, showing Hui Yee a picture of him on her phone.

“Oh, I didn’t know he was in USP,” Hui Yee said, remembering. “He was a senior in my CCA – everyone used to make jokes about how he was so light, the wind could blow him away. I should have known you liked his type; you’re one of those Twilight ‘Team Edward’ fans, aren’t you?”

“Look at this,” Du Ling opened her internet browser, sighing wistfully. “I’d choose Team Chee Boon over Team Edward anytime.”

“He has a fan page.” Hui Yee stated incredulously, scrolling down, before pausing. “My God, is that the male changing room?”

“That’s not the point,” Du Ling moved to snatch the phone back, face flushing. “I’m telling you this because your skill in the martial arts is known across the land, old friend.”

“Are these primary school girls mobbing him?” Hui Yee held Du Ling’s hand at bay, staring at the screen with the kind of sick fascination normally reserved for traffic accidents.

“You must help me seize him, for I cannot rest until his heart and soul are mine,” Du Ling entreated.

“Forgive me, my friend, but my principles will not allow me to do something so foul and lawless,” Hui Yee replied with the composure of a true martial artist. ‘Besides, I have three essays due this week,’

Hui Yee thought to herself – after all, her skill in the arts of arrowing and tai-chi were legendary.

Du Ling was furious, convinced that Hui Yee was trying to snatch Chee Boon from her. Such was her rage that she spread vile and baseless rumours that spread like haze through the air, dooming this narrator to a Christmas holiday spent deflecting questions from relatives gleefully awaiting the next marriage in the family. None of this satisfied Du Ling. She thought, and thought again, of how she could have Chee Boon. She even delved into the dark arts, for as long as he was not hers, her desire would give her no rest.

When the new semester began, the room had a new owner, Joseph. While the average student viewed the Dean’s list as an unattainable dream, and the above-average student proudly collected the award certificate after a semester of hard work, such was Joseph’s motivation and talent that – legend has it – he collected his certificates even before the semester in question began. Upon entering his new room, as was Joseph’s habit, he opened his wardrobe, stood before the mirror, and asked:

“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the valedictorian of them all?”

“You, master, are a genius, it is true,” replied the mirror. “But Chee Boon stands a much higher chance than you.”

Chee Boon had been Joseph’s classmate, back in junior college, where the whole class had ribbed Chee Boon companionably over his thin frame. Such was Joseph’s shock that he turned yellow and green with envy, and did not stop to consider how a mirror would be privy to the discussions of the administration.

Du Ling was pleased when she saw this, for she had been manipulating the mirror through the magical arts that she had worked long and hard to acquire. Du Ling then poured a stream of malevolent spells in his ear, so envy and pride grew higher and higher in Joseph’s heart like a weed.

And so it came to pass that whenever Joseph looked upon Chee Boon, his heart burnt with fury, he hated him so much. The fire of his hatred blazed so strong that he scarcely felt cold, even when he ensconced himself in the frigid conditions of SR1. All through the meeting, Joseph thought, and thought again, of how he would remove the threat of Chee Boon, for as long as Joseph was not the valedictorian, his envy would give him no rest.

Even at the end of the night, when his last teammate had unplugged his laptop from the projector and left the room, Joseph stood there in thought, until he looked up at the eerie blue glow of the projector and saw the light.

“A time-bomb spell on the projector bulb,” thought Joseph gleefully, thinking of how the damage would put Chee Boon out of commission for the semester. “I wrote my Nature’s Threads paper on ballistics, this should be an easy task.”

The next morning, when Joseph walked past SR1, he was delighted to see the door ajar and to hear a commotion from the room. The chairs had been piled up high at the edges of the room due to the force of the spell, and there were seven students morosely bringing them back to the center of the class, careful to avoid the pile of glass there. To his shock, Chee Boon was sitting on a chair on the side, looking shaken but very much conscious, as if he’d simply floated over the debris.

“What’s happening here? Who are you guys?” Joseph asked, masking his shock and confusion.

“I’m from Arts,” the girl closest to him answered.

“Science,” the girl beside her offered.

“It’s a USP Corp Comms photo shoot,” said a Business major, before reeling off the names of the students from SDE, SOC, and Engineering.

“Diversity wanted,” clarified the Science student, giving a worldly shrug.

“Speaking of which, where’s Prof Ho?” interjected the SDE student.

“He said something about this being the last straw,” said the Business student, pointing towards the offices. “I think he’s emailing a notice that we’re banned from the rooms outside class hours.”

“That’s something to look forward to.” The Arts student gave a snort of mirthless laughter. “I took Prof Ho’s writing module- his emails can really make you feel like dirt.”

“See lah! Why didn’t you fix it?” said the SOC student, cuffing the shoulder of the person in front of him.

“Eh, I’m an engineer, not a technician,” the Engineering student rebutted. As they started a good-natured quarrel, Joseph’s gaze turned to the noticeably foreign face in the room.

“I’m an exchange student,” the student supplied, before turning to cast a lingering, evaluative look at Chee Boon. Joseph could not help but shudder.

“Such a pity that he’s not from Law, right?” the Corp Comms rep sighed, completely misreading the intent behind the look. Joseph found it difficult to blame her- the stress was evident in her pinched brow and the strands of hair trailing loose from her high ponytail. Instead, Joseph put on a gallant air and offered to accompany Chee Boon to seek medical aid, so that he might have yet another chance to strike.

“I’m fine,” Chee Boon insisted, although he was touched by the gesture. He had spent far too many semesters mugging alone in the Central Library, where the only evidence of one’s continued existence were the irritated glares that accompanied dropped books or stationery.

“Come, I’ll treat you to breakfast.” Joseph dragged him along towards the dining hall, the way the class jokingly used to do. “You look like a strong wind could blow you away.”

“Well, that’s how I survived the blast, didn’t I?”Chee Boon laughed, recalling their JC days. Thus did Chee Boon miss the rage that flashed across Joseph’s face; Joseph had forgotten to adapt his spell to Chee Boon’s weight.

Determined to succeed this time round, Joseph made sure to stand behind him as they queued at the Asian food stall. He saw his chance when the auntie held up an apple from the basket, and cast the poison spell with all his rage.

To his surprise, Chee Boon declined the offer with a smile.

“Don’t you want the apple?” Joseph asked, beginning to fear that Chee Boon knew what he was up to. Chee Boon simply pointed to the apple and grimaced, turning away so that the auntie could not see his face. He showed no sign of having noticed Joseph’s deceit.

Joseph took a close look at the apple as the auntie handed it to him, and saw the black spots that reminded him of the streaks of mold on the rain-splashed walls of the residential college. He realized that the apple, on its own, had a noxious effect that exceeded that of any of his spells.

After that, Joseph decided that he could no longer leave things to chance, and he offered to get both of them drinks. He had to succeed this time. As he walked past the dispensers, memories of queuing at the drinks stall for an irrepressible ex-classmate of theirs rushed to his mind.

“Remember our standard coffee order?” Joseph smirked, setting the glasses down on the table, careful to pass Chee Boon the spiked drink that would put him in a coma in an hour. “More ice, less sugar…”

“And more cream,” Chee Boon laughed, remembering their ex-classmate. Joseph’s heart swelled in triumph as Chee Boon took a generous gulp. “How did she turn us into her kopi kias again?”

“Chee BooOOoon!” Joseph whined in an unrealistically high pitch, wringing a hand exaggeratedly.

Joseph found himself laughing with a long-forgotten abandon as they traded news and memories of their old classmates. It was to his shock when he glanced at the clock and realized that the spell would take effect in less than five minutes. He felt a sudden pang of guilt as he excused himself, promising that they would meet up again soon. However, what was done was done, and Joseph always finished what he started.

Joseph had acted not a moment too soon. Chee Boon had barely taken a few steps out of the residential college when he collapsed in the amphitheatre, right in front of the USP sculpture.

It so happened that the photo-shoot contingent was moving out of SR1. The first student to spot Chee Boon let out a cry of surprise.

“He needs a doctor!” she exclaimed, waving at the rest of the group.

Prof Ho came over upon hearing this, and knelt down to inspect Chee Boon’s prone body.

“Nothing to worry about,” Prof Ho concluded, for he had a doctorate in literature, not medicine. “It’s a standard case of a fairy tale coma. All he needs is the Kiss of True Love to wake up.”

And so it came to pass that Chee Boon was placed in a glass coffin outside the amphitheatre to await the arrival of the Kiss of True Love.

Chee Boon lay there for a month, delaying his graduation by a semester, much to Joseph’s delight. In that time, many fair ladies– and gentlemen– from across UTown came to try their luck. Alas, not only did their noble quest fail, they were left with festering boils on their lips, for Du Ling had crafted the spell to wreak vengeance upon all who dared to lay claim to her beloved.

At last, having satisfied herself that her rivals had received their just deserts, Du Ling delivered the kiss that would remove the spell. When Chee Boon awoke, Du Ling stretched out a hand daintily, with a stunning smile she had taken pains to perfect. However, he just stared blankly at her.

“I just gave you the Kiss of True Love,” Du Ling explained in her most seductive voice. She made sure to bat her eyelashes at him, only to realize that he was not even looking in her direction. Instead, he was hunched over a sheet of paper, focusing only on the equations below the tip of his pen.

Du Ling was furious. “I am PRC! Where are my stereotypical seduction skills?” she ranted.

Unfortunately for her, the narrator had, not too long ago, resolved not to be xenophobic and to see beyond the TV cliché of PRCs as seductive KTV hostess. Du Ling had to content herself with a very rude hand gesture at the sky, before she turned to regard Chee Boon once more.

“No, I still need another substitution after taking the Taylor’s expansion,” Chee Boon muttered to himself. “The formula is in that reference text…”

Sensing her chance, Du Ling hastily borrowed a textbook from the reading room and angled it so that the glossy cover caught the sunlight. Thinking it was his reference text, Chee Boon let himself be drawn towards Du Ling.

Thus Du Ling got her hands on Chee Boon, Joseph gained the position of valedictorian, and they all lived happily ever after.

If Joseph can never look at a cup of coffee without feeling a twinge of guilt; if Chee Boon spends most of his time with his thesis, accompanied all too frequently by cups of coffee with more ice, less sugar, and more cream, and if Du Ling finds that this paradise pales in comparison to the conversations she used to have with a certain witty and charming narrator…

*

“…that’s something for another story.” Hui Yee picks up her glass and drinks deeply, with an obvious air of satisfaction.

“As I said, full of nonsense!” Du Ling exclaims in mock shock, while Joseph throws back his head and laughs.

“Wait, I haven’t gotten to the moral of the story!” Hui Yee says indignantly, holding up her palm.

“What’s the moral?” Joseph asks obligingly. He’d long ago given up on trying to replicate the effect of the strangely-crossed wires in Hui Yee’s head.

“You should consider applying to the University Scholars Programme, a multidisciplinary, partially residential, academic programme that provides an environment of inquiry, collaboration, and creative discovery!” concludes Hui Yee, straightening her USP Ambassadors name tag.