Written by Varrick Kwang
Art by Daian Gan
Oh, my most interesting classmate? Nice question.
It started when I met him during one of my classes and we hit it off right away.
That was during the start of my second year, when I was in a boring application development module. It was the first day of the semester, where everyone talked about their lofty “new-sem-new-me” rubbish.
Without giving much thought I settled into a corner seat where he, who happened to sit beside me, introduced himself.
“I’m Tommy. What is your name?” His voice was smooth over the ears and clear, not overly nasal or raspy.
“I’m Poh Wah,” I replied while noting his round face, nose and black plastic frame spectacles.
Unlike most of our other classmates, who would be seventeen to twenty-something years old, he was twenty-eight and the eldest student in the class, maybe even older than some of our lecturers.
But still, older students are a thing especially in tertiary institutions so I decided not to be an asshole about another person’s age. Nor do I want to ask too many questions about why he was here. After all, we all went to school to get an education. Age doesn’t matter.
Even at the first lesson, we hit it off like we’d known each other for a long time. We chit-chat about everything under the sun, from future plans, to movie plots, and favourite computer games.
He was the only one that could truly vibe with me, so naturally I teamed up with him during group projects. We had good rapport, did what we had to do and scored well in the end.
Outside of school, he would invite me to do community service with him during weekends and during the semester breaks. I went with him every time because I would’ve been bored out of my ass at home if I did not.
He has volunteered in sports events, and in old folks homes as well as halfway homes. But he mostly did his volunteering at a family service centre where he either did administrative work or he worked as a support group session moderator.
When the time felt right, I asked Tommy the reasons behind his enthusiasm behind community service.
Turns out, Tommy did not have the best home life growing up, as his father deserted his mother and left her to raise him alone, which was why he now serves in family service centres so he could help problematic families.
“I want to make this community a better place, maybe I can bring happiness to some families through what I do. After all, maybe someone should have helped my mother.”
He said it like he was taking a solemn vow. Shortly after, he revealed that his mother passed away from cancer five years ago.
Other than coding and serving the community, he drew and painted too. If he was in a good mood, he would even show me some of his paintings.
Even in art, he breathed so much life and activity to them.
He once showed me a photo-realistic painting of a bottle of wine with a “Danger: Keep Out” sign printed on the label in four languages. Others included a dove flying in the sky, breaking free from a shattered cage, and several drawings of anime characters.
The one that made the biggest impression on me, however, was one titled “A Family in Heaven.” Presented in a palette of whites and light tinted blues, it depicted a family of three angels blissfully living in a castle in the clouds, painted impressionist style.
The footnote below the painting read “For a family that I should have accepted.”
Besides painting, he also dabbled in writing, having written a personal essay titled “The Beauty of a Second Chance” and that won him an award which sat proudly on the top of his bookshelf.
In fact, he was so nice, wholesome and well-accomplished that I could not believe what I discovered about him later on when I googled his name for fun and found a news article about him published twelve years ago.
Tommy was fourteen years old when he stole a bottle of red wine from the supermarket, but that was not the worst part.
He guzzled the entire bottle and went to his father’s new home, who has since remarried and moved after abandoning Tommy’s mother.
He stabbed his father fifty times.
He ransacked their home and stole around a thousand dollars before he blacked out at the lift lobby, leaving a trail of blood on the corridor leading from his father’s flat unit.
Needless to say, he went to prison for twelve years.