Equal Chances

"What are you doing here?"

Xiao You spun on her heels to see who it was, and just as quickly turned away again to face the noticeboard. She stuffed Papa's letter even deeper into her pocket, willing herself not to cry again.

"Xiao You… Papa is sorry he cannot buy you and Mama everything you want, all the beautiful things in the world. Papa wishes he could give them all to you. If only Papa could... Papa knows you have suffered and Papa hopes that by going to university, you won't have to suffer the same fate your Papa and Mama are resigned to…Please study hard, take care and write to us often, daughter. All our love."

She could feel his eyes burning into her back and her face turned red.

"I don't mean any harm," his voice surprisingly soft and gentle, a contradiction of his tough exterior.

Yes, he didn't, but her heart… It was pounding so loudly. She didn't want to grant him the satisfaction of knowing that she was frightened to the core. That was raising the white flag before the war had even begun. She turned to look at him, but her bravery failed. She switched her glances to her sodden shoes instead and said, "You shouldn't be here. What would Jin Wei say if he saw you here talking to me?"

"He doesn't control me," he said defiantly.

There was a silence that became more deafening every second.

"I'm checking when I have remedial Chemistry classes," she snapped. "Happy?"

He looked at his own pristine white shoes then. "I'm sorry Jin Wei is being such a bastard. This is ridiculous. I mean, what right does he have to make you lose your scholarship when he is barely scraping through his own exams? All you're failing is Chemistry."

She looked at him then, shaking her head at his ignorance.

"The fact that the principal is on his father's payroll and I'm nothing but a village girl who decided not to tolerate his pig-headed rubbish and stood up for herself makes a big difference," she said bitterly. "Not everyone was born into a rich family. I can't drop out of school, my parents will be beyond devastated."

Her parents… She pictured her mother sewing countless garments day and night despite her deteriorating eyesight and her father coming home after hours at sea with heartbreaking disappointment in his eyes. He would retreat to his room, afraid that the tears welled up would be emancipated. It was purely Chinese pride; he felt useless because of his inability to provide a comfortable life for his family. Pride… so strong an asset, yet ignoring it is almost impossible.

Why was everything so bloody unfair? Her parents worked so hard everyday to be rewarded with a small, leaky roof over their heads.

A tear fell down her face and many more seemed anxious to follow. Embarrassed, she fumbled for a tissue in her bag but Ming Shi beat her to it. He rested his hand lightly on the side of her face and used his thumb to wipe away her tears. She quickly pushed him away. She didn't want any sympathy from the enemy!

"Please, Xiao You," he pleaded. "Believe me, I'm not going to cause any trouble for you. I only want to help."

The stubborn part of her wanted to sneer in his face that she didn't need his help, but she would be lying. The sincerity in his voice was so real. Glancing up at him again, she was sold. She remembered him offering a hand to Jin Wei's other victims, sometimes even breaking up fights. And she had to face it; she couldn't achieve an A without help. None of her friends could afford to attend school.

Her friends were a cruel reminder to her that she needed to pull through. She didn't want to be a waitress or a 'Customer Relations Officer'. Without the scholarship, she was damned. She needed an A and she would do anything for it, even if it meant, suspiciously enough, accepting help from her enemy's best friend.

"Why?" she asked him curiously.

"Because what Jin Wei did was pure sabotage. You deserve an equal chance. You may be poor, but that shouldn't disadvantage you in any way. I know you can't afford additional tuition fees. My tutor can help you."

She paused. "What would happen if Jin Wei finds out that you are helping the enemy?"

"There is nothing he can do," he said determinedly. "If he is truly my friend, then he will listen to me when I ask him later to stop this nonsense. If he doesn't, he will lose my friendship; your gain."

She wanted to trust him desperately. Could she? She was floating adrift at sea and her blood was drawing the sharks. The whale was offering his back, but did she want to trust the whale, the closest relative to the shark?

What else could she do? She would have to forgo her pride to save her future, her family and herself.

'Ming Shi… Thank you..."

He blushed. "I will meet you at the bubble tea café tomorrow after school with my Chemistry tutor. I hope that by then, Jin Wei would have changed his mind… We will sort this out."

He smiled then looking at her. There was still some doubt within her that refused to shut up.

"No strings attached?"

He held out his empty hands. "None."

She returned his smile slowly and said, "I have to go now. I'll see you tomorrow. Goodbye."

He continued to watch her as she walked away. She thought, Mama, Papa, I will make you proud and give you the lives you deserve!

"Xiao You, Mama is not there to take care of you while you're in Kowloon, so be very careful. Don't worry about us. We just want you to make something of yourself. Never give in. We are right behind you, waiting for you to come home…"