by Nor Najiha Zulkifli (ME218)

(2nd Place)

1.

I might sound like an ungrateful person, but my life is yet to be what I had hoped. I have a job and a boyfriend, Darren. And I was just promoted to assistant supermarket supervisor, it may not be glamorous but it pays the bills. And Darren is my modern prince charming. I still can’t believe we’re together. I won’t lie though, he has his dark side. And every day, I wake up with that feeling of hopelessness and despair. Like there’s something that I could, should be doing than checking supermarket stock.

Reminding myself I have this month’s rent and bills to pay, I swallow my unease and head towork in my car. What can I possibly do, I’m cornered.

All the while thinking of good thoughts, so that when I get to work I have a reason to smile.

 

2.

“Good morning!”, I greeted my cute favourite cashier, Minnie, fresh off of high school. A part-timer until she gets her college offer. She replies with a less cheerful manner than she used to.

“Anything to report today?”, I ask her. Thankfully I’ve worked up a smile, but greeted by a haunted look on her face, I can’t help but frown.

“All is good, and today I’ll stick around to help unload the cereal shipment this evening.”, replied Minnie hurriedly, muttering under her breath about something. Something she was not
supposed to tell me. She then left.

As soon as I turned around, I meet Julie Holden, my frenemy.

Okay, I’ve been dying to use this word.

My nemesis.

“Why, good morning, Dork.. I mean Ashley, the new assistant supervisor. So glad you’re on time to work today.”

I don’t know what she’s trying to say, I’ve never been late. And God, does she have to use my name that way?

“Good morning to you too, Julie.”

It took every fibre of my being to suppress all the rude and inappropriate things I really wanted to say to her. In the end, I settled with; “I would love to chat, but I’m waiting for a truck load of goods and I have preparations to do. So, if you would excuse me..”, with that I closed the door, trying to sound as obnoxious as possible.

I don’t understand why she would pick a bone with me. I did absolutely nothing wrong.

Or did I?

I first started as an ordinary cashier. After six months, Darren, who is also the Supermarket Manager, confessed his feelings to me and after that we started going out. Two weeks later, the
Supermarket Director promoted me from cashier to Junior Supervisor. Three months afterwards, I was Assistant Supervisor.

I asked Darren if he had anything to do with this. He said no, telling me how much I deserved the job more than anyone. So that was that, until.. I overheard Julie.

“Can you believe that woman?”

“Who?”

“Don’t play dumb. I’m talking about Dorkus. She’s such a sl**, she had eyes on Darren from the start.”

“But do you think Darren would let himself be used?”

“Oh sweetheart, you give men what they want and they stay at your feet.”

“God knows what she let Darren do ..”
That was when I had to defend myself. I came out of my hiding spot and tried to challenge her.

But, I had nothing to say.

Julie saw me and nudged her gossip mate, Carly. “Well, at least she heard it straight from me.”

She laughed and left the common room, with Carly right behind her.

Why did I freeze?

The answer was obvious.

She was right.

 

3.

I pushed the thought of Julie away and do my work.

During lunch time, Darren comes in.

“Hey babe. Wanna go out for lunch?”, casually he asks. He knocked on the door and went straight behind me. Wrapping his arms around my neck as he asks me out for lunch.

“I would love to …”, I stopped, a sudden thought occured to me.

Darren noticed and asks “There’s a ‘but’ coming along is there?”. He lets out a sigh and sits on my desk.

I didn’t like the look on his face. It was as if he regretted walking here, now forced to hear my ramblings when all he wanted was someone accompanying him for lunch.

This was one of his dark side.

But, I felt, no I knew this was important and I had to discuss it with him. I have been putting it off for so long.

“I wanna talk about us, it’s not what you think though,” choosing my words carefully, searching his face for any sign of worry.

“You see Julie has not been very happy with my promotion and she has started spreading rumours about me.”

Specifically about us.

“I know I’ve asked you this before but now I want you to be really honest with me,” His face was still unreadable.

“Did you do anything, I mean even a small recommendation to Mr. Charling of me for the position?” It took all of my energy, afraid I’ve stepped out of line with Darren to finally utter those
words. Fear had stopped me to confront Julie but I can’t possibly be afraid of a discussion with my own boyfriend.
Darren took his time. He got off my desk and instead leaned on it.

“Look, I’ve told you before and I am going to say it again. No.”

He gave me a stern look and began to walk out. Guess lunch was out of the window.

“Darren, wait!”, I got up and went out to him.

As we were face to face, I asked him to do something about Julie.

That was the last straw.

“What do you want me to do? First, you accused me of using my position to win you over and now you want me to deal with Julie. You know I have a lot more important things to do than babysit my staff?”, Darren snapped and stormed out.

He didn’t even care.

I heard him loud and clear.

 

4.

Darren wasn’t always like this. Or it was me who didn’t see the signs.

You see, I was never the popular kid neither was I the smart one. I was just … me. My name didn’t help but predefined who I was. A Dork.

School was a nightmare. No one took me seriously. Throughout the years, I just couldn’t wait to get out and finally be free to do whatever I want. I got through reassuring myself each day it was
the other kids that were holding me back and not me.

But now that I am where I am, who is in the blame?

My family?

My parents love me and so does my sister. They have always  pushed me to do greater things in life. But, they never understood my dreams.

So as soon as I graduated from college, taking some course I hardly benefited from, I moved to the city. A good four hours away from them.

So, when Darren told me he liked me. I went completely blind. I needed companionship. And I needed it bad. Friends from work warned me about him, but I didn’t care. I’ve been on my own for so long. Even if he turns out to be a jerk.

The cute guy likes me. I never said that before in my entire life.

 

5.

With the glooming telltale signs of a failing relationship, I focused on work, skipping lunch entirely.

At exactly 2:30 pm, the electronics shipment arrived. As assistant supervisor, I was in charge of making sure everything that we had ordered had arrived and was in good condition. And this was my first shipment. I had to make sure all was in order.

The cereal shipment had also arrived but I gave the task to my junior assistant, Carly.

Minnie was helping her out as she had told me this morning.

After making sure all was in order, I made my way back home. Sending off the rest of the work to the staff.

Just as I was leaving, Julie stops me. She was the Facilities Manager, she had no business here.

“Good night, Ashley. Make sure to get enough sleep,” I was prepared for a mean comment, but her greeting completely caught me off guard.

“Umm, you too. Julie,” was all I could muster.

Just when I thought life couldn’t get any worse. My car breaks down. I called for help and me and my car was towed to the nearest workshop.

The mechanic, Sam, says it’s probably a problem with the engine. Something I couldn’t understand and says it will be a few days to get done.

Wonderful!

“Your name and phone number, Miss?” Sam holds out a pen and notebook for me.

“There, thanks.”

Taking the notebook from me, he smirks. Letting out a stifled laugh.

“Excuse me, Miss Drakus? Am I saying this right?”

Yes, my name is a laughing stock. At school, I’m Ashley Dorkus.

Now that I’m an adult I have Julie to remind me of how lame I was.

One of the reasons I hate meeting new people. They’d laugh at my name.

“Drakus, that’s right. Just, just make sure to call when the car’s done”.

Without waiting for a reply, I rushed outside and called a cab.

 

6.

Home. Finally. Today had been so exhausting, not to mention I haven’t had anything to eat since breakfast. But, I didn’t feel like eating.

There was a hole in my stomach, all the events of today had completely shattered me.

Julie, Darren, my car.

Dorkus

Instead, I slowly made my way to my bedroom and sat on the floor.

I tried to stop it, but why?

It would feel so much better. So, I let myself cry.

It’s okay for big girls to cry, right?

What have I done to deserve this?

There’s nothing in this life worth living for. The job I got is because of a favour, despite Darren’s reassurance. Because who would want me?

Who?

After all this time, Darren doesn’t want me anymore. He finally sees me for what I’m really worth.

Even he sometimes jokingly calls me Dorkus even after I told him I didn’t like it. Better to shut my mouth than offend him. Better to shut up than to lose him.
I’ve abandoned my family for so long, they probably thought I died somewhere.
And maybe that is for the best.

I finally climbed into bed, pulling my knees to my shoulders into a fetal position. My favourite hobby nowadays. Wallowing in self pity, contemplating about my life.

Just when I thought I’ve run out of tears, more comes out all of a sudden.

When my tears dried, I sit up. Taking out my journal from under my pillow.

Ashley’s Journal is written in big block letters. A book I confide to whenever I am in my moods.

On the first page..

To-Do List

1. Become a journalist
2. Continue Grandpa Frankie’s fight

Grandpa Frankie. Franklin Dorcus. He is the sole reason I’m proud to have this name. He was a fighter till the end. He battled with his demons that were way worse than Julie. But most of all, he fought for what he believed in.

Back at his childhood home, a shoe manufacturing factory had been built. And everyone went from menial labour with measly pay to factory labour with a monthly pay. However, the factory
was cutting corners to maximize profits. The chemicals they were using were dangerous. My Grandpa Frankie knew it but nobody listened. He saw the factory workers’ health slowly deteriorate so he knew he had to take action. Fast. Everyone deserted him, saying he was crazy. In spite of his college degree, the townspeople labelled him an attention-seeker, just wanting to be part of the town’s gossip.

Grandpa Frankie was right all along. He died due to lung cancer, probably after all the exposure he got himself into a five-day protest he organized against the factory. He died with a smile however, for days before, the factory was finally shut down.

After that, I vowed to myself I would do just that. If I were to die, I will die fighting.

Reading my journal always gave me spirit. One reason to keep breathing was all I needed.

 

7.

The next day, I went to work as usual, well not as usual. My car was still in the shop, so I took the bus. At the parking lot, I saw Mr Charling’s car. Well, what a surprise. Usually, you’re afraid of your boss. Well, not me. I adore Mr Charling, he’s the greatest boss anyone could ever have. From the strength I’ve earned from Grandpa Frankie, I happily skip towards my office. Hoping to greet Mr Charling on the way.

Turns out I didn’t need to, he was already waiting for me.

“Good morning, Mr Charling!”, I greeted him with a smile. But as soon as I saw his face, I knew this was not a good morning.
He had a worried look on his face and when he saw me, it turned into a look of disbelief. Darren was in my office too. He avoided eye contact with me.

“Ashley, it’s been a while,” Mr Charling was referring to the last time we met.

“Yes, it has. How are you?” I asked, dreading the small talk as I knew there’s something to this morning meeting.

“I’m doing great, Ashley. Well, how about we skip the chit chat and great straight to the point.”

“You see yesterday’s shipping from Pansonic was supervised by you, I believe?”

“Yes sir. I’ve logged everything and every appliance was in good shape.”

“Yes, yes I read your log. But, there seem to be some discrepancy.” Mr Charling said hesitantly.

“Discrepancy? What do you mean?” I asked not understanding what was actually going on.

Mr Charling then looked at Darren, who then took the logbook where the details of the shipment was written down.

“The amount of appliances we ordered were different from what is in the store room. And yet, you didn’t notice this.” Darren explained, with a glazed expression, with almost a defeated look.
Saying there is no hope for Ashley.
Mr Charling then explained that last night, an unmarked grey truck was let into the loading bay by my access card. There were no plates on the truck and the men who came along with it were all wearing masks. They knew very well that there were cameras in the store room.
So it had to be an inside job.

And all fingers were pointing to me.

Mr Charling gave his ultimatum, either return everything and he won’t file a police report or go to jail. Either way, I had lost my job.

When I tried to explain that there has to be a mistake, he turned a deaf ear and stormed out.

Darren on the other hand, stayed around in the office. I started crying when Mr Charling left, but Darren just stood there at the corner of the room.

When I finally stopped, I looked up at him. He had his eyes fixed to the floor.

“Darren, do you actually believe this?”
“That I would steal?”. My eyes were still wet from crying, with blurry vision, I looked at him.

“Honestly, I don’t know. When I saw the imbalance, I was hoping you logged it wrong. If that was the case, I could’ve talked to Charling about your mistake.”

“Wait, you expected me to make a mistake?” I asked, my voice suddenly steady and an octave higher. Tears dried now.

“Y-yes, Ashley you’re not really fully trained yet for this kind of responsibility. You, .. truth is you got this job because of me,” finally he tells me the truth.

I couldn’t take anymore of all this nonsense, so I began walking out of the door. Not before Darren grabbed my hand.

“Hey, Ashley. If it isn’t you, then why don’t you take a few days off. To chill out.”

“And if it is me?”

“Then, I advise you to turn yourself in,” with a stern voice Darren replied. Without missing a beat, he continued, “And Ashley, you know what this means for us?”

“I’m sorry, for now you can keep your job, but I can’t have you as my girlfriend,” I was bracing myself for that. I didn’t expect the impact was this bad, though. Like my heart was ripped out and beaten with sticks then put back in. Only to be yanked out again. But unlike the situation
with Julie, I knew exactly what to say.
I took a deep breath and searching for my confident voice, I told him, “You know, our relationship was over the minute you lost your faith in me. Well, I lost my faith in you way before. So, goodbye. Darren.”

I planned on saying more but I was too wounded to stay any longer.

 

8.

A couple of days passed since disaster struck me. And still no word from Mr Charling or Darren.

Is this it? Will I be sent to jail for something I didn’t do? Will my freedom be taken away from me so forcefully?
Maybe, I should just admit I was involved and pay for the stolen appliances. Maybe even convince Mr Charling to let me keep my job.

And face Darren again? No way.

Lie out of this problem? What would Grandpa Frankie think of that?

He fought for truth, and I’ll do the same.

I took out my laptop and began searching.

Time to relive my dream of writing. I signed myself up for a writing course at a college. I had enough money in my savings to keep me afloat.

Truth will prevail. I had faith in that.

Just as I was finishing up, my phone rang. Unexpectedly, I rushed immediately towards it hoping it was Mr Charling. At this point, Darren calling wouldn’t be so bad either. But whoever was calling was not in my contacts. Turns out my car is ready. Well, hooray.. At least something in my life is repairable. Calling a cab, I rush over. I needed the fresh air anyways.

“Hi, I’m here for my car,” I was pointed to the desk at the back of the shop.

There was no one there, so I rang the bell on the desk. Then came a man in overalls, dark-skinned but quite handsome. Great, with Darren gone I’m a free woman and do whatever I want. Or be with whoever I choose.

“Hi, I’m here to get my car,” I told him. On his overall, he had his name patch. Michael.

He took out a clipboard and asked for my name.

“Ashley,”

“And .. a last name?”

Of course, time for some humour.

“Drakus. Ashley Drakus,” he gave me a puzzled look.

“Drakus, for real?”, he said while instructing another worker to my car.

“Yes, no need to hold back. Go on, laugh but can I just please get my car back.”

“No, I wasn’t about to laugh, it’s such an unusual name,” he said, giving me a smile that would’ve melted my heart if I weren’t facing possible jail time.

As Michael opened his mouth to continue talking, Sam came in with my car. I paid and left. Not wanting to hear any hurtful comments about my name.

Although, on the way back, I couldn’t help but replay Michael’s smile in my mind.

 

9.

After a whole week of silence, I finally showed up to work on Monday. To beg for my job? Hell no! To own up? Neither. I wanted to know what exactly was the evidence they had against me.

The only thing tying me with the crime was my access card that I had lost a week before the robbery took place. I had also reported this to Julie. She was in charge of access and security, could she be responsible?

I had my own problems to worry about and blaming somebody else without proof would do no help at all. Mr Charling realised this too so handed the situation over to the police. I gave my
statement and after further investigations, they had no other proof or motive to prosecute me.

So, I was off the hook. Officially by the police.

I only found out months later who the real culprit was. Someone I least expected. Minnie. She claimed to be forced by her boyfriend to gain access into the storeroom. She was a good girl so I believed her. I could only hope that the police would believe her too.

The next day, I went to Mr Charling with a resignation letter. He understood the ordeal I have been through, apologizing for accusing me. Stating, the job was open if I were to change my mind. But I’ve made my decision.

I’m destined to do more and this event has opened my eyes. While I’m battling with bullies and thieves, constrained by fear and a feeling of incompetence, people are actually hurting and
dying with no one to help them. Battling with diseases and corrupt governments. They are the ones who are truly imprisoned. I should be the one to help them. I am Franklin Drakus’ granddaughter after all.

So, the first small step I would take is to apply for a writing course I’ve been dreaming of. And afterwards, obtain a job as a journalist at that magazine company that focuses on stories of famine and environmental issues. Writing about these events would definitely help to spread the news of such real-life horror in a modern sophisticated world we live in today.

That is what I should be doing.

 

10.

Exiting the supermarket, I went to the sidewalk to get a hot dog.

As I was leaving, a familiar face came by.

“Ashley?”

“Umm..,” was all I could muster.

“I’m Michael, the mechanic from the other day,” he extended his hand towards me and I took it.

He ordered a hot dog and I silently prayed that there’s more to this chance encounter.

He got his food and we started walking together in no particular destination.

“So, how’s the car?”

“Well, I had a great mechanic. So it’ll live,” he laughed at my remark.

Something like a child’s laughter that was somehow very pleasant to my ears.
We found a bench and sat down. I finished my hot dog and so did he.

“I’m really glad we met, I feel like I’ve offended you,” he turned to face me. I gave him a puzzled look.

“What do you mean? We’ve only met,”

“Yeah, it’s your name. It’s unique,”

Here it comes. In that split second, I made a solemn promise to myself, if he makes a witty remark of my name, I’m leaving no matter how cute he is.

“Drakus, do you know what that means?”

“Umm, no not really,”

“Drakus, prince of dragons. Well, in your case the Dragon Princess. I bet you’ve been through a lot to gain that title.”

“Well, as a matter of fact..”

And so I told him the recent events that led to my resignation. He sat, listening patiently to everything I say.

Then it was his turn to tell me how life had been for him. Racism hit him hard back home, and in a way we had something in common. He had to work hard to open the workshop, not to mention cut the stereotypic chains people had against him. Having a darker skin than anyone else has labelled him a criminal, simply because of statistics. It’s not in the genes, just that they were poor and forced into that title.

Trapped in a world that has already predefined us as who we are supposed to be, not who we want to be. Breaking free from those chains would take a lot of effort and courage. Not to mention the fear of being wrong. What happens when we are destined to be what everyone tells us to be? What happens if our dreams are too far to reach? That they were right all along. Well, if it is too high to jump, grow wings and fly. If things go south, turn to the other pole.

If my name destined me to be a dork, then so be it. Sitting there with Michael made me realise no matter what I’m destined to be, I am always free to be happy.

 

NOTES

Inspired by:

My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.”

– Adlai Stevenson (31st Governor of Illinois and United Nations ambassador 1961-1965)

 

“Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes”

– Mahatma Gandhi


Dork

informal : a person who behaves awkwardly around other people and usually has unstylish clothes, hair, etc.

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