by ty

written for our school publication’s second issue.

I recall being utterly fascinated when we were told during a dry biology lesson in the afternoon that in actual fact, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage were products of artificial selection from the same wild mustard plant. Simply put, these wild mustards were bred by humans to emphasize certain characteristics to make them more marketable. Fast forward by a few weeks, and I found a prompt online about telling a story set in the future where what had been done with wild mustards had been done with humans. Disregarding the portion of the process that involves selective reproduction for the sake of specific traits, it crossed my mind that perhaps to some extent, we were already subjected to some sort of selection – subconsciously. And the bulk of the selection processes and general decisions that we would meet in the span of our lives would involve troubleshooting the errors that arose in the mechanisms within us – the troublesome process of maintenance, replacement and regeneration of the dreams gone dry, and the words left unspoken.

Tracing back to our childhood, we were untainted and introduced to the notion of living in a society where everyone stood on an equal ground – the grass wasn’t always greener on the other end of the grey wall and there was no need to make a series of runs and hurdle leaps to clamber over. We could blossom right where we were, if we had the right mindset, and if we had the passion. We were told that under the protection of our parents, they’d support us regardless of our intentions, as long as we could be found within acceptable boundaries. And hence dancers were free to draw circles across the parquet flooring every Sunday, their hands pressed lightly against the bars, and singers were given the comfort of a room to let their emotions loose, perhaps even with the accompaniment of melodies from light strumming of the guitar or majestic pressure against black and white keys. In short, we were transported directly from the hospital ward into a room with white walls – crisp, pristine, and divine, in which the air we breathed in was akin to the gene pool of a population, and even staring at the same moon every night and running in place made us feel like we owned eternity.

Its only when we find ourselves panting, hands against our quivering knees as we see blurry images of our scuffed-up shoes which would squeak against the concrete floor, that we realize that as we gain years of experience and inches of height, we begin to fear growing up. The thought of hurling oneself forward into a rapid series of mad scrambles towards our goals before its out of stock scares us because we live in a society where dreams run dry and memories alone aren’t sufficient to build walls. We end up embracing our natural instinct to take what we’ve got and run towards the neon lights forming an imitation of the firmaments; and just an imitation, because we can never hope to reach the real thing.

Ultimately, the paint in the “gene pool-room” begins to fall off in the form of miniscule flakes. And as we’re left in a confined space which grows to be more stifling with every passing minute, the white walls are replaced by mirrors, and we’re left to watch ourselves. We’re left to learn to strap ourselves to buttoned collars and cuffed wrists – and indulge in the slightest of things, even if it means to watch oneself barely through the panel of windows overlooking another building, even if it means to sweat double, and even if it means that freedom is now defined by having a lunch break which lasts over an hour.

And when the dancer returns to the empty dance room on a Sunday evening, there isn’t anything new but the slightly sour scent of daffodils overpowered by hints of silence and freedom, albeit mock. It begins again from the faint reflections flashing by with messy movements and uncoordinated breaths, and its no longer as glamorous as how she used to transit gracefully from every curve of her spine to catching the beats as easily as breathing – it isn’t half as comforting as ironically monochrome reveries of having sweaty palms pressed against parquet flooring, neither is it as fresh as sneakers against grass.

That’s when the selection process begins, where society favours the outgoing individuals with the gift of the gab, where employers favour the all-rounders with a well-structured balance amongst intelligence, spontaneity and tolerance. It is only natural that what follows is that those who space out constantly will be swept away to flow in the converse direction of success through a labyrinth. And along with the periodic movement of hands against the face of a clock, along with the beats at the end of the song as the dancer curls her spine once again, along with the last abrasion we’ll fall – knees against tiles, passion against responsibility.

Yet as they all say, the dawn right before the sunrise is the darkest – and perhaps being selected against might just signify a period of stasis, a short break per se. Likened to the functioning of a wind up watch, the key is to remember to never run backwards.