Mum always said I was never much good at making friends.
The older I get, the truer it seems. Still, it’s hard to keep things bottled in all the time and for some reason, it feels weird to tell Mum that Samantha called me the word ‘bitch’ today. I hid out in the bathroom and cried even though I didn’t even know what the word bitch meant.
But that’s okay, I’m lucky — the monster under my bed makes excellent company. He’s nice and kind and he always asks me questions. Sure, he’s a little slow to reply sometimes, and occasionally he says things that make no sense at all. But I know I’m lucky to have him.
So, when I don’t quite understand him, (maybe because he’s a grown-up)— I let it pass and move onto something else. For example:
“Mr. Monster, do you wanna know what I had for lunch today?”
I grin. “I found an extra fifty-cents at the bottom of my pencil case, so I got extra rice with my chicken rice! It was so good; the chicken was so soft, and the rice was hot when I bought it today! Isn’t that great, Mr. Monster?”
For a moment, he’s silent. I can hear a distant humming from the direction of my bed, but it’s like there’s a deep hole because the sound seems far, far away. Farther than I can imagine.
Then he says in a kind of low, gentle tone, “We’ve noticed that your daughter tends to be taken advantage of by some of the other students. We’ve done our best to prevent such cases, but we think that it’s important for you to also inculcate healthy coping mechanisms and greater confidence in your daughter.”
“Mr. — ”
Suddenly, his voice transforms into a high-pitched yell buzzing with explosive anger. “Who do you think you are, to question my parenting choices? If you think it’s so important to make her less crazy, why don’t you do it yourself, you useless — ”
The tone of his voice, unlike anything I’ve ever heard before, makes me scared for a second. I scramble back up on my bed, clutching my pillow tightly.
I don’t want to scare him off. I’ll do anything to make him stay. “We can talk about something else if you want, Mr. Monster,” I whisper, furrowing my eyebrows. “Are you feeling alright?”
He goes quiet again. For two seconds, the room feels unfamiliar and silent before his voice finally returns to normal.
“What colour hair-tie did you choose for school today, Lina?”
When he says this, my heart feels light again and my eyebrows relax. I clap my hands together and giggle. “You’re feeling better again! Right, I don’t know why I was scared. You don’t really get angry, right…?”
He says nothing but I’m happy anyway. Mr. Monster is the cool kind of grown-up who doesn’t get angry often — he’s my best friend.
In fact, sometimes I feel kind of bad for him, that he’s got to live here. I told Mum about him once and she looked really angry as she yelled some stuff I didn’t understand before slamming the door of her room. The next morning, when I was leaving for school, I tried to check if she was awake.
But when I crouched and peered through the crack under the door, all I saw was darkness.
I’m getting smarter, though. These days, I don’t make the same mistakes anymore. In fact, there is one strange night when Mum is at home and awake while I am getting ready to go to sleep. Mr. Monster and I are halfway into our conversation about why the homework in school was getting so hard when I hear footsteps approaching our room, so I get quiet immediately.
Please, Mr. Monster… Stay quiet too!
I hold my breath as the door creaks open.
Mom sticks her head in and scowls at me. Her gaze looks blank and heavy at the same time… I don’t really know how to describe it. But at least this helps me expect it when she staggers further into my room, stopping at the door.
I sit back on my bed, frozen still, back pressed firmly into the cold cement wall.
From my bed, I watch as her arm slips against the doorframe, skin slimy from something I don’t recognise. Mum’s head goes slamming against the wall as she curses, lifting her hand to point at me.
A bead of cold sweat trickles down my back.
“Stop — stop that,” she slurs, hiccuping along the way. “I heard you! There’s only room — hic — for one crazy person in this house. Ha. Eight years old and still talking to imaginary — hic — friends?”
“Mr. Monster’s not — not imaginary,” I whisper as loudly as I can, but it’s like my heart is beating so loud it’s jumped to my chest. Not that it really matters. By then, Mum is already turning around.
“Crazy brat…” she mumbles. I swallow. She’s called me that before, and she never looks happy when she says it.
I can only be relieved when she goes without saying anything else.
The moment her back is turned, my fingers, now white from pressure, releases the pillow, which goes tumbling to the bed. I look down — my fingertips are raw and hurt so I begin rubbing them together as I glance back up. All that Mum has left behind is the door half-open as her staggering figure disappears down the hallway.
I watch cautiously as she turns the corner… and then disappears. Then I rush to the edge of the bed.
His eyes are peeking out from underneath the frame of the bed, blinking at me expectantly. For a moment, as I squint, I see a faint flicker of his grey, dusty eyes.
“There you are,” I say, doing my best to smile as brightly as I can. “Sorry about that. You know how Mum likes to pop in every once in a while.”
Mr. Monster is quiet.
I sigh, inching closer. Maybe he saw through that smile after all. “You’re upset that she called you imaginary, huh? I’m sorry. One day she’ll come in and she’ll see how real you are. Then we can all be friends, what do you think?”
For a moment, there’s a brief silence. I guess Mr. Monster really is sad, and big-time. I don’t like seeing Mum like that but I’ve mostly gotten used to it, whereas it must still be a shock for him. I crawl to the ground and lean my back against the side of the bed so that my head is resting on the bed. I’m just about to open my mouth when Mr. Monster finally speaks again.
“I’m sorry to call so late at night… It’s just that I really am concerned about her. Once in a while it’s as if she slips into a daze and speaks to things that don’t exist… Yes, Ma’am, she does it in school, too. With all due respect, I’m worried that this may be due to personal issues. No, Ma’am. Lina is a good girl, I’m just trying to look out for her…”
Oh! Again, Mr. Monster is spouting off into some weird talk that makes no sense. And he’s imitating again — his voice sounds a lot like Ms. Tan’s from school. I hope he’s okay, because he sounds really stressed…
“Are you alright, Mr. Monster?” I whisper, leaning over to peer into the darkness.
Mr. Monster doesn’t answer, but I know he’s still there. I can feel it. Maybe he just doesn’t feel like talking.
I nod. “I totally get you, Mr. Monster. Sometimes my friends — well, I don’t really know if they’re my friends, friends — keep bugging me and saying things really loud and I just don’t feel like talking, too.”
No reply. I wait a couple more seconds, but soon it becomes apparent that Mr. Monster has tapped out of the conversation.
I sigh. Then I lean back onto the bed and close my eyes again.
It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay. I chant the two words in my head until I feel my eyelids beginning to droop. For some strange reason I cannot understand, my nose begins to sting sharply and I taste a slimy mix of salt and bitterness on my tongue. I fight away the feeling, squeezing my eyes shut even tighter.
Then I exhale so deeply it feels, for a moment, like everything is escaping from my body. Like a balloon quietly, slowly deflating.
It’s okay. Soon, I’ll be asleep, and then nothing else will matter. With that last thought, I swing my arm to the side so that it’s dangling uncomfortably across the wooden frame, just in reach of the dark space below my bed… just in case he ever gets lonely.
Gabrielle is a sixteen-year-old student from Singapore who found her first love when she began learning how to read in school. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found happily eating soft bread, spending time with her family and friends, or enjoying life in general.