Monissha a/p Thiagu
Institution: Quest International University Perak
Contact number:  Contact Raj Dronamraju, advisor, at 014-306-0431
Email address: raj.dronamraju@qiup.edu.my

I have never been a fast typist but today is a SOS situation and everyone surprises themselves in emergencies. Today my stubby fingers dash across the keyboard, so swiftly that I’d put my Computer Applications lecturer to shame, as they punch the letters that I should have started punching a fortnight ago. My throbbing eyes dart, almost fervently, from the project template laid out on the desk to the computer screen. They are bound to be bloodshot in the morning.

I pause the assault on the keyboard to scan the template. The sections that I had circled in red sneered back at me: “FORMAT ALL SIX QUERY FIELDS, ADD LOCK-KEY”, “FORM RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN TABLES IN DATABASE”, “INTEGRATE CHART FROM EXCEL”. The urge to check a to-do off the list is almost unbearable, what with my whole body begging, but the spreadsheet on the screen seems to flash a huge “NO”. Oh, why hadn’t I started earlier!

Suddenly, my throat starts to tingle. I feel a cough building up, and swallow. I need water. Pushing my chair back softly, careful not to awaken Melinda, – a couple of days ago she had strutted across class, assignment in hand, and handed it in to a beaming Miss Raani (not a spiteful recount, mind you) – I rise and creep over to my nightstand. I pour myself a cup of water (chilled from the air-conditioning) and turn to walk back when my legs suddenly turn to lead. Not able to fight, I succumb to the wave of exhaustion. It won’t hurt to rest my sore behind on the mattress for a few minutes after all, so I sit on the bed. I drink my cold water in little sips, pausing long between mouthfuls.

I feel the relaxing chill move down my dry throat and pool in my stomach. Sighing contentedly, I decide I want another cupful. Reaching out for the little jug, I catch a glimpse of the hour on the bedside clock: a soft, red glow shows off the time 12:38 a.m. Despite the lateness, I sense calmness prevail. What magic a cup of water can work on your nerves! I’d be able to work better now….in a while.

Refusing to give up my perch anytime soon, I look over at the bulletin board on my wall. The only occupants are two final examination schedules from my previous semesters, a pamphlet broadcasting a mega-bonfire activity in Teluk Batik, a stack of tacks and a lot of dust. When was the last time the board was wiped? Was it ever? Should I be bothered?

Chuckling, I drain down the last of my chilled water and wipe my lips with the back of my hand. I should probably dust the board in the morning, or the blue velvet would take on a dull hue. We wouldn’t want that happening; it isn’t welcoming to the next hosteller. Plus, it could aggravate sinuses, and that’s quite possibly the least hospitable environment to leave the next batch of occupants exposed to.

I surprise myself with my concerns. What’s it to me anyway? Did I just drink water or moonshine? Where are all these thoughts coming from? I must be really drowsy. I decide I cannot work when I’m in the brink of sleep, so I shut my eyes for a short while. I draw in deep breaths as the calmness shrouds my senses and I give in to the ebb and flow of sleep.

Something falls and breaks. My eyes snap open, sending a shockwave to my brain. I’m still sitting on the bed; I must have dozed off lying against the headboard. How long have I been out? I allow my pupils to adjust; the darkness looks the same, no sliver of sunshine or a trace of dawn light, the only illumination coming from my table lamp. Good, I must have only been asleep for a few minutes. My heart pounds wildly against my bosom and I put a hand over it. No more shut-eyes till I complete my assignment, I vow to myself.

Looking down, I notice shards of china on the floor. The remains of my porcelain cup lie menacingly about, so I take a careful step over them as I get up. Funny how the noise never as much as stirred Melinda, I wonder. I stretch lazily and walk back to the desk. Slumping onto the plastic chair, I run my index finger over the touch-pad mouse on the laptop. The screen doesn’t flash on. I run my finger over again, but the screen still refuses to come to live. Strange. I don’t recall shutting down the program before I had left for a drink.

I tug on the charger; it is still connected. I push the start button, and sure enough, the screen flashes ‘ACER’. My eyes widen. This is bad, I am certain I did not turn off the computer for a short drink-break. Had I saved the latest amendments to my database? As I wait for the homepage display, I look through the template to check how much I have completed: three more tiresome fields to add.

When the homepage comes up, I quickly click on the documents folder with hopeful fingers, narrow down the search to the ‘CA’ file, click on the folder entitled ‘Sem 2 Assignment’ and drum my fingers on the desk to calm my nerves. The Microsoft Access document opens. I slide the cursor over the Queries; Query 1, Query 2, Query 3, Query 4. No Query 5 and Query 6, I realise with horror. If the Query fields aren’t saved, then neither would the Forms and Tables be.

I try not to panic. Two-hour worth of formatting can’t have simply disappeared, so I check to see if my work had been auto-saved when the laptop decided to shut itself down. I guide my trembling finger back to the ‘CA’ folder and bid it to run through the contents. No ‘[Autosaved]’-labelled document. I return to the opened document and click on the little Windows button on the far-left corner of the screen. Hitting the ‘Open’ folder, I try my luck there. Again I bid my quivering finger to slide down the page, hopeful against all odds to locate a ‘[Autosaved]’ document. None.

A deep, visceral urge to cry out builds inside me. I put my face in my cupped hands, unable to look at the treacherous computer any longer. How could I have been so careless! Why hadn’t I saved the document before getting a drink? How hard could hitting ‘Ctrl + S’ get! I sit at my desk, almost despondent, sullenly cursing myself for not starting on my assignment earlier. I’d be sleeping soundly, like Melinda, if only I had.

Drawing in a deep breath, I will myself to relax. If I start re-doing my Queries, Tables and Forms now, I could complete my assignment by dawn. So I sit up, square my shoulders and crack my knuckles. With a new-found determination, I close the ‘Open’ folder and click on ‘New Query’. Glancing at the template, I begin typing in the data. My eyes sweep over the lower panel of the laptop screen to check the time, and freeze.

Is something wrong with the laptop clock? I reach out to my nightstand and turn the digital alarm clock over. The red digits flash the same time, angrily enough to brand my eyes. No. I cannot have napped for that long. It’s impossible. The darkness of the room certainly does not reflect 7:26 a.m. either! It’s just as I had left it at 12:38 a.m.

I rush to the window to yank the curtains apart and halt mid way upon a confusing sight. How did I not notice this sooner? The beige laced curtains that dress our windows do not block out light entirely, so even in the night, there is bound to be some light straining in from the streetlamps outside. Now, the curtains seem to have completely reflected off any light, shrouding the room in complete darkness, if not for my lamp. I take small, apprehensive steps towards the window and grab hold of the curtains. They certainly feel thicker, like quilt, as I wrench them apart.

Sunlight pours in unabashed, bathing the dark room with golden rays. I shield my eyes with a shaking hand and comfort my racing heart with another. Turning away from the blinding sun, I blink to get the beams out of my eyes. How did seven hours pass so unnoticeably? How could all this light manage to stay hidden for two hours? Then I direct my pained eyes at the curtains. They are black.

This is surreal, I tell myself. So surreal that it’s horrifying me. Is this sabotage? Curtains that change colour overnight and a computer that turns off with a mind of its own; I feel a nagging urge to awaken Melinda and interrogate her. I look over at her bed. Empty.

Of course it is, the little goodie-two-shoes is probably in class right now. I feel a weight of helplessness bear down on me. What am I going to manage in half an hour? My assignment is worth less than a quarter of the total marks, I might as well not submit it if I’m bound to fail anyway. I stand by the deceitful curtains and stare blankly at the mess that is my desk. Oh, why hadn’t I started earlier!

I walk dreadfully back to the desk, to the mocking template and sneering screen, and make to shut down my laptop for good. Glancing at the time on the screen I am ambushed by yet another surprise: 7:54 a.m. There is not the slightest chance that walking to and back from the window could take almost half an hour. I break a sweat; what is happening? Is losing track of time the result of chronic procrastination?

Unable to buy it, I walk across to my night stand to confirm the time on my digital clock. I manage to catch a glimpse of a flashing 7:54 a.m. before I step on a porcelain shard and a sudden sharp pain surges through my foot.

I jolt awake, impulsively cradling my left foot. There is no pain, no bleeding and no slash-wound. I look around. I am seated on my bedside, in the dark. Perplexity washes over me. I look at my clock: 12:52 a.m. Glancing over at Melinda’s bed, I see a figure and observe the gentle rise and fall of her chest.

I look down at the floor by my bed; there are no porcelain pieces. The china is still intact on my lap. Setting the cup back on the night stand and my foot back on the floor, I rise and make my way to the window. Gentle orange fluorescent light pours in through the translucent material. With a hammering heart, I pull apart the curtains just enough to see the deserted walkway below. A security guard steals a nap on his post, his torchlight throwing a yellow glow against the plaster wall of the guard house. More importantly, I note with growing relief, it is a midnight sky.

Drawing the curtains together, I turn and stare at my desk. The screen of my laptop is black. I walk briskly towards it as feelings of déjà-vu rise up in me. Please do not let it be turned off, I wish fervently. Even if it is, please auto-save my database. Although this time I might have enough time to re-do the two-hour worth of additions, I doubt I have the strength for it.

As I slide a trembling index finger over the mouse touch-pad, the screen flashes my database document. I breathe a sigh of relief. I guide the cursor over the Queries table: Query 1, Query 2, Query 3, Query 4, Query 5, and Query 6. Without hesitation, I quickly push the ‘Ctrl’ and ‘s’ buttons. I do not want to be taking any chances.

I shake my head to clear the fog and pinch my arm to reassure myself that the nightmarish reverie is over. Sinking into the chair, I feel the ghost of a smile playing on my lips. What I’ve got to pay for my procrastination! One thing for sure, I think to myself, as my stubby fingers resume their assault on the keypad. No more water-breaks for tonight.