Despite his tough childhood, Sheldon Chan is determined to overcome his struggles, ignore the school bullies and make his dad proud. This story was written by Marissa Chow, a 12-year-old student at King George V School.
This story is one of the finalists of Young Post’s 2017 Summer Short Story Competition. Each week during the holidays, we will publish one of the finalists’ stories. The winning entry will appear in Young Post on August 26
My name is Sheldon Chan and I’m 15 years old. Despite having only started school two years ago, I’m already a top Secondary Four student. I don’t mean to brag; after all, I’m the humble son of a lowly car mechanic. My father, Carlos, was born into a Chinese family in Chile a few years before the Great Depression – and escaped to Hong Kong during it. He was unable to find a high-paying job because he couldn’t speak a lot of Chinese, but he managed to get by as an apprentice to a car mechanic.
My father woke up at four every morning to ride his bicycle from his cramped Shek Mun flat to the mechanic shop in Central. When he met Irene Jiang, daughter of a wealthy Chinese businessman, he immediately purchased a bigger flat with his hard-earned money in an effort to woo the love of his life.
Eighteen months later, they married. I was born a year and a half later – my parents were over the moon. Their plan was to send me to a prestigious school so I would receive a solid education.
However, my life took a turn for the worse when I was just five years old. My mother collapsed during a sweltering summer’s day whilst out shopping. She was rushed to the nearest hospital, but died a few hours later.
Without her, my father and I were sucked into poverty. We sold our home and moved into a much smaller flat that always seemed to be swarmed with flies. My father had to balance his job with a new night-shift as a security guard at a mall. This meant he had to leave home at six in the morning and didn’t get home until at least eleven at night – where I would already be fast asleep on the dusty old mattress we shared.
As I grew older, I started scavenging for discarded educational materials from rubbish bins and alleys next to my home. I was eager to gain knowledge; to learn about school and society. My father taught me the limited information he knew, and I gradually learned how to read and write. At the age of eight, I landed a part-time job shelving books in a public library. I would often stay for hours after my shift to devour as many books as I could.
The librarian saw how enthusiastic I was to learn and gave me a library card for Christmas. Brimming with delight, I would pick out 10 books a week to take home and read. My father was extremely proud of me and vowed to give me a proper education in the future.
He fulfilled his promise the year I turned 13. He had finally earned enough money to enrol me in LYH Memorial Secondary School, a private school in Kowloon. I started at Secondary Two, and despite concerns about not being able to fit in, I quickly settled into school life. Of course, I did have one or two enemies…
“Here you go, Sheldon. Have a good lunch!” said Mrs Lin, the school librarian, while handing me a stack of books.
“Thanks,” I said, almost toppling over from the weight of them. I managed to stagger out of the library to a deserted corridor, narrowly avoiding crashing into a door.
“What are you doing here, jerk?”
I spun around. There was no mistaking that husky voice, laced with venom and enmity. It belonged to Marcus Quinn, a rich 15-year-old American and star player on the school rugby team. He’d been harassing me ever since I started here.
“I asked you a question, jerk,” Marcus snarled. I could smell his hot, garlicky breath as he towered over me.
“Marcus, I –,” I began, but he cut me off.
“Who gave you permission to speak?”
I sighed. Typical. “Listen, Marcus, I really should get going...,”
Marcus interrupted me again, fists clenching. “Go on then, give me your best shot, jerk.”
“What?” I said, bewildered.
“Fight me, you geek!” he shouted, losing his temper and shoving me to the ground. The books spilled all over the place and I hastily gathered them up, trying to cram them into my already enormous backpack.
My eyes darted around, scanning the area for anyone who could help me – no-one. I was in a very sticky situation indeed. The bully probably weighed twice as much as I did... I would be reduced to nothing in a matter of seconds.
Thankfully, I was saved by my best friend. Noah Anthony happened to be walking past the staircase just as Marcus declared war on me. Noah, a lean boy with a slight build, rushed over. “Lay off him, okay?”
Marcus glared at me, his face contorted with hatred. “I’ll get you next time,” he snarled, stomping away.
“Thanks, Noah,” I mumbled, turning to face one of my only friends.
“You’re welcome,” Noah smiled. “I’m always available to be your personal bodyguard.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“I know, I know … hey, want to come to Chess Club with me? I promise it’ll be fun.”
“I’m not that good at chess…” Actually, I wasn’t bad at chess; I learned the rules from my neighbour.
“It’s okay, I’m sure you’ll do better than my friends,” Noah said, laughing. “Come on, let’s go!”
Lunch went by quicker than usual, so I had to rush to my locker before scuttling to English class. I passed a group of girls on the way, and was about to continue my journey when I heard my name being mentioned. I shuffled closer, trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible.
“That Sheldon thinks he’s so clever! I used to be the best until he came along,” one girl snorted.
I froze. It was Jennifer Wong, my classmate and one of the most popular girls at school. Flanked by her squad, Jennifer kept going: “There’s an upcoming essay competition about our dreams and ambitions and I want to win.”
The other girls nodded earnestly. Jennifer didn’t stop there, but a glance at my watch told me that class would start in five minutes. I had to dash off.
My English teacher, Mrs Scott, was as old as the hills. She wore pointy red spectacles and tied her thinning hair scraped into a bun. She would often wear eccentric dresses, and today was no different – she displayed a dazzling green gown reaching her knees.
“As you all know, there will be an essay writing competition open for your year group…” she began.
I spaced out for a while until she said the word “winner.”
“The winner will get to attend an exclusive meeting with Damien Winters and have their essay published in the school newspaper. The essay will also be submitted to a regional essay competition for a chance to win one thousand dollars.”
Oscar, a plump boy, raised his clammy hand. “Who’s Damien Winters?” he drawled.
“Damien Winters is a highly prolific author who wrote the well-known novels Self-discovery, Lonely Morrie, and Dealing with Duncan Dohart, to name a few,” said Mrs Scott, her monotonous voice drowning out Jennifer’s loud snigger.
“What do we have to do?” asked Chester, friend of Oscar’s.
“If you had listened to what I was saying earlier on, you would have known already” snapped Mrs Scott, rolling her eyes at Chester. “You will each write an essay about one of your ambitions, and hand it in to me next Tuesday. That gives you five days. Your essay should be at least five hundred words long.”
Time ticked away, and I soon found myself jogging home after school, with only my bag to shield the sudden downpour of rain. I sprinted up the stairs, where I found my father absorbed in a magazine.
“You’re off duty,” I noted, flinging my bag on the floor.
My father started to say something, but I interrupted. “Listen, there’s an essay competition at school – I could win a thousand dollars!”
My father’s jaw dropped. “Sheldon ... what ... honestly ... okay, go and write your essay” he blurted.
I grinned. I knew we were in desperate need of money; my father had spent almost all his savings on my education.
I started brainstorming ideas for my essay entry. I considered writing about wanting to be a policeman, but eventually I decided to write about what I truly wanted: to be treated just like any other teenager.
I had been teased, mocked, jeered at, and bullied ever since I started school, simply because I started school when I was 13, whereas other people had received proper education since they were half that age, or even younger. School bullies loved humiliating me over the fact that I came from an impoverished family. I would often come home with nasty gashes, bruises or cuts because of those ruffians.
My father noticed my pain, but didn’t comment. When it came to parent meetings, my father would make the occasional remark about bullying, but my teachers never seemed to understand the severity of it.
I ended up writing more than a thousand words, pouring my heart and soul into every one of them. When I finally handed it in, I felt a sense of relief, gratitude, and calmness sweep over me; I hadn’t realised that expressing my emotions on paper would feel so rewarding.
I won the competition.
Noah heard the news from his friend, who’d gotten it from his brother, who’d overheard his English teacher telling her friend.
According to my teacher, my heartfelt essay breezed past the other entrants — most of whom had written essays about dream jobs. Weeks later, I received a letter revealing I had also won the regional competition.
Winning didn’t matter. All I wanted was to be treated like a normal teenager, and to see my father’s wrinkles vanish.
I achieved both of these goals.
Sheldon Chan, Hong Kong’s youngest-ever chief executive, paced into office, slamming the door behind him. He had just come under fire from a mob of furious citizens who had condemned his handling of the recent Carmine Movement — a week-long demonstration-turned-brawl over Hong Kong’s poverty rate – which had been rising steadily for 10 years since 2035. The brutal riot resulted in the massacre of 200 civilians.
To make matters worse, Sheldon had been stopped by a crowd of television reporters, who shoved flashing cameras in his face and asked endless questions about his views. Fortunately, Sheldon’s trusted assistant, Jasper, rescued him and led the media away, giving Sheldon some much-needed peace and quiet.
He sat down heavily on an armchair. He was about to reach for a newspaper when something on the floor caught his eye. He stood up and walked over to an ornate bookshelf; one of the books had fallen out. Sheldon bent down to retrieve it and smiled when he read the title. He grasped it in his hands and strolled back to his armchair. Opening the book, he started reading:
“My name is Sheldon Chan and I’m fifteen years old…”