“Do not collapse before your minute is over. Understood?” The tester glared down at us as I nodded. I was the one that stood out, with my pale skin and scrawny figure. However, regardless of my dislike, or disability rather, for any physical activity, I still had to take the Physical Fitness Assessment.
“Hello? Olivia?” Someone waved her hand in front of my face.
“What?” I jolted back into reality as Sophie Summers, winner of oh-so many tennis awards, asked me a question.
“How many pull-ups are you planning on doing?” she said, patiently.
“I don’t know, about 15?” I said cautiously. I already knew what was coming next, I could feel it. She opened her mouth and sure enough…
“Good! I wanted to do 30,” she sighed and contentedly skipped back to her group, neon sports shoes glowing. My stomach flipped over as panic settled in. Even though I had practiced my pull-ups, I wasn’t sure it was enough. I was the benchmark for everyone. If they lost to Olivia, they needed serious help. Woe betide anyone who lost a game to Olivia, the anti-athlete. As time passed, I adjusted, laughing along at my failures, pretending everything was fine although it wasn’t.
“Next, Olivia!” the tester said, scrawling on her notepad, her voice like that of those fake emcees you hear on game shows. I walked towards the instrument of torture, slid myself beneath the single bar, and waited. All the while my head hurt as thoughts spun inside my head like a plane about to crash, thoughts like, “I could never get gold, what was I thinking!” and, “15 pull-ups, why did I even tell Claire that. If I do any less, everyone will laugh,” and, most prominent of all, “I’m such an absolute failure.”
“Up!” the tester yelled. This was it, the plane had crashed. I lifted my body up, arms quivering.
“Fifteen to gold, Liv,” Sophie called as I started to begin.
“Yeah, but she did like, four during her warm up yesterday!” Natasha, class president, jeered.
“I was conserving my energy,” I muttered, gritting my teeth.
“What did you say?” Claire stepped forward, and her face appeared above me, mockingly questioning.
I wanted to tell her to shut up, but my mouth seemed to be sealed shut. I raised my body up, straining my arms, but this time instead of unbearable pain, I only felt a slight sting, blocked out by the lyrics of my favorite song that was now playing inside my head.
“The fear of never being good enough, we are all made the same, I know it’s tough, but please don’t give up…”
I breathed in, my mind screaming, thoughts rising up and down like waves crashing towards the sand. My chest was tight, and I felt like I was swimming against a riptide, the water pulling me under, spitting me out, drawing me in.
“Stop!” I heard, as I slumped to the floor, melodies and harmonies spinning out of control in my head, a mess of colours, voices, and sounds.
“I know it’s dire, my time today…”
“Olivia, 28,” the tester said monotonously. Unbelieving crowds clustered around, all questioning and probing.
Smiling, I sat up weakly. I breathed in as I spoke triumphantly.
“The benchmark has been raised.”
Olivia Liu resides in Singapore, and owns a dangerous amount of musical instruments. Her interests mainly include listening to music, reading, writing, and scrolling endlessly through literary blogs and online magazines. The expressions on her face are usually described as that of deep concentration or quiet contemplation, when in fact she is just a hopeless space cadet.