I counted 43 yellow squares and 38 orange squares on the shirt of the man who stood in front of me. A square is special because it is also a rhombus, a kite, a parallelogram, a tetragon and a rectangle. For example, a square is a rectangle with four congruent sides. A square is a rhombus with a right vertex angle. A square is a parallelogram with one right vertex angel and two adjacent equal sides. It has two pairs of parallel lines; I do not like parallel lines because they will never meet and you would never know when they will end.
“Welcome to McDonald’s. How can I help you today?” Sophie asked. I knew Sophie is called Sophie because her name tag spelled S-O-P-H-I-E. Today is my twenty-third time in the Bukit Panjang outlet. I come here because I am familiar with this place since my mum and I moved to Block 78 Senja road #09-10 Singapore 987778 forty-one days ago. I like the new system in McDonald’s. After I order, I will receive a long slip with a number. The ticket numbers are displayed on a big black screen and when you see your number under ‘READY FOR COLLECTION’, it means you can collect your meal. I feel very calm and safe here because everything is in order and well-planned. I once had #2347 for breakfast and I was very happy because it was a prime number. The people in this outlet are nice. People like Sophie. Sophie is approximately 1.6 metres tall and she wears yellow-framed spectacles and she has multi-coloured hair like the feather duster hanging near my cupboard. Sophie works on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesday.
Sometimes, Danny would meet me for lunch, like today. Danny is my best friend and he is the coolest person in the universe. He wears a black leather jacket and he has dated a lot of girls. Danny never calls me spass like the boys in my class. I am not spastic. I am autistic and people with autism spectrum disorder are not spastic or retarded. Danny thinks nobody is normal and he thinks I am cool in my own way. Danny thinks Sophie likes me and that I should ask her out on a date. He would say he loves dates and I would tell him I love squares.
Danny and I used to work together in a hardware store but I was banned from the store because I punched a customer in the face. I will explain why. It was a Tuesday, and I was having my lunch break so I ate my baked hash brown from Farm Land Grade A behind counter three. Then, a customer came and asked me for recommendations about the shutter speed of Nikon D90. Mr. Lim who was my store manager said that we do not need to entertain the customers during lunch. To entertain means to answer customers’ questions. So I ignored the customer. But the customer did not go away. He said, “Hey, I am talking to you. Are you deaf?” And then he came over the line which he was not supposed to and grabbed my arms. I do not like people touching me so I punched him in the face.
“Hello, may I have your order?” Sophie asked again. Sometimes I would take a while to respond because I have gone to another place in my mind but that does not mean I cannot hear the person who is speaking.
“One hot chocolate.” I said and I handed over a ten-dollar note and Sophie handed over eight dollars and sixty cents and one cup of hot chocolate and I walked back to where Danny was seated.
“So?” Danny asked with both his arms open at forty-five degrees like a double-v. I preferred to call it double-v just like we did in French class: doo-bluh-vay because ‘W’ looked more like two ‘V’s rather than two ‘U’s.
“I’ve got hot chocolate.” I said.
“Dude, I mean did you ask her out?” He asked.
“No, I was looking at the squares.” I replied.
“What? Okie, never mind. Tell me your master plan, mister!” He asked, rubbing his palms together like how mum did it when we were skiing in Hokkaido.
I told Danny I would wait for Sophie after work and follow her home like I did the last time but this time, I would ask her out. Danny did not like the idea and said,
“No no no no no dude. You can’t just follow her home. It’s cute if you are eight but at eighteen that is called stalking.” He whispered, which most people would find quite difficult to hear but I have very good hearing so it was alright for me. “Tell you what, there is no one now, just walk up to her, look her in the eye, smile and ask her for a date and remmemmmmmmmm mmmmm ipwupql asiuep loperuqh iwuelqpj.”
I could not hear the last part of Danny’s suggestions. Sometimes when new information is given to me, especially if it is about social interaction, my mind gets a little fuzzy and my hearing too. Dr. J says it is alright because sometimes I have difficulties processing new information and all I have to do is to get my friends to repeat themselves.
“Can you repeat that but can you speak a little slower, I want to write it down” I said. So Danny repeated slowly and I recorded it in my notebook:
Step 1 Look her in the eye.
“Hold on, which eye? Do I look at the left or the right eye?” I asked.
“Both dude, both!” Danny replied. I was still confused but Danny continued.
Step 2 Smile.
Step 3 Speak in a low voice and say hello babe do you want to go out with me?
I took out the cards Dr. J gave me which had different faces together with the exact meaning of those faces. I met Dr. J when I was in primary three after I urinated on my seat. My form teacher, Ms Nazurah switched my seat with Benjamin Loo and I did not want to change seats so I marked my territory. Muggie always marks his in the park. Dr. J said it is good to have these cards with me so I can refer to them whenever I need them. This is because I cannot comprehend people’s emotions so I have to use the cards to help me understand if someone is happy or angry or confused or shocked. I took out picture number 1, the one with a convex curve and showed it to Danny and I said “Step 2” and he gave me two thumbs up. I walked up to the counter. Sophie was smiling at me which made me feel uncomfortable so I could not proceed with step one. But I have learned from Dr. J that it is alright to skip a step because sometimes we do not know what life would bring. Missing a step could also be seen as following an alternative route. “The point is to move forward, Kelvin.” Dr. J would sometimes say that. I could not look at Sophie, so I looked at her name tag and smiled and I remembered that Dr. J said that it is always polite to introduce yourself before a potential friend. So I said in a really low pitch,
“Hi, my name is Kevin Tan, I am eighteen years old. I like prime numbers but I also like squares even though it has four sides. And hey babe, want to go out with me?”
There was no response from Sophie. I thought she could not hear me so I repeated myself.
“Hi, my name is Kelvin Tan, I am eighteen…” but I did not manage to complete my sentence because Sophie started to laugh. I do not like when people laugh at me so I turned around to look at Danny who gave me two thumbs up which made me a feel a little safer and less angry.
“Are you asking me out on a date?” she asked.
“Yes.” I replied. Sophie looked at me without speaking and then she said I am free on Saturdays which did not make sense to me but Danny said she meant she was interested in hanging out with me.
I like Saturday because it has three syllables but Saturday also made me nervous because Sophie and I are meeting at ThaiNai, a restaurant I am not familiar with. I prefer familiar restaurants because when I am in a new restaurant, I would notice everything around me, the menu, the signboards, the type of lighting, the tiles on the floor, the paintings on the wall, the plants at the door, the type of utensils, the patterns on the table, the curves on the chair and that made me very confused. Usually, mum would visit new places with me and help me familiarise myself with the area, for example, where is the toilet, what is on the menu or if they serve nuts in their dishes because I am allergic to them. But Saturday came too soon and I did not tell my mum about Sophie because she did not ask.
I sat alone in the corner of the restaurant to wait for Sophie. I was across four girls who were talking about online shopping and they were sharing a blueberry tart. Then, they made loud giggles like the hyenas from BBC Earth Two programme. I did not like the way they giggled and I wanted to leave but I had to meet Sophie so I needed to stay. Then, one of the girls suggested to cut the tart into four. I do not like to share but I like blueberries. I wondered how she was going to cut the blueberry tart into four because it is challenging to cut it into perfect fours; you can have two choices--either you cut all the blueberries into fours equally or you can remove the blueberries and divide them equally into four. But they only had nine blueberries on their tart so one of them would have three instead of two which is not fair. We have to play fair. When dad left home on 2001, December 8, 4.32 p.m, mum and dad decided to split everything evenly. They calculated the price of all the furniture, electronics, paintings, and books in our house before they distributed 50:50. Mum said that that was the only solution in order to play fair. But one of the girls who laughed like a hyena took a white plastic knife and cut the pie into unequal parts and that made me very upset. They started taking photographs of themselves with that unevenly divided blueberry tart, bright lights coming out of their phones. I do not like bright lights. It had been fifteen minutes and eleven seconds and I did not see Sophie. The girls were still giggling. So I covered my ears with my palms and started to groan. But I could still hear them so I groaned louder.
The waiter came and asked if I am alright and offered me a glass of water but I did not say anything and started rocking backwards and forwards which made me spill the water on my pants. Then, one of the girls who made sounds like a hyena turned to point at my pants and screamed OH MY GOOOOD HE WET HIS PANTS which made me stop rocking for about five seconds. I had to put the additional five ‘o’s in ‘God’ because I want to emphasise how she extended the word God in her speech. I did not wet my pants, I spilled water on my pants. But I could not speak at that moment because my brain was not working well so I started groaning louder and louder but I could still hear the girls laughing at me and I think the waiter was laughing at me too and the man behind the counter put oranges into a V-shaped container and it made a really loud DRRRRRRRRR noise like when my neighbours renovated their house and I thought ThaiNai was going to collapse on me so I hid under the table, closed my eyes, hugged my knees and continued groaning. When I opened my eyes, I saw two pairs of legs. I recognised the waiter’s shoes but not the white sandals.
“Kelvin… Kelvin…” I heard the sandals speak.
“Kelvin, are you okay?” It was Sophie and not the sandals. Sophie bent and looked under the table. I wanted to tell her that I did not wet my pants and that I waited for over twenty minutes and that the girls were laughing me and that the building was going to collapse and that I think water should have a definite shape so that it will not spill on my pants and make me look like I wet myself. But I could not because my mind was not working well. All I could say was hmmm. Sophie did not say a word after that but the waiter with the black shoes did; he said I think you have to leave. So we left.
When we were outside the restaurant, Sophie asked me Kelvin what is wrong with you? People always ask me this question but I could not come up with an answer so I left Sophie by herself and headed for the toilet. I like the toilet cubicle because there was no one around me and I can touch the walls and I feel safe. In the cubicle, I remembered Dr. J said that if I am too nervous, I could do deep breathing exercises to make me feel less nervous. So I did but I could also smell urine and poo which I do not like, so I thought of all the properties of a square and that made me a little calmer. I counted all the square tiles on the floors and on the walls of the cubicle and waited until I heard no footsteps. I groaned for approximately one hour before I left the toilet. Sophie was not outside the toilet so I walked back home.
I disagree with Danny. Love is not easy and it is not fun. Love is not like a square. It cannot be compared to a square. But if someone wanted me to compare, then, Sophie is line AB and I am line CD and we are parallel to one another, therefore it makes sense that we will never meet.
That night, I could not sleep. My chest hurt and I could not find a logical explanation for the pain so I provided a genuine reason for the discomfort by scratching my arms with my nails like the time dad left.