An Unbearable Itch


The blinding light of the KDK fan illuminated her room at six-thirty in the morning. Lee-An used her hands to shield her eyes, subconsciously sighing in slight pain while sitting up. 

She looked down at her bed and saw the heaps of dead skin flakes that littered the white bedsheet. She glanced at her arms, noticing the white and yellow flakes that stuck to both elbows. She then slowly brought her hands up to her neck, but bit her lip and pulled back from the disgust and throbbing after touching the stinging watery wound. 

“Not again…” 

Her hair was in a mess– she had tied it up the night before to try to prevent this from happening, but it seemed like it didn’t work. She sighed, exhausted from the endless scratching of her body last night and got off her single-size bed. Dead flakes fell off the sheets and her body onto the wooden floor, and she stepped onto them reluctantly before going to the bathroom to bathe while her helper cleaned up the mess she made on the bed. 

Her black hair was still tied up with that pink scrunchie of hers, supposedly to get the water onto her red neck without wetting her hair. She flinched instinctively, as the water hit the wounded parts of her body. By the time she got out, her body was shivering miserably as it hit the cool air from the small window. 

Next, was to put on her cream. Grabbing the QV cream from the fridge, she applied it to her skin, but she put it on rather aggressively in frustration. The flakes on her skin were coming back up– it felt like no one else was suffering like her. The other patients at the National Skin Centre did not even have it this bad. “Come to think of it, doesn’t Jessie have eczema? She probably already recovered though, she doesn’t seem to be affected by it…” 

She thought about her friend’s similar condition. It reminded Lee-An of how bad her skin had been when she was three years old. Red spots all over her body, scratching relentlessly at night, long showers in herbal medicines and non-stop scolding from Mummy and Daddy about her not being cautious enough of her condition. She even got bullied once because her skin was dry, in kindergarten no less. It felt like so long since, but the wounds that scarred her body remained, even after she thought she got over her eczema two weeks ago. 

The red spots on her skin slowly turned white as her fingers glided across her skin, however hints of blood still oozed out of fresh wounds. 


Lee-An had been a friend of Jessie’s at the start of last year in Secondary One, but both had drifted away from each other into different friend groups. However, the new teacher had put them as desk mates this year, thus they were more acquainted with each other and had more chances to talk. 

Jessie had frequent nosebleeds and mild eczema, so she usually sat out while Lee-An would play with the rest of her group despite the stinging pain of her wounds and the constant peeling of dead skin. Lee-An loved sports, especially badminton and volleyball. That’s how she always was, but her skin condition had never been this bad, hence the overwhelming concern from her peers startled her. 

Jessie on the other hand had a commanding aura. She always got what she wanted, but still managed to be nice at the same time. She could get along with almost anyone. Is it just me or is Lee-An slightly limping? Jessie thought.  

“Sit this one out,” Jessie said. 

Lee-An whipped around to face her, eyes wide. “Huh? Why?” 

Jessie pursed her lips. “Was that too forward? Sorry, it’s just I feel that you may be in pain when you’re throwing the ball. You may stretch your dry skin too much and strain it.” 

“Really meh?” Lee-An sheepishly asked, walking over to the bench. Jessie merely nodded and Lee-An raised her hand to tell the teacher that she was sitting out this week’s lesson. 

“Don’t worry about not playing. You should let your skin heal first, and maybe try not to sweat so much. Trust me.” Jessie gave Lee-An a toothy grin, pointing to the space between her fingers that also looked like a dried-up wound. “You’ll get better with time.” 

Lee-An nodded, “Thanks.” 

Even though Lee-An and Jessie got hit by some fly balls, their smiles looked a tad bit brighter that hour. 


It was now half-past two, and the students’ attention to the science teacher was wavering. The teacher was rambling something about forces, not that Lee-An seemed to care. Everyone was too tired to think about the universe’s way of keeping things grounded. Lee-An shivered slightly from the breeze at level nine, the cold air brushing against her wounds. 

Her back suddenly itched unbearably, and Lee-An instinctively raised her arm to scratch her back. However, Jessie caught her arm before she could do so. “Don’t you have moisturiser?” 

Lee-An shook her head. “It’s at home.” 

Jessie took out a container with white cream in it, unscrewing the cap open. “You can use mine, it’s QV. Remember to bring it next time, just apply it whenever you feel itchy.” 

“But isn’t it kinda weird to apply in front of everyone?” Lee-An muttered glumly. Patting her back, Jessie gave her a warm smile. 

“The class probably knows of your condition, and you’re just trying to get better, right? They won’t judge you for that.” 

Lee-An stared at Jessie as she continued to study the method of calculating weight, wondering how she knew what to say. 


Lee-An headed home from school that afternoon, and her mind pondered on Jessie. It was almost invigorating to know that someone else knew her condition, the mere thought of having Jessie as a friend once more excited her. She had never thought that they would have so much in common.

It was comforting to know that she had someone to talk to about her condition. If Lee-An had told her parents, they would just nag at her for not being a clean freak and not paying attention to her condition. And sure, Lee-An had friends, but they all had clear, wrinkleless and healthy skin. Even though Jessie had wounds in fewer places, she still related to Lee-An’s own troubles. 

Lee-An was still curious, however. Did Jessie go through the same type of pain, but on a smaller scale? Since when did she start having eczema? Who did she get it from? Lee-An’s thoughts swirled in a bubbling pot of witch’s brew. It was time to put on her creams again. Doing this three times a day, seven days a week, she felt like these were her breathing stations, where she could rest from her bustling life and settle down for a moment to gather her thoughts. 

She knew that she and Jessie had very different ways of coping with the pain– she would have shrugged the pain off until it subsided, but Jessie told her that she coped by applying even more moisturiser to the itchy area. Lee-An never liked change, but the pain that this outbreak had given her was too much to bear. Her old methods no longer worked, and her parents would nag at her even more after. It wouldn’t hurt to try new methods, would it?


This is bad, Lee-An thought. 

It had been about a few weeks since her interaction with Jessie, but her skin was not making any improvements. Many projects were due the next week too, along with the fact that Lee-An had to redo one of them due to the lack of clear instructions. 

Just like a snowball, her stress tumbled down the hill, gaining more and more as each day passes by. It was almost terrifying when she had come to terms with reality; she hadn’t slept well. Lee-An only bathed once a day now– the mere thought of showering just made her skin burn and she could only writhe on her bed. 

She now drank at least two cups of coffee every morning to stay awake in school. Her mood swings were getting more and more frequent too, one moment she was jumping around in excitement and the next she was sulking with her head down on her table. 

Lee-An’s parents were as concerned. Daddy had insisted she go to see a western doctor, while Mommy suggested she go to a traditional Chinese medical hall. In the end, she went to both. 

All the pressure weighing on the poor girl was going to burst sooner or later. Lee-An looked down at her body, only to see red. She held back a puke, almost instantaneously rushing to the shower to wash away the crimson liquid, even if it stung. 

“I was just getting better too…” 

“Ah girl, stop peeling your skin.” Her father’s booming voice echoed in the toilet. What would Jessie do? 

Lee-An’s eyes went wide, then she shrank under his glare, her eyes already liquifying and her heart throbbing. Her scratching and peeling continued, the urge overwhelming her. What would Jessie say? 

“Sorry daddy… it’s not my fault… it’s not my fault I can’t control myself, it’s not my fault I was born this way, it’s not… I can’t stop– ” 

A warm embrace reached her. Daddy was hugging her. “You just follow the doctor’s order, just hold out until you get better.” 

Mommy came in and held her, “We don’t want to see you like this anymore. Please, ‘An. We don’t want to see you suffer like last time.” 

Lee-An had never seen her parents cry before. 


Lee-An sat in her room after that whole fiasco, tears still streaming down her face. She stared holes into the walls, deep in thought. 

“But what on earth do I do to make it stop? I don’t want to worry them anymore.” 

She bit her lip, picked up her phone and dialed Jessie’s number. “Hello?” 

“Hey… I tried applying it whenever it got itchy, but it didn’t work. Do you have any other ideas?” 


Jessie walked into the classroom the next day, and her line of vision immediately set on Lee-An, who was applying her creams. 

“Sup!” Lee-An cheerfully grinned. Jessie’s eyes trailed Lee-An’s legs, noticing the wounds turning slightly whiter after cream was applied. 

Jessie hummed and sat down. “You okay? You sound like you cried a lot last night.” 

“Oh. I’m alright now, just needed some time to refocus myself. Thanks for those tips you gave yesterday, by the way. You helped me get rid of that unbearable itch.” 

Through her writing, Tan Lee Shean (Class of 2025) explores her own insecurities and topics that revolve around her life. She grew up on book series such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Geronimo Stilton. She enjoys reminiscing about the past as she sips coffee or tea.