Heart Decisions



Kathleen Tam

Published: 17 December 2018

Accident at Orchard Rd

SINGAPORE: 3 people were taken to the hospital yesterday after a motorcycle accident at Orchard Road. The motorcyclist crashed into the sidewalk of Orchard Road intersection, injuring three people. Paramedics were immediately brought to the scene. Amongst the casualties was a fatally wounded 17 year old boy, who was taken to the hospital with the other two injured. His condition led to his death in the ambulance. He was an organ donor. 

Ryan knew he was being unfair; that deep down, he was dead. Accepting it was only right, yet he couldn’t. At 17, he had his whole life ahead of him: so much more to experience, lined up like neatly organised Domino tiles that someone had accidentally nudged, dismantling 17 years of planning. He had once imagined himself bent over his parents’ bodies, face crumpled with age and despair at the still bodies in the caskets. He never realised how much more it hurt to see the opposite.

Helplessly hovering over his parents, he watched their faces age 10 years in 10 minutes, folding and unfolding like worn out origami paper. Ryan had been an only child, supposed to stay with them until the end. He had never really been a good kid, throwing tantrums and fighting with them. Shit, he’d fought with them right before the accident. He never apologised, and now the chance had died alongside himself. His mother’s wails got louder and his father’s weeping harder. He had never seen his father cry before. 

Something in Ryan burned, yearning to comfort them and give them the apology they deserved. It twisted burdening braids in his mind. So when he felt the faint tug towards a stranger, he ignored the voice that told him it was unfair to them, rationalised that dying had been unfair to him too, and let the tug guide him towards the girl that could live for him.

Emily was falling into a spiralling abyss, the dark caressing her as she free fell into inky black. 

Weightless; surrounded by writhing snakes of darkness. Suddenly it reared back, converging to form a face. The face tugged at her heartstrings, a pulsating thrum of her heart akin to the feeling of reuniting with a close relative; yet, it was unrecognisable. Silently screaming, she shattered, dispersing into the darkness as a foreign voice whispered a name in her mind.


She stood on solid black matter, staring up at the rippling darkness. The oily black stain parted, a face coalescing in the space. Her reflection. The pale face, narrow eyes and small nose she knew so well. Disconcerting. Recoiling, she looked down at herself and stumbled; it was a boy’s body. She lurched backwards, a name fixed on the tip of her tongue. Emily. 

The landscape shifted, black dissipating into hazy blocks of colour, bleeding into shapes. She blinked and the scene sprung to life. She stood at an intersection, waiting to cross the road. A street sign read “Orchard Rd”. Cars raced past, stirring the hairs on her head. Everything seemed blurry, as if wrapped in gauze. The man in the traffic light turned green and she stepped forward. The hot breath of engine rumbled close to her- 

She was flying, unbound by gravity–

Chaos erupted around her, people surging forward and screaming, shouting, wailing. Noise everywhere. 

“Oh my g-”

“Should have been more careful-” 


As the world tipped on its axis, voices fading, she became distantly aware of a broken scream as the darkness consumed her again. 

She awoke with a gasp, the free falling sensation forcing her against the bed, imaginary gravity tugging her further into the sheets. Beeping permeated her senses, the shrill sound throbbing in time with her head. The hospital room was white, illuminated harshly.

The dreams had plagued her since her heart operation three weeks ago, increasing in frequency over her recovery. A never ending mirage haunting her subconscious, adding to her irritability (a common side effect) and susceptibility to snapping at the slightest inconveniences.

She stared at her reflection in the bedside mirror. She hated it; eyes gaunt, lips thin and cracking, skin fragile, thin, greyish. She looked like a broken doll, the porcelain kind — creepy with its glassy stare, on a shelf collecting dust. Heart failure had been a melancholic memory, recovery a melancholic process. 

The air shifted then, and the feeling of sudden wrongness made her freeze, her flesh prickling and heart aching. It felt like someone watching her, but she was alone. She looked to her reflection, which was now the boy who haunted her dreams. Her heart fell out of her chest. 

She had hoped that the heart transplant would give her a life unburdened by illness. But that evaporated when the dreams and the heartache for something intangible began, when the air soured and she saw the dead eyes of that boy stare back at her in the mirror. Then she knew that her life, her heart, wasn’t hers anymore. 

Perhaps she was going mad. 

It had been a month since her customary one month stay at the hospital post-transplant, five weeks since she’d first seen his ghost. 

Curiosity had killed the cat when the seed of suspicion in her festered, rotted. So she had decided to confirm it.

One moment,when the boy wasn’t following her, her mother was washing the dishes, the mundane droning of life cloying in the air. Emily put her elbows on the table, toying with the edge of an old newspaper.


“Hm?” Her mother didn’t turn.

“Who is it? My organ donor.”

Her mother fumbled then, fingers losing traction on the slippery plate, which crashed loudly to the bottom of the sink. Emily glanced at the newspaper, idly flipping through it. When she reached the obituary section, her heart lurched. Bewildered, she scanned it and her unsettled eyes lingered on one in particular. The familiar face of her haunting ghost stared up at her. Ryan Lim, it read. She gasped.

“Why do you want to know, darling?” Her mother’s tone was falsely light, fickle brightness.

“Just curious.” Emily tried her best to keep her tone neutral as she flinched away from the newspaper. 

Her mother turned to her, an exhalation crumpling her thin frame. Weary eyes met Emily’s. 

“Ryan Lim.” 

She didn’t understand the sudden compulsion that overcame her but she let her body take over, her mind a servant to her whims. She waited until her mother left the kitchen before she tore the orbituary out and took it to her room. 

It had been two weeks since that day she’d seen the boy in the newspaper. Two weeks since she’d found out she was being haunted by her organ donor. 

She wasn’t obsessed. It was her mantra, one of three that had become her daily prayers as she flipped through the flimsy A5 exercise book, its contents questionable at best. His obituary stared up at her, her twisted shrine filled with manic scribbles- details of his accident, his social media platforms, the one Raffles Institution school video on YouTube he featured in, his life. Mere curiosity, not obsession. 

And even if it was, she reasoned, it was justified. Her organ donor was her sometimes ghostly companion. It was natural to research. Perfectly Natural. Her second mantra. 

“You could just ask me, you know?” The non-corporeal boy said. 

Emily didn’t respond. The boy tilted his head. 

“Why don’t you ask me?” 

It was a rhetorical question because they both knew the answer. He

wasn’t real; that’s what she told herself. Her third mantra. 

The boy paced restlessly, gangly limbs swaying erratically. His restless pacing was starting to trigger a restlessness in her as well, and she felt the sudden desire to be somewhere.

She didn’t know where she was going, just that she had a strong inclination to board the Downtown line. So she did. The train was obnoxiously crowded,; a large crowd of squashed, bent necks looking at their phone screens. However, it wasn’t stuffy, didn’t feel like a fist was jammed down her throat when she breathed. The train was newer, crisp, cool air conditioning filtered through the carriages. Fresh, clean, unlike the older trains’ musty air. The train’s drone was deafening, peaceful in its consistency, lulling her to a state between consciousness and unconsciousness. The underground darkness blurred past with the train’s speed. 

The blinking green light indicating the station flashed, and an automated monotone announcer announced “Beauty World.” The feeling to alight tugged at her, a yank on an imaginary cord tied to her heart. Not her heart. She alighted.

“It’s my station.” The boy said, following her, for nobody but her to hear. As always, she didn’t reply.

An inconceivable force tugged her foot forward, her body propelled forward on heavy legs; a wooden puppet moving to her puppeteer’s whims. As her body was jerked around, she finally broke.

“What are you doing to me?” She cast her third mantra away, forced to acknowledge his presence with her first ever words to him. They were hot; feverish, burning her throat and tumbling out of her mouth in a stream of lava. 

She looked at the boy, who looked pained, she didn’t know why but she hated it. She distantly thought about how she looked: an unhinged teen staring at something invisible, and felt the urge to laugh. Insane. The beep of her MRT card on the gantry was lost as she moved with false purpose up the escalators. 

She was furious, because the boy who was invisible to all but her had made her question her grip on reality and her own actions, and she’d had a lifetime of being unable to control her life. But it was still his heart that had saved her. She hated that most of all. Her anger mellowed slightly when she felt the drowsy heat of Singapore as she neared the station exit. 

“Why are you doing this to me?” She was spitting static, broken and fuzzy. 

“I don’t want to be dead.” It was so soft she almost didn’t catch it. But she did and the anger doubled.

“What.” She said, a little too loudly. 

She should have been more aware of her surroundings, of the way people were looking at her now, but she didn’t care. She was crying, hot tears burning trails down her face. She wished that she could drown in them, until she withered away into her own skin. Not just her own skin. 

“I had so much to live for, and— I can’t do anything that I want to! I miss my friends— and I miss my family.” His face was splintered, cracked apart. 

“I miss my family.”

He stumbled over that part, his tongue broken too, and she found herself an unwilling companion in his sadness.

“I fought with them. All the time. We fought that day, about something stupid, I can’t even remember what, and I left, and the accident— and I died and I never said sorry.”

“I never said sorry.” 

And the world was eclipsed in his sorrow.

There it was, the dismal truth; the mystery of why he was haunting her solved. 

The oppressive weather added to her distress, tears mingled with sweat. The sun was beating her into the ground, sweat trickling unpleasantly down her spine. She was so angry at him and it was too much, burning in her chest and choking her. She itched at it and couldn’t stop. She wanted to scratch the pain away until her heart was a dripping, gleaming garnet carcass between her hands.

“No,” She stepped off the escalator. “Stop, you’re being mean.”

He tripped over his feet, her reaction unexpected.


“I have lived my entire life limited by my illness! And I had a chance— you gave me a chance to live how I wanted to! And then you haunt me and control my decisions and make me obsess over you and doubt my own sanity and-” She was gasping, delirious in her anger. “Oh my god— I’m— I’m done! Enough!” 

The boy was suddenly right in front of her, mournful and apologetic and she hated it. Then he was shouting too.

“I didn’t ask to die! It’s unfair to me too!” 

“Oh, shut up—”

“I had no control over—”

Their words were drowned in the cacophony of shouting, a latticework of festering sentences. Unexpectedly, she realised she felt achingly tired; of him, of the pointless shouting- because she realised then that it didn’t matter, it was still her body and her life. 

“Fine! You can share my life!” 

He fell silent. 

“But, Ryan,” the syllables were unfamiliar. She’d always thought of him as ‘the boy’ to distance herself from him, but she saw no point in doing so anymore. “I will live how I want to.”

It was a start, the small olive branch she was willing to extend for now. Ryan nodded slowly, understanding, though his expression was conflicted. 

“Could you do something for me then. Could you meet my parents for me? Please?” 

The question stirred unwitting empathy for the ghost. Emily had lived most of her life prepared to die, Ryan hadn’t. Some part of her, through their strange connection, acknowledged the injustice to him. So she agreed. 

Ryan had always known that Emily felt uncomfortable. But she had been his only hope of easing his biggest regret, and she made him feel alive again. He craved the moments he could pester her, when her brow wrinkled and she’d try to pretend he didn’t exist, her awareness of him inadvertently revealing itself. It was selfish, but he didn’t want to lose her. 

He was silent on the way to his house. Despite Emily finally resolving his one burden, he didn’t feel soothed. He glanced at her face, thin and weary. Her collapsing face as she broke down nipped at him. It starkly reminded of his parents, faces stitched with sorrow. He hated himself. Ryan couldn’t make the same mistake in death that he made in life, he couldn’t hurt anyone else. It was time to let go. 

The house was upper class, tucked into a quiet neighbourhood.   

“I’m sorry.” Ryan whispered, and it felt bittersweet, like glossily staring at the end credits of a good movie. 

“Yeah, me too.” Emily replied, though she wasn’t sure why. 

The air was solemn as she rang the bell, Ryan stood quietly beside her as they waited for someone to open the gate. The woman behind the gate looked tired, but surprise was written on her features, so similar to her son’s. 

“Can I help you?” 

The woman’s eyes grew and her hands flailed uselessly at her sides as Emily introduced herself but she gestured for Emily to come into the house. Something fluttered in Emily’s heart. She turned to look at Ryan, but she found nobody there, only the slight rustling of leaves as a phantom wind blew across the space.

Kathleen Tam thinks of writing and tears up a little. Her writing process often consists of more tears shed than words written. During this time, she also suddenly turns religious, praying for something to fill the blank document.