It was that time of the year again. I exchanged groans with my sister as we tailed Pop and Mom to the car.
Call me antisocial, but I have no pleasure in attending extended family gatherings. The moment I get there, I would be greeted by choruses of “The Genius is here!” and applause that would reek of exaggerated envy. Of course, I secretly enjoyed the attention, but I did not relish a huddle of cousins and aunts gathering around me and asking me what genius exploits I had undertaken in school that year.
Of course, I should have known what to expect the day the teacher beamed at me and told the class that I was the only one from the school entering the much-coveted Gifted Education Programme. And I did not even study for it like my friends then, who pored over various assessment books three levels higher than their standard and went to three “IQ tuitions” a week. Since then, I have had a blessed route to secondary school, acing everything and becoming the pride of my family, which after my sister’s failure to get into the same programme began to bestow slight favouritism on me.
The car tires screeched to a halt on the rain-washed road – we had arrived. I could already hear my cousins’ voices belting out Christmas carols, and pointed out playfully to my sister that they had miserable voices. Again, we tailed our parents to the looming bungalow where my father, visibly uncomfortable in a suit and tie which both looked brand-new, handed my aunt and uncle a small gift-wrapped present.
Entering the house, I braced myself for the outburst, and I was not disappointed as the cousins who were not indulging in X-Box or caroling leapt off a comfortable settee and shrieked, “Brenda and Genius are here! Brenda and Genius are here!” repeatedly. For goodness sake, I have a name! I gave a small casual smile without looking at them, and seated myself on the settee.
I was relieved as Aunt Joyce was not maniacal as she walked up to Brenda and me and said, “Merry Christmas, Brenda and Kate! The kids may be a little noisy with those game consoles, but just make yourselves at home and the turkey will be coming out soon!” Giving me a sad grin, she turned to entertain the adults.
The look on Aunt Joyce’s face when she saw me made me think of someone – I swung my head instinctively towards the X-Box and saw her, punching buttons on a X-Box control and laughing continually. She looked the same, a large face with pale pink cheeks and sleepy-looking eyes. She always does.
Exactly a month after I was born, Aunt Joyce, my mother’s sister, also gave birth, but the girl she produced could not be more different from me. She was born with Down’s syndrome, and looked set for a life with special schools and charity welfare organizations. Aunt Joyce quit her high-paying job just to look after Verity, and as I began to show signs of giftedness her perennial sadness was compounded. She felt ashamed for her daughter, whose condition was to follow her for the rest of her life, while I had a bright future ahead of me as a career woman.
I sat myself down at the settee and muttered a hello to the children who viewed me with amazement, a pastime they particularly enjoyed during family gatherings. Then, I gave a feeble wave at Verity. She did not notice me – she was at the moment busy trying to pluck a button out from the X-Box controller and grinning to herself.
The innocent, simple grin – it seemed to me a woeful accusatory smile, directed at me – I felt guilty. Guilty that I had somehow robbed my cousin of her intelligence.
Time passed slowly with nothing I could do – I had not the foresight to bring a book – but dinner was finally served. Aunt Joyce immediately made a beeline to prise Verity from the X-Box and prop her onto a special chair that looked like a “baby chair”, except that the seat was much lower. Some of the younger cousins, fresh from trouncing Verity at various X-Box games, somehow saw humor at that sight and started to giggle, only stopping when I chastised them.
Dinner was largely silent for the first part, before Aunt Joyce made it a point to ask about my studies.
“Oh, she’s doing alright in school!” enthused my mother, who had made me her favourite conversation topic of late, a fact that caused me great irritation. “She’s in the Science Club, you know, and recently won third in a national science team-based challenge! In fact, she got to shake hands with the minister!” I sensed a sudden change in atmosphere, and nudged my mother. Fortunately, she got the hint and stopped talking. I kept my head low and picked at the turkey persistently – eating was my answer to the shame I suddenly felt. Besides, my achievement at the National Youth Science Challenge was nothing to be proud of.
We had entered the competition as firm favorites and defending champions, and I was very pleased when the team voted me as group leader. We had some teething problems in the preliminary rounds, but soon recovered to qualify for the final round easily. But then, that was when all the problems started surfacing.
I would be lying if I said that I played no part in our eventual failure to defend our title, but truth was, the problems were caused largely by two power-hungry girls in the group, most probably indignant that they had not been selected as the group leader. They put aside all logic and made it a point to argue with me over every trivial matter as we toiled on our respective tasks in the challenge. Admittedly, I became very hot-headed as a result of their verbal assaults, and made it a point to retort. As a result, we lost valuable time and failed to complete our task satisfactorily. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised that despite all our errors, we had still managed to secure a top-three placing. However, this challenge alerted me to the sheer… complexity and unreasonableness of certain over-ambitious members of the Science Club, and I was having a real dilemma on whether to quit it, one that I had not informed my parents about.
The mere thought of the office politics going on in the Science Club got me mildly frustrated. I looked up from my bowl – and my eye fell upon Verity, struggling as she was with the mashed potato on her plate, and threatening to spill it, if not for her mother, who patiently spoon-fed her.
“Oh, er…” I struggled to make conversation. “So how’s Verity doing at school? Is she enjoying it there?”
Aunt Joyce looked up and smiled wanly. “Why, yes, of course! The special school takes care of Verity very well. There are many competitions held in the school that keep that occupied, too. Recently she entered an art competition, and won third place for her drawing!” Aunt Joyce beamed, and a few of my aunties and uncles smiled, reaching over to pat Verity on the head – some even tried to initiate monosyllabic conversations with her, to which she merely beamed.
After awhile, Aunt Joyce noticed that everyone was done with dinner, and began clearing the plates. Everyone started to make their way towards the heap of presents under the Christmas tree, the adults unconcerned and still engaged in conversation spilled over from dinnertime, the children eager and already searching for those presents with their names on it, myself included. I finally spotted a few presents for me. They were all rectangular. Could it be a box of some sort? A smile formed on my face as I thought what I could be getting. A Barbie doll, just like what I had hinted at my parents? I may have matured, but my girlish fondness for those marketable dolls still remained.
I ripped open my first present. Even as three-quarters of the plain blue wrapper remained my heart sank: I had gotten a book, one with “Advanced Science” in its title. It was ‘An Encyclopedia for Scientist Wannabes’, or so it claimed: the pictures on its cover seemed suitable for someone five years my junior. At the same time Verity, shirt soiled with turkey stuffing, opened a Barbie doll box and began mutilating the Barbie inside it.
The present-opening process soon sped up: I was constantly uncovering science books and encyclopedias, Verity having fun with a heap of Barbie dolls and various toys. The adults walked to Verity and started playing with her with a slightly patronizing manner. I turned to Brenda for solace, but she was too delighted with her own presents – earrings and clothing among other things – to bother about me.
Resigned to my fate, I opened the cover of one of my presents, and attempted to read through the tears clouding my eyes, amidst sounds of fake doll hair and limbs being ripped out and laughter of relatives.
This story is my reflection on intelligence, and how being intelligent (and a GEPper) is not always a happy or an easy thing to be. I speak for myself and other “GEPpers” (as we’re often branded) when I say that with our ‘intelligence’, we’re often ostracized and alienated, perhaps due to the awe of our peers, or their firmly-rooted beliefs that GEPpers are sociopaths and antisocial.
Granted, intelligence does have many benefits. We are almost guaranteed a better future than our non-GEPper peers, and we get into better schools to receive better education. However, “with great power comes great responsibility”. In my story, I tried to point out that with our intelligence, we start setting higher standards for ourselves, and therefore getting easily disappointed. Therefore, Kate, the protagonist is disappointed with her third place finish in her science challenge, while Verity, simple as she is, would be elated with a third place finish for her competition – in fact, she is constantly beaming, as she has no troubles in her simple life. Also, as we work in an intelligent environment, there will be ambitious, power-hungry and in short, complex peers we will encounter.
I tried to portray both sides of the argument with regards to intelligence, but what I’d really like to be is someone slightly less “smart”, yet someone more accepted by society.