"You're sure you won't come with us?" Candice tossed that question at Gek Huey even as she gazed squarely at herself in the mirror while deftly applying more concealer around her panda eyes that have seen too many late nights recently. Finals ended last week and everyone in their hall has been partying non-stop. Another Saturday night was in the offing and Candice was raring to go. Never having worn make-up herself because she believed that God gave us our faces which shouldn't then be embellished or disguised, Gek Huey still couldn't help but be mesmerised by this Saturday evening ritual of her roommate, the way the latter, armed with a bavin of brushes and swirls of palette, composed her face like a maestro on a canvas. With a few flourishes of the mascara brush and the barest hint of eye shadow, Candice's eyes suddenly loomed all large, smoky and manga-like, eager to speak volumes. The tiniest daub of blusher and some nifty finger dancing with a lip liner, and her cheekbones seemed ready to slice paper while what she affectionately called her "mother-puckers" were as full and luscious as overly ripe fruit.
But Gek Huey knew Candice's question was essentially rhetorical, midway between a taunt and a challenge. Candice knew all too well that she volunteered at the Family Help Centre on weekends, that she gave tuition to underprivileged children even while the party girl herself was "getting pissed on vodka martinis, or worse, maybe snorting meth" at some club or private party. Gek Huey often wondered what impelled the Students Liaison Office to throw them together, two girls who couldn't be more radically different in terms of background, temperament or outlook. Candice was a district 10 debutante; her parents were in high-end retail, running a motley group of designer boutiques (which explained why she was never short of pretty frocks or accessories for her weekend jaunts) and she only resided in a hall to avoid their scrutiny, to circumvent their "home by midnight curfew" and to be "near the guys". Gek Huey grew up in a single-parent home and her dad made a meagre living by retrieving and collecting whatever could be recycled. In their one-room flat, regularly piled high with cardboard sheets, old newspapers and fizzy drink bottles, there was scarcely an inch of space left to accommodate a desk where she could work. And though a portion of her scholarship went to helping her father, she managed to scrape and scrimp on the rest in order to afford housing on campus which was sensible also on account of that otherwise long trek from her home in Woodlands.
"Yes, I forget, you have a wake to attend after your tuition, don't you? Enjoy!" Candice delivered her parting shot as she threw a sequinned pashmina shawl over her slinky black shift and waltzed out of the room with a Grand Guignol gesture. Candice wasn't a bad person in spite of her sybaritic lifestyle, Gek Huey thought, she was just a pampered princess who had no idea how the other half lives. Two years ago, the pair had met at the freshmen's orientation fair and discovered they were assigned to share. One boisterous and prone to uncontrollable fits of giggles, and the other solemn beyond her years, they became the most unlikely of strange bedfellows. Candice was two minds about every discipline (she was the quintessential dabbler) but finally chose to read English Literature and Critical Theory which Gek Huey secretly found a crock of bullshit. Candice dallied through her days discoursing on hermeneutics and narratology, and bandying about terms like postmodernism, deconstruction, semiology, aporia. One minute she was researching a paper on the taxonomies of gender performativity ("What?!" would be Gek Huey's goggle-eyed riposte), another she was engaged in decoding cultural imperialism and intertextual references.