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For the Love of a Mark

A Short Story on Student Pressure

By Michelle LiewPublished 3 months ago 5 min read
For the Love of a Mark
Photo by MChe Lee on Unsplash


Young Mark Lim grabbed a seat at the dinner table and sat seated himself with the front of the chair facing him, legs askew. The chicken drumsticks that his mother, Elaine, had laid out on the table were too succulent to resist; he grabbed one, much to her frustration.

"We're supposed to be having those later," she scolded, snatching it back from the twelve-year-old and putting it back on the plate with disapproval written all over her face.

"Anyway, you're cheery. What's the news?"

"I just opened the mailbox. Mum, I am a proud Rafflesian!"

Mark had just finished the primary school leaving examination that decides the academic fate of all twelve-year-olds in Singapore. The academically inclined Mark had a score that enabled him to enter the next phase of his education at whatever school he wanted.

"Proud of you, boy," Mark's father, David, who had just returned from the office and entered the kitchen, patted him on the shoulder.

"Thanks, old man," Mark said, giving his father a fist bump. His laissez-faire relationship with his father hadn't gotten in the way of him doing well in his studies.

"Knock it off, you two, and get ready for dinner. Western today," The usually stoic Elaine was used to the show of male camaraderie. There was a little too much camaraderie for her liking; she wished her boy to have a more conventional relationship with his parents, fearing that he would lose academic footing. Mark wouldn't have secured excellent grades if not for me, she thought. She turned her attention to the boy and instantly sharpened the tone of her voice.

"Remember the math homework that you owe your math tutor today. Now that you're a proud student of Raffles Institution, there's no rest for you."

Mark groaned. "Mum, can't I relax for just today?" The thought of homework triggered an overwhelming feeling that Mark didn't discuss with his parents. All they would tell him was to stop providing lazy excuses for not getting work done. 

"You'll regret it if you do."

Mark trundled to the bathroom to wash his hands. He gritted his teeth. He wasn't sure if he was the one who should experience regret.



Mark sat in front of his desk, math books strewn in front of him. They seemed to be beckoning him with cruel taunts. "Didn't you always say that you can achieve perfect scores in math? Isn't it always easy for you? Shouldn't these problems be a piece of cake?"

He stared lamely at the lifelike books, completely resigned. He had actually failed a test that his tutor had provided a week ago; he had to beg the hapless teacher to keep the poor score a secret from his mother. She had pinned all academic hope on Mark; his older brother and sister had fallen by the wayside in that department. 

He stared at the incomprehensible numbers, a thunderous pounding hitting his head like a tonne of bricks. He had to uncover their solutions, no matter how late it got. He thought of his mother's disapproving gaze poring into him if he scored anything less than an A.

He struggled for an hour before surrendering completely and going to bed. He grimaced, thinking of the reed-like cane his mother wielded every time he didn't achieve a satisfactory grade. 

His mother. Always a vision of loveliness. He closed his eyes and slowly drifted off to sleep, his vision slowly disappearing. 



The teacher's face was grim. She stared at Mark, the stoic expression never wavering. It made Mark wish the tutoring session was over. 

"Another quiz," she intoned pedantically. "You'll have to do better than you did the last time, or I will have to have a conversation with your mom."

He turned the paper she laid in front of him over and scanned through the questions as quickly as he could. Although he had managed to score an A in the recent national exams, math wasn't his strong suit. But he couldn't tell his parents that. 

He put his pen down after an hour, finally completing the last question with a sigh of relief. 

"Let's hope that the score's a better one this time." She collected the paper from him and slotted it within a stash of scripts within her ever-present file. 

Mark watched her leave, feeling tears well between his eyes. On the paper he had handed to his tutor, there was a bunch of gibberish; he couldn't complete any of the sums. 

Exhaustion washed over him. He laid his head on his desk and sleep quickly took over his drained body; he had spent the night studying, even though the quiz was only part of a tutorial. As he fell asleep, visions of his mother's face slowly took over. They seemed particularly grotesque; scraggly, unkempt long hair covered her wrinkled, sallow face. She seemed to have lost a tooth as well. who would think that this was someone who nurtured and gave birth to him? Mark willed them away with effort.

They finally vanished. 



Police sirens filled the driveway that led to Mark's two-storey home, and investigators slowly piled out of their squad cars. Mark greeted them, sobs combined with anxiety in his voice. 

"Officers, quickly," he ushered them into the hall where the battered body of his mother lay. "I think someone broke into the home this afternoon while my dad was at work. I was at school. I don't know who could have done this to her," 

Mark was distraught. A female investigator laid a hand on his shoulder. "We'll give you something to eat at the station," she tried his best to console him. "While waiting for the other investigators to clear the crime scene, why don't you tell us what happened? When was the last time you spoke to your mum?"

"That would be last night," Mark professed through his sobs. "We had an argument.  I told her that I had failed a math quiz by a mark and she was upset about that. But we didn't speak more after." 

"Ok. why don't you follow us to the station so that you can provide more information about what happened," She guided him to one of the waiting squad cars. 

Mark had the required answers to her questions ready. Visions of his mother didn't come; it was just a mark. 

Short StoryYoung AdultMicrofiction

About the Creator

Michelle Liew

Hi, i am an English Language teacher cum freelance writer with a taste for pets, prose and poetry. When I'm not writing my heart out, I'm playing with my three dogs, Zorra, Cloudy and Snowball.

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  • Dharrsheena Raja Segarran3 months ago

    Whoaaa, you mean Mark was the one that attacked his mom?

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