Chuffed, I straightened my back after lugging my overweight suitcase into the centre of the log cabin that I was now to call home. My eyes eagerly panned the room to find out which bed would be mine. They passed over a tall, slender girl humming merrily whilst flinging material out of her suitcase and they paused a second longer on a section excessively decorated in all manners of pink imaginable. Turning my head I next observed a girl with a mighty golden fountain streaming over her shoulders in deep discussion with a freckled, mousy girl in a neighbouring section. The section in the corner had its curtains drawn with an indistinguishable mound settled in the centre of its bed, beside which stood an empty bed. Unto this bed I heaved my luggage and promptly turned, beaming, to face the last girl in the room. I was met with hard green eyes, shadowed by a powerful scowl. The rigid line of her mouth seemed to say, “You see that bedside table between our beds? If I had it my way it would be a dining room table. Or a wall. Keep it that way.”

This remembrance sits strangely in my memory bank of this spirited girl named Alex. It doesn’t fit beside the fluffy wigs and crazy hats we sported while dancing around my room to the music of our souls. It doesn’t match the sheet we slung out of the upstairs window to pull boys up into our fortified boarding house. It’s nothing like the old oak stump we found on one of our forest excursions, where she perched ontop and announced herself king and me her trusty elf. It’s far from the look on her face when I pounced on her on the morning of her 15th birthday, waking her to a sea of balloons that I had spent half the night blowing up. It was most definitely not like removing the bedside table and shoving our beds together to fill the room with nightly whisperings and tears of booming laughter.

We would write letters and toss them across the room or slip them into one another’s hands on pretend bathroom breaks, in place of doing our homework. She would take extra care to shape the letters of her words, because she knew I could not read her extravagant cursive. Not only did we write letters, but books too. We would write a book of our experiences while we were apart on school holidays and swap when we reunited again, so that we could understand one another wholly – always. And we kept them. All of them. All stuffed up into a pink and orange and green gift bag that she got for her 15th birthday when I blew up all those balloons for her. Later on, we would write emails too. At least she wouldn't have to worry about her hand-writing anymore.

She would come to me, or I would go to her, and we would say “Star gazing.” and that was all that needed to be said to find each other in the quart yard after lights out with blankets and pillows under our arms. The weight of what we could not carry alone would pass between us and the huge expanse of sky above us would soak our troubles dry and we would lie in silence, consoled by the presence of understanding. We would slip back into our separate rooms prepared for further battering from life, until we could come together again.

She would find me in my room and say, "Dude" with shining eyes and I would drop what I'm doing because I knew an adventure was ahead. We would search the forest for the perfect tree-house site, or upturn all 7 beds in our dorm room to build a massive pillow fort, or hike down a valley to tan naked, or play mass games of hide-and-seek from the boarding house mistress, or simply take a walk to the tuck-shop. Which was never simply a walk to the tuck-shop. Nothing was simply anything with Alex.

As a school tradition, on your last day of school you would wear a shirt with a cartoon character that most represented your personality painted on the back. As I lay filling in the lines of my character, Lilo, I thought about this little girl from the Disney animation Lilo & Stitch. I thought about this little girl filled with loving, but who is regarded as somewhat of an oddball. I thought about the wild, blue alien creature, Stitch, who she adopts for her best friend. I thought about how their rejection and their isolation brought them together, how their kindness and hostility balanced each other out, how their union provided them with salvation from the harshness of the world. I thought about the outline of Stitch in Alex’s hand on her last day of school a year earlier. I thought about how I didn’t say good-bye, only “I’ll see you later, okay?” I thought about how she never said ‘okay’ back.

“Dude, I don’t get attached to things. Like, things – people, places, they’re always changing and it just hurts you so it’s better to never get attached. It’s safer, you know?”

I knew. I knew that that was the reason she greeted me with the rigid line of her mouth on that very first day, the reason she greeted everyone with a rigid line of her mouth. A line as unwavering as her determination to keep people at bay. She had wished for the bedside table to turn into a wall, not to keep me or anybody else out, but to keep her in. To keep her in the safety of herself, for she had already dealt with far too much pain from loss to allow herself to be susceptible to it.

“But dude,” she continued, “I’m starting to get attached. This place feels like home.” She motioned to the walls of our institution. That was 2 weeks before her expulsion.

“Cerebral hypoxia.” I had to google it. “Cerebral hypoxia is a form of hypoxia, specifically involving the brain, caused by a reduced supply of oxygen such as strangling, drowning or suffocating.” Alex, who’s face turned bright red from laughter, who could bellow ‘BINGO’ with the strength of a motor, who would resiliently face any opposition in defence of her friends, was now lying still in a hospital bed.

I was numb. It simply could not be true. I still had some letters that I was planning on mailing to her. They had escaped being filed into the pink and orange and green gift bag before she took it with when she left. I had an email draft saved that I was going to send, as soon as she got back to me with her new email address, which was supposed to be months ago. “Elf-giggles last forever” she had written. I wished she had written “King laughs last forever too.” Or maybe she knew they didn’t. Maybe she wanted to give me the strength to continue because she knew she couldn’t. That was so Alex, giving everything she had and everything she was away to her friends.

I felt betrayed, by the most loyal person I have ever met. How dare she leave me alone with all the plans we had for the future. Things would be so much easier had I not climbed over her wall. She was right (as usual) it is indeed safer not to get attached, for now I am left to limp around stitching together the places where I had sewn her so carefully into my being. I am left to dance alone to the rhythm of only my soul, yearning for her melody. The sweet melody of Alex’s soul, still unheard by so many ears.

Published by Anja Cronje