Soft laughter filled the night sky, rolling through the tree branches as shadows danced in the cloudless night. Little feet patted this way and that, little voices trailing behind. All seemed calm and serene. No one could tell what was coming.
Straightening after tucking the long end of her shoelace into her shoe, Ladi reached an arm toward the sky as if to cup the moon in her palm. A smile creased her lips and she sighed contentedly.
Sliding the strap of her backpack back onto her shoulder, she adjusted the books in her other hand as she continued on her way. She had assignments to do, chores to complete, and even a music lesson later in the day but her mind felt light. It almost seemed like she was hopping on clouds as she walked home. The long day at school never fazed her because every time she had some spare time, her mind would make up beautiful stories that would take her far away to worlds unknown. In her mind, she had lived every perfect story possible and eagerly looked forward to the next story her mind would make up.
From the corner of his eye, Tobe saw someone almost walk into the oncoming traffic, and just as he took a breath to call out to her, she stopped. He stopped in his tracks, the half-eaten African walnut in his hands, and watched, completely mesmerized by the expression on her face. She seemed absent but present. She seemed completely unaware of the hustle and bustle all around her and yet, yet she knew to stop at the red light. Yet, she seemed to be in total control – she wasn’t a lost girl waiting for a prince in shining armour.
Up ahead, he heard his name and turned to find his mum urging him to catch up with the rest of them. He glanced back toward the girl but she had moved and just as the pedestrians crowded the Zebra crossing, he saw the tiny elephant figurine dangling on her backpack.
Slipping his backpack off his back, Tobe followed the teacher into the classroom and kept his eyes locked on the back wall as the teacher introduced him to the class. This was his 5th school in three years and he couldn’t be bothered with the details because his family would surely move again soon. With both parents in the army, moving house and changing schools felt to him how some people felt buying new pens – no matter how many you bought, you’ll still have to buy more.
Absent-mindedly, he introduced himself to the class and followed the teacher’s pointed hand to an empty desk. As he walked down the aisle, his eye caught a tiny elephant figurine on a backpack and he glanced back at the head of the person sitting on that seat. Cornrows with beads at the ends – he’d found her.
New school, new group of friends. Tobe collected the pack of biscuits his friend handed him and focused on opening the wrap as he walked with his new group of friends.
Bam! He stumbled back and quickly steadied himself. In front of him, she also steadied herself and smiled at him as if to say ‘that was close!‘. As she walked by, his eyes followed her and the dangling elephant figurine. Taking a step forward, the edge of his shoe grazed something on the floor. She’s dropped something. He quickly grabbed it and turned to catch up to her but somehow, he found himself following quietly.
She took a left turn and he did. She slowed down and he did. She stopped to stare at the sky and he took in the bright blue, why had he never noticed it? She walked onto the school field and behind the lunch garden. Dropping her backpack, she brought out a pack of bird food and sprinkled it at her feet. She then sat against the giant tree, crossed her legs, and began to draw on the corner of a large piece of paper. The bell went off and she quickly folded up the paper and slipped it into a crack in the wall, shielded behind the shrubs.
Tobe took a step into the shadows and watched her leave then he went to the little crack and carefully pulled out the paper. He smiled and brought out his pen to add a petal to the flower she’d drawn, then he wrote ‘You dropped your bookmark. I reckon it’ll be safe here.’ He folded up the piece of paper and slipped it back into the crack along with the bookmark.
The bell went off and she grabbed her bag as she left the classroom – her next class was in 30 minutes, enough time to do her own thing. She entered the small area surrounded by maintained shrubs, dropped her backpack, and sprinkled some bird food on the grass. Then she leaned against the tree and slipped her paper out from between the crack. Her bookmark followed and her face lit up. On the paper, she saw the new petal in different coloured ink and the short message attached. Adding another petal, she wrote ‘You found my favourite bookmark. Can I call you hero already! Hahahaaa. Thank you!‘
The final bell went off and Tobe wandered over to the spot. He chuckled as he added a new petal and wrote ‘I doubt you need saving from anything. BTW, I found this place by chance – I wasn’t creepily following you. Only wanted to return your bookmark.’
And so it went…a new petal and a message ‘I know. Isn’t this place wonderful though? I bet you never knew it existed.’
And another petal ‘It is wonderful and true, I never knew about it. Good thing you dropped your bookmark then?’
And yet another petal ‘I guess… what would you do if you had 3 weeks left to live?’
One more petal ‘That’s a hard question. I don’t know…PS: we’re running out of space’
And another petal ‘Aren’t we always running out of something?’
Another petal ‘I think we knew each other as children… shadows in the cloudless night.’
Yet another petal ‘I think we did… our laughter filled the night sky. But you left.’
One more petal ‘But I’m here now and we are really running out of space’
One more petal ‘Aren’t we always running out of something? When do you leave next?
And another petal ‘I can’t say’
And another petal ‘It’s sometimes bliss not to know, isn’t it? But will you say goodbye this time?’
A tiny petal ‘Goodbyes are so hard’
A really tiny petal ‘Promise you’ll say goodbye’
Another tiny petal or maybe a dot ‘I promise… we’re really out of space now’
‘And time. Goodbye Tobe. You’re my hero’
A group of unfamiliar adults gathered at the spot, Tobe nervously looked on, hoping they wouldn’t find that crack or the memories hidden within. A soft breeze blew and on it, like a whisper, tiny dust-like particles, seeming to give him an embrace and a message at the same time.
As the group turned around, he saw tears and heard quiet whimpers. As the wind continued to blow, he saw the poster flapping gently, and on it, cornrows with beaded ends.
He slipped the paper out of the crack, swallowed as he read the last message and realised, they were out of space, out of time, there would be no more messages, just clear skies, shadowed nights, and new memories.
Tucking the paper into his pocket, he noticed the bookmark on the ground in the centre of a tiny mound of ash, it had fallen when he pulled out the paper. He dusted it and gently kissed the rough surface. As he stepped away, he noticed the elephant figurine majestically mounted in the sand, at the edge of the area surrounded by shrubs.
He’ll make new memories with the old gently and safely tucked in his heart. His heart broke as he walked away and gentle tears followed. Behind him, the poster flapped wildly as if to show that Ladi’s heart broke right alongside his.
It was beautiful, it was golden, it was special, it was memorable. Sadly, there wasn’t enough space, never enough time.
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