By REGINALD RENAGI
An entry in The Crocodile Prize
THE FIRST TIME this new girl joined my third grade class, I wanted to be her friend for life.
I was smitten with Grace ever since her family moved next door. Grace and I attended the same Primary T School in our small suburb.
As close neighbours, we grew up together through our school years. At the beginning of each year, Grace and I found ourselves in the same class.
One Friday afternoon, our fifth grade was restless. We had worked hard on a new concept all week. I could sense that the other students were also edgy with one another.
So to relax, we played a little game. I asked Grace for us to write on a sheet of paper something nice about each other and sign at the bottom, “Friends for Life”.
Afterwards, we would read it frequently and make a big joke of it. Grace treasured the list and neatly folded the papers to put them inside a small empty perfume bottle.
The years flew by fast and before I knew it, Grace was in my high school class. We had by now developed a strong bond and were now more than just friends.
Soon, Grace and I completed Year Ten with high marks and left to pursue different challenges in life. We parted as good friends. It was the last time I would ever see Grace alive.
Thirty years passed and we lost contact. It was six years ago, after a trip abroad, that my uncle met me at the airport. The drive home was quiet, each to his thoughts. Then my uncle cleared his throat.
"The Ralai family called last week and asked for you.”
“Gee, I haven't heard from them in years. I wonder how Grace is."
My uncle said. "Grace died last Saturday. The funeral is tomorrow, and her parents would like it if you could attend."
The funeral service was difficult for me. The pastor said the usual prayers. Grace looked very beautiful and appeared to be sleeping. I was the last one to bless her coffin and stood there awkwardly.
After the funeral, all of Grace's school friends (and mine too) headed to her parents’ house for lunch. Grace’s mother and father were there, waiting for me. They asked me to remain behind as everyone left, one by one.
Grace’s parents shared with me her personal photo albums. They had kept a good collection of family photographs of both of us from third grade to final year of schooling. I felt nostalgic.
"Before you go son; we want to show you something that is very dear to Grace's heart”. “We’d like you to meet our granddaughter, Evonne”.
I thought I was seeing double and that Grace had come back to life. Evonne’s angelic face told me all I needed to know why Grace never mentioned her daughter to me in her letters all these years.
Grace’s mother said, taking a small lady’s wallet to show me, "We found this in Grace’s tightly-clutched hand before she left us peacefully”. Evonne started to speak.
"Mum told me everything and I can see why now”. Her grandmother added, “We thought you might recognize this." She opened a plastic wrapping paper, and carefully removed two worn but neatly folded pieces of paper from a small perfume bottle.
I knew without looking that the papers were the ones which Grace and I had both written in fifth-grade listing all the good things we liked about each other and signed our names together, “Friends for Life.” Grace's mother said. "As you can see, our Grace treasured it for years until the end."
"Mum always carried this with her at all times," Evonne said to me without batting an eyelash. "She had this faraway look whenever she talked about her special friend.
“He was always there for her and how she wished he was by her side in her final days”. A lump formed in my throat.
“Mum told me who my real father is. I am glad you came. This was mum’s last dying wish, to know my father.”
Evonne started to stutter and tremble. “Mum never stopped loving you. Her only wish in life was to be able to hear you say that you loved her”, the rest was lost in a mumble of incoherent words.
I immediately extended my arms wide as she rushed to embrace me with an anguished cry.
That's when I finally broke down. I cried for Grace and for all the years I wasted pretending to hide my feelings for her because of my obligations, and the ties that I had.
I cried for Evonne for denying her a chance to know me. But I cried now for my friend who I would never see again.
Evonne and I cried out loud our grief. “I am truly sorry my dear Evonne, please forgive me. Oh, darling Grace, you always knew that I loved you, but was afraid to tell you”.
Oh Grace, sobbing her name over and over in anguished lamentation to an empty room.
Evonne’s grandparents discreetly left us to reconnect. It was a great healing feeling of self discovery between father - and daughter of his first true love.
The good Lord has blessed my loss and Evonne would always remind me of Grace. Thank you my darling Grace, I have always been your friend for life!
The density of people in society is so thick that we forget that life will end one day. And we don't know when that one day will be. So tell those you do love and care about that they are special and important.
Tell them you love them ... in the living years for it’s too late to say sorry when we die.
For privacy reasons, real names have been changed in this article