We got out of the school building without running into her, much to my relief. We still had to walk home, though, and only goodness knew if she lived anywhere around. Last thing I wanted was to run into her along the route home. I was almost sure the same thing that happened back in class would happen again. That smile…it still lingered in my memory, so sharp it was as if I was actually still looking at it. I had lost count of how many times I had shook my head to clear it of the unpleasant memory but it stuck there. Lola was still casting side glances at me, sure there was something not right but not wanting to ask. And I knew she wasn’t going to let it lie; she was only giving me time.
I stood outside the school building and looked left. Then right. Either way I took, I could still get home in good time. My regular route was down the left though, as it was shorter the shorter route so getting home was much faster. Yet I had a strong feeling that she had taken that route……was probably waiting for me somewhere along it.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” Lola prompted, already walking down the road to the left. “Thought you said you were light headed. Best you get home quickly and get some rest.”
I turned from left to right and I was filled with dread. The route I would take if I headed to the right would take me past the museum. The very thought of walking past it made me shiver. It had been close to a year now, since I last walked past the museum….or even went close to it. I had never had any problems walking past it before that; if anything, it was my favourite route to school then as it went past where Aisha, my closest friend before her family moved out and Lola came along, lived. I remember vividly, that morning as we walked past the museum to school…..how the sky suddenly became dark and I heard a deep humming, low and at the same time loud and insistent…..it was coming from all around me and yet it sounded like it was right in my ear. Then the clouds in the sky over the museum began to swirl, first slowly, then picking up speed till I began to fear some kind of storm was coming. I had looked around me and I noticed that there was no-one around me, not even Aisha I’d been walking with. Everything around was completely still, even the grass and the trees were completely motionless. Yet I felt a strong wind blowing all around me, tossing my hair around and, at one point, nearly lifting me off my feet.
Then I’d heard a screech, ear piercing and blood curdling. It lasted for about a minute but it felt like forever. I covered my ears but that didn’t help. Like the humming (which I was still hearing) it seemed to be coming from all around and, at the same time, was right tin my ear. I had shut my eyes tight, trying to convince myself that I wasn’t going crazy.
Then it all stopped as suddenly as it had begun. The screech, the humming, the strong breeze. I slowly opened my eyes to discover I was staring directly at the sun. I couldn’t remember turning my head skyward. All I remembered was covering my ears and shutting my eyes. I looked around. Everything was back to normal. The trees waved in the soft breeze and people went around their business as they had before the whole thing started. I shook my head. Had that really happened? I was puzzled and still looked around, incredulous, as I picked my school bag I didn’t remember dropping. And I noticed there was something missing…..
Aisha wasn’t there with me anymore.
I met her in school but she wouldn’t talk to me….even positively avoided me. And she completely changed. The previously bubbly, happy-go-lucky Aisha became a silent recluse; rarely speaking with anyone and leaving as soon as school closed for the day. Two months later, her family moved. I’d wanted to ask if she had seen what I had seen or heard what i heard but….for the two months she stayed after it happened she kept far, far away from me, and each time we had to stay in close proximity, she would stay as far away from me as she could. She tried to mask it, but I could see the dread on her face clearly……
No, it wasn’t dread.
It was terror.
What could she have seen to have made my best friend so afraid of me? And now I thought of it, it occurred to me that….Aisha looked as scared of me as I felt of the new girl.
I guess I should have been really worried about that then but….I noticed that the same thing happened each time I walked past the museum, though those times I was walking alone; Aisha having asked me not to walk to school with her ever again. After four times of the same occurrence at exactly the same spot each time, I switched routes. I gave my Mum the excuse that Aisha and I were no longer friends so I decided to take a different route to school. She accepted it without question, much to my relief. How could I explain that to her? She wouldn’t believe me.
Now I stared down the same road, a road I hadn’t taken for a few months. Even once when Mum was driving and she’d wanted to quickly come pick something from a friend of hers that lived close to the school, I begged her to drop me off before the museum. When she refused to, considering I couldn’t come up with a good enough reason why, I feigned a terrible stomach ache. We ended up heading straight home where I made a surprisingly quick recovery.
I had a choice to make; between going down the road to the left where I felt the new girl was lurking or risk another heart-stopping experience when I got close to the museum. It had been months but there was no way of knowing if the same thing would happen again. And I didn’t want to risk losing another best friend.
But I remembered the fear…..the terror I had felt…..
“Where are you going?” Lola asked as I headed down the road to the right. I could brave the museum experience again; it had been just a few months since the last one. But the fear……I couldn’t bear it. Another experience like that today and I don’t know what would happen to me.
“Home,” I called behind me, trying to sound cheery. “Coming with?”
She ran up to me, looking puzzled.
“Ever since I’ve known you, you’ve never taken this route home. Besides, you do remember I live along the other road……are you sure you’re alright?”
“Don’t I look alright?” I responded.
“No. you don’t” Lola wasn’t one to mince words. “Care to share?”
I smiled wanly. “There’s nothing wrong with me, you silly girl. Just feel a bit tired, that’s all. Lemme just get home, get some rest and I’ll be right as rain.”
Lola huffed, not believing a word of what I said but letting the issue slide for now.
“Oh, forgot to mention it,” she said. “Daddy said there’s some big artefact the museum’s shipping out today. Says it’s something really important and he had to leave for the museum really early this morning. Maybe I should go check on him since we’re passing the museum. What do you say?”
I’d never explained to Lola why I’d never taken up any of her offers to come to the museum where her father worked as a curator. Asides the fact that I thought museums were too old and dusty, there was the issue of what happened each time I got close to the museum. I wondered what would happen if I actually went INTO the museum.
And there it was; the front building of the museum. On sighting it, I stopped, suddenly unwilling to go further. Now I wasn’t so sure now whether avoiding the other route was such a good idea after all. What if it happened again?
And I lose my best friend all over again?
Lola hadn’t noticed I had stopped and went right on walking to the museum’s gates. If I stayed put, she would notice soon. Then I would have some explaining to do….explanations I’d rather not have to give, even if I came up with total lies. It was hard to lie to Lola; and I knew I was a terrible liar, anyway.
I started inching closer to the gate, my heartbeat going even faster with each step. Lola was already through it and turned back to see me walking slowly.
“Are you that tired?” She called, heading back towards me. “Maybe you should just head home.”
“No,” I heard myself say, shocking me. Had I just blown an opportunity to avoid facing one of my greatest fears? “I’m fine. I was just trying to figure something out. Let’s go inside.”
We were now right outside the main gates and I turned to face the entrance building.
Then it began.