It was early evening in late September; that time when it suddenly seems to seasonally change and summer has reached it’s apogee and is fading fast into the coolness of Autumn. We sat outside watching the sky get dirty as the sun sank in gold and orange bands. She pulled her thin cardigan tighter around her huddled body, her dark blonde hair hanging like a stage curtain, thick and pulled like a tie in the middle behind her ear and blanketing her shoulders as she looked down at her knees.
“I hate people.” She said not moving from her position but just letting that drop into the silence.
I shuffled in my wicker and metal seat, uncomfortable in my position both literally and because I was unsure of how to respond. I said nothing. Sometimes that’s the best way. Instead I bit the inside of my lip and watched as her smooth hands cupped her knees.
“Nobody gets me.” She added flatly. “ Why do I have to pretend to like people or spend time with them for hours when I really don’t want to be with them?”
“Well, It’s kind of difficult to avoid people...” I left it at that.
“ I don’t mind strangers ‘cos they don’t bother me. They are like just people in the way when you’re walking around but...but the people that are supposed to care about you....” She paused letting out a gentle sigh and leant back in her chair, wiping a hand across her mouth as though to stop the words from spilling out. “The ones that are meant to care...they don’t really.” She gave a half smirk as though her statement had connected with her soul inside. She stared into the middle distance travelling motionlessly with her thought. Transfixed and caught in a space nobody else could enter.
She was soft and pretty and the dusky, dying light only added more sheen to her youthful beauty. So lost; so vulnerable. I wanted to hug her but knew that wasn’t what she wanted. She wanted to be heard not cosseted with the temporary shield of a cuddle. I understood that. I hated people touching me when I felt like that; open with emotional wounds.
I leant across the table and offered my hand.
“No.” she whispered breaking away from her mental wormhole and giving a look of disdain to my open palm. I knew she’d reject it but had felt I should offer some sort of physical comfort. I pulled it away and began to fiddle with the draw strings on my hoody, pulling them tight so it crinkled up the hood part behind my neck from the chilly air.
“ Do you ever think of disappearing or going missing?” She looked at me straight on. Big round eyes, full of liquid and at the brink of tension like a meniscus curve.
“Yes.” I nodded with a faint smile not releasing eye contact. “I’ve often thought of running away to some new place and starting over. Becoming a new and better version of me or someone completely different. Inventing a new personality, changing my hair colour and clothes and being free from all that holds me back now.”
“Yeah... Me too.” She put her head on one side and looked out over my head envisioning a world where everybody loved her. “So, why haven’t you then?”
“It’s a short term fix. It’s not an answer to your problems it’s running away from them. You will still be who you are inside.”
“Do you think people would miss you if you disappeared? Do you think they would care that you’d gone?” I could hear the girl screaming for attention inside her as she spoke.
I thought about it. I’d heard stories of people going missing or running away.. Their friends and family desperate to hear from them. “If only they had come to me and told me how they felt.” They’d say publicly. I always wondered about that. Maybe the runaway had tried several times but they just weren’t listening.
“ You may not think people miss you now but yes, they would if you went away. You only miss something when you don’t have it anymore. But you shouldn’t have to do that to feel loved or important.” I pulled my hands inside my sleeves and watched her fish for something from her denim shorts pocket. It was a hair bobble and a kirby grip. She must have had her hair up earlier. The grip was attached to the band and she weaved it in and out of some spilled water on the table making patterns as she thought.
“I felt special once. He made me feel special, like a princess...you know?” She looked up at me briefly and I smiled. “ It was intense...in the beginning... like a beautiful poem. He loved me. I loved him. We connected. Then over time the words became less, the romance faded like that rose over there..” I looked across the patio at a once glorious white rose now shed of half its petals and the remainder wilting and browning at the edges. “ I knew he didn’t love me the same anymore, not like he did at the start...it died.”
“It evolved maybe?” I offered carefully.
“No...I wasn’t his ideal. He couldn’t love me like I wanted to be loved. I don’t think anybody can.” The scraping of the chair on the patio slabs brought a sudden grounding to the situation as she stood up from her seat.
“I understand.” I replied. Because I did.
I watched her grey converse trainers kick the rucksack over at the side of the table leg as she bent down to pick it up by one of it’s straps.
“Does it get easier?’ She asked hopefully.
“Not really.” I wasn’t going to lie.
“See ya then..” She smiled for the first time that night. Not a full smile and not with the eyes but a smile nonetheless.
She disappeared into the night and like any inner child, was silenced for the now.