Marissa turned to face him with teary eyeballs. She tried hard to prevent the tears from splitting but just couldn’t. She watched him keenly. He had turned misty-eyed also, but he was doing a greater job at stopping it from splitting than she was.
“Goodbye”, she said at last, then turned to leave.
With pains and deep sorrow, he whispered “Goodbye”. He watched her go, then turned away his head. He took out his handkerchief and rubbed something wet on his cheeks while he walked away faster, and faster.
She groaned and forced herself to open her eyes.
“Who is it?” She croaked.
“Ann. Your mum. Are you alright now?”
“Yeah.” She replied in a dismissive tone.
Still Ann stood rooted on a spot, watching her closely. Marissa turned to take a close look at her. She noticed that she doesn’t look that great. She has lost weight. A lot of weight.
“What time is it?”
Ann checked her wristwatch briefly. “Some minutes after 2.”
Marissa clicked her tongue then silently surveyed her environment. She realized she was apparently in an hospital room. She gazed down at herself and found that she was in an hospital robe. Not too bad, she reasoned. But no matter how hard she tried to put together the pieces of how she got there, she just could not.
“How long have I been here?” She asked with raised eyebrows.
“And I can't even remember a single thing. Wow.”
“Yeah. You slept through it all.”
Marissa tried to raise her head, but flinched back in pain. Her mum rushed towards her, then gently eased her against the bed board, supporting her with the pillow. She tried to pull back her hair from her face but Marissa held her hand.
“Do not.” She said with anger. “ It's of no use pretending as if you care now. We both know you do not care.”
Instead of replying, Ann remained silent.
“You can leave now.” She said with her eyes shut.
“Any good news, Doc.?” Ann asked as she settled into a chair in the Doctor’s office.
“Welcome Mrs. Trey.” The doctor greeted.
He shuffled through some files on his desk, pulled one out, then handed it over to her.
“She has recovered fully, but the withdrawal is still severe. There is no other way to say this but she has to go to rehab.”
Ann glanced through the file then sighed deeply. “ You have to let her see reasons then. She won't agree with anything I say.”
“I will do just that.” The doctor said. “But there is still one thing left.”
“ This is your chance to rebuild your relationship with your daughter. Get close to her. Show her love. And lastly, find out why she went into drugs and work on getting her back to her normal self alongside with her.”
Ann stayed mute for some while, then looked up to meet the doctor's gaze. “That is going to be a great job.”
“Yeah. It's about time you step up to your responsibilities.”
“I should leave now.” Ann said, picking up her handbag. “Just let me know whenever she’s about to be discharged, I'll come pick her.”
“Okay. Till next time Mrs. Trey.”
“Yeah. Thanks doc.”
Crystal packed her books as the last teacher for the day left the class. She glanced round to locate her best friend. She finally spotted her sitting alone at the back seat, clearly lost in thoughts. Again. Crystal wondered for how long Marissa would keep whatever is bothering her from her. She stopped what she was doing and walked towards Marissa. It is now or never Crystal, she muttered under her breath.
“Hey, Marissa.” She called. No answer.
“What’s wrong? You can share, you know.” She prodded further.
Still no answer from her. Strange. She moved closer to her as if to tap her. Crystal found herself wondering again what on earth could be happening to her best friend.
She decided to try again. “Marissa, I hope you do not mind my interference? I'm only concerned as your friend.” Marissa looked up to meet her gaze then. Crystal nodded encouragingly like she was saying “you can talk to me.” Marissa cleared her throat, using her handkerchief to wipe her face.
“I'm okay, Crystal . Thanks for your concern.”
“What do you mean by you're okay? You clearly are not.”
“Exactly what I said Miss. I'm okay.” Marissa snapped angrily at her.
“Wow.” Crystal said, trying unsuccessfully to hide the surprised expression on her face. She could see the pain in her eyes. She must be passing through a lot, she reasoned within her. She decided to speak to her in a reassuring manner to make her believe she wanted to help her.
“No matter what you may be going through, remember that God is with you. You are not alone. Surely this – whatever it is – will not go on for ever.”
“What made you believe that something is going on with me?”
Crystal laughed silently. “It’s very obvious, girl. You've been a shadow of yourself. You’re no longer the cheerful girl I know. All you do now is think and think. And today, during the last class, you once again fell into one of your numerous thinking routines. You have been slipping into them more frequently this past weeks. I've missed you and I'm worried about you.”
“Why do you care?”
“Cause I love you, Mars. We've been best friends since diapers. We are more like sisters now.”
Marissa gave her a little smile.
“ What is going on?” Crystal asked as she sat beside her.
“ It's nothing. I will be fine, so don't worry too much about me.”
“If you say so. But – “ Crystal replied, dragging the but, “ – my eyes are on you.”
Marissa nodded at her friend, trying hard to conceal the smile on her face.
“All I want to see from now on is your smiling face. No more moody and gloomy face, okay?”
“Yes, mum.” Marissa replied, clearly amused at her friend.
“Yeah.” Crystal said as she hugged her tightly.
“I want to hit the cafeteria now, are you coming with me?”
“Sure.” Marissa replied, picking up her backpack as she stood up.
Josh listening carefully as Crystal recounted to him all that Marissa’s mum told her. He was wide-eyed with shock at the fact that the girl he claimed to like had gone through all that without him knowing.
“I’ve tried to make her open up but when she refused, I had to ask her mum.”
“So, her mum also is not aware of what led her into it?”
“Yeah. If she hadn't been in that accident, her mum would not have known that she is into drugs.”
Josh was just shaking his head with horror. “The Marissa I know won't do such thing of her own freewill. Something must have happened.”
“Exactly. And you are the only one that can find out. She even refused to go for rehab or any counselling.”
Josh smiled at that. “That's Mars for you – always stubborn.”
“Yeah. I will go find her.”
Marissa felt thoroughly empty. She couldn't do anything, not even pray.
Her head and bones ached, but still she kept on watching as the rain fell, deep in thought.
“Hi, Mars.” It was Josh.
“Hi,” she said, trying to sound bright and okay.
Josh considered whether to beat around the bush or go straight to the point. He decided on the latter.
“I've been worried about you lately. You seems to want to be alone nowadays.”
Marissa gave a tight smile. “Everyone seems to be asking me if I’m alright nowadays.”
“That’s mainly because we're all concerned about you.”
Marissa knew if Josh should ask again, she would end up telling him everything she had tried to bottle up. As if knowing what was on her mind, Josh held her hand and whispered to her. “ We can as well head over to a secret place. You've had enough time to keep whatever it is to yourself. But now, it is time for you to open up. I'm ready to share the pains with you.”
Marissa stood, battling with her mind for what seems like a long time. Maybe she should just let it out. Maybe sharing it will ease the pain. Maybe she will gradually go back to being that cheerful girl she'd always been before everything happened. Maybe –
It is time to let it go. To deal with her past – to make peace with it so that it won't toy with her future. And Josh is the right person she could think of to help her do just that.
“Okay. Walk with me.”
He walked side by side with her, without asking of their destination cause he knew exactly where she was going. The only place where she always find pure bliss. She’s always told him that nature is bliss. And that exact place is her garden.
“My dad died when I was 9 years old.” She began. “Dad was all we had – he was the whole world to mum and I. We both loved him endlessly. After his death, mum buried herself in her work to conceal her sorrow. She stopped giving me the needed attention. Crystal's mum thus took up the responsibility of caring for me. I had no one to turn to – mum wasn't available anymore. Later on, our relationship became one of the worst definition of a mother and daughter relationship. I withdrew from her fully and I grew to hate her. I thought she loved dad way too much not to remarry, but no, four years after she remarried. And that was when my trouble began. The problem was not my stepfather but rather his son, who was older than me with four years. After living with us for a year, he started making advances to me. I could not tell anyone, I only tried my best to fight him off. Until the day he finally raped me.”
Josh gasped at that, so shocked by the revelation. He could feel the anger building up in him. He watched her, as she battled with the tears trying to fall from her eyes.
“I didn't plan on becoming an addict, I wouldn't have done something like that. But that day, unknown to me, he had drugged the food mum left for me. Since we were home alone, it was easy for him to perpetrate his evil plan. I innocently took the food, and that was all until the deed was done. Unfortunately for me, he drugged me with pure heroin – the dosage was way too much. I could not free myself from it.”
She stopped, sniffing as she cleaned her tears. Josh was close to tears also, but he had to be strong for her.
“I couldn't tell anyone and my body was screaming for heroin every time. And as stupid as I was, I went to him. We made a pact then – he would make sure I get the stuff always while I will give him my body. And that was it. He couldn't get enough. And I went way too deep into drugs. I tried to stop it, but I couldn't. You all thought everything was going on well with me, but deep down, I knew my life was shit and fucked up.”
“Well, last vacation when I couldn't take it any longer. I decided then that I'm going to kill myself and him as well. The night I was waiting for arrived, we both went to his friend's party and we got wasted. While going back, I insisted on driving. I drove us to our death that night, but luckily for me, I survived but he died.”
“I should have been charged for driving under the influence of alcohol, thus killing someone. But no, my stepdad intervened. He told me later on that he knew all this while but refused to say or do anything about it because of my mum. Eventually, I forgave him. I should be happy that he’s gone, but all I feel every time is guilt.”
She stopped to wipe her tears again. Then looked up to face Josh, “That’s all I have to say. Nothing else.”
Josh moved closer to her, then hugged her tightly as she cried on his shoulder. He allowed her, without saying anything. To cry it all out.
I did not know why or how, but I felt peaceful after pouring out everything …. The bitterness, guilt, pain and sorrow all left me. I felt peace – pure bliss.
Josh made me see reasons why I have to forgive my mum so that I'll be free fully from my past. Well, I forgave her after she apologized for neglecting me. Josh took me to a counselor, who together with him, brought me back to Christ. I went for rehab finally, although I was persuaded by Josh. And how I'm finally free from my addiction. I no longer remember the pains of my scar. My mum and I are now best friends. And my stepdad, he's the best. Crystal still remain my closest friend and I will forever be grateful to her parents. And Josh – will always remain the love of my life.
Some months after, we took our final examinations and all thanks to God, I graduated as the best – I got to be the valedictorian. Not too long after, I got a scholarship to study abroad. I was so happy, but that means saying goodbye to everyone, especially Josh.
“If you ever get this, Josh, just know it's from someone who you are very special to. Thanks for coming into my life. Thanks for being there. Thanks for everything. I don’t know how best to convey my feelings but I like you – I really do. What I feel for you is beyond me and I'm scared to admit it. Life is sending us on different paths now, but I promise, I'll always come back to you. I won’t say goodbye yet, I'll rather say see you soon. But tomorrow, I know I'll get to tell you a proper goodbye.”
Agnes Ajadi: GOODBYE.