2018 Winter Short Story: Grief, friends, family, and a new saviour

2018 Winter Short Story: Grief, friends, family, and a new saviour

When a girl loses her mum, she finds herself free-falling into sadness – until a fellow student offers her a shoulder to cry on

This story was written by Neha Donde, 13 from Hong Kong International School

Each week during the holidays, we will publish a story from one of the finalists of our 2018 Winter Short Story Competition. Our favourite entries will be compiled into a book, and each finalist will receive a copy of it. The winning entry will appear in Young Post on April 20


I need my saviour. Mum, come back.

“How are you doing?”

A familiar face peeked in through the doorway, but Orchid couldn’t tell who it was from the blue rug that she was lying on. She didn’t want to know, anyway, and she didn’t have the energy to tell them to go away. All she felt was hollow, like a log that had fallen over. She was meant to be moving things from her mum’s house into her dad’s, but all she wanted to do was sleep, in a little cocoon, on the rug that smelt like her mum. Eventually, she registered that warm hands were pulling her up into a sitting position against a few pillows. She could hear her guest saying something about Christmas, but she couldn’t concentrate on it.

A biscuit was placed into her hand. It was iced, shaped like a gingerbread man. She took a bite out of it, vaguely hoping to please the other person, but when she registered the sweet cinnamon, she spat it out. She didn’t want anything sweet or anything Christmas-related.

“Too sweet,” Orchid mumbled. “I can’t take it.” It was the closest thing to a sentence she had spoken in the last three days.

“Orchid.” She blinked, and finally the other person’s face swam into view. It was Devi, her best friend from school. Devi’s curly black hair was spilling down her shoulder, her brown eyes full of sparkle that Orchid herself had lost. Devi sat down beside her and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, and squeezed her hard.

Harder. Softer. Gone.

Orchid’s head dropped down on Devi’s shoulder. She’s here. She’s still here. She felt Devi’s own head ease down on top of hers, and felt Devi’s hand stroke her hair slowly. Orchid took another bite out of the biscuit and forced herself to swallow it.

“So, how’s it going, Devi?”

She could feel Devi smile at the question, but she didn’t answer right away. “Well,” Devi said eventually, “I guess it’s been fine. Not the same without you, though. The real question is, how are you doing?”

“Um, okay, I guess,” Orchid’s voice cracked with every word. Devi said nothing, but tilted her head to look at her. Quite suddenly, she could feel the faintest trace of annoyance cut through her haze, which grew every time she caught sight of Devi’s sympathetic looks.

“Look. I’m not ready to share yet. Okay? If you want to know everything, you can just leave,” Orchid said, raising her voice. “I’m not telling you!” She has no idea what I’ve been through, she has no freaking idea.

Devi nodded. “I’m sorry, I was just checking on you. If you need anything, just give me a call or a text, I guess.” Running her fingers through Orchid’s hair one last time, she said goodbye and gently closed the door behind her.

After a few moments, Orchid got up, knees weak, and sat down beside the vase on her windowsill. There was only one flower in it – an orchid. Hong Kong orchids are by far the prettiest and the best, she would say, and you are my Hong Kong orchid. Orchid could still remember the smile on her mum’s face in hospital on the day she died.

“Here,” she had said as she placed the delicate orchid in her hand, “This is the flower that you were named after. It will stay alive for as long as you need it to because I know you’ll take good care of it. You’re beautiful, talented, smart, and sweet. Don’t let this break you, Orchy.” Her mum had grasped her hand with surprising strength and offered her a small smile. Orchid had kissed her forehead one last time and sat by her, until … beep.

Orchid got up, and began to put things into boxes. Her dad came in and offered to help but she refused. She didn’t need his or Devi’s help. She would be fine on her own. No one understood, no one cared in the right way. In the way where they weren’t constantly nagging her about feelings, how they were sorry, so concerned, yadda, yadda, yadda. All she needed was her mum. Her anchor. Her rock when everything turns upside down. It didn’t help that she was struggling with science and maths, that her friends were pushing her away, and that her teachers were the absolute devils. Where was her saviour now?

By the time she got back to her dad’s home, the hollow emptiness had returned. She didn’t think, just reheated some leftovers, read her dad’s message – I’m so sorry Orch, I’m working late today, I have a meeting – walked to her room, put on her headphones, lay down on her bed, and tried to fall asleep to the sound of Adele pouring her heart out for some ex-boyfriend. Heartbreak, Orchid thought drowsily. She’s clearly never experienced real heartbreak. I have.

Orchid woke up with a start to the beeping of her alarm. It sounded too much like the noise she had heard in her mum’s room before she ...

Orchid changed her alarm to the sounds of birds chirping. There, she thought. A positive sound. The only positive sound in my life.

Quite suddenly, she missed the days where she and her older sister would snuggle in between their parents, drinking hot chocolate besides the Christmas tree. She could almost see the fairy lights, and smell the pine needles and biscuits in the air. Wow. That was so long ago, she was surprised she even remembered it. Her older sister, Avila, was off at university in the US – a place Orchid had never been. Right now, though, Avila was on a flight from New York to Hong Kong to attend their mum’s funeral. Orchid rolled out of bed, not wanting to go to school, but knowing she’d have to anyway.

It’s Thursday. Two more days.

***

“Bye, Orchid,” her dad said as he dropped her off. “Can you take the bus back? I have to pick up your sister from the airport.” Orchid nodded, and let him kiss her forehead. She walked into school and towards her locker. When she reached it, she saw there was a note with a little drawing of an orchid, like the one that her mum gave her. Meet me at the circular tables on the sixth floor at break, it read.

She sighed. It would take more than this if Devi wanted her to talk. Who else could it be? She had been the only one to see the orchid.

After the first two classes of the day, Orchid took her first break. She had been looking forward to this all morning – finding a little corner in the school library and staring at Netflix on her laptop. She didn’t want to go to the sixth floor, no matter what Devi wanted.

As she turned towards the library though, she bumped into someone. It was Noah.

“Sorry, Noah,” Orchid said.

“It’s fine, you barely touched me,” Noah replied. “Where are you going?” Wouldn’t he like to know, Orchid thought.

“I’m going to the library,” she said.

“Aww, bummer. Here, I’m going to the sixth floor, wanna come?” Noah asked, moving in a step closer to her. Orchid’s breath caught.

“No. Are you going to meet with friends or something?” She tried to ask casually.

“Of a sort. Jesus, Orchid, just come on,” Noah said, looking her in the eyes. “Please?”

“Fine. You’re taking away – ”

“Yadda, yadda,” he waved, cutting her off. When they reached the sixth floor, Orchid realised there was no one there. Not even Devi.

“I know what you’re thinking. That we’re the only ones here,” Noah said with a slight question in his voice.

“What?” Does he want to kiss me or something? Wait a second, Orchid thought. “You wrote the note! Why?”

“Well, uhm, I heard your mum died, and I know how a plain ‘I’m sorry’ can feel because, well … my mum did too. A couple years ago. We didn’t live in Hong Kong then, so …”

“Oh,” Orchid said, her voice small. The lump in her throat began to rise again. They stood in silence for a couple minutes until Orchid asked, wistfully, “What was your mum like?”

Noah smiled. “The best. She would always be extra festive during the holidays. Christmas was the best. We would all decorate the tree and buy each other gifts – she would always get the right gift for me even if I didn’t give her a list. She would make biscuits and brownies, and we’d watch Christmas movies every weekend. Once, she made a short Christmas movie out of clips from us putting up our tree, baking biscuits and everything. What about yours?”

This had been the first time since her mum died that she wanted to share. She felt compelled to answer him, compelled to talk to him. “She was my rock, my everything, ” – the lump in her throat tightened – “she did everything in a cute, but kinda messy, style.
She was an amazing runner, we would race each other all the time. Her smile was nice, and her eyes were even nicer. She was constantly encouraging me to be healthy, and she actually got me liking salads and avocado brownies.

She was the sweetest and strongest person in the world. She got me an orchid all the way from Lamma Island even though she had cancer and was about to die.”

It was too much – Orchid’s eyes began to fill with tears. The next thing she knew, she was crying – no, she was bawling. Noah put his arm around her shoulder in a friendly way.

“It’s hard, I know,” he whispered, “but you are your mum’s daughter, and you are strong.” Orchid nodded and let the last few tears fall from her eyes. Finally, she wiped her face on his shirt, and he led her to the stairs. For the first time
in months, she felt a smile grow on her face. Ever since her mum had been diagnosed, she had been constantly sad, angry with her friends and teachers, and distracted in class. All she had been able to think about was her mum. Looking up, she saw that Noah’s eyes were a little misty, too.

Quite suddenly, she wanted to cry again, but they were happy tears. Someone understood her, and that was enough. One person was enough. Noah was more than enough.

“Thank you,” Orchid said as they walked down the stairs.

“No problem. But you’re gonna have to thank me for one other gift.” Noah pulled out a biscuit that was shaped and iced to look like a Christmas tree. He broke it in half and gave the bigger piece to her. Orchid smiled but started to object. “Thanks, but I really – ”

He put a finger to her lips.

“Shhh,” he said. “These were made with my mum’s recipe, something she left behind for me since she knew I liked them so much. I know you might not want anything too sweet. You probably think you don’t deserve it, or it just tastes too sweet. But your mum would want you to take it. To not let her loss affect your biscuit eating-capacity.”

Orchid laughed. “Yeah. I guess so,” she said, with a small smile on her face once more. After a few moments, Noah leaned in and kissed her gently before walking away, leaving her to her own thoughts. She looked up, and suddenly the burden of losing her mum didn’t feel so heavy after all.

Dear Mum,

Thank you for bringing me my saviour after these painful hellish few days. He’s not you, but he’s different, and I like him. He’s finally here.

Love you forever and ever,

Orchid

Edited by Ginny Wong

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Finding a new saviour

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