The aftermath of lunchtime had not yet been cleared. Smashed grapes lay dejectedly on the concrete, while the remains of fried rice were strewn throughout the dimly lit school stairwell. Avery and I were perched at the top of the staircase, which was largely unaffected by the earlier stampede, and were left to survey the carnage below.
“Rest in pieces, Mr. Rice Cracker.” I gestured towards a cracker that had been unfortunate enough to be trampled underfoot. Usually, this sort of comment warranted at least a chuckle from Avery. She was the master of witty comments, able to summon killer puns at all times of the day. No matter how terrible they were, she would always acknowledge even the vaguely humorous statements by throwing her head back in sidesplitting laughter. However, today she only carried overwhelming silence. “What’s wrong, Avery?” I ventured. She heaved a sigh and let the news roll off of her tongue.
“I didn’t want to tell you until I knew for sure,”
I understood her message right away. It’s almost a matter of seconds before fresh acquaintances got sucked away in the undertow of their parent’s new overseas job offer, whisked off to yet another new land while a stranger takes their place. Goodbyes have become routine, but not easy. Have fun in Country X, I’ll miss you, bye. However, farewells sting much more when the one leaving is somebody close to you.
“Where are you going?” I felt my organs twisting in my stomach, working their way up to my throat and leaving me unable to do anything but croak. What would I do without Avery? “Australia. In 3 weeks.” Avery’s voice wavered. Both of us were hit hard by cruel emotions; Avery was trying to suppress memories that threatened to shatter her, while I was drowning in my own pandemonium.
In the midst of my panic, I had neither desperate pleas nor regurgitated Shakespearean-style monologues prepared to bid her adieu. Such clichés rarely manifest in real life. It was a solemn affair, but not dramatic. Although Avery said nothing, her bleached eyes revealed her helplessness. It was the first time that I had ever seen her seemingly adamantine spirit broken.
I tried to mollify her. “Should be fun, going home.” I didn’t anticipate that my statement would trigger an onslaught of bottled up feelings. “Home? I’m going home?” Avery seethed. “I moved out of Australia when I was two. I’ve lived in five countries and I’m supposed to confine my identity to one. Where is home? What do I gain from going back to the country that my passport dictates that I ‘belong’ to?” She turned so that her stare burned into mine. “I don’t belong anywhere, but if I could choose, I’d want to stay here with you.”
Avery’s outburst had attracted quite a bit of attention. Throngs of students ran upstairs to see what the commotion was about, only to find two girls sitting at the top of the staircase, blank eyes fixed in an empty gaze and laughing until we shook uncontrollably. We guffawed until our sides ached because we couldn’t let ourselves cry. We wouldn’t. Laughter is allegedly the best medicine, even when there’s nothing left inside to heal. Laugh, laugh, laugh. It was an empty process, but we were desperate. We laughed until we couldn’t, until we had forced every impending tear into extinction.
The bell rang. Avery smiled weakly and pointed out some abandoned pasta strewn across the floor. “Don’t be upset-ti,” The old her was back, waiting for me to finish off her trademark phrase.
“Have some spaghetti.”