September 2004

We started Primary Five in high spirits. School was especially fun because most of us had gotten new school uniforms and new shoes and new everything. And most people had the chance to make new friends while the rest settled for their old friends from Primary Four. I got a bubbly girl, Alice, for a best friend. That Alice was smart was a lovely bonus, I knew she would help me with my sums (I hated Math). We were thirty students in Primary Five ‘A’, and our teacher was a pretty lady called Mrs Ellis. At first we all thought she had a big tummy, until Alice told me Mrs Ellis was pregnant, and she knew that because Mrs Ellis was a patient at her mother’s maternity clinic.

Ona Salih was brought to our class three weeks after school had officially reopened. She was a plain little girl with a sour disposition. She was not in a new school uniform like most of us. Her shoes were well-worn, and they would be the only shoes she would wear. Her English was bad, her Maths was terrible. Mrs Ellis had no patience for Ona. Ona was sloppy and would fail at everything she tried her hands on. Mrs Ellis would hurl invectives at her, and the little girl would say nothing.

As time went on Mrs Ellis’s baby bump grew. She told us that she had a bun in the oven, and in a couple of months she would have to leave. We all knew Ona was no oil painting; her eyes were too wide for her small face, and her upturned nose portrayed large nostrils. Some of the kids made fun of her. She was no happy child. Once in a while I would offer her some of my mother’s bread, and she would smile shyly and shake her head. “You, nice person.” she would tell me, and then hop away. And that little smile would make my day.

Once, Ona got sick at school. She puked all over her shoes. Mrs Ellis was livid. “Why would you come to school when you’re sick?” she barked at Ona. “Ah. Who can accompany her to her house? Oh my God, someone should call the cleaner, the vomit smells awful!” she said, and I raised my hand. Whether it was genuine concern I get her home or curiosity so I find out where she lived, I didn’t know. We walked for almost thirty minutes, and then she told me she’d go home on her own. Then she smiled again and said quietly, “I will miss you.”

I chuckled. “Why, aren’t you coming back to school?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know.” She waved and walked away.

The next day Mrs Ellis didn’t come to school. “She’s going to give birth soon”, Alice told me excitedly. We got a substitute teacher in the meantime. Ona didn’t come back to school again, and she was not missed by anyone in particular. Sometimes she would cross my mind and I would smile, thinking of the weird, ill-favoured girl Mrs Ellis had been so nasty to.

Just some weeks after, Alice told me her mother said Mrs Ellis had given birth to a girl. She looked forlorn, however.

“What’s wrong, Alice? Is the baby okay?” I asked her. She shrugged. “Today, after school, let’s go to the clinic. I want to show you something.” she whispered. I badgered Alice about what is was she wanted to tell me but she kept mum. I knew her mother’s clinic was not very far from school. I could hardly concentrate on what was being taught. The moment the school bell rang I gathered all my books and shoved them in my bag, trying to catch Alice’s eyes. She nodded and got up.

“We’re going to see her baby in the nursery,” Alice told me. I frowned. What was so special about Mrs Ellis’ baby that Alice wanted me to see for myself?

The nurses were friendly. Alice smiled at them as she told them she was coming to see Madam’s baby. I had never seen so many babies at once. I kept on gaping at the little ones.

“But why isn’t Mrs Ellis’s baby with her?” I whispered. I didn’t get the chance to speak again, for there was Mrs Ellis’s baby. I gasped. Baby’s eyes were very wide and she had a small, round face. I knew these features. She looked frighteningly familiar. Big nose. Big nostrils. I knew why Alice couldn’t say anything. No way. I turned to look at Alice, confused. “She looks like-like-“, I sputtered.

“Ona” we both said at the same time.

“How?” I was terribly shaken.

“My mom said Mrs Ellis doesn’t want to see the baby because it scares her.”, Alice told me. That was when I started to think of the strange Ona, and what she said the last time I saw her. I will miss you. Now my heart was furiously beating.

“Do you know where Ona lives?” I asked Alice, and she shrugged. “She’s disappeared. They’ve been looking for Ona since the baby was born”.

“Come on, let’s go before Mr Ellis comes”, Alice pulled me and we left. We had just got to the entrance when something caught my eye. I froze. “What? Let’s go”, Alice nudged me. “No. look”, I told Alice, and she looked at what had caught my eye. The poster with the title “MASS BURIAL TO BE HELD; LIST OF UNCLAIMED CORPSES.” The first name was Ona Salih, and beside the name was a picture of Ona, and she was wearing a mysterious smile. Her date of death had been listed as 8/02/04. Ona had come to Primary Five in September. I turned to look at Alice, and we both raced to school, saying nothing. I was going to ask my mom very politely.
I wanted a new school. Just in case Ona came to visit, I didn’t want to be around.