Half A World Away
By Kirsten Han
The afternoon sun warmed up the room, enough for me to take off my jacket and throw it on the bed, where it lay forgotten as I sat on the floor surrounded by photos of days past. Each one was a captured moment stolen from a beautiful friendship that had bloomed and withered away just like the loveliest rose in the garden. As my fingers brushed the images the memories leapt back into my mind's eye, clear as the day it was played out.
This one was from China, 2000. Suzhou, Wuxi, Hangzhou and Shanghai. That was the first we had taken together, as best friends travelling with the rest of the school choir, young, enthusiastic and excited about our first great adventure away from our families. In the daytime we were on the road with the choir, chattering away on the bus and singing songs at the top of our lungs, not caring about passers-by who stared. In the evening we sat on the floor between our beds in the hotel room playing UNO and Bluff and card games that always involved snacking on Oreos and squealing with laughter and surprise. 'The Sisters'; that was what we were known as, even though the truth was that we'd only know each other for a year. We were inseparable and we had no secrets from each other. "We'll be best friends forever," she told me, and I believed her. It was so easy to believe then, because we didn't know how to lie.
This one was from Australia, 2002. Melbourne, Geelong and the Great Ocean Drive, after two years of separation in different schools, keeping in touch only through telephone conversations, the Internet and occasional trips to the cinema. We sat in the backseat of the rented car as my mum drove, gazing down the cliff edge in awe, stunned to silence by the majesty of the roaring waves. Every once in a while someone would say something and we'd all nod in agreement. In the daytime I'd watch her out of the corner of my eye as she stared out the window, suddenly unsure of what I could tell her. In the evening we were too tired to play card games, and lay in our beds with the blankets pulled up to our chins and our CD players plugged into our ears. She listened to her music, I listened to mine, and for the most part we kept to ourselves. "We'll be best friends forever," she told me, and I tried to believe her. It was so easy to want to believe, because we didn't want to admit that we'd learnt to lie.
This one was from Japan, 2003. Osaka, with the beautiful Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan in the Tempozan Harbour Village and the amazing food, yet still just an attempt to bring back the atmosphere of the past we had allowed to slip through our fingers. It was the first time we were actually travelling alone, just the two of us, and for a while it seemed as if we had succeeded; things were once more they were. She had always wanted to visit Japan, and in the three years in her secondary school she had fallen in love with anime and Japanese pop culture. Osaka was her dream, finally solid under her feet. In the daytime I followed when she grabbed my hand and tugged, nodding as she talked, only half-interested in the things she was saying.
Physically I was with her, talking, smiling, joking, laughing, but in my mind I was miles away, dreaming of lazy days lingering in bookstores and watching independent European films with the schoolmates I had grown close to in the three years she had barely been a part of. In the evening she flicked through the television channels, eagerly soaking up every bit of the Japanese life she wanted, while I leaned against the pillows and wrote in my journal stories she would never read. "We'll be best friends forever," she told me, and I nodded and smiled. We didn't even bother to believe, because we both knew we were lying.
This one, this last one to be put away in the album, was from England, 2005. London, with its amazing atmosphere of chaos and class, and the incredible West End I would never finish exploring; our last attempt to salvage what was left of our sisterhood. This time, it was my dream we were living. It was my dream as we rode on the Tube from Paddington to Piccadilly, my dream as we ate fish and chips from the paper wrappings. In the daytime she followed as I walked ahead, smiled as I laughed, never really understanding the magic that I was feeling.
Physically she was with me, watching the pigeons in Trafalgar Square and sharing the biggest baked potato we'd ever seen in a little restaurant in the Tower of London. In the evening she fell asleep during the play at the National Theatre as I watched, enthralled. We walked across the Victoria Bridge in the cool night air, me still high from having been to a proper play, she glad that we were finally getting out of there. I asked her how she liked it, and she said that she hadn't understood it at all. I asked her how she liked London, and she said it was all right, but why did I choose this place? "We were best friends once," she said, and I knew I had to believe her. It wasn't hard to believe, because finally we weren't lying anymore.
I put the photo away and closed the album, sliding it back into its place on the shelf. Years later a friend would pull it out again and laugh at our young, goofy faces, point to her and ask, "Who's she?"
I would look over and shrug. "Oh, she was just some friend."QLRS Vol. 6 No. 2 Jan 2007