The girl who never left

by Isla Polovina

She’d always been by my side ever since I was young; to be quite honest, I couldn’t remember a life without her. She had followed me with hopeful eyes that shone with stars and timeless dreams. From what I do recall, she was smaller than me – not by much – but I could turn to her and smile, promising everything would be just fine, and in return, when I was cowering behind masks of emotions, she would faintly tug on my top and tilt her head with a curious grin, vowing that whatever happened, I was never alone.

She’d always been my greatest ally and when the world would spin in the direction of my enemies, she would paint a new universe for us to hide in until the darkness was illuminated with new beliefs that grew, in my reality, like golden leaves on trees. In the young world, everything was adorned with pixie dust, waiting, begging to be explored. Together we would travel through stories that were tangible to our minds in kingdoms of multicoloured landscapes and diverse characters, virtuous and wicked. Heroes and villains dotted the tales and thrived in the playground we had created to house those forgotten souls. We would dance, sing and act around fires that seemed to sway with the music that flooded the air and whatever we sought would appear. Continuously, weary wanderers would materialise, some to stay until the day dispelled, and others, to remain forever. I noticed how she eased into this fantasy, she wouldn’t worry or wait for the next tragedy, she would be free, and every time, I feared that she would not return with me. Nevertheless, when my time to leave dawned, she pursued me back home, yearning for the next journey to her palace.

Hitherto, no misfortune had prepared us for the war we were going to face, a war everyone wages, some with intent and others without. Soldiers so strong couldn’t prevent the ever-growing armies of age, and we were no exception. We bled from the wounds of time and cried with tears of realisation. The doors to the alternate worlds became fewer and further apart. She would try to pull me through non-existent portals into realms I couldn’t embrace anymore; chaos crept into our souls as we became distance from one another’s dimensions. Soon, the battlefield was littered with memories that were melting into the grey background, jewels that were once the bricks of mythical castles were now crumbling into scorched ruins.

As the conflict waned, the world reappeared under an unseen ruler, it wasn’t so joyous as it had been, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t be restored. Stories still floated in my head and their loyalty would triumph through the veils of shadows. I had emerged victorious, but she had not. I hunted for her in between doors and windows, through woods and waters, over mountains and under earth, behind thoughts that waltz in my mind and pledges long forgotten. I could not find her.

Time passed, permanently in motion and I grew older, the fiction my mind had once revelled in, was seldom seen and my life was like those of the people around me, the lives, I, as a child, had tried to veer away from. I was my own worst nightmare but finally experiencing it highlighted how wonderful it could turn out to be. I had treasured adventures as a kid, but I had failed to appreciate that one of the biggest adventures in life was one I would embark on as an adult, apparently alone. I began to undo ties to my childhood memoirs and moving photos filed away in rusted cabinets and I lived like everyone else.

I fell in love and I moved around the country; anywhere he went, I followed with fresh hopes and dreams radiating in my eyes. Finally, my oldest friend went missing from my mind and the office, that had replaced the lands of imagination, was empty with only the papers to whisper words of encouragement to my elder thoughts.

Our home had been quiet in the past, no chatter had filled the void of silence. Yet, the present day was choked with different noises that echoed in the hallways. Recently my concern had been diverted to the arrivals that invaded the hush, I couldn’t help them to predict the future, for everyone it would vary. They would have their own worlds they could venture to and I had to learn to accept the fact that I couldn’t go with them.

Nevertheless, amongst the loud sounds, I sensed something familiar, a feeling I hadn’t felt for years, a longing deep in the depths of my heart. It ached, and I knew not why, it was like something trying to surface in waters of thick gloom, endeavouring to breathe one more time.

My children told me stories of the friends they had, some factual, some fiction, but a particular individual popped up again and again. They would describe her in fine detail, declaring her as their best friend. They would continue, reciting tales of awe. Oh, how I wanted to join them, but my destiny had changed now, it was time to pass on the title of explorer.

Once I spotted the familiarity, and she smiled, a welcoming beam, as she softly waved to me, purring, “everything turned out just fine, didn’t it? You blossomed and became something beautiful.”

“I grew into something that abandoned you, how is that beautiful?” I responded, tears threatening to drown out my sight.

“Don’t you see? That shows I succeeded, you didn’t need me to guide you anymore, you became stronger, independent and as for me, I shall aid the future generations, as I aided you, my dearest friend.”

With that, she vanished into the light and I never saw her again, but I knew she’d always be by their side and she would trail them until they, too, were ready to move on.

Isla Polovina’s “The girl who never left” won first place in the 15-17 short story category of our 25th Birthday Writing Competition.