The last day of term is such a mission I can hardly believe it.
When you’re a day girl and school ends for the term, you just pick up your bag and walk out. When you’re a boarder, it’s not that simple. And when you’re a boarder who is moving out permanently, it’s a great big headache.
Of course, my family have taken over Sisulu House completely. Gumede House too, since my brothers are moving out of there. My mom is pounding up and down the stairs clutching hairbrushes, stray knickers, and tubes of lipgloss, instead of just packing them all into my trunk. I’d be dying of embarrassment if I weren’t still so happy to see them.
Lael is coming home with us, too. She’ll be spending the first week of the holidays with us before her mom comes to pick her up in Cape Town. So we’ve got all her stuff to pack up as well.
I look out the window and see my dad and one of his security guards muscling Caleb’s trunk into the boot of one of the three huge, black cars they’ve got parked outside. A little group of students is standing around, whispering and pointing. Normally I’d be a puddle of mortification by now, but when you haven’t seen your parents in more than three months, you tend to forgive them the little things.
My mom has already insisted that I take her on a pilgrimage to view the Gumede Shield in its brand,
spanking-new display case. She took pictures of it from about a million different angles, hugged me until my ribs squeaked, and then took a million more pictures with Lael and me standing in front it.
“To think that my girls did this!” she keeps saying, brushing tears from her eyes. “I’m so proud, I don’t know what to do with myself.”
My parents arrived yesterday, just in time to support me through Zach’s hearing. We don’t know what will happen to him yet. We might only find out next term.
But I’ve come to realise that it doesn’t really matter. Whether the school chooses to believe him or me is actually irrelevant. It doesn’t change what happened. And if I come back next term to find him still at school, I’ll deal with it. Because I’m not scared of him anymore. The important thing is that I told the truth. I stood up in front of the head, the deputy head, Matron, my parents, Zach’s parents, and Zach himself, and I told the truth exactly as it happened.
I didn’t back down. I didn’t let myself get scared off. I didn’t take the easy way out. It’s amazing how powerful that makes me feel. Peaceful too, because I’m finally sleeping properly again. I know my parents only started to relax when they saw for themselves that I really was okay.
“TRINITY!” Mom yells up the stairs. “HAVE YOU CHECKED UNDER YOUR BED YET? YOU KNOW HOW YOU ALWAYS LEFT STUFF UNDER YOUR BED WHEN YOU WERE LITTLE!”
A couple of Grade 11 girls giggle as they walk past me, and I feel some of my new-found tolerance wearing thin.
Parents. Honestly, you can’t take them anywhere.
I look up and see Lael coming down the stairs clutching a bundle of musty-looking books.
“Where have you been?” I ask. “I need you to keep me from murdering my mom.”
“I have to show you something,” she says urgently. “Can we go somewhere that’s quiet?”
I think for a moment. “What about a matric’s study? There’ll be no one there now.”
“Okay. Let’s hurry.”
“I’m just helping Lael with something,” I call to my mom as she pounds past us with an armload of shoes.
“Go ahead, go ahead,” she says. “I’ve got this.”
I follow Lael into the study and shut the door behind us. “Right. What’s up?”
She puts the old books down on a table, and I notice for the first time that she’s looking mildly freaked out.
She hesitates. “Okay, Trinity. I’m going to show you some pictures, and I want you to tell me if you recognise anyone in them, all right?”
She opens the leather covers of the books and I see that they are old, bound copies of the school magazine. Really old – all yellow and crinkly.
She opens a page marked with a post-it and hands it over to me. “That picture in the middle. The class photo. Does anyone there look familiar to you?”
Completely mystified, I turn the book around to look at it properly. It’s a picture of the Brentwood Standard 9A class of 1966. Standard 9 … that’s what they used to call Grade 11, isn’t it? So these kids would have been about the same age as us.
But now they’d be the same age as my grandparents, so the chances of my recognising anyone are basically zero.
To humour Lael, I go through the rows slowly, moving my finger from face to face, looking at each one. I’m trying not to think about how much packing I still have to do.
And then I stop dead. My heart is pounding painfully in my chest. Isn’t that…? That looks exactly like…
“What is it?” she asks eagerly. “What have you seen?”
I squint at the photo again. It’s all grainy and black and white, but surely there’s something familiar about that boy’s smile – about the cocky gleam in his eye?
“That looks exactly like him,” I say excitedly, stabbing at the picture with my finger. “The boy who helped us steal the Gumede Shield. The one who saved me from Zach. This looks just like him.”
Lael has a very strange expression on her face. If I had to guess, I’d say it was half-excited, half-terrified.
“Who would this be?” I ask. “His father? His grandfather?”
“Uh…” She swallows. “Not exactly.”
“What do you mean?”
“Okay … before we go into all that, let’s first look at a few more pictures.”
I look down at the desk and see that she has three more photos marked with post-its. The second is a picture of the U16 tennis team. I pick him out easily in that. It’s a much bigger and clearer picture. There’s that flat cap he’s always wearing. And there’s his sweeping side-fringe with all the gel at the sides.
The third photo is of the newspaper club. He’s sitting in the middle of the front row holding an edition of the
paper, like he was the editor or something. It’s him. It’s really him. Or someone who looks a lot like him. So why am I getting gooseflesh crawling all up my arms?
“Who is this?” I say urgently. “Why are you showing me these pictures?”
“His name was Jim Grey,” she says, pointing to the list of names under the photo.
“Grey … Grey…” I say thoughtfully. “Nope. Doesn’t ring any bells. But the resemblance is amazing. I almost thought it was him for a moment.”
“Trinity…” Lael pauses until I look up and meet her eyes. “Remember we heard about that student who died in Sisulu House?”
I frown, trying to remember. This actually does ring a faint bell. “Yes, okay, sort of. Nobody knew who she was, right?”
“It wasn’t a she.”
There’s a beat of silence.
“What do you mean it wasn’t a she?” I say, almost angrily. “Sisulu is a girls’ boarding house. It always has been. Even back in 1960-whatsit. That’s when the very first girl students were introduced. And they all lived in Sisulu House. Or … what was it called back then? Helen Keller House. What would a boy have been doing in the girls’ hostel?”
“No one knows,” Lael says, and she opens up the fourth and final picture for me to see.
With tears I don’t really understand pricking at my eyes, I look down at the page.
There he is. It’s a big picture of him. It takes up practically the whole page. He’s smiling into my eyes just as he has about a hundred times this year. Infuriatingly
smug. Always so sure of himself. Handing out advice like Smarties. Insulting me, my friends, my boyfriend.
Jim. James. My nemesis. My friend.
I follow Lael’s finger as she points to the caption under the picture.
‘They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old’
RIP – Jim Grey
03/03/1950 – 05/09/1966
I stare at it in silence.
“The school magazine doesn’t say how he died, so I Googled it,” Lael says. “I got nothing. I guess because it all happened too long ago. So then I checked through the old microfiche records in the library and I found some newspaper clippings. Nobody seems to know exactly what happened. He was found dead in the common room the day after school broke up for the September holidays. A cleaner found him. He wasn’t even supposed to be here. All the students had gone home the day before. The newspapers don’t say what the cause of death was.”
I give an uncertain laugh. “Okay, that’s pretty weird, I admit, but let’s get a grip here. The guy I’ve been hanging out with this term must be some kind of relative of his. Like his son or his grandson or something…”
“Right.” Lael nods. “Because a boy who died at the age of sixteen would obviously have had kids.”
“Or … or a nephew perhaps,” I go on desperately. “He’s probably been hanging out here to find out what happened to his relative.”
“Trinity. Did anyone besides you ever see this guy? Or were you always alone when he appeared?”
I snort. “Appeared! He didn’t ‘appear’, as you put it. He walked in through the door like a normal human being. You make him sound like some kind of a … well, anyway. Yes, all right, as it happens, I was usually alone when I spoke to him. But of course other people saw him. They must have.”
“When?” she demands.
“I … I don’t know. But they must have.”
“And what was he like? Tell me a bit about him.”
“Well…” I’m on surer ground now. “He’s kind of a snappy dresser. He wears these really cool retro clothes, and these shoes with sharp points at the toes…”
“Winklepickers,” she says, nodding again. “And old-fashioned clothes. Makes sense.”
“Oh, please. He’s just a regular guy. Okay, he can be really irritating at times. He’s got all these racist and sexist ideas, and he sometimes says some totally inappropriate things.”
“You mean almost like he’s still living in the old South Africa?”
“You’re nuts, do you know that? Completely nuts. This isn’t some politically incorrect ghost we’re talking about. He’s as real as you and me. I’ve seen him with my own eyes.”
“You saw him choke Zach Morris without even touching him, didn’t you?”
There’s a sudden, sharp silence.
“So you did hear that,” I say at last. “I thought you weren’t listening.”
“Yes, I heard it, and yes, I thought you’d lost the plot for a while. But I could see it was really bugging you, so I decided to do some research. You picked him out of a blurry black-and-white group photograph, Trinity.
I didn’t point him out to you. You’re the one who recognised him. I know it’s a shock, and I know you don’t really want to admit it … but I’m right, aren’t I?”
I give a huge sigh and rub the heels of my hands over my eyes.
“Okay … yes. I feel like a total freak for saying this, but I do think you’re right.”
“Good.” Lael claps her hands together. “Then all that’s left for us to do is find out why he hasn’t passed on.”
“Um … I thought the whole point was that he had passed on. Aren’t you basically telling me that I’ve spent the last three months talking to a ghost?” The thought of it sends little shivers up and down my spine.
“No, I mean why hasn’t he passed on?” She makes giant circling motions in the air. “Like, to the other side, if you know what I mean? Why is he still hanging around here, chatting up random students and saving them from their horrible, abusive boyfriends?”
“Oh, okay. I see what you mean.”
“You read vampire novels and all that spooky stuff, Trinity. Why do ghosts normally hang around after death?”
“Uh…” I try to think of some of the books I’ve read recently. “Because of unfinished business usually? And sometimes they haven’t realised that they’re dead. In some books they want to punish someone, or warn someone. And sometimes they just want to set the record straight about how they actually died. But sometimes they’re just really evil, and you need a priest to exorcise them.”
Lael’s right. I do read a lot of this stuff.
“Cool!” She rubs her hands together and smiles. “Then that’s our project for next term. We’re going to find out who he was and how he died. And when we do, it’s going to help release his spirit into the afterlife.”
“Sure it is,” I say soothingly. “But in the meantime, let’s go and finish up our packing, okay?”
As I steer Lael out of the matrics’ study and down the stairs, I catch a little flash of movement out of the corner of my eye. But when I turn my head to look, there’s no one there.