LOST TO THE PAST
BY HELENA SKUNDRIC
I rub my eye with my left hand hoping that I can release some nervous tension from my body. I have my eyelids shut as I do this, I hope that the seconds in the dark will alter my reality when I open them again. But as I look across my coffee, she's still staring at her phone. So, I’m wrong, this situation is still unpleasant. I move my left hand from the side of my face and lace it together with my right and rest them on the stainless-steel table. I feel the sticky residue of the cleaning spray on my hands. With nothing else to do I look around at the shopping centre food court and I see that it is beginning to fill up. Hunched backs, covered in crocheted cardigans huddle together and gossip, read the newspaper, or absent-mindedly stare at strangers. Round, sweaty faces in football jerseys beg their mums for frozen cokes but their requests are being declined, and so they slowly drag their muddy shoes towards the car park. Young crop-tops sashay over to cafes to drink chai lattes with their friends. I sit in one such café and stare at the girl across from me. She smiles as the texts pop up on her screen.
I swear I used to know this head of brown hair. But now I’m not so sure.
We were laughing in our Ancient History class, as we tried to remember the spelling of Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs' names.
"Tu-tank-ham-un" she whispered to me.
"Hat-shat-sut" I replied.
We giggled and shoved each other, laughing at this great joke. I fell off my chair and the heads spun back to face us. The teacher calls back:
“Are you girls doing your work?”
“Yes!” We sang back.
She shook her head disapprovingly but did not inquire further.
It is a visible effort for her to relinquish the phone. She exhales and flips it face down on the table. I wince remembering that the table is sticky and I haven’t been able to get that tacky feeling off my hands. Her silver glittery phone case is jammed with her credit card, opal card and other miscellaneous memberships. I smile to myself; she never could be bothered to carry around a wallet let alone a bag. She turns her attention to me.
"So, how's life?" She starts cordially.
I stop and think for a moment, trying to summarise the past three years. I play it safe.
"Same old, same old. You?"
"Not much, just uni and work."
“Miss, can I go to the bathroom?”
“I certainly hope so.”
“So can I go?”
“Give me your diary so I can record it and sign off.”
My first port of call was the bathroom. I then meandered to my locker, opened it and closed it again and then headed outside to the netball courts. From there I strolled up the screeching wooden stairs to the music rooms. I peered into the classroom and there she was in class with her headphones plugged into one of the keyboards. I waved and pulled a face at her through the grimy glass window. She grinned and waved back. The movement caught the attention of the grey beard who looked up from his computer. He followed her line of sight and his dark eyes settled on me. Immediately I fled back down the rickety stairs. Back outside I turned around to check if I had been pursued, I of course had not, so I headed back to RE class.
We both turn to the café's menu board which is covered in large orange neon writing. I pretend to be engrossed by the specials.
French Toast, with maple syrup and mixed berries, Vegetable stack....
I stop there racking my brain for a topic, a loose thread to pull on, just something to talk about.
"I hear there's an exhibition of Tutankhamun's sarcophagus coming to Sydney..." I start.
I see her face relax. She sits up, leans forward. Clarity and a certain sharpness return to her hazel eyes.
I've done it. We find common ground in the past. Our present selves have nothing to say to each other. It is our old versions of ourselves that are now conversing.
I nod along and predict how the conversion will lull and settle in another fifteen minutes. I can see how we'll part, promising each other another catch up, forgetting how awkward this exchange is. What we will remember is that we had spoken, and it might have been useless and banal, but I guess we wanted to talk how we used to, in that free and easy way. We miss each other as we were, how the other used to be, but maybe, we miss how we ourselves once were as well.
I swirl around the last dregs of my latte and then swiftly tip back the brown liquid into my mouth. The white porcelain cup clinks on the saucer as I set it down.