I lie in bed and listen to the wind whistling outside. In here, I am warm – safe. The streetlights outside shine softly through the curtains, bathing the dormitory in a cosy glow. All the other girls are fast asleep, their relaxed breathing familiar and comforting.
Why am I feeling so nervous? Everything is normal. But I still feel… on edge. Like something big is about to happen. Why can’t I just join the other girls and slip into a deep and dreamless sleep? Somewhere where these feelings of trepidation can’t follow me.
I curl up in my duvet, pulling it over my head so I’m in a warm, dark cocoon. I close my eyes and will myself to fall asleep. But I can’t. The sensation of unease is growing, taking control. My palms are damp: a sure sign that I’m nervous. But why? I’m safe. I’m home. I’m fine.
Inside my dark cocoon, coldness suddenly sweeps over me, like a wind. Goosebumps prickle my arms and I shiver. Realisation sinks in. Not again. Not now. I push the duvet away from me and sit down on the side of my bed.
“Leave me alone,” I speak quietly into the darkness of the room. I don’t need to raise my voice; I know he can hear me.
“I did what I could for you. Please stop haunting me.” I ask in a low voice.
The coldness draws closer and my entire body begins to shiver uncontrollably. He’s right behind me, but I don’t turn around, don’t look in his direction. I keep staring sightlessly ahead at the rows and rows of sleeping girls.
His reply is slow and laboured, and sounds like leaves on a windy day. His frozen breath sweeps over my back and my teeth chatter like castanets.
“You had a chance to save me… and you let it slip through your fingers. You let me fall.”
Anger spikes in me, so much that I forget the cold and say with venom, “That’s unfair! I wasn’t the only one, and yet I don’t see you haunting any of the others!” My voice is too loud, echoing off the walls, and I stop abruptly. A couple of the girls whimper and fidget in their sleep. Taking a deep gulp of the freezing air, I try to calm myself down. He is silent too, waiting for me to continue.
This time, my voice is quiet and perfectly calm.
“I’m sorry for what I did. I truly am. But when I realised, I did what I could to rectify my mistake. Can’t you see that? Even when I knew that it was hopeless, I stayed behind to try and save you.” He is as silent as the grave.
“But that’s all in the past now. When you died, I left it all behind me. This is my home now.” I gesture to the girls, their faces childish and innocent in their sleep. “I live here. I belong here with my sisters. They need me, they look up to me, and I love them. I did what I could to save you. Please, stop haunting me.”
For the first time, I turn to look at him. I suck my breath in involuntarily as I drink in his familiar face. He looks exactly the same. Even after all these years. He’s standing on the other side of my bed, his arms limply by his sides. He still wears the jaggedy old jeans I remember so well. It breaks my heart to see him standing there, and I long to stand up and throw my arms around him.
But he’s dead, and his appearance is skin-deep. He’s deathly pale. Not just his skin, but his clothes and eyes and hair too, as though he’s a painting left out in the rain. Any colour that he had has been washed away. He still has his adorable dimples but his eyes are cold, frozen, unfeeling.
He opens his colourless lips and says, with a certain finality, “If you love those girls half as much as you loved me, then they are the luckiest children in the world.” He pauses and says in his voice like rustling leaves, so quietly I hardly hear it;
“I forgive you.”
It’s only then, as he says those three fateful words, that I realise just how much I needed his forgiveness. The guilt that hung around me, lingered in my mind, weighed me down… has gone. I’m free. I open my mouth, to thank him – to talk to him properly – when I realise he’s fading away.
He becomes paler and paler until he is water vapour, a vague shadow, and then… nothing. The frozen air slips away as he does, and once again I am alone with the rows and rows of sleeping girls. The warm, stuffy air of the dormitory meets me and I smile at the familiar smell. Wood polish, fresh linen, and the talcum powder-y smell of children.
I climb back into bed, and listen to the soft breathing of the other girls. My sisters. I fall asleep happier than I’ve felt in a long time. I feel light as air.
I’m free from my ghost.