Andrea turned in her bed and fluffed the pillow for about the tenth time. She was experiencing a rather restless night for it had been hot and sticky. It was one of those summer nights when it would have been better to sleep with the top window open but she would have none of it. Several times she had awakened from bouts of intermittent sleep to turn and fluff the moist pillow then stared at the ceiling before drifting off to sleep again. This was one of those nights when morning appeared to take extremely long to come.
While staring at the ceiling she thought she had heard a voice. The first time she ignored it, telling herself that it was her active imagination attempting to get the better of her. She rolled over on her side to face the wall of her bedroom. She covered her head with her pillow and tried to drift off. “There’s that voice again,” she thought. “It sounds so real and familiar. But it can’t be Antoine. She has been dead for over a year.”
It was not the first night that Andrea had heard her sister’s voice. She had told her mother of the other instances. On each occasion she was informed that she had been dreaming. Andrea had countered that she could not have been dreaming on those occasions since she had found it difficult to sleep in the first place. Her mother had told her that it was perhaps the result of a very active imagination.
There was the voice again. This time there was no mistaking. It was Antoine’s voice. With the pillow still over her head, Andrea felt a very strong presence in the room. She dared to remove the pillow from her face. What she saw was the most startling sight that she had ever seen. At the foot of her bed sat her twin sister, Antoine. She appeared as real as ever, dressed in the same white outfit in which she was buried on that sunny Saturday afternoon. How could she ever forget that dress! She had chosen it. She had remarked then that it was so much like Antoine, with its broad collar falling behind and in front of her shoulders complemented by the lily-white frills with lace on their edges. As she reflected on the event then Antoine did not appear to be dead but only asleep. At the time there appeared to be the faintest of smiles on her face. She had always like playing tricks and planning pleasant surprises. Could this have been one of them?
Antoine was a pleasant, fun-loving ten-year old. She lived as if she knew that she had but a short earthly sojourn. She was not only Andrea’s identical twin sister but she was also her best friend. They were so alike that even their parents encountered difficulty telling one apart from the other. You could well imagine the confusion they caused among their teachers as well as their peers at school. Fortunately for all concerned, they were very well behaved children. All was not well however, with the twin. They were not only alike in resemblance and behaviour but both of them suffered with asthma. Often one of them, and on occasions both of them, would experience extreme discomfort from asthma attacks. Often too, they would have to be rushed to the hospital’s asthma bay in an effort to procure the relief that even their inhalers were unable to supply.
It was on one of those occasions when Antoine encountered her tragic experience. She was walking home from school in the company of her sister when she complained that she was having difficulty breathing. Her inhalers were of no use to her then. Rushing to the home of a neighbour, Andrea persuaded him to take Antoine to the hospital. The doctors had tried their utmost to save her but their efforts were in vain. Remarkably, though, Antoine had remained conscious up to the very end. It was as though she had planned it that way. She had held on to her precious life until her mother and father arrived at the hospital. With a weak attempt at a smile she had told them not to weep for her because she was going to a place where there would be no asthma and she would see them all again some day. With that she closed her eyes and was gone.
Andrea had never quite accepted that her twin sister had actually died. She would still reached out her hand to hug her like she had usually done at nights as they slept together. Only now there was no Antoine...or was there?
She gazed unbelievingly into the beautiful eyes of her sister afraid to blink less she spoilt this moment and lost it forever. “Antoine is it really you or are you up to one of your tricks again?” She was tempted to move towards her, to reach out and touch her. She dared not, however, afraid that Antoine would leave and never return. “Come on,” she heard herself insist. “Is it you, or is this my overactive imagination?”
Antoine looked into her eyes and smiled. “It’s me, Andrea. I wouldn’t fool you like this. Why, you know we never really fooled one another. I noticed that you couldn’t get to sleep so I came to comfort you. I wanted you to know that everything is all right but mostly that you must never be afraid to die. You must remember that it is easier to die than it is to live. The challenge is not to die but to live and let your life count for something. See the window over there? Open it! Let the cool night air in. Don’t be afraid.”
Andrea was certain now that she was not dreaming. She was so happy to see her sister again and know that all was well with her. Antoine continued, “I have one more thing to tell you but you must promise not to tell anyone except Mummy and Daddy. Promise?”
“Yes, I promise,” Andrea replied with heightened expectation in her voice.
“When I tell you what I have to tell you then Mummy will know for sure that we talked. Your wish has come true. You have come tops in the Common Entrance Examination in the whole island. I could tell you your scores too, but I will leave that part of the surprise until tomorrow when you get back the results.”
“You mean that I have done so well in my exam? Why, I can’t believe it. You mean I have actually, finally bettered Shelly and Timothy? I don’t even know what to say,” Andrea said with delirious joy.
“I am happy for you my twin sister. Say hello to Mummy and Daddy for me and always be the best that you can be, Sis. A whole world out there is depending on you. Bye for now.”
In a moment she was gone. Andrea rubbed her eyes and stretched out her feet. They were cramped. It was only then that she realized how motionless she had been. She crawled reluctantly to the foot of the bed where Antoine was sitting. She reached out timidly and touched the place where she had sat.
“Was it for real or was it just a dream?”
Dawn found her staring at the ceiling and reflecting on the event of the night. By this time she had decided that she would honour her sister’s wish and share the good news with no one except her parents. This she did while they sat at breakfast. Needless to say though, they did not believe her.
“You see, Andrea,” her mother informed her, “You have missed Antoine so much that you are still denying that she has gone.”
“That’s true, my dear. We miss her too,” her father added.
“I saw her and she spoke to me. Wait and you’ll see when you get the news later today.” Andrea stated emphatically.
Her parents knew that she was an industrious student. “But coming first in the Common Entrance Examination? No way!” they both thought, unaware of what the other was thinking at that precise moment.
Mrs. Hoyte, the principal, began to address the Class Four pupils. Among them were two ten-year old students who had taken the exam. They all waited anxiously to hear how they had done in the just concluded Secondary Schools’ Examination. None was more expectant than Andrea. Her eyes caught a movement in the corridor. It was a crew from the local television station. Andrea’s name was at the top of the list. She had not only scored the highest at her school but had done so across the entire island. The television crew wanted to have an interview with her.
Yes! She had done it. No one had done better than she in the examination. She had aced the Mathematics as well as the English and had scored an “A” in the essay. She had written on the topic, “An Experience I Will Never Forget”. As you might have guessed, it was all about the evening when her sister encountered that fatal asthma attack.
As she stood on the platform basking in all of the praise and accolades, she whispered, “Thank you, Sis. You were so correct. This is for us!”
One of the camera crew asked, “Are you saying something, damsel?”
“No, no, never mind,” she replied, gazing past all of them.
“And to think of it,” she heard the principal announcing as though in the distance, “She is the youngest of them all.”
Stewart Russell © 2013