Posted: 16 April 2005
Word Count: 1208
Summary: A sad story based on a real experience
When you died, I was the one who volunteered to sort through your possessions and bag them up, ready for the Oxfam volunteers to collect them. You had left a message, telling whoever found you that, as you had no family who would want the things, you would like them to be of some use to someone, and would it be possible for them to be passed on to a Charity?
Such a polite little note: almost embarrassed to be asking a favour, but, at the same time, wanting to be of some help to someone, even after your death. How strange, yet typical of you, to think of such a thing in those last moments, when you must have been in such pain;feeling such despair.
You had always been such a private person in life: maybe I volunteered for the task because I thought that I would find out more about who you were,or rather, had been, from the things which you had left behind?
I suppose I felt a little bit guilty at first, invading your closely guarded privacy, but I knew that it had to be done: your room had to be cleared, ready for the next occupant, and I couldn't bear the idea that everything would just be thrown into a skip or disposed of in some, equally impersonal, way.
I wanted your last wishes to be fulfilled: you had never asked me to do anything for you whilst you were alive; I wanted to make up for all the things I had never done for you now you were dead.
I had brought several cartons from the supermarket, and some black bags as well, not really sure how much there would be, or how long it would take to do it. The Warden had warned me that it might be upsetting, but I had reassured her, saying that we had never really been that close, and that, as someone had to do it, I felt that it was better that it wasn't a total stranger. She was relieved, I think: she would have felt obliged to do it herself, otherwise, I'm sure, and she was always so very, very busy.
I don't think she even knew your name until you died: then, of course,it became well known across the Campus. As "the dead girl", you were quite a talking point: ironic, when you had been so anonymous before.
You didn't have much to sort: a few bits of jewellery, some clothes, CDs and videotapes, lots of books-you always loved to read, didn't you?
"Always had your nose in a book," as my old Granny would have said. You were so careful with your books: you never folded the corners of the pages over to keep the place; you wouldn't break the spines, scribble notes in the margins or accidentally drop a book into the bath. Books were too precious to you. They seemed to be everywhere in the room: on the shelves, by the bed, under the bed, even on top of the wardrobe. You had read so much: it was almost as if you knew that your life wouldn't be a long one, so you crammed in as much as you could whilst you still had the time.
In a drawer, I found the usual bank statements and bills; there was also a box filled with ticket stubs from cinema visits and plays you had seen: did you keep them as a reminder, because you never could see the point of buying an expensive programme? Did looking at these bits of paper help you to remember the excitement, the atmosphere? The place? The people? Even the sounds and the smells?
I wondered what to do with the box: no use sending it to Oxfam. I thought about keeping it myself, but these things held no memories for me, as they obviously had done for you.There was no point in holding onto them, so I consigned them, albeit rather sadly, to the black bag that was to go in the skip.
I wish that I could ask you why you had kept these things, but it's too late now. You will never wear the clothes you ironed and folded so carefully before storing them in your wardrobe or chest of drawers.
You always prided yourself on buying your things from Charity shops instead of in the High Street, and you always said that you thought you looked more "interesting" as a result: certainly, you had eclectic, not to say, eccentric tastes. Picking up the purple crushed velvet shirt you loved so much, I could remember, so vividly, the first time I saw you wear it:a New Year's Eve party( you called it "Hogmanay")...special, because it was Millenium Eve, and everyone was caught up in the strange excitement of the dawning of what might be a new Era...but amidst all the laughing and dancing and cheering and shouting,I remember you sitting, melancholy and alone in a corner of the room, as if you knew thatyou would never be a part of this new century .
When I asked you why you looked so sad, you seemed embarrassed, sorry that your gloomy appearance was spoiling my fun. You tried to join in with the jollity, but even caught up amongst the thronging crowds of dancing revellers, you seemed set apart, somehow.
A solitary, lonely figure, lost in your own thoughts, dreaming your own dreams.
I'd put your books into the boxes first, then your clothes on top.
Finally, the CDs and videos: such an eclectic mixture, once again.
The Stones, Rachmaninov, the Seventh Seal, Brief Encounter: all of these telling me things about you,what you had enjoyed; who you were.
But it was too late.
You were gone, and I could never really know you, or understand why you were so very,very sad and alone.
I sealed the boxes, wrote "To be collected" carefully in large letters on the sides, and was about to leave the room, when I noticed a small package on the window sill.
It was a pile of photographs, tied together by a thin, rainbow coloured ribbon.
In them, I saw you: much younger, but unmistakeable. You were laughing, in all of them. Some were just of you, in various poses, in different places. Some showed you with a man and a woman: your parents, I guessed. There were snapshots showing you and your family at Christmas: beside the tree, at dinner; on holidays, in the park, in your garden, or your bedroom.
You looked so different in them: so happy, so much an important part of other people's lives. On the back of one photo, showing your parents gazing lovingly into one anothers' eyes, you had written: Anniversary, 1997: the last picture. And I realised why you were so unhappy and so alone.
I tied the pictures back together, and I put them into my bag.
I would ask the Warden if she knew where you were to be buried, or where your ashes were being scattered, as I thought that these pictures should be with you, wherever you were going.
Snapshots to remind you of a time when you had been a happy girl, rather than a sad one.
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