THERE’S THIS low-grade fear in Annelise Vos. It’s not like the hot panic you feel when you sit in the dentist’s chair and catch the glint of the syringe above you. It’s quieter than that; unhurried and constant. Her body never looks relaxed, at least not entirely. Even when Miss Gordon gives us a free period and the girls cheer and screech, just look at Annelise. You’ll find her glancing around as if she doesn’t quite believe it, like she can’t trust good news.

Annelise is not exactly disliked but she doesn’t have friends and no one has ever been to her house for a braai or a sleepover. One day she was called to the principal’s office and do you know what she did? She closed her eyes for several seconds before she stood up and made her way to the classroom door, shoulders high. We all ached to know why she’d been sent for. I mean, she’s nervous and strange, but she does her work; she doesn’t come late to class, she doesn’t cause trouble or anything.

Anyway, we never found out.

On the last day of the school year, the girls decided to go out for ice cream to celebrate. I’d offered to help Miss Gordon clear some things from her classroom so I said I’d follow later. No one invited Annelise.

When I was leaving the school, I saw her in front of the main gates tapping out an SMS. I must have startled her because, just as I approached, she suddenly dropped her cell phone. It fell noisily, breaking apart as it landed on the hot concrete.

“Ag, shame, Annelise, let me help you,” I said.

“Thanks, hey.” She caught my eye for a brief moment and I felt oddly sad.

“Don’t worry, it’s just the back that’s come away, mine does that all the time. Look. Fixed!” Annelise accepted the phone from me and smiled awkwardly.

“Listen, I’m on my way to the Wimpy for ice cream. Come with.” I surprised myself; I hadn’t known I was going to say that. Annelise shot me a worried look.

“I can’t,” she replied a little too quickly, adding, “my brother is fetching me.” And then, “We’re going overseas tomorrow.” “Oh, lekker! You’re so lucky.” Just then, a white bakkie pulled up and Annelise looked around in momentary consternation. At the wheel was a shirtless oke – buzz cut, body art, red-faced from the weather and, possibly, a skin complaint. He removed his wraparound sunglasses and said “Howzit”, amiably enough.

I carried Annelise’s gym bag to the bed of the truck.

“Right, bye,” she called, straining to sound casual.

“See you in the New Year,” I said, as she as climbed into the cab.

“Nah. Shan’t be back,” she answered. Her brother gunned the engine and drove off before I could say anything.

I stood a long while watching the empty road as jacarandas swayed bluely and gave off their faint honey.

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