It had been happening for as long as she could remember, but she just thought it was something which happened to everyone, but then again – did it? She had never mentioned it to another soul, other than her mother, and most certainly not to Gary, her husband, who was way too practical to have been able to understand it at all. He would be very quick to call for help and it might even include the kind which came equipped with restraints, and men in white coats! It was a great pity that she had to keep all of this information bottled up inside. Also, very sad that they had so little in common, especially when it came to anything which he deemed to be bordering on lunacy or purely unscientific. Anyway, enough waffling, and let’s see when this gift of Jane’s was going to raise its head again.
Our heroine led a pretty mundane life which consisted of doing some part time work for a local vet and otherwise being a housewife, with one adult son, living in another part of the country, who was presently studying to be a lawyer. However, as it happened, things took an interesting turn one fateful morning in mid – December. She was shopping for Christmas gifts for her brother’s twin girls at the local mall, when she suddenly thought of her old school friend Maureen, and wondered what kind of a life she had lived. Jane hadn’t heard any news concerning her in years and she couldn’t understand why she should be thinking of her now. Despite all the distractions surrounding her in such a busy shopping centre, she just could not get thoughts of Maureen out of her mind. These thoughts were connected to their last day of high school, when everything looked exciting and no -one knew what the future might hold for them. Some of the students would go on to study further whilst others had jobs lined up or were taking a year to travel before worrying about the future. Those were the ones whose parents had enough money to support them while they made up their minds about what they wanted to do. Jane wasn’t one of those, although Maureen probably was, as her parents seemed to be well off, and she was an only child.
When they all arrived at school on that last day, Shy Simon came into the class carrying a fluffy pink teddy bear. Well, you can just imagine the giggling and hushed whispers from some of the girls as well as the snide remarks from the rugby jocks who were part of the class. Poor Simon must have felt like a total idiot, but he had enough strength of character to ignore everyone. He put the teddy on his desk and didn’t even look around. “Hi Simon. Who’s the lucky girl – or is it for a boy perhaps?” That came from the class stud, Ian, who although extremely good looking, a first team rugby player and the most popular boy with most of the girls, was an absolute egotistical pig. He was also known as being a total dumbo when it came to academics whereas Simon was Dux scholar. Before Simon could answer, Maureen arrived at class and the giggling and sniggering stopped. She was a very pretty, unassuming girl who had a beautiful personality to go with her looks. No-one had anything bad to say about her.
A few minutes later their class teacher arrived and addressed a few words to the pupils before his attention was taken by the bright pink teddy bear sitting on Simon’s desk. “Well, Simon, that is quite a bear. Who is going to be taking it home with them?”, he asked. With that Simon, who ever since grade 1 had been nicknamed Shy Simon, got up from his seat and walked over to Maureen’s desk and presented the bear to her. “I want to wish you everything of the very best for your future, Maureen. Our paths are very unlikely to ever cross again, but this bear will remind you of how much you have meant to me through all my school years. You will never know how much your kindness has helped me to cope when so many of the rest of you (at this point Simon turned to all the grinning faces which were ready to make a fool of him) couldn’t wait to try to make me feel like a loser. Thank you for your friendship Maureen and may the future bring you everything that you deserve. ” There was total silence in the classroom as Simon placed the bear on Maureen’s desk and went to sit down. No-one said a word.
The last morning at school was taken up with saying goodbyes to one another and saving the addresses and telephone numbers of the people you hoped to keep in touch with as well as signing one another’s school shirts to be kept as souvenirs. Then, in no time at all it was midday and those 12 years of school were finally over.
What has all the above to do with Jane and her extra sensory perception? Well, for as long as she could remember, Jane had been able to know when someone was going to phone her, or when she would find a letter from a friend or relative in her letterbox. It had become commonplace with her, and she just took it for granted. Her mother had also on many occasions seemed to know what was about to happen before it actually did, so Jane never questioned her own intuition, as she called it. It was obviously a gift which she had inherited. Somewhere in the past there had been an Irish relative who was reputed to have been able to foretell the future, so it must have been a gift which had been passed down through the generations.
When Jane was checking her e-mails later on that day, after a successful shopping expedition and feeling quite tired after lugging so many heavy parcels out of the boot of her car, she could hardly believe what she was seeing. After almost 30 years, there was going to be a reunion of her final high school year. No-one had bothered to do anything at all regarding keeping in touch and now, after all this time, how many of her class were still in the country, or even still alive? The reunion was scheduled for the middle of January, as the writer (past head prefect) felt that too many people would be away on holiday over the festive season. Jane replied in the affirmative and then sat staring at the screen with so many thoughts going through her mind.
After leaving school, Jane’s family had moved to another part of the country and Jane herself had started working for a small engineering company as their receptionist, but had soon been promoted. She had studied book-keeping part-time and once she completed the course, she began keeping the books for the company and then went on to marry the owner’s son, Gary, much to her parents’ delight. She had virtually lost touch with all her old school friends except for a girl called Shirley who just happened to move to the same town as Jane’s family and who also, coincidentally, joined the same gym as Jane and her husband. Shirley was gay and had moved away from home because her family were extremely narrow minded and made Shirley’s life a living hell. Over time, Jane saw quite a lot of Shirley and her partner, Kay. As Gary was not really into socialising other than with his family and a few golfing friends, the girls made a point of meeting for lunches or dinners at local restaurants or coffee shops at least once a month.
Shirley must have kept in touch with some of the other old friends from school days and given them Jane’s e-mail address, otherwise how on earth would she have been included in the invitation to the reunion? As she gave it some thought, she realised that it would be a lot of fun to go back to the old town and re-connect with some of her ex-classmates. It could be interesting to see just how their lives had panned out and how they differed from hers. Also, it could be very interesting to find out who had married whom, and which of them were on their second or even third partner! Would Maureen be there, or had she emigrated? She was probably leading a very exciting life, maybe she had even landed up in Hollywood with her looks, and the modelling classes she had always taken. She had a stunning singing voice as a teenager and took ballet classes as well as modelling. Who knew what life had been like for her? Most certainly a lot more exciting than Jane’s!
Christmas came and went in much the same way as it always did. Martin, their son, spent the festive week with his parents before joining his varsity friends for a holiday down at the coast. Jane’s brother and his family as well as their parents always tried to spend this time of the year together and it normally passed without any squabbles or unpleasantness, unlike so many families to whom Christmas and New Year always presented stress and disappointment. All the cooking and preparations were shared, and the time passed all too quickly.
Before one could blink, Gary was back at work and Jane was into her usual routine. Her three half days at the local vet had become her refuge from the humdrum pattern of housework and shopping. She had been replaced as the bookkeeper at Gary’s company once Martin had arrived. Over the years she had been quite happy to be able to spend the time when he was growing up taking him to all his extramural activities and helping out at school fetes and other fund- raising activities. However, those days were over and she enjoyed her job meeting new people and lending a sympathetic ear when there was worry regarding the health of a favourite pet. It was amazing just how much she had learned just by listening to all the conversations between the vet and the pet owners. She sometimes felt that she was so knowledgeable these days that she could diagnose some of the ailments herself!
The school reunion was approaching and Jane made the effort of buying an attractive outfit and having her hair re-styled as she wanted to look her best after all these years. Unlike many women of her age, she had kept her figure and always made sure that she wore make-up before she left home. She was really looking forward to the event and she and Shirley had agreed to drive there together and had booked into a local hotel for the night. It was too far to consider coming back home after the dinner and they were certain that the whole affair would probably carry on until fairly late. The woman who had organized everything had found a restaurant which had a large conference room which they were going to use, and music was planned once the meal was over. It all sounded great, and Jane was getting quite excited at the prospect of re-connecting with old friends. Gary was quite happy not to accompany the women to the reunion, citing urgent business as his excuse. Jane was actually rather relieved to be able to play the role of the single woman, if only for one night, as he could be a real party-pooper if the mood took him.
On the afternoon of the reunion, Shirley picked up Jane and they had enough time to take it easy on the journey back to their old hometown. It was quite strange, but on the way, Jane suddenly started feeling really sad and depressed, and she just could not stop thinking about her old school friend, Maureen. Try as she might, her mood became very morbid, and she really battled to shake it off, in order to enjoy this rare time of freedom from the humdrum routine which was her normal life. She tried chatting about all sorts of different things while Shirley did the driving but deep down she felt sad and couldn’t understand why.
The women booked into their hotel and parted company as they each went to their own rooms to relax for a while before getting themselves showered and dressed for the evening. Shirley’s partner had also decided to avoid any form of potential unpleasantness which may have cropped up by joining in on the occasion, and it seemed that Shirley too was quite happy to have some time to herself. The arrangement was that they would arrive at the venue around 7pm and dinner would be served at 8pm.
When they arrived at the restaurant it was to find that they hardly recognized some of the people whom they had last seen so long ago. It was unbelievable how many of them looked like total strangers. A large number of the men had lost most of their hair, had pot bellies and bore no resemblance to the 18 year olds with whom they had matriculated. The women seemed to have fared better, although some of them looked extremely overweight, frumpy or, in some cases, mutton dressed as lamb. Very short dresses with high heels were fine as long as the body did justice to the overall look. Once the drinks started flowing, and people started introducing themselves to one another, a festive feel came over the gathering. Jane, however, although chatting away to some of her old classmates, still could not dispel the feeling of sadness and gloom which had been bothering her most of the day.
It was interesting to find out how some of the classmates’ lives had panned out. Some of them had actually moved overseas but had made the effort to be there for the reunion, others were still living in the same town and their own children now attended the same high school as their parents and, unbelievably, some of the original teachers were still teaching there. Amazing how, although time marches on regardless, some things just stay the same. It turned out that two of the classmates had died over the past few years. One had sadly committed suicide when his business collapsed, and the other one had been killed in a light aircraft crash. Other than that, it seemed as though the passing years had been pretty kind to most of them.
It was almost time for them to take their places at the tables as dinner was about to be served. Suddenly two late comers arrived and all the chatting and laughing came to an abrupt halt. The late arrivals were assisted into the conference room by two of the hotel staff who held the door wide enough for the two wheelchairs to enter. There was a shocked silence, and no-one seemed ready to make the first move. The couple who had just arrived had hardly changed at all in appearance, but it was quite clear that their circumstances most certainly had changed, and not for the better either.
It was Maureen who broke the silence by saying in her well- remembered, clear and melodious voice, “Hello, everyone! Thank you so much for contacting Simon and I. We wouldn’t have missed this occasion for anything!”
Everyone started gathering around the two wheelchairs and the whole atmosphere very quickly returned to its previous happy and jovial mood. No-one had expected Maureen and Simon to have remained friends, but it would seem that they were far more than friends. It was time to be seated at the tables and everyone had their name on their designated spot. It was ironic, but Maureen and Simon had been placed in the centre of the long table, as it was obvious that one of the old classmates had known their circumstances. It turned out, once Maureen started explaining, over the first delicious course of the dinner, that both she and Simon had gone their own ways for over 20 years, until bumping into one another whilst on an organized coach tour of Europe. Neither of them had married, and they each had several failed relationships behind them. They had found that they really enjoyed one another’s company and it wasn’t long before they moved in together, and a year later got married.
No-one wanted to bombard them with personal questions, but it wasn’t necessary as Maureen told everyone the devastating story which had resulted in both herself and Simon being wheelchair bound. It seemed unbelievably bad luck that within a year of their marriage, Maureen had taken a tumble down a flight of stairs at a local shopping centre and had broken her back in several places and would never walk unaided again, whereas Simon had been diagnosed a few months after Maureen’s accident with multiple sclerosis which was currently progressing rather rapidly, He was finding it increasingly difficult to keep his balance, hence the wheelchairs, which they now both needed. Maureen had enjoyed many years as a relatively successful dancer and singer and had travelled quite extensively until she found that she was getting very tired of the lack of permanence in her life. Simon, on the other hand, had qualified as an accountant and had held a high position but realised that he had an insatiable desire to travel. It was ironic that he should have booked for a European coach tour at the same time that Maureen had decided to have a really chilled travelling holiday, without having to arrange hotel bookings, theatre tickets etc. How strange that life had brought them together after all these years. They seemed so very much in love, and it was a real eye opener for many of the old classmates to see these two, with all the challenges ahead of them, being so comfortable with their situation, and so obviously happy.
Jane realised that those thoughts of Maureen which had popped into her head several weeks ago must have been her esp. along with the feelings of melancholy which had crept in today. Any sadness had now been dispelled as it was clear that Maureen and Simon had something very special, which many of the other people attending this reunion might never experience for themselves, even if they lived to be 100. Sad as their situation might appear to others, they actually had a relationship which was to be envied and not pitied. Life was full of surprises, good and bad, and having a sixth sense was something which you got used to and embraced. Altogether, the reunion just cemented the fact that life cannot be controlled and it is full of surprises, challenges, and good times which need to be savoured and stored in one’s memory, to be brought out in the years ahead to give meaning to everything. One just did not know what might lie ahead and, possibly, that was a good thing anyway.