Natasha Paulse

Finding the true meaning of life …

I feel a bit silly sitting here – sure I’m the only one who has remembered the pact we made ten years ago: that we would meet again at this precise time at our old hang-out, Jojo’s. It had been Shannon’s idea. ‘Wouldn’t it be cool,’ she’d said. ‘To see if we’ve done what we think we’ll do?’

Jojo’s is like I remembered it. Black walls, signed photographs of sports stars, old numbered jerseys and balls boxed into glass cases.

Amy is first to arrive. Olive-skinned, her hair still black and curly, she looks exactly the same, a grown-up version of the girl I first met in standard seven biology when we’d landed up as lab partners. We hug, and I remember how we’d clicked straight away – the moment we saw we’d both covered our books with a New Kids on the Block poster.

We met Shannon when she transferred in from another school. She stood out like a sore thumb, with her funkily spiked blue and purple hair, four earrings in one ear. She looked so weird we were afraid to talk to her, but we were fascinated by this girl who had so much attitude even the boys were afraid of her.

We later discovered Shannon was very much like us – just weird enough to be interesting. We were all single children, and our parents were, we thought, madly overprotective. This made us rebellious. Not that we took drugs and stuff like that, more a case of saying we were going to the movies and instead heading off to a party, one that our parents would never have dreamed of letting us go to.

When we left school, we’d drifted apart, our lives taking us in different directions, to different parts of the world.

Shannon arrives next. I hardly recognize her. She looks amazing, sporting short cropped hair and stylish jeans with not a patch in sight.

‘Ten years! I can’t believe it!’ say Shannon, sliding into the familiar old red leather booth named after our favourite, James Small. ‘I’m so glad we all made it, I thought I’d be the only one here.’

“Me too! Amy and I chorus, and we giggle like the schoolgirls we used to be.

‘So, Carly, did you bring it?’

‘Of course,’ I say solemnly. I place the box on the scarred wooden table. ‘Amy, have you got the key?’

Amy takes a key from her pocket. ‘I’ve kept this safe in my jewellery box.’ She fits it into the small brass padlock.

I let my breath out in a long sigh as Shannon opens the box – the one holding the predictions we made for each other’s futures. On top is a photograph.

‘Oh my,’ says Shannon. ‘How young we were.’

‘17 years old, and ready to take on the world,’ I say.

‘Do you remember the afternoon we wrote these?’ Amy lifts six letters from the box, and I see us again, scribbling furiously, the table cluttered with cheeseburgers, onion rings, chocolate milkshakes. We’d each written two letters, one to ourselves, one to another of our group.

‘Let’s just read the opening line,’ I suggest. I open my letter, covered in Shannon’s teenage scrawl. ‘ “You will one day see that home is where your heart is…”,’ I read aloud.

‘My turn,’ says Shannon. ‘ “Music will always be important in your life”.’ She folds the letter and smiles. ‘What does yours say Amy?’

Amy clears her throat and says dramatically: ‘ “People, places and things …”.’ She picks up the next letter. ‘Well girls, let’s see how accurate were we about ourselves.’ She scans it quickly and laughs. ‘I was going to become a journalist, report on the latest news, and eventually be discovered by CNN.’

‘A world famous rock star,’ says Shannon. ‘What about you Carly?’

‘Me?’ I ask. ‘Oh, travel the world, become stinking rich.’

The next hour flies by as we catch up on each other’s lives. Amy studied Journalism and is now in Public Relations at Media 24. Shannon is Manager of Sound and Programming at BMG South Africa. She did start a band after school, ‘but the money was lousy,’ she says ruefully. ‘So I decided to chuck it in and study Sound Engineering.’

‘Well, my life has taken me all over the world, I say. I tell them how I’ve travelled – London for six months, backpacking across Europe, the Middle East, and India. ‘When I came home, I went into tourism, and finally started my own business, CK’s Travel, arranging township tours all over South Africa.’

“That takes care of travelling the world,’ says Amy. ‘But what about the stinking rich bit?’

Well, two years ago I married a special guy – I met him in London …’

I stop.

‘Go on,’ urges Shannon.

Well, I always thought that money was so important, you know?’

The other two roll their eyes. ‘Tell us about it,’ Shannon drawls.

‘And then, my life came full circle. I realized you can be anywhere, any country, it doesn’t matter. If you have family and friends who love you, you’re the richest person in the world. So,’ I laugh and shrug my shoulders, ‘here I am – stinking rich! Travelling was great, I met so many different people, but you know something? It was only when I came back that I realized that home is where the heart is.’

‘We made such a great team,’ Shannon sniffs and blinks back tears.

‘Such good friends,’ says Amy.

‘We mustn’t lose touch. Friendships like ours keep us all rich.’ I raise my milkshake in a toast: ‘Same time, same place – next week!’

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