Chapter Eleven - Forsaken

Several months passed and Uganguzi was still imprisoned. Ashekha's spirits often were dampened, but Usiku did a good job at cheering her up. But soon it was not going to be that simple. The time finally came where everything fell apart. It all began once dinner was over and the girls had gone to their rooms for bed. The next day was supposed to be when the girls exchanged roommates. Since Ashekha and most of her friends were nine now, they had moved up into the next age group. The idea of it had excited her for a few days and it was a relief to have something good to look forward to. Sadly, Usiku hadn't been feeling very well that day. Ashekha had tried to figure out what was wrong, but it was no use. So she tried to cheer her up instead and take her mind off of whatever was bothering her. While she combed out her hair, she spoke about the next day. "We get the blue outfits now!"

Usiku smiled weakly from atop her bunk. "I'm sure it's great," she said, not very interested.

"Uh-huh. I wonder what classes are gonna be like now." She finished her combing and then climbed up into her bunk.

From below, Y'kana added, "Maybe they won't be so boring."

Holly and Ashekha giggled.

Usiku was silent, laying with her back to them.

"Well, I guess we'll find out in the morning," said Ashekha, laying back against her pillow. "Hey, Usiku? Are you gonna be okay?"

"Yeah, I'll be fine."

"You promise?"

Usiku gulped quietly. "Yes, I promise." She tried to fight back tears. If only Ashekha knew what she had discovered that day…

"Alright then. Goodnight guys."

"Goodnight," chimed Y'kana and Holly.

The next morning came as a blow to the girls when they awoke and found Usiku's bunk empty. All her belongings were missing as well. It was as if she had vanished. Ashekha had been the first to notice when she woke up and saw a necklace beside her pillow. It had a red charm in the shape of the Eye of Truth. It had been Usiku's before. Now as she stood in the middle of her room staring at the empty bunk, she felt her heart ache. It literally ached. Her friend had left them during the night while they slept and gave no warning. It was such a sudden blow that Ashekha didn't know what to do with herself. Y'kana and Holly tried to get her to get dressed and ready for the day. They said that they would tell their teachers about Usiku.

But Ashekha refused.

Once they finally left her alone, she climbed back into her bunk and looked at the necklace. Her fingers ran over the surface and she quietly began to cry. Everything was going wrong. Her foster mother had been imprisoned for a long time and now her best friend had left her. She had never felt more alone in her life than that very moment.

It took awhile for her to calm down again. Once she did, she wiped her face on her pillow and climbed down to the floor. She looked into the mirror and pulled her hair back into a little ponytail while sniffling. Her nose was a bit red from all the crying as well as her eyes. She splashed some of the water from the washing bowl onto her face. Then she turned back to her bunk and reached under the pillow. Her hand gripped the handkerchief that she had made so long ago. It comforted her and made her think back to when she had made it. Life was good back then. For a moment, it brought a tiny smile to her lips. She then tucked it away in her pocket and picked up the necklace that Usiku had left for her. Lifting it up, she placed the necklace about her neck and turned out of the room. She needed a walk to cheer her up.

Anyone who passed her in the halls left her alone. Perhaps the word spread and everyone knew that Usiku had left. Whatever the case, she was grateful no one tried to talk to her. She carried on randomly, just walking wherever her feet led her. Before long, she was actually quite lost. She scanned her surroundings but they didn't look very familiar. It didn't matter though. She continued on down one hall, turning a corner. As she did, she thought she heard the distinct sound of crying. She looked up and saw the hall lined with crates. Was someone hiding in this hallway?

She walked among the crates, looking behind each one she passed. As she continued on, she heard the crying grow louder. It wasn't long before she came to one crate and found someone huddled against the wall, sobbing. It was Vaho! Ashekha was surprised to see him of all people. He must have sensed her there, for he suddenly gasped when his eye caught a glimpse of her. "I'm sorry!" she said quickly. "I didn't mean to scare you."

Vaho, only two years younger than Ashekha, wiped his eyes and tried to pretend that he hadn't been crying. He sniffled and half-heartedly glared at her. "What do you want?"

Ashekha sat down on her knees, resting her rear against the back of her legs. "Nothing really. I was just walking around the fortress and I heard someone crying." She watched Vaho's face. He was tanned with dark red hair short about his head. He wore some generic clothes such as a black tunic and brown pants. "So why are you crying?" she asked gently.

There was a pause. Vaho was not one for talking usually, but he decided to reply anyway. "I just found out that my mother is dead."

Ashekha's mouth parted in surprise. Umtoh was dead! "I… I'm sorry to hear that." The boy shrugged, pretending it was nothing. He sniffled again and Ashekha saw a tear roll down his cheek. She then reached into her pocket, remembering her handkerchief. She pulled it out and offered it to Vaho.

He looked at it, then accepted it, muttering, "Thank you." Before he lifted it to his face, he read the embroidering. "Life is a gift. Receive it."

"Yeah, I made that a few years back."

"What's so great about life?" Vaho sniffled, drying his eyes with the handkerchief.

"Well, it can be fun and it can be sad," said Ashekha. "But you gotta remember the good times. I've heard the adults say that life wouldn't be as enjoyable without the sad stuff. If you were happy all the time, it would be boring." Vaho listened, watching her face. "Without the sad stuff, nothing would make us as happy as when we just got through a difficulty. That's what I've heard." She paused, trying a little smile. "So you'll be sad now with your mum being gone, but you can also look forward to seeing her again in the afterlife. I'm sure when you see her again, you'll be happier than ever. And the only way you'll be that happy is because you lost her once before." Vaho nodded, shifting his vision to the ground. Ashekha added, "That's what I've been told anyway. One of the ladies in the nursery gave me that example. I think she lost her mother one time."

As much as Vaho was annoyed with how much this girl talked, he was also partly grateful that she mentioned seeing his mother again. It made him feel a little better even though he wouldn't admit to it.

After a long silence, Ashekha stood up. "I hope you feel better, Vaho."

"Here's your handkerchief," he said, holding it up.

"Oh, go ahead and keep it. It's a gift from me to you." She smiled and then began to walk back down the hall. Vaho watched her leave, then glanced back at the cloth within his hand.

Life is a gift, he thought.

To be continued…