9 Theory of Absence
They sat in a circle, all in chairs of hard, red fabric, sitting on the same chairs they had sat on in Spring, on the last day of school. It was the beginning of Fall and the first day of school.
It had been twelve weeks since they last saw each other. The summer months had flown by as quickly as they always did but somehow the days and weeks had still left their mark on almost everyone.
Those who adored the sun weren’t shy to show their tan or the freckles on their skin. Someone’s legs were colored with bruises, telling the tales of adventures in the mountains or at sea. And a few had an air of growth, sitting more straight than usual, as if the summer had made them somewhat wiser.
But one chair was empty. Everyone knew who was missing but no one asked any questions. Not yet – it could be that the person was running late. Then the door handle was pushed down, catching everyone’s attention. The eyes followed the door that opened, but quickly the gaze was turned back to the circle. It was only their teacher who arrived.
“It’s so nice to see everyone again”, the teacher said, walking to the desk and looking around the classroom. Her gaze went from one face to the other. “But there’s one of you missing. Where’s Peter?”
Silence took over the room. They all looked at each other, then at the empty chair, the gaze moving from the chair to the floor and from there up the ceiling. No one seemed to have an answer to the question. Until – –
“I heard a rumor that he moved to the North”, someone said. She didn’t meet anyone’s gaze, keeping her own fixed on the floor.
“The North?” the teacher asked suspiciously, lifting from her bag a blue folder heavy with paperwork. “I haven’t received any information of that kind. Where did you hear that?”
The girl shrugged, clearly wanting to take a step back from the conversation.
“How wasn’t I informed?” the teacher asked, pointing her question at no one. “That’s unheard of. No message of any kind. As if he was swallowed by the Earth…”
And so the first hour of their first day went – the lecture that was planned for the day was put on hold, at least until their teacher managed to find answers to her questions about Peter’s absence. In the meantime, they all waited in silence, only sometimes breaking the quiet with a comment or a question.
Although no one seemed to have the answer to Peter’s disappearance, everyone had their own theory about it. Someone was sure the rumor was true, that Peter actually lived in the North. Another one thought dramatically that he might have killed himself, the news simply not reaching their school. And the third thought Peter had become an artist, a writer or a painter, maybe a carpenter. Who knew?
And that’s the question, isn’t it? Do we ever know anything about each other? Because when someone changes, almost no one seems to understand what happens or how to react to the change.
When the teacher came back to the classroom, everyone waited excitedly to hear whose theory about Peter’s absence was correct. But they were left with nothing –
“No one has no clue what has happened”, the teacher said, sounding disappointed. “We’ll just have to do without him.”
And maybe that was exactly what Peter had wanted.
What did it tell about him?