Winifred was one of the happiest girl I’ve ever met. She had a beautiful smile upon her face all the time, and she never failed to cheer me up. Being observant was never my strong point, but to this day I still can’t believe that I didn’t notice the changes in her. Surely I should’ve seen that her smile had ceased to reach her eyes, and that she barely laughed anymore? And I must’ve been blinder than a bat when I managed to miss the bags beneath her eyes. My friend was looking more tired and sad by the day, and I didn’t see the tell-tale signs until it was too late.
The critical period rolled around during the same time as exams. Exam stress had hit everyone, and at my school exam stress is about a gazillion times stressful than any other school. We were all allowed a couple of weeks to study, and so I didn’t get to see anyone much. In the brief period between year twelve exams and year eleven exams (we’re allowed to pick up to two year twelve subjects to do in year eleven), we all went out for a day. It was just a nice girl’s-day-out to the CBD, going shopping and such. Wini was there too, and she seemed happy enough. Any concern I had about her evaporated as I watched her laugh at my joke.
I shouldn’t have let it go so easily. My concerns and my inkling that she was suffering from depression turned out to be right. But in that split second, her laugh made me laugh. And as I laughed, I foolishly tricked myself into thinking that everything was back to normal. Which it was not.
I did not see her again until the end of year eleven exam, because we did not share any subjects save German. On that morning of the German exam, I was sitting with another of my close friend, Sophie, when we saw Wini. There was something strange about her appearance, some element that shouldn’t be there. Wini was never one to use lots of make-up or take hours to choose her clothes, but that morning her trackies and crumpled T-shirt screamed something to me. But I, stupid yet again, chose to ignore the warning.
“Hey lovely,” I’d said, “How are you?”
The stupidest question to ask, ever! I didn’t need her to tell me that she wasn’t ok. What those three words should have been was : “I love you.”