When I started getting out the chairs, I paused to think for a moment. It would be too painful to provide a chair for Natalia, at least at this stage. Yet, Sofia would be there too, as far as I was aware, so the number of chairs would still be eighteen. There were far too many people in this group, far too many families interrupted by the acute and prolonged pain of the disappearance of a loved one – although, admittedly, some of those loved ones had been found alive, if not well.
“Hello, Nina,” Timmy greeted.
I placed down the chair I was holding, then spun around.
“Hi, Timmy,” I replied.
“How has your day been?” he asked.
“Yeah, alright,” I answered, with a yawn. “I’m tired.”
“How about you?”
“Yeah, I’m alright.”
“Just give me a second, I brought some cheese and bikkies.”
I returned to the staff fridge. There, I fetched the brie and Jatz, closing the door again softly. As I came back into the main library space, Sofia was already there.
“Ooh, cheese, delicious.”
I beamed. Finally, Sofia and I looked each other in the eye.
“How have you been?”
Timmy took the snacks and made himself scarce.
“We’re getting there. A friend of mine works in foreign affairs. He’s following up some leads, looking into hospitals a bit further afield, so we’re still hopeful we’ll find him.”
When Noel arrived, he’d also brought snacks, although I felt the more the merrier. We could drink water out of the tap, and it didn’t even need to be chilled at that time of year. Noel laid out some chips in bowls. I took a little handful, then was disappointed that they were only plain flavour. It wouldn’t have been hygienic to put them back. Instead, I decided I’d eat them slowly over the course of the meeting. I tried to take deep breaths without it being noticed, as we sat down and the meeting commenced. Zipporah had come alone. Her breath hitched as she tried to suppress a sob, but a tear slipped out. She raised the cuff of her cardigan sleeve to the corner of her eye so that she could wipe it away. Debbie passed her across a box of tissues. Zipporah accepted it with thanks, ripping two out of the box so that she could blow her nose. The mood was subdued, in contrast to the mirth of last week. I desperately wanted to apologise, but I didn’t know what for. Brigitta handed me the news bear, even though I didn’t feel like I had much to say. Taking a measured breath seemed to invite the questions of the rest of the group. I didn’t really mind that.
“How is your uni going?”
“Yeah, alright, I suppose, it’s good to be getting into second semester.”
“I would ask how your work’s going, but you work here.”
A ripple of laughter circled the group. When I returned home, Geoff, Greg and Natalie were huddled around the table with Mum and Dad.
“What’s the matter?” I asked, my heart throbbing faster as a million thoughts washed through my mind with concern.
“Uncle Patrick passed away,” Geoff supplied.
I bobbed my head, dumping my keys atop the wall. Trudging down the stairs, I sat down at the table, trying to remember who Uncle Patrick was. Undoubtedly, he was one of Geoff’s relatives, from Natalie’s family, I was pretty sure. Under the table, he grasped my hand. I squeezed it back, in thanks.
“Uncle Patrick is Mum’s uncle,” Geoff explained. “Doc Joan’s husband. The husband of Mum’s mother’s sister.”
I bobbed my head again, tempted to rest it on his shoulder.
The younger sister of missing Sydney man Mitchell del Reyan, Nina del Reyan lives on Dharug land in western Sydney. She has recently commenced a teaching degree at Macquarie University. Nina loves her family and friends and is deeply committed to finding answers and justice for the families of missing people.
Abbey Sim is the founder of Huldah Media. She is a creative writing, law and theology student who lives on the lands of the Dharug people in Sydney, Australia. Abbey desires to explore themes of hope, love and longing through her storytelling. She is the author of 'Shadow' and 'From the Wild'.