“I’m going out this afternoon,” I noted. “I’ve tracked down Ashton Fernando’s girlfriend. We’re going to go to a café and I’m going to see if maybe I’m able to help them, or the support group’s able to help her. Sadly, I can’t make any promises, I wish that I could, though.”
Dad nodded sadly, as I left the house to meet Sofia. We met up in a café this afternoon, when it was pouring rain and freezing cold. I went alone, by my own choosing, because I didn’t want anybody else to influence me. I noticed the girl – I really shouldn’t have called her that, seeing as she was older than me – immediately as she walked into the café, with a thick knitted scarf wrapped around her neck. She, also, was alone, which was unexpected. I had wanted to be outnumbered, so that I would not overpower her. Perhaps I was thinking too much of myself. My eyes scanned down Sofia’s hands.
“You must be Nina del Reyan,” she greeted me. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Yeah, nice to meet you too,” I agreed.
It felt like a shallow thing to say, in the circumstances. Sofia took a seat opposite me. A waitress tentatively approached us, offering menus and taking our coffee orders.
“We don’t live that far away, in the scheme of things.”
“Do you have a partner, Nina?”
“No, I don’t,” I answered, and left it at that.
“How long have you and Ashton been together?”
“Since high school. We were sixteen.” Sofia allowed herself a smile. “That was around three years ago, now, but it feels like a lifetime.”
Our hot drinks arrived at the table and I thanked the waitress with a small smile.
“I’m sorry, that sounds silly,” Sofia corrected herself, furrowing her brow.
“Sorry, what does?”
“Saying that it feels like a lifetime. You’ve actually had a lifetime with your brother.”
“Oh, I know that it’s different, but it’s still the same pain.” I shrugged my shoulders. “Really, I don’t know.”
Comparisons were fundamentally unhelpful.
I didn’t have a tissue or a handkerchief in my bag.
Sofia sniffled, so I passed over a serviette.
I reckoned that I could have done with something to eat, but considering that Sofia didn’t order anything, I didn’t want to push it.
“I’ve been spreading the word on social media, whether or not that helps.”
“I think that every little bit helps,” I told her. “You never know who is going to see something. It might even be something that Ashton sees. I’ll follow your account and spread the words.”
She provided me the handle. I fetched my phone from my bag and tracked down Sofia’s account. My thumb pressed the blue follow button. Just as I was about to put it away, I noticed a message from Geoff. Flicking away the notification, I concluded that I would respond to him later. Sofia deserved my full attention. When the time came for us to leave, I nonchalantly rose to my feet. I scurried over to the counter and paid for the whole order, before returning to the table.
“Oh, did you pay for both of us? That’s so kind of you, let me get you some money out.”
She reached for her purse.
“Please, it’s fine,” I assured. “It’s the least that I can do.”
Sofia pulled back her chair.
“Thank you, Nina. I appreciate it.”
“We’ll keep in touch.”
I returned to the car. After leaving the café, I dropped in at Officeworks. There were a few bits and pieces I needed to pick up for uni, plus a surprise for Mum. When going through the checkout, I decided on a packet of marshmallows. I paid for my eclectic collection of items, then drove through an unexpected late Sunday afternoon traffic jam. Something felt calmingly communal about all the bodies and machines all at once. I finally returned home just after dark, when Dad was sitting in the loungeroom chewing on his stubbed fingernails, the blue light of the television dappling across his face. For a moment I thought about having dinner, but instead I just dragged myself off to bed.
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'.