My friends Dani and Bella stood under the tree. Its branches towered over them. Its deep green leaves ruffled in the gentle morning breeze above them. Catching my eye, they beamed in greeting. I forced myself to grin as I padded along the grass towards them. Onwards and upwards, on with the day, on with the week – keep going. We were identical – each carrying a takeaway hot beverage cup in one hand and a ring-bound folder clutched in the other.
“Hey Nina,” Bella greeted me with a wave.
“Hi,” I responded.
In the distance, I noticed Lizzie, my cousin, racing over towards us. When we reached us, she wrapped her arms around me, holding me close to her, my folder being wedged between us.
“Oh Nina,” Lizzie murmured. “It’s just so awful."
Dani and Bella’s faces immediately fell, twisting with concern.
“Mitchell went missing on Saturday,” I explained to them.
Bella blinked in disbelief. Dani’s pink lips slipped open as she softly gasped.
“What happened?” Bella asked.
The words tumbled from her mouth on instinct.
“He went to the beach on Saturday with his friend and grazed his hand while surfing, so they came back onto the beach,” I outlined. “He went into the toilets and disappeared."
“Do you think he ran away?” Bella queried. “Do you think he was kidnapped? Do you think he might have been disorientated or concussed or something and just wandered off? Maybe he drowned."
Gently, Dani reached down and placed her hands into Bella’s grasp.
“Bella,” she whispered, her tone serious.
I smiled at Dani to silently thank her for quietening Bella down.
“What did the police tell you to do?” Dani questioned.
“Whatever you feel you need to,” I answered.
“What would you like us to do, Nina?” Dani wanted to know.
“I’m not sure,” I confessed.
Dani took a small step forward. A gentle breeze blew a few strands of her blonde hair across her face.
“Whatever you need, Nina, whatever your family needs,” Dani promised. “We’re here for you. We’re here for your family. Whatever you need."
I genuinely believed her commitment.
“Thank you, Dani,” I said.
“I promise too,” Bella quickly added. “We want to help you out, Nina."
“Thank you, Bella,” I stated.
We stood there, under the tree. A gentle shower of rain began to fall, tiny raindrops patting against our skin, clothes and hair. Dani and Bella stole glimpses towards the nearby lecture theatre. Yet, I was snuggled in Lizzie’s warm embrace and didn’t feel like moving. I remained unmoved, under the misty shower of rain, hypnotised somehow by the weather and the shadow of the tree. The red Corolla that Mitchell and I shared pulled into our street this afternoon. Geoff’s car was pulled up out the front of the house. Through the hedge, I could view that the driveway was full. Aunty Melissa’s dark blue station-wagon was stopped there, with its doors open. My forehead scrunching up in intrigue and confusion, I parked down the street. Retrieving my folder from the passenger seat, I climbed out of the car and slammed the driver’s door behind me. I locked the vehicle. Carrying my folder and keys, I padded towards our driveway, then turned left. People streamed up and down the front steps. Aunty Melissa and Uncle Stuart carried casserole dishes. Their children, my cousins – Janey, Lizzie and Katie – trailed after them. They too carted around various dishes and containers. They looked like ants scurried frantically out of their nests, like a production line moving in and out of the house. I stood there on the median strip, watching the procession, frozen in wonder. Eventually, after a few moments, Uncle Stuart caught my eye as he marched back towards the car.
“Hello Nina,” he greeted as he approached me.
Uncle Stuart’s tone was distinctly different to usual. He did not sound happy or jovial or like he was about to make some cheesy joke.
Uncle Stuart had been robbed of his punchline. This was not a day I thought I’d ever witness. Uncle Stuart placed his hands on my shoulders and pressed a kiss to my cheek.
“How are you, Nina?” he asked.
As the words finished slipping from his lips, Uncle Stuart shook his hand.
“Sorry, that was a stupid question, sorry Nina,” he apologised.
“Lost,” I answered, staring straight into his eyes with a piercing stare. “That’s the answer to your question.”
Uncle Stuart let out a loud sigh.
“Yeah, yeah, I know, I know,” he admitted, wrapping his arms around me. “It’s hard”.
“Yes,” I agreed. “It is”.
A solitary fat raindrop fell down on my head and slid down my forehead between us. Uncle Stuart broke our embrace and gestured towards the house.
“Come on, Nina, let’s go inside,” he encouraged.
We slowly dawdled through the gentle shower of rain past the car back towards the house.
“Melissa made some dinners for you,” Uncle Stuart announced.
We stomped up the front stairs onto the front porch, then turned left to step inside.
“She thought that it might be a bit of a relief not to have to worry about cooking and so on for a while,” Uncle Stuart mentioned.
“Thank you,” I said suddenly and he smiled sadly at me.
We continued further along the hallway to the kitchen and the stairs to the living room. Brad was sitting there, cradling a mug, dressed in his police uniform, his shiny black cap in his other hand. Identically uniformed, Geoff sat beside him.
“Hello,” I greeted them, my voice sounding surprised.
“Hello, Nina,” Brad responded.
Geoff simply gave me a small smile and wave.
“We’ve got a few things to run through, if you’re willing,” Brad outlined.
I walked down the three steps to the living room, where Mum and Dad were sitting. I sat down on the lounge with them.
“We’ve been in touch with the police in Dee Why,” Brad explained. “There is a security camera at a shop across the road. We’ve examined the footage from last Saturday afternoon."
I gulped. Leaning forward, I fiddled in anticipation with my friendship bracelet around my left wrist.
“The camera wasn’t at an angle that was particularly good for looking at the toilet block and its entrance on the opposite side to the beach,” Brad explained.
“So they found nothing?” I sought confirmation.
“Well, they were two men walking out with a surfboard bag, approximately five minutes or so after Mitchell went into the toilet block,” Brad answered, “but their faces couldn’t be clearly identified.”
“When I went in to look for him, about five more minutes after that, there was nobody there, but they could have seen something,” Geoff mused. “If only they’d been looking the right way and we could just see their faces and identify them."
“Surely,” I said, “there’s some sort of mirror or reflection or computer program where you could see their faces or generate an image of them or something."
Brad sadly shook his head and threw his cap up into the air, catching it between his palms.
“No, that’s only in the movies,” he admitted.
We sat there for a moment, waiting and thinking. It would have been silent, save for the noises of Aunty Melissa and Janey clattering about in the kitchen.
“Is there anything we can do, absolutely anything, at all?” I begged. “Anything?”
Brad spun his cap around in his hands.
“If you’d like, you could put up posters around the place, just in case somebody sees it and knows something,” he suggested.
“Alright,” I agreed. “That sounds like a good idea”.
“You also have the option of a public appeal,” he told us, “where you stand up in front of the media and appeal for people to come forward if they see Mitchell, if you have any information that could be useful. They’ll put you on the news with pictures of Mitchell and maybe somebody will see it and say something."
I stole a glimpse towards Mum and Dad. Dad stared blankly towards Brad, his face unmoved. Mum was curled up in the corner of the lounge, her complexion grey.
“What do you think?” I asked, “Is that something that you feel like we should do?”
Mum shook her head.
“I don’t think I’d be able to do that,” she admitted. “I don’t think I’d be able to stand up in front of reporters and tell them about my son. I don’t think I’d be able to do that, but Nina, Leo, Geoff, if you want to, I’d stand there and smile at you and watch you and guide you, but no, thank you, Brad. I can’t. I’m not brave enough to do that, that’d be too hard for me to do."
Brad nodded in a measured, accepting fashion.
“Alright, Mrs del Reyan, that’s fine,” he said.
“Dad?” I queried gently, touching my fingertips to his shoulder.
Dad grunted under his breath with frustration and anger.
“No,” he growled like a wounded tiger. “No. I don’t want to do that. I can’t do that. I can’t do that without Greta. We’re parents, we’re partners. We’re a team. I can’t do it without her, I’m sorry."
I nodded in acceptance and dropped my hand from Dad’s shoulder.
“Nina?” Brad enquired, “would you be willing?”
I looked at him and thought before I spoke. I pressed the fabric of my bracelet against the vein behind the skin of my wrist. On the other side of the thin layer, my pulse was firm and ever-present. I glanced to my left, looking to Mitchell, seeking out his guidance. When I was met by only an empty space of frozen air, I had found my answer.
“Mum and Dad, if it’s alright,” I gazed over to them on my other side, “I’d like to. I’d like to make a public appeal and I’m willing to do that on my own if you’re not comfortable."
Mum nodded and gripped Dad’s hand to transfer her confirmation to him.
“Alright, Nina, if you want,” she allowed.
Mum fixed me with a glance bearing a silent message like a carrier pigeon.
I never knew you were that brave.
I challenged Mum’s stare with a silent message of my own.
I’ve never had to be.
Tonight, I sat in the darkness in the study. The only source of the light was the dull illumination of the computer screen. The only noise was the clicking of the mouse. I moved the images around on the screen, fiddling with the colours until they were just perfect, which I knew they never would be. There was a photograph of Mitchell – the same one that we’d provided to the police – at the top in the centre. His smiling face stared back at me as I changed the page border for the seventh time, this time to a simple thick red line. Sighing softly, I chose that I couldn’t change it again, or otherwise I’d never stop changing it. I knew that I had to settle. I knew that this poster would never be perfect, because this was not a poster that was advertising a garage sale or a cupcake stall for charity. I’d made those posters before, sometimes on the computer, sometimes by hand with pencils, textas and paper. Mitchell, with his ruler and sharp lead pencil, would draw the outlines for me to frantically colour in with my brightly-coloured felt-tip textas, in order to ensure that all the lines were straight and ordered, rather than chaotically squiggly. For hours, we’d decorate, with stickers, textas, pencils, pens and various pieces of chopped-up coloured paper. We’d create and then we’d sticky tape them to school walls and community noticeboards. After the event had finished, we’d pull them down, often speckled with raindrops and dirt. I found myself slightly smiling at the memory. Mitchell was there with me, grinning at it too. It was only after a moment that I realised that he was not a physical presence, but rather a glowing digital image. He was staring at me with the falseness of being inanimate. Looking away, I shuffled the boxes of text around underneath the large photo of Mitchell. The words they imprisoned were vague; they would easily fail to capture one’s attention.
‘Mitchell del Reyan – disappeared 19th March 2022 from Dee Why Beach. If you have seen Mitchell or have any information, please call Crime Stoppers’.
The appropriate phone number followed after. I dragged the cursor over to the save button and clicked it. I let out a gentle sigh and opened the menu to print the document. Looking at the number of copies, my eyes were fixed on the numeral currently placed in the box. I jabbed my fingertip frantically on the mouse button while the cursor hovered on the arrow pointing up. At ten copies, I paused, then decided to increase it to twenty. At twenty copies, I stopped. I assumed that there were only about twenty sheets of paper left in the printer and I didn’t know where another ream was potentially located. I moved the cursor over the screen and clicked print. The printer roared to life. Suddenly, golden light began to leak down the hallway. My heart leapt into my throat. I stood and padded out into the hallway. The front door was opened, leaving only the screen door as a barrier. The sensor light on the front porch glowed. The shrub planted beyond it thrashed violently in the strong wind. I scurried towards the door.
“Mitchell?” I called, opening the screen door, “Mitchell, are you there?”
I stepped out onto the porch. Its pebbled surface caused the soles of my bare feet to ache at its hardness.
“Mitchell?” I pleaded as the wind swirled my artificially pink hair.
I stood on the front porch that night, frozen by the cold gusts. Eventually, the sensor light went out and everything was suddenly dark. I gulped, then turned around and stepped back inside. I padded through the lack of light to the study. The newly printed posters had cascaded onto the floor. I fell to my knees and picked them up, cuddling them close to me.
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'.