Everything is not always as it seems



It is oddly weird.

The one moment I am clutching to the railing of the bus seat in front of me, hanging sideways and upside down simultaneously, with my hair falling over my eyes and then in the blink of an eye I am standing here in this brilliant white hall.

I look around me at the unbelievably high ceiling, the white glimmering tiles all around, stretching into the sky as far as my eyes can see. It looks like an enormous and very clean industrial bathroom. The whiteness of it all hurts my eyes.

Unexpectedly Charlene knocks into me, and whispers reverently, “Is this heaven?”

“I doubt it. Surely, we would see a pearly gate, with hills rolling away into the distance. This looks like a giant railway station.”

“But, we did…”

Lionel joins us. “Wow,” he says, looking around amazed. “Do you believe this?”

I look away from him to a girl I barely know, she is crying softly. Giant tears are running down her cheeks and her eyes are puffy and red. The rest of her face has gone pallid white, so now her eyes look as if they are bleeding.

As a hush falls over the crowd milling around me, I raise my eyebrows at Lionel, silently telling him not to sound so excited.

Every kid on that bus with me, all sixty of us stop talking abruptly, all at the exact same time, and then we turn to face the large stage in the front of this colossal hall.

I see him up on the stage. How can I miss him? He has biceps the size of me. He stands erect, and he lifts his hand to sweep his hair across his brow. His eyes are so blue, I can see the colour all the way at the back here, where I stand.

In a loud booming voice, he says, while my heart skips a beat at the sudden sound, “Welcome. You will form groups of six.”

He stops talking and I assume it is a direct order.

I grab onto Charlene’s arm before someone drags her away from me. Charlene and I have been friends since pre-school and I am not going to go through this hallucination without her.

Lionel inches himself closer to me, and then I lean forward not wanting my legs to move. I tap the sobbing girl on the shoulder. She looks so alone, and my heart goes out to her when I see no-one grabbing onto her.

She looks at me through dew-dropped Bambi lashes.

I suggest, “Join our group. If you want to.”

She smiles shyly as she inches closer to us while keeping her eyes averted. I recognise her, and I think she was in one or two of my classes, but regretfully I cannot really remember her name.

“Okay, that makes four. Quickly get two more kids, before we get split up into other unfinished groups.”

I see Mark sauntering toward us and I quickly scan the surrounding area to see if David is with him as I nudge Charlene in the ribs. Charlene has a serious crush on him, and I must admit he is dangerously handsome. He is not the most popular boy in school, but to Charlene, he is an Adonis.

Mark smiles his sexy smile, and then asks, “Mind if I join your group?”

Charlene gapes at him while I frown. Never before has he spoken to me, Charlene or Lionel, so why would he now walk across the room to connect with us?

Lionel smiles. “Yes, of course. That makes five. We need one more.”

I look around and see the surrounding groups are all full. I start to panic. I do not think I would be able to do this whole afterlife thing without Charlene by my side. I catch my breath. Afterlife? I have not yet had the opportunity to collect my thoughts. Am I dead?

Our attention is brutally diverted toward the stage again. It is as if we are all in a collective thought, and we look at the stage simultaneously, while we stop talking amongst ourselves.

The man, with the huge arms, says loudly, “Good. We have a straggler here. Sunel, please come forward.”

Me? Must be, because I do not know many people named Sunel. My mum likes to brag and tell everybody who will listen, how she joined my dad’s name and her name together, and then stumbled upon the new-age name of Sunel. My name is frustrating at times, especially when I have to repeat my name to those who do not know me, or especially when I have to spell my name repeatedly.

I walk forward automatically, and look back over my shoulder at Charlene, begging her with my eyes to come with me.

However, she has planted herself next to Mark and she does not move a muscle.

I move past my classmates, nodding my head in greeting every so often, as I walk to the front of the hall.

When I reach the front and look up at the stage, the man on the stage says, “Rudi, please follow Sunel back to her group.”

As if in a trance, I look at Rudi, standing by himself near a corner. He walks to me and then silently we walk back to Charlene, Lionel, Mark and the girl, I am ashamed to say, whose name I do not know.

From the front of the hall, the man instructs, “You will now, in your groups of six, move toward the reception area. You will not all crowd into the foyer. You will remain outside the door until your name is called.”

The man walks off the stage and then everybody starts to talk again as one, the buzz is like bees in a hive.

Lionel leans forward conspiratorially. “Who was that?”

I ignore him. “What is going on? Where are we anyway? How can we all be so calm, as if nothing has happened? I remember being on the bus. I remember…” Then suddenly I did not want to remember.

Mark leans closer to me. “Calm down, Sunel. You are going to start hyperventilating if you’re not careful.”

Charlene laughs. “Can we still hyperventilate?”

He smiles at her and I can see her legs visibly turn to jelly. He says, “We seem pretty normal.”

“Yeah, for dead people. It is weird how everything seems so regular,” Lionel adds.

I move through the circle we have formed and stand next to the crying girl. I feel mortified having to ask her for her name. I should know her name, jeez, we were all in the same school, the same year, going on an outing to the Museum of Natural Science. Smiling friendly, I take her hand consolingly.

In a recollection of brilliant, vivid colours, I see her the way she was at school. Her name is Carly and she transferred in, a month ago. She is still trying to find her way in her new school. She has not made any friends yet, and nobody had approached her either. She keeps mostly to herself and she is quiet and shy. Her dad died six months ago and her mother has been miserable and sad ever since. Carly is always worried who will take care of her mother, and now that she is here, her worries are even worse. She is a worrier. She worries about everything from world hunger to ants not having enough to keep them through winter. Her favourite colour is green and she loves listening to the Backstreet Boys.

I pull my hand from Carly’s fiercely. I take a deep gasp of air and frowning confused I look down at my hand. In a split of a second, I knew everything there was to know about Carly.

Hastily I gather my thoughts as I feel myself being nudged forwards toward the door.

Charlene comes to walk next to me. “What’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

Lionel laughs nervously. “Yeah, sixty of them.”

“Lionel you aren’t funny,” I say in passing while I rush away from them to get to the door. I can see it is a sunny day, the way the sun filters through the door. I glance at the faces surrounding me and think how strange it is that Carly is the only person I saw crying. Everybody looks happy.

Together we crowd our way through the doorway and into the bright sunlight.


We all have a little man on our shoulder, but for Sunel, that little voice went one step too far and when she played a prank on the school bus, she never, for a second, thought about the consequences.

They arrive in a large, white hall and her friend asks, Is this Heaven? but no one knows because everything looks exactly the same as before.

The twins, Mark and David, were also on the bus, but David did not come here with them. David was sent across the valley to the other side.

Mark convinces Sunel to help him find his brother, no matter what the dangers might be.

And now, she is in a battle between death or a second chance--and it is not just her. In an effort to save her friends, she will have to risk not only her life but also her soul.