Mona drowned in a tree. The tsunami, Boxing Day, Thailand. That’s how they found her once the wave had receded: wedged between palm leaves that snagged onto a sky blue sarong. Oh, I don’t know that she drowned there, I don’t know that anyone really knows. Disaster has a kind of relentless democracy, and while the people have statistics, they have no real story. I only knew the details from the article, which Mum read out to me over the phone, and which I later scrolled through online, avid and disbelieving. Mona had been staying in Khao Lak, with a group of friends. The paper called it a holiday, but at my desk, in my room, drenched in the light of the computer screen, I decided that it was an escape. This was how I’d seen my time in Thailand: part of a significant, heroic adventure. Holiday was peremptory. Whenever I thought of Mona in that tree, it was to imagine her playing a game which everyone else had abandoned.
I kept thinking of the time, only a week or so before, when Mum had called me to arrange this trip. She’d left messages on my mobile, messages with Caitlin, messages at work. I’d ignored them all. Finally she tracked me down. As we sat in silence on either side of the phone line, she had reached out.
‘James, didn’t you know a Mona Michaels?’
And on the other end of the line, I stop-started, like a car started while it has been left in gear.
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Yes, I knew Mona Michaels.’
Words © Daniel Bennett