There was this girl in my class who, instead of having her phone on the desk or pulling it out every now and then like most of us students, always had a pocket watch sitting next to her pencil case, where I could see it from my place diagonally to the right behind her. It looked old, maybe it was real vintage, but never shabby, always polished like something well-loved and gently cared for. Most of the time it was open, its tiny lid angled so the inside faced her. Sometimes she’d touch it, smiling to herself, a bittersweet expression on the corners of her mouth.
Some day last month, she touched it as was her habit, but got startled by our math teacher walking by and by accident made it spin a little; and in the instant before she turned it back towards her, quickly snapping it closed, I glimpsed a picture inside the lid. It looked like a small photograph of a young girl, or maybe a very good painting, I couldn’t clearly discern that from my desk. But I became intrigued. Who was that girl, and why did my classmate carry her image around in an old-fashioned pocket watch, when in every other aspect she looked quite ordinary, modern, inconspicuous?
Over the course of the next few days, I found myself trying to steal as many glances as possible at the picture. The girl imaged there looked younger than us by at least a few years, but definitely not a small child. She looked sad and happy and wise, and once I believed to spy a spark of mischief beneath her varnish. I tried to be discreet in my attempts to get a better look at her, but I think I didn’t fully manage that, as by the middle of the second week I saw from the corner of my eye that my classmate watched me, thoughtful.
After that, I did my best to be even more concealed in my spying, but I couldn’t stop. I came to believe the girl in the picture sometimes moved, especially when the owner of the pocket watch looked at her. Just a tiny shift in her pose, a curl of her mouth, once even a wink, her tiny brushstroke lashes fluttering.
Then, three weeks ago on the day today, something changed. On entering the room I walked by my classmate already sitting at her desk, the watch in front of her as usual. She was distracted, searching for something in her bag, and I risked a longer look from closer up while making a slow show of setting my things down on my desk. The first three seconds, nothing happened. Then, the girl in the picture waved at me. I jerked, almost upsetting the mug of tea I had brought over, conveniently living just across the street from our school. “It moves!” I exclaimed before I could stop myself, and everybody stared at me. Everybody, except for my classmate who deliberately looked away from me, slowly reaching for her pocket watch and closing it, making sure no one else could make the connection.
“Who is she?”
My classmate had grabbed me by the arm when I wanted to leave the room for lunch break, and stared at me for a long while, before telling me to go ahead and ask my question.
Now, she sighed, sitting perched on the edge of her desk, fiddling with the watch in her hands, opening and closing it. “An old friend”, she answered at last. “From childhood, when I lived by the sea, across the country.”
“Does she still live there?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes.” Silence fell over us.
Finally, I couldn’t bear the wordless room anymore. “What happened to her? Do you still get to see her?”
“It’s complicated, yes, and no.”
Raising my eyebrows, I urged her to speak on.
“She died the summer before my family moved here.”
“So now she … lives … in there?” I vaguely gestured in the direction of the watch, still between her fingers, shining like under golden sunlight despite the rain outside the window next to us.
“In a way. This was her grandmothers pocket watch, she already had the photograph in there. Somehow my friend managed to stick part of herself to it. Not sure you’d call it ‘living’, though.” She laughed a sad little laugh, more to herself, then went on in a conspiratorial low voice: “She doesn’t speak, but she sometimes writes me little messages on the photograph. Helps me with decisions, or answering questions in school. She’s always been way too smart for her age. Managed to find a way to convince grandm- her grandma to send this watch to me, too, no idea how she could make her part with this heirloom. But I’m glad she did anyway.”
I remained silent for another moment, another gust of storm whipping rain against the window. Something was off in her tale, by just the slightest degree. Gazing out into the turmoil, the end of break bell ringing in my ear, I tried to knit the holes together. “Could I please see her again?”
The picture open directly before my eyes, held out in front of her by my classmate like a small treasure chest, an offering, I saw what my subconsciousness had been puzzled about.
“She wasn’t just your friend. She was your sister.”
“Yes. She was my twin.”