Annette’s parents were troubled by the fact that she one day refused to sleep in her bedroom. She was only five years old and yet any attempt to get her to share her room with her sister resulted in tantrums and hysterics.
Thinking it was just a phase, they allowed Annette to sleep on a make-shift bed in their room in the house in Valley Junction in Msida. But it wasn’t just a phase. Years went by and she still avoided the bedroom. Even when she wanted to get through the room to go to the bathroom on the far side of it, she shut her eyes and ran through as fast as she could.
But the situation got worse.
By the time she had reached the age of six, Annette completely stopped playing with her brother and two sisters, and started instead to spend all her time playing in the yard with her young friend. Together they would while away the hours, flicking marbles across the yard, dressing and undressing their dolls, whispering and laughing together just like any two friends of that age.
There was only one difference – Annette’s friend was not real.
Annette now describes the little girl as being around six years’ old, with fair hair, shoulder length and parted in the middle, tucked neatly behind her ears. But the strangest thing about her imaginary friend was that she was wearing a Holy Communion dress, complete with veil, every single time she saw her.
Annette admits that she thought it was strange, and often thought of asking her about it, especially as the years went by. This little girl was always sprawled on the floor in the yard, in her ivory colored dress … But she never accepted the fact that her friend could not be seen by anyone else.
And there was something else about her that Annette found unnerving.
During the day, the two of them were the best of friends, but as evening fell, Annette would get afraid – the little girl would go upstairs to the bedroom or up the narrow spiral staircase to the roof. But Annette always refused to follow, having been warned countless time by her parents that the roof was not safe, as it was only surrounded by a low wall, parts of which were missing.
Until Annette was 13 years old, she just accepted her friend’s presence, ignoring her family and other friends, locked in her imaginary friendship. She had turned from a cheerful, outgoing child to a withdrawn teenager, lacking the ability to communicate with others.
Her parents fretted continually about the effect of this on Annette. They tried everything to distract her, seeking advice from the trusted parish priest and teachers alike, but they could find no way to wean her off the relationship. Eventually, they decided to move to a larger house, away from the regular flooding that affected the area whenever it rained and away from Annette’s obsessive friendship.
When the time came to move on, it seemed that their gamble had paid off, that the little girl had been left behind, playing forlornly in the yard of the house, underneath the window of Annette’s former bedroom. Annette did not refer to her again, slept alone in her own room, and eventually started to make other friends.
Her parents breathed a sigh of relief. They were so happy to have their daughter back to normal that they preferred to forget about those unhappy years, than to try to figure out what it was all about. Let sleeping dogs lie, they thought.
Years later, Annette went to the old neighborhood with her mother and ran into a woman who still lived nearby. The elderly woman was curious to know why they had moved away – she seemed quite surprised when Annette’s mother said it was because the house had grown too small for the growing family.
“So it wasn’t because of the … the other things?” she probed gently if none too subtly.
“Well, perhaps it was,” her mum admitted. The old woman nodded knowingly. It turns out that even the family who moved in after Annette’s left some years later – just as their daughter turned five or six and started getting ready for her first Holy Communion.
The woman took Annette’s hand.
“My sister lived in that house about 50 years ago. On the day that her daughter was supposed to receive her First Holy Communion, she had gone upstairs, all dressed up, and …. Well, she fell to her death, from the roof.”
Just recently, Annette went back to Msida to look at the old house. She hasn’t seen the little girl since she moved out of the house, but her memory still haunts her, stirred up by the tragic story.
The house is now abandoned, and is being used as a stable. Perhaps it is just because it was always prone to flooding and too uncomfortable to live in. Perhaps not.
This post was written by Albert Saliba