The Girl Who Thought Too Much
Bonnie walked past the other kids, and occasional adult, as she entered the bus to school, looking hard at every one of them.
Sally had a grave keeper for an imaginary friend. He told her tales of the dead. “When that one was alive, oh, so may adventures! A real heaven send!”
Lulu’s imaginary friend, was a giant duck. Mostly it liked to listen for frogs, and, I guess, quack a lot.
Robo’s imaginary friend was tall and lean – a singer in a band, who would only ever whisper sounds. Soft little noises that made people hurt and feel and fall in love.
Sometimes, Bonnie noticed the imaginary friend more than the person who imagined them. The boy with the goat’s head, who was the imaginary friend of the lonely kid. The cute little doll, a secret the bully kept. The teacher’s inner child, hidden, yet safe.
And, of course, she had her favourites…
A boy from her class, Louie, looked calm, but on the inside he was laughing like a drain with his imaginary dragon. They took turns doing stand-up comedy to no-one but themselves.
The tall man had an imaginary pet crocodile that would lazily strum its banjo. They would talk about the wilderness together, but only a little. Mostly, they just hung out, and were timeless.
“So cool,” Bonnie thought out loud. But her imaginary friend didn’t reply. It barely knew her.
Each day, on the school bus, she would have another imaginary friend. Never the same one twice. Each morning, a new pilot, or ballerina, or giant running alongside the bus, or talking goanna. The tall, the short, the hairy. The weird, the dull.
The quietly brave.
Flower Girl was the best – flowers in her hands, flowers in her hair, flowers spinning in the air about her. Roses, lilies, banksias! So much colour and life!
At first, having a new imaginary friend each day was fun! Indeed, Bonnie often felt superior.
But, after a while, she realised she couldn’t really do the one thing all the other people with imaginary friends could. She could jump, ride rockets, draw mermaids in the water using a stick… but couldn’t chat with them! Not really.
“So…” she said to today’s imaginary friend.
“Yes…?” it said.
Then they both went back to staring ahead.
There were things so personal you couldn’t even tell your best friend. That took super, mega trust! Trust was everything! That’s exactly what imaginary friends were for. There was no point pouring your heart out to someone, or thing, that would be gone tomorrow.
Bonnie watched the monster sitting next to her. He seemed okay, kinda silly. He just had nothing to say. Gradually, Bonnie realised she didn’t have imaginary friends, she had imaginary strangers.
This made her feel painfully lonely! It was horrible.
“You know my problem? I think I might think too much,” she said. “That’s why I need a new one of you every day.”
“Hm. How about that,” the monster said.
It didn’t care a jot.
And, to make matters worse, Bonnie’s imaginary friends, once they had their one day each with her, started hanging out with other people’s imaginary friends. They would buddy-up and tell of how hard it was, being an imaginary friend and all. And how little the real person, the one who imagined them, actually knew.
“Stop it,” Bonnie would whisper. “There is nothing more hurtful than being betrayed by your imaginary friend…”
But the people on the bus could only see their own imaginary friends. They had no way of knowing what a bad influence Bonnie’s were starting to be.
“Who’s she talking to?” Jasmine scoffed to her friends.
The pretty set were awful! Worse than a thousand boys. Most of them were too dull to have their own imaginary friends.
“Eat them,” Bonnie said to her monster.
Only then did Bonnie realise she hadn’t even asked its name.
“Eat them, Mister… um…?” she said again. “Please.”
“Why?” the monster replied.
“Because they’re mean! You don’t even have to do it for real! You can eat them imaginary-like! Or just chew off one of their toes. You know, to let them know to be nicer to people.”
“Ew,” said the monster. “No thanks.”
“Is she…? Bonnie’s talking to herself!” Jasmine laughed. All the pretty set laughed, which made other kids laugh.
“What’s the point…” Bonnie whispered under her breath.
“Hey, hey, hey!” a voice said. “Don’t talk like that!”
It was the gypsy boy she flew with in her dreams that day; he and Bonnie gliding through the redwoods, drifting through streaks of sunlight and enormous trunks together.
Beside him, in a cute little pod-rocket that looked more like a pot plant with an exhaust, was a friendly alien called Mook. He was fun. She had imagined him on Sunday.
“Yeah, relax,” it insisted, pressing its face to the window.
Walking with them was a gothic girl that Bonnie had seen in a commercial once. The girl had a half smile, and was always sad. Very gothic. She also had a moon for a balloon, and would walk casually past monsters and ghouls and living shadows that no-one else could see. Bonnie admired her.
“I’m glad to see you, but you all had your day, what are you doing back?” Bonnie asked.
“We can feel your loneliness. We’ll stay every day if you want,” the gothic girl said.
“Why not?” said the gypsy, always flying, always friendly.
Bonnie thought long and hard about it.
“No,” she said, finally. “Thank you, but I made a pact. A new imaginary friend every day. And a pact is a pact.”
“Only with yourself,” the gothic girl told her.
“A pact is a pact. Especially with yourself,” Bonnie insisted. “This is about more than friendship. It’s about doing things right!”
She watched her imaginary friends, the ones from previous days. Feeling unwanted, unloved, they just kept clambering for attention from the other imaginary friends, until everybody’s imaginary friends were pushing, shouting, rebelling.
On the outside, physically, each person on the bus stayed the same, cool and calm and bored, just like they did every day… Unless you looked close. If Bonnie really concentrated, she could see panic in their eyes.
“What if my imaginary friend leaves me…?” they all thought.
“Gah, my imaginary ex-friends are making everybody nuts!” Bonnie protested.
“That’s nothing. I’d watch him if I was you…” the gypsy boy said, pointing to the front of the bus.
“Wha…?” Bonnie stammered.
“The driver has 52 imaginary friends of his own,” the gypsy pointed. “And thanks to your imaginary ex-friends, they are all telling him to drive off that cliff…”
Bonnie was scared, but didn’t know what to do! The bus driver looked so everyday. So normal.
“Do something!” wailed Mook, the alien.
“You do something!” Bonnie shrieked.
“I’m imaginary!” the alien insisted.
“Oh, dear,” Bonnie thought, as the cliff approached. “Can you help?” she asked today’s imaginary friend.
The monster just turned and looked at her.
“Please…” she said.
“I’m not today’s imaginary friend,” it finally drawled. “I’m just its keeper.”
“Its keeper? I don’t understand…” Bonnie fretted. They were about to go off a cliff!
“Today’s imaginary friend, I’m just here to look after it,” the monster said.
“I still don’t…” Bonnie started, and the monster whistled.
Gradually, Bonnie saw something rise alongside the bus. Something BIG!
The blue whale swam through the air above the road, enormous, yet so smooth in its motion! 70 tonnes of something so poetic Bonnie didn’t have the words. It filled every window, it glided and dove and pushed, as if through deep water.
It was magnificent! Bigger than the world! More powerful and beautiful than anything she had ever seen.
“If you’re going to imagine, imagine big,” the monster said. Then added one word, almost a command, almost a request, a casual fact;
The cliff was upon them, the bus driver’s imaginary friends all shouting and barking at him at once. Garbos, boogiemen, talking puppies, a big gorilla, they looked like pirates, somehow, pointing onwards, past the ledge.
Then, the whale sang.
Oh, oh, it sang!
It sang as it swam through the air, in a voice so mighty, so deep and soft and full of raw grace, Bonnie became lost in it.
A voice so low, she couldn’t tell if she was hearing, or feeling it through her ribs.
It sang a sound of cold waters, and battle with whale sharks, and the love of its young, of the wonders of light underwater, and pull of tides.
It sang of the hurt and feeling and joy of being alive.
It filled Bonnie’s soul. It sang! Oh, it sang!
There was just it, in her life, that voice, and her. Nothing else.
And in that moment, Bonnie finally, for once, didn’t overthink. She walked up to the bus driver and said:
“Please, Sir, don’t crash.”
The bus driver’s 52 imaginary friends had been pushed back inside him by the whale’s song. Hearing her, they swirled out from his front pocket, growing, twisting, chattering. Pirates of all shapes and sizes, on the charge!
“Hm. What was that?” said the bus driver.
“Please, Sir, don’t crash,” Bonnie repeated.
“Why would I do that?” he said with a wink. “Now please return to your seat.”
And the bus turned with the road, and missed the edge of the cliff, as if it was always going to.
“You saved everybody’s life,” the gypsy boy said, flying in circles around the bus.
“No, you think too much. You imagined everything,” the gothic girl casually said. “Even us.”
Bonnie liked her, She was a mystery. Her thoughts were a mystery. Who else carried the moon around like a balloon? What would happen if there was an eclipse?
“Are you sure?” Bonnie asked.
“Pretty sure, but who knows?”
Bonnie thought about imagining the gothic girl back again, breaking her rule of a new friend every day, just so they might talk.
“I don’t care! That was the most exciting, not boring, not everyday bus trip ever!” the alien said, as Bonnie stepped off for school.
And the whale, it just sang, and swam, as if everything flowed.
And the bus trundled on without them.