Henley is a pretty tough name to give a child, especially if that child is female. Parents are just asking for retribution bestowing a name like Henley, or any outlandish name, on their offspring. It is purely self-love that drives them to it. It is as though a child is a possession, like a car you might call Rita because it is a henna colour. Remember the song penned by Johnny Cash, ‘A boy named Sue’, and how riled that boy would get? There was a boy in Texas somewhere called ‘Marion’ and he changed his name to John. John Wayne. And who can blame him.
I knew Henley as we were growing up, she lived on one side of the railway line and I lived on the other. We walked to school together. We weren’t sweethearts or anything, although our mothers were keen on that idea. We would just walk along with our satchels on our back, scuffing our shoes to ensure the polish was off before we hit the playground. Fitting in with the crowd was important to each of us then. It was only that we aged, that we realised our future was outside the crowd.
As we walked we collected things. Like I recall one time, we collected as many different types of grass seeds as we could between Quinlan Street and the corner into Ogilvie. Henley won that one, but she got into all sorts of strife from her mother who did not realise her pockets were full of paspalum heads, and just threw her uniform straight into the washing machine. Henley had this weird sort of smirk on her face as she told me; a mix of the beatific and the devilish. My mother thought that butter wouldn’t melt in Henley’s mouth, which is a pretty mystifying thought to think.
Henley always had trouble feeling comfortable in her skin. I guess that is understandable with a name like Henley Wardrope. At the end of each summer, as we went back to school, she would come out in the most disgusting of rashes. I guess they got pretty bad in places I could not see, even if I would really have given my eye teeth to see them. The rash was worse in crevices; crevices that were damp and dark. Often times they were so bad that the rashes on the backs of her knees would weep blood. But after a month or so of school, when the teasing would ease up, mainly because Henley refused to respond, the rashes would ease down. Only to reappear for a while after the next set of school holidays.
I lost track of Henley in the final year of high school, and then later when I went off to the city to study aeronautical engineering. She finished her final year and then simply up and shot through. I gather from my mother, that her mother had no idea of her whereabouts. As I said, Henley is a tough name to bestow, and retribution will out. But I always wondered if naming rights was the only wrong that her parents bestowed upon Henley.
Even today, I ponder her past as I trail paspalum heads through my clenched hands, letting the stickiness coat my palms.