Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a warm, comfortable wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Benson’s best friend in all the world was an echidna named Roly. Even though Roly was an echidna and Benson was a wombat, they still loved to be together and they always had things to talk about. If something made Benson sad, just talking to Roly about it made him feel better, and if something exciting happened, Roly was the first person he wanted to tell.
They spent hours talking together, mostly Benson talking and Roly listening, but they both liked it that way.
One day they went on a long walk together, with Roly riding in Benson’s backpack because his back legs didn’t work very well. On their way home, just as they got to the top of a hill, the sun was going down. The sky was all red and pink and purple and very beautiful. Roly started crying.
Benson said, “What’s the matter? Is the sun hurting your eyes?”
Roly gulped and said, “No, it’s not the sun. Benson, I have to tell you something. I have to go away.”
Benson said, “Where? Can I come?”
“No, I’m going by myself,” Roly said.
Benson said, “When are you coming back?”
Roly said. “I’m not coming back. I’m going away to live somewhere else.”
Benson was devastated. “No, you live here!” he said “Why would you go and live anywhere else?”
Roly tried to explain. “It’s time I had some space all of my own. There isn’t enough room here for Snippet and Waddle and Snickle and me to all live and have enough to eat. I need my own territory.”
Benson breathed a sigh of relief. “If that’s all, you can come and live with me. I can help you dig for ants, and the rest of the time you can have cake and porridge and waffles and things with me.”
Roly looked even sadder. “No, Benson I can’t. I’m sorry, I just have to go.”
Benson howled, “Why do you want to go and leave me?”
Roly said, “I don’t want to go, I have to go. I’m not a little puggle any more. Echidnas grow up faster than wombats. It’s time for me to leave.”
Benson sobbed and sobbed. “Where will you go?”
Roly said, “I’ll probably go up to where my mother’s people are from, where I was born. I don’t know for sure, I’ll just set off and see.”
Benson couldn’t think of anything to say. He just sat there, feeling sadder and sadder, thinking of all the times he wouldn’t be able to talk to Roly or visit him at his termite nest, or ask him to help him with problems like the best way to share five muffins among three wombats, or show him his drawings, or anything.
Roly patted his hand. “Pascoe can bring you messages from me and she’ll tell me how you’re going, too.”
Benson pulled his hand away. Now he was angry. Why did Roly want to go away, when everything was so perfect? They walked all the way home, not saying anything.
Benson didn’t want to talk to anyone. When it was time for bed, he put his face in the pillow and cried and cried. His mother came in and asked him what was wrong.
“Roly’s going away!” he cried, and told her all about it.
She sat with him until he stopped crying and was just sniffing. “You know Roly is very kind and thoughtful and he loves you very much,” she said.
Benson nodded. His eyes filled up with tears again.
“He must have thought a lot about it before he decided to go,” she said. “He wouldn’t go away unless he felt he really had to, would he?”
Benson said, “But I don’t want him to go. I’ll be so lonely without him!”
His mother lifted him onto her lap and held him tight. “You wouldn’t want your friend to be unhappy, just to make you happy, would you?”
Benson didn’t know. It made him too sad to think about it. He went to sleep thinking about how awful it was going to be without Roly.
The day before Roly was leaving, everyone came to say goodbye. They made a big campfire and cooked marshmallows and sweet potatoes and corn, and everyone said how much they’d miss Roly, and hoped he would be happy where he was going. Benson’s mother talked about how much they all loved Roly and she was grateful for the time that he had spent with them. She said it made her sad to think they might never see him again. When she said this, Benson jumped up and ran inside to his bedroom and didn’t come out again.
In the morning he stayed in his room, just drawing and trying not to think about things. He started to draw Roly setting off on his little echidna skateboard, going away somewhere far away. Then he thought of how Roly would be feeling, with his best friend not even coming to say goodbye.
He jumped up and started searching frantically.
His mother came in and asked him, “What are you looking for?”
“I have to find something,” Benson said. “Roly’s leaving and I have to give him something, so he’ll remember me.”
“Here!” his mother said. She picked up his favourite red pencil. A smile spread across Benson’s face. He grabbed the pencil and ran off as fast as he could.
He got there just as Roly was getting on his skateboard. Roly’s face lit up. “Benson!” he said. “I thought you weren’t coming.”
“I wanted to give you this so you’ll remember me,” Benson said.
“I’ll always remember you,” Roly said. “But this is your favourite, your very best red pencil!”
Benson nodded. “Every time I miss it, I’ll remember it’s with you, and wherever you are, a piece of me is there too.”
They hugged one last time, and Roly set off.