We were seven when I first found her. It was my first day at a new school. I escaped to a quiet corner during the lunch break, away from the giggles of the mean girls and the snarky comments of the cool boys. I intently stared at my notebook, confused as to why the teacher had flung it away earlier today. To my inexperienced eye, the Gurmukhi letters looked just about right.
The more I stared, the more I missed my old school in my old city.
“That is a ‘Ha’, you are not supposed to connect the line,” a voice announced. I looked up. The speaker was a short girl with a friendly but striking face. “Let me show,” she continued, and took over.
She spent the next few days teaching me which lines to join and which ones to not. As my grasp of the script grew, so did my fondness for her. As it turned out, she found me bearable too.
This was the start of our beautiful friendship.
We spent most of our days together, chattering away, embroiled in our quirky rituals. We spent most our nights excited about the new day and our new adventures. What did we do all day? I can’t fully recall, all I can relive is the memory of two little seven-year-old girls who had a million reasons to break out into a riot of laughter, who were living in their own world, by their own rules.
The years flew by. We were 15 when I kissed a boy behind the school cupboard. I ran up to her, panting, my cheeks still throbbing from the rush. I eagerly recounted the details – I wanted her to be the first one to know.
Her face paled. My excitement turned to hurt and anger. “Aren’t you happy for me?” I demanded. She did not say anything, but her eyes gave it away.
Something changed that day.
The world around us grew. But the world where we co-existed shrank. I vindictively curated my ideas and accounts of my actions, shutting her out. She lousily tried to seem non-judgemental. As I gave in to my callow cravings, the more she clung to her preferred paragons.
Our world had now narrowed down to books and a handful of common interests.
More years flew by. We were 25 when I broke off my impending wedding. “Do you know what you have done?” she demanded, reeking of years of repressed disapproval. “You cannot ruin everything and cry now,” she took away my right to grieve the love lost. “I don’t even think you ever loved him,” she diminished my seven-year relationship.
Strapped for words, I bared my mangled shoulder. I waved the white flag, but waged war with her silence yet again.
And this time her eyes gave away nothing.
Once again, everything changed that day.
The world around us shifted completely. Our zone of co-existence crumpled into nothingness. Now mere acquaintances subsisting chiefly on common courtesy and polite pleasantries, we waned. All that was left was shadows of a time that echoed with the giggles of two young girls.
More years have flown by. We are 30 today, and she sits in front of me sporting a gorgeous baby bump. She has effortlessly slid into new roles that adult life threw at her, while I have struggled with growing up. She has hacked the game of life – a Masters degree, check; a career that allows her to put her family first, check; accomplished husband, check; a baby, almost check.
Then there is me, without a man in my life and married to my work – the textbook nightmare of most parents.
I quickly peck her cheek, hoping the mint muzzled the smell of the Marlboro. Knowing my compulsive tendencies, she nabs my phone even before I can settle in. Four rounds of elemental exchanges and three long awkward pauses later, my phone buzzes to provide us a much-needed distraction.
She begins to read out the text I received from my date last night. “Woo, he wants to meet you again!” she teased. I shook my head, annoyed.
After determined probing, I give in (maybe my therapist is actually helping). I tell her about my date, where the general IQ was set to Level Unicorn, how there was loud slurping, subtle mansplaining followed by sloppy kissing.
“No! No! No! We can’t kiss him again,” she says, dramatically.
“Oh wait! So kissing is allowed now?” I say bitterly.
“I was just trying to protect you,” she reasons.
A pause ensues – the kind of pauses where a lot of things are understood, but not much is said. It is time to let it all go.
“Would you do me a favour?” I ask. She nods skeptically.
“Please leave the ‘protecting’ of this one to me?”
Her eyes say it all. She does not say anything, she does not have to. I knew she’d let it all go too.
I put my head on her shoulder.
It felt like we were seven again.
It felt like we were sisters again.
Lakshmi K.S. finds comfort in writing about all things unorthodox, or as she likes to call it ‘fringe worthy’.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty