This is a story from the not so faded pages of my memory…about a friend I loved…and lost! I forget when I became friends with her or how. In a school reputed for teaching the maximum number of students in the whole world, unfortunately there were very few I could relate to. But she found me in the sea of faces and singled me out for her affection, loyalty and devotion and I returned her gesture with equal fervor! We were thick as thieves, always sitting together, always talking, whispering, laughing, and sharing everything from homework to lip balms to pangs of puberty to immature crush on some senior boy! And we shared a passion for Beatles, ABBA and Simon & Garfunkel…even the teachers knew about that! Every now and then we’d be pulled up to give impromptu performances in front of the whole class! In a class full of budding Rabindrasangeet and Hindustani classical singers, we were the odd ones out, but we loved every moment of our little gigs and the applaud that followed!
When we reached class IX, we had to separate! She and I chose different additional subjects because of which we were put in different sections. I missed her terribly and waited for the lunch-break and the minutes between classes when we could catch up by the drinking-water taps! That year her cousin, who was in the morning section all these years, joined us. I didn’t like this girl from day one…she was the proverbial kebab mein haddi…apart from the fact that she had absolutely nothing in common with us, she was also very needy, very insecure and very nosy! Yet my friend had to keep her close, because she was family…and if we didn’t give her enough attention, this girl would go home and cry after which her mom would call up my friend’s mom and complain how badly she’s treating her own first cousin! Pretty soon the situation became unbearable…my friend and I couldn’t talk at all…anything we said or discussed would eventually reach my friend’s family distorted like Chinese whisper and the poor girl would be reprimanded for ignoring her cousin over the company of someone with dubious morality! We mutually decided to give the cousin some space between us so that she stops making life so miserable for my friend and that seemed to work for a while! As much as I disliked her, I decided to be nice to her for the sake of my friend!
One day something unexpected happened. I had a severe stomach pain while in school, and had to be rushed to hospital for emergency appendectomy. For the next two weeks I was in the hospital and then at home recuperating! My classmates came to visit; those who couldn’t, sent get-well cards or called home to inquire. Only the person I missed most didn’t visit or call! There was complete silence from my friend. It broke my heart…I oscillated between making preposterous excuses for her, getting really angry and feeling abandoned! After almost three weeks when I went back to school, I took special care to avoid my friend; I rarely left the classroom, ate lunch at my seat, took the lift instead of the stairs and every day I waited her to come looking for me! But she didn’t!
A few weeks later, one day I bumped into my friend at the girls’ toilet. We exchanged forced pleasantries, she enquired about my health, I said I was doing fine…after that I had nothing to say to her and she seemed uncomfortable too! We bade each other good-bye and went back to our classes! That was probably the last time we spoke. Every now and then I’d see her at the playground during lunch-break standing arm in arm with her cousin at the corner which used to be ours for so many years! Sometimes we exchanged weak smiles…her cousin would always make it a point to turn her back towards me! After a point I stopped looking at her, moved on with my life…in a school of 14,000 students it wasn’t too hard to find new friends!
Soon it was time for the Board exams, the long break after that and then the results! I did pretty well…good enough to be among the hallowed circle of handful of students who get accepted in the last two years of school. My friend didn’t make it…she went to another school; so did her cousin and I never saw them after that!
A couple of days back I received a mail from the cousin…she found me on Orkut and wanted to get back in touch. I read and re-read her three line mail over and over again. In a flash I was 15 again; all the sadness, the anger and the heartache came rushing back like water from a broken dam! I realized that I was holding my breath, so I forced myself to take a deep breath and calm down…that chapter of my life ended so long ago; so much water has flown under the bridge since then! We are grown ups now and as the rational adult that I claim to be, I shouldn’t hold the cousin responsible for the demise of my friendship! In retrospect, I could have done things differently; I could have told my friend how much I missed her or given her a chance to explain…but I didn’t; I was busy playing the victim and wallowing in self-pity!
The petulant 15 year old me and the middle-aged current me fought for a long time and finally I decided to reply to her mail…no angry, sarcastic diatribe against her for the follies of the past; neither a mushy, sentimental reminiscence of the good old days…just a cut and dried account of the present! So now we are officially in touch…yet I don’t see the point of all this! Why play this charade when I have neither forgotten what she did nor forgiven her for it?!
Does time heal all wounds? Does growing older really make you wiser? I think not. There are some incidents in life that you never get over; you just learn to live with it!