Thursday 15 August 2019

Short Story 2019 Shortlist, Prachi Deva

An Unusual Friendship

I kept walking along the pavement in the rain. I kept walking, sad and gloomy, tears streaming down my face. I did not know where I was heading but it did not matter. I was glad that the rain had wet me and it would not allow people to see I was crying. I felt like I was the unluckiest boy in the universe. ‘What on earth had I done to deserve this? Why did no one want to be friends with me?’ I thought unhappily to myself. I walked on, unbothered about where the road led to or how far away I was from home. Finally, my legs began to feel as heavy as my head, my chest heaved heavily and I was unwilling to go any further. I looked around for a spot to sit. An iron bench under a tree caught my attention and I dragged myself to it. I felt sick of the criticism, and of the loneliness. I looked around with misty eyes to check that no one was close enough to see my distraught self. I was still crying though with lesser intensity, now. My eyes were swollen and red and I did not wish to share my feelings with anyone nor did I want to meet my friends. It felt as if the entire world had turned against me. I looked up at the large, shady tree above me which shielded me from the torrential rain. For a long time, I sat there staring into emptiness.

My thoughts raced towards the events of the morning, something unbelievable had happened. The only person who I had wanted to be friends with turned me down. I had been requesting her for the last several days to be friends with me. Strangely, she kept avoiding me, sticking to her other girl friends and turning her gaze away from me every time I tried to catch her attention. When I mustered enough courage to confront her about it, today morning, she boldly told me to go away. She said that she did not wish to be friends with me. ‘But why Asha?’ I asked her in despair. ‘I don’t have any friend.’ ‘Then you should try to make friends with other boys in the colony,’ she said indifferently. I was hurt by her condescending behaviour. She was not very beautiful nor did she have long lustrous hair but there was an indefinable quality about her that drew me towards her. I think, I felt she would make a loyal friend. And perhaps, she would be able to understand my emotions too. She was a bit boyish and chilled out. It was easy to make conversation with her. Yes, I would like her to be my friend.

I stood still, unable to move. Her words cut through me like a knife cuts through cheese and I felt a sharp stinging pain inside me. I did not know how to convince her that I would make a sincere and loyal friend and that I feel, she would be an ideal friend for me. She was not like the other girls jeering and laughing all the time. She was sober, well- mannered and belonged to a good family. Best of all, she was my neighbour- she lived just three houses away. Her mother and my mother were friends too. Earlier, she would often come to my house along with her mother. But being a shy person, she wouldn’t speak much. When I asked her something, she would either nod or shake her head or answer in monosyllables. But, a few months later, she stopped visiting my house altogether. It was then that I felt the need to speak to her directly. But I had least expected her to react in this cold manner.

I wondered as to what could have happened. ‘Did I say anything to displease her?’ I thought hard to remember if I had. But I couldn’t. Then it dawned upon me, it may be that she didn’t like me. I was greatly disappointed to think so and was wondering what to do next when things took an unexpected turn.

I was totally unprepared for what happened next. I could not imagine in the wildest of my dreams, how deeply Asha had misinterpreted my intentions. As I walked away, one of her friends came running to me and told me to go to Asha’s house. ‘What is the matter?’ I enquired. ‘Nothing. Actually, I don’t know. Asha’s mother sent me to fetch you,’ she replied and walked away. I slowly made my way towards her house. I wondered why Asha’s mother had sent for me. Did she need me to run an errand for her or did she need me to help Asha in some way? Whatever maybe the reason I would do all I could.

Once inside the house, her mother and I exchanged pleasantries. Then she said, ‘Why are you insisting on being friends with Asha? There are many boys of your age in the colony. Why don’t you mingle with them?’ I was thunderstruck! Why had she asked her mother to speak to me about it after she had already refused? I was puzzled. ‘She has refused to be friends with you. Please do not insist,’ she continued. Two large tears started to roll down my cheeks as I heard this. I fought hard not to sob before Asha’a mother. ‘Ok aunty,’ I said, turned away quietly and left even though it hurt. I couldn’t think of anything more to say. I wanted to scream out loud. Is this all she had understood about me? I felt angry and let down. More and more anger welled up inside me as I walked out of her house. I had thought Asha could understand my feelings. How wrong I had been! I regretted to have approached her in the first place. I wanted to hurt myself but my good sense prevented me from reacting in this way. I could talk to no one. I could trust no one. I felt lonely and dejected. I ran into my room and shut the door. I sobbed and cried like never before. I felt stifled, suffocated. It seemed that I would choke. I couldn’t breathe. I got up and opened the window. A cool gust of wind and raindrops suddenly entered the room allowing me to take deep breaths. It was raining outside. The raindrops fell gently on my face. I put my face out of the window and felt the gentle rain act as a soothing balm on the intense agony inside me. I decided to go out.

So here I am, under the tree musing upon the future course of action. One thing was certain- I will not speak to her again. I will take her advice and find other friends. It’s a big, wide world out there. I will find like- minded people and never depend on her for friendship.

In the weeks that followed, I pushed the unpleasant incident to the back of my mind and carried on with life. Soon, I began to mingle with other boys and girls. I made several friends and got busy with my studies. Six months later, Asha and her family left for Jaipur on a transfer. I felt a dull pain in my heart. For a fleeting moment, I was reminded of that incident. I remembered the ache and the rejection. I tried to analyze whether I was happy to see her leave the colony. No, I wasn’t. I was surprised to know that thinking about that incident still made me sad. But again, I dismissed the thought from my mind and continued to study and make new friends.

It has been two years since. I am now preparing for my board exams which will eventually decide which college I would get. Life is eventful. I have several friends now who have occupied a very important position in my life. We have our moments of fun, arguments and the like. I have left the past behind. But life had other plans for me.

As I was walking in my colony one evening, I saw a girl in a white dress coming towards me. As she came closer, I stopped dead in my tracks. I stared at her, unable to say anything. I was too shocked to say anything. ‘Hello Kapil,’ she said smiling at my dazed expression. ‘Why Asha! It’s you! Have you come back?’ I asked incredulously. ‘Yes I have. Father got a transfer back to Agra,’ she said not showing any hesitation to talk to me. I was again reminded of the unpleasant incident from two years ago. So I kept quiet. I thought it best not to relive the old incident. I think she understood the reason of my silence because she made an effort to strike a friendly conversation with me. Noticing the unusual lack of chirpiness in me, she said, ‘So, haven’t you forgotten the past? You know, people grow up and become mature. Then they realise their mistake and want to make amends.’ She smiled sheepishly and continued to talk to me.

Slowly I began speaking to her as I could see that she no longer had childish notions about being friends with me. We kept talking for a few minutes. Then she turned her wrist to check the time by her watch. ‘I should be going back home now. Mummy will be waiting for me. See you around.’ ‘Bye Asha! Nice meeting you.’ My meeting with her was unexpectedly soothing. I was glad for the way the last two years have shaped up for both of us. We have grown up and now met each other with a fresh perspective towards things. By now, I also have a large circle of friends and I would like to add her to my circle. I nodded and smiled approvingly to myself.

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