|By Kimberly Fernandes, Qatar [ Published Date: June 23, 2007 ]|
It had been "ages" since we met, quite literally. And yet I knew her at once, without her having to turn all the way around. I recognized those slim, long legs and that indescribable spring in her walk, which only those who knew her would feel. She was running after a toddler, who looked like her son. I, on the other hand, had merely come to the park to get away from a too-hectic office life. Ironically, I’d created this office life for myself in order to escape reality.
I busied myself with thoughts of her and of our childhood friendship, and was just wondering whether or not I should go up and say hello, when she gave me one of her characteristic hugs. An exuberant greeting followed, and we attempted to catch up on ten years of separation in five minutes. She looked at me with that playful smile I knew by heart from so long ago, and asked me what I was doing these days.
Try though I might have, nothing I said about my working life could have made it sound even half as exciting as hers. She was a mother of two and worked from home, and her little-miss-sunshine attitude made even the dreariest tasks seem like a joy to perform. And the clock seemed to have turned back ten years - things were, now, just like they were before. I had always been overawed by her mere presence, by the way she could make things all right just by being in them, and most importantly, by the way everything always worked out for her.
She was all warm and friendly today, like nothing had happened between us then, I told myself bitterly. Or was it I who was clinging far too much on to the past, I who should learn to forgive and forget? She had moved away after her tenth grade, and not a minute too soon.
Let me start from the beginning. As far as friends go, we were an odd pair. She was outgoing and bursting to the seams with life, the kind who easily liked everyone, and who was easily liked by everyone. I, on the other hand, was more reserved, almost painfully shy. It took quite a lot for me to speak to anyone I knew, let alone a stranger. Even the way we became friends was odd.
She found me sitting alone in class one day, fifteen minutes before lessons would resume after the recess. Being the kind of person that I was, I dreaded going out to play with children, and likewise, they shunned me, assuming that I had some sort of an attitude problem. So I would sit in class, alone, and make a show (to no one) of turning the pages of my books, trying to appear busy enough not to have gone out to play.
She came up to me and introduced herself. And miraculously, I felt comfortable enough to introduce myself too. She called me out to play, and I didn’t decline for fear of losing the only friend I had - the only person who would take time out for a loner. And from them on, we were an inseparable pair. Siamese twins, they called us back then. But I must admit that the pessimist in me often made me wonder why a popular girl like her would want to befriend an absolute loser like me.
I was reserved, no doubt about that, and avoided, as far as possible, mixing with members of the opposite sex. There were no restrictions from society, nothing that stopped me from having a boyfriend - save for the ones I put on myself. And here, like in the movies, there came along that perfect boy. The one, who, I thought, would accept me for who I was.
She being my only friend had to listen to hours of my fantasies about him. She would sometimes mischievously comment that I might wind up with him some day, for it was quite clear that this was the first boy I liked, and I was willing to give him my heart and soul, should he reciprocate my feelings. If he didn’t, well…I wouldn’t move on to anyone else. It had to be him or no one.
I didn’t have the courage to go up and introduce myself to him for a few weeks. Slowly, with her persuasion, I whispered my name one day after History class. And he whispered his back. From then on, we would smile at each other or wave in the corridors. But that was where the interaction stopped. Never once did he show any signs that he liked me as anything more than a friend (and I’d be lucky if he even thought of me as one).
But, in school, rumor had it that he was single. So I thought I’d try my luck. Mind you, this took quite a lot of pondering over, and it was roughly six months after I set my eyes on him that I decided I would ask him out. How I would do so, I had absolutely no idea. I presumed that I’d see him, in the corridor, on his birthday, and just ask.
His birthday rolled along, and I waited for the end of school with some apprehension. What if he said no? But, as she had always told me, I should try. How would I know what I had to lose, if anything, otherwise? And I waited, thinking of the millions of dialogues that I would use to show him how much he meant to me.
He did walk by, a little late though. With her. For a long minute I attempted to console myself, saying that they were just friends. And then I saw him blow her a goodbye kiss, while many others around them laughed. They were a couple now, and I had no place in his life. But being the quiet person that I am, I could not say anything to her about this betrayal. Slowly but surely, I withdrew into my former shell and stayed there comfortably, this time vowing not to come out no matter who tried to drag me.
She seemed happy enough with him, and we'd stopped talking long ago. All right, I'd lost the guy I obsessed over. The only thing that took away the pain of losing my first friend too was the fact that she’d betrayed me, that perhaps she didn’t deserve to be my friend. And since then, I’d never bothered with another man. Not that very many approached me. The few who did were turned away and assumed I was high-headed. No one knew this story except me and her.
Looking at her face, ten years on, all of it came flooding back. Strangely, I could not feel the hatred I had always thought I would. All I felt was a rushing sadness. Ebbing it for a moment, I asked her if she remembered him. She smiled casually and replied that he was in another part of the world, still single as far as she knew. That what went on between them was a high-school fling.
I had nothing to say. Of course, there was so much I wanted to ask her. Why did she play with him if she didn’t really want to be with him, the way I did? What happened between them that caused the split? Why couldn’t it have worked out? Did she do it deliberately? What had she really been up to all these years? Would we still have been able to gossip over every small thing, like old times?
And then I saw her face, and I saw that sadness too. These questions would remain unasked. But it was getting dark, and her daughter was waiting at home. So we bade farewell, exchanged numbers and promised to keep in touch. She turned and walked away, and I noticed that for the first time ever the bounce in her step seemed to be missing.
I crushed the piece of paper that held her number. I would keep it but no, I would not call her. And she would not call me either. These chance meetings once in a decade were fine, thank you. Some questions are best left unasked, and even better unanswered.
About the author:
Of an almost insane obsession with fiction, and the power of the printed word
Of strong vibes of precocious-ness and contradicting easy tears
Of various harebrained plans and sketchy schemes to change the world
Of a desire to see true equality, and to make it happen
Of natural highs from the color pink, and stuffed animals
Of not being able to have too much chocolate
Of silly decisions made on impulse
Of being undeniably, unnecessarily confused at small things
Of a heart that pushes back logic and a mind that favors emotion
Of unexplained silences and sudden outbursts of conversation
Of the quintessential desire for good conversation abiding above all else
Lies the essence of my being