“You think I owe you–out of all people–an explanation?” She demanded flabbergastingly, finally meeting my gaze. Although her voice tried to put up a confident facade, yet her eyes failed to meet her expectations. Tears threatened to spill any moment, making my hands curl into fists. I was the reason behind her misery; behind all those tears that were making her vulnerable.
“Naina, please allow me to justify–”
“What’s left to explain, Sameer Maheshwari?!” She objected coldly. Never had she addressed me so formally, she seldom called me by my first name. How ironic was the fact that we never needed to call out to each other; after we had decided on a communication code, our names never mattered anymore.
“I trusted you, Sameer…” She confessed dejectedly. I could sense a hint of disappointment in her tone, blanketed with regret and guilt. Guilt of having unfathomable faith in a person like me. Regret of being so gullible; cursing herself each second for falling for me.
“You’re still more fortunate than me, Sameer.” She resumed our conversation; eyes still fixated at the stars that shone spryly.
“How?” I was curious to know yet expressed some hysteria in my voice. I had just narrated my bitter relationship with my mother and supposed father and here she was, claiming herself to be less luckier than me.
“At least you have some fond memories with your mother…” She sighed with great difficulty, “I’m one unfortunate child who never got to experience a mother’s love, her care. Forget that, I’m a cursed child who couldn’t even see her mother or hold her warm, reassuring hands with her tiny cold ones.” A lone tear escaped her eye, making me restless. I wanted to console her, but was afraid of doing something offensive.
“I’m sorry…” I apologized, at a loss of words.
“You don’t have to be…” She replied callously as her face hardened.
“You don’t have to share if it makes you uncomfortable.” I suggested, understanding the tension arising between us. Amidst our tiffs and flirtatious antics, Naina and I hadn’t gotten used to serious conversations like these. However this felt like a start to many others to come.
“My aunt and uncle have never reminded me of her absence, in fact, they’ve treated me like their own child.” She resumed as I listened patiently. We both had been tormented, and knew each other’s pain like no one else.
“They’ve pampered me, given attention to my likes and dislikes, fulfilled my wishes, and have done everything I could ever imagine.” She seemed to travel back in time, with a satisfied smile pasted on her face and eyes glistening under the moonlight.
“Dad rarely talks to me normally; our conversations are more of orders–given by him and obeyed by me. I don’t blame him for the way he has become, anyone would’ve gone through this transformation if they’ve gone through taunts every single day of their life. His life was not destined to be smooth without any obstacles, but a path filled with thorns amidst numbered roses.” Naina heaved a sigh, still maintaining her gaze on the dark sky that shimmered with stars.
“I’ve had sleepless nights, Sameer. Nights that have been irrevocably painful, and can never be forgotten. Ever since I turned thirteen, I’ve seen harsh realities of life. The absence of a mother is a curse; especially to the child. Aunt and uncle had saved me from the society’s remarks when I was young, but how long could they maintain this facade for? There came a day, when I sped out of the house as usual, but was greeted by a storm of taunts rather than a cascade of smiles. And that’s when I realized how few people I had to call my own. Their berates increased and my happiness reduced. I’m not stared at when I’m with my family members, but I can feel it whenever I walk down the streets…alone. The feeling is indescribable, Sameer. I feel tantalized, I feel cursed.” Each word was covered in utter despair, leaving me shocked. Never had I imagined someone so ostracized behind the usual chirpy self.
“The society doesn’t bother whether you maintain a healthy relationship with your folks. But an absence of one parent results to the worst consequences. That’s how our society is, and that’s how I’ve learnt to adapt to it.” Slowly wiping her tears away, she faced me. In that moment, I had discovered admiration for a girl as strong as her. She was surrounded by pain, yet she always kept a smile on her face. How could someone hide their pain so artfully, and yet teach others how to live life?
“Naina…” I began, but left my sentence unfinished.
“You know, I’ve never shared this with Swati either, nor with Preeti, who’s my sister.” She spoke, surprised.
I had then asked her the question which I had been longing to ask, “Why me, then?”
Without any hesitation, as if expecting this, she responded in a voice filled with adoration, “Because I trust you, Sameer. More than anyone else in this world. I know I’ve known you for just two months, but sometimes time doesn’t matter. I trust you more than myself, Sameer. And I know you’ll never break my trust.”
“…But you broke my trust.” She broke my reverie with tears in her eyes. In almost an instant, she left…left me helpless and in remorse.
My eyes searched for her restlessly. Everything was mundane, teachers chatted nonchalantly, while students excitedly discussed the trip. I was still in my school uniform, yet I was trembling. Everything had changed unexpectedly for me; ever since I lost my best friend. No longer did I have the charismatic smile I carried, instead my eyes held fear…fear she wouldn’t show up yet again.
It had been four days into the school week, and my eyes longed to see her. Her chirpy nature, her beautiful smile, her crazy antics and witty comebacks. My heart ached to see the crimson effect I once had on her.
I didn’t have the courage to call her, didn’t have the courage to hear her vulnerable voice. Yet I wanted to see her, badly. Just once, only once.
“Calm down, Sameer…she’ll be here any moment.” Munna tried to pacify, failing miserably.
“She hasn’t shown up in the last four days, I’m really worried.” I expressed my guilt.
“It’s not your fault, Sameer. Stop blaming yourself.” Pandit retaliated.
“I’m responsible for her condition, Pandit. I don’t deserve an angelic girl like Naina, yet I hurt her the most. It’s all my fault.”
“Sameer! Look, there she is.” Munna grabbed my attention as I looked at the door. My face fell, anger and guilt rising like never before. My heart skipped a beat, not in excitement but in tantalization. I cursed myself and banged my fist against my desk.
Her eyes were swollen red expressing the tears that had constantly streamed down her face and could leave their mark again any moment. Eyes had dark circles under them, indicating her continuous sleepless nights. She had braided her hair messily, leaving her fringe loose. Her uniform was shabby, and she looked thinner than ever possible. I knew she hadn’t touched a single morsel of food in the past four days, and was surviving on the tears that threatened to brim.
Slowly inching her way towards her desk, she stared at the floor beneath her. It ached to see her like this, lifeless. Without interacting with anyone around her, she fixed her gaze at the board, with a stern expression that hid unbearable pain.
My constant double tapping showed no effect on her, as she continued to stare at the nothingness that lay beyond her. Destiny was not in her favor as the first two periods involved the strictest teacher, Ms. Kumud.
“Naina, where are you lost?” She banged the table loudly, startling her. The teacher had repeated the question a good three times by now, receiving no response from Naina. However, instead of fear, her face reflected a blank expression. It was as if her soul had left her body forever. There were no more tears left to shed, for all of them had dried out. Yet she managed to stand up, hardly finding balance.
“How many times should I repeat myself?! One trip, and all of you have forgotten your manners. Naina, being the head monitor, this was not expected from you.” Her scolds were paid to deaf ears, for Naina showed no reaction. I grew worried each second, her condition was way beyond worse.
“Naina, have you completed the assignment that was due for today?” Naina shook her head in denial, the first response to any question asked throughout the day.
“You missed the first four days of school, and you haven’t submitted your assignment either! Where are you lost? This is simply unacceptable!” Her anger knew no bounds.
“Come here and extend your hand!” She ordered with a ruler in hand, ready to slap her hand.
“Ma’am, please forgive Naina.” I begged, not caring about anything else. But before I could complete my sentence, she presented her arm, ready to be hit.
One slap was followed by ten others. Each hit echoed in my ears, making my heart ache further. Naina didn’t even flinch. The pain caused by a mere ruler was nothing compared to the wounds I had given her.
The palm of her hand was bright red, with innumerable marks etched onto it. With the last hit, she slumped back to her chair as Ms. Kumud returned to her seat.
She bit her lips to an extent that they had started bleeding. And a single tear rolled down her face. A tear enough to create havoc in me. A tear enough to break my heart in a thousand pieces.