Of What I Never Told My Friends

I’m travelling in a crowded bus as I write this. And no, it isn’t like they always describe – sweltering heat and grumbling people – in fact, though it isn’t that great an experience, it isn’t that bad, either.

Sandwiched between the metal rods of the window and a heavy woman who is reading a Stephen King book, I watch the group of teenagers in front of me. One of them, a short girl with raven black locks, in her pair of faded jeans a loose shirt, is busy pulling away the earphones from a boy who is probably one of her friends. Beside them, there is another girl who is talking feverishly with the girl who sits cuddled in the furthest corner, pressed against the window. She is hearing but her eyes are trained on the duo who are arguing over the earphones. An occasional smile lights up her pale face, causing her friend to smack her on the head and demand her to listen.

I quietly turn away from them and look outside the window where the scenes are gradually fading from ordinary reality of the town to infinite possibilities.

The crisp late February air hits my face, almost numbing my senses, but I can still hear their voices, loud and clear. Though I can’t figure out what they are talking about, the one thing that is clear is, they are happy.

It reminds me of those days when school had been a daily affair. I find myself remembering that perhaps the only reason I used to wake up with so much enthusiasm on winter mornings was because of my friends. Each day, after returning from school, I’d wait eagerly for the next day so that I could get to meet my friends again. Though very little things happened in a span of six hours, at school, I found myself talking with my friends for long, discussing every insignificant detail of the day. It was strange – of how we always used to have something to talk about, no matter what.

As the bus moves over a bump, collective groans rise from everyone. The bunch of friends in front of me make dramatic noises, and then burst out laughing at their antics. A smile crosses my lips as I remember the days when I went for picnic trips with my friends. The miles never bothered us. Hours were spent gossiping, singing like badly trained artists, pulling out pranks on each other and laughing on senseless jokes! Before we would know it, the journey would have come to an end.

I see my friends in them. I see us laughing and crying and calling each other at night, discussing boys and homework and what not!

A silly grin lights up my face and I shake my head, remembering the weird conversations we used to have.

Almost immediately, it is replaced by a frown as I remember the bitter memories I’ve had with them – when they broke my trust; when they left me alone.

The bus wobbles slightly and the woman beside me, almost squeezes me into the damp corner, but I don’t mind. I’m too lost in my train of thoughts to know that the bus has come to a halt and the conductor is calling to me.

“Madam?” he shouts in his thick Bengali accent, causing me to snap out of my trance.

“I-I am so so sorry!” I tell him as I pick up my bag and manage to make my way to the exit door.

Before stepping down, however, I turn around and take a look at the bunch of friends and find their eyes trained on my movements. A smile threatens to burst, but I press my lips together tightly and get off the bus. It would’ve been so weird to smile at a bunch of teenagers!

As I walk down the street, the gravel scratching against the sole of my heels, I remind myself never to wear those shoes again.

I cross a nursery school and the little children, loitering around the gate, wave at me and I wave back.

I don’t have schools to look forward to. In a few months, I’ll be heading for college and the entire idea of a new place, of new people, makes me nervous and afraid. Having changed so many schools, I have learnt that distance does make things worse. Your friends will start fading away and then, there will be a day when you meet each other at a shopping mall and there will be no excitement.

As a teenager, I’ve always had a problem in placing my trust on people. It does take a lot of time, because after so many betrayals and the so-called “backbiting”, you know, for a fact that making friends and keeping them is a tough job. There are times when the people you trust the most, will leave you at your darkest times. And their places will be taken by utter strangers who will come to mean something more.

Now that I think about the friends I have who are still my friends, very few faces come to my mind. Along the way, I have lost people – so many beautiful people and my heart breaks in painful realization. A part of me wonders where they are now and if they remember me sometime. Then, I find myself thinking about the friends I’ve lost to numerous rumours and misunderstandings. I hope to find them some day and ask if things can go back to being the same again.

I realize that it’s not like you can protect yourself from getting hurt. Sometimes, unknowingly, you are going to hurt others. And then, there comes a point in everyone’s life, where you sit and think about all these times and what you could have done to keep those people close. Regrets. And that’s all a part of growing up, I presume.

Mom had once told me that friends are not people who will stick by your side always, but they’ll have your back.

Amidst the share of misunderstandings and hurt and happiness, I’ve come to realize that friends not only deserve second chances but also thirds and fourths. At times, we have to take a leap of faith. At times, we have to forgive them for all their mistakes and go back to being friends again. At times, we have to trust them with all our heart.

They will disappoint us.

And once upon a dark day, they will surprise us.

Of Nothings and Everythings

The sky is winter white. The horizon gleams with a thin streak of grey clouds. The grass below us is wet with the first few drops of the summer rain. A slight northern wind caresses our skin, whispering strange dreams. Against the backdrop of mesmerizing beauty, somewhere behind us, crickets chirp to some unheard tune and the poor little pigeon, flaps its wings and flies off to find some food for her kids. The few stale drops of rain trickle down the calloused branches and seep into the thirsty ground.

He tugs at my shirt and his eyes burn into mine as I look up at him. His dark pupils gleam with curiosity as he studies me.

“What are you thinking?” he asks.

Shaking my head, I push myself up and stand beside him. His fingers intertwine with mine and he pulls me lightly, urging me to take quicker steps.

The circus is here in the town, again. He wants to go to the circus. He had once told me that he held a special liking for the circus. And I had never bothered to ask him why.

As we walk on the bare grass, its tips pressing against the bare soles of our feet and flicking drops of water, he tells me that the smells will entice me. He tells me that the place will feel warmer and so better than that under the blue, infinite sky. I don’t believe him.

He tells me that the faint aromas of cotton candy and apples will tease my senses to no end, until I join them. Then, as I will walk to the stall, the magnificent smells will couple with those of the wet asphalt and lift me up to the clouds. He tells me that that is happiness. Absolute perfection.

As the noises become closer, his steps become more frantic. He pushes past the hordes of people, dreams glistening in his radiant blue eyes that have never failed to amaze me. They hold a sincerity, so profound that I can feel myself live the stories that his eyes hold.

He begs me to join him on the Ferris wheel. Amidst the howling chaos around me, I hear him tell me that the sunset from veranda will make my life perfect – that the streaks of orange and purple merging into the abyss of blue will enthrall me.

I watch him with awe, demanding to know how he knows so much about circuses when he had never visited one.

I’m afraid of clowns, but I don’t tell him so. My heart sinks when the acrobats defy gravity. And I am afraid of the fire that the ringmaster holds. I want to stand up and walk away quietly, slipping from his hold. I want to hide somewhere – far away from the world where no one will ever find me again.

“What are you thinking?” he asks, yet again, his lips parting slightly.

Before I can answer, he turns back to the stage.

The circus is over; now he wants me join him on the Ferris wheel. Grumbling, I follow him to the stands.

We are ushered into a cheap, gold painted cabin that sways to the slightest wind.

The clouds are gone. The sun is peeking out from its golden robe, spreading warmth all around. Though the darkness is descending, the sun stays there, perhaps, determined to present me a sunset.

Resting my elbows against the window, I lean out and watch the Ferris wheel slowly picking up speed. We are leaving the ground, floating up with the clouds. The sun spreads its arms, waiting to embrace us in its golden light.

From up there, the people look so tiny. I’m not afraid of them anymore. The lights that flicker on the street below, seem like iridescent orbs and fireflies. I glare back at the mocking swirls of colour, wondering how a sunset can bestow so much beauty all around me. The sunrises are supposed to be the ones filled with hopes; the sunset carries a plethora of hopes as well. The radiant glow sings the legacy of the sun. I find myself being lifted higher up to a world unlike others. It feels like I’m sitting on a cloud. It feels like I’ve finally found my place in the world – here. It feels like everything I have never ever felt until now.

This is the world I had dreamed of when I had been a kid – where sunsets don’t bring pain; where one can stand on the sidewalks and watch the world go by; where one can see the silhouette of the cityscape against the backdrop of fiery red.

“What are you thinking about?” he demands this time, his gaze not leaving mine. He raises his thick eyebrows and clasps my hand, begging me to tell him.

I don’t admit anything aloud.

As I stare into the distance, watching the daylight linger and a hundred possibilities emerge, I say, “Nothing.”