He never understood why she had to look perfect. He never understood why she had to spend hours in the mall, shuffling through a thousand dresses. He never understood why she had spend so much time gazing at the rearview mirror of his car, trying to fix every strand of her hair. He never understood the girl that she became after stepping out of his car and entering the school premises. He never understood why she’d scurry off in another direction and leave him alone.
But the day he walked into the cafeteria and found her sitting amidst the bunch of popular kids in their grade, he understood why. He understood that she no longer wanted to be his friend. So, he stayed away.
Each day, he would see her walk past him, chattering merrily with her new friends. He would see her flashing smiles and laughing endlessly with them. But he could tell, those smiles were not hers. During lunch breaks, he would see her skip her meals along with the dozen other girls in their group. Every day after school, he would see her at the bleachers, cheering for some boy he didn’t know she knew.
He wanted to tell her to stop being the person she was not. He wanted to tell her that she looked all the more beautiful without the make-up. He wanted to tell her those people were not real – their façades his a hundred truths. Their lives were not so perfect. The people they were were not the real them. He knew because he had been there.
But he kept quiet because clearly, she didn’t want to hear him.
One autumn evening, however, he met her on the street. Her hair was messy and her eyes gleamed. As they walked past each other, she held him back. Words never left her throat. Instead, she broke down next to him.
Amidst busy people and muffled voices, he held her as she cried. She spoke things which made no sense. Yet, he listened. Her shoulders fell and she sobbed against him.
The lights above then rippled below their feet on the slippery, gravel road, breaking into a million rays.
“Why?” she asked, her gaze burning into his. “I listened to them. I was there when they cried. But why was there no one when I needed them to be?”
How he wished he could tell her all the things he wanted to, ever since the day she left him! How he wished he could tell her about her friends’ sheltered lives! How he wished he could tell her all this and more without causing her more pain!
“You,” she continued in a broken voice, “are the only person who has always stayed by my side. But now, I’ve lost you, I guess. I was so stupid to leave you for them!”
He smiled, but inside, he was breaking.
“Everything about them is like a carefully scripted play,” she complained. “I don’t want to be them. I’m just happy being whoever I am.”
“They are nice people,” he said. “It’s just that, at times, they are misunderstood.”
Shock spread across her features.
“I know because once upon a time, I was one of them,” he spoke carefully. “I went from one party to another and drank till dawn. I laughed to jokes which were so bad. I did all that because I wanted to fit in in their group. The popular group. But half way down, I realized that there’s no such thing as that. I didn’t need to be in that group just to be popular. I could be popular in my own league!”
Amidst the bright city lights and increasing unrest, they sat in silence, thinking of things which made no sense.
“It’s getting late,” he spoke, first.
She nodded and stood up and began to walk.
A pang of sorrow ran through him. How he wanted his old friend back! He waited for her to turn around, but she never did. So, he turned and walked his way.
Only, she called him back.
“Did I really lose you?” she asked.
He didn’t know how to answer that one. So, he kept his back to her.
“Can we go back to being the friends we were? Will you forgive me this time, please?” she said.
He turned around and saw her smile.
“That’s what friends are for, after all,” he smiled too.