Withering Friendship

Samir was everyone’s favorite in the school. Friends loved him, teachers adored him. Why wouldn’t they? He was kind, compassionate even though he didn’t realize their meaning in the literal sense. He did his homework on time, never missed classes, did well in tests. Not like topped the class, but always in the top 10. At the same time he never took himself seriously. And that’s why friends loved him.

This is how school was for him. Then one day he arrives in the class to see his friends talking about some new girl in the class. It was the middle of the academic session and it was very unusual for someone to join then. The teacher asked her to introduce herself and had to then do the honours herself as she just kept staring at her shoes. Not even raising her head once to meet the eyes of the class.

Her name was Sakshi and her father was in the armed forces. As his job involved frequent transfers, Sakshi had to switch schools quite frequently. That day Samir didn’t take any notice of her. She was just another shy girl. He was too.

From that day onward, the seat in the corner of the last row belonged to her. Nobody would even notice her until some teacher asked her to stand up to answer a question. What followed next was the same every time. Her silence and the teacher’s initial encouragement. Soon, the teacher would be exasperated and switch to someone else in the class for an answer. The days she got lucky she would be asked to sit down. Other days, she had to stand for the entire duration of the class as punishment. She won’t even ask or plead to sit. She would just stand like that fidgeting with her tie until the bell rang suggesting the end of the class.

Samir still didn’t pay any attention to her.

Most of the teachers who taught their class were friendly. But the one who taught Hindi had issues with her temper. She would ask for a wooden scale and then drag a child by the tie and give him/her a sound thrashing. The child’s crime – not doing the homework. Back then, teachers used to live by the principle, ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child.’

The teacher’s resentment against Sakshi had been rising with each passing day. Though she never opened her mouth to answer in the class, she had made sure to submit her homework on time. But on that day, in her hurry, she had forgotten to put the notebook in her bag. And the teacher wasn’t letting go of this opportunity.

And thus began the thrashing. She didn’t even flinch and the teacher stopped when she got tired. The fair skin on her arms was now reddened by the markings of the scale where it landed. And a tear trickled down her eyes as she went back to her seat.
All this happened at an arm’s length distance from where Samir sat. This time she definitely had his attention. Suddenly, he felt something inside of him. Something he wouldn’t be able to describe even if one asked him to.

Next day, when Samir arrived in the class, he searched for her to make sure she was present. And there she was. Her hair tied into ponytails, dangling on both sides. He had felt something the earlier day and now he felt something else. Both he couldn’t describe. It was different but yet the same. He felt happy yet sad. Emotions diffused into one another.

That day he couldn’t focus in the class like the other days. When the History teacher talked of the Axis powers dropping bombs in the 2nd World War, she was carpet bombing his heart. His mind wandered to her and he tried to take a glance at her when the teacher went deep into the rows of the class in her side. His mind was determined to talk to her, to eke a word out of her, listen to her voice.

Samir was the class monitor and that involved collecting notebooks from everyone else and then distributing them after being examined by the teachers. He made sure to smile when he handed back her notebook. Did she smile back? He couldn’t be sure.

Next time, he opened her notebook to take a peek at her handwriting, feel it by spreading his hands over her scribbles. He especially paused at the first page where she had etched out her name. He didn’t realize this had made him really happy until a friend pointed that out to him later in the day.

He was yet to talk to her. And that happened one day on their way to the bicycle parking after school was over. He was pleasantly surprised when she smiled at him and greeted a feeble ‘Hi’.

‘Omg! Did I hear that?’

That stung her and he realized it. He had a habit of saying wrong things at the wrong time without any bad intention.

‘Sorry.’

Her expression was back to normal again. And this encouraged him to carry forward the conversation.

‘So, where were you before you came here?’

Devlali, it’s a small town on the hills.’

‘Oh, cool! So you miss your friends or you were like this there as well?’

Again, he muttered to himself as he realized his tongue had betrayed him yet again.

She didn’t mind though. Instead she giggled at his unstable way of speaking.

‘I didn’t have many friends there too. I change my schools frequently.. So..’

By then they had reached where their bicycles stood.

‘Okay, bye’, she said with a faint smile as hers was parked in a different direction.

Samir wanted to say many a things but all he could manage to say was ‘Bye.’

Next day, they met again at the bicycle parking and this time she waved her hands when she said bye.

Slowly these became Samir’s collectibles as he looked forward to moments like these every day. And the days she would be absent, he would be generally feeling low.

But not everything lasts.

Soon, the class started talking about them. Samir could hear murmurs behind his back. Though, Sakshi was never affected by such things, the same couldn’t be said of Samir. Just the way no one could explain why Sakshi never talked with anyone, Samir had a problem with too much attention on him. There were certain aspects of his life that he didn’t like to share with anyone. Then one fine day, there was an assignment to write about something or someone you love. Most of the students chose someone from their family but guess what Sakshi chose to write; Samir. Her writing reeked of innocence, the kind of love a child of that age could conjure up in her heart. The teacher rated her written piece very highly and commended her for this in front of the entire class. Now, generally Samir would have been really happy to see a teacher heap such praise on Sakshi. But this was different. This involved him too. And he was too much immature for his age then to handle it the way he should have. So instead of being happy he felt embarrassed. Because then guys who were too friendly with girls would be discarded from the so called guys gang. Yes, children and their vanity. He let the voice of what others think of him drown the voice from his heart.

After the class, Samir stormed to Sakshi’s desk and said quite a few unpleasant things without even reading what she had wrote, without even thinking about her feelings. And just like always, Sakshi didn’t say a thing but tears welled up in her eyes. She wasn’t like Samir and for her age, she was emotionally quite intelligent. Samir felt even more terrible when he saw the tears in her eyes. Fate was giving him a chance to correct his mistake, to apologize but that wasn’t to be. Unable to take it anymore he left.

Just the way, the friendship had blossomed, it seemed to wither. Samir’s pride prevented him from getting back to her and Sakshi though hurt couldn’t care less. Few months passed this way. In the meantime, Samir could see what a fool and moron he had been. He decided to plead guilty and apologize to her. But doing that in one’s own mind was different from doing it in real. And few days passed this way. He couldn’t muster the courage to approach her. Until the day he was relieved from this seemingly difficult situation. That day the teacher struck off her name from the attendance register. When someone asked, he replied that her dad had got another transfer. Nobody minded. But the same couldn’t be said of Samir. He was DEVASTATED! She had left no message for him. He didn’t even know to which city she had moved. And what could he do even if he knew that. A city is a big place too to find someone and even bigger place for a boy of his age. This was in the time, when there were no cell phones, no social media. He felt claustrophobic without knowing the word to describe it to even himself. He wailed from inside as he was still in the class.

20 years down the line, when Samir couldn’t find himself in a meaningful relationship with any friend, his mind would wander to the face of a little girl with ponytails dangling from both sides of her head. He now knew the words to describe the feelings he felt 20 years back but now they seem just like those theoretical concepts in science which haven’t found any practical application yet.

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9 thoughts on “Withering Friendship

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  1. The Pied Writer comes back and how! What a poignant tale this was, replete with the innocence and charm of first love and childhood, until you reach the end and feel you could almost strangle Samir for being so dumb. Deftly handled. The innocence, the pain, the love and the sense of loss all add up to make a touching story. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

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