There was once a butterfly named Lila. She was very beautiful. She had colorful wings, a lovely glossy body and a pair of the cutest antennae. Early each morning, she flew far away from her home with her younger brothers and sisters visiting one flower after another– busily collecting nectar for herself and the family. But there was something wrong. Lila felt very sad. Even in the bevy of beautiful butterflies, she was very lonely. Lila longed for a friend. So, every time she went out to look for nectar, she hoped to meet a friend. She got nectar as expected but a friend was nowhere in sight. So as days went by Lila became sadder and sadder.
Then one day, something really exciting happened. Lila was searching for nectar with her swarm as usual. They were near a small pond where beautiful pink and white lotuses bloomed. One of them was Tutu. She was the loveliest lotus ever. She had pinkish white velvety soft petals, a thick and long stem, mossy green leaves and the sweetest smell on earth. Yet, like Lila she was very lonely too. As she could not move from one place to another, she could only talk to someone who was near her or flying past her. That was her problem! Unlike Lila, Tutu could not roam about searching for friends. When Tutu saw Lila, she just could not help staring at her as Lila was so beautiful. Tutu thought she was the loveliest butterfly ever. As Lila flew past her, Tutu called out to her ‘Oh hello! Wait a moment please!’ At this Lila looked over her shoulder and was surprised to see the loveliest lotus she has ever seen in her life.
The beautiful flower smiled shyly as Lila looked at her and asked, ‘Oh, such a lovely butterfly you are! Do you have a name?’ Lila answered, ‘Well, of course I have a name and it is a lovely name too! My name is Lila. Do you like it? Err… May I ask you something?’ Tutu said, ‘Your name is really lovely. I like it very much. By the way, my name is Tutu. What is it that you want to ask me?’ ‘Oh, nothing much actually! It’s just that I am very lonely and I was wondering … if you would like to be my friend?’ asked Lila shyly. Tutu said eagerly, ‘Why not? I was about to ask you the very thing. I am very lonely too.’ Lila felt so happy that she just could not speak for some time. Tutu felt very happy too – at last she has found a friend. That too such a lovely butterfly! Lila was also thinking the same thing. At first they both felt a bit shy and didn’t know where to begin – they both had so very to talk about, you see! But after that, once they started talking, they simply couldn’t stop. Soon they became best friends.
Then one day Lila got a tiny surprise from Tutu. Tutu was very proud of her nectar and wanted Lila to taste it. But Lila still took nectar from other flowers. It made Tutu very sad. Tutu had thought of a plan to make Lila taste her nectar. She wondered how to call Lila as she lived far away from Tutu’s home. She remembered that the day when she met Lila, Lila had introduced all her younger brothers and sisters to Tutu. There were twelve of them - the oldest girl butterfly of the swarm was Lila and the oldest boy butterfly was Ricky. Ricky was the oldest of all so he went to find nectar on his own. Suddenly Tutu saw one of Lila’s younger sisters buzzing around her neighbor. It was Minnie. Minnie was the messenger in the butterfly family. Tutu called Minnie and told her to take a note to Lila. She gave Minnie a small torn piece of bamboo leaf that had fallen into the pond from a bamboo plant nearby. In it she had quickly written a message especially for Lila with a tiny stick with blueberry juice on it. Minnie took the leaf and flew away to Lila’s home. As soon as she reached home, Minnie gave the letter to Lila. Lila took it eagerly and read:
This is an invitation to you for a dinner party tonight. Please do come at midnight while everyone is asleep. It’s a secret. If Minnie has read it, please tell her to keep it a secret.
Your loving friend,
Lila read the letter three times. She wondered why Tutu had called her for dinner and why she had told her to keep it a secret. She called Minnie and asked her if she had read the letter. Minnie answered angrily, ‘Why should I read your letter? No messenger reads other’s letters.’ While Minnie was talking, Lila was writing a letter to Tutu on another tiny bamboo leaf. She wrote:
Thank you very much for your invitation. I will surely come at midnight while everyone is asleep. Minnie has not read it. The secret is safe with me. Do not worry.
Lila handed the letter to Minnie and said, ‘Take this letter to Tutu.’ Minnie flew away. Later at midnight Lila flew to Tutu when everyone was asleep. When Lila reached Tutu’s lotus pond, Tutu handed Lila a bag of honey. The bag was made of bits of lotus leaf sewn together with grass. It looked like a tailor bird’s nest. Then Tutu said to Lila, “This is a bag of honey. If you wish, you can drink it now with me or take it home & drink.” Lila replied, “Why would I ever think of going home & drinking? I would like to drink with you. Do you know that I have decided to build my house near your house?” Tutu asked, “Then why do you take nectar from other flowers?” Lila paused and then replied, “I thought that lotuses don’t have any nectar.” Then Tutu said, “Is that so? Okay, I understand. But from now on you will take nectar from me, won’t you?” “Yes, of course I will. But I will have to take some nectar from other flowers too. You see, only your nectar won’t be enough for me.” answered Lila. “Then let’s drink.” said Tutu. And they drank merrily.
The next day too Lila took nectar from Tutu & stayed in the hollow of a tree near the pond where Tutu lived. Tutu was so pleased. Everyday Tutu and Lila spent hours together playing & joking. So from that day onwards they became the best of neighbors. But Lila also had to collect nectar from flowers with her swarm. So early each morning Lila flew here and there gathering her swarm together and only came back in the evening just before the sunset to Tutu. They dined together, as Lila got bags of honey for herself and her family.
Meanwhile when Lila was away collecting nectar Tutu made friends with a small fish whose name was Goldie who also lived in the same pond. She had silvery white scales, a small and slim body, golden fins and a golden tail. When she jumps up in the air her body gleams in the sun. When Lila came back Tutu introduced her new friend, Goldie. Tutu told Lila, ‘You know, I feel rather lonely when you are away so I made friends with Goldie.’ Lila liked Goldie at once. She made friends with her. Soon the three friends were busily chatting away and sharing their stories.
Then something really terrible happened to Lila. One day, as she was going with her swarm to collect nectar, a boy with curly hair came along and caught Lila and her swarm. Minnie and Reema were the only ones to escape in time. Minnie rushed to Tutu and Goldie and Reema rushed to Ricky. Panting, they told their story to Tutu and Goldie and Ricky. When Tutu and Goldie heard that Lila and her swarm had been caught they thought and thought how to get Lila and her swarm out of the boy’s hands until Tutu said, ‘Minnie, please call Ricky and Reema here so that we can discuss together.’ Minnie rushed off to Ricky and Reema. She found them talking busily and worriedly at her home. The other butterflies loved Lila very much and if something happened to her they worried tremendously. Lila also loved her family very much. The boy, whose name was James, had put the butterflies he had caught that day in a glass jar and kept it on his window sill. Lila was now trying to comfort everybody in her swarm as they were very frightened in the glass jar.
Meanwhile at the lotus pond Tutu, Goldie, Minnie, Ricky and Reema were thinking hard how to get Lila and her swarm out of the place. Tutu and Goldie knew that only the butterflies will be able to help. Then suddenly Ricky remembered something. He cried out, ‘Let’s call Jinni. Once he told me that he knew a cruel curly haired boy who caught insects just for fun.’ ‘For fun!!’, shuddered the others. ‘We don’t have a moment to lose’, saying so Ricky rushed off to find Jinni. ‘Who’s Jinni?’ asked Tutu. Reema answered, ‘Jinni is Ricky’s best friend.’ And they waited impatiently. At last Ricky came back with another butterfly. It was Jinni. As soon as they reached, Ricky panted out, ‘Here’s Jinni. He will help us get Lila and her swarm out. He also knows something.’ Jinni said ‘I know a boy, James, with curly hair who goes out every day to catch insects. I live in his garden. Today I saw him put a huge glass jar full of butterflies on his sill. When I looked closely I saw that it was a swarm I knew. I thought and thought which swarm it was. Then I understood it was Ricky’s swarm. Then I flew off to find Ricky. We met midway.’ Hearing this Tutu and Goldie shouted out, ‘Take us there!! Take us …..’ Ricky stopped them, ‘Calm down please, and don’t get too excited. Jinni you can go now and keep a watch on the jar. Come here tomorrow morning please.’ ‘OK’, Jinni said and went away. Then Ricky turned to Tutu and Goldie and said, ‘You two cannot go there as you are flowers and fishes.’ Tutu and Goldie said, ‘We forgot’ Reema said, ‘Then don’t forget in future.’ And the worried butterflies left the lotus pond.
Next morning Jinni came. With him were Ricky, Reema and Minnie. Reema had got something with her. It was a bag full of leaves and sticks. Minnie then said, ‘This is our plan. We will have to make a very beautiful butterfly out of leaves and sticks. It should attract James so that he should come and try to catch the butterfly. When he is far away Jinni and his swarm will get in through the window, open the glass jar and let the butterflies out.’ ‘But the main problem is how to make the butterfly fly?’ said Jinni. Tutu said, ‘Goldie and I will take care of that. We will tell you afterwards what our plan is.’ And they started to work on their secret plan.
Days and days went by but they could not finish the butterfly as it really was hard work for them. They could not make it simple or it would not attract James. At last it was done. Jinni said, ‘Now tell us your plan, how to make the butterfly fly?’ Tutu said, ‘Wait a minute.’ and she whispered something to Goldie. Goldie swam away. After sometime she came back with a very long tape grass leaf. Tutu took it and tore it up to make two very thin strips that you can hardly see. She said, ‘We will tie these two very thin strips of the tape grass leaf to both the edges of the wings. Two butterflies of Jinni’s swarm will carry them and will go on moving back and forth.’ ‘Good idea!’ said Minnie.
The next day they all went away while Tutu and Goldie waited impatiently in their pond. When Ricky, Jinni, Minnie and Reema reached the garden, they were welcomed by other butterflies from Jinni’s swarm. When Jinni told them the plan, they nodded in agreement. Marie and Ninny, who were twins, were asked to carry the butterfly made of leaves and sticks. They did as they were told. James had just opened the window for some fresh air. Seeing their chance, Marie and Ninny flew about swiftly with the butterfly held high – trying to attract James. James saw the butterfly and he liked it so much that he went out and started to chase it. The others saw this and rushed in through the window and unscrewed the cap of the jar. Lila and her swarm rushed out and flew away just before James came back. He had found out that the butterfly was not real. He had tried to catch Marie and Ninny but couldn’t as they were too fast for him. Free at last, Lila and her swarm couldn’t stop asking questions about everything that had happened after they were captured. When they reached the pond Lila was delighted to see Tutu and Goldie waiting for her. They all hugged each other and did nothing but talk that evening. Like good friends, Lila, Tutu and Goldie helped each other in need and shared the good times and the bad times together. And so the friends lived happily ever after.
The Bookworm's Help
Harry groaned, ‘Why, oh, why did the Bookworm tell us to read and write a review on “The Hobbit”? It is such a difficult book.’
‘I agree with you’ said Jasmine, ‘but it’s not too hard for me, I can understand the meaning by just by just reading the sentence as I read a lot of books.’
‘You are also a bookworm, I can see.’ said Harry.
Jasmine gave her a friendly punch. The two girls were sitting in their study, which they also shared with George, reading the book and trying to make out the meanings. Harry was a girl really, but everyone called her Harry instead of Harriet. George too was a girl, named Georgina, but she hated her name so everyone called her George instead. The girls studied in an all girl’s school called St. John’s where groups of three girls each share a room which they called their studies.
All the girls, except Daisy, in the 2nd form hated their English and class teacher, Mrs. Queen, and always played tricks on her. They called her ‘The Bookworm’ as she loved reading books.
Harry and Jasmine went on reading. George burst into the room with a dictionary in her hand. She started flapping frantically through the pages.
Jasmine quietly asked her, ‘What word?’
‘Ere’ answered George, still flapping through the pages of the dictionary.
‘You won’t find it there.’ said Jasmine ‘It’s old English and it means “before”.’
‘Thanks’ said George ‘otherwise goodness knows how much time I would have wasted on it. I really hate bookworm.’
‘How’s her darling daughter?’ asked Harry teasingly. She meant Daisy, of course, as every girl called her ‘Bookworm’s darling daughter’.
‘She was reading a book as usual.’ answered George.
‘Oh dear, will you please stop talking?’ asked Jasmine. ‘I can’t understand a word this paragraph says as you’re distracting me.’
‘Sorry, we won’t talk anymore.’ said the other two and not another word was uttered. Jasmine could be fierce if her temper was roused.
The exams were coming in a week. Every day the anxiety grew worse. Zerelda and Zeraphina Cunningham, the American twins, went almost mad. They never had exams like these at their old school back in America.
Jasmine was the only calm person in the form. Lessons were easy for her so she wasn’t anxious. Jasmine was usually a calm girl (except when she was in a temper), sensible, absolutely straightforward and truthful, and was never nervous. She was also extremely good at studies, art, music, drama, elocution and games. She was very kind and generous and also very patient when explaining something. She was always willing to help somebody else so whenever somebody didn’t understand something (which was quite often during the examinations) she always went to Jasmine for help.
The most of the girls in the school were in confusion other than Jasmine. Everyone was trying to learn something at all times, but never quite succeeding. In the middle of it all, they all got a terrible shock.
Mrs. Wilson, the girls’ adored principal, had an accident and was admitted to the hospital. The school was now under Miss Jenkins. She was the vice principal of St. John’s and the girls were terribly scared of her.
Miss Jenkins was extremely strict, had a very hot temper and gave out terrible punishments by the dozen, even when it wasn’t needed. She was a rather harsh person and hated the girls’ cheerful ways. The only person she was in awe of was Mrs. Wilson.
Mrs. Wilson, on the other hand, was very kind and cheerful, though rather grim and stern when she was angry. She understood the girls as well as they understood her and believed that it was no use scolding and punishing children when they had done something wrong, it would only make them hate the person and think more than ever than ever that she was correct and the other person was wrong. So naturally the changing of a principal from kind Mrs. Wilson to harsh Miss Jenkins with the exams coming was rather a lot to cope with for the girls. They just didn’t know what to do.
It was a cold, Wednesday night. The clock struck one when Jasmine suddenly woke up feeling terribly thirsty. So she put her dressing gown on and walked silently out of her room so as not to wake up George and Harry. She wanted to go to the washroom for a drink of water but in the dark she took a wrong turning and went towards the common room instead. But when she realized that she was going the wrong way she had already reached the door of the common room. She turned around and found that she was standing face to face with Miss Jenkins herself. Miss Jenkins had an iron grip hold of Jasmine’s hand so that she couldn’t run away.
Miss Jenkins was on one of her night rounds and had seen Jasmine apparently going to the common room. She did her night rounds quite often to make sure that none of the girls were up to any mischief. She had followed Jasmine and caught hold or her the moment she turned around and asked her, ‘What do you think you’re doing here, that to at this time of the night?’
‘I just wanted a drink of water.’ answered Jasmine in a perfectly unmoved voice. Miss Jenkins was a little taken aback for she expected Jasmine to be scared and burst into tears or stammer. And it outraged her more to see Jasmine so unmoved.
‘You’re lying, Jasmine! Do you think you can fool me with such lame excuses? Do you think I don’t know where the washroom is?’ said the outraged Miss Jenkins. ‘No, I don’t want to hear anything; I know you girls’ ways. I know what you’re doing. You’re having a midnight feast! It must be someone’s birthday. Then only you aren’t to be blamed. The whole form must be punished. So on the 19th of September (which leaves you three days to study as today is the 16th) your class will have to give a test on the chapter “The American Civil War” of History. That’s your punishment.’ finished off Miss Jenkins.
‘But, Miss Jenkins, that’s a 4th form chapter and we’re only in the 2nd form!’ said the horrified Jasmine ‘And anyway, why are you punishing us? We aren’t having a mid……..’
‘Enough, Jasmine’ said Miss Jenkins furiously. ‘I won’t hear another word from you. Go back to your room.’
It was useless to try and convince Miss Jenkins that they were not having a midnight feast, Jasmine knew that. So she quickly went back to her room and woke up Harry and George. Then the three of them went to the different rooms of the 2nd form and woke the others up. There were only 9 of them: Jasmine White, Harriet Plumber, George Kinsley, Daphne Darling, Daisy Quentin, Zerelda and Zeraphina Cunningham, Amy Irving, and Kathleen Ellen, the head of the form. Everyone was cross and annoyed and also very worried when they heard the story but they didn’t blame Jasmine, because they knew that nothing could have been done to make Miss Jenkins change her mind. Zeraphina and Zerelda were especially annoyed as they loved and admired Jasmine highly.
‘How she could ever think that Jasmine, who regards dishonesty as cowardice, could tell a lie that, too, to her, we have no idea.’ they said furiously, as all of them dressed and got ready to go down for breakfast.
‘What’s the matter, girls?’ asked Mrs. Queen, as she noticed all the glum faces surrounding her. Amy made a quick consultation with Kathleen and Jasmine and stood up. She poured the whole story out to Mrs. Queen. She wouldn’t have done so had not Mrs. Queen given them all a surprise.
Mrs. Queen knew the feeling of anxiousness before the exams. So, instead of teaching the girls more, she started to go through the exam syllabus again. She was very patient with the girls and cleared all their doubts. Sometimes, to relieve their minds, she also took them out for walks. This soothed the girls, and they started to like and trust Mrs. Queen.
After Mrs. Queen heard what Amy had to say, she quietly said, ‘Girls, please finish your breakfast. We will discuss this matter in class.’ and the girls knew not to pursue the subject anymore at that point of time.
Everyone was in class. The girls could her Mrs. Queen’s soft footsteps. Daisy, who was nearest to the door, held it open for her to enter. After the class settled down, the first thing Mrs. Queen said was, ‘At breakfast, Amy told me why you were upset. I hope she told me the truth?’
Jasmine stood up and answered, ‘Yes, Mrs. Queen, Amy has been absolutely honest. We really weren’t having any midnight feast. All I wanted was a drink of water. I had simply taken a wrong turning in the dark,’
‘Right,’ said Mrs. Queen. ‘Please do not worry any more. I will talk to Miss Jenkins and if she doesn’t agree, I will go and meet Mrs. Wilson herself.’
She was as good as her word. Miss Jenkins did not believe her, so she visited the hospital where Mrs. Wilson was admitted. When the latter heard what had happened, she immediately summoned Miss Jenkins to come and see her. Mrs. Wilson told her off so severely, that she cancelled the test then and there. The girls were forever after grateful to Mrs. Queen and liked and trusted her from then on.
The sun shone in the brilliant blue autumn sky, strewn with fleecy clouds. A cool breeze blew through my hair, bringing with it the refreshing scent of an early morning. The birds chirruped in the trees, a sound rarely heard in our city.
The joyful day mocked my dejected feelings.
Today was to be a reunion. A reunion with an old friend.
Yeah, right. I thought sarcastically. A very happy reunion indeed. I was going to meet a friend whom I had wished never to meet again.
It had been three years already. Why did she call me now? Why am I even going?
I had reached the meeting point. She wasn’t there yet.
The park near our school, where we had always planned of going together but never actually gone. I sat down on a bench, pulled out a book and began to read.
Will she really come?
The thought went round and round inside my head. I hurried down to the place I was supposed to meet her.
I saw her sitting on the park bench, engrossed in a book. The sight relieved me, but brought on a new anxiety.
It had been so long. Why did I suddenly decide to call her?
She looked up as I approached.
‘Hi, Nikita.’ I greeted her.
‘Hello, Nayanika.’ Her voice was cold. Stone cold.
She hadn’t forgiven me then. Not yet.
‘Why did you call me here?’
She had changed a lot since I had last seen her. More calm, more composed, more...free, somehow. That constant scowl on her face had gone. Yet...she didn’t look quite happy.
‘I wanted to tell you something.’ She sat down beside me.
‘Couldn’t you say it on the phone?’
‘No. I wanted to meet you face to face again.’
‘To say thank you. And sorry.’
She looked me straight in the eye. I didn’t answer.
‘Nayanika, why now? And why me? Shouldn’t you apologise to Natasha?’
I shook my head.
‘I had hurt Natasha once, yes. But the person whom I had truly wounded wasn’t her. It was you. You were the one who were always by me, helping me more than anyone else ever would, or even could.’
‘You understood that now?’
‘I knew that a long time ago.’
‘Oh, really? Didn’t look like it, you know.’ Her tone was highly sceptical. ‘Oh, well, if that was all you had to say, I’d better leave.’ She got up.
‘No! Wait! Please, I’m not finished yet. Hear me out, at least...’
‘Hear what, exactly?’ I turned around and looked at her, shaking my arm out of her grip.
‘My side of the story.’
‘Your side of the story?’ I laughed incredulously. ‘And why should I do that?’
She was silent for some time. Then she said quietly, ‘For exactly the same reason that you came here to meet me today.’
I stared at her, then sank down on the bench again. She sat down beside me, not saying anything.
‘Why?’ I asked her again. ‘Why are you doing this?’
‘I’m not sure myself,’ she replied.
‘I don’t need to know your side of the story, Nayanika, I know it already.’
‘No, you don’t. You don’t know how it felt back then, unable to do anything on my own, always having to rely on the two of you to help me out. Knowing that both of you were better than me in every single thing. Knowing that you pitied me, and no matter how much I tried, I could never be your equal. You can never know what that felt like. Because you never had to take help from others. You never needed it.’
She looked at me with an unreadable expression in her eyes. Then she sighed.
‘And yet, none of what we kept on saying entered your head. The only reason why you were like that was because you thought like that. That fixed idea in your head that you were a loser made you a loser, even when you weren’t one. No one forced you to depend on us. No one was there to stop you from working on your own. You were quite capable of surviving on your own. But the fact was that you didn’t try. The thought that you couldn’t, that you weren’t good was the only barricade.’
I had forgotten how well she knew me.
Even after all this time, she knew me as well as she had then.
She had said those same words to me once before, on that fateful day, when our strained friendship had finally broken.
I still remembered exactly what had happened. After, it had been the turning point of my life.
It was the middle of Class Nine. Our half-yearly exams had just got over.
Natasha had been rather down lately. I couldn’t think why. She had enough reason to be happy. She was participating in both the inter-school and inter-house music competition in the School Fest. I hadn’t managed to get chosen for the fest even after trying continuously for three years. It had always been her.
Nikita was trying to cheer her up. Seriously. She overacts too much. Getting worried if the slightest thing happens.
It was the lunch break, and we were standing under the shade of the pipal tree. Nikita was joking around, trying to make us laugh. How could she be so happy all the time? But then, her exams were much better than mine. Not that she cared about her marks as much as I do.
‘Come on, Nayanika.’ She waved her hand in front of my face. ‘Stop scowling all the time, for goodness sake. It’s not the end of the world.’
‘You didn’t get back horrible papers,’ I retorted. ‘I don’t feel like laughing all the time, like you do.’
That shut her up. I turned to Natasha next.
‘Why are you so down? You’re singing in so many competitions. I didn’t get a chance to get selected because you were there.’
‘No, it’s nothing like that,’ she replied. ‘I don’t sing any better than you. You voice is just soft, so you weren’t chosen. And there was partiality too.’
‘Oh, please,’ I’d had quite enough. ‘You know very well that you sing way better than I do. You knew I had no chance of being selected if you were there too. You already got chosen for the inter-school music, why did you have to audition for the inter-house as well? Seriously, how greedy can a person be?’
‘Nayanika, shut up. Enough is enough.’
It was Nikita. I couldn’t believe it. She had never before said something to me in such a tone before.
Nevertheless, I refused to be daunted.
‘Why should I?’ I asked her. ‘The truth hurts, doesn’t it? And I don’t see why you should care. It’s nothing to you.’
Her eyes narrowed. ‘I thought we were friends, Nayanika. But I can see that the word ‘Friendship’ doesn’t mean the same to all of us.’
‘Nikita, it’s fine.’ Natasha began. ‘Please, don’t...’
‘Natasha, please.’ Nikita interrupted her. ‘There’s a limit to everything. We can’t stay like this forever.’
‘Like what, exactly?’ I asked.
‘In this state of mock friendship,’ was the reply. ‘God only knows how much we’ve helped you, and this is what we get back in return. I’ve excused your faults long enough, but this is ridiculous. Have you any idea what Natasha has done for you? She’s dropped out of so many programs and didn’t take part in competitions just to make you feel better. She’s fallen into trouble so many times just to help you out.’
‘Well, who told her to do that? That was so unnecessary.’
‘She did that because she cares for you.’ Nikita was near to screaming now. ‘She wants to see you happy. Everything we ever did was to make you happy. And yet...God, I should have known. This has happened to me before. But I seriously didn’t expect this from you, no, not you. We’d grown so close last year, what the hell happened? What did we do to make you like you are now? And we never even wanted anything in return.’
That was what bugged me. That I needed help, and they didn’t. That they were better than I was. I knew it then, but I had pushed back that thought to stop myself from realising it. Nonetheless, it rankled inside me, making me the sour, snappy person that I had become.
I knew it. I had known it all along. I knew exactly how Nayanika had felt then, and exactly how she felt now.
‘Do you remember that day?’ she asked me. ‘Or have you decided to forget it?’
I shook my head. How could I forget it? No matter how much I tried, that memory was still there, alive in all its pain. After all, that was the day I lost my best friend.
I’d never quarrelled with my friends even half as fiercely as I did with Nayanika that day. All the things that I had wanted to tell her came pouring out that day.
What had stung me most that her comment had been directed at Natasha. I probably would have kept quiet and let her say whatever she wanted if it had been against me. But I simply couldn’t take it that Nayanika could say something like that about Natasha, just because she wanted to use her talent in all the competitions she came across.
I’m still not sure whether I was right to do what I did that day. But I simply couldn’t take it anymore. Nayanika didn’t even seem to care about the people who had done so much for her.
The end result of the fight was that Nayanika walked off, after saying that she never wanted to see us again, while I wished I had never befriended her in the first place.
And that was the first and last time I had ever seen Natasha cry.
She was never the same after that. Neither was I, for that matter. She had lost a lot of her bubbly cheeriness, while I completely stopped trying to make new friends. I didn’t stop helping people though. I simply couldn’t do that. I would have helped Nayanika again too, had she come to me, but not as a friend. As it was, we hardly exchanged any words, except for the times when it was absolutely necessary.
So went three years. Nayanika’s marks went even more downhill at first, but over time, I noticed they were improving, slowly but surely. It was often that I thought she wanted to tell me something, but she always left it off in the last minute.
We’ve passed out of school by now, but we haven’t yet joined college. And last night, I got a call from an unknown number.
‘Is that you, Nikita?’
‘Yes, who is this?’
‘It’s me, Nayanika.’
‘Nayanika? What in the world?! What do you want?’
‘I was…uh…wondering if you are free tomorrow…’
‘I had to tell you something, and wanted to meet you.’
‘Can’t that be done over the phone?’
‘No, I’m afraid not. Look, I know you don’t want to meet me, but just in case you change your mind, I’ll tell you where you’ll find me. Do you remember that park near our school, for which we had made so many fruitless plans?’
‘I’ll be waiting there from seven in the morning. If you’re not there by nine, I’ll know you won’t come. Okay? Nikita?’
I don’t know what had come over me at that minute, but I suddenly said, ‘I’ll be there.’ and hung up.
‘You know, I still remember every detail of that lunch break.’
‘So do I.’ Nikita’s voice sounded a little constricted.
I turned to her and asked her the question I’d been wanting to ask for years. ‘Why didn’t you ever need help?’
‘I did, Nayanika,’ she replied. ‘And you were one out of two who had helped me a lot.’
I was confused. ‘How? It was always you, wasn’t it, who always helped me out, not only in studies, but in every other thing as well? How did I help you?’
She shook her head. ‘Your help wasn’t as materialistic as mine. You helped me by being there for me whenever I was in trouble or was feeling sad. You helped me by being patient and listening whenever I poured my heart out to you. I still remember, once in Class Eight, when I was especially down, you had told me that no matter what happened, you’ll always be there for me.’
‘That isn’t helping. That’s just…I don’t know what, but that isn’t helping.’
‘So what is helping then? Only the materialistic part, where you helped someone in her studies, helped her get good marks? Only that is helping others?’
Nayanika was such an idiot. She’d always been very materialistic. The reason she thought herself a loser was because she didn’t have a “materialistic” talent like me and Natasha.
‘You know, I was actually trying to repay you by helping you so much. That was my way of saying thank you. Because I didn’t want to lose you, I tried to keep you happy. Unlike you, I couldn’t make friends so easily. So the people who were my friends were very dear to me.’
Nayanika stared at me like she couldn’t believe it. ‘You felt like that? You, who were always so confident about everything and never nervous, you felt like that?’
‘That’s a misconception people have about me.’ I replied. ‘That I’m over-confident and never nervous. But that isn’t really true. I’m actually very nervous and scared most of the time; it’s just that I don’t show it. I always had this fear of standing out, of being different. I was always scared of not being liked by people, always scared that I wasn’t worthy to be anyone’s friend.’
‘I never knew that.’
‘I didn’t know about it myself. I realised it a lot later.’
Was it true? Did Nikita really feel like that?
I hadn’t known. I truly hadn’t known anything about it.
‘By the way,’ she said. ‘Why are only two of us here now? This concerns Natasha too, doesn’t it?’
I nodded. ‘She had some work in the morning, so she’ll be joining us now, in about half an hour. That is, if you want to stay.’
She nodded, then suddenly laughed. ‘It’s no use leaving now, is it? Might as well clear up everything between us.’
Her tone told me that I was not the only one who had wanted a reunion, and wanted to mend our broken friendship. Even if we couldn’t go back to being what we had been before, at least there shouldn’t be any misunderstandings between us.
I checked my watch. Half past nine. I’d told her I’ll be there at ten.
If only I didn’t have to practice singing so early in the morning. But then, I can’t complain. It was my own choice to pursue music as a career.
I was early anyway. I had already reached the park. I smiled to think of all the picnics and outings we had planned for this park, which we had never really accomplished.
I hoped Nikita would have controlled her anger towards Nayanika and come down.
Yes, there they were. They were waving their hands and calling. I ran over to them.
Natasha arrived earlier than expected.
We saw her standing at the park gate, searching for us. She ran over when we called.
‘Glad to see you here,’ she told me. ‘I wasn’t sure whether you’d come or not. Nayanika was rather worried.’
‘Natasha!’ Nayanika exclaimed indignantly.
‘It seems like both of you have already talked before.’ I remarked.
‘I called her up last night too,’ Nayanika replied. ‘She was more willing to talk than you, if she was a bit stiff at first. I apologised, but she is yet to forgive me. She readily agreed to come here, though. So, Natasha, what is your verdict?’
I looked at her expectantly, hoping against hope that it would be a yes.
Natasha settled herself down, then replied, ‘You know, I had forgiven you a long time ago. I just didn’t realise it. But when you called me up last night, and I talked to you after God only knows how long, I was sure of it.’
‘Then why did you wait till today?’ I asked.
Natasha looked at Nikita. ‘I wanted Nikita to know.’
‘And what about you?’ I asked Nikita hopefully. ‘Have you forgiven me yet?’
‘Not until you explain why you suddenly decided to call us here and revive some bitter memories I was trying my best to push away.’
‘Because I’ve finally realized what you had been trying to tell me that time.’
Three years wasn’t a very long time. But it was long enough to change people.
The Nayanika I had known would never have admitted something like this. She would have tried to find excuses to prove that she was right.
On the other hand, Nikita was a most forgiving girl. She never held grudges against anyone. Even if she tried to do so, she couldn’t. I wonder why she refused to forgive Nayanika now. I mean, it’s been three years already and Nayanika had definitely realised her mistake. Everything about her said so. Then why...?
‘So what have you understood?’
‘That I am who I am because of myself. I have realised that sole cause of my troubles at that time were my ideas about myself. And I have realised now that my bitter behaviour, my sour nature, was because I was jealous, yes, I admit it, I was jealous of the two of you.’
Nikita stared at her for some time, then suddenly burst out laughing. I was most bewildered, and Nayanika mirrored my expression.
‘Why, then, the two of us can call it quits.’ Nikita said.
‘How come?’ Nayanika was even more surprised.
‘Because I was jealous of you too.’
I’d finally admitted it. Not only to Nayanika, but also to myself.
‘You...were jealous...of me? Impossible!’ Nayanika was most disbelieving.
‘It’s true.’ I replied. ‘Remember the time when Natasha first became friends with you? I couldn’t bear you at that time. Do you know the reason? It was because I was jealous of your close friendship with Natasha. I felt like I was being left out. Of course, I realised that it was just my imagination, though much later. That jealousy vanished after a time, but it was replaced by a jealousy of a different kind. I was jealous of your ability to make new friends and mix with everyone, no matter what kind of people they were. I was jealous of your popularity. I was jealous of the way people remembered you, even if you hadn’t spoken to them for a long, long time. I was jealous of your wittiness, of your flair for making jokes, for making people laugh.’
Both Natasha and Nayanika were staring at me, incredulity etched into their faces.
‘What? Is there some written law that Nikita cannot be jealous of anyone?’ I asked.
‘No, of course not,’ Natasha recovered herself first. ‘It’s just that I never even had any inkling about this, and you were pretty open with me. How come you never mentioned this to me before?’
‘More than that,’ Nayanika had finally found her tongue. ‘If you were jealous, how is it that your behaviour towards me remained so agreeable all the time?’
‘There are two reasons for that,’ Nikita replied. ‘One, I’m a master at hiding my feelings, and two, I wanted to prove to myself that I wasn’t jealous of you after all. So I went acting like I usually did, and you noticed nothing.’
To think that Nikita had been jealous of me! Good Gracious! If someone else had said something like that I wouldn’t have believed it at all. I still didn’t believe it.
‘You aren’t saying this to make me feel better, are you?’ I asked suspiciously.
‘Of course not, idiot,’ she replied indignantly. ‘Do I look like a person who makes things up to placate others?’
‘No, not really,’ I said. ‘If that was the case, then this meeting would have been completely unnecessary.’
‘So, for once in your life, believe me,’ Nikita said. ‘And until you believe me, I refuse to forgive you.’
‘Alright, I believe you! Please, forgive me now!’
Nikita looked at her out of the corner of her eyes. Then she suddenly hugged her.
Nayanika gasped in shock. ‘So…is that…a yes?’ she asked tentatively.
‘Of course,’ Nikita pulled me into a hug as well. ‘So can the three of us be proper friends now? It’s not yet too late…I hope.’
‘Of course not,’ I replied happily. Nayanika started laughing. Nikita and I joined in.
‘Hey, are the two of you free today?’ Nikita suddenly asked.
‘So am I.’
‘Then why don’t have lunch together somewhere? We can also fool about a little in shops, you know, like the time the three of went out to a mall. It was such fun.’ I wanted to go out with them again, wanted to really feel that we were friends.
‘Yeah, let’s do that.’
‘It’s getting very hot too, why don’t we go to the mall that’s newly opened nearby? I haven’t been there yet, have you?’
‘So, let’s go, shall we? We’d better call our parents and tell them where we are, or else they’d worry.’
‘Yeah, we should do that. Parents worry way too much.’
So here we are, walking arm in arm with each other towards the mall, laughing and talking, just like we used to do before. I had forgotten this feeling, this particular happiness of being with your best friends, and seeing them happy to be with you too.
I wonder if Natasha and Nayanika feel the same. I’m sure they do.