It was that night when she started talking to herself again. And doing that she fell in the sheer familiarity of the habit she had tried so desperately to leave behind. It started involuntarily, a mere continuation of the argument about authors she was having with a guy on Facebook followed by her internet connection blowing off. So, it was natural enough for her to continue that conversation in her head with herself. She did it quietly though; she didn’t want her parents alarmed with the possibility of her going back into depression.
“It wasn’t really a depression. More like, I no longer felt any attachment with the world around me. Brooding, thinking, moping seemed somehow more apt” she told herself thoughtfully. “I wonder how it started though. Everything had been so normal since the past few weeks. Maybe it has something to do with the exam pressure and me having a super sensitive imagination.” She brooded, despite knowing that the actual reason was something different.
She went to bed with a Poirot- Hercule Poirot’s Christmas intending to finish it before dozing off, she couldn’t possibly leave the interesting drama incomplete. It was past midnight when her parents called out from the other room to switch off the lights and she obediently relented before settling with a torch to finish the novel.
It hardly took her half an hour before she had yet another fantastic Christie to her credit. But, she admitted to herself as she lay down, the story was disappointing, none of the well-stressed characters had done the throat slitting job and the concept of a total stranger(with an unknown blood connection with the murdered man) doing the murder didn’t appeal to her, despite the motive.
“You don’t really like strangers creeping into your life at any point of time. Well, I don’t anyways. It’s a whole new tedious process of knowing and understanding the person and if doesn’t turn out the way you wanted, you face disappointment. And whatever tryst I have had with strangers has always turned out as complete fiasco. It’s so much easier to hang out with people I already know than start up an acquaintance with a total stranger. But then, it is really hard when someone you thought you knew turns out to be a total stranger.”
Going towards a completely different line of thought she brooded “Now to think of it, most of the people I know are somewhat strangers. Not my closest friends, but others who I think are my friends but at some point of time, I discover something terrible about them. Apart from a few really close people, I am not intimate with all the people I talk with. They are just-friends I guess, nothing more. Though,” she thought punching her pillow to a more comfortable shape “I don’t know why I should bother myself with such people who don’t really affect me.”
There was a slight tone of defense in her voice as she muttered those words and it was with finality that she closed her eyes, as if to shut her mind and mouth from the apparent difficult lines her thoughts were taking her to. Her lids trembled for a while before they drooped finally, slowing down the furiously fast cog-wheels of her thought process.
And before she knew it, it was dawn and she was back at school. Everyone looked grave as she walked to her seat at the last bench beside Sahana and before she could enquire, her friend motioned her to keep silent and pointed in front of them. Just sitting two places ahead of them was… Rishabh. Her heart almost leapt to her throat in shock but the emotion that flooded inside her after the initial surprise was… relief. Powerful and numbing relief.
So he is saved after all… he is saved after all, was all she could think. She looked around to see all her classmates huddled over their side; the picture of Rishabh with his tall back bended over a Math notebook, solving sums intently was a very comforting sight. After all, the news of his suicide had disturbed them all.
As she turned smiling towards Sahana, she saw her Math and English teacher standing at his place, asking him to explain the cause of his sudden and surprising act, saying that we all were curious to know about it.
Well, she was curious about it till last night, but now that he was back, she decided it didn’t matter anymore. Relief and happiness was all she felt at that moment.
Rishabh stood up and finally she got a full glimpse of his face. She was glad to see that he looked exactly the same; glad that reality had cast a shadow over the gruesome details that rumors had held. The only change was his left wrist covered with bright white bandage, so bright that it hurt her eyes and she couldn’t help thinking- I thought he had hanged himself. She turned confused to Sahana, but her expression said that she didn’t understand it any better either.
Rishabh started explaining something in his deep, gravelly voice, but she wasn’t paying any attention; the only thought in her mind was ‘at least he is in time for the ISI exam! Now he can fulfill his dreams!’ and a jubilant smile accompanied her thoughts. She had no idea why she was so overly excited but the faces around her said that she wasn’t alone in it. She felt a warm sensation fill her heart and felt genial and well-tempered towards everyone.
The classes must have passed in a blur; all she remembered was looking back from time to time like they all did before- she, Geet, Avni as they teased Sahana that Rishabh couldn’t stop looking at her. She smiled as she remembered a certain graph they had drawn for the no. of time he looked vs. time; it had a surprisingly steep slope. She giggled softly, feeling like a young schoolgirl again and she was just about to poke Geet to remind her of that particular incident when she suddenly found herself in the school grounds, sharing Tiffin with her friends.
It was then that Rishabh came along, pausing where they were standing to talk to her “Ae Shruti” he said and handed her an eclairs. Looking at her gaze down to the packet in his hand, he laughed and handed her another toffee. It was promptly taken away by one of her friends and she shook her head in mock-sadness as they both started walking. They barely reached the basketball ground when she stopped and said the thing that had been haunting her head since the morning.
“You can’t imagine how relieved I am to see you back Rishabh” she said softly. Then holding out her hand she said “promise me that you’ll never do such a thing again. Promise me”. He looked at her for what seemed like a long time and then keeping his palm over hers said, “I promise”.
A wide smile broke out on her face and she squeezed his hand tightly before releasing it. At that moment she felt really happy. Everything was back to normal and the stuff she had been worrying to death about felt small and unimportant.
As they walked in the school ground eating fruit cake with her complaining about how everything in her lunch box that day was too sweet, she wondered why she was being able to talk to him so easily. It wasn’t as if they were the best of friends. But then, he had known of her deepest dreams since the day he had read her notebook, since the day they had shared that intimate conversation in the computer class about their futures, their dreams. Yes, it was true that they weren’t too intimate as friends, but he was a friend nevertheless, someone with whom she liked talking to; he was too practical for an imaginary soul like her and that fact helped her to remain grounded.
Yes, he definitely was her friend and the news of his suicide had disturbed her immensely… Attempt to suicide, she corrected herself as she glanced at his bandaged hand. She looked for a moment at the tall, lean frame, the long, mature face with unkempt hair and signs of stubble, the loud, booming, carefree laugh that issued at regular intervals when she said something really stupid.
With sudden warmth in her heart she thought ‘I don’t mind being really stupid if you would laugh like that again, because everything is alright now… Everything is alright’. And back at a place she loved, her school, with what had seemed like a disturbing truth turned out as a horrible dream, everything was truly alright and nothing could be better. They were about to walk across the volleyball ground when someone called her from behind… maybe they wanted the ball…
“Shruti, Shruti! It’s NINE o’ clock!”
She woke up with a start, leaping into a sitting position as soon as she opened her eyes. For one whole minute, her mind couldn’t register her surroundings or her situation.
She stared confused at her bedroom walls, at the colorful posters she had stuck on them with her best friend, at the window streaming sunlight onto her bed almost cruelly, at her mother who told her to get up and left with a swish of the emerald green curtains, at the wall clock that said 9:05 with a mocking certainty… with a pang that almost brought tears to her eyes, she realized that it was a dream. Everything… was… just a… dream.
She stifled a sob as her hand automatically reached out for a brown leather bag on her bookshelf. She searched in it frantically till she found what she wanted- a small New Year card. It was the only printed ones she had kept with the other hand-made cards given to her by her closest friends, partly because she didn’t feel like throwing it away and partly because it was the only substantial memory she had from her 3rd grade.
And somehow, she loved the simple array of flowers on the cover- blue with a lovely shade of violet and a bit of pink and magenta thrown against a white background. It was a strange combination but it was a lovely picture and it had appealed to her color sense greatly. She opened it with trembling hands; on top of all the printed stuff written in a childish, loopy handwriting were the words- “To Shruti, From Rishabh”.
Tears rolled down her cheeks and smalls shards of sadness stabbed her yet again- things had been alright in her dream, but in reality everything was far from being fine.
It was strange for her to be crying weeks after he was gone, but as she looked at the strange pixels of color thrown together in the card she realized that it life was always strange. Little things that seem unimportant the time they happen trigger strange reactions, strange emotions.
She had thought of him as a just-friend of hers, but his absence had bothered her, bothered her to limits she hadn’t grasped herself.
They hadn’t been best of friends, but he was a friend nevertheless and she had lost him, lost a friend… forever…