Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction.
 – The First See
The dust on the ground raked up, and amidst the dust, I could only make out that she was coming towards our classroom. I was sitting on the first bench, because I considered that prestigious, until later I discovered what the back benches had in store for me. She came inside, and I saw her for the first time. It didn’t feel awesome, in fact, I felt nothing. She took the seat beside me, probably because she felt too lazy to walk through the class looking for other empty benches. She wore a hairband, and a thousand clips on her hair, which kept them intact for the rest of her life. If I’d start counting them, it’d take me an hour probably.
Classes started. And whilst I religiously listened to the teacher, took down notes, and chewed the end of my pen to eternity, my eyes continuously kept cornering towards her. She hadn’t her notebooks out as yet, all she had on her desk was a sheet of paper, on which she drew flowers, bigger flowers, and big loose petals. And then she put her signature on every possible inch left on the sheet. That was how I got to know her name. Shaena. But that was not a momentous occasion for me. I hardly cared who she was and how her friends called her. I did not care whether she sat beside me or not. In fact, I did not care who sat beside me, as long as both of us minded our own business. And she was quite likely to this fact. A brief smile when she sat down first, and then we got busy with our work, I taking down notes, and she, sketching on the sheet of paper. The bell rang for recess, and when we returned she was sitting two benches behind me.
Shaena. A soft-spoken girl, I hardly ever got to listen to her voice in the first few days. Seldom she would interact with other students. She came, she sat, she left. It was only in the Biology lab that we both shared the same desk. This time it was not coincidental, we were seated roll number wise, and ours were consecutive. I frequently asked her doubts, just to hear her speak. But all she said was ‘Yes’, ‘No’, and seldom ‘I don’t know’. And after a while, I stopped boring her with my unnecessary doubts, of which I had none.
 – Small Steps
It took me a can of Coke to convince our class monitor to ask the teacher to shift me to the seat beside her. He got it done, and now I sat two benches behind. Things had changed a little since the first day. She did not sketch flowers on a sheet anymore; this time she was reading a book, probably a novel. She used to keep the book on her lap, and her head on the desk, and continue to read for the whole day. She didn’t care about what the Physics teacher said about thermodynamics, and she didn’t know that the Maths teacher had already started with trigonometry. The only time she raised her head was when the teacher called out her name, when she took attendance. Once I asked her to pay attention in class lest she’d probably might miss some important topics. She looked at me, said nothing, and returned to reading her book. And as she put her head down on the desk again, it was the first time I noticed her hair. It was auburn and black, and they were untied, with three clips cleanly placed at equal distances. And that was the first time I felt something, which I wiped off almost instantaneously.
There weren’t probably many reasons I could present for my urge to be friends with her. She had her set of friends, with whom she laughed and jabbered, and I had my set of friends, with whom I stayed for the majority of the school hours, and after school as well. She didn’t attend classes one day, and I assumed she was ill, and when she returned, she had a new book with her. When I asked her why she was absent from school, she smiled and said, “I woke up late,” after which she returned to her new book. That was the moment I realized what I had to do to be good friends with her.
The next day, she came in, took her seat. And she was pleased by what she saw. For I had a book in my hand, a novel. I had decided that the only way we could connect was to talk about fiction, and novels, and not studies. She seemed quite interested, and asked me which book I was reading. I said ‘The Alchemist‘, and she said, “Oh, you know what, the boy finds the treasure under his own house.” I pretended to be angry and said, “You weren’t supposed to tell me that,” and she laughed. I looked at her face, forgot everything for a second, and then laughed along. This was just the beginning. We started talking. From books, we went to authors, and styles of writing. She would do most of the speaking, because I had no clue about that. She would speak of poetry, and how a ballad was different from a sonnet. She would compare O Henry with Wordsworth, and I would pretend to pay full attention to what she was saying. Meanwhile, the teacher finished with topics I had no clue of.
Two months and we were good friends. Our topics of discussion now changed. She would talk to me about how her yesterday was, and I would say the same. We exchanged numbers, just in case we ever needed them. And thus the foundation for our to-become-close-friends was laid.
 – Not So Bold
“There lies the garden, full of flowers and grass. You can see it and please your heart. But at the same time, you might as well pluck the flower and keep it with you, because today or tomorrow it has to die, be it with you, or be it on the plant. And similarly, you need to cut the grass and keep it at your feet, for otherwise you won’t realize what is underneath.” A pause. I tried to grasp in the words she said; I had already told her umpteen times that I was poor at English, and had asked her several times to speak straight, but no, she reveled in her speech, in her flowery language, and had succeeded in confusing me for the thousandth time. I said plainly, “No, I don’t understand,” and she replied in return, “Only if you would!”
Shaena. There were things about her I would never have known, if not for our sole common friend, Khurram. That she had a boyfriend, that she was not at all the girl she tried to show in front of others, and that she intended to use friends for her advantage, were few of the various accusations that I had decided to dispose of the minute I heard of them. In fact, I hardly cared about who she was. I wasn’t intending to spend my life with her, nor was she, and the seven hours of school that we spent together would have had no effect on me, whosoever she was. So I decided to let everything go the way it was going.
By the end of the year, we were good friends. We did not care about what people said when they saw us walking together after school, it hardly mattered to us when they was a rumor of something going on between us, and we decided to forgive the boy who said she was my slut. Everything was going well. Only if were destined to be so!
“There’s a light which will shine on you every time you do something good. There’s another light which will shine on you every time you do something bad. It’s up to you to decide which is the light that shines, whenever you do something.” Another nonsensical blow from Shaena. When would she ever learn to speak straight! We were at the canteen waiting for our lunch to arrive. Whilst she sipped coke out of a glass bottle, I stared at her eyes which never stopped moving, they spoke so much. It was a tinge of brown in black, which suited her to the utmost. She was pretty, very pretty. And the next moment, I decided to go buy myself a drink lest I do anything extremely foolish sitting there.
 – The Confrontation
There were reasons why my friends said that I liked Shaena, though I never gave much attention to them. For example, when they asked why her name in my contacts had double quotes enclosing her name, I had no answer for them. And surprisingly, I had no answer for myself. “Go and tell her, how long will you continue this way?” they used to say. “Tell her what?” used to be my regular reply. They stared at me and went away.
We had our board examinations, after which we were promoted to the eleventh standard. Whilst most of my friends had left the school for other schools, I decided to carry on in the same. Coincidentally, Shaena had decided the same, though we had never talked about it. I went on a leave from school for a week, to attend a marriage. Her regular calls convinced my cousins that there was something fishy. How much ever I tried to explain, they wouldn’t understand. Whilst we were returning, something happened. It was nothing great, nothing momentous. I was moving from one platform to another. Since the path was a long way to go, I decided to get down on the track, and cross the width. Whilst I was on the track, (no, no train came and hit me), she called up. I could have crossed the tracks, moved to the platform and received her call. Instead I received it then and there. When I reached the platform, my cousins stared at me. “So you say you don’t have anything to do with her?” they said. I realised almost instantaneously that I had been lying to them, and to myself, for a long long time.
The twenty-third of April of 2008 will remain in my mind for almost the whole of my life. It was the day that changed everything. Shaena and I went to the same coaching class. Topics for the IIT syllabus were covered there, of whose I didn’t understand a word. While returning, Shaena and I chatted all the way. Suddenly she asked me, “Who’s your girlfriend?” I was startled by the question, not because I never got such questions, but because I hadn’t expected it at the moment. I said, “No one”. “There must be someone who you love, right?” I was in a fix. I couldn’t tell her that it was she, for I feared losing her friendship. I couldn’t afford to lie, because it would be very apparent. Plus, I didn’t have much time to decide. “Tell me,” she insisted.
After two minutes of silence, I spoke up. “I’ll tell you on one condition. When that girl gets to know this, she shouldn’t stop talking to me. Nothing should get bad between us.” She promptly said yes, though I knew this promise was not meant to be kept. I said softly, “I love you,” so that no one else would hear. Okay, I had done it. I had said those three words for the first time, and I had no idea what was to come next. She took it rather calmly, or pretended to be calm until we departed. She asked “Are you serious?” for about ten times within a minute. And when she realised I was serious, she said nothing. Her house came, she bid goodbye and left. And I waited for the night to end, not knowing what the morning had in store for me.
 – Consequences
A morning of January. Cold, dry and silent. It had been eight months now. Nothing much had happened in this interval. Shaena and I had not been talking since that night, and except for the moment each day when we crossed each other while entering the class, she didn’t look at me, and neither did I. I had assumed that it was destined to be so. Only if it was!
The computer lab gave us a chance to come on talking terms again. It was there that we said ‘Hi’ again, and pretended as if nothing had ever happened. She probably must have felt that it was the appropriate thing to do. I tried to behave as normal as possible. “So which book are you reading now?” I asked. “The Namesake”, she said. “Oh, you know what, the boy at length realizes that it doesn’t matter what his name was. Moreover, he starts reading the book of Nikolai Gogol his dad gave him on his birthday.” “You weren’t supposed to tell me that,” she said. Deja vu.
Things turned normal in a few days. We talked as and when needed, not more, not less. “The rains will come and they will go. But you can’t afford to get wet in it every time, can you?” she said one day. And for the first time, I understood what she said.
As our class had a small strength, talks of Shaena and I getting back on talking terms spread. People hardly knew why we had stopped talking, yet they seemed happy when they got to know that we were talking. We never talked of that evening. Shaena had left the coaching classes six months back, so there was no chance of such a repetition. Things went pretty normal for some four months. The day’s brightest before dusk, they say. Something similar was to come.
 – One Wrong Step
An evening of June, we were returning from our tuition. Our tuition had become much more fun now, at least for Shaena and me. For once, I was feeling now, that things were indeed going in the right direction. Two hours of the tuition, under the table, our legs would be intertwined, mine on hers on mine on hers. And we sat like that, without ever caring to care what went through our minds; it was just normal. Then this day came.
Our tuition got over around seven thirty, and it was raining heavily that evening. Like all girls, Shaena had an umbrella, and like all boys, I couldn’t care less; I didn’t even have a bag to carry my notebook, leave alone an umbrella. Since we lived in the same campus, we decided to walk together. We walked, and on our way, we talked random things. It was queer we never mentioned anything ever about what had happened, what was happening, and it seemed as if she did not care as to what was to happen. As for me, I had had a lesson once, and I had promised myself not to repeat it again, ever.
We had almost reached my house when the power cut off. As it was raining, I suggested to wait for a minute lest we step on something on the road. She agreed, which was obvious, since she was afraid even of the butterfly. Whilst we stood, waiting for the lazy workman to go and switch on the generator, a thunder struck. And, instantly, Shaena caught my shirt tightly and hid her face in my arm. It was all too fast to think or to react, but the next thing I knew I did was push myself away from her. Not that I did that voluntarily, it just happened that I spotted her mother coming towards us. The moment was gone, it was dead. And although I had given a clear sign of disapproval to what Shaena had suggested, I never wanted to.
 – New Life
The next evening we met at the tuition again. I first thought I’d clear it out then and there, but a lot many of our friends were around, so I decided to postpone it until the tuition ended. I texted her once in between, “Talk to you after the class.” She checked her phone, saw my message, and did not respond. The least I expected was to make an eye contact with her in the next one hour that followed. It turned out she didn’t want it to happen. As soon as the tuition ended, she picked up her bag and made her move to leave. I called her, I was three people behind, and the doorway wasn’t wide enough to overtake the others. She went downstairs and before I could speak, I saw her mother waiting for her. Both left, and I left shortly, wondering what I’d do next. I was lost.
I realized it would be possible for me to talk to her when she was on her way to school. I started leaving for school early from the next day, detouring each day towards her school, waiting for her until I felt I was getting late for school, and then leaving for school. I did this every morning, and every evening, I waited on the road which led her back from school to home. Unfortunately, and rather to my surprise, I never crossed her path. It wasn’t possible this way, for there were only three routes back towards her house, and she definitely wouldn’t take the other routes, she was too lazy to take the other path which was longer.
An evening of November, cold and dry, when most of us feel too lazy to leave our quilts and step on to the floor, I was standing on the way from her school back to her home. I was pretty sure she had changed her routes, I hadn’t seen her for the past few months; I never met eyes with her parents, and they reciprocated similarly. But today was different. The air around me was lighter. Perhaps it meant something was in store for me. As I waited on my bike, a scooty suddenly came to a halt a few inches away. She was pretty, in a white dress, open hair, a white hairband, and it seemed her vehicle had broken down. I went up to her, offering to give her vehicle a push to her house or the mechanic, whichever was closer. She smiled and forwarded a hand. I held it and said, “Hi, I’m …”. She smiled back and said, “Hi, I’m Saeeka.”
 – Second Chance
“Life and love are often on the same side of the coin, but sometimes they turn out to be two sides of the same coin. You can flip it and have the other.” The weirdest and the most nonsensical message which I had received on my phone in the last few months. It was from an unknown number, and at first I thought it would be Saeeka. It had been a month now since we first met, after which we met quite regularly. She was doing a project on graphs she said. The aim was to find the shortest path between two points. Once this was done, she would fit it in nanoparticles which would follow its prey using the fastest route possible and collect pictures and send them to her. I would have sarcastically said, “Yeah sure, you would certainly beat Crichton in his writing”, had I not known that she was genuinely serious about it. I knew I was of absolutely no help in this novel idea of hers, but her company kept me happy, and I did not want to lose a chance of being around her.
The same evening I thought it was long time we exchanged numbers. She wrote down her number on my hand; usually she wrote my name, or hers, or any random word on my hand, today was better because it made sense. As we hugged, I tried to remember the number the text had come from, and realized it was not Saeeka. A bolt from the blue. No, it should not be her. I had tried hard, tried desperately to forget Shaena; I broke the hug. Saeeka was not dismayed, we did not expect anything better from each other. She talked of graph theory, glancing through the novel which I carried along, “Eleven Minutes” by Paulo Coelho.
“So you are interested in prostitutes?” she asked mockingly.
“No,” I said, having no clue of answering why I was reading that book.
“You should read Jurassic Park by Crichton”, she said. Why was she always into scientific things, i thought, though Crichton reminded me of comparing her to him.
“Yes, I think I will”, I replied, almost sure I had no intention of reading it.
“Or better, read up the book on Graphs by Peter Brass. May be you could help me then in my project as well.”
“No,” I said firmly.
It would all have been fine, I realised, if I had the brains to see through it. In fact when I finally realised what happened, I was surprised a fool had been made of me so smoothly. And it was all because of that evening of March, when I, having no work to do, went down for a stroll.
 – Finale – Back to Square One
A little bit of background research never harmed anyone, so I had proceeded to do that two days earlier, only to reach to the conclusion that Saeeka studied Commerce in our school, which was of course, by no means, a path towards finding solutions to problems in graph theory. As I strolled down the path, I saw her. She hurried out of her block, and pretended not to see anyone around, though I already knew what just happened. Research says that when you are more than nervous you tend to spill out all the truth, and I was going to apply just the same in the next few minutes, for Saeeka’s presence at Shaena’s block made absolutely no sense to me.
“Okay, I know what this is about, and Shaena already told me everything about it,” I said as I moved towards Saeeka from behind. She turned, dismayed, eyes staring the concrete road, and for the first time, it wasn’t how we talked earlier. She spoke up, “Okay, I am sorry. I did not intend to do all this. I have always considered a friend to be above everything. But sisterhood sometimes takes priority, and what I did was for your good. You didn’t stand up to it, and I am sorry about that.” Of course, that made no sense to me, because neither had Saeeka been much explanatory in her excuse, nor had Shaena ever actually told me anything about it.
In the next few minutes, what I gathered was that Shaena still had hopes that I love her, and was trying to find if it was still true, so he had asked for help from her first cousin, Saeeka. I had absolutely no clue why she would try to do this, but since I had never talked to Saeeka about Shaena, they both assumed I had got over it. And that was not true anyways. So, here I was, in the midst of a conspiracy, with no way to go out, losing something unintentionally again, and not being where I should have been.
Saeeka and I never met again after that. Shaena continues her no talking system even today. Sometimes now when I think what all happened, I can’t help but laugh at how things turn out just the opposite of how you want it. Of course, there is no God that does things good. If there were, I would have killed Him by now for being so helpful towards me. Had I believed in God, I would have prayed things turned out good one day and that she realised the fact that I loved her, only without deploying queer ways to do that. And there it ended, not so happily ever after.