It was something much more than just charm, beauty or something in that territory which pulled me close to her. She was not beautiful, not ugly, was not outstanding or extra ordinary, she was just a girl who we meet in our everyday life. There was nothing special in her when she passed me every other day in the corridor by giving me a strange look. She was not special until I started to see more of her than that mere look or embarrassing smile.
I was so much into my studies during my high school; I had to score good grades to get into the college of my dreams, where all my brothers got their education. Getting into that college was the matter of my fame and fortune and a simple matter of my dreams. And because of all that, I had to concentrate hard on my studies and I barely got time to enjoy other things in my school life. When teachers thought of me as a smart student, students though I was a freak and a jerk who only knew to study and score good marks.
I was not much of a friendly person and I had relatively less friends at school, my best friends were my brothers and school was purely a study material for me. The only friend I had at school was Priya, who was another lonely one in our school, she was not too much into studies; she was just lonely and happened to be my classmate. We went along well, so there was no choice other than her for me. She went all cheered up after being with me, but what I cannot figure out was why I was still a freak?
This all doesn’t mean, I had no friends at all, I did have friends, but the thing was I never stayed long with anybody. I went well with everybody and hanged out with everybody, I was on good terms with all and that was always an advantage to my life there. Teachers adored me and that was obvious as I had always managed to score the highest marks and teachers think I am the only one student who got a motive to study. And honestly girls gave me a hard time, was I that gorgeous for them to stare at me all day?
I was such a person who liked to keep my things to myself and not to explain my life or understand my doings to others. If my things really matter to them, let them figure it out, they don’t owe an explanation from me unless asked, that was my attitude. And nobody did ask me about my things, as I said earlier, people thought I was a jerk and so they were not interested in asking me but to make their own gossips. It was true that I was about to slap a girl for which she gave me a hard time, but I have not done it. But the rumours were I cheated her in love and slapped her at last.
First of all, love was not my thing and second of all I had no girl and I had not slapped that girl, I was about to and she has never ever appeared in my life again. This was how high school runs, on gossips and fake love stories. I was in a relationship, about 2 years before, but I am all done with it and I moved on. We were not meant to be together and the relation was just a relationship, I couldn’t find love or anything like that, so I had no choice but to leave that idea alone and move on with my studies and my scheduled life. And I have not cheated her, I was always ready to give it another chance, but she got engaged to somebody, this was what happened in India. She was still there at school, I stare at her occasionally and I was glad that I left her; she was not even a choice.
I study in no international, western style school, so there were no prom dances or Valentine’s Day program. It was just an ordinary school which runs on studies and some boring youth festivals and yeah some cultural programs, with no cultures included. I had a normal school life which most of the ordinary Indians had, it was beautiful indeed. My school was normal until she and her best friend appeared in my life. I have never seen a girl like that in my life before; she was strange and funny perhaps.
I have noticed her before when she gave me that killing look, I have caught her staring at me and I doubt that she drop her mouth open at my sight. Like I said she was strange and I never tried to figure her strangeness out and she was not a big deal back then. She was one of that many girls stared at me weirdly.
That was a pleasant day and I was walking through the corridor towards staff room. That was when out of nowhere she appeared with her friend. She stood in front of me for a bare moment and was blocking my way. I was about to excuse myself when I saw her friend pushing her and asking something for her to do. And the whole scenario told me that I was involved in their drama. I had no interest in their drama, but something about that girl held me there.
‘Hi’ she said and waved her hand towards me.
‘Excuse me? Do I know you?’ I asked back.
‘No, but...’ she stammered ‘can you please give me a moment, can we talk alone for a minute?’
‘Please’ her face went all funny and pleading and there was no way by which I could refuse her request.
‘Okay’ by that we went a little far from his friend.
‘Who are you?’ I asked.
‘I am....mm....Pooja’ she replied ‘and that is my friend Irfan’
‘You are not Pooja, You can’t be, I can see that you are a Muslim’ I said as it was clear that from her dressing, she had a scarf on vaguely hiding her silky hair.
‘Does name matter? These days we put any names right?’
‘But not Pooja, you are not......’
‘Zoya’ she cut me mid sentence ‘happy now?’ she was talking to me like she has known me for years.
‘Now concentrate on what I am saying, ok?’ she said and she was staring right into my eyes.
‘Do I have another choice?’ I asked and talking with her seemed easy, even easy than talking to any other girls, even priya.
‘I want you to tell my friend Irfan that I told you that I have a crush on you’ she said in one breath.
‘Come again?’ I said as I couldn’t understand the whole thing ‘you have a crush on your friend and you want me to tell that to him, why?’
‘God damn, I told you to concentrate, listen, I and Irfan were playing truth or dare, you do know what that is don’t you?’
‘I have heard, never played’
‘That question is not usually asked in the exam, so don’t bother’ she was clearly making fun of me and there was no emotions playing on her face other than innocence and restlessness, she was a great actor.
‘And he dared me to tell you that I have a crush on you and if I am not doing it, I have to give him a whole packet of chocolate, I don’t like being failed, so, please...’
‘Crush on me?’
‘It’s a play, man, no big deal, just say that, ok?’ without allowing me to answer she called Irfan near us.
‘Now ask him’ she said proudly to Irfan.
‘She told me that she had a crush on me and Pooja, you wasted my entire break time, I had to see my language teacher’ with that I left and I heard them say,
‘Jerk’ she was saying and I saw her face, usually I get angry at things like that, but that girl bought a smile on my face against the usual.
‘Pooja? Who is Pooja?’ I heard Irfan asking her.
The next day I noticed her again in the corridor, she was not supposed to be in that corridor as it had no connection with her class room, she had no need to be there unless she was taking a long way to the ground. Though she was talking to Irfan while walking I knew she had her eyes on me which told me clearly about the intention of her to talk to me.
‘Hey Ahmed’ she greeted me.
‘What now?’ I asked.
‘Here, for you’ she held out a chocolate to me, it was expensive but not my favourite.
‘Why?’ I asked, I honestly had a lot of questions.
‘I surely am not going to eat a whole box of chocolates’ she said ‘you helped me beat him, anyway’ she winked at me.
‘She has not given me, accept it man, she don’t always share her chocolate with others’ interrupted Irfan. I saw her elbow him for the comment he made and I accepted her chocolate, after all it was a chocolate.
‘I am not giving you now, I was thinking of’ she said.
‘Who needs your chocolate?’ Irfan teased her.
I was about to leave when Irfan said:
‘She does have a crush on you Ahmed’ it made me stare back and I saw her face blush, I gave her a big smile which I very rarely did. And I saw her giving her friend a real hard slap on his hand; he surely was going to have a hard time after that.
After that I haven’t met her much and that made me sick, I wanted to meet her every other morning. My not too blasting days were getting even worse. She bought something with her, some kind of magic which made me smile. I have not discussed her with anyone, not with my brothers, priya, not even my supportive mom, because I myself was not sure about her being in my life. I didn’t know where she belonged, what she was or even whether she had a place in my life.
I decided to see her again; I was not good at that stuff. So I simply passed her corridor, at first I couldn’t see her, but heard her voice from a huge crowd, I saw no girls, she was surrounded with a lot of boys, and she was talking from middle. I noticed Irfan at the door and went near him intentionally to talk.
‘What is going on?’ I asked him.
‘What?’ he was confused.
‘Pooja?’ he was clearly making fun of me.
‘Zoya’ I corrected him as I wanted him to know that I did know her name.
‘Nothing much, she is giving them a lecture’ he said and was about to ignore me when I asked again,
‘Chemistry’ he said ‘man, what is wrong with you, she is just talking crap there like usual, no big deal’ at first when he said chemistry I was goanna believe him really.
‘One of our friends needs help, he want to propose to a senior girl, they are making plans’ he explained, at that point I realised how enjoyable school life can get, it was lot more than what I had for myself.
‘Any luck there?’ I asked casually.
‘No, she is a rough one to impress, your batch, she is, real beautiful girl, i think’ he said
‘Priya?’ I asked as priya was always an attraction point to boys, but never to juniors though.
‘Zoya bhai, your crush here wants to know the name of that senior girl, some priya?’ Irfan asked to Zoya by raising his voice into a maximum as he had to out travel a huge voice.
‘Bhai?’ I said to myself.
‘Teri baabi thodi tho hein yaar’ commented Irfan on my shortest and irrelevant question.
‘Hi, Ahmed’ one of the boys Zoya was talking to came and hugged me like he have known me for a long time, I didn’t even knew his name. He wanted me to talk with priya, so my guess was not wrong, they were discussing about my best friend.
‘Varun, I have a great idea, buy him some chocolates and he will do anything’ said Zoya as she approached me and laughed at her own pathetic joke. By that she went with Irfan, why was she always with Irfan. I have never spotted her without Irfan at school. I actually came there to talk to her and she went by leaving me in the middle of some crazy guys.
After that I had to make up a reason to meet her again and it was real hard to bring up something. And out of the plans, she appeared in front of me again, in canteen this time. She was not having lunch but was talking with her usual group, Irfan right near her of course. I was alone there to get a change for priya and I decided to talk to Zoya, which seemed the right time to do it.
‘Zoya’ I called from near her table which clearly interrupted her lecture of chemistry.
‘Hi’ she was kind of shocked to see me, but she did greet me.
‘Can I have a moment, please?’ I asked her.
‘Me?’ why was she that surprised that she dropped her mouth open and had a ridiculous expression on her face.
‘Yeah’ I said and she rose slowly and I noticed the stupid smile on Irfan’s face.
‘You want us to wait, Zoya?’ asked Irfan.
‘Wait by the corridor, will you? That boy from high school gives me a hard time’ she said.
‘Still?’ he asked ‘don’t worry, never again, I will take care of that, you take care of your crush, man, I got this one’ Irfan winked at her. Their friendship was something for me to watch, they were so caring, loving and understanding about each other and still they were silly, ridiculous and always stupid. I was always jealous of Zoya that she got such an adorable relationship, friendship.
‘Thanks man’ with that we went out of the canteen towards the great tree of our grounds, it was a great place. First of all, that was the only place in that bare ground where the sun couldn’t reach directly, and then it was a usual spot for silly talking. Whatever crap we talk in that school, that tree should have witnessed it.
And I have heard that, it witnessed a great proposal, one of our teacher proposed to a student for marriage and that she agreed, that was weird, but the fact that the teacher was fresh out of college, makes it less weird. He was still there at school, my maths professor, he had grown old, but people said that his wife was still dropdown gorgeous. I have heard students tease him for that, but he was a let go and easy person to go with.
‘What you want?’ she asked.
‘Who is giving you a hard time?’ I asked back instead of answering.
‘Nobody’ she smiled one of her dirtiest and broad smile.
‘Can I ask you something?’ I asked.
‘Anything except chocolate’ she said.
‘Why are you always with Irfan?’ I asked, and I didn’t know why I asked it.
‘We are childhood friends, we know each other since we are small children, he is my neighbour, some distant cousin too and most of all, he is my best friend, now is there a question of why I am always with him?’ she said very swiftly, she always talked fast, it was always hard to figure out what she was talking.
‘And the reason behind why you are always around boys?’ i asked again. It was like I interrogating her really.
‘My mom sends you to spy on me?’ She asked and she had this unexplainable expression on her face.
‘Sorry’ I said.
‘I was always with Irfan, and he didn’t like girls much, he was always with guys and obviously we came as a package deal, every friend of him is mine, and I hardly got much time to make some girl friends, but I do have some, you want me to hook you up with someone?’ she was fast again, I really wanted to tell her to slow down.
‘You are a girl too, Irfan doesn’t have a problem with you’
‘Excuse me, what is your problem, now you have a crush on Irfan?’ she asked, restless.
‘What, no, no, no, I was just asking’ I said, she did talk real crap.
‘He has no such problems with girls, ok? I just became like this for no reason, how am I goanna make you understand?’ I did know why she became like that, it was the reason why people adored her, she was as good as she was, no alterations recommended.
‘You don’t have to’ I said.
‘Hold on a sec, why are we talking again? I thought you needed some help from me or something like that’ she said.
‘Sorry, yeah, I do need a help from you’ I said.
‘I want you to write me my words’ I said.
‘Yeah, a speech’ with that she started laughing; actually she was pretending a laugh.
‘Very funny, I can’t even write my English exam properly and what is your topic, some global warming or something? I tell you, man, those things are the least I care about in my life, so I am not goanna write a speech in the first place because I am no good at this stuff and.....’ she was going on like that and it seemed to me that she was never goanna stop talking.
‘Love, Love of friends......friendship, that is my topic’ I cut her mid sentence. I stammered a bit, but the right topic came out at last.
‘Friendship?’ she asked.
‘Yes’ I replied.
‘Which club are you in, again?’ she asked, she was clearly making fun of me.
‘Literature and it is for the friendship day program we are organising’
‘Good and you want me to write it who is a member in no club, why me? I am no good at this stuff’ she said.
‘You are good at friendship, you are so close with Irfan, I just like the idea of you two and you are the best person to talk about friendship’ I said.
‘Blah blah blah’ she started making that sound.
‘There is a writer in everybody, you just try, please, you can, you just write what comes to your mind, ok?’ I asked and I really wanted her to write it.
‘What comes to my mind right now is a poem but very unfortunately it is already written by Shelly and I have to by heart it properly for next hour, so please’ she said, there was no sign that she was goanna take my offer.
‘I will give you a box of chocolates’
‘Hello, Mr. Chocolate, I am no fan of chocolates, and I can afford a box or two now, when I go very poor, I will consider writing you words’ she said ‘if you can’t really write one, Google it, that is the best way and if you need help in googling I will ask Varun to help you, just help him to get to priya’ with that she was leaving.
‘I did help Varun’ I said
‘I know’ she smiled and waved me a bye and walked away towards her best friend, neighbour and some distant cousin.
I was not expecting her to write the words after that, not a chance. And my hopes were disagreed when she and Irfan came to see me at the club meeting. Obviously they both had no club and were wandering that time. Irfan came and called me out of the meeting and we met Zoya in the corridor waiting for us to come.
‘Here you go’ she said and held out a relatively long fair white paper and it was filled with her slightly curved yet beautiful handwriting.
‘Speech?’ I asked ‘you wrote it yourself?’
‘Yeah, Irfan saw me writing, ask him’ I didn’t had to ask Irfan as I kind of believed her and never believed in Irfan’s small lies to hide his dearest friend’s face from sins. And the speech she wrote was just magnificent; I have not expected that much, not even close. I doubted for a second that she googled it, the language was amazing and something out from the Zoya known to me and I barely knew her.
‘This is amazing, how....’
‘She writes stories man, when you have time read the school magazine and look for articles signed by Z’ Irfan interrupted and gave me the answer for the question which I was about to ask.
‘What about those English exams....’
‘It is because she doesn’t like the English teacher’ said Irfan and winked at me and they both walked away.
Her speech was no doubt but amazing, everybody accepted the known fact and appreciated me after presenting the thing in the program, I did mentioned that the speech was by Zoya who is known as Z. Her secret was no more a secret. Not everybody knew who Z was. Some teachers and her classmates knew. Our school was a big world, so there were a lot of citizens who didn’t know Z. Not everybody read her writings and wondered who Z was, because you know how much students read their own school magazine. Talking about me, I have only watched the pictures until Irfan mentioned Z. until then the magazine was safe in my book shelf, but from then on it became even safer and special. And I am sure that people read that after the program to see who the mysterious girl was. And she was definitely not happy with what I did, she didn’t want to reveal Z and she should have given Irfan a hard time to mentioning it to me. And after I knew she was mad with me from Irfan, I was clearly scared to face her angry face, I have not known how it was, and I have only seen her happy, enthusiastic and silly face. But like I said, I barely knew her; I had to see a lot more of her. And I owed her the chocolate which I promised her to give, so that was the right opportunity, I was not dared to go to her, but looked out for her in the corridor, and I have not noticed her or Irfan.
When I was to leave school with my friend on his bike, I saw Zoya walking alone, probably towards bus stand to catch her bus home, but against the usual she was alone, Irfan was not there. I smelled some fights. I decided to go to her and got off the bike and told my friend to not wait for me and that I will catch a bus home. It was not too hard to reach her as she walked even slower than a snail. I barely had to run to reach her.
‘Zoya bhai,’ I tried the dirtiest number to greet her.
‘huh? Who told you that name?’ she asked facing me bravely.
‘I heard Irfan call that’ I confessed.
‘If you have heard Irfan call that, not anybody else, you should understand that it is for Irfan to call, not you’ she was talking fast again, was she practicing to do a drama on vampires?
‘Sorry, what should I call you, then?’ I asked.
‘Call me Z, anyway that is quite famous now’ usually that was supposed to follow with a big smile, but the absence of smile told me how mad she was at me.
‘I am not sorry about that’ I said firmly.
‘And I don’t expect you to be’ she snapped to my face.
‘You were supposed to be known, ok?’ I said
‘Haah, and now people know how pathetic I am, first people thought I was cool, now they think that I am a jerk’ she explained ‘I was invisible and I was as good as that’
‘Maybe you are not supposed to be invisible’ I was not ready to leave my point.
‘Excuse me, why are you giving me a hard time at this point? I am perfectly fine by walking alone’ she said and she had a pathetic expression on her face. She have not clearly meant what she said, her face was telling me how hard it was for her to walk alone. She always needed somebody to walk with and wanted to talk with somebody always, which was what she was.
‘Talking about walking alone, where is Irfan?’ I asked.
‘Big story’ she said ‘not going to be there for a week’ she said by looking up and like talking to the wind.
‘Why? Is he alright?’ I asked.
‘Broke his leg’ she snapped.
‘Is that real bad?’ I asked.
‘Not bad at all, he was waiting for a excuse anyway and now he found it to ditch school and my mom won’t allow me to stay at home, he is having a good time now, meal at bed and me in this stupid school’ she sounded frustrated and a little bit disappointed for what her mom had done to her, the maximum of cruelty.
‘Ask him how much he misses school, he surely will be missing, make him jealous about how much you enjoyed in school and all that stuff’ I suggested.
‘Nice suggestion, but not a good one, he will know how much I enjoy school without him being here to mess up, ditch classes and share textbooks’ she said ‘he will know how much boring chemistry would be without him to tease that grumpy professor’ I listened closely like a good student in math class.
‘And this walking part is real hard, walking alone sucks’ she has said just before that she was fine with walking alone and now this ‘and I am scared to catch bus alone, scares the hell out of me when some strangers stare at me’
‘Maybe I can help, walking with you until Irfan is back and help you to catch the bus without you noticing how many strangers are staring at you’ I said and I had hope, I was thinking of what to talk in the next week and we would have to talk more as she walked very slowly, she should have the speed she had in speaking in walking and the speed she had in walking in speaking, she applied all those velocities wrong. Actually what to talk was not a big deal, the talkative Zoya could never run out of topics to talk.
‘No thanks’ she said and this time it followed with her big, embarrassing smile.
‘Okay’ actually that was not okay, I had not asked her permission to walk with her that day, so there was no question of her permission for doing the same for a week or even more. I gave her a chocolate, not quite like I promised, not a whole box, but a big one. She had no hesitation to take it, she grabbed and thanked me and gave me one of her sweetest smiles.
‘You are crazy about chocolates, huh?’ I asked.
‘Not quite, ice creams drive me crazy really’ she said as she was proceeding to eat her chocolate.
‘Your flavour?’ I asked.
‘Praline n cream’ she replied as she offered me a piece of her chocolate.
‘Never heard of such a flavour’ I commented.
‘Baskin Robbins’ she replied.
‘Rich lad’ I commented again, clearly making fun of her. With that she gave me a hard punch on my chest like the ones she used to give Irfan all that time. Honestly, it hurts a great deal, but was tolerable. Irfan should have got used to it.
We talked for a great deal of time; anyway we had to reach a fair deal of distance with her speed rate. I got her into a bus and waved bye, she gave me a thanking smile and a wave and then the bus sped off with her in it. I watched the bus disappear along the bend in the road and I noticed her high fiving an old man in the bus. She had friends everywhere, of every age, time and type. I tell you, she was a nasty piece of girl to deal with.
All my unintentional intensions were fulfilled, strange but true. I have not intended to walk with her for the next week with her on purpose, but I did it was purely intentional, and right now don’t ask me, I just don’t know how to explain that whole scenario. But I can definitely say this, it was fun, a great deal of fun and I made a friend, a very special and rare one. First of all, friends for me were rare, but she was rare of the rarest. Irfan too had to be my friend, because they always came as a package deal, honestly that was not a bad thing, because Irfan too was a great person to be with, a gem as a friend.
After one week Irfan appeared and that was a bit sad for me, now that he came, I wouldn’t get the honour to walk her to the bus. But of course, coming back of Irfan was pleasant; the person Zoya with Irfan was real different than with me. He thanked me for taking care of her, of course without her hearing it, if she had heard, she would give him a hard time, that was sure. She got this motto that she was not a small child to be taken care of, but honestly saying, she needed protection more than a child, she was so damn scared to walk alone and loneliness and silence used to freak her out. And then still she said, I am not a small kid to be taken care of. But actually I should have thanked him, but that would be cruel and humiliating. After all what should I tell him, thanks for playing football, breaking your leg and leaving your friend for me to talk for a week?
But to my surprise, Irfan wanted me to walk with them all evening. At first I thought it would be boring to walk with both of them together, they were this great friends known for forever and what was I, a person came yesterday to their funny, silly and special world. But it was nothing like I thought it would be, they both together were a piece of mess, the fun they made, the things they discussed, the reasons they fought for, all this things told me how simple, easy and adorable life actually was. I knew almost everything about her by walking with her for two or three weeks, but still that girl was full of mysteries, after knowing all those things, I barely knew her, she still had knots to be untied.
I knew she had a craze for ice cream, her favourite movie and book was ‘A walk to remember’, her best friend was Irfan, I knew she wrote romance stories and I knew she was good at what she did. But all of them were just silly when I knew more of her. Behind all those laughter, there were millions of tears hidden, behind all that silly fights, there were real sorrows, behind every talk, there was a loneliness hunting her, behind every smiles, there were some missing and behind all that friends, there were some strangers which she never wanted to stay as strangers.
It was from Irfan that I knew that she had lost her mom when she was 5 years old, as I was mentioning her mom always; Irfan decided it best to tell me. When I mentioned her mom, she smiled and acted like she had a mom, I honestly didn’t knew how it would be like to lose a mom or to lose any person in life as I had no experience to recall. But it must have been hard, at least I know it now, after losing some special persons in my life.
‘But she herself mentioned mom once’ I told Irfan as I was not convinced and as I recall her saying mom not allowing her to ditch school.
‘When?’ Irfan was asking me while we were sitting in the canteen and were having lunch, Zoya was away with her English teacher, to sort out some of her academic problems.
‘She once said, mom didn’t allow her to ditch school’ I explained.
‘She is talking about my mom’ he said ‘after her mom’s death, she was taken care of by my mom, and we are close neighbours and cousins’
‘I didn’t know’ I said.
‘We both grew up together from childhood, her dad and my dad was business partners too and we both are only children, so obviously, we grew up like siblings and made it into friends somewhere in the way’ he was saying ‘I never really fancied girls as friends, but I couldn’t help it with her and she is a adorable sister too’
‘I did know something about you two being family’ I said as it was necessary for me to make any comments at all.
‘This is nothing you know about her, she is more complicated than that, there are a lot of things which you still don’t know about her’ he said and the time proved it true.
‘She is a girl of mysteries’ I commented.
‘Yeah, but not for me, I should get some award for fully sorting her out’ he said proudly.
‘You too are a bit complicated’
‘We grew up together, so that is obvious’ he winked.
That day Irfan had not told me much about her, and I too considered it best to sort her out on my own and that was a hard job, all my life I was in unleashing those mysteries of that girl and still she stayed that way, she was getting special and mysterious by every passing second, was she some kind of angel?
That day we were walking through the road towards the bus, she was chewing on something, Irfan right next to her and I a little ahead. She was silent and so was us; she was looking around and musing the environment. Like usual she was in her speed rate, I was restless to walk slowly, so always I walked a little ahead in case her mouth was sealed.
‘What you looking at?’ I heard Irfan asking her.
‘Nature, trees in particular’ she answered.
‘What is with trees?’ Irfan asked again.
‘I’ve got a thing for trees, especially in this season when they are kissing their leaves goodbye; they are charming, growing towards the sky, in a blue background with various shades of green’ she said, all poetic.
‘Wah Shaeir, now you got a crush on trees?’ asked Irfan and that didn’t went well.
‘Yes, do you have a problem with it or is she your girl friend?’ by this I went near them to walk, fights were stronger when it had patient audients.
‘No, of course not, you go on, but I will appreciate it if you are walking a little faster’ said Irfan.
‘Actually, I don’t need your appreciation’
‘I will go my way then’ claimed Irfan proudly.
‘Then go, na?’ she asked, like a very angry tiger cub.
‘Mom will give me a hard time, which is the only reason why I am walking with you’ he said.
‘Really, that is why...’
‘I meant tolerating your speed that is it’
‘My speed comes with me, if that is not going well with you, why don’t you just....’
‘What are you eating?’ I interrupted as I knew the audient had to be impatient at that time as their fight was going to the worse.
‘Chewing gum, why?’ she asked me back. And Irfan mouthed me a thanks for helping him out from the mess, I winked back at him, all this without her noticing of course.
‘Just curious and why are you eating it?’ I asked as I had nothing else to ask, as I started it to stop their fight, I had to find something relevant to ask her.
‘I am having a bad breath today’ she said.
‘I am not goanna kiss you’ I teased her in a silly tone
‘I am not goanna let you’ she said, in that same tune as mine, she knew how to tease back.
‘Zoya’ Irfan interrupted us and came between us ‘I think you should let him’.
‘Idiot’ she said and gave him a very huge punch, which should have hurt a big deal.
‘I am serious, you fantasised a lot of kissing him, now you got a chance’ he said, that was embarrassing and surprising at the same time, I didn’t know she fantasised about kissing me, I told you she was full of mysteries.
‘Excuse me? Fantasised?’ I asked to Irfan and to her.
‘Yeah’ Irfan turned to me ‘she did’
‘Before or after ‘truth or dare’?’ I asked him.
‘Before, that is the reason I asked her to do that’
‘That was not a play then?’I again asked him, curious.
‘Yes, we played and she didn’t thought I would tell her that and I never expected her to tell you’ he explained.
‘That was good, because of that I got two new friends’ I commented, I saw Zoya’s face going all embarrassed, mad and desp. She wanted that subject out, but I had another question left.
‘The crush thing was no joke, it is true then?’ I asked again.
‘Very much true’ said Irfan pleasantly ‘what the hell you thought, I mocked her simply?’ asked Irfan back, and I saw her face getting madder, there was no doubt that she was goanna give him a hard time after I left in my bus.
‘It is valentine’s day next week’ said Zoya, I am sure she did the interruption purpose fully, so that the crush thing would disappear for some moments at least, anyway there was a tension between us after Irfan told that.
‘So?’ asked Irfan.
‘So, this year, we are having a program’ she said
‘Seriously, a valentine’s day program? In our school? I don’t believe this’
‘Under English club’ she said
‘Why on earth English club?’ Irfan asked again.
‘Western culture, I believe’
‘What is there? I mean program’
‘Dance, music and all I think’
‘Are we supposed to have a date?’ Irfan asked, he was mad, no matter how western our school gets, there was limitations and a hell of limitations.
‘Are you out of your mind, Irfan? It is more like our annual day and don’t know how they got the permission to do that’
‘That is bad’
‘Why? Were you going to ask somebody?’ she asked.
‘Yeah, Anita’ he said.
‘But she is Christian’
‘So, that matters? I am not going to be in some passionate love, it is just a date, and you need to grow up girl’ he said, sarcastically.
‘You need to thing straight; you are living in India, ok? Be cultured in an Indian way, don’t go for western, you are uncultured when you are not following your own culture’ she was nothing sarcastic; she was damn serious about what she said.
‘It is not my mistake that British dominated India once’ he said, being silly.
‘So what? That means you have to live their way?’ she asked again.
‘It’s a simple matter of a date, Zoya, leave that alone, will you?’ he said, getting serious.
‘No, I won’t and this is not just about a date, it is much more than that, I am clearly not happy about your way of life’
‘I don’t want you to be happy with my life, you get on good terms with your own life, I will look after my life and I am perfectly alright about my way of life and it’s my way, so stay out of it’ that was getting worse, and Zoya went out of words, she went silent.
‘Zoya, if you were to bring a date, who would that be?’ I asked as I once more had to interrupt, and this time Irfan was mad so there were no thanks and Irfan’s angry face was nothing good to watch.
‘I don’t know’ she said after a long pause ‘I will go with someone I know, not Irfan, he got Anita’ she said, and she was real mad with Anita thing.
‘I think it leaves me with you’ she said without making an eye contact.
‘So, you mean that passionate thing?’ I asked, it was somehow important for me to know what she felt and didn’t knew why, I had a huge desire to kiss her at that right moment, but I knew that it wouldn’t do any good on our relation, if there was one.
‘I will see you tomorrow, Ahmed, bye’ with that she left without telling the answer and she was so swift which was an extraordinary thing about her and she didn’t managed to get Irfan with her which told me very clearly that she was very mad with Irfan. They fought usually, but a not talking basis fight was very rare.
And I knew that it was not a good evening for her. She had to fight with her best friend and she had o face her own confusions and a big question of which she was not sure about the answer. She was struggling to say and walk, I saw her walk away towards the bus and at that moment I knew, if I was to have a life, it was with her, only with her. I realised the girl of my life, she just walked into a bus, she made my life, I stood watching her for a minute and it bought me a smile as somehow I myself was sure that, she was not goanna go out of my hands, that she belonged to me and that she would always come back to me whatever happened life.
For the next days, she was walking alone, without Irfan and didn’t give me a chance to talk, she slipped all the time and I wanted to talk to her so much, it was a strong need. She was so disturbed and that was the first time I saw her like that, she was always happy and fun. Her face used to make me smile, made me sad that day, it was real hard for me to watch her strange face, so was for Irfan.
I met him and asked him about the whole thing, he told me that it was likely for her to drop the fight, but my valentine thing disturbed her and that she was not ready to talk to Irfan or solve their silly fight. That made me feel guilty and it was my mistake for sure. So by each second it became my need to talk to her and I thought Irfan would need the same thing and so we both went up to her and blocked her path and forced her to stop and listen to us.
‘We need to talk’ I said as Irfan was forcing her to stay by blocking her path.
‘I have nothing to talk, Ahmed’ she said.
‘Zoya Irani, you listen to me’ Irfan started ‘don’t you dare play me, I know you a great deal, so stop acting, now’
‘Oh really? I am acting Mr. Irani? You think so? Then let it be and you know nothing about me’ she fired and then my role was to stay silent.
‘Sarcastic! Out of all people, I don’t know you? I don’t know my best friend, Zoya? Now this is funny’ Irfan did his sarcastic yet strong denial and she went out of words which happened very rarely and that told me how disturbed she was.
‘As far as I know you, Zoya, what you need right now is to talk, and talk to me for god’s sake’
‘I....I have nothing to talk about’ she stammered
‘Then what is this drama all about?’
‘If I am the problem Zoya, I am sorry’ I interrupted.
‘You, stay out of this’ she fired at me and that was the first time I saw her mad at me, all the confusions inside her came out as frustration. Irfan winked me to stay away and I did as that seemed the right thing to do then.
‘Zoya, spit it out, what is bothering you?’ Irfan asked again and obviously we both knew the answer, but somehow Irfan wanted it out of her mouth.
‘You should know Irfan, you said you are my best friend’
‘I know this for sure, my date thing is not bothering you, because we have gone through the same fight for a hundred times and you always made it funny at the end’ Irfan said and made his part clear.
‘You’ she turned to me ‘please stay out of our life, will you? We were happy before you, if you cannot find friends for yourself that doesn’t mean that you can spoil ours’ that was the worse, my eyes went all misty in a bare second and I said nothing. Deep down I knew she didn’t want me to go away or that she hated my friendship. But the fact that her tongue cheated her left me no choice but to leave without any complaints or questions.
‘If that is what you want, ok, anyway I had some good days with you two and thanks for the company if it is to be thanked, bye, Irfan, Zoya’ it was hard for me to say bye, but did I have a choice? I walked away swiftly without giving her a chance for second thoughts. I saw her crying and hugging Irfan, at least their problem was solved, weed was out.
If I was the problem in her life and her friendship, I was out of there as I never meant to spoil anything. It was hard to bid goodbye, but I dealt with my fate and got settled with it, that was the wisest thing to do, after all.
After a week, Irfan came to see me in the library, I assured him out as our librarian had a problem with noise, she cannot even bare minute voices, let go of our high pitched voices. We went to the library corridor which was near the boy’s bathroom and that area was always left abandoned as none of the students actually fancied coming to library or even crossing it. I didn’t know what bought him there, maybe he felt sorry for me, or Zoya send him to say sorry which was not necessary.
‘So, what brings you to me? The guy who failed to find friends’ I said, a little mean, I sounded.
‘That is not funny, Ahmed’ he said.
‘Nothing was funny’ I said, without losing the power in my voice.
‘I am sorry for that’ He said
‘Zoya send you?’ I asked him out of curiosity.
‘I said sorry in my behalf, I too was your friend, sorry that I kept my silence then’ at least Irfan was wise; he was not a post man carrying Zoya Irani’s message, but a barer of his own.
‘It’s ok, everything alright between you two?’ I asked, didn’t knew why I asked that as the answer was obvious after I went out of their lives.
‘The real question is, are you alright?’ Irfan asked me.
‘I am dragging my ass through library, you can guess the answer, I mean who comes to our library?’
‘Yeah, I can see that’ he smiled his half smile ‘I am here to talk not for my best friend, as you too is my friend and I got to consider your feelings too, I am here to talk for my sister’ well said by Irfan Irani the great.
‘You don’t have to make it clear’ I said.
‘I will kill you both, shut your mouth and listen to me, Ahmed’ he said and those words were just strong enough to make my mouth shut.
‘I know Zoya, she meant nothing, she was too overwhelmed that she said something stupid, not you or anything can spoil our friendship, it is marked down there, so, don’t worry about that’ he explained ‘she was not in her happiest after you left, which clearly states that your presence is not the problem, but your absence and I honestly don’t want my sister to be worried and I will never tolerate she being hurt, and now within a month, I have grown fond of you too, so I will, most of all, hate to see you both sad and hurting each other, so before you two make me mad and go out of the equation, sort the problems out’ he ended his long lecture and I was glad that I made it to his top list of friends, so I was not that bad at friendship.
‘There is no but, you are the man and the eldest, so come and sort it out before it gets worse and don’t worry, she will be lot easier to deal with than you thought’ he assured me and went. Irfan too was an angel, a messenger maybe, leading both of us through the right path, making us regret of our bad doings and proud of what we did right. There were no questions further after he left, it was my duty to sort our problems out as Irfan’s sister’s sad face hurt me too. He was right, there was no need to fight, she was stupid and mad and I am the eldest one, I should be more wise and gentle, I should be the one to make her think straight instead of fetching the wrong way myself. I was supposed to stay, I always was, I was stupid and proud enough to step away when she told me to.
She was in her classroom when I went to see her and she was reading a book that was out of usual, she always talked merrily with others in classroom instead of hiding her face in a goddamn book. Maybe she sensed my presence, she stared up from the book and got stuck at my face, I was not that charming for her to be stuck , maybe I was, after all, I was her high school crush. Irfan called her to the corridor and she hesitated at first, but nobody can deny Irfan’s angry face, scares you out, that guy. She came very reluctantly and she was not quite looking at me, she was confused, scared, embarrassed, guilty, all at a time.
‘Zoya, Ahmed needs to talk to you’ Irfan told her.
‘No’ she denied without looking at him or me.
‘I am not asking your permission, you should talk with him’ Irfan went all stubborn at times, and like I said it was hard to deny him. So we ended up under the tree where we started it all.
‘Well, I am sorry’ she said, still not looking at me.
‘Why?’ I asked.
‘For saying all that’
‘You didn’t meant to?’
‘No, never, I was so confused and mad and.....I don’t know, it just came out’ she sounded very disturbed.
‘Are you still mad and confused?’ I asked swiftly and demanded answers quickly so that she wouldn’t get time to edit her thoughts.
‘No, I am alright now, I was fighting with Irfan and all that’ she sounded so innocent, buy why?
‘Why are you not looking at me while talking?’ I asked ‘you never look down’
‘Sorry’ she said and lifted her face to look at me which bought into view her beautiful face, misty eyes, blushed cheeks and full lips. It made me smile at first and regret next that i was the reason for the absence of that huge, dirty smile on her face.
‘Why are you blushing?’
‘I am not’
‘You are, your cheeks are all pink’ I said
‘Pink? Is that good?’ she asked, never been that innocent before and I have never seen a girl that innocent.
‘No, it’s not cool, like the Z thing revealed’ I said, to make her go mad and smile at the end.
‘Really?’ she touched her cheek and rubbed it like a small kid.
‘Now, it gets worse’ I commented and chuckled, now she realised I was kidding her.
‘Excuse me, what is your problem?’ she asked, exactly like how she asked me the first time.
‘My problem, is you’
‘Zoya Irani is my problem; can you find a solution for that?’
‘You are mad’ she stated and that was kind of true.
‘Yeah, for a date with you’ I made it as easy as possible.
‘No’ she said.
‘You really have nothing for me?’ I asked.
‘No’ she said, without actually facing my gaze.
‘Then why did you say that you would go with me as my valentine?’ I had a lot of questions to counter her and I was the debate team captain, so there was no way her defeating me.
‘That was a joke’
‘Which followed a big fight?’
‘I love drama’ she said.
‘That was too beyond a drama’ I commented.
‘Not my problem’ she said again.
‘Of course it is your problem that you fell for me, that you unintentionally fell in love with your crush who accidently became your friend’ I was not to narrate the whole story there.
‘For god’s sake, I had no crush at you’
‘He lied, then’
‘Ok, he lied, but my eyes cannot lie to me, I have seen you stuck staring at me’ I said and smiled, embarrassing her of course.
‘That is bullshit’ she said ‘what you think, that you are charming?’
‘Yeah, I am gorgeous, deal with the fact, girl’ I winked at her.
‘You are ugly’
‘Ok, agreed, but don’t say that you have not felled for that ugly, charming boy’
‘Just stop this, ok?’ she said.
‘Why should I?’
‘It’s bothering me’
‘Really, then why don’t you just spit it out and get good with it?’ I asked very swiftly.
‘That you fell for me and will go on a date with me’ I said and she became silent and started at me for a long time and came firing at me,
‘You did it na? You happy now?’ she punched my chest like she had gone mad.
‘Hogaya na pyaar, abbh kya?’
I didn’t want to answer it, what was the whole point, again? Everything was clear and out, no secrets and no confusions. I moved towards her and took her hands punching me and forced her still. I stared at her eyes and she went still and stared back at me.
‘What are we going to do now?’ I asked her back.
‘You tell me’ she said slowly and I held her more close to my chest and surrendered her in my arms.
‘Chalo shaadi karee?’
‘Irfan se poocthi hein’ she said.
‘We need a witness, right?’ she asked back.
‘Are we eloping?’ I asked, acting surprise.
‘Let me ask Irfan to convince dad.......’ she was going on with the talking, but it was irresistible for me to kiss her, I didn’t want to wait long and so I kissed her and she kissed back, we could make the arrangements later. And that oldest tree witnessed one more uniting, and this was a strange unison it ever witnessed, after all that silly fights and talks, we marked our love under that legendary tree and smiled towards the sky, thanking god, for giving us each other.
Right after she graduated high school, I married her, not because I was afraid of losing her or something, because there was simply no reason for me to stay away from her for another moment. I was ready for the commitment and there was no question of finding somebody else or anything like that, she was the girl for me and she came earlier in my life which made it possible for both of us to live together long. And so, I got married at 19 and she at 18, it was strange and sweet. We started our life early and we faced no problems, we were fine all along, it was love and my charm which held us for so long, I am kidding about the charm part though.
And now when I sit here, outside a school in London in my Jaguar waiting for my daughter to come out of school, I realise that I am the luckiest guy in world, I got all I asked for, a big home, a well known business, a charming daughter, just like her mother. I and Zoya lived together for 10 years and then she left, leaving me a baby girl. There was no fights when she left me, she still had that smile on her when she slowly closed her eyes.
That was unexpected, that morning when I took her to hospital, I was hoping to see another living soul not to lose her in that dark room, it was hard on me, but I had to deal with it. I wept by holding my baby close to my heart, she was what left of Zoya, the living part of Zoya. Time had this power of healing pains and making people forget things but time failed to make me fall in love again.
I was lost in her love, her smile, her talks, and I simply didn’t fell in love again. It was being 10 years now, it is my daughter’s 10th birthday and still I remember that huge, dirty smile of Zoya, her fights and strong punches, I was still in love that I didn’t had to fall for another living soul, she was never gone inside me. She lived and her heart beat with mine. I felt her with me, I saw her in my life, holding and being there with me and helping me with life. It was never like she went, she stayed somewhere around, watching our lives from a corner and silently smiling.
I am a successful person, in everything, and now I realise that she was the biggest and sweetest success of my life. She was there inside me, her presence was visible in whatever I did and I had the happiest 10 years of my life with her. Her first novel came in print after she went, I was sorry that she didn’t lived to see that, but she saw me grow and she went merrily seeing my success and seeing our daughter’s cute face, she was happy that she provided me some company before leaving. Her 3 novels came into print after that, I got the first one’s author’s copy, autographed by her, she didn’t lived long to see the rest. I was glad and her smiling face came to me while I saw those books in print. I was proud and happy and I don’t know how to explain that feeling, how to explain that special girl of mine, I just always knew, I was in love, I am in love and will always be in love with that mad mad girl who made my life, worth living for.
My daughter came running to my car and opened the car and busted into the front seat, she started at me in surprised and dropped her mouth open like Zoya used to do when she had a crush on me.
‘What you have a crush on me, Zoya?’ I asked, my little Zoya.
‘Where is uncle Pete?’ she asked.
‘Why, you don’t want me to pick you up from school?’ I asked her. As an answer for that she leaned and kissed my forehead.
‘I am glad, daddy’ she said and smiled that huge, dirty smile.
‘What was that thing with that boy?’ I asked her
‘Which boy?’ she asked back.
‘At the entrance of school’ I said.
‘My friend, Michael, giving me a hard time’
‘He thinks I have a crush on that guy, our senior year, but he is kidding’ she said, little embarrassed. I smiled at her and she always made me remember Zoya, I have not actually watched Zoya’s eyes, but my daughter’s eyes make me remember Zoya, it was like she lived through our daughter. And my little Zoya was exactly like her mother. She got that same charm, fun, eyes, hair and that dirty smile and I hope that once she too would make a good writer and that she would fall for her crush once.
‘Why are you taking me today?’ she asked.
‘Don’t want me to?’
‘Just curious, dad’
‘We are going to Irfan uncle’s’ I told her about Irfan, the greatest friend me and Zoya ever had, he too was settled in London, being a part of my business, we were partners, there was no way of getting rid of him.
‘That is great, that Imran Irani ditched school, today, faking a head ache, I got to see him, how dare he left me alone for school?’ she was getting mad about her best friend being absent for the day, she and Imran was of same age and was together and they were just great.
‘He is not faking a headache, Zoya, he is moving near to us’ I told her about their decision of moving near our house.
‘Wow, he never told me, he is goanna have a hard time and a good time after that’ she said and I realise, the next lucky person alive will be my little Zoya’s crush and I am the luckiest as I got both of those girls in my life and because they both were always mine and always will stay special.