Tuesday, April 15, 2008
She heard the loud clanging of the overhead bell, signaling the lunch hour
Why can't we just have lunch in class under the teacher's watchful eye.. she wondered for the umpteenth time.
She tried to trail behind everyone else, avoiding the customary push towards the blue door.
As, she got out of the red and white room and entered the bustling line of tiny class 1 students, she mentally ticked off the places where she could spend the coming hour without being disturbed.
The tree clump at the end of the ground wouldn't do... that's where they had found her the week before and had scared her with stories about old graves and wandering spirits, till she had run crying all the way to the school church, with everyone laughing in her wake.
She hadn't been able to sleep alone since then.
The plane behind the buses would have to go to.. thats' where the bus driver had beaten her up with a stick for spilling rouhafza near the tires.
So would it be the ledge on the back wall, to the forbidden backside of the building today? But what if Sister Sophie catches her.. that would mean 10 whiplashes on her palm and 10 on her knuckles.
But she decided to risk it anyway
She looked all around, making sure she wasn't followed, as she softly slipped behind the tin enclosure, to the back of the high brick wall. She lifted her bag up and then climbed uncertainly onto the ledge.
At last! she felt safe from the savage world on the other side of the flimsy tin door. She was about to open her lunch box, a rare smile touching her ruby lips, her fountain pony bouncing happily as she mentally savored the contents, when she heard the voice. "Hey you! What are you doing up there?" She looked down, terrified, to see Varanpal, the most popular girl in class and her cronies staring up at her, hands on hips. "I.. I waaa..as justtt.. ", she stammered as she always did in school. The girls go bored with her bumbling speech and instead started talking to each other in hurried whispers, giggling all the while. The happy sound scared her even more.
"Would you be our friend?", the question took her so much by surprise that she asked perplexed, "wha..at? who? mm..ee?". "yeah yeah", came the unexpected response..
She had never had a friend. No one had ever wanted her for anything other than to make fun of her or to beat her up or to tease her mercilessly.. but friendship.. and being Varanpal's friend would mean no more beatings, no more hating lunch hour, no more tears
"ye...s"she mumbled softly. "Then what are you doing up there? come down to us". She climbed down eagerly and fell clumsily at their feet as her skirt caught on a nail. they laughed their heads off at her, calling her a baffoon. Then Varanpal stopped and looked at her seriously.. "If you want to be our friend, you have to say "I am a fool" thrice and spin around clapping, all the while". she didn't have a choice now did she? She did as she was told as they almost burst out of their tiny bodies laughing.
They took her to the main ground, where everyone sat in circles on grey asphalt,having their food and chatting away, and for now staring at her as she followed, head downcast, in Varan's wake. They made their way to the largest circle, with everyone automatically making way for Varan and her friends.
"From now on, she is my friend", Varan announced to everyone with a wink. Sniggers flew across the circle as she slowly sank to the ground next to Varan. "so where is your lunch?". She looked up confused, at the question from the girl with the bob cut and the red specs, sitting two places from her. "You know.. lunch.. here we all share our lunches by passing them around this circle and since you are new, we are going to start with you today. "
She reluctantly gave her lunch to the girl next to her, who took a huge bite and then passed it on to the next. She watched longingly as everyone devoured her favourite bitter gourd and parantha, which her mother had cooked for her at 5 in the morning. By the time the box made its way back to her, there was only one little bite left.
She picked it up to eat it, when she felt a blow on her back "Get out", and her bite sailed out of her hand and onto the dirty ground. There was another blow and a louder "Get out!!". "But.. bu..t I thought i waa.as your friend". That merited a harsh kick from Varanpal and a riot of laughter from everyone. "You!! my friend?? haha.. in your dreams.. i lied..you moti!!". There were more kicks, blows and chants of "moti moti". Someone hit her with a bag and she went skidding against the asphalt, staining it with blood, as her nose landed next to her last bite of biter gourd..
The applause brought her out of her reverie.. She realized they had just announced her name.. as the winner of the "School's best orator of the year" award.. She had won it three times in a row..
She got up.. walked up to the stage... head held high... gracious smile back in place.. as she turned towards the mike to address the school... silently putting another bandage on the ever bleeding wounds of the little girl
PS: No, Its not fiction..