IT HAD indeed been a smashing day in school.
I came home too tired to speak anything about my interesting, first day. Anu,my elder sister wasn’t at home. So, I pulled the spare key that I had in my backpack and unlocked the door.
I felt the awkward silence in the house so nerving and bizarre after all the laughter at school.
Soon, everyone arrived and questioned my new day’s activities. But exhausted, I uttered only one word – Fantastic. Well, that brought a smile on Dad’s face.
It’s damn hard for me to digest the truth that I had come to know yesterday, that I was an ORPHAN once and this family (whom I thought was my own family until yesterday) had found me in a park and then ADOPTED me, when no one came forward to claim me. So, I was close to tears… Nah, I’ll tell the truth… I did cry the whole night but am surprised none of my friends found it out in school today.
I skipped my dinner and went straight to bed and had a deep sleep, dreaming happily of playing a piano somewhere, isolated among a thicket, next to a beach, with its tiny waves curling underneath my toes. I was singing merrily, my little fingers softly brushing the tinkling piano.
Then, I felt someone tapping my shoulder and noticed it was Lin smiling at me. She chorused along with me before I felt another tap on my shoulder.
I turned around and there was… Lewis.
I stopped singing and so did Lin.
I stared deeply into his eyes, while he took a step closer, whispered something in my ear and held out his hand. I looked at Lin for approval. She nodded and I placed my hand in his. He swooped down and carried me in his arms and…
That was too much for me!
I woke up with a start, rubbed my eyes, praying all the while it was only a dream. Indeed it was!
‘Thank God!’ I sighed. I discovered Anu sleeping beside me and checked my alarm. It showed 1 o’ clock. I then, fell asleep again, determined not to dream anything related to Lewis.
The next day too, I went to school teary-eyed. So I did for another fifteen days and it extended over a month and a half too.
Lin and Alice forced me to spill the beans. But I behaved like a dead leaf, like a mute and made no attempts to engage myself in a diverting matter and be lively.
One day, during the recess time, I made a dash for the restroom, in a hurry to get away from my friends. I locked myself in one the washrooms and cried silently. I wanted no one to hear me wailing and remained in the cubicle, till the bell rang for the next period.
First, I made sure that no one was in the restroom. Then, I splashed cold water onto my face, to remove the stains of crying and tried to smile with great effort and walked out. But, the gloom inside me resumed. And, it clearly, perfectly, reflected on my face.
I noticed Lewis, blocking the entrance of the last door, awaiting my arrival. I realized Maths Ma’am hadn’t come to the class yet.
‘Excuse me,’ I said, when I neared the door.
He didn’t budge. I gave a stern look. No reaction, his gaze just bore into my eyes.
Unable to get the words out of my mouth again, I moved to enter through the next door.
‘Teju,’ he called out to me, ‘I want to have a word with you.’
I neglected his call.
‘Teju, halt,’ he commanded.
This time I obeyed. I thought it was better to face him than shrink back.
I was twenty paces away from him. So, I turned around, covered the interval between us, leaving a few inches gap.
‘What do you want?’ I asked in a high-pitch voice, trying to scare him away.
But, in real, I was attempting to scare myself away, afraid I’d cry and blabber everything to him.
‘Why are you so solemn, today?’ he demanded, straight to the point.
‘No, I’m not sober.’
‘Don’t lie. You’re avoiding everyone, including your friends, indeed you are for the past two weeks. You were so lively during the first few weeks when the school had begun. I’ve been observing you from the first day and I notice changes in you. What happened to you?’
‘And, why are you observing me?’
‘Because I love you.’
‘What?’ I asked stunned at that remark.
‘I love you,’ he repeated, thinking I hadn’t heard it clear.
I was completely taken aback at his ‘sudden’ proposal. I glared at him, believing he’d take back his words. But, he proved I was wrong.
He asked me in a voice filled with expectations, ‘Do you love me too?’
I gave a blank look not knowing what to say.
Well, it wasn’t a question of yes or no, for I knew, it was a sure no. But, I didn’t want to hurt him, saying it at once. I was confused, how to express my rejection.
I looked at him. He had an eyebrow arched up, waiting patiently for my answer.
I was painfully phrasing and rephrasing the words in my mind, when Lewis asked, ‘Oh, so, past tense is used for second type of ‘if’ conditional clause?’
‘Huh?’ I asked confused.
Just then I noticed Hannah Ma’am arriving.
‘Teju, what are you doing here?’ she asked.
Though, the question was directed at me, she was looking at Lewis.
I was relieved, that I had time to answer Lewis, but it was short-lived as I had to answer her. I’m weak in two things, one – talking to boys, two – telling immediate lies to anyone.
‘Um… Ma’am… she’s clarifying a doubt in English for me,’ Lewis offered, producing the book from behind.
And, that’s when I myself noticed it.
So, that’s the reason, he blabbered something about ‘if’ conditional clause, I thought.
‘Yes Ma’am. He had a small doubt in grammar. So, I was helping him,’ I lied.
Hannah Ma’am glanced at me suspiciously, while I tried to put on a brave face.
‘Fine, get inside the class and discuss. Your teacher might arrive soon,’ she said.
I glimpsed at Lewis slinking away inside the class and I followed suit. He went straight to his place, sat down and never looked back.
‘Where were you?’ Lin asked me, when I had flopped onto my seat, with a heavy heart.
‘Restroom,’ I snapped in annoyance.
‘You’re hiding something deliberately from me for over a month. What is it?’ Lin asked.
‘Please, leave me alone, Lin,’ I pleaded.
But, I wanted her to press me and ask again.
‘Ask, ask…’ I was muttering under my breath.
‘C’mon tell me,’ she ordered and I let go of my emotions at last, unable to pile it up in my heart anymore. I buried my face into her lap and cried.
‘Hey, what’s the problem?’ she asked alarmed.
My crying intensified and I didn’t want to clog the flow.
‘Fine, whatever it is, it surely has a solution. Cheer up,’ she consoled me, when I didn’t answer.
‘But mine’s not a problem. It’s a statement – I’m an orphan. And what solution can it have?’ I coughed up the words.
She must have expected something silly from me, to offer some simple advice, as, she was completely shocked when she heard so.
‘Teju, are you telling the truth?’ she asked anxiously.
I nodded, still crying.
‘I’ve wondered sometimes, why my father decided to have three children instead of two, similar to the prevailing nuclear family in every house. Bringing up three children isn’t outdated, yet, I thought there ought to be a reason,’ I paused before I said, ‘Now, I know why.’
I looked around and perceived some students noticing us. So, I wiped away my tears and sat upright. Lin understood the scenario and remained silent till they had returned to their work. Lewis threw a sympathetic glance towards me.
‘But, how did you come to know, that you are… that?’ she asked, using that instead of the word orphan, so as not to hurt my feelings.
‘Anu told me during a fight,’ I said and fully acquainted her with the incident.
‘So, why do you cry?’ she inquired when the briefing was over.
‘To be precise, I’m upset for five reasons. One – I’m an orphan. Two – I am overwhelmed that a family has taken good care of me. Three – why did my parents hate me and leave me? Four – Anu feels I’ve grabbed away the love from her parents and Sid(my brother). Five – I’m an extra burden to their family.’
‘What nonsense is the last reason?’
‘Yeah, it’s financially difficult to support a family with three kids.’
‘And, has anytime your Dad or Mom expressed that, directly to you?’
‘No, but my Dad has mentioned it to Sid.’
‘That’s to make your brother understand the circumstances. Other than that, have they ever explicated it under any other context?’
I thought for a while and replied, ‘No.’
‘Then why do you think foolishly? Your parents have never expressed their regret, of adopting you, till now. Don’t imagine such horrible things!’
‘If you were in my situation, you’d think the same too,’ I argued.
‘I agree. I’m just helping you out of your statement.’
‘Thanks, but, I really don’t know what I should do now.’
‘Continue your life in the same manner, how you were before.’
‘That’s the most difficult part.’
‘It isn’t. Now, take your mind off from this matter. You’re squeezing it too much with your orphan thing. There’s a lot more to come in your way and…’ she stopped short, due to the entrance of Maths Mam.
I paid no attention to Maths class. Since Lin suggested I ceased thinking about my orphan thing, I moved on to my next issue – Lewis.
Is he taking advantage of my sorrow? Is he acting? But, he really seemed too worried. Is he offering me pity? NO, I don’t need pity from boys. And also every boy would prepare himself perfectly, to tell his love to the girl. But, Lewis didn’t seem to be prepared. He gave it as an answer to my question. He said that without any second thought, immediately. Now, how’ll I face him? What should I tell him? – These thoughts forayed into my mind.
Before the period ended, I came to a conclusion to seek Lin’s help once again. After Maths Ma’am had departed, I put forth my question to her.
‘Lin, I… I want to…’ I dragged hesitatingly.
‘I… I want to ask you something.’
‘Don’t mistake me.’
‘I won’t. You’re my friend. Ask.’
‘How should a girl reject a proposal?’
‘Wow! Have you reached that stage? So, who’s the boy?’
Before I could say, she stopped me.
‘Hold on. Lemme guess. It must be… hmm… Simon. Yes, Simon. Am I right?’ she asked, excitement painting her face.
I nodded my head. Lewis’ second name was Simon.
‘See, Lin’s a genius,’ she said waving her hands in a majestic manner, ‘so, Simon says love me,’ she teased, playing the SIMON game with me.
‘Stop pulling my leg and answer me.’
‘Why do you want to reject it?’
‘Hey! Why do I want to accept it?’
‘Because he loves you!’ she exclaimed.
‘But, I don’t!’
‘That’s a lie,’ she said waving a finger at me, ‘I know you do.’
‘No, I don’t. What makes you think so?’
‘Something in your behavior, that changes, every time you see him.’
‘Oh! Cut off your teases!’ I said blushing.
‘Ha ha, I can see you blushing. C’mon tell me. You too have a crush on him right?’
‘Lin!’ I said and raised my hand as a sign of warning, that I’d beat her next time if she frustrates me.
‘OK, gimme a reason why you’re rejecting?’
‘Coz, I don’t want to break my parents’ hearts.’
‘But, you’re breaking his’ and also yours.’
‘Lin!’ I shouted.
‘Cool down! I withdraw! I was testing you for the reactions you’d give, if I played a hoax on you. Chill!’ she said surrendering, ‘Oh my! You’re pretty serious. You know that even I don’t take sides for this love thing,’
‘It’s not love. It’s infatuation.’
‘Yeah, you’re right. But be careful while you’re articulating your views to him. Boys get provoked easily.’
‘That’s what I’m thinking too. I’m not willing to get involved in this boyfriend and girlfriend world. I struggle to heal my broken heart and besides, I don’t want a puppy love,’ I said.
Lin nodded understandingly.
‘Do you remember the news about acid attacks that came a few months ago?’ she asked.
‘Yeah, I can recall the tragic happenings to those girls who rejected a boy’s proposal.’
‘Yup, that’s why I’m warning you to be cautious in approaching him. But Lewis isn’t of that type. Yet, we’ve got to take precautionary measures,’ Lin warned me.
‘I don’t know what’s with the boys. Can’t they patiently ask a girl the reason for refusing them? Even if they know so, why do they want to assail her?’ I voiced my feelings.
‘You can’t get a relevant answer to these. When a boy is declined by a girl, he resorts to acid attacks on the girl. Everyday news has reports relating to this. Boys wish to live with the girl, for whom they say, they’ll sacrifice their lives. But, when the girl denies him, he brutally assaults her, to sacrifice her life without him,’ Lin said deplorably.
‘Thanks for scaring me away. It’s gonna be tough for me now. I just hope I don’t make a mess.’
‘You won’t. Help him understand.’
With that piece of advice, I was drowned in my own thoughts of how to deal with Lewis.