THE STORY OF REZA GUL


The following story is based on true events. The identities and names of the characters as well as the facts in the story have not been altered in any way whatsoever. It is a personal opinion I hold that the story of Reza Gul should be highlighted and that it should make its way into stories for young children of the future generations; this story is an attempt at doing the same.


History is witness that once upon a time, in a land not-so-far away, lived an ordinary woman by the name of Reza Gul. Like many people in her terror-stricken land, Reza didn’t know her exact age, but she had been wearing the shawl of Time for 50 or 50 years… The woman was old; there was no doubt about that! As old as time itself, perhaps, but she was beautiful. Her fair skin was browning, like the pages of an ancient book, but her skin hadn’t withered just yet; it was still soft and fresh, hugging her small frame just right.

Her hair might have greyed, given how old she was, but no one really knew what shade of grey it had acquired, for she always covered her head with a hijab. Gul lived with her husband, a daughter, three sons and a daughter-in-law, in Balabolok, a small district in the province of Farah in Afghanistan. Safiullah was a policeman in Abdul Satar village. No, he wasn’t just a policeman, the Abdul Satar police post was commanded by Gul’s eldest son!

Theirs was a family like any other, living under the terror of Taliban, just waiting for a Talib to show up on their doorstep, dressed in the robes of Allah’s beloved angels, and guide them, if not accompany, to where Jannah lay. Sometimes, I wonder if they believed that Qayamat was here already… But perhaps they didn’t, for they still talked to Allah through Salah, and prayed for their brothers and sisters in Gaza, like rest of the Ummah that wasn’t in Afghanistan…

On the 17th day in the cold month of November, Safi, along with a few more lightly armed policemen, was manning their post at dawn, like he always did. Now, being a policeman in a terror-stricken land is a dangerous job, and being a lightly armed one, even so. Taliban decided it was a good idea to attack Balabolok on this particular day and sent four hundred odd Talibs to Abdul Satar police post in attempt to overtake the district. Safi and his fellow policemen put a great fight but lost both the fight and their lives.

When Reza Gul heard about the Taliban attack, she ran to the post, terrified that she would see the worst today; and she did. Bodies of the Afghan policemen lay upon the floor like a badly spread out carpet, and upon the carpet rested her son, peacefully asleep, donning a red blanket of blood that once ran inn his veins, hugging his favourite toy – his gun.

Gul’s heart sank, but sank like the waves do before the coming of a tsunami. She screamed in anger and grief, her pain was too much to take! She was furious and so, boiling in anger, she picked up Safi’s gun and stood next to the policemen who were fighting the Taliban troop. The policemen were in awe of this hero and with a boosted morale, they fought, along with Reza Gul, against the Taliban. The enraged and grief-stricken mother had decided to fight of her son’s killers until she died, and her family joined her.

Safi’s father joined Gul at the frontline, as did Gul’s teenage son. Fatima, Gul’s daughter made bullets for her father and mother to fight, and supplied it to them. Safi’s wife and Reza Gul’s daughter-in-law had collected all the light and heavy weaponry she could find and reached the frontline to join her family. By the time she had arrived, the fight had intensified. There were bodies of Talibs lying around. This was a war waged by a family on four hundred terrorists who had killed Safiullah, a beloved son, a brave brother, and a loving husband.

The firing went on for over seven hours. Dawn turned to day, and day to noon, but the family fought alongside the policemen at Abdul Satar police post in Balabolok – the place where Safi had breathed his last. Twenty-five Talibs had accompanied Safi to Allah’s doorstep, and the anger of the mother had managed to wound another thirty one. The 375 terrorists of Taliban, fearing their life, perhaps, had fled the scene, and Balabolok was safe. Taliban had lost to the power of love and the maternal instinct of an old woman named Reza Gul.

Once upon a time, in a land not-so-far away, history witnessed the story of the victory of Reza Gul. What it didn’t witness was the grief that came upon the unsung hero after the fight ended. She sat with a straight face, as dry rivers of salt caked her cheeks, and retold the story of how she fought the Taliban. Everyone praised her for the deed, but the weight of the reason behind why she had done so was still pressing upon her chest. Her life had been altered forever. There was one person less in her life that she could love, and an addition of more than four hundred others she would now resent until she joined her son, Safiullah.

BUTTA’S FEELINGS


I present to you the short story in Children’s Fiction category that won me third place in the literature fest in my college!


The short girl just stood there with her hair falling over her eyes. She shifted from foot to foot, and squirmed endlessly as her teacher unloosed shaft after shaft from memory and accumulated grievance. Her classmates stood around, their lunchtime football match featuring a bedraggled butta quite forgotten. One boy picked up the butta and chucked it at her in an experimental sort of way. It bounced off her head, and then hit the teacher in the nose. Miss Ramamani stopped in mid-flow, her mouth now opening and closing wordlessly, and goggled at her by-now shamefaced parents, as if this were all their fault.

The parents, now imitating their pupil, shifted from foot to foot and the mother muttered an inaudible ‘We’re sorry’ to the teacher who was growing red in the face. Miss Ramamani was breathing heavily now and had forgotten the reason why she had summoned Akhila’s parents to the school. Her bulging eyes moved away from the parents and fell, at a painfully slow pace, on the butta, which, upon sensing the eyes on itself, rolled away from near the enraged teacher’s foot, and hid behind Akhila’s shoe.

The gaze followed the butta and naturally fell on Akhila, who by now was on the verge of breaking-down. An angered Ramamani breathed out as heavily as a bull does before charging, and looked up at short Akhila’s classmates. ‘Who threw this?’ she barked, pointing at the trembling butta, as she showered Akhila’s entire family with her spit. While the entire class shook and trembled in fear along with the poor and innocent butta, Akhila and her parents stood as stiff as poles, their faces scrunched up in exactly the same way, trying to avoid the Ramamani Shower without arousing suspicion of attempting to do so.

The naughty boy who had so innocently tried to chuck a butta at his classmate in an experimental sort of way, couldn’t help but snigger at the vain attempt of the trio, and so he was caught red handed, by the almost-red haired teacher. ‘You! Come here!’ said Miss Ramamani in a voice as loud as a thunderclap. The little boy’s heart skipped a beat as he stepped forward. ‘You threw that,’ she pointed at the butta, ‘at me?’ she pointed at herself.

The boy gulped and shook his head. ‘I…’ he stammered, ‘I… I… I threw it… It… I threw it… at her.’ He pointed at Akhila. The entire class roared up in laughter while Ramamani stood perplexed. Accompanying her were Akhila’s parents, and Akhila had already run away from the crowd, outside the grade 5 class, through the corridor, onto the field and into the parking lot, where she stood behind her parents’ car and sobbed quietly.

The butta was guilty, and it was heartbroken at the thought of not being able to apologize to Akhila or Miss Ramamani, and angered at the thought that he couldn’t kick the little boy in his shins for making it look like a bad butta.

RENDER ME SENSELESS


Impair my hearing,
for I don’t want to hear you swear,
or judge me by the clothes I wear…
I don’t want to know what tongue or dialect you speak,
or determine if you’re strong or weak,
by the pitch of your voice when I hear it.

I don’t need music to lift my soul,
for within me, I’m whole…

Take away my sight,
for I don’t need light,
falling on your face,
to see your beauty, or your grace;
I don’t want to see,
whatever colour is your skin,
or if you’re fat or you’re thin…

But don’t let my blindness fool you,
for even in a world with limited visuals,
I am capable of holding visions you can only dream of.

Render me speechless in fear,
that I may speak too loud and clear,
of what you do to your own kind,
before you find
that I don’t need words to express myself…

I don’t need your language,
to encourage,
the million others who are like me…

Take my body and redesign it;
here’s my arm, now, un-align it!
I cannot walk, you call me cripple,
but know that I am a ripple,
a wave of change that upon hitting the shore,
of this stagnant society,
will take back more than its share,
in an attempt to prepare,
the men, for a typhoon yet to arrive…

I don’t need a body part,
to be called extra-smart,
for an idea usually does the trick just fine…

Now, render me senseless,
and let my mind wander in the autistic abyss of imagination,
where deprived of all senses,
I create a world that is a lot more sensitive than your society;
a world where colour and tongue don’t matter,
feelings do;
where no one cares if you’re thinner or fatter,
for they know that worth is not in your skin or hair,
or the size of your chest;
where no one dare,
preach their God to another,
for we don’t know what he looks like,
we cannot hear his words.
We are incapable of anything but love.

I may appear catatonic to you,
but my thoughts flow free as yours,
and to you this may seem senseless…
Drop your senses for a while…

MISSING CLOTHES AND A MARRIAGE


The eighteenth day of January holds a substantial significance in my life since the year 2013. It has been two years since and now it is time that this date holds itself more meaningful in someone else’s life. I do not know if I will let this pass as easily, but I am an invited guest at the ritual that marks more prominently the significance of the eighteenth day of January in someone else’s life – and I will very much be a part of it.

To me, the day is symbolic of finding self-worth. There was a boy who had crossed my path around that time and taught me that I was worth being loved. It wasn’t puppy-love; that wasn’t him. He treated a broken girl as a princess and helped her mature into a lady with self-worth, self-dignity, and self-love; he let her explore herself – spiritually, physically and sexually. Then just like he had arrived, he departed. She was upset for a long time after that, but they are friends now.

The eighteenth day of January changed me, and now it would change someone else – my friend’s elder cousin brother. Two years after leaving its imprint in the sandbox of my life, the significant date would now set its foot down in the life of this man, who will marry a girl hand-picked by his parents in the gracious presence of the eighteenth day of January. I am an invited guest, as are two other friends besides the groom’s brother, and I have my mind made up, that I will be attending this marriage at all costs (even if my mid-semester exams start the next day; which they do!)

I had the image of my yellow floor-length Anarkali in my head the minute I was invited, by the groom himself. I knew what I would wear to the function – for the first time, I was not rummaging my cupboard at the last minute for a dress that was suitable for the occasion. The one thing that troubled me was the fact that I had no dupatta to go with the Anarkali. I figured my mother’s or a girlfriend’s wardrobe will always come handy and let the thought slip.

After a day out with friends I went home and looked for my Anarkali. ‘Mumma, have you seen my yellow kurta?’ I asked her after turning my cupboard upside-down. ‘Didn’t you donate that one two years ago?’ she asked, unsure of if we were on the same page. ‘What!’ I exclaimed. ‘Donated? No! How? We got it recently from that shop opposite the sweet store! The Anarkali, Ma!’

‘Oh, that?’ she asked, relieving me of my horror. ‘I thought you were talking about the one I made for you… Like that pink kurta, remember?’

I nodded and repeated my question, now a little impatient. ‘Have you seen it anywhere?’

‘No,’ she said and walked away.

I went through my cupboard again, and threw my laundry on the floor to dig through it, in vain. Later I took to my sister’s cupboard and then my mother’s. When I didn’t find the dress anywhere, I opened the Godrej almirah that housed most of the clothes that looked too fancy to wear on a regular basis. Nothing!

That was a few weeks ago. Since then every storage space in the house has been scanned over ten times by three pairs of eyes and no traces have been found of the one yellow cloth that lived in my cupboard. The yellow Anarkali has gone missing and it is a crisis. I liked that dress. It was the only yellow thing I liked; and I was going to wear it on the eighteenth day of January, to a marriage.

Not anymore. It’s gone. Missing; just like that!

And the yellow Anarkali isn’t the only missing baby. Last night, after the 1:00 am tea, I played some music and went about collecting items I would need for the first Monday of college since the end of 2014. I grabbed my white shrug, the blue camisole and a matching hairband before mourning the loss of my white jeans. I had only worn the pair twice, washed with utter care and readied it for this day – and it was gone.

I remember how many tantrums I had thrown around just to buy that pair of white jeans – it was expensive. ‘Mumma,’ I said to my mother, who was unblinkingly staring at the computer screen. ‘Have you seen my white jeans?’

‘I sent it out for ironing,’ she replied without looking away from the screen. ‘Check the clothes the guy delivered this evening; must be with that lot…’

With every cloth I lifted from the pile and put aside, my heart sank. By the time I reached the bottom of the pile, I was shattered. First the Anarkali, now the jeans… ‘It isn’t here.’ I told my mother, hurt. ‘It means,’ she said in a bored tone, ‘that this guy is the one taking the clothes!’ Like it wasn’t obvious already! She then deduced a theory as to why he takes clothes from the pile given to him. ‘He may have someone at his home who wears clothes your size…’ she said.

‘Why do you give him my clothes anyway?’ I asked, irritated. ‘You know I do my own laundry, drying and ironing! Why did you have to give my clothes without telling me? Now they are lost! What do I do?’ I was more concerned about the marriage than college, but equally angered at the loss of a white jeans that I had earned after throwing tantrums.

Usually, I don’t care about clothes, but when do get attached to some clothing, it goes missing. We ran a hunt this morning and managed to rescue the white jeans, but the Anarkali was too far gone to even mention. The issue now is the marriage. The eighteenth day of January is not so far, and I have nothing to wear – again. What’s the cherry on top, you ask? I have nothing in my wardrobe that is worth wearing to a marriage, and so the usual last-minute rummaging won’t help either.

On my to-do list, now, besides the college assignments, are two things: emergency shopping (or begging of clothes from girlfriends) and rearranging my entire cupboard so I can find the desired clothes for the next 360 days of the year. Not worth it!

NEW SCENTS AND A GUY FAWKES MASK


Olfaction, or the sense of smell, is a beautiful means of exploring the world. Waking up to the smell of your love’s skin instead of the ranting of an alarm clock is an amazing feeling to start the day with! I had the good fortune of starting a day like this once; it was pretty much the best day I had during the Christmas break. It was three days after Christmas, to be precise, that I decided to sell my old books at a well-known second-hand bookstore in the city, and in exchange bought a set of Dickens’ classics for my literature class reading assignments.

I didn’t realize until I entered the bookstore that olfaction did a great deal of exploring by itself; I didn’t need eyes to tell me where I was! But this is not where my day started; it started at home. I woke up to the smell of the sickly sweet perfume I spray on my dog after giving him a shower. I knew he was trying to wake me up, and so he was. His tiny paws pushed me gently, followed by a whimper and a few soft cries. ‘Good morning,’ I said to the little white fur-ball with my eyes still closed.

He pounced on me then, singing a song only he understood. I sat up and kissed his head, as is the custom, before walking out of the bed and into my bathroom. My toothpaste, I realised, had a strong, almost pungent smell. It was a desperate attempt at trying to be ‘minty-fresh’.

Walking out, I discussed with my mother what was to be done about breakfast. We settled on the lazy Sunday afternoon brunch – buy something from outside; we’re too lazy to cook. My father was sent out to but some idli and vada – a south Indian staple. He bought, along with the necessary, a little too many oranges. ‘We’ll drink some orange juice today!’ mother said.

I went to the kitchen and put out the 20 odd oranges in the biggest washbowl I could find before pulling out a plate and starting to peel them. After I was done peeling some 5 or 6 oranges, the oil making my hands sticky, my mother called to me and asked me to have breakfast for we would have the juice later. So I did; I put the plate full of peels aside and covered the peeled oranges before having my breakfast. Later, all was forgotten about the orange juice.

Gagan, a friend called me soon after and asked me if I had any plans for the day. I hadn’t really spent much time with the guy in a long time and so I came up with a plan where I could spend time with him and get some work done at the same time. I collected all the books I had to sell and asked my sister, Sahiti, to do the same. I told her we would go to the bookstore with Gagan, sell the books, hang out for a while and return. Although she didn’t like the company of Gagan a lot, she agreed, for more than Gagan, she disliked bus-crowds.

We agreed to pool-in the money for petrol and the plan was set. This would be the first, and probably the last time I stepped out of my house in the Christmas break.

I quickly took a shower; the soap smelled antiseptic. That’s probably because it is supposed to be, but I have never liked the smell of medicine in things such as soaps, lotions or bed-covers. I applied to my face the only cream that suits my skin – baby cream. I haven’t exactly figured out yet if it is the babies that smell like baby products or baby products that smell like babies, for even the babies whose mothers do not use any products on them smell like baby products. However, the major concern here is that baby cream is the only cream that I can use and every morning my face smells like a baby’s butt. (…which is nice, as long as the baby-butt is clean.)

Sahiti and I stuffed our bags with books and left for Gagan’s place where Rishabh, his friend, opened the door because he was still getting dressed. I sat down on the sofa and tried not to notice how Gagan, my friend with benefits (until he found a girlfriend), walked around shirtless from one room to another, trying to figure out what shirt to wear.

Although it’s been a while since we stopped ‘availing the benefits’, the smell of his skin, or his deodorant, made me want him. But of course, I never acted upon my feelings – and that’s the whole scene with being with a friend-with-benefits: You’re friends, no matter what. We still crack jokes, and hang out, still visit each other and even swim together, but we don’t do the dirty. We’re friends.

Tired of how long he was taking, I walked into the room where he stood in front of the cupboard for an eternity and asked him what he was doing. He changed three shirts until now, and finally ran to the other room and put on a regular t-shirt, only to cover it up with the best sweater he has. Then he spent another 15 minutes setting his hair and wearing his shoes… ‘And they say men wait for women to get dressed,’ I muttered.

Finally we the house that smelled like sex to me, and entered a car that smelled like children. It was musty, and chocolaty – like biscuits and wafers in the old outhouse of a garden drowning in petrichor. It was the smell I could smell when I hugged Gagan’s nieces. We left for the bookstore.

On the way we inhaled white smoke, and grey smoke, and a little bit of black smoke before we shut the windows and turned on the a/c. The car had no air-freshener, and the a/c air smelled funnier. It smelled like the breeze on a beach – salty, cold, and a little fishy. We arrived at the bookstore.

The two boys went to park the car while my sister and I entered the paradise. The place smelled like old books do – wood, and words. Somewhere through the smell of wood, you could smell dust and printing-ink. You could smell the laughter in the fairy-tales section for kids and smell the mystery as you approached Conan Doyle. You could smell love when you met John Green and smell sex when you opened the Fifty Shades. I had been looking for Dickens, and surprisingly, he didn’t smell any different from the book store. He didn’t smell like London would. He had an ancient odour – that’s all; a classic smell of oldness.

I found my books soon enough, but my sister didn’t. Gagan and Rishabh were both not book-people and were buried beneath a thick pile of boredom. When I found them, they suggested we go to a nearby pub while my sister did the shopping – she would take ages, and we all knew that well. I told Sahiti of our plan and it was agreed upon that we would meet again in half-an-hour, and then eat something before we went home.

Now, I can tell you we went to a pub because I know we did. As we walked the streets, I had no idea where we were going, and I have never been to a pub before this. I simply followed the two boys and on our way we crossed several interesting places. There was a restaurant, right next to the bookstore, which smelled like sea-food, but I doubt it served sea-food.

We walked along a stretch that smelled of dirty water and gutters. Following it was the sweet smell of paan from a store. Finally, we took a turn and were entering what looked like an old, abandoned factory. I was hesitant, but trusting Gagan, I walked in. We walked right past the people sitting and munching on their munchies and sipping coffee or beer. The place was like the ones I had seen in movies – dark, loud music, and who knows what lurks in the darkest corners!

I felt like Moose from ‘Step Up-3’, where he follows Luke around the club – totally lost and wondering why he was where he was; yet a little fascinated. The only thought in my head was a chant: ‘Oh my God, I’m in a club.’ It was then replaced by a question: ‘Is this even a club? Or is it a pub? What do you call this place? Why am I here? Where are we going?’

Yes, I was freaking out. I hated the smell of the place – coffee was welcoming, but the beer killed the mood. The food smelled Italian, but I have no idea what kind it was. To top it all, my friends decided to smoke and we entered hell – a smoking zone. I sat there while they puffed. The place, needless to say, smelled awful. One smoker; okay… Two to five; bearable… But a room full of people smoking is terrible! The place was stinking of different kinds of tobacco and nicotine ratios.

Rishabh ordered a beer soon after and offered it to the two of us – I declined politely and Gagan made a sensible decision of not drinking any because he had to drive. After around 30 minutes of discussion about cigarette types, of which I was a part, Rishabh finished his beer. The boys waited around for someone to present the bill and so without wasting a minute I asked the waiter to get us one. We left the hell-hole and entered the smoke-free zone which still smelled like Italian food, coffee and beer. We stepped out of the club/pub/whatever you call it.

I took a deep breath and smelled air. It was fresh and welcoming. Happily, I hopped along the two boys who we walking towards the bookstore once again. On the way we passed a bakery that invited my empty stomach by offering freshly baked bread. If you have ever been to a bakery – not an outlet but the actual bakery, where they bake – or if you have ever baked bread, you know what I am talking about. The smell is heavenly!

I called my sister and told her we were waiting for her. The boys took off to get the car and I was left alone, so I walked back to the bookstore and into the good smell of wood, dust and printing-ink. I walked through the narrow lanes that were aisles between shelves that were stuffed with books and touched the ceiling. I walked past the out-of-budget V for Vendetta comic that I so badly wanted and the Guy Fawkes mask that my friend promised he would gift me, and I walked up to the floor where my sister stood with a basket full of books.

I calculated the total amount that all the books cost us, and as it was way out of budget, spent another 10 minutes convincing my sister to take four books instead of eight because I couldn’t leave the four books I selected as they were for my course. Fifteen minutes and three phone calls (from Gagan) later, we billed, paid thirty rupees and walked out of the paradise with eight fat books in our hand.

We drove to the petrol station. Funny enough, I smelled absolutely nothing in the place where I often smell the black gold and get high. We drove ahead to find a good place to eat and decided to go to a mall closer home. As it was evening already, and the weather cold, I asked Rishabh to turn off the a/c as we rolled down our windows and smelled more smells and scents. After leaving the petrol station some kilometres behind, I smelled petrol.

Although I was overcome by the joy of smelling it, I realised something must be wrong – was our car leaving a trail behind it, enacting Hansel or Gretl? Before I could voice my concern, a fat, chubby man on a scooter zooming past us screamed at Gagan, ‘The lid of your tank is open!’ The boy almost froze when he heard the words and stopped the car. Rishabh walked out of the passenger’s seat and closed the lid before Sahiti could do so by leaning out of the back-seat window. The journey continued and we reached a mall.

It took us a good 15 minutes to park the car for the basements were full. I called the friend who had promised me to buy the Guy Fawkes mask and told him that he needn’t order it online as he lived close to the bookstore where I had seen it. He could just waltz over to the place and buy it for me. He thanked me and said that he would do that.

We went to McDonald’s, out of all places, and sat in our chairs, surrounded by noisy eaters, classy music, and the smell of sour-cream. Done eating, and tired after the day out, we decided to head back home. As boys and cars go, we had to perform a little stunt or have a little fun before we finally let the car rest; so about 400 metres away from  home, Gagan stopped the car and said to Rishabh, ‘Yesterday’s marks are still here!’

I didn’t understand what he was talking about until it happened – Burnout. The tyres burnt, luckily not a crisp, before we zoomed into the apartment. The boys quickly rolled up the windows and turned on the a/c that smelled now like rotten fish. I was not really pleased, but then we ran into a friend and luckily had to roll the windows. Few minutes after the burnout, the tyres were still burning, the smell was as strong as it could get!

A freaked out Gagan checked the tyres and heaved a sigh of relief in the burning rubber when he saw that none of the tyres were badly damaged. Finally, we parked the car and parted ways to get to each of our houses. At home, our father was watching the news. There had been a bomb blast right outside the restaurant that was next to the bookstore, the one that smelled like sea-food.

It didn’t impress me that I escaped a blast, not because this was the third time, but because I had been trying, on Christmas Eve, to kill myself. I wondered if the restaurant now smelled like sea-food. Maybe it smelled like burning flesh now, like the smoke from the crackers on Diwali. Did it smell like blood? Was the bookstore okay? I didn’t want my first visit to the paradise to be my last! The idea of a burning bookstore was painful. The smell was that of tears, burnt memories and hurt feelings…

I went to bed that night and recalled the day in light of my favourite movie: V for Vendetta. Maybe I should’ve expected the bomb blast; after all there was that one Guy Fawkes mask waiting for a signal; a sound perhaps, if not a smell, of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture…

OF BEING GOOD AND BEING HAPPY


They had been friends for a long time now – eleven years was long, especially when it started back in second grade and involved an unexplained separation with absolutely no contact of the other; they met again online and continued where they had left off. It seemed awkward because they were two adolescents who upon talking to each other went back to their Cooties stage. They had both been in relationships and kissed and made memories, but this was where they had left off.

The gap was huge and there was a lot of filling-in and catching-up to do – but it was fine, as though the separation had never occurred. They behaved child-like at times and were afraid of falling in love. ‘I don’t want us to ruin our relationship’, they would say. They swam through the different phases each person goes through, but too soon, and it got to them.

He was her brother, and she was his mum; they were friends, best-friends, mega best friends, a family, siblings, and everything but lovers. But they loved like lovers did, and fought like a married couple. She scolded him when he confessed to smoking, and he was mad at her for self-harming. Although they were miles apart, they kept their promises to each other and never cheated. The innocence of childhood wasn’t lost in them, because that’s where they had left off.

They didn’t meet after finding each other even though they made plans. They were in different cities and too young to travel by themselves or convince their parents to travel all the way just to visit each other. But they planned nevertheless, like children do; but they were adolescents, not children.

They got comfortable with each other and there was no longer the danger of Cooties in the air. The jokes got funnier and at times a little dirty. They were adolescents now. There were fights and long periods of silence and guilt. There were too many emotions and a lot of misunderstandings. Everything seemed to be falling apart – they weren’t friends anymore. They were falling in and out of love – weighing the pros and cons over and over again, complicating and simplifying issues.

‘I love you’, they would mutter and follow it up with a ‘but’ and talk like Romeo and Juliet did. Little lovelorn children they considered themselves to be while they loved one another so deeply. Then she found a lover closer to home, and he let go of her – but they were still all that they were: friends, best-friends, mega best-friends, siblings and what not; and they still loved like lovers did and still fought like a married couple; they still cared. Then he stopped. And after waiting for a while, she put it in the back of her head and loved her new lover.

Then after a long dry-spell of affection, he spoke to her. She told him of her lover, and he told her of his. They were once again whatever they were. Nothing was lost forever, just invisible in the mist of times.

They were both single and more lovelorn than ever, so they talked more often and dug up a neat bed of love they could step into – but it was too deep, and none of them had the courage to take the first step. ‘I love you’, they would say, ‘but I don’t want to ruin our relationship…’

The frustrations built and died and humour would peep every now and then from its cave. He stopped telling her he loved her; he would only smile when she told him and say, ‘I know…’ She was hurt and figured it was pointless loving him. She was frustrated and upset; she found a friend with benefits. He was told about this, by her and no one else, and he opened up to her his fantasies.

They learnt he was bisexual and she confessed she was too. This was a new chapter for both of them. As they treaded lightly into the ‘undiscussed-so-far’, they held hands and got close. They hugged, and kissed and fell in love all over again. They made love. But they never met since they found each other.

He received gifts from her a week before his 18th birthday. The postal service ruined the surprise – they never have a good timing. But he was surprised nonetheless and was touched by her letter. He wore the shirt she sent him, but what he did with tie and shoe-laces, she still doesn’t know.

He told her he wouldn’t be able to keep his hands off her if they ever met, but they met, and he didn’t touch her inappropriately. They hugged, and she kissed his cheeks, they wrestled in the room and played like kids. They walked, and lied down on the bed; and they talked. They took only a few pictures – they were too busy enjoying the company of a love lost and found again. Of those few pictures they took, most were not one would call a ‘good photo’ and they ended up having just one picture – their first photograph together in 11 years.

He went back – they never kissed, never made love; didn’t even utter ‘I love you’. But they knew they did, and it was pointless wasting time on knowing what they knew. They made memories, however, most of which he will forget too soon; but she will remember.

On and off; talking and not. They went through too much together and when they spoke last night he told her of the fun he was having with his new friends in the college. She found it scary as it involved rich people, too many cars, sneaking out, eating out and smoking. But she didn’t say anything even though she wanted to say a lot, because she didn’t want him to get angry and go offline, she wanted to talk to him. ‘I want you to be happy’ she had told him so often and she hated it when she was the reason behind him not being happy.

‘I love you,’ she said, ‘and I won’t tell you anything, but please be safe!…

And he asked her, like he had several times before, to stop caring, but he was unusually calm in saying that ‘You don’t worry about me…’

She said what she always said when he asked her to stop caring, but differently too, ‘You know that I worry about you all the time!’

His reply was rather unexpected to her: ‘Haha! You make me want to love you!’

Her heart skipped a beat and sank all the way down all at once. She knew they’d talk about love again, and he wouldn’t like that. He would leave her again and she didn’t want that. She put it as mildly as she could when she asked him, ‘Who is stopping you from loving me, silly?’

‘My bad self’ he replied instantly, ‘I am bad, I want to be good’

‘You are amazing as you are…’ she said to him. ‘You are the better person. You are not the best though, because you are always better than the one who considers himself to be the best! I swear I have never so madly loved anyone… I love you for who you are and will love you for who you will be till they lower you into your grave. I can promise this to you in a bond written in my blood! How else do I tell you that I love you?’

‘Holy,’ he replied, ‘Stop, no? I understand…’

She cut him off in between and continued, ‘You’ll never find yourself alone. Love me or don’t, I’m always with you.’ She said.

‘I am sure,’ he said, ‘and I am sure I will never find anyone who will love me as much as you do. And I am also sure that I will never find anyone who will care for me as much as you do.’

‘Your mummy is there, no?’ she asked cheekily; that made him laugh. He asked her, ‘how are you so good? How can you be so good?’

She was still a little cheeky when she told him: ‘There is so much bad in this world, I am out of this world, so I am not bad. Hence proved, I am good.’ Later she added, with utmost sincerity in her words, ‘Being good is a choice; it’s a painful choice.’

‘Indeed it is…’ said he.

‘But being happy is a choice too,’ she continued. ‘And being happy doesn’t always come with being good; and in case you have forgotten, I want you to be happy.’

‘You know, you leave me speechless’, he said.

They never dated; but they loved anyway.