It was already too late for the class. No use….she thought. I’d better sit in the library and get a good afternoon nap. Sleeping in the horrible hostel dormitory…..it made her head ache and throb…all seven nights she had slept there, she had passed hours together…listening to the different snoring sounds each girl made….interrupted by distant train whistles and mating calls of frustrated canines.
“Hey, watch out!” somebody called. She returned to the world around. The most beautiful girl in her batch, Nilakshi was standing there. “ You, saying something?”, she shrugged. The college belle gave her beautiful shining hair a sway…… “ Well Miss Attitude, please look out as you walk. You almost knocked me down!” That got into her. Maybe Nilakshi was beautiful, and rich too…but WHAT THE FUCK! She walked upto the her…. “What? You want to get a piece of me, huh!” she pushed her hard….Nilakshi, unnerved by this sudden aggression caught hold of the wall to keep herself from falling. “What are you doing?” she shouted, trying to push away the dark figure that loomed over her. “Next time, you raise your voice, I am going to throw you off the stairs, understand?” She gave Nilakshi’s books a kick which flew away and landed scattered on the corridor. Then the girl turned away and climbed the stairs down in short quick steps.
“what a psycho!” thought Nilakshi as she gathered her books. Her hands were still trembling from the impact. “no wonder nobody talks to her!”
Downstairs, the girl was standing. The rain had stopped already. She felt sleepy and lonely. A bad taste lingered in her mouth after the fight. May be it would have been better if she had apologized and withdrawn. But old habits die hard. And in any case, she was tired of apologizing. Sorry, my foot! She thought. Bad memories flooded through her brain…grandmother shouting to her mother….. “who asked you to bring a girl into my house? And look how ugly she is? Who will marry her? She will be a stain that we can never wipe out.” She quickened her steps…..somewhere her elder brother’s voice rang out… “ go away, you filthy little rat! We don’t play with girls, you know! We are boys!” Go away, go away….she screamed inside her head…but voices and more voices kept pouring in..her father shouting…… “why can’t you behave yourself at school”, her mother yelling… “ why don’t you just die die die!” She battled them….she was sweating now…but they won’t stop….her brothers, her mother, her maths teacher at school…. “come to me child, I will love you,” he had said and put her little hands on something very hard and straight….she was mortally afraid…but he just wouldn’t let go…. “come closer, come closer….” He whispered with a very strange voice and suddenly……..NO! NO! NO! She covered her ears with her hands and started running….GO AWAY, GO AWAY GO AWAY! She breathed heavily….she didn’t know anymore why she was running….from whom she was running! She just ran on and on…through the green grass and the thorn bushes she ran….her hands and thighs were bruised all over. She fell, cut her knees, rose again and ran….”RUN! RUN!” said somebody in her ears…and she kept running like it was forever until…..
“LOOK WHERE YOU ARE GOING!” Somebody had pulled her so hard that she came to halt with a sudden jolt. As her vision cleared and the voices went away, she found herself standing at the river bank. “ How did I come here?” she asked, panting.
“How should I know?” said the guy with lopsided grin…. “ I was sitting here under this tree, painting…and suddenly you came charging like a crazy bull and had I not pulled you back, you would have been borne away by the current almost 2 km downstream by now.” Then she realized. She was standing barely a foot away from the edge of the embankment. The river roared ran below, swift and noisy, as if eternally late for its rendezvous with the sea.
“Oh my god!”, she exclaimed. Her knees burnt badly. Her unruly hair fell all over her back and her face. She was panting like hell. “Uh! Is the river water safe to drink ?” The boy said nothing but held out a small water bottle from his backpack. She took it and started drinking. As the clear stream of life poured into her, she returned to sanity. Should I say thank you? She thought. Come on, its not a great deal.
The girl looked all around…..they were sitting under a sonajhuri tree on the bank. The flowers had made a golden carpet for them to sit. The river lay stretched in front, its sides garlanded by water hyacinth blossoms. Somewhere a cricket chirped incessantly, and far far away the bridge lay in the horizon….just like a picture from a nat geo calendar. She gasped! For the first time in her life she had felt such beauty, such wonder. It made her cold cold heart want to melt. She closed her eyes and reclined against the tree.
“Don’t!” said the boy without taking his eyes off his sketch. “What? Why ?” she retorted. “Ants! “ , he said…. “I learnt it the hard way. Hope you understand.”
She looked at him. He was totally engrossed in his work….his head almost bent over the paper, his eyebrows knit together in concentration. The lopsided grin had vanished entirely off his face, and he bit his lips….his hands moving silently like a lightning on the white paper. He looks so…..he looks so….so……oh, whatever! She thought.
The boy looked up….and brushed his hair back. His pupils…..they are jet black, she thought. Somehow they made her feel fidgety and uncomfortable. “ So, what happened? You stole something from somebody or had a fight? Just look at your knees!”
“Uh! A cow was chasing me!”, she didn’t know what else to say. His face lit up with the silent laughter that she so detested. The familiar lopsided grin was back. “ Did you step on its tail? Or put chilly powder in its nostrils? Why on the earth did it chase you in the first place?” What could she possibly say? “Mind your business scum! And o yes, you are not funny!”
He started drawing again… “Whatever! Suit yourself. And you are not polite either.” She clenched her hands tight. Anger was rising up inside her like a bubbling broth. She wanted to hit him hard….for his cool confident indifference….he is really haughty in a different way, she thought. “are you really drawing something? Or acting as if you are an artist! How can one draw so fast?” His expressions hardened, his copper tint turned red in indignation, he opened his lips to say something, then checked himself….. “none of your business”, he replied.
She came closer to him. She thought perhaps he would shift further away. But he didn’t budge. He just kept sketching in long bold strokes. She peeped over his shoulders….she was petrified. He had drawn to even minute details ,the river, the trees, the flowers, the sky…and…..HER! Reclining against the tree, her lithe frame, with eyes closed, had come alive in black and white!