(Crushes play a significant part of our formative years. They make us understand and appreciate the myriad tender feelings inside of us. I am certain many of you must have had several crushes in your school days. But your first crush will always remain the most cherished one, for obvious reasons. All of you, I am sure, will have a story to tell about your first crush.
This one is mine.)
The Victoria Memorial looked spectacular amidst the dark clouds hovering above it. I kept gaping in awe at the monument and its surroundings; losing myself in its magnificence.
“Hey, what are you doing standing there? Want to race?”
I spun around. It was Anish, my classmate. Our entire 5th grade class had been taken on an excursion to the Victoria Memorial today. It was a cloudy Saturday afternoon and about 40 of us students were scurrying around at the sprawling Memorial grounds, with our class teacher keeping a close watch.
“Let’s race to that bush there,” Anish said, pointing at a clump of bushes at the far end of the field. It was far away from our entire group. But I was confident of beating my classmate easily; my long and lanky legs had won me many a race.
I agreed and we immediately braced ourselves for the race.
“On the count of three then,” Anish declared and then with a pompous tone added, "One, two...go…”
I was already off the mark before he had uttered the ‘g’. I ran like the wind and did not bother looking back. Running made me feel exhilarated. It pumped me up like nothing else did.
Within seconds, however, I was huffing and wheezing. But my eyes were set on the mark: the clump of bushes. With every step I took, they came nearer. From the corner of my eye, I could see that Anish was nowhere near me. With a determined grunt, I pushed myself hard, wanting to finish with a flourish.
The cool wind slapped my face. My hair bounced around wildly. I could practically touch the bushes now.
I was about to whoop a loud “Yes” when, with a little gasp, I completely froze on my track. A great, black dog had leapt out of the bushes with a bound.
I fell down on the ground on my knees; completely taken aback and horrified. The dog barked menacingly and advanced towards me.
I turned around and ran for my life, not daring to look back. I only wanted to get away from the scary brute.
I finally came to a halt near a bench. The dog was nowhere to be seen now. But by then I had been completely shaken.
I fell down on the bench and burst out crying, covering my eyes in shame. By now, Anish and several of my classmates had surrounded me. I could hear many of them singgering but, despite myself, I simply could not stop my tears.
Only after my kind class teacher, Nivedita Ma’am, consoled me, did I cease my sobbing. After a few minutes of patting my head, she, along with my giggling classmates, left me alone.
I sat there sniffing to myself; the scary image of the black dog still fresh in my mind. I was too embarrassed to face my classmates now. All I wanted presently was to dig a hole on that very ground and bury myself in it.
“They shouldn’t have laughed at you,” came a girl’s voice suddenly.
I turned around to find a girl sitting near me. She was Disha, my classmate. She was a new entrant in our 5th standard and had started just a few months back. She was a very good student but I had barely ever spoken to her prior to this.
“Dogs can be very scary sometimes. I am scared of them, too,” she added in a sage-like tone.
I was blank and just gawked at her; feeling uncomfortable and awkward and trying my best to wipe my tears away hastily.
“Now don’t just sit there. Our bus leaves in a few minutes. We have got to go. Come on,” she said.
I remained mum.
“It’s okay. These things happen,” she said kindly and patted my left shoulder lightly. My stomach churned a bit for some reason.
Disha then got up and turned to leave. I observed her properly now; as if for the first time. She was extremely fair and had light-brown eyes. Her hazel-colored hair was tied behind in a neat plait and matched nicely with the white school uniform she was wearing. Everything about her was completely immaculate.
She smiled at me once before hopping off towards our group. As I gaped at her bouncing away into the distance, I suddenly realized that she was very pretty.
And then my stomach churned again.
And then my stomach churned again.
Tinkle Digest Vol. 3. "Already read". Great Short Stories. "Um…No." What Kathy Did. "Meh" The Jungle Book. Already read. Amar Chitra Katha- Elephanta. "Yess…!!!"
With a silent yell of triumph, I picked out the treasured book from the library shelf. It was the last class of Saturday and my absolute favourite one - the library period. Most of the others in my class were busy babbling away on their respective benches. Only a handful few cared about this period. I being one of them.
I stood at the extreme right corner of my classroom where the bookshelf was kept. I hadn’t read this title of the series and checked the book with a smile; sniffing its pages happily.
“Smells good, doesn’t it?”
It was Disha. She was holding a book too and looking at me with a radiant smile.
“Yeah, I know,” I said, relieved at finding someone who understood this feeling.
“I have read this one. It’s very interesting and informative,” she said while pointing at the comic book in my hand.
Before I could respond, she added, “But you should also read Enid Blyton. She is my absolute favourite. You will love her books.”
I didn’t say anything. I was quite taken aback at her enthusiasm with books as hardly anyone in my class read books in the library period or showed genuine interest in them ever.
Oblivious to my thoughts, Disha continued merrily, “Library periods are the best, aren't they? I wait for them all week.”
“Yeah, I know,” is all I could say again. This was exactly how I felt and, for the first time in my life, someone else had shared that sentiment. I was a tad dumbstruck and just stood there stupidly.
She smiled and turned away towards the teacher to register her book. My stomach churned again.
“What have you got for lunch?” Disha asked me.
She used to sit one bench in front of me. It was our lunch break and there was cacophony everywhere around the room as my rambunctious classmates ate ravenously and yelled at the same time.
Her brows raised, she peered at me with those big, brown eyes of hers. I avoided eye contact and felt uneasy.
“Um…Nothing much. Just...Um...roti and alu dum,” I muttered and tried to hide my Tiffin box under my desk. The oil from my alu dum had spread everywhere in the box, even on the roti. Moreover, my lunch box, I noticed, was quite simple compared to hers. She had a swanky and big, square blue-coloured Tiffin box. Mine’s print (a jolly brown bear laughing widely) was coming off from the lid. I didn’t want her to see it.
But she didn’t seem to care.
“Ah…alu dum!!! I haven’t eaten that in a long time. All I get is sandwiches these days,” she said while eyeing the ingredients of my Tiffin box longingly.
“Will you trade my sandwiches for your alu dum and roti?” she asked me earnestly. Her brown, innocent eyes glistened in the afternoon sun coming in from the window near us. I simply could not say no.
“Um...Ok,” I said uncertainly.
She grinned excitedly and took away my Tiffin box almost instantly while slamming her own on my table.
I gently munched on her sandwiches and observed her furtively. She ate the contents of my lunch box with great gusto. And for some strange reason that I did not understand, I really enjoyed watching her eat.
Within no time she had finished eating. She turned around and returned my Tiffin box.
“Please bring this alu dum again. It was absolutely delicious,” she said with a genuine smile. Her face was glowing in delight.
“Yeah, okay. I will,” I said and returned the smile.
As I kept the Tiffin box back inside my school bag, I felt a surge of happiness permeate through me. I did not know what that sensation meant. But I really wanted to see her eating from my lunch box again.
My legs hurt from the constant marching we had done in the P.T.E. Class. I rubbed my knees a little and entered the classroom along with the other students.
Before I could reach my bench, though, my eyes fell on Disha. She was sitting on her seat, silent and tensed.
“What’s wrong?” I asked her.
She looked up at me sadly and replied, “I forgot to bring my Hindi book. The next period is Hindi. Banarasi Lal Sir jee will punish me for sure.” She appeared truly terrified. And she had reasons to be. Our Hindi teacher was known to be the strictest one around.
I didn’t want her to feel scared. I had to do something.
Without wasting another moment, I sprang towards my bench and opened my bag.
“Here, take this,” I offered her my Hindi book.
She looked in surprise at the book and then at me. “But…What will you do?” she asked.
“It’s okay. I am one of Banarasi Lal Sir’s favourite students. He won’t punish me. At the most, I will get a mild scolding. But it's fine,” I lied confidently.
She looked at me nervously, perhaps unsure on what to do.
“But…” she mumbled.
“Keep it. Nothing will happen,” I said.
She said “okay” after a while and finally kept the book on her table. Almost immediately, she turned around and said, “Thank you.” She looked a little relieved and the smile had returned to her face.
Even as the impending fear of facing the wrath of Banarasi Lal Sir Ji loomed over me, I did not feel afraid. And neither did my legs hurt now. Everything seemed so perfectly good.
With a resounding ‘trrringg’ the final bell went off. This was the bell that every student in the whole school waited the entire week for - the last bell of Saturday.
All the students sprang up from their benches and rushed outside towards the stairs. I waited until Disha got up and then walked out with her.
“So what are you going to do tomorrow?” I asked her as we began walking down the stairs towards the exit. Boisterous girls and boys rushed past us.
“Well, I will first finish my Math and Hindi homework in the morning and then read the 7th chapter of our English book which Nivedita Ma’am is supposed to teach us on Monday morning. It’s good to be prepared beforehand,” she said matter-of-factly, as if studying on a Sunday was as normal as breathing air for her.
“Oh…” is all I could say. My Sundays were peppered with watching cartoon shows, sleeping, lazing around, playing cricket and reading comic books. I, however, thought it wise to not disclose this information to her. I got the feeling that she might take offense to my leisure-filled Sunday itinerary.
“So why do you put a tika on your forehead?” she asked suddenly and pointed at my head. She was referring to the black dot on the right side of my temple.
I was taken aback at the sudden change in conversation and fretted with my hair, trying my best to conceal the ‘tika’. “Um…My mother puts it every day,” I said shyly, “It’s, um... a nazar ka tika.”
I felt embarrassed. The ‘tika’ had been a cause of much embarrassment for me as several of my class mates often mocked me for wearing it to school even in the 5th standard. I had repeatedly asked my mother not to apply it but she never listened. I felt angry at her now.
“I think it’s cute,” she said with a giggle and watched my ‘tika’ with great interest. My stomach lurched again and I did not say anything. I just kept looking straight and walked.
As much as I wanted to delay it, we soon reached the main gate of the school.
“Bye then. Have a happy Sunday,” she said merrily and hopped off towards her bus. We had different routes and hence had different buses to take us home.
I strutted towards my bus while sorting out my hair properly, wanting the ‘tika’ on my forehead to be as prominently visible as possible.
One look at her that day and I knew something was wrong. It was a Wednesday and I had entered the classroom with a lot of vigor. But things changed when I saw Disha. She seemed despondent for some reason.
I walked up to her. She noticed me and before I could say anything, promptly said, “I am shifting to Madras.”
I stared at her for a second. “You what?!” I asked in disbelief.
She nodded sadly and said, “Dad is getting transferred... Again.”
“But…But...” I spluttered, “You have already been six months in this class. How will you begin a new completely new curriculum now?”
She sighed. “This is the third time we are shifting. I am used to it now. Papa has already made arrangements. I am supposed to start mid-season at some school there.”
I was stupefied and simply stood there.
“I leave this Sunday and Saturday will be my last day in this school,” she informed me quietly without looking at me. She was staring at the desk in front of her with her big, brown eyes; the sadness very distinct in them. “I am tired of all this shifting. Just when I had begun to like this city…” she sighed.
Shocked at the enormity of the news, I dragged myself back to my bench. My classmates were beginning their day excitedly all around. But for me, everything had come to a standstill.
“Why aren’t you eating properly today?” my mother asked me in concern.
“I don’t feel like eating,” I quietly replied and just stared at my plate during dinner, lost in my own thoughts.
“Don’t be stupid. You have to eat,” my mother said and stuffed a morsel of roti and sabzi down my mouth. I chewed at them uninterestedly.
I finished the rest of the meal mechanically. Even my red ‘James Bond’ car - which I played with during dinner every day- did not interest me tonight.
After somehow finishing the dinner, I laid down my head on my mother’s lap. She did not ask me anything. But quietly began to caress my hair. Amidst the sadness engulfing me, it felt like a soothing balm.
I closed my eyes. A little teardrop escaped my eye and fell into my mother’s saree, dissolving into it like it never existed. Just like Disha. By tomorrow night, she would have vanished from my life like she never existed.
“Here…This is for you,” Disha handed me a book.
We were standing outside the school gates. She had finished her last day and was about to leave for good.
I looked at the book quietly. The title read: ‘The Magic Faraway Tree’ by Enid Blyton.
“It’s my favourite book. I want you to keep it,” she said.
I didn’t have the heart to say anything and simply nodded with a weak smile. Disha, despite appearing to be sad, looked very pretty. Her face was flushed for some reason. Was she sad because she was leaving this school or because she was parting from me? Will she miss me?
“Thanks…” I finally muttered awkwardly before any further thoughts could cloud my mind.
“Bye then…” she said and turned away towards her bus.
I stood there, rooted to my spot. Students of all ages jostled around me to get to their respective buses.
She boarded her bus but before getting inside, she looked in my direction one final time. Seeing me standing there, she smiled and waved. I too waved back, robotically. My bus was in the opposite direction. But I wanted to wait for a bit more.
Moments after she had gone inside, her bus’s engine whirred to life and it began to move. My heart thudded loudly against my ribs as I quietly watched the bus move away from me. Slowly, it picked up speed and left a huge cloud of smoke in its wake.
Within no time, the bus crossed the lane, turned left and disappeared. I kept watching until there was nothing left there except dust and smoke.
It was way past midnight but I could not sleep. I felt restless and miserable. I tossed and turned in my bed, trying to get the image of her final goodbye away from my mind. But it was no good. I did not know what to do.
Finally, to distract myself, I picked up the book she had gifted me, from my bedside table. It was not a new book, I noticed. She must have owned it. That thought comforted me.
I opened the book. There was something scribbled on the first page.
Even in the dim light, I could make out her tidy and flowery handwriting:
“Thanks for being my friend.
I will miss you…
A warm smile spread through my face. I touched the place where she had written those words. I felt calm now. And much better.
I shut the book and kept it beside my pillow. She won't vanish after at all.
(I have no idea where Disha is today (I have changed her name here for reasons of anonymity) and I do not know that if she even remembers me. But I certainly do remember her. And very distinctly. The motivation for writing this story, however, came from this song. It is a French song from an animated film and I do not understand a word of it. But for some reason, it reminds me of my first crush. And I like recalling that time. It was a good phase. :) )