I collected the forms and the information records. Just as I reached Ayaan's seat, my gaze lingered on his form a bit longer than the rest of them. He smiled and handed it over to me. Without any specific reaction, I moved on to the next seat. After collecting, I submitted it to our class teacher.
Today we had double Physics, and Mrs. M told us that she would be choosing the pairs for the Talent Competition. It was a tradition in our school to pair up two people, whether they were of the same gender or the opposite. What the school didn't know was, it had produced a lot of couples over the years. Legend had it that many people couples had married too.
Not that I believed in any of the stuff.
I sat down my seat as Mrs. M made the chits for the lottery. Twenty students would be participating from our class. It accounted for almost half of our class.
This competition was very prestigious, admired by many famous people too. It was what The Army School was famous for and respected for. I was proud to be a soldier in making (I actually wanted to be a scientist) and was happy to participate in such a wonderful event.
I crossed my fingers, hoping to be paired up with Myra, my almost best friend. Once the pairs were decided you couldn't swap, nor back out. It was one of the most ultimate decisions for the beginning of the session, it controlled with whom you were going to spend your first one and half month with. This was a great way of interacting with people (yeah right, as if I was a fan) and it helped you get comfortable with the class.
You both had to help each other in your projects and were marked according to your perfomance in each. It helped us broaden our horizons and potentials, giving various choice and back ups for the future.
Oh goodness, I just hoped I got paired with someone I knew.
I was so lost in my thoughts that I didn't hear my named being called out. Many of the pairs were standing together, with their bags so that they could adjust on the seats.
Didn't I tell you that we had to sit with our 'other half' too?
"Zinia Rathore is paired up.. Ayaan Woods."
I froze for a second. No wait, did I hear it right?
I dragged myself towards the front as Prachi glared at me.
Call it fate, karma, destiny or a writer witch sitting and warming her bum on the seat and typing this up, I was officially screwed.
With a big S.
Within a few minutes, we were settled. I sat on a seat few rows back, Ayaan beside me. Why was this happening to me?
I didn't hate him or something, but I had enough of guys to worry about. And befriending people? Not my forte.
"Hey," his voice was raspy, "Did you talk to Zoobin?"
I facepalmed myself. Annoying guy.
"Z-U-Bin. And yeah, I asked him why he had lied," I whispered, my focus on Mrs. M as I took notes.
"You what? Never ask a guy if he is lying! It pisses us," he rolled his eyes while making patterns in his notebook. I didn't reply.
Prachi sat on the seat to my left and sweetly passed a note to Ayaan. This session continued for a few minutes till I stopped her hand and kept it back on her table.
"Stop it," I hissed, "I'll switch over." She sniggered yet never stopped.
After a few minutes, Ayaan said, "Prachi, I need to focus. Please stop." Prachi pouted and got back to her work. She didn't forget to give me the death stare though.
He shrugged while looking in the front direction and I saw a little grin plastered on his face.
The bell rang indicating the time for lunch break, its sound piercing my ears. Everybody rushed out; happy to be free from the constraint of the classroom, even for a short time.
I faced Ayaan and asked, "Would you like to discuss about the projects? I'll show you around too."
He waved it off, "I'll talk to you after school gets over, have some important work to do."
"Sure, no problemo," I copied his accent while making a weird expression. He raised a brow and smiled before walking away.
I looked around for Myra and saw her talking to Rohan. I sneaked behind her and closed her eyes, "Guess who?" Rohan laughed and ruffled his hair.
"Zinia. How many times have I told you not to do that?"
"Many?" I sticked out my tongue to her before hugging her.
"I'll go, talk to you later Myra," Rohan said and left us.
Myra blushed furiously and I nudged her with my elbow, "You're paired up him! Aww, lucky. Young, young love. Myra, why did you leave me? I miss us! What did I do wrong? " I fake sobbed, taking out a tissue and blowing through it for a full effect.
"S-Shut up!" she stammered as she put her things inside her bag, "I hate you!"
"You know you don't," I winked.
She groaned, "What about him? Huh?" She wiggled her eyebrows and teased me.
"Who?" I was genuinely confused.
"Oh you know the President of America."
"Don't kid me!"
"The firangi, of course!"
"Nothing really, not interested," I took out my lunchbox and started eating yesterday's left over Chinese. Getting up late meant last night's dinner. With my mouth stuffed, I said, "Wot hob yoo got?"
Myra burst out laughing, throwing her head back, "Aloo paranthas, but really, he seems interested much."
I scowled, "I know and I don't want to give him any hints."
"He's nice enough," she took a bite out of my breakfast, "You shouldn't bring breakfast to school, I told you Mom told me that she'd save you the worry of breakfast. Your dad and Zubin can't make anything to save themselves, and you always cook food along with the house responsibilities. Give yourself a break!"
I hardened, "Thank you, but it's okay." I looked down, trying to hide out my disappointment and hoping for a distraction. I didn't require anybody's pity because it was an extra burden along with everything.
To my luck the bell rang and I hastily finished my lunch. Students started entering and I waved to Myra before sitting down on my seat.
Ayaan entered and I gasped. His hair was ruffled messily and his uniform disturbed. There was a swelling on his cheek and everybody stared at him as he sat down on his seat in a very cool manner, as if nothing had taken place.
"You okay?" I asked. As the CR of the class, I had to be concerned about my classmates.
"Yeah I'm fine!" he snapped back and I raised my hands in surrender. He didn't seen to be in a very bright mood, so I left the matter there and then.
We had a few minutes before the teacher came. I took out my textbook and started reading, only to be interrupted by a high-pitched scream, "Oh my gosh Ayaan! Are you okay? Oh my gosh, oh my gosh!"
Prachi, right. Snorts, sniggers, giggles and chuckles filled the air. I couldn't resist a grin as Ayaan literally banged his head against the table (gently) and groaned.
"I'm fine lady! What is wrong with you?" he removed her hand from his cheek.
My, this girl had guts.
"But you're hurt," There was sincerity in her voice and I might be delusional but I saw a tear in her eyes.
Ayaan softened, "Prachi, I'm absolutely perfect. I promise I'll call you later." She smiled with satisfaction and sat down. (Yeah, I had switched over.)
I nearly puked as Prachi gave Ayaan the googly-eye stares. Ayaan seemed to enjoy the attention and they both kept on passing something or the other throughout the class.
I saw Myra staring at me and sighing. She mouthed, 'Oops.'
I mouthed, 'Shut up!'
'Oh, heartbreak! I'll come over and bring icecream,' she smirked evilly. Jeez, that girl and her theories.
The school got over soon and I packed my bag. If he wanted to do the projects together then he had to tell me, I couldn't go chasing him and pestering him. Myra had left with Rohan and I cracked a smile. As I kept my things I felt a hand on my shoulder.
I flinched and jerked back. Turning to face the intruder, I saw it was Ayaan trying to hide his glee.
"What?" I spat back and resumed my work.
"Would you like to come over?"
I raised an eyebrow.
"For the projects.. I mean," he scratched the back of his neck.
"I'm busy today. Hand me your number, I'll call you."
"We can discuss it on the way to home, I'll drop you."
I contemplated for a moment before declining politely, "Nah, thank you but I have to take care of Zubin." The truth was that-
1. Zubin was at home.
2. But Ayaan didn't know.
3. I was still angry about his earlier attitude. (during the lunch break)
4. Atleast he could've informed me as to why he didn't discuss earlier. (Quote - We were paired up. The least we could do was to trust each other - Unquote.)
5. And I didn't want to ride alone with him.
So I waved him off and hopped towards the school exit, leaving him shell-shocked. In a few minutes, the bus left for home.
I sat on the window seat, my hand making idle patterns on the glass. Clutching my bag tight I closed my eyes, enjoying the gentle, warm breeze that blew across my face. A feeling of freedom danced in my mind and I felt happy than I had in years. This was something new and I intended to cherish it for a long time.
I hummed a song under my breath and tapped my hands.
What did life mean to me? What had life ever done for me?
My hand reached for my pendant as I thought about it. This pendant had given me strength to hope during the worst of times. Whenever I wanted to cry and give up on life, its presence had me realise that I had something to live for. I didn't want a happy ending, I just needed everything to be alright.
I needed things to be back to normal.
Had you ever wondered why things don't go the way we want them to?
It was because who ever up there typing or writing our destinies knew that we could function well enough even when things didn't go our way. The business of living was the celebration of being alive and if we appreciated what we had it would makes us realise what we were missing out on.
The life we had received was beautiful yet sometimes I wished for stability and strength to face all the challenges that life had in store for me.
Sometimes I felt so out of the place, so different and there was no one to assure me that it was good to be unique. Was it really good to be special?
Everybody had their own insecurities, even I was extremely insecure however hard I tried to hide it or ignore it. Beneath the bossy personality was a desperately needy child who was clinging on to bare straws for support. My dad always told me that I thought too much and needed a break but if I didn't think about the future then who would? Who would keep our family together, even if stringing them with delicate threads?
My tapping got wild and frantic, trying to find a steady rhythm in my erratic thoughts and haywire imagination.
Other students were enjoying, talking and having fun. I envied them all. They didn't have the burden of taking care of a family. Maybe some of them did, it would be cruel to generalise people in one category. How did they manage to stay so happy? Or positive?
I cringed at the word.
My anger was going to take over my senses. Tears threatened to pour and I buried my face in my hands, wiping my eyes hastily.
The bus reached my stop and I dragged myself towards my home, kicking stones and pebbles all along. I passed the locality's coffee shop and saw my friend Akira working. She looked at me and winked, before resuming her work. I stopped at the T-Section.
Turning right would lead me to my home and left to my maternal grandmother's home who lived alone. Before I could think more about this my feet dragged me towards 'Nani house' (maternal grandmother's house).
My Nani lived with my uncle and his family. Nanu (maternal grandfather) had died and so had my mother.
Nani had dealt with my mother's death very miserably and in her words, "No mother should outlive her children."
That was a quote by George R.R. Martin too, but I didn't want to deject her spirits so I never said anything on the matter.
Right now she would be alone at home, watching cliché TV soaps. I pressed the bell and leaned against the wall, my bag heavy on my shoulders. I heard the shuffle of her feet and her familiar voice, "Who at this time, baba (dear)?"
She opened the door and smiled before pulling me in for a loving embrace. I fake gagged and she hit me playfully on my head.
"Zini baba? What surprise!"
Her cream chiffon sari swayed as she led me inside. The house was as splendid as always. Her grey hair were tied in a braid which ended at the small of her back.
"What brings you here?" she motioned me to sit on the couch of her room as she set the already tidy room.
I sat cross-legged and keep my bag, "Just wanted to meet you." This statement of mine impressed her.
She smiled, "Aha, wait here, I make juice."
Without waiting for my reaction, she left; and I fiddled with my fingers. The summer heat suffocated me and I opened a button of my shirt. I stared at the lilac walls adorned with the pictures of my cousins and me.
There were four of us, three boys and one girl. I had wondered, the size of my photo was small as compared to the size of the other three. Tilting my head, I took out a paper and a pencil; randomly scribbling words and doodling.
"Zini, here," A gasp escaped my lips as I looked up, startled. I took the glass in my hand, "Thank you."
She then scurried to sit opposite me, "You okay? How's Zubin baba?"
"I'm okay. Zubin, not so much. He hurt himself at school."
Her hands flew to her mouth, "Aiyyo (Oh)! Serious?"
I shook my head before taking a sip of the orange juice and letting out a sigh of appreciation. Her lips were pursed in a thin line, and the wrinkles on her face were evident as she thought for a while.
I finished my juice and placed the glass on the counter. Contemplating whether to speak or not, I spoke lingering on each word, "Nani, I'm tired.. Why did Mother leave too soon?" It was a dangerous territory to tread on and her reaction remained neutral.
I scooted towards and put my head in her lap. She stroked my hair and I closed my eyes; burying my head. I didn’t cry, my tears had evaporated. We embraced the comfortable silence, both of us lost in our own thoughts. Words couldn't express what we were feeling, yet the silence unfolded the deep reflections of our lives.
"It's getting late, Zinia. Zubin must worry. Hop along, will talk later," she whispered, getting up and ushering me outside. Something inside me fell and a pang of hurt still lingered.
"Bye Nani," I hugged her and she closed the door. I ruffled my hand through my hair as I stood outside, clueless. I breathed in deeply and decided to go home.