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*Entry For Fanfiction Royale*
Jai, Rushali and Neer. They were the inseparable trio. But as time moves on, everything separates. All the laughter, happiness, smiles, good days- they all bury beneath the power of time. Now the only way left to fix it all is- Home.

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2. 1 April, 1996

1 April, 1996 (1)

Gently, she brushed the tip of the eye liner at the outline of the eyes. The eyelids fluttered vigorously. Open. Close. Open. Close. Open... Close open close open close open.

“Shelly! Keep your eyes open!” said Roohi, frustratingly pulling her elder sister’s lower eye slit down with her little fingers.

Rushali pulled her face away from her grip and fluttered her eyes until wet. The air had dried all the water in her eyes as if it was an open bottle of acetone.

“It’s itching, I can’t help,” she said, annoyed, fluttering her eyes. She lifted her hand to her eye but Roohi slapped her hand away.

“Don’t touch it, you’ll ruin it!” She shouted through her monstrous braces.

“Ugh, Roohi, leave it, don’t do it anymore. I can go like this.”

“Fine!” Roohi scrunched up her nose and stomped towards the window at the corner of the room.

Rushali bent towards the mirror and closely speculated her eye. It did look good. The lining was dark, really dark, like charcoal. The dark colour made the bluish green colour of her eyes stand out in the spotlight. It looked like a cobra slithering at the edge of her eye. Me and my similes. She thought. Her other eye still wasn’t complete. She pleadingly looked over at the reflection of her little sister in the mirror. Roohi looked at her through the reflection and stuck her tongue out.

Please?” Rushali pleaded.

“Nopitiy nope!” She stubbornly jerked her head towards the window.

Rushali exhaled and gave up. “I’ll take you to the parlour. Tomorrow. Okay?”

The ten year old’s little ears stood straight up like a dog’s and she looked at Rushali with sparkling eyes. The sparkle of lust.

She quickly ran to her. “Really?!” She squealed.

“Positively.”

“Yaas! Give me that thing,” she quickly snatched the pencil from her sister’s hand. She lifted her face up and effortlessly drew a line at the edge of her eye. It itched again but Rushali refrained herself from closing her eye and also with the death grip Roohi had on her, pulling her lower eye slit, there was no chance she could ruin the line.

If Rushali knew how to put the eye liner by herself, she would not have been under the debt of her little sister. But she never was interested in applying make-up. Not that her ego was high (well, yes, it was- she was beautiful) but she never really wanted to impress anyone. Until now. She thought and smiled.

Roohi was this little make-up artist of the house. When she was just learned how to walk, she used to walk to the dresser and applied powder on her face. In the beginning of her ‘carrier’, her mother used to be her experimental rat. She drew random lines on her face as if she was scribbling on a paper, and made moustache like a cat’s above her mother’s lip. Rushali preferred to stay away from her, saving her face from her disastrous drawings. But then, practice makes a man perfect and it made a girl perfect here. Her mother taught her how to use make up and voila! From Mr. Bean, she became Leonardo Da Vinci. Now Rushali was playing the role of Mr. Bean.

She got up from her chair and looked at her face, rotating it from left to right to see from all angles.

Roohi was smiling wildly standing behind her. “You like it?!” She asked excitedly.

Rushali smiled. “Yes, a lot. Thank you.”

The little girl hopped and happily ran outside the room.

Rushali straightened out her uniform, flattened the pleats on her skirt and pulled her shirt a little bit out. She combed her straight brown hair and tied it into a ponytail with the rubber band.

There was this different thing about Rushali’s features that no other girl in school had. Her eyes were an exquisite colour of green drowned in the ocean of blue. Her hair was a dark shade of brown and shined gold under the sun. She was the fairest of all and beauty with brains. Her singing skills were impressive. From classical to western, she knew how to bend her throat. Her parents were sure that she got those features from her English great grandmother. But belonging to a simple family and being with a mother of simple intellect, she wasn’t an egoistic person, although, at times, she was. Of course, she was egoistic at times. After all, she was just the highlighted definition of beautiful.

Before leaving the room, she went to the bathroom. She pulled out a bottle of shampoo from the cupboard and slipped it into her bag. I would be needing that.

She walked to the kitchen and grabbed her tomato sandwich from the table.

“Sit down, Rushali, then eat,” her mother pointed her index finger toward the wooden chair at the table. Her mother was thin and lean and much, much taller than Rushali or any other woman in the town. Well, it’s not her fault that the women in the town were too short. It’s like beauty runs in the family but Rushali didn’t look anything like her mother, Roohi did- she was the ditto photocopy of her mum.

Rushali shook her head. “Ma, I have to go, I’m late.”

“Then why were you spending time, putting on make-up?” She asked, plainly.

Rushali reached her and kissed her cheek. “Roohi insisted.”

“Hey!” Roohi squealed, offended.

Rushali winked at her and walked out the door.

★☆★

“Aww! Mom! Easy. Are you trying to make me bald? I don’t want to look like Pappi Uncle,” Jai shouted as his mother massaged his head with the greatest vigour. Her palms rubbed against his head, oiling it, like a machine.

Arre, if you don’t oil your hair regularly then you would be bald like your Pappi Uncle,” she replied dragging her rough palms like a saw against his hair.

“But why today?! It’s my first day, ma, first day of eleventh grade! Freaking eleventh grade! My head would look like a freaking mirror bouncing off light.”

Mrs Beri’s eyes widened and she slapped the top of Jai’s head with her oily palm. “No curse words at home!”

Jai rolled his eyes. “I just said freaking.”

“Whatever.”

No matter how much Jai tried, he couldn’t get free of his mother’s strong hold. Her fat fingers gripped onto his head like nails in a wall. If this carried on, there was a big possibility that he was going to get bald. Just like Pappi uncle.

Neer was making his tie when he walked in the room. The moment he looked up, he stopped. Jai looked up at him in sheer disgust because he knew what was going to happen next. They stared at each other hardly for five seconds that Neer’s shoulders started to shake and his eyes crinkled suppressing his smile. Or his laugh. Because the in next moment, he was laughing like a mad man. Literally rolling on the floor, laughing.

Jai picked up a comb near his reach and flung it across the room at his brother. “Shut up!”

Neer moved aside and dodged the comb. He was still laughing as if someone just cracked up a joke. “That is what happens to your sense of humour,” he told Jai when he was in eleventh grade. “That is what happens when you take Science in eleventh grade. You just laugh on petty jokes.”

That is what was happening in the moment, even though no one told him a joke.

Tears were streaming down his eyes and his stomach started to ache badly. Soon he became quiet but was still smiling and gasping for air.

“Mama’s boy,” he joked.

Mrs. Beri shot him a look. “Well, you’re next gentleman.”

Jai smirked. Neer’s smile turned into a frown. “I am not going to oil my hair in senior year.”

“Well, then, keep your mouth shut.”

Neer stepped in front of the mirror and started to make his tie. Jai eyed him.

“Why are you wearing a tie, it’s summer,” asked Jai.

“Cause it’s cool.”

Jai rolled his eyes.

“Done. Now comb your hair,” said his mum, stepping away.

Thank God, he thought.

He got up from the chair and made his way towards the mirror. Neer stepped back to give him space (he didn’t want his hair to ruin his shirt with oil). He took the comb and hovered it on his head, thinking to make some hairstyle which would make him look less nerdy.

Jai looked up behind at Neer straightened his collar. “You think wearing a tie is cool, huh? And I call you my brother.”

“Look who’s talking, Willy Wonka.” Neer laughed.

Jai groaned. “At least I won’t be the one to get bald first.”

Neer’s lip twitched into a crooked smile and he shook his head disapprovingly. He caressed his palm over his hair and that’s it. That’s how he combed it without even combing. His hair was darker than the night sky. It was a forest in which anyone could disappear. He always liked it short and plain. And girls liked it too... a lot.

He was a popular boy in school. His foggy grey eyes were enough to mesmerise everyone. They were enough for anyone to stop and stare. Whereas for Jai- no one could figure out he was Neer’s brother. Their features were replicas of one another- except for the eyes. The eyes, that’s all what made the difference. It’s amazing how the colour of one’s eyes could change the whole appearance.

The only way people got to know about Jai was from the gossips. They were the audio version of newspapers circulated around the school like a wild fire. Gossips were a myth and myth was an imagination.

According to one gossip (while he was in tenth grade) he was dating the Principal’s daughter who happened to be five years older than him. People might have thought like that because at that time he used to play squash and she happened to be the only person below the age of forty to play squash in their locality. He didn’t know who spread that gossip but whoever did it, he praised that person because after that gossip, girls started to talk more about him and some even asked him out. He knew that it was a stupid reason for girls to flirt with him but it was the reason. Teenagers are weird, he used to think. But I like it.

Thinking about girls, Jai had no idea about the girls of this school. This would be the first time he’d step into this school and had no idea about the people of this new place.

Jai pressed his lips together tightly as he looked at Neer ‘combing’ his hair.

“You shouldn’t expect the girls of this place to dig that hairstyle. It’s a mess.”

“It doesn’t matter,” he brushed the little hair coming on his forehead and looked up. “Girls love messy hair.”

Jai rolled his eyes and shook his head at his brother’s effortless efforts to woo girls. Not wanting to touch his greasy head, he pulled a sun cap over his head to hide it completely.  He picked up his bag and walked out of the room. Neer watched him as he went out. He smiled and gazed back at himself at the mirror. She’ll love it.

★☆★

“Aye, idiots!” Rushali called out as she ran towards the only faces she recognised on the sidewalk.

They both stopped on their way and turned their heads and smiled simultaneously. It had been days since the last time they met at Rushali’s house.

“I thought you were not going to wake up today.” Jai grinned wildly, wrapping his arms around her to hug her. 

“Don’t worry, I’m not as lazy as you two are.”

Rushali pulled back and tapped his cap. “Again, Willy Wonka?”

Neer laughed. “I told you the cap won’t work.”

“It’s because she knows about it. Cut it out, cool boy,” he groaned mimicking Neer.

Rushali cut her eyes to Neer’s and they slowly dropped to his tie. “Hmm, cool tie, but not so cool in summers.”

Neer rolled his eyes.

This was Jai’s turn to mock. Just as he opened his mouth to speak, Rushali cut in, “Cool hair, by the way.”

He turned to Jai and winked at him. Jai let out another groan.

“You done?” Jai asked, getting a bit flustered.

Every time they met, the first thing Rushali did was inspect them- their hair, clothes. She wasn’t sure if she liked it or if it happened just by sheer instinct or if she got that quality from her mother.

“Nope,” she said and slid her bag to her elbow. She pulled out a bottle of shampoo and held it out to him.

“What’s that?” Neer asked, taking a closer look.

“That’s shampoo, dumbo. Jai, I don’t want you to go all shiny hair and roam around in the school, handing out Golden Tickets to every little kid.”

“I don’t do that!” he said, snatching away the bottle.

“You’re welcome.”

She turned to Neer and smiled at him. He shrugged his shoulders and smiled back.

“If you kids are over with your conversation,” Neer said, wrapping his arm around Rushali’s shoulder. She completely flushed with his move. “Then we should probably just head on to school. We’ll get late.”

 

“Okay, okay, do not go to the washroom at the back of the basketball court.”

Rushali gave instructions as they walked through the crowded school corridor. Everyone was standing in group, chatting, laughing with each other. All eyes turned towards Rushali the moment she entered. The spotlight immediately diverted towards the two unfamiliar faces walking beside her. Boys were looking and girls- gawking. This wasn’t the reaction Jai expected from everyone when they walked in. He just thought it would happen but he didn’t imagine it to actually happen. Their trio was popular in their previous school but it wasn’t like everyone would really stop and stare.  

Jai bent forward to Shelly’s ear. “Do we look like aliens?” He whispered, eyeing the crowd.

Rushali shook her head. “Don’t worry, they don’t bite!” she spread her arms out wide and announced loudly to the crowd. They all turned their heads together and went back to twittering. 

“Huh, weird,” Neer mentioned.

“Yup. I really miss Regalia. Now think- I had to spend two years in this place, alone.”

Jai and Neer never wanted to leave Regalia. They spent their whole childhood there and the place was flooded with memories which could never be relived in Suncity.  If they at least pleaded their parents not to leave Regalia, they would have agreed. But they didn’t. They didn’t because something more precious than Regalia was here in Suncity. It was their Rushali.

“Don’t worry, now we are here for the rescue,” Neer laughed and winked at her. “We just need time to know these people.”

Just then a water balloon flew right in front of them and splashed hard against a boy’s face who was standing there talking with his friends at the same time he was glancing at Rushali. He yelled and stormed towards the two short people who threw the balloon then were laughing out hard.    

“That would be fun,” Jai said. He turned his head towards Rushali. “I think I’m just going to go wash my hair. Tell me where the washroom is.”

Rushali pointed towards the corridor in front of them. “Go there and turn left.”

“Alright, bye.” He slipped the shampoo bottle in the bag and waved them as he walked away.

 Rushali slowly returned her gaze to Neer’s eyes. He smiled and there was something different about those grey eyes today. They weren’t cloudy, they were clear grey sky. They were shining.

“What?” Rushali asked, flustered at the way he looked at her.

“I didn’t say anything,” he grinned and lifted his eyebrow evilly.

She rolled her eyes and looked away. It always seemed very awkward to her when someone looked at her for no reason and smiled. Especially when Neer did it, although it was the first time he ever did it.

After two years, since the time Rushali left Regalia, they met again. She missed them a lot. Every day she wanted to talk to them on phone or any other way but felt that would be too desperate. She made friends in ninth grade and became very close to them but they couldn’t replace the empty space on her living room couch which used to be occupied by Neer and Jai when they had movie nights.

 Jai and Rushali promised each other they’d write letters to each other every month but that didn’t last for a long time. She never preferred talking to anyone on phone, she just found it awkward. She called them on their birthdays but always ended up talking to Jai. His voiced changed year after year. There was no way Neer would talk to her. Not after the fight they had before she left...

And now they were pretending as if nothing happened.     

“Shelly, you there?” Neer asked, shaking her shoulder with his hand. She had been quiet for a minute now.

She looked up at him, reminding herself all those years he shut her out. Why did he want to talk to her now?

She slapped his hand away and stepped back. “No.” She turned around and disappeared into the crowd.

He stood there, watching her go. He was unable to move, confused at what just happened right now. He couldn’t understand her. Before she moved away, she wasn’t this hard to understand.

Is she still angry with me? He thought.

He gripped the strap of his bag tightly and walked to a tall boy standing nearby to ask where his class was.

 

Neer was sitting alone in the classroom for some classes. A few girls came over and talked to him- flirted would be a better word- but he didn’t show much interest. Except for three boys in the room, the class was full of girls. He got to know from a teacher (who was ranting about people bunking classes) that most of the boys were either in football or the basketball team and were all gone for the matches.

“Hey,” a boy slipped on the seat beside him.

He didn’t reply back. He was thinking about Rushali’s behaviour today.

“Umm, you mind if a sit here?” the boy asked, half getting up.

He realised he was staring at the boy.

“No, it’s okay, I was just... thinking.”

He slipped back down. “Hmm,” the boy pressed his lips together and looked forward. “Girlfriend issues, eh?”

Neer laughed and shook his head.

“Then what?” The boy looked over at him with amusement.

“It’s nothing.”

The boy nodded and looked forward and then looked back at him again. He opened and closed his mouth hesitantly.

“By the way,” he said. “How do you know Rushali Bhatt?”

Neer wasn’t surprised he was asked this question. He already knew by the way people were looking at her when they entered the school- especially the boys. He knew how beautiful she was and all about her talents. She could be popular in any school.

“She’s an old friend,” he said bluntly. He didn’t want to talk about her.

 “Oh,” the boy said, getting the hint he didn’t want to talk.

He stretched out his palm and smiled. “I am Ricky, by the way. People like calling me The Alpha.”

“Yeah right,” someone spoke from the back of the class.

He turned back to a girl looking at him in disgust. “Can’t someone peacefully fantasise? For God’s sake, stop being the evil witch for once.”

She rolled her eyes and looked away.

He turned back to Neer. “That’s my ex-girlfriend, please excuse her. She doesn’t know how to behave.” He raised his voice and spinned his head to her. “And that’s why I broke up with her!” He was shouting more than telling it.

“Shut up!” She picked up her geometry box and flung it at him.

He yelped and ducked. He got up, turned around to the other two boys, sitting at the back laughing at him, and threw his hands up in air. “I told you she is crazy,” he told them.

Neer recognised the two boys from the corridor today. They were the ones who threw the balloon at that guy who was looking at Rushali.

Neer was laughing at whole scene. Ricky sat down and shook his head.

“That is the kind of girlfriend issue I was asking about. She’s hopeless,” he sighed.

“Interesting,” Neer laughed.

Ricky looked at him and grinned. “You find it amusing, don’t you?’

Neer nodded his head.

“Hey, you didn’t tell me your name,” he mentioned.

“I’m Neer.”

 He scrunched up his nose. “That’s an odd name.”

“I don’t care. I can live with it.”

Ricky slammed his palm on Neer’s shoulder and winked at him. “I’m glad you’re here, Neer.”

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