“Are you sure we should do this?” – I whispered.
A week or so had passed since I was bowled over by AWESOME ANUSHKA. I had returned the Hindi notes copy to Anushka after a couple of days.We had smiled at each other a few times when we met at the water cooler, or in the corridors. I don’t think I ever spoke with her. There never seemed any opportunity to speak with her. She was always surrounded by so many friends… So many. During our tiffin break at 10:00 AM – a time when I thought I could try to have a conversation with her – she would be with other girls, and I would be with the bunch of “smart asses”. I didn’t want to become “laughing stock” trying to stutter and stammer through a conversation in front of her friends. There seemed no opportunity, no opportunity whatsoever, to meet her, talk to her.
Then, came the Friday….
It was a Friday – around 9:15 AM – the library period was on. The entire Class 8 B had gone to the library barring two students – Vikram and yours truly. I had no new books to issue, and Vikram hated books. We had somehow escaped out of the library and were back in our classroom.
A new phenomenon – well, at least new for me – had started happening in class. Somehow, there were a bunch of hungry buffoons who would finish off other people’s tiffin within the first period itself – usually we would return from assembly to find our tiffin boxes half open – sandwich missing, some portion of cake gone and so on. The unspoken feeling was that there was this Back-bencher Gang – the rough and tough guys – who were behind this all.
That day, Vikram and I had become the victim of the “Backbencher gang’s” antics.
Vikram opened a tiffin box from one of the desks in the first row. I looked at the bag – a pink colored one. Must be some girl’s desk… I realized it was Devika’s – the ever cribbing, ever complaining Devika.
Vikram had opened the tiffin, and was gazing at the large piece of chocolate cake – ready to pounce on it.
ME: Are you sure we should do this?
Vikram: Why not man? We will not eat the entire tiffin – just the cake. And people will anyway think it’s the backbencher gang’s work…. Perfect cover for us!
ME: You go ahead, I am leaving.
Vikram: Don’t be a chicken shit, Ari. Come on! Let’s have half of this.. Looks so YUMMY!
ME: Wait, wait.. Lets just cut a small piece ok.. So she wont know. Here, take my ruler. (I handed over my ruler to him)
Vikram cut a piece – a fairly large one, grabbed it with fingers, and was about to pop it into his mouth. He paused, looked at me, gave me a small portion of the cake. I reluctantly took it, and popped it into my mouth. It was delicious! I looked at Vikram.. He was engrossed in licking his fingers.
Suddenly, the bell rang. The library period was over.
I quickly put the tiffin back in the bag, as Vikram rushed out to wash his hands. I ran to the water cooler to get some water – as the students started trickling into the classroom. I drank water from the cooler, calmed myself down and entered the classroom.
I gasped, as I entered the classroom.
Devika was gesturing vehemently and complaining to Shilpa maa’m – our class teacher. She seemed very upset, and continuously gestured to her bag, and the small pieces of cake that had fallen over on her seat as Vikram tried to pop the cake in the mouth. She was holding a ruler – MY RULER – the ruler that cut the cake – the tell-tale proof that the “cake stealing moron” had left behind.
I quietly made my way to my seat. Vikram, sitting next to me gestured to keep quiet. I obeyed.
Shilpa maa’m was dreaded by everyone in the class. She was VERY STRICT! Most of us called her names, because she punished us for small little things that we did.
She held up the ruler – and said – “Whoever did this, please accept now! If I get to him later, it will get very very bad” – she warned, and looked at the ruler.
HIM – why did she say him. It can be a girl also right… I thought. The next sentence from her was like a punch in my stomach!
“Who is A M?” – she said.
Oh God!! OH MY God!!! My mom engraved my initials on the ruler, my pencil box, my bag.. I
used to be am very forgetful – so these initials were for the good & nice students to hand over my belongings to me in case I left them around. Why did she have to engrave AM on it? I cannot run away from this. I was partner in crime too.. I had helped with the ruler, stood right there, and even had a bite of the cake!!!
I looked at Vikram, and whispered – “Let’s accept..”. Vikram gave me a cold look and said – ‘You accept man, your ruler”
The moron had dumped me, right there!! So much, for a friend!
“Hmm.. He is absent today.. Who’s next – Arindam Maitra. Arindam – did you do this?”
I looked at Shilpa maa’m. The 5’8″ burly figure about to unleash her wrath on the “cake stealing demon”. Oh dear!! What can I do? What should I say?
“I.. Uh.. I mean…u know….” – unknowingly I had started blabbering something.
“So, you did it… you did it. Its written on your face! You are stealing Arindam… chi chi chi” – Maa’m said. Conclusions had already been made. My darkest day in life loomed large. My head hung in shame…!! Will they throw me out of school now? They will tell my parents.. what will my father think.. my mom.. oh god! I can’t take this anymore! Everyone is looking at me… where do I hide?
My thoughts were interrupted by a sweet voice..
“Maa’m – actually, I ate the cake. That’s my ruler. I was going to tell Devika, but guess she already spoke to you before. Devika – you can have my tiffin today..”
I looked up. Anushka had just entered the class from the library (as always last out of any class). She went over to Devika, put an arm around her, and exchanged some “girlie” talk.
Somehow, the tension eased. Devika was smiling to whatever “girl” talk Anushka was giving her, and Shilpa maa’m seemed to be getting back to normal from her hyper self.
AM – Anushka Mittal.. my savior! Our eyes met – for one split second. And then she smiled. She had saved me from the tiffin trouble, from being embarrassed in front of the entire class.
The class continued with the teacher teaching Maths. My mind was too clogged to concentrate. Finally, the bell rang for the tiffin break at 10.
Anushka came over to me….
Anushka : “Ari – I know you did not do it, but why do you give company to those morons”
ME: Thank you .. i mean for saving me.. Anushka… Our tiffin had been eaten by someone.. U know.. And.. Well.. I mean.. Guess… should not have.. I think…
Anushka : Ok, leave it. Come, let’s have tiffin together… I have brought extra parathas today.
We laughed and giggled through the tiffin break having food together… those must have been one of the most cherished moments in my life.
My life was entering a new phase… I could feel it!!