She loved rain. She loved those plastic boots, some of them reached as high as the lower edge of her knees. Bold fashion statements, so she thought. The only pitfall was the two inch gap that existed between the tip of her toes and the tip of her rain boots. But, this mere 9 year-old knew how to borrow (or steal?) from her elder sister and make the borrowed appear like they were her own. Don’t believe me? Those boots were more hers than her sister’s with cotton balls stuffed tight in the front. Adjustment for a few sizes too big! Smarty pants!
It’s raining today. I am by the window watching the rain, remembering her, sipping my warm mug of tea. Among all the things I’m remembering, I’m mostly remembering her. That justifies the frame of mind I am in right now—her memories flood my being. Outside, I see the rose being beaten by tiny droplets. One strike, it goes down; it convulses, sheds the droplets that had been sheltering in its petal’s darkened red corners; in the leaves, in the thorn tips. It swings, up-down, up-down; a couple times more and it settles back to its upright position. Then another drop shares the kinetic. Fate repeats itself—up-down, up-down. Is it hurt? The rose? She, I know she was. She was hurt, she was in pain. But the rose? I don’t know. I will probably never know.
I’ll tell you what I know. I know how great a friend she was. I know how she so loved to sing and dance. I know she laughed the hardest when I would stumble upon my own leg as I tried to catch up with her dancing steps. I know she poked me with her elbow striking outward whenever I wronged the lyrics. I did that often, and she poked me always. I know we were cool one moment and the next we weren’t talking to each other. I now know that was friendship; it was like the fate of that rose that stands upright even after being hit by rain. I know of the blissful ignorance we were privileged with then. If you didn’t eat, Mama Kangsa from Mahabharat would come to pick you up. If you fretted, the police would come and beat you up. Of course, I never thought of those moments as ‘blissful’ then. That enlightenment came in at around the not so distant past. Now, memories are coming crashing down.
Crashing (memory) got a competition here. Heavy black clouds are clashing and coming crashing down. Nature suits my emotion. I could rain tears too. But nature is vigorous. It’s raining continuously. It’s raging its anger, thundering. The glass-pane on my window is scared. It’s shaking its stand loose—quite unusual for the month of Falgun. But nature has its protocols. I don’t know of these protocols. She didn’t know too. She, however, knew that an umbrella could keep her talcum from blending into the rain. It used to be Johnson & Johnson’s Baby talcum. It smelled sweet. She smelled sweet. She wanted me to smell sweet too. She wanted me to drop my hot-pants and don jeans skirts that had flowers on it. But with hot-pants, I could easily climb those guava trees; I could hop branches in the Ashoka tree. My big concern with skirts: where do I collect guavas if I wear skirts? In my palms? Those palms that couldn’t even hold enough water to splash my face with. Oh lord! But, there I was in a skirt. She pulled it upwards, the elastics fitted tight just below my lungs. For a moment I gasped! She said the hem shouldn’t be worn such low. I heard it for the first time there that day.
Then there was school. We used to sit side by side in one class while in the next we had some unsolvable issues. She wore her skirt and shirt better than me. Her shoes were polished to mirror reflection. She always won prizes for singing, dancing and tidiness. After the prize distribution ceremony, she never missed counting who had collected more prizes. She exchanged anything that she liked. I stomped. But, you assume if that helped!
Every evening after school when we parted ways for our homes, I was to sway my tiny arms utmost right and utmost left and sing in that torn voice (my voice added drama, it brought tragedy in the departure) “Bye bye, see you tomorrow.” But, it was never tomorrow. Either of us showed at either one’s place within an hour. Most often we would be eating one mouthful as we reached, gulping down the last remains from the palate. I liked running, she liked spinning. We would fight over what to play. She always insisted even with the neighbourhood kids that we play sing-dance games. Many opposed, but her tantrums won favour often. At such times she was hard to deny. Her voice became the sweetest and her reasons the strongest. I wonder how and when that cruel cancer attacked her. She could oppose all that she didn’t like. She had the sweetest voice and the strongest reasons to defend her. And you could hardly deny her when her voice was honey-sweet. But that cancer was mighty big, mighty mighty big. She couldn’t fight it, she couldn’t befriend it (it wore no shirt for her to tuck it in).
She died in trousers, pale blue hospital trousers. I am certain she didn’t like that at all. She loved flowing floral skirts. She loved knee high boots. She loved to sing and dance. How could she lie down helpless in that bed, unable to speak (what happened to that sweet voice?) She looked so tiny and pale. Sunken eyes, hollowed cheeks, blue lips. I cried. I cried a lot. There were many things I didn’t know then. But I was so clear about one thing—that she was in unbearable pain. Her body spoke in that language of pain. I didn’t want to hear about those ordeals in her low, soft voice. That wasn’t the voice crafted to speak of pain; it was made to sing songs of laughter, songs of joy, songs of friends, songs of life. I long to listen to that song, I now wait for her to manage the hem of my skirt. I see the rain here today and wish she comes there under the umbrella protecting her talcum. I want her to run her fingers through the hanging water-drops in those bars. I wouldn’t fight about the games to play. I want to hug her and thank her for being my best friend all those years.
15 years… Her feeble body has turned into strong memories. You were my first friend, my best friend. Not a day passes without echoes of your words. Everything reminds me of you, the rain, the sun, the talcum, the plastic boots. Even when I spin you whirl in my memory! My dearest memory-occupant, you live here in me, in my memory. Forever!