1996. Early July.
The first morning of my standard 10th was beautiful, though I’d spent whole night rolling. I was off the bed early, without mom’s usual 10 minutes efforts in waking me up. I was all ready in newly stitched blue grey uniform and my shoes were shining than ever. I’d a proper breakfast minus cribbing. Mom was looking at me, enthralled. Before stepping out I hugged her and she, as usual, moved her hand in a failed attempt to comb my always shabby hair.
I was nervously excited. It’s been 45 long days. Prerna was promoted to standard 9th, and it was her first day in the senior wings of our school. So from then on, during my recess break of 15 minutes, I wouldn’t have to run down a long stretch of cricket ground under scorching sun to the juniors block to have just 2 minutes glimpse (just glimpse) of her. Even though those 2 minutes used to satiate me, I was waiting for that day desperately. Finally, today was that day. The sky was smiling with me. Thinking about her I got in my bus for 40 minutes drive to school. Those 40 minutes passed very slowly that day, I remember.
Before getting into the class room, I walked into the toilet, locked the door, and took out the hair gel, which I’d kept hidden from my mom to avoid any explicit hints. Moms are smart, you know. I bought it two weeks before, and it was already half-empty due to my continuous trials setting different hair styles. I admit I was poor in styling. Finally, I managed to style a style and confidently walked into my class.
All 3 of them, Abhishek, Ankit, and Kunal, grinned. They all knew the reason behind but only Abhishek lied in my ear “nice style Ayush, looking great.”
Since standard 6th, I was topping the list of back benchers in my class. But that day, surprising everyone, I grabbed the front row opposite to the door, so I could see her class all the time. I was standing at the door with my eyes stuck on her class. I didn’t see her yet. ‘Has she left the school?’ a sad thought ran down my spine, maximizing my anxiety, when Sharma ma’am, my favourite teacher, pat on my back signalling me inside.
Looking surprised to see me in front row, she smiled “keep it up my boy,” and tried to bless me by moving her hand on my head, when I pulled it back instantly to avoid any disruptions to my styled hair. “Become serious like your friend, it is board exams this year” she continued, staring at my three friends. I looked back and blinked. She moved towards the door and closed it. I looked back again and then they blinked. For that moment I disliked Sharma ma’am.
“Ma’am I need water” I said coughing after few minutes. She raised her eye brows, and said “come back quickly.” I ran to the water cooler on the opposite side, next to her class, ignoring the one next to mine. My heart was pounding, and my strides were wider. My head took a complete 180 turn when I passed through her class trying to locate her inside. She wasn’t inside. Disappointed, I stopped near the cooler. My hand was on my heart, and I remember myself praying please don’t let her leave the school, when I heard, “Excuse me.” My heart almost skipped a beat, and I turned to see her standing behind me.
For the first time she was so close looking at me. Her voice was mellifluous, and her presence had halted everything. Like a dumb I was just gazing her, when she repeated those words. I realised I was blocking the cooler. Everything about her was just prefect and she was as gorgeous as an angel. Her big blue eyes were sparkling with a thin layer of kajal, and her cheeks were as pink as her rose petal lips. Her features were stunningly bright, and her hair was little curly shinning black. Her skin was glowing white and she possessed the figure of Princess Madeleine. Her shirt was stylishly tucked in her belt, and her socks were rolled hidden. I waited to see her getting inside the class, in a hope that she would turn. She didn’t. Enough expectation for first day I thought.
Unlike everyone, I was thankful to the hot summer season, as for the sake of ventilation teachers used to keep class doors open. Indirectly, it was for my sake. Many teachers caught me looking outside the class, and when some sincere teachers chose to close the door in an attempt to make me concentrate, I used to cough. I noticed that daily around same time she used to come to the water cooler, and I started matching my coughing timings with her. My coughing was becoming a matter of discussion in the staff room. Some teachers were actually worried, and some knew my drama. But they never stopped me, and I never cared.
I knew her house was at least 50 kilometres from mine, and my mom would never allow me to go that side of the city alone. So, school was the only heaven for me, and I was in love with it. I used to hate going back home. I used to wait for the mornings. I hated Sundays the most. I kept writing her name on my hand and on my notebooks. Imagining her, many times I tried to sketch her face, but never succeeded.
I was completely lost in her. Those were the best moments I still cherish. But at the same time, I was going away from my friends. I asked them to sit with me in front, but unlike me, they had no incentives to sacrifice their comfortable back seats. And during the recess, I always use to persuade them to sit, play, or chat from where I could see her. They were becoming irritated and so did I.
1996. Mid August
After a few days of coughing, and wandering around the water cooler, I decided to buy a card for her, a normal friendship card.
“You don’t have guts to give her this,” Kunal commented.
“I’ve what it needs,” I said, more to myself.
Many times I tried to initiate talks near the water cooler. Many times I thought to travel in her bus, which travelled to opposite direction than mine. Many times I wondered to slide the card inside her bag. Many times I walked towards her in the lobby, to stop her and hand that card over. Many weeks passed in my failed attempts. Finally, I realised Kunal was right.
1996. Early October.
It was our second last examination, and in the middle of it, I noticed her behind the cooler. Something was weird in her gesticulations. After everyone left, I spied there, to found cheating chits hidden smartly inside a wall crack, beautifully covered by a hanging plaster. Next morning, I came early by a private bus before everyone, and left my card on that crack. While clearing her chits, she looked perplexed to found the card. I didn’t write my name, just mentioned a guy from class 10th who loves you madly.
I did that a couple of early mornings, and each time, I found her laughing with her friends looking at my card. I knew it was just a funny joke for her. Then one day, I saw her leaving a letter there, while her friends were giggling from the door. I stayed back late to grab that letter, which read What ever you are doing is sweet and stupid. If you have guts, come and talk directly. Please no cards anymore. My heart was pounding. I knew she and her friends wanted to make fun of me, and that card was my bait.
1996. Mid November.
I’d stopped keeping cards there. But, just following her in the recess, gazing her class all day, looking at her near the cooler, and writing her name on my hand and my note books, weren’t enough for me then. I wanted to express my feelings to her.
The school annual festival was coming up, and I knew she would be participating in almost everything. I always participated as audience. Hesitantly, I decided to be in dance group, she was leading. Music teacher introduced me to her, and that was the first time we exchanged Hi. I wasn’t able to speak any word more than that. Mostly she remained with her friends. We spoke a couple of times but no conversation extended beyond 2 minutes.
I decided to pen down my feelings. I bought a trendy letter pad, which had a cute couple holding hands at the corner and a few hearts at places. I poured all my feelings out. I kissed her name written on my palm. Then I kissed that letter. I decided to catch her alone after the festival, and hand that over, personally. No more water cooler.
1996. Early December
I was looking my best at the festival. At least, I thought so, but I was double nervous; my first dance performance, and my first love letter. With no doubt, latter was more nerve-wracking. Finally, I cleared the first hurdle, only for the main one. I knew she had to leave early. And then the moment came; she said bye to our group and walked towards the parking lot. I took a long breath, and started following her. My heart was beating faster than ever, my legs were shivering, but I was determined to follow. Suddenly, she got disappeared behind the bus. I slowed my pace. The lights were dim and everything was silent. I was hearing my heart beats, before I heard a male voice. I hid myself and try to see her aside the bus. I was shocked. Rahul, the coolest and the richest guy of my class, was waiting in a car. She got in. He switched on the light inside, and gave her rose. She smiled and accepted, when he held and give her a peck. She didn’t say anything, and gently pushed him away. I looked at my letter, a tear dropped on it. Hiding there, I felt dead for a moment.
Next morning, I dragged my bag to back seat of the class. My friends were still there for me. I hugged Abhishek, and without any words exchanged, he guessed what happened.
I started observing Rahul staring her more often. He was always there, before me, but I never noticed.
My coughing was cured, and my thirst was getting satisfied with other water coolers. I’d stopped following her in recess. And, her name was no more on my hand. Trying not to see her, I started taking holidays, but whenever she used to come in front of me, I couldn’t control my heart from skipping few beats. Many months have passed like that. It was last day of my 10th class or of that school. I was thinking to change the school. Boards prep leaves were starting the next day. I had to concentrate on my studies.
1997. Mid July.
The very first morning of my 11th standard, and my new class room was next to that cooler. After a long time, I was walking that lobby. My eyes were getting wet and suddenly, I stopped to check that crack to find it empty, when my heart took a bump. There was a letter. It’s was covered with moist dust. I slid it in my pocket, and ran to the toilet.
Hi, I know it’s you. I always knew it. I have seen that in your eyes. Shocked!
Today, one of my friend proposed me for the fifth time, and for the fifth time I said No. He is my family friend and loves me a lot. But he is just as a friend.
But what has happened to you? You don’t even look at me. You don’t even come to the cooler. You don’t even follow me in the recess. Boards’ pressure, is it?
Somehow, I want to wait for you. This is the last week of our class, and I really wish you would come to tell me your feelings after the holidays. Btw, next year also our class rooms would be opposite and you could see me always.
It felt like a dream, a pleasant one. I pinched myself, looking the mirror. It was true, it was happening. I was smiling wide. I didn’t have the gel to style my hair, and even I didn’t need it that day. I was again on the front row and my eyes were again stuck on her class. I was getting desperately impatient. I have not seen her yet. she might got stuck in something, I thought. Lectures were passing and my desperation was becoming frustration. I decided to bunk the class, and wait for her at the school gate. She didn’t come. I read her letter again. She has to come, I told myself. I went to the cooler, and rested my head on it.
“Prerna’s family is shifted to US. I saw her crying many times. I think, that’s because of my love,” I heard Rahul impressing his friends. I felt helpless, I felt numb. Just tears were flowing down my cheeks.
2010. Mid June.
It’s been 13 years. I contacted many people, including Rahul, and tried to locate her through all the social networking sites but no luck. I’m writing this story and her letter is in front of my eyes. After so long, all the hidden memories have come upfront. I don’t know how and where she is. May be one day she jumped to this story, and contact me. I could never forget her. After all, she is my first crush.
Never hold back your true feelings. Sometimes it gets too late.