ROSE

                                   

Art By Victoria Gardner Cornwall, UK

                                                                                                     

A wisp of fresh air blew across my stubborn curls as I set my eyes on you. As the class watched on, you glided in with that bright smile. I stood in the middle of the classroom, blocking your path. Mocking.

Oh! The bully – was the expression on your pretty face. You gave a courteous, ‘excuse me’ kinda smile and walked in, squeezing between the desks. As you stumbled over the third-row benches, one of the corners of the benches made a little tear in your pink pants. We all guffawed.

I admired you during those few fleeting moments; baby cheeks, jet black hair adorned with a red rose, light silky tresses travelling from the earlobes down to the nape, slender neck on delicate shoulders, gorgeous hands. Lips quivering a bit.

I felt a tug, but did not want to reveal this soft side. I acted over smart and even started to catcall.

One day, while trying to get your attention, I directed some red ants from my pencil onto the back of your neck. That caught you off guard.

Sometimes, ice cubes found their way into your shoes while we were playing on the sports field. They would even land up in your lunch box and soggy rotis would be the flavour of the day. You knew it was me doing all that mischief.

Over an argument in the corridor besides the wash rooms, I pushed you into the boy’s toilet and bolted the door. Hearing those terrified shrieks, we boys felt super thrilled as if we had achieved something great.

Our English class teacher promptly punished us though and we were made to kneel down outside the class room. Curious onlookers gave us a ‘good for you, you deserve it’ thumbs up sign.

I saw your face from the corner of my eye, you caught me looking. Coming over gingerly, you knelt down with your face almost touching mine, pleaded sorry. Offering to be my best friend.

“Dekho yar, we can really be great friends, I know that you are genuinely sweet. You are just trying hard to act like a bad boy. Let’s show everyone that you are not a bully, but a top student, proficient in studies and sports, gentle and humane.”

I was touched by your sincerity.

You then went across to the teacher, requesting a pardon. We got mercy, but not before we suitably got lectured with dire warnings of grave consequences, the next time we did something like this.

After the incident, we got on well like milk and honey. I started calling you Rose. You were really sweet and innocent, while I enjoyed all the unbroken attention. I would simply hold your pretty hands under some silly pretext. You would take it as a pally gesture.

I wouldn’t wash my hands for hours and would steal your hanky almost every other day. You were perplexed on how they kept disappearing, while I put on a rather surprised, innocent look. My mom wondered whether I had turned into a professional thief in a ladies’ used merchandise shop!

We would study together, conduct lab experiments for our science projects. Time moved swiftly the next few months. My love grew deeper and more profound, I would write your name a hundred times in my Chemistry book.

Luckily, my studies were not affected. I still remained a top-ranking student. I was also great in sports, representing the regional side.

I hid my feelings though. You never got a whiff of it, being the joyful, fabulous fifteen-year girl, you were – care free and unconcerned.

Love and longing

The famous Kone falls class excursion loomed large. The teacher’s meticulous planning got us kids excited. I made my own plans in tandem. Yes, the natural landscape would be an ideal setting to profess my love.

It was simple enough. I would say, “Look here Rose, sweetie, we both are young, made for each other and would marry soon after our studies. What’s more – our vibes are similar.” It was that straight forward. Really. A walk in the mountains, actually.

The excursion day arrived; we were jumping about uncontrollably in the bus. Laughing and enjoying ourselves. Happiness reverberating through our young minds.

We reached the picnic spot. The scene looked ethereal, as if out of a picture book. We ran around the rocky slopes, feeling the misty sprays from the falls.

The torrents fell into a mesmerising blue lagoon, bright and crystal clear. Perfect for a dip and for splash around. The children dived in, squealing and prancing around. Glee writ large on our faces. Most of the girls turned into instant mermaids, while the boys transformed into life guards, eager to save a drowning damsel.

I was pleased to see Rose enjoying herself, coming to me several times to play and giggle about. She looked like a forest fairy, amongst the tender green shoots that reflected the evening sunrays. Her face was glistening in exuberance.

Her twinkling eyes pierced my heart with tender emotions. Gosh! I didn’t want the beautiful day to end. But I did not get a chance to propose then.

We boarded the bus for the return journey. I reserved the last two seats in typical Chennai style, throwing my handkerchief and, of course, her stolen hanky. She was thrilled to find one of her lost hankies! Rose sat beside me, and recounted all our antics, laughing non-stop.

Half the journey flew by. I decided that this was the perfect time – she was euphoric and the time was ripe.

My young, inexperienced heart was fluttering and spurting like my dad’s old Vespa scooter. The words would just not come out of my lips. I mustered enough courage to put my right arm around her. It received a million-watt shock. I heard some anxious gasps from friends, but she seemed oblivious; chatting nonchalantly.

After a few minutes, she asked me why I had gone mute. I tugged at her and pressed her closer to me, gently giving her a hug. I held her a bit longer than was needed. I felt her stiffen, slowly. She remained still, despite the jerking bus and reckless driver.

Eyes puzzled, almost in a trance, she tried to get up. But I held tight. Volcanoes exploding in my head, while a tsunami raged in my stomach. My heart forgot to beat. My palms went clammy.

She whispered, “Please release me.”

I let her go. I respected her feelings and knew that I had to accept her decision.

Rose got up gingerly and moved forward, holding the pole. At the second row, she turned back and gave me a bewildered look. “Et tu my dear bestie”?

The kind of look that will last me a life time.

A significant part of me stayed back in that Ashok Leyland bus; frozen in the time warp of a haunting micro second.

Venu Rao

12th June 2021.                                                                       

This is a work of pure fiction.

 

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