When I was in the first standard I got introduced to a girl, who bore the same second name as me. Only it was her original name. Naturally we were thrilled and became best friends. I'd hang out in her house all the time after school (as she had a room to herself). And during summer holidays, besides traveling to Mumbai, I'd spend all my time at her place. We'd read books together, separately; play games; eat; watch TV... you get the picture. This went on for two more years. We'd never imagined the presence of complete strangers would threaten our friendship so much. Actually, I never imagined it. But it did happen.
She remained in the same section while I got transferred to a section I came to loathe. No amount of Enid Blytons could soothe me. I turned to her for help, only she was not available. Or every time I'd go to her class, she always welcomed me with a stranger, whose eyes reproached me. But I didn't mind. After all I was spending time with my best friend. So was she.
As days passed by, we grew apart and they grew close. So much so that people had begun to notice. We were nicknamed "twins"; conjoined, not fraternal. And since she was the only person I hung out with, everyone else had their own friends. I was left alone. It never did cross my mind that “being alone” was a natural state. But at that age, everyone has friends and shows them off. Eat lunch together, whisper secrets in each other’s ear, laugh out till your sides ached and of course, hate the same people — all together. I lost what I had.
See I'm the sort who can be alone in a crowd. But to actually have no one to share that with, that struck me quite late. My visits to her class became noticeably desperate, despite her insisting that she was busy. She wasn't. The stranger, now her best friend, told me off. Told me to back away and leave her friend alone. I was causing inconvenience, apparently. But I still didn't believe it.
The day I did? The stranger had told me firmly that my best friend simply wasn't my best friend anymore. I wasn't welcome; I had to leave. I tried talking to my best friend, but funnily enough she said she didn't know me.
My best friend left the city for another country eventually - something I heard from other people. "She didn't tell you," they gasped. "She must've been busy, I'm sure she'll write to me," I insisted. But she didn't have my address. She wrote to the stranger regularly, who made it a point to wave the letter in front of my eyes. All I could manage was "I have her letters at home, they're personal," coupled with a feeble smile. But I knew I couldn't get it back. I think she went to Dubai. I don't know. The stranger continued in the same school till 12th standard.
For a long time I blamed myself. For not being pushy enough, but I reminded myself that force was never the answer. So I shifted the blame to the stranger. Of course, she must've tainted her mind. What else could it be? I've lost a couple of friends between then and now, nothing has affected me as much as this incident. My parents still remember us as a pair of cheery girls who would grow up to be the thickest of friends; a case of death do us part. In retrospect, I think my parents were innocent. To believe that two people can go through all their childhood, teenage years and adult life without changing.
In the midst of all that, I grew up. Told myself steadfastly and repeatedly that she doesn’t exist and even if she did, she’d never come back. But there are moments when I fish out my dusty diaries and flip through long-lost-once-familiar pages, filled with scribbles and artwork, to see if I can find her number. I’m sure it’s hidden between all that chaos, I’m sure I haven’t noticed it.