Chapter Seventeen: Acquainting

After a tiring day on the streets of Bangalore, the three friends decided to take Sunday off. They had planned to use the holiday to explore the college campus. They had had already gone through the buildings on the day of their interview, but it would be a whole new experience to do it as students of the college; they had a sense of mischief that was forbidden then.

On Sunday morning as the girls got ready to meet Anil, Praveena remembered the previous morning’s fiasco. She was standing in front of the mirror, combing her hair, and Niveda stood behind her, folding her clothes.

“Hey,” Praveena exclaimed looking at Niveda through the mirror, “I forgot, what about your medicines?”

“What about them?” Niveda responded carelessly. She swayed to the song that was playing from her mobile on her bed.

Praveena liked that song too. It was a party song which would make anyone move.

“What were they for?” Praveena now turned to face Niveda. She was curious, she had seen a lot of medicines in her life. They made uneasy, unceremoniously reminding her of her mother and the disease of which she died.

Seeing the serious look on Praveena’s face, Niveda stopped her chore and turned to Praveena, avoiding her eyes.

“Look,” She said, trying to keep her voice even. “I don’t want to talk about it, don’t ask me anything”. That’s when Praveena noticed Niveda’s eyes were bloodshot and she appeared to lack energy.

“Ok…” Praveena dragged not sure how to prod further. She realized Niveda shifting into a bad mood. “Let’s go, shall we?” She changed the topic. “I’m starving.”

Niveda nodded and, leaving her clothes on the bed, she left the room while Praveena followed, locking the door behind her.

They met Anil in the canteen not far away from the girls’ hostel. There weren’t many students in the canteen, except for a few early risers grabbing a watery cup of chai or coffee. With half a cup of coffee in front of him, Anil was meddling with his phone, his eyebrows creased in annoyance over something. Or someone.

“Hey,” Niveda and Praveena chorused as they took the remaining seats on the table.

Anil looked up at them, irritated. “I’ve been waiting for nearly half an hour. Why do you girls always have to be late?” He shook his head in exasperation.

“Sorry, buddy.” Niveda laughed. “We got caught up.” she said as Praveena smiled at his reaction.

“I’ll get something to eat” Praveena offered, standing up.

Twenty minutes later, the trio left the canteen, Niveda cursing the chef for his dismal cooking abilities.

They sauntered around the campus, not talking much. Niveda’s medicine issue kept nagging Praveena at the back of her mind. She was tempted to open the matter again, but resisted the urge for fear of angering Niveda. She had looked a bit scary the previous morning and Praveena decided to keep her silence. She turned to join the conversation when she saw the other two glaring at her.

“What’s up?” she inquired innocently.

“We were talking to you, idiot!” Niveda sounded amused and angry at the same time.

“Oh,” Praveena smiled sheepishly, “sorry,” she shrugged. “What were you saying?”

“Never mind!” Anil sounded tired. “Let’s go sit somewhere.

They went over to the open ground overlooking the campus. They sat down looking out into the open without talking. Praveena enjoyed the moment; the gentle breeze, the subtle sunlight, the vast expanse of greenery, and her friends by her side; she felt content and complete. Anil broke the silence, “Tell us a bit about yourself and your family,” he asked turning to Niveda.

Niveda rubbed her hands, “Okay, my father is CEO of some stupid export company,” she recited, waving her hand “My mother’s the leader member of the Bangalore Women’s Club and I’m the rich and ignored heir, raised by servants.” she finished with a flourish that plainly said she didn’t care. For a minute though, Praveena and Anil became silent, taken aback by Niveda’s curt attitude. “Your turn!” she turned brightly to Anil.

“Oh,” Anil smiled slightly “er—my parents are separated. Mom raised me. Both Mom and Dad are lecturers. Mom’s in Delhi with Anit, my brother, and Dad’s here in Bangalore. That’s it.” he shrugged.

“Wow!” Niveda exclaimed, interested. “you’re an ignored kid too?” ‘Was that a hint of joy in Niveda’s voice?’ Praveen’s inner voice piqued from nowhere.

“Er – nope. Mom left for Delhi only after I got in here. So…” he trailed away.

“Oh,” Niveda was mildly crestfallen. There was an awkward silence.

“Hey! What about you, Praveena?” Niveda piped in, still in high spirits.

“Me,” she hesitated. ‘That’s exactly the problem,’ she thought. She couldn’t talk to them about her mother and father. She felt scared. Did she expect them to tease her? Maybe, but she wasn’t sure. She glanced at the two questioning faces. “Dad’s in the hardware business in Chennai. And my mom died.” Seeing their shocked looks at the last few words, she added “I was thirteen,” nodding a little too hard. She had tried to sound as impassive as possible; she didn’t want to appear vulnerable. She realized, with annoyance, that she was still insecure with relationships as she had been in school. She suddenly wanted to talk to Ms Marrie. ‘She’d give you the best advice,’ her inner voice approved.

The three of them sat in silence, reflecting on their lives. Praveena remembered the conversation she had had with Ms Marrie a long time ago: You are never alone with your troubles.

She smiled to herself, silently thanking Ms Marrie.

National Blog Posting Month – Day 19


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