Praveena stared at him, as his smile faded away. “That wasn’t what you were about to say, was it?” he asked, looking upset and, at the same time, concerned about her look of exasperation.
She shook her head.
“Is there a problem?” he asked now more serious. She nodded. “what is it?”
“It’s Niveda,” and Praveena told him all that had happened earlier. “I think there’s some problem she’s not telling us.” Praveena finished, worried.
Anil looked thoughtful. “I think you’re right,” he said slowly, “she’s even stopped doing her assignments,” he rubbed his anchor beard. “You think we should talk to her?”
Praveena nodded, “we should.”
“Then what are we waiting for?” he asked standing up. Praveena stood up as well, and together, they walked towards the hostel. Once outside, Praveena called Niveda saying something urgent had come up.
About five minutes later, the three of them sat on the grass in silence.
“What is it, you two?” Niveda was irritated. They had disturbed her work, and she didn’t like it.
Praveena took a deep breath, “Is there a problem, Niveda?”
“Yes,” Niveda cried defiant, “you two disturbed me.”
“Who was the woman who came to meet you?” Anil took her off guard.
Niveda stood up fast. “I’m not talking about this.” there was an unmistakable finality in her voice that Praveena was used to. Anil caught her by the arm, “Oh yes, you are” he said gently looking into her eyes. Praveena was surprised, he wasn’t annoyed or irritated. He was so genuine. “Sit,” he said. And she did.
“Please tell us, what’s bothering you?” Praveena pleaded. She was so close to Niveda that she couldn’t stand to see her in pain.
“Nothing,” Niveda responded growing more defensive.
“Look,” Praveena tried coaxing her, “I’ve seen you tossing and turning at night. You’re not sleeping, you’re not eating, and you’re telling us there’s nothing? Have you seen yourself in the mirror?”
Niveda remained impassive.
“Are you doing drugs?” Anil asked all of a sudden.
“What? Anil! What are you saying?” Praveena exclaimed shocked. She couldn’t believe her ears. Anil held up a hand silencing her, and turned to Niveda who looked in the verge of tears. He looked right into her eyes, and she broke.
Niveda began weeping incessantly. She rested her head on Praveena’s shoulder and cried more. Anil held her hand reassuringly. “That’s it, is it?”
“How long?” Praveena’s voice was strained.
There was a shocked silence. Anil’s face was sympathetic. Praveena was wondering how Niveda had adapted the habit. She still couldn’t believe she hadn’t noticed her best friend had been doing drugs all the while. She thought of the many incidents she had caught Niveda sneaking away to the balcony or neglecting her work, or staying awake all night. She couldn’t believe that despite the countless indications, she hadn’t identified it sooner. She blamed herself for failing to recognize Niveda’s symptoms, and felt guilty as if she had somehow encouraged Niveda.
“We have to do something about this, maybe rehab —” Anil began, but Niveda interrupted. “No, forget it. Just leave it, I’ll be fine.” she wiped the tears from her face in a hurry as if to show it wasn’t a problem.
“You won’t be,” Praveena spoke up gently. “We have to do something to get away from those stuff.”
Niveda looked alarmed now. She didn’t want anybody else to know about this; they’d hate her, they’d throw her out of college. Her whole life would be destroyed. “I’ll take care, it’s easy really — to dump those stuff.” Even as she said it, she knew she couldn’t do without those, even for day.
“Who’re you kidding? It’s not easy, and you know it.”
Both Niveda and Praveena turned to stare at Anil. He cast his eyes towards his feet, not meeting their glances.
“How would you know?” Niveda asked incredulously.
“Because—I’ve been there, and done it.” His voice was flat.
“What?” This time it was Praveena. “What the hell are you talking about?”
Anil looked at Praveena apologetically, “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before. Two years ago, I was addicted to drugs. I had a teacher who helped me recover.” he turned to Niveda, who looked like someone had slapped her on the face, “And it’s not easy. You should want to give up, and that’s never easy.”
“We should try it.” Praveena said with an air of finality.
Niveda remained quiet. She knew they were right. Catching the other two glaring at her, she nodded.
It was past midnight and as Praveena lay awake on her pillow, she realized Niveda wasn’t on her bed. She had thought Niveda was already asleep. Reaching out, she switched on the lamp between their beds. In the dim light, she could make out Niveda, sitting on the study table overlooking the window. She was staring at the moon.
Praveena went up to her, and touched her shoulder gently. “Hey, aren’t you sleepy?” Niveda turned to face her. She had been crying. “I’m a freak.” moaned in pain.
“What? — no! No, you’re not.” Praveena didn’t know what to say. She couldn’t tell Niveda how much she mattered to her. Niveda, however, continued to cry, her breath coming out in gasps.
“Hey, don’t worry. Everything’ll be ok. We’ll talk to your parents, we’ll help you get out of this. We’ll do this together,” she said earnestly. It was sad see her friend shattered.
“My parents?” Niveda laughed, a dry hallow laugh. “they don’t care about me at all. You know, it was because of them that I got into drugs. They never spoke to me, they even forgot they had a daughter. I was so lonely and miserable. I never laughed, I was depressed. It was my classmate who got me into this stuff. He said it’ll help me forget my troubles. He’s the only one I spoke to about my problems at home. I trusted him, and he —” she broke off crying hysterically, “he destroyed my life!” she wept. “Now look at me! I’m a freak!” she ended with a shout, a short whining shout like an injured dog.
Praveena didn’t know what to say.
National Blog Posting Month – Day 23