Praveena wanted to tell Anil everything that had happened since she last saw him. She called him the next afternoon during his lunch break.
“Hey, how are you?” he exclaimed delighted.
“Brilliant!” Praveena laughed as excited as he.
“Good!” Anil replied. Praveena sensed amusement in his voice and understood why. He had never heard her so thrilled.
She told him about her decision to teach. “Like James, you know,” she said. “and Ms Marrie,” she went on without realizing he had said nothing more than a tiny sound of acknowledgment. “hmm-hmm!” he egged her on, and that was more than enough for Praveena.
He listened without interrupting. Praveena couldn’t possibly know the wide smile that played across Anil’s lips throughout her narrative; he liked to listen to her voice. She had thought of him, and he was happy she wanted to share her life happenings with him. He felt important, and he told her that.
“Great to know you still think of me, Praveena.” he said as she had finished her story.
“Of course I think of you, you idiot!” she said carelessly. “you’re my best friend!”
“Yeah…” replied Anil, trying to disguise the disappointment in his voice. Praveena, however, noticed the difference.
“Hey!” she said subdued. “You don’t sound so good. Any problems?” she asked growing concerned. He had been listening intently but his lack of words had just struck her.
“No, no,” he waved it off. “Nothing.” He changed the topic. “So,” he said “when do you officially become a teacher?” he asked with a tinge of laughter in his voice.
“No idea,” she replied. “Next Monday, probably” she said. It was only Wednesday. She had four more days.
“Oh, good.” Anil replied. “Teacher!” he added mockingly.
“Hey!” Praveena exclaimed indignantly.
“Alright, alright.” Anil laughed. “No swearing.”
Anil’s laughter was contagious. And they laughed together for no reason.
Anil recovered first. “So what happens to those drug addicts?” he asked. He made it sound funny but he was serious in every way. And so was Praveena when she replied, “They’ll have to wait.” She smiled sadly into her mobile, “First, I’m going to prevent their children from falling into drugs.”
“You’re the best.” Anil said appreciatively.
“I know,” Praveena winked.
Praveena told Kamal about her conversation with Ms Marrie and added that she would join on Monday. He listened intently, and when she finished, “Good,” he sounded satisfied. “All the best.”
Praveena was surprised. “Thanks, Pa!” she said taken aback, yet happy.
Praveena later informed Ms Marrie of her joining date. Ms Marrie was visibly thrilled. “I’m so glad you decided to do this, Praveena,” she encouraged. “This will do you good. Trust me.” Praveena smiled. “Thank you, Miss.” Even if she couldn’t fully discern Ms Marrie’s meaning, she knew it would be good.
Monday morning, Praveena woke up early. She wore a white cheddar — the South Indian traditional. When she came down for breakfast, she was overcome by a sense of nostalgia. She thought back to her school days when she walked down the same staircase. She imagined her mother reading on the couch, and her father swinging his arms, as he came in from his morning walk. Smiling to herself, Praveena went over to the dining table, where her father had set up breakfast.
“Hey you!” he exclaimed in surprise. He hadn’t seen his daughter in a chudidhar for a long time. She had always preferred jeans. “You look beautiful,” he complimented.
‘Thanks, Pa.” Praveena smiled widely. It felt good to make her father smile.
After a hearty breakfast of idlis and chutney, Praveena bade her father goodbye.
“Shall I drop you?” he asked.
Praveena shook her head smiling. “It’s ok, Pa.”
Praveena entered her old school, and saw the buildings and trees in their same places. But everything had changed. The blue buildings in her time had all gone white. It was the first thing Praveena noticed and it made her smile. She had always hated principal Vanitha’s awful colour choices. It seemed like the new principal had a liking for white.
The trees weren’t pruned as they were in Principal Vanitha’s period. They grew as they wished and Praveena was delighted to see a lot of green and yellow leaves strewn all over the pathway leading to the Principal’s office. ‘This is going to be good!’ her delighted inner voice said, and Praveena readily agreed.
She had already told Ms Marrie and sure enough, Ms Marrie waited for her in front of the same Principal’s office, with a wide smile.
Praveena approached her, positive she had made a good decision. “How does our school look?” Ms Marrie asked earnestly. Praveena smiled. She felt content like never before. “Lovely.” she smiled. She had once hated the school, but it now felt like home. As if she had had looked all over for a home and had finally found it, right here in her old school.
Ms Marrie smiled in delight.