The last week of June, Papa and I shifted back to the city.
I searched for familiarity and failed. Papa seemed to be preoccupied these days. The two of us, striving to establish a new routine. After ironing out the initial creases of settling, Papa met a friend and ploughed through the hassle of late admission in the nearby school.
When I entered the school premises for an interview, my legs turned to jelly. My rustic breeding feared the swanky building, the vast playground and the multitude of children rattling away in the Queen’s language.
Average merit and passable English aided by Papa’s liberal donation to the building fund cinched my berth.
By mid-July, riding pillion on Papa’s bike, I was on my way in a blue and white uniform. Unfortunately, the school road was jammed with cars and bikes, so Papa left me at the curb.
I chewed my lips, “Papa, what if they ask me….”
“No one will ask you anything. You remember Sunny, our old neighbour Mathai uncle’s son, he studies in this school. So, you have a friend already in this place.”
Papa rushed to work. He had his battles, and I, mine. I trudged through the gate exhibiting my ID, struggling to remember the chubby boy from aeons ago. Fuzzy memories of shared laughter and toys brewed in my mind. Fat chance he would still remember me, muttering I searched for my classroom – 11D.
My eyes skimmed the paper planes whizzing and the loud giggles. A knot of students hovered around a girl talking animatedly, and a boy almost knocked me down, running inside. Sweat beads contoured my eyebrows. Harnessing my melancholia at the pervading aroma of home-cooked food, I lumbered. How was I to break into the bonds already forged and make friends?
A bespectacled girl revealed a set of uneven teeth, “You must be Sowmya, the newbie from Trichy. Welcome to 11D. This place next to me is booked for you. I am Lakshmi.”
“Oh, Thanks. How did you know I was from Trichy?” I eased into the chair in the first row, running a palm on my forehead.
“Sunny has been talking about you for the last two weeks. Sowmya this, Sowmya that… A friend of Sunny, the class leader, demands the best treatment.”
A lanky boy sauntered toward me, a goofy smile crinkling his eyes, “Sowmya, welcome dear friend. I missed you.”
Turning crimson and accepting the Five-star chocolate bar he offered, “You still remember this.”
“Phew, I wasn’t sure if this was still your favourite. Every time I cross the old neighbourhood, fond memories crop up. Lakshmi is the class topper. She and I will bring you up to speed, share our notes. You haven’t missed much.”
My dread of starting school as a newbie evaporated instantly. My first friend was here with me.
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