I met her for the first time fifteen years ago. Both of us had travelled from our respective suburbs to the huge city of Calcutta to appear for admission tests and interviews after our secondary board exams. We faced each other for the first time during one of such admission tests. Our parents were waiting outside as we were writing our tests in a classroom. I still remember the room, though later we couldn’t locate it anymore. We didn’t pay attention to each other, neither to the other girls. Yes, it was a girls’ school. Some of them knew each other and chatted gleefully. I knew none, and was silent as a wall, the way I was back then. The first time I actually noticed her was on the day of the interview. A tiny, thin girl with curly cropped hair like a halo around her head. Her parents were probably a little tensed about the interview, and kept talking to my parents but she was cool and chirping her way with all her certificates, academic and extra-curricular – drama, elocution. I was quite nervous, with exclusively academic credentials and being already rejected from another school for not being a Calcatian, or Calcuttan, whatever they meant. My parents were trying to boost my confidence and she was calming down her parents with confidence. I guess neither of us paid attention to each other, we were busy with our own chores and let the parents chat their way.
The third time I saw her was our first day in the new school. Both of us had been admitted there and were about to enter the school gate at the same time. My father came with me as I knew nothing of that part of the city. He was immensely relieved to see the ‘acquainted’ girl and felt that I would be comfortable with her. I was apprehensive though, not very much encouraging the idea since I had been a loner and never really tried to befriend somebody on my own. Our fathers introduced us to each other and went back. We were introduced formally and walked through the entrance of the school towards the classroom.
On our way she asked me where I was from, which school I had studied in, where else had I applied, why did I choose this school – I replied obediently to all her queries. In the class we saw other girls mostly grouped up, since many of them had come from a nearby school and were old friends. Another group consisted of girls who belonged to the same school from childhood. Both of us were feeling outsiders as everybody asked where we were from, where those suburbs were. It was a little embarrassing but we stuck together. In a few days we met three other girls who were from a nearby school and they befriended us.
From the next day till the last day of school, for those two years we became a group of five.
Coming back to her, we had easily bonded and stuck to each other as we were outsiders among the others. We were from small little known towns like migratory birds seeking shelter in a bigger warmer city. During the first year of school five of us were busy with our academics as well as trying to know each other. It was somehow always, the ‘two of us’ and the ‘three of them.’ We availed school buses for the two years though she lived in the northern part of the city and I lived in south. We had different school buses which were parked outside the school at the afternoon when the school was over. Her bus always stood near the gate, mine was always five or six buses away from hers. Everyday we came out of school, walked to her bus, she would drop her bag inside, ask some junior to keep a seat for her and walk me to my bus where I dropped my bag similarly. Then we would walk to someplace right between the two buses and start our so-called ‘private talks’ as well as keep an eye on both buses lest they leave without us. That actually happened to me once. Those bus-stop-waiting sessions were the ones where mostly she gave me counselling sessions and sometimes I gave her too. She seemed immature and childish to others but I knew better. She became my only close friend in an alien city and perhaps best friend too. We were like chalk and cheese, and yet we connected because we were similar at our cores.
We have been parted for well over ten years now, residing in different cities and eventually different continents. But we are indispensable people to each other who can babble off hours on phone. We haven’t met for more than five years now and yet when we talk, it still feels like those bus-stop-waiting sessions. I know we will always stand by each other, no matter what happens in the years that are passing by.