She came running to me huffing & puffing across the massive sports field in our school. Her cheeks all red, her forehead smeared in sweat and eyes watery. And she asked “ Why didn’t you say goodbye to me?”.
Taken aback by the sudden intervention and burst of love, I couldn’t comprehend what just happened. My casual reply to a rather emotional question was:
“I did say goodbye to – Everyone”. Yeah, like that suffices my ignorance towards years of friendship.
It was the summer of ‘99. I was leaving school and moving to a different city. The first of many moves I shall go through in my life (little did I know then). The excitement and relief of leaving was such that I didn’t give a moment’s peace to my poor parents. I wanted to leave the school immediately.
The actual reason was that I had just entered the 6th grade and it was intimidating as hell. I could not belly the fact that I was a senior now. Being an inherently shy kid, it was hard for me to move around all those big kids from senior grades.
I would even hesitate to go out of my class during recess, such was the fear. I wanted a fresh start. This transfer gave me a good leeway to that new possibility.
Neha was the first real friend I made in school. She was tall, confident and exceptionally large for her age though (well built,athletic; not fat). We started talking in the 1st grade when our teacher forced us to sit together one day and from then there was no turning, we were inseparable.
I loved being around her. Her presence made school somewhat tolerable. She was like a shield for me – protecting me, guiding me, talking the talk and walking the walk.
We ate each other’s lunches, copied each other’s homework, played with each other, did little mischief’s together. Few years passed and we became the best of friends, she loved my mother’s homemade idli’s and I loved the makhanwala paranthas her mum sent for lunch.
Never did we imagine that goodbye’s would be so soon. I couldn’t stand the thought and when the inevitable day came, I was unable to muster the courage to face her and say goodbye.
I went up to my class that day after getting my TC(Transfer Certificate) letter. I gathered my belongings quickly ,packed everything and left. Waved goodbye and thank you to my teacher and classmates.
Neha was busy scribbling something in her notebook and didn’t seem to notice me leaving, I took that moment to depart. But little did I know that she’ll come running across the entire field(which was huge btw) to meet me.
Guilt and sadness suddenly hit me, leaving my best friend so selfishly. Given a choice I wouldn’t have done it but it was not my choice to make.
She gave me a piece of paper which she was scribbling in class. It was her home address and phone number. I broke down crying and hugged her. Reality hit hard, my First Best friend and now I have to leave her.
I wept inconsably the whole way home and cried some more realising that that might have been the last time I saw her. I was wrong, she came to meet me once again at my home. We talked for a while, she ate idlis my mum made for her. Together, enjoying each other’s company one last time.
The joy of a momentary meet and the sadness of separation were experienced altogether. It was time to leave. With a final hug and goodbye, she left.
My first best friend Neha.
We did get in touch briefly via Facebook years later. We exchanged pics, memories and what not. It was shortlived though, her connection went missing and I lost her again.
She lives in Jammu. A place conflicted with riots and civil unrest for years. After our talk, I was never able to reach out to her again. She remains as a beautiful memory in my heart. And, I pray for her well-being and good health.
And I still long for the day when I can go back and meet her. Sitting with her drinking tea, chatting away our lives, reminiscing our childhood and memories attached.