I silently walked back to my seat next to Nandita who looked genuinely concerned. "Are you okay? What happened?", she asked in an anxious voice.
I nodded, "I'm fine. Just felt a little faint back then. It's fine now", I said, trying to give her a reassuring smile. She nodded, although she didn't look convinced.
I focused all my concentration on the pikachu after the break. Trying hard not to look up even once, I concentrated on detaching myself from the situation, the environment. Flashes of the past were ruthlessly pushing against my mental barriers to enter my mind, but I resisted them with all the force that I could muster. This was an old trick that had often helped me as a kid. Imagine yourself enclosed in a bubble, a bubble constructed by you to protect yourself from external enemies (Imagine the protego spell in Harry Potter) The enemies continue to push against the walls of the bubble, but you focus your energy and strength on keeping the bubble erect until they go away.
Strangely, I thought of how weird it was to see Ayush smoking. I deduced he had never told anyone about his smoking at school by the way he reacted. He never seemed the type of person who would succumb to peer pressure or mere curiosity to me. And seeing that half of my class smokes because the other half told them to, this was the foremost plausible reason that came to one's mind.
I unconsciously shrugged and decided that it was none of my business. Taking a glimpse at my watch, I realized that there were 20 more minutes to go. I noticed Nandita looking at me out of the corner of my eye. She had the expression that said 'I-know-there-is-something-fishy', she probably must have noticed my funny behavior and visible attempts at dissociating myself from the workshop. This was something Nandita was an expert at - reading faces. She should be a detective.
I avoided her gaze and went back to drawing. Those 20 minutes were passing so slowly that I could almost imagine myself being dragged towards the guillotine, very, very slowly.
I almost jumped when the bell rang. I let out a sigh of relief and quickly got up. The enemies vanished and I finally let my guard loose, allowing the bubble to slowly evaporate. Before I could pack my things, Nandita snatched my notepad from my hand and flipped through the pages.
"You made 8 pikachus during the workshop?" she asked incredulously.
I never realized I had made that many, "Um, well, yeah?", I replied with a sheepish expression on my face.
She kept staring at me and crossed her arms across her chest, "What's wrong Naina? Did this workshop bother you?"
I was beginning to get annoyed. I didn't want to talk about this anymore, all I wanted was to get out of this room and inhale some fresh air, "Look, nothing's wrong. Can we go now? I'm thirsty", and I collected the remaining of my things and walked out without waiting for her response.
She sighed and followed me, sensing she didn't have much of a choice.
We're sitting in our usual chuski treat stall, now having forgotten the incident in the conference room. Atleast I had.
"So what did you want to say?", I asked
She sighed and leaned forward, "I want to run away from my house"
I hadn't heard her correctly, "What ?"
Suddenly, tears brimmed in her eyes and before she could she help it, they were freely running down her cheeks. I quickly got up and sat next to her, placing my hand over hers. I realized that something was seriously wrong, because Nandita seldom broke down like this. "What's wrong Nandu?" I asked softly.
"My parents are each other's enemies Naina. There is never a single day that passes without both of them yelling at each other”, she said in a deeply pained voice.
I knew that Nandita’s parents didn’t get along well. But the rift between them had become deeper only the last year, when Nandita’s mom’s brother died in a car accident. Nandita’s dad was driving the car, and her mama (mother’s brother) was with him. They were going to some relative’s place. Her dad had lost control of the car and it crashed into a truck. Her dad survived, but her mama didn’t. Her mom didn’t say it, but she always blamed her husband for her brother’s death. It caused so much resentment that it had become difficult for them to live under one roof.
Nandita never showed it, but she was inwardly sad for the whole year. During the winter vacations, she had also slipped into depression, and it took a month of therapy to get her back to normal. She always pretended to be this happy-go-lucky girl, when she was fighting huge battles inside.
I slowly rubbed her back as she hid her face in her palms and leaned down. After a few minutes had passed, I said, “Running away is never an option Nandu. I know it seems like the easy way out, but it’s not what you want. I know it”
She slowly straightened up and wiped her tears, “What do I do then Naina? I can’t live like this. I don’t want to live like this”
I stared at her for a few moments, contemplating how to put it in words, and then said, “Nandu, I think when a relationship doesn’t work, then the two people should simply let go of it”
She turned and looked at me, “Divorce?”
I simply kept staring at her, knowing that my answer was obvious. She lowered her gaze and returned back to staring ahead, “I don’t know Naina. I don’t know”
I just continued to hold her hand. I knew it was not that easy. It was never that easy.
Ayush entered his house, thinking about how his secret was no longer a secret. Naina knows about it, he thought. But he also knew that Naina wasn’t the type of person who would spread gossip. He didn’t know her too well, but he did know that she was beyond that stage.
“Heya Bro, what’s up?”, came a cheerful voice from behind him. Ayush recognized the voice and smiled. It was his sister, Nimmi. He turned around to see his sister smiling at him.
“What are you doing here, Ms. busy-bee ?”, asked Ayush. She rolled her eyes and said, “Can I get a hug first ?”
Ayush shook his head and engulfed her in a hug. She was in her second year of engineering. A typical study-maniac, she was always one of the toppers in school and in her first year. She wore rectangular glasses, which further instilled the fact that she was a geek. After completing her schooling, she decided that she would live in the campus hostel itself. Independence was one of the two reasons that she had moved out, the other one was her mom’s death.
“So how did you get time huh? Boyfriend se peecha chhuda kar aayi ho?”, said Ayush in a teasing voice.
“Shut up. Can’t I miss you?”, she said with her arms crossed across her chest, “Aur mera koi boyfriend nahi hai abhi”
“Abhi?”, said Ayush with one eyebrow raised.
“Argh go to hell”, she spat out and sinked into a nearby chair. Ayush grinned and sat across her, “How’s engineering treating you ?”
She frowned, “Bad. We don’t have enough time to eat and sleep. Engineering is badass dude”
“Yeah, who asked you to take up engineering ? Certainly not me”, replied Ayush
She stuck out her tongue and gave him a look that said ‘Screw you’. They talked for a while about general things like school and college. Ayush loved his sister, they had had some great times when they were both small kids. But after their mom died, things changed.
Nimmi moved out and neither of them ever faced their grief. They never talked about it as two kids who had just lost their mother. There was never any conversation. She hardly visited them after that. She did come on festivals and other important occasions, but rarely on a random day. Because of the disconnected bridge of communication, Ayush never told her about his smoking. They still teased each other, laughed with each other and talked about insignificant things, but there was no emotional connection.
As Ayush looked at his sister, he wondered how things would have been different if they had just talked. But they hadn’t. And she was never the sister he had needed, and he was never the brother she had needed.