Everyday we met, we chatted about this and that and grew closer to each other. I realised she was a very down to earth girl and had no airs about her in spite of being one of the top rankers of the earlier year. Her simplicity and helpfulness earned her brownie points from most of the girls in my class. Although I did make some more friends, I stayed close to her.
It was one day, when we were talking during the break, that she asked me about my family. I told her about mine and asked her about hers. What she told me shook me to the core. She lived in an orphanage near our college. Her brother, too, used to reside at the same place, but now that he was grown up, the management had decided to send him to an all boys’ shelter. Her parents had divorced long back and had remarried. Finding her and her brother rather burdensome, they had left the kids at this shelter. My heart just stopped beating for a minute. I simply wanted to hug her and tell her that I was there for her if she ever needed a friend, but I stopped myself when I noticed the strength and tenacity shining in her eyes. She had braved a storm that had left her homeless and it had not only made her strong and resolute but also a lot mature than the girls around.
I asked her how she managed to live like this, away from her parents….to which she replied that she had accepted what life had to offer her. She told me about the dreams she had for her future, about her brother, who had been her pillar of strength. She also told me about the orphanage and the other children who lived there. How they had a strict manager who kept a tight leash on the kids and how they were all very scared of her.
One day as we were talking, she asked me if I would accompany her to the shelter as they had installed a Ganesh idol to celebrate Ganeshotsav. The eagerness and the hope that I saw in her eyes told me this was the first time she had opened up to anybody about her ‘true identity’. I instantly agreed and the smile she gave me put me on cloud nine! We went there during our lunch break. She showed me her room- it had a dozen or so giggling little girls vying for attention from this outsider. It was heart rending to see how those little souls put up brave faces and the biggest of smiles and did all they could to entertain me. I tried talking to some of them, but my friend shushed me and then whisked me to the hall for Ganpati bappa’s darshan and then rush out as stealthily as we had entered.
As we were returning to college, she asked me for a favour. I told her she could ask for anything she wanted. She said she didn’t need anything, just that I should keep her life a secret, especially from a nosey girl in our class who would keep digging for information about my friend. ” Why doesn’t she realise that every soul on this planet has a different life? Why can’t she just mind her own business and stop meddling in other’s lives?” she wondered aloud. My heart went out to her and I had this strong urge to protect her from this big, bad world where people could be so mean! But, again, I stopped myself. How could I even think about protecting this brave girl who had developed this courage to look at life in the eye and dare it to play it’s cards as it wanted? Instead, I had a lot to learn from her – humbleness, helpfulness, strength to deal with the blows life dealt and come out much stronger!
It has been nearly 20 years since I finished my education…since I left college, but till date I think about my dear friend. How she is, where she is and how has life been to her? I tried looking for her, but in vain. Her face is still clear in my mind…even her favourite blue dress which she often wore when she felt good! At times, like now, she seems so close that if I reached out I could touch her – hug her! They say that life is uncertain and the world is a very small place – you don’t know who you might run into at an unexpected moment. I pray that I run into her! My happiness will know no bounds! But, till then, till the time that life springs such a pleasant surprise, I can only pray for her good health and well being, and yes, a lot of happiness! You will never be forgotten, my dear friend…..never! God bless you!