Change…a profound and inescapable aspect of life. It mostly gives you incomplete endings and leaves you with unfulfilled desires. I always craved for a stable life with strong roots and a place to call home. My dad’s transferable job did not allow me this basic luxury.
Since I was little I have moved into almost six different schools and countless new houses. After the second transfer I learnt not to make strong connections; this helped to keep me from falling apart after every goodbye and maintain my rigid semblance. When my dad informed me a few days back that we were moving to Kolkata for his new project, I didn’t respond. Just gave him a quick nod of assent and continued staring at the page of my book blankly. A new place again… a new language. Piece of cake!
I was very little when my mom passed away. So the travelling ensemble included only my dad and me. Heaving my huge suitcase behind me we entered a two storied building that looked like it was on the verge of crumbling. Taking in a deep breath I waited while my dad unlocked the door to our flat. It wasn’t very much different from all the other flats we have been in. After a while they all start to look the same. Scanty furniture and a musty smell summed it up pretty well.
“Soham, I am too tired to cook. How about a treat for today, we’ll eat out, it will give us a chance to explore the flavours of Kolkata!”
I looked at my dad’s face; he was painstakingly trying to bring out the excitement in my eyes. I complied and smiled back. He worked too hard and didn’t deserve my gloomy company.
“Sure dad,” I said forcing a false note of happiness “great idea.” I methodically unpacked my suitcase and filled in my clothes neatly into the makeshift cupboard. After freshening up, I leaned out of the solitary window in my room. It overlooked many other worn down apartments in the area. My eyes automatically scanned the scenery and landed on the balcony of the opposite building.
A girl was standing there observing me keenly; I estimated that she was roughly around my age. I stared back hoping that she would turn away but after a while she smiled and gave a small wave. I waved back instinctively but just as quickly I turned away from the window and joined my father to help him organize his room.
My admission was already confirmed in the nearest public school and I had to start the very next day. I didn’t have high hopes. No one would accept me wholeheartedly, especially since it was the eighth grade and surely strong knit groups must already exist; plus it was the middle of the term. Under the circumstances all I could do was concentrate hard on my studies and not be bothered about anyone else.
The next day I dressed up in a formal shirt and black pants. Due to our late arrival we didn’t have time to purchase a uniform. My dad drew a sheepish face while we were leaving the apartment and promised that he would definitely buy one for me today. I shrugged, after all I would stand out as it is and not conforming to the dress code was just another mark against me.
The school wasn’t too big. I waved at my dad as he went ahead in the rickshaw after dropping me. I entered the school office to get the details of my class. A strict looking lady wearing horn rimmed glasses looked up from her papers and gave me the directions.
“Where is your uniform?” she asked in a stern accented voice. I told her why I couldn’t wear it but she just brushed off the excuse and severely warned me that I should be dressed in my uniform tomorrow. I nodded and trudged ahead to find my class. Once there I took the empty front seat; removed a book from my bag that belonged to my previous school and started reading it quietly. I could feel a number of eyes burning into my back as well as hushed whispers inquiring my presence.
Ignoring them I immersed myself into the book knowing that no one would actually bother to talk to me. I was wrong. I felt someone slide into the seat next to me.
I turned to look at the owner of the voice and immediately recognized her to be the girl from the balcony.
“Hi” I replied in a monotone and continued reading my book.
“What are you reading? It doesn’t look like our school book.”
“It isn’t.” I said.
“Ok, then what is it?” Sighing I put down the book and turned towards her.
“It’s from my previous school.” As I turned I could see from my peripheral vision that our conversation was being keenly observed by my new classmates.
“Do you change schools a lot?” She asked completely unaware about the attention we were drawing.
“Yes, this is my seventh.”
“W…o…w” She said enunciating each syllable. The teacher entered and began with the lecture; mid way she noticed me and hurried to introduce me to the class.”
“This is…” she bent down and asked my name, “yes, yes, this is your new classmate Soham Bhatia. Please welcome him everyone.” There was a small applause which was pretty awkward but I smiled shyly and sat back in my seat. By the end of the day I realized that I was much ahead in my studies as I had already completed the allotted course. The teacher dismissed us and I packed my bag. Dad had given me a copy of the house key. It was just a short walk from my school.
“How are you getting home? Is someone picking you up?”
I looked at her with a slight frown, wondering why she hadn’t run out like the rest of the class. She was waiting for my answer.
“No. I am walking home.”
“Good, we will go together.” She said with a bright smile, “By the way I am Paromita.” I nodded dumbly and walked alongside her out of the school. She kept bantering on about our classmates introducing me to their antics and colourful characteristics.
“Don’t you have any other friends? I mean…why are you walking with me? I’m sure your friends must be missing you.” I asked hoping I hadn’t offended her.
“That’s ok,” she said frankly “No one is missing me.” Ignoring my curious stare she fired away questions about my previous school. By the time we reached home I had a feeling I had made a friend.
The coming months oversaw our growing friendship and finally I was content. Paromita was very sharp, we were tough competitors in class tests and in a way we challenged each other’s intellect to the limits. I noticed that though Paromita was affable with all of our classmates there was no deep friendship in it. She had made sure that I was on talking terms with most of them. I strongly objected at first, telling her that sooner or later my dad would be transferred again and that there was no sense in making too many friends but she turned a deaf ear to my protests. There was so much positivity and energy radiating from her personality that even I couldn’t keep myself detached.
I was made a part of the sports team. This stimulated a sense of excitement in me which I hadn’t felt in years. Finally, I was fitting in!
My dad looked cheerful too; maybe because he sensed my happiness. It was almost the end of the year. Our final exams were coming up and I studied hard. Paromita would quiz me before the exams and I would return the favour. But it was the second last day of our exams when something horrible occurred.
Like always I was waiting below my building for Paromita to come so that we could walk to school together. My dad had already left wishing me the best of luck. I waited for almost ten minutes and then walked towards her building. Her father was standing at the balcony, he looked pretty upset. I waved to him from below asking about Paromita. He signalled that she had already left for school. I thought I saw a glint of tears in his eyes but the next instant he was gone from the balcony. Worried, I hoped that I had imagined it and hurried to school.
In the class I spotted Paromita sitting in a different row, not our usual seat. I went and sat next to her.
“Hi! Why didn’t you wait for me today?” I asked. She frowned at me as if I was disturbing her last minute mugging up session.
“I’m sorry, do I know you?” she said looking at me with a blank stare.
“Stop joking around Paromita. Are you angry about something I said? I don’t really recall if I did anything wrong so will you just tell me instead of dragging out this charade?” I huffed, a little pissed off myself.
“Look I’m trying to study here and I seriously have no clue who you are. I’m sorry.” She did look apologetic and I couldn’t understand why she was pretending to not know me. I worked up a temper of my own and settled down at a different desk away from her. The teacher soon arrived and as the clock struck nine, we started writing our exam papers. It was quite simple; I remembered practicing these answers with Paromita. After the bell rang we handed over our papers. I turned in my seat to look at Paromita. She was quietly packing her bags. I did the same but when I looked up I saw that she was leaving without even calling out to me!
I hurried after her and on my way bumped against a boy in my class. He was snickering at me. “That’s Paromita for you Soham. She doesn’t remember you anymore!” He laughed.
I gave him a dirty glare and rushed after Paromita. God knows what had upset her. Maybe it was something that had happened at home…I wasn’t going to let it go so easily. When I came out of the school building I saw Paromita getting into a rickshaw with her dad. I walked home slowly wondering whether I should go to her house but then I remembered that the next day was my last paper and I had to revise. I made up my mind that I would sort out this problem tomorrow.
That evening my dad came home quiet late, He sat down on the sofa with a grunt. Handing him a glass of water I asked him how his day was. He gave me a sad smile and said that there was something important he wanted to say to me. His tone made me a little apprehensive.
“Soham, I have been offered a promotion.”
“But that’s good news dad! Why do you look disappointed?”
“I…well, I have been asked to handle the office at Delhi. We’ll have to move there.” I don’t know what expression my face revealed but seeing it my dad looked almost heartbroken.
“I’m sorry Soham; but if I get this promotion my salary will almost be doubled. If we didn’t need this money I would never have accepted the offer. I know how happy you have been here…forgive me Soham.” Saying this, my dad pulled me close and I shed silent tears on his shoulder.
After a while I decided to call up Paromita and tell her the news. The phone rang twice and her mother picked it up.
“Hello aunty, this is Soham can I speak to Paromita?”
“Soham dear, I’m sorry Paromita is already asleep. Did you have any message for her?”
“I..uh…no that’s okay aunty,” my voice quivered “Goodbye” I dropped the phone into its slot. I had heard the words ‘I’m sorry’ many times today. Feeling dreadful and heavy in my heart I cried myself to sleep.
The next day again Paromita was not there to greet me with her bright smile. At school I saw her sitting on the seat she was on the day before.
“Paromita,” I called nearing her bench. She looked up from the book she was reading and smiled tentatively.
“Can I talk to you after school?” I asked.
“Sure” she said with a nod and went back to reading. I had a heavy lump in my throat throughout the day. When the exams were done all my classmates shouted out with joy. Paromita was waiting for me at the door and I ran up to her. We walked out unhurriedly.
“Paromita, my dad’s getting transferred again. I’m moving to Delhi…” I waited for her reaction but she looked back at me blankly.
“Um…I’m leaving tomorrow.” Still no reaction. I could see her dad waiting at the gate. He walked towards us and asked Paromita to call for a rickshaw. When she left, he turned to me.
“Soham, I should have told you this sooner but…”
“But what uncle?” asked.
“Paromita suffers from lacunar amnesia. She forgets people and events in her life after a particular interval. I didn’t tell you because I knew she enjoyed spending time with you. Most of the people who know her problem stay away from her. If I tell every person who comes close to her about her illness then she would never live life, or experience friendship. She doesn’t remember you now, but I know how much she valued your opinions. All she would do at home was talk about you. I hope you can forgive a sad father who selfishly thought only about his daughters’ happiness.”
I could not say anything for a while; my throat was choked up with unshed tears. I looked at Paromita’s dad whose shoulders were hunched with the weight of his worries.
“I understand uncle. Paromita taught me to be open and friendly. She has given me a lot in these past few months and I am glad that I could make her happy as well. Even if she has forgotten our friendship I will always remember it.”
Paromita’s dad nodded and patted me on the head. Paromita was calling out to him from within the rickshaw. She looked at me keenly just as she had from the balcony when we had first seen each other. She smiled and gave me a small wave. I waved back. Goodbye Paromita.