“Didi, what’ve you done to yourself?” Krish cried.
I turned around and stared at him. “C’mon! How can you not like it?”
“I don’t know. But the black things around your eye make you look like a witch.”
“It’s kajal. And I have to wear it! Everybody’s wearing it! I can’t be the only one without makeup!”
“Yes, you can! Because…maybe you’re the only one who doesn’t need makeup to look pretty?”
I looked in the mirror. Krish reached up to wipe away my kajal, but I grabbed his hand.
“No. Don’t take it off. All the pretty girls are wearing it. I must wear it.”
“And then,” said Louis. “He turned around and believe it or not, he came and asked me for it! Like…what?! Mindblown!”
Everybody chuckled. I glanced at the bunch of popular girls who were throwing their heads back and laughing. I tried copying them. I tossed my hair to one side, threw my head back and started shaking with fake laughter.
“Hahaha! That was funny, Lou!” I shrieked.
My best friend, Shreya nudged me and I turned to look at her.
“What are you doing?” she whispered fiercely.
“What do you mean?” I said.
“Everybody’s laughing at you,” she gestured at the people who were staring at me and giggling silently. “Stop copying those girls. You’re making a fool of yourself.”
“But they’re really really popular. If they look attractive doing stuff like that, why can’t I?”
Shreya rolled her eyes and left.
“Okay, everybody,” the teacher said. “You will now sit for a character and personality test. Please answer the questions on the paper honestly.”
I uncapped my pen and looked down at the paper.
“Question one. What are your favourite pass-times?” I could hear my other best friend, Avipsa murmuring from behind me.
I thought for a few seconds. Well, my favourite pass-times were reading books and dancing in front of the mirror, as if I was in a movie. But that didn’t sound like an interesting answer. A cool girl would never do something as stupid as that. I thought for a minute before writing ‘my favourite pass-times are playing tennis, volunteering at the animal shelter, swimming’. I added ‘and shopping’ as an afterthought.
Half an hour later, when Shreya and Avipsa got to know of my answers, they screamed at me.
“You wrote WHAT?!” Shreya shouted.
“Oh, you were supposed to answer everything truthfully,” Avipsa wailed.
“Shopping?” Shreya cried. “Seriously!? WHY?”
“I just thought…that was what a popular girl would write,” I said quietly.
Both of them slapped their foreheads, exchanged a glance and walked away, shaking their heads. Shreya actually burst into tears.
“Why, hello daaaah-ling!” I trilled, beaming at Avipsa.
“Uh…why did use that accent?” she said, slowly closing her locker.
“Well, beh-khause,” I said. “I heard some of those popular girls speaking like this. I mean, if they’re speaking like this, it’s obvvv-iously ‘in style’.”
Avipsa kept stairng at me for a long time before sighing and leaving for her class.
“So,” I said, grabbing a lunch tray and standing in line. “So then I told her and she was tooo-taaaly dumbfounded!”
Shreya gave me a big smile which immediately turned into a frown as some of the cheerleaders came near us.
“Hello daaah-ling,” one of them said, giving a knowing look at the others. They grinned. “Ana, wanna come eat with us?”
Shreya pulled me closer and shook her head. “No, thank you. She’s sitting with her friends.”
I yanked my arm out of her grip and gave her an apologetic smile.
“Sorry,” I whispered. “This may be the first step on my journey to popularity! I’ll catch up with you later…”
I ignored her hurt expression and went to sit with the cheerleaders. I tried my best to perfect my accent and talk like them. Avipsa passed by our table and whispered in my ear.
“Ana, they don’t want to be friends with you,” she muttered. “They’re just making fun of your accent.”
I waved her away and focused on the gossip which was being discussed by the cheerleaders. Many of them kept pointing at me occasionally and giggling. I couldn’t understand anything they were talking about, but I kept smiling and laughing and throwing my hair over my shoulder.
Shreya looked at Avipsa and nodded. She took a deep breath and pushed me onto her bed. I tried getting up but she stopped me.
“Sit,” she said sharply.
“Guys,” I said slowly. “What’s going on?”
Avipsa sighed and sat down next to me. “You’ve gone mad, Ana.”
I rolled my eyes. “Oh please, huuun-ey. In what way?”
“You’re not being…you,” said Shreya. “You just keep copying those other girls, trying to be like them. But what you don’t understand is that you’re amazing just the way you are! Don’t change!”
“Yeah,” Avipsa added. “Stop being someone you aren’t. Be you! There’s only one Ana in the whole world! Why try to be like everyone else when you were lucky enough to be born different?”
I gazed at Shreya’s flowery wallpaper, thinking.
“Okay,” Krish said, clapping his hands. “Everyone’s said their resolutions! Now it’s your turn, didi!”
I glanced at my best friends and nodded.
“All right,” I mumbled. “My New Year’s resolution for 2015 is…”
“To donate to the orphanage!” someone yelped.
“To lose weight!” an aunt of mine suggested.
“To work harder at school!” a cousin yelled.
I shook my head and continued. “to be…me.”