She lay down on the grass. She wore a white-and-maroon salwar-
kameez and a black cashmere cardigan, which she had removed and placed on the grass next to her.
She scrunched her eyes to avoid the sun. I shifted and sat in front of her, so my shadow would cover her face.
‘Ah, that’s nice.Tall shady tree, thank you.’
‘People in college talk about us. How we are always together,’ I said.
‘So? Let them. As long as we know there is nothing between us.’
I tilted my body sideways in protest. The sun was back on her face. ‘What?’she said and cohered her eyes with her hand.‘Where did
my tree go?’
‘The tree is not feeling appreciated.’
'What do you mean?’
‘Why is there nothing between us?’ I said, my upper body still bent
to the side.
‘Should there be? First, can you sit like you were sitting before, so
people don’t think you are weird and my delicate skin can be protected from the sun?’
I sat up straight once again.
‘Better,’ she said. ‘I need a pillow. Move forward please, tree.’ She put her head in my lap.
‘Nice. Now, what do you want, pillow-tree?’
I’d had many such arguments with her over the past month. She
had become an expert at dodging the issue, always getting away with some nonsense, like now.
‘Give me your cardigan,’ I said.
Why? Are you cold? It’s a girl’s sweater, pillow-tree,’ she said and giggled.
I placed the sweater over my head. It hid my face. ‘What?’ she said.
I said nothing.
‘Are you sulking, my tall tree?’ she said.
I didn’t respond. She pulled the sweater towards her so that both our faces came under it.
'Yes? Sulky man, what’s the issue?’ she said, her face upside-down and huge, given that it was so close to mine.
I did not respond. She blew on my face but I did not react.
'Everyone here must be finding this so creepy,’ she said,‘our faces under the sweater.’
'Nobody cares,’ I said.
'I thought you said everyone talks about us.’
I let out a grunt of protest. She laughed. I took aim and bent. In a
second I managed to place my lips on hers, despite her face being upside-down. Spiderman kisses like that. It isn’t easy. I wouldn’t advise it ifvou’re kissing someone for the first time.
She sprang up. As she rose, her forehead hit my chin. I bit my tongue.
'Hey,’ she said, ‘not fair.’
I held my mouth in pain. Her forehead had hurt me badly. Still, the pain paled in comparison to the joy I felt from landing my first kiss.
‘Are you hurt?’ she said.
I made a face.
'Listen, I’m sorry. But what was that?’ she said.
'I know. What for?’
'I felt like it.’
She stood up, collected her tiffin box and walked away. I ran
behind her. She ignored me and walked faster.
I held her arm. She stopped and glared at me until I let go. She
started to walk away again.
'I am sorry, okay?’ I said and blocked her way.‘I thought you like
‘Madhav, please understand, I’m not comfortable with all this,’ ‘I really like you, Riya. You mean so much to me. You are the
reason I’ve survived in this place.’
‘So appreciate what we have. Don’t spoil it.’
‘What do we have? What am I to you?’
'If we kiss, we have something; if we don’t, then nothing?’ she
I kept quiet.
She looked at me for a few seconds. She shook her head in disappointment, turned and walked off. I saw her reach the main gate and get inside her blue car, Only then did I realise I still held her cardigan in my hand.
I didn't know if she would come to play basketball with me after
the cardigan incident. To my surprise, she did, all svelte in a new Nike top and white shorts. We played without much conversation. Usually, we would stop to chat every five minutes. Today, she focused on the ball like a soldier does in combat with an enemy/.
'I am sorry, okay?’ I said, Playing with her wasn't as much fun as before.
‘It's fine,' she said,‘Let's not talk about it again,’ I put on a sorry face for the next twenty minutes. Finally, I held my ears and stood in the centre of the court.
It did the trick. She smiled.
'Sorry, I also overreacted,' she said, 'Friends?' she said.
Ban this word, I tell you. ‘Yes, friends,’ I said.
She came forward to hug me. I gently pushed her away, ‘What are
you doing?' she said.
'I'm not comfortable with this. Please don't spoil what we have,' I
said, mocking her high-strung tone. I stomped my feet and walked off the court. She followed me.
Ignore girls and they can’t leave you alone. Strange. I didn't look at. her.
She spoke from behind me.
'Okay, I get it. I'm a girl. I’m allowed some drama sometimes.’ ‘Really?'
‘Well, I said sorry, too.'
‘Whatever. By the way, your cardigan is still with me at the
'Oh, please get it to college tomorrow. It's my favourite.'
'You want to come pick it up? You wanted to see my room, right?’ I
said She raised an eyebrow.
'Really? But how?’
There's a system, it involves me making the guards happy while
you rush Inside,'
'You'll sneak me in?' she said, her eyes opening wide. 'You won't be
the first girl to some to the residences,’
We walked towards the briek-lined path to Rudra-North. She
stopped a few steps before I reached Rudra.
'What if we get caught?' she said.
'I’ll be expelled, but they’ll spare you. You're a girl and your father
will have enough contacts,’ 'So?’
'Let's do it,’ I said.
l went up to the guard. I followed the code; told him to cheek out a problem in the bathroom, and slipped him fifty rupees. He had done it for others before so he quiekly understood. He saw Riya in the distance.
‘Is she from outside or a student?' the guard said. ‘What do you care?' I said.
'Just in ease there’s any trouble later.'
'Will there be trouble?'
'No, Make sure she leaves in thirty minutes. No guarantee with the new guard.'