In the typical classrooms of Primary Schools in Bangladesh, you can find the students sitting in wooden benches in two different columns having a narrow gap in between. The column to the right typically belongs to the boys and the column to the left to the girls. And there’s an unspoken, but entirely unprecedented rule here: the boys don’t look at the girls’ benches unless there’s the most urgent necessity—like asking to return a paper-plane which has mis-landed there—and vice versa. The scenario, to a foreign observer, might seem as if two extremely emulous territories have been divided by an impassable border.
I never really got this rule. This hostility between the opposite genders to me has always been entirely pointless. Why should girls and boys, I always question myself, be so different? Why can’t I be friends with girls? After all, we belong to the same class, don’t we?
And so, I don’t care about this rule. I glance, even stare, at the girls’ benches frequently. Whereas the girls’ world is a total no-go zone for my other pals, I often step into it. I laugh at their gigs, I talk with them, and I even fight—both verbally and physically— with them. And the girls, though some hesitate, are just fine with me being friendly with them. I’ve realized over time that it’s the boys who are way too serious about the rule, not the girls. And that’s why it becomes easier for me to act comfortably with them.
But last few days were completely different.
I found myself stealing glances at Nidhi all the time, nervously and fearfully. It was as if I’d suddenly turned into some other guy who almost worshipped the ‘avoid-opposite-gender’ rule, and so felt nervous while looking at girls.
I had judged Nidhi as an opponent in the recent past, thanks to dad’s instigating speech that day, and tried to avoid her sight out of a sense of rivalry. But it was now I actually noticed how she looked.
She has long black hair. Sometimes she binds them into a ponytail, which makes her look a little innocent. But I like it more when she lets her fair fall over her shoulder and back. Her eyes have something mysterious about them that, though she wears glasses, appeals to me. I don’t really know where the mystery is—is it in the color of her pupils? The shape of her eyelids? Or the way she blinks? Her skin is fair—not too fair like some girls who use make-ups, but fairly fair. She has a thin waist which I adore; I can’t stand fat and plump bodies. Her uniform always appears neat, immaculate, something that fascinates me because I could never manage a clean and tidy outfit.
Whenever I darted her glances and looked away, an enigmatic feeling surged through me. A feeling that sent my heart racing. That made me at the same time nervous and confident, weak and powerful, unable-to-think and vulnerable-to-fantasy.
I take a deep breath and look at her again. She’s smirking at Tamanna now. I’ve noticed she most of the times keeps Tamanna’s company. Perhaps they’re best friends.
A wrist watch in Nidhi’s left hand catches my attention. It’s a red digital watch with a ‘Doraemon’ sticker in its band. I’ve seen it a number of times in the market. Maybe it’s a girlish trend these days.
Suddenly Nidhi sways to her right, almost meeting my eyes. I turn away in one swift move and begin scribbling on my notebook. First I write ‘My name is ‘Tawsif’—that’s the only sentence that struck me at that precise instant—and then begin to draw stars one after another.
After I’ve covered almost half the page with stars, I glance to my left. No, she doesn’t have any skeptical look; she’s smirking again. I sigh in relief.
The bell rings, and the sound is soon followed by the entrance of a teacher and all the students in the class standing up and chorusing, “Good morning, ma’am”. Usually I have the loudest voice in this united greeting, but today I utter the three words almost silently. My mind is being overpowered by some other thought.
She wears the most common watch in the market. Yet it appears so special, so unique.