When I bang on the door and clutch at the hinge, my right leg slides awfully. A terrible collapse was certain, but somehow, I manage to recover balance and scramble to my feet. This entire blooper has the whole class in stitches.
Tittering, I turn to Mrs. Sriti who’s probably halfway through her lecture by now. She’s not glaring, which is even worse.
“You’re late.” She’s clearly forcing herself to keep her voice low.
The first period is at 8 in the morning, and it’s not like 8 AM is too early for me. But occasionally—once or twice every week, to be precise—my sleep gets lengthier than the usual, like today.
With a deep breath, I mutter the words I’ve rehearsed so many times on my way to school, “I’m sorry, ma’am. It won’t happen again.”
Mrs. Sriti sighs. It’s as if her face is saying, He’ll keep doing this over and over; but her mouth utters different: “Get in. This is your last chance.”
I grin and walk to the benches. I sit beside in the second bench. Apon looks at me and says, “You know, this isn’t the first time she said ‘Last Chance’.”
I pinch at his whist softly. Apon winces and tries to pinch me back, but I shy away. Apon always misses!
Mrs. Sriti goes on to talk about the functions of mitochondria of the cell. I’m attentive for the first few minutes, but my attention drifts soon. Thoughts of Nidhi begin to dominate, the same enigmatic feeling returns. It used to feel unfamiliar in the beginning, this enigmatic feeling, but now it feels as if I’ve known it for thousands of years.
The need to look left and steal a glance at her torments me. I suppress it first, but it keeps building up, growing wild, uncontrollable. Eventually, I succumb to the need and turn left.
And with a dart of fear, I find some of the girls—of course not Nidhi—looking at me as well. I turn away immediately.
Goosebumps are all over my skin. The girls, I think, why were they looking like that? How did they—
And then, it flashes on me: I have Nidhi’s exercise-book in my bag, and my stupid memory didn’t allow me to remember it.Nidhi must’ve looked for it when she came to school today. Perhaps one of the other girls, who could’ve seen me taking her exercise-book yesterday, told her. Shit! The girls know!
Symptoms of nervousness at this point could’ve made for further suspicions. Luckily, my conscience shows some sensibility and keeps me calm.
When the first period ends, I decide to give it back. I take the exercise-book out of the bag with sweaty hands, stand up, and begin walking towards the girls’ benches.
Nidhi’s right there in front of me, and the girls around her are chuckling. Another dart of fear surges through me, but I manage to ignore it—thanks to my conscience again—and say in a rather awkwardly high tone, “Mrs. Sriti told me to take your exercise-book yesterday. Here it is.” I move the book forward.
She blushes, and then takes the book from my hand. The girls chuckle once again.
When I get back to my seat, I feel embarrassed and delighted together. Embarrassed, because now even the girls know the secret, which means it’s not a secret any more. Delighted, because Nidhi just offered me the most adorable blush the world has ever seen.
Nidhi’s worn a scarf today. A white scarf to be precise, wrapped around her head immaculately. It’s a perfect sign of the ‘Purdah’ custom, that women should always be covering their faces when they are outdoors.
Earlier, when she didn’t wear scarfs, there was a fire in her deep black hairs, blazing and flaming as the wind played with them. It would spread out and ignite my heart as well. But now that she has the treasures of her head hidden under the scarf, I feel no heat when I look at her. It’s as if the scarf has poured out water in the fire of my heart.
I’ve realized today why the ‘Purdah’ custom is mandatory in Islam. If it weren’t for this custom, all men would be helplessly trapped, spellbound, under the charm of women like Nidhi in their open, unrestricted beauty.
That weird thing is again happening to me, the feeling of being mad at Nidhi. Once again, I’m thinking Nidhi should’ve thought about my needs first before choosing to wear that scarf. I’m fully aware that it’s the stupidest thing to imagine, and yet it’s too powerful to be wiped out.
Control yourself, a still voice inside me says. She’s showing respect to religion. She’s doing the right thing. And you should be proud of it. Don’t be such a criminal!
Yeah, speaking of criminality, I reply, I’m being criminal too often these days. Way too often!