“Okay, somebody come in front and tell us a story,” Mr. Mahmud enthuses.
This isn’t the first time Mr. Mahmud is doing this. In fact, it’s a pretty common thing in school: When the teacher is finished with his lecture and there’s still some time remaining for the period to end, he calls a student to tell a story, sing a song, or recite a poem, to make things interesting.
Many in the class despise this practice though, since not everyone feels comfort in coming in front of fifty pairs of dilated eyes and fifty curious faces fixed right on them. But I enjoy it very much. I find it amazing to have the attention of the listeners engaged, when they smile and shiver with my words, as their faces suggest they want to hear more when I make intentional pauses in my stories.
So, I’m up on my feet as soon as Mr. Mahmud calls.
But then, from my peripheral vision, I see someone else rising up: Nidhi!
Nidhi’s never done this before. In fact, I can hardly remember anyone else in the class telling a story. My heart leaps with excitement, and with a feeling of anxiety too which I have no explanation for. I sink back to my seat instantly so she doesn’t notice me making any attempt of standing up.
Nidhi walks, elegant as always, to the table. Then she stops, takes in a deep breath, and begins.
“What I’m about to tell is a true story. It happened to me not too long ago. I guess, last month.”
She pauses, and immediately I feel as if all the functions in my brain too have paused drastically.
“I was sitting on the bank of the lake in front of my house. I do it quite frequently. I love the calm and quiet atmosphere there.
That day, the atmosphere was incredibly fascinating. It was breezy, the sky was overcast, and the stream of the lake was quicker than the usual. The view had literally absorbed me.
And then, something showed up in the stream.
First it looked like ink. You know, the way water looks like you pour drops of ink on it. But when I got curious and went closer to see what it was, I was stunned. It was, like, a handful of hairs. They looked like they were cut off from a girl’s head.
I was terribly scared. It wasn’t like an illusion where one moment you see something scary and the next it disappears. The hairs were right there, floating on the stream, and they didn’t just disappear.
Anyone would’ve just scrambled to their feet and run off in that situation. I wanted to do the same. But I-I couldn’t. I just couldn’t, because at that precise moment, I felt like I’d been possessed.
I started having visions. I saw a girl, a beautiful young girl with the longest hair I’ve ever seen. She was running by the lake, arms spread wide like wings, her hair dangling across her back. It was as if the girl had a deep connection with the lake, like me.
Then everything turned cloudy for a moment, and I saw her again. She wasn’t alone this time. A boy was there, standing a bit away from her. He looked slightly older than the girl, with a round bright face and a fancy moustache. He was staring at her. And his eyes, there was something about them, something very creepy.
The vision dissolved again, and now I saw the boy chasing the girl desperately. She ran for her life, and the boy speeded closer towards her every second. I prayedthat she’d save herself from him. But she couldn’t make it. The boy reached out, grabbed her on the shoulders, and made her fall over right by the lake.
And then, he-he did something awful to her. I… I can’t…,” Nidhi trailed off.
She didn’t have to let it out; the answer was there in her helpless shivers, the reddening of her cheeks, the watery glow in her eyes.
She somehow resumed, “And then I saw her again. Her body, no more alive, floated on the stream. The beauty in her face was gone. It looked awfully pale, deathly. And her hairs, maybe the boy cut them off. I saw the cut-off hairs floating messily all around her.
And then, a voice rang in my ears, a whisper: ‘Did you see what he did to my hair? Did you see?’
The visions stopped. The lake was again right in front of my eyes, and no hair floated on it now. But I kept hearing that voice, as if the girl wanted me to know of her existence, the torture she’d been put through. She kept saying: ‘Did you see what he did to my hair? Did you see?’”
There are times when you just want to go back, just rewind your life to relive the moment. This was one of those times.
I feel sorry for Nidhi. She must’ve been really bothered by this, what she saw in those visions.
“And my dad, he went right to the man and punched him. Yeah, folks! Punched him! Right in the noise! And I saw blood trickling down his nose! And the man…..”
Jasim's bubbling over the fight his dad recently had with a fruit-seller. He said the fight happened over a bargain of just half a buck. He was making it all up, obviously. He always did that.
None of the boys heard a single word of Nidhi this whole time. Why would they? They have the freaking ‘Avoid-Opposite-Gender’ rule to follow. Suckers!
When Nidhi gets back to the benches, Tamanna is the first to come to her and pat her on the shoulder and stroke her hair, and soon many others follow her. It soothes the agitation in my heart to see that Nidhi is being solaced.
“That’s one heck of a story, Nidhi. I really don’t know what to say,” Mr. Mahmud says in an uncharacteristically low voice. “Did you tell anyone about this before?”
“No,” Nidhi replies. “I didn’t, sir.”
“Hmm. Hope you get rid of this awful memory soon.”
The bell rings, Mr. Mahmud leaves the class, and I find myself stealing yet another glance at her. Or, it was just supposed to be a glance; but as it turns out, I’m gazing at her now.
She’s looking out the window, blankly. I wonder if she’s still thinking about that girl, if her voice is still gnawing at her. It worries me, seeing her staring into space like that. I feel a rush in my bloodstream, an overshadowing desire to wrap her in my arms, stroke her deep black hair, kiss her, or do anything else that would dispel her anxiety.
“Hey! Who are you looking at?” Mustafiz thunders from behind me. My heart skips a beat, out ofboth anger and fear.
“None of your business, asshole!” I snapped.
“No, no, no, no, no, no! I saw you. You were staring right at the girls’ benches. Who was it? Nidhi?”
I’m electrified for a moment. I open my mouth to protest.
But then I realize it’s useless. Sooner or later the secret will be disclosed, inevitably. I shut my half-open mouth and look away.
“Ha! I knew it. I knew it.” Mustafiz is chuckling now.
Minutes later, while Mrs. Jahanara continues with her lecture on ‘rules of transformation’, I can hear the muffled gossip and laughter of my peers. Though I don’t have any intention to overhear, words like ‘crush’ and ‘love’ keep penetrating my ears.