I was growing more and more used to it, the taunting grins, the whispers, the snickers, the knowing acknowledgment in the face. It started since the day I’d returned Nidhi’s exercise book.
It was still endurable though. So far nobody had teased me directly. Like, in the face. No one had sneered, Here comes Tawsif, our Romeo, the Lover boy! And I was grateful because of that.
These days, I felt a kind of uneasiness inside me. It was as if I was carrying a massive burden, dragging it with me everywhere I went. The burden grew heavier when I was with my peers. When I saw them grinning at me slyly, I felt provoked to spill the secret out. Even though the secret was already an open one, I wanted to reveal it myself. I was never good with secrets.
And so, today, before the classes began, I found myself telling Mustafiz, “I need to tell you something.”
Mustafiz blinked, and then his eyes dilated. Healready knew what I was about to disclose. “Go on,” he said, shifting in the bench.
“I think I’m in…..”
And just like that, I trailed off. The four-lettered word that I meant to say next was too treasurable, too fragile, as if it would break apart the moment I let it out.
Mustafiz smirked. “What? You think what?”
I parted my lips, and once again was met with the same block. I suddenly felt out-of-breath.
In the end, I decided to put it in a different way: “I think I’ve fallen for Nidhi.”
“Ooooooo!” Mustafiz shrieked, drawing the boys’ attention.Hegestured them to gather around.
Novo, one of my peers, asked Mustafiz, “What happened? Why did you screamlike a chick?”
Mustafiz guffawed and said, “Oh, if I tell you what I know, you’ll scream too. Our boy Tawsif has a crush. And guess what? Nidhi is his girl.”
More shrieksfollowed, and it almost shook the entire class. Slaps and pats and tickles kept coming like a flood. Amid all that, I somehow managed to say, “Guys, guys! Stop it! We don’t want the girls to know this now, do we?”
This calmed the cheers a little. They kept teasing me, but less noisily now.
I hardly paid any attention to them. I was worried that girls—Nidhi, most importantly—had heard the cheers and come to know my secret. I flicked a peek at the girls’ benches, and saw Nidhi was chatting with Tamanna as usual, and occasionally, as did some other girls, glared at the boys who laughed too rowdily.
Relief finally came to me as the bell rang and Mr. Karim entered the class, but muffled taunts continued all around me for quite some time.
“How often do you do that?”Mustafiz said quietly.
After the first period, I’d switched seats with Dipon to sit beside Mustafiz, to the leftmost corner in the very last bench. This new location gave two benefits: I could talk with Mustafiz, and the talking would go undetected by the teachers.
I’d told Mustafiz everything: how it all started, the story of the exercise-book, Nidhi’s scarf, the comment about my hair. And now, I was describing my occasional furtive glances at the girls’ benches.
“Anytime,” I said. “When you guys aren’t paying attention.”
“That’s not an answer.” Mustafiz poked me in the belly. “How often do you do that?”
I began to muse. How often? If you really started counting, would it ever finish?
“How often?” Mustafiz was growing impatient.
“I guess around five, six times every period.”
“Five six times every period! Whoa!”
“Shhh. Watch your tone.”
Mr. Karim, who was writing on the blackboard with a chalk how to find the L.C.M and H.C.F of numbers, turned around and frowned. “Will you shut up? Whoever talksnexttime, I’ll just send him out of my class!” Luckily, he wasn’t addressing us precisely.
When Mr. Karim went on to resume writing, I told Mustafiz, “See, you really scream like a girl.”
He grinned. “Okay, okay! Now, where were we?”
“I just told you how often I glanced at her.”
“And how do you feel when you do that… glancing?”
“How do I feel….,” I trailed off. The enigmatic feeling swept over me. “I don’t know. It’s difficult to explain.”
“And why is that?”
“Because I…. can’t quite understand it myself. I just feel it.”
“Come on, now.” Mustafiz glowered. “Don’t be such a jerk! Tell me something about it.”
The enigmatic feeling surged through me once more. I tried to picture it: me stealing a glance at her; she cupping her face and shaking with laughter at a joke. I looked at her face for a longer duration now—since this was all happening in my mind’s eye and there was no way I was getting caught. I watched her hair, her mysterious eyes, the curve in her nose, the hollow in her cheeks, the color of her lips—something in between red and orange.
Then I told Mustafiz, “When I look at her, I feel like my feelings for her have just amplified. I get more possessed, more infatuated with her.”
At this, Mustafiz didn’t elbow me or poke at my belly; he stared at me, and I could see he was touched.
Suddenly, he grabbed my shoulders, squeezed them, and said, “Do it now.”
“Glance. Do that ‘glance-thing’ you do. I want to see it.”
For a moment, I wanted to push him away, simply ignore this stupid idea. But then, I couldn’t. The need to look at Nidhi had already begun to overwhelm me, and to it, I was a helpless slave.
I looked around the boys’ benches, made sure no one was paying attention, and swiveled my head to the left just a tad.
There she was, in the fourth bench beside Tamanna, her eyes fixed on the blackboard, concentrated.
A handful of hair fell to her forehead. Instead of using hands, she puffed the hairs off so they flopped over her temple.
I jerked my head away. Looking at her was too electrifying, too enchanting.
“Well,” Mustafiz said, “how do you feel?”
I placed my handsflat in front of my chest, one below another.Then I said, “If my feelings for her were this much before,” I stretched both my hands, “now they’ve amplified this much.”
Mustafiz clutched at his chest and gasped showily, as if someone had just shot his heart. “My friend,” he said a second later, “you’re so madly in love!”
For the rest of the day, that four-lettered word kept ringing in my ears.