The girl beside me

My life was never the same after I had passed my 10th standard .My parents chose the Science stream for me and I had to reluctantly study for it .For the whole year of my 11th standard I couldn’t focus on my studies .I was a student of integrated coaching class system so I wasn’t even able to enjoy my junior college days and nor did I study properly .I had become an introvert. I had a tough time getting adjusted to the 7-8 hours lecture .PCMB was getting on my nerves .The lectures seemed endless and so did the numericals.Few minutes into the lecture and the unending chatter of my professors didn’t bother me as I used to be fast asleep expertly concealing myself behind a fat boy .Studying had become an onerous task for me .I didn’t even study at home .Scrolling through memes on reddit was my favourite pastime .This behaviour of mine was noticed by my father .Just as he had chosen the Science stream for me ,without considering my opinion .Likewise he decided of getting me enrolled in a study circle .Study circles are like the libraries with the exception of fancy novels .The study circle to which I used to go to was one hell of a dingy place .There were nerds ratto-fying their answers with books piled up high on their tables .My father’s ideology was if I stay in the vicinity of such studious students some of their qualities would rub off on me and I would eventually start studying .Instead, they made me sick .I came back to my favourite pastime of scrolling through memes on reddit but as in the study circle I had much more liberty ,I even opened a meme page .I entered my 12th standard .The cycle continued ,I did not study. JEE MAINS was a distant dream .I was on a downward spiral and I found it hard to find my way back up but one fine day I saw my silver lining.

It was 3pm.My buttocks had gone sore after sitting continuously for 7 hours .My lectures for the day had ended. I was worn out. I lazily stood at the bus stop .The bus in which I got into was jam packed .After a strenuous effort, pushing and shoving anyone who came in my way, I got down at my destination. It was a walk of 5 minutes from there on to the study circle. I longed for the comfort of my cushioned chair in the study circle .It was my fixed place , just in front of the veranda. Basking in the afternoon sun and allowing the gentle breeze tickle my face I would idle my time away scrolling through memes .No one ever bothered me or for that matter sat beside me. I had already decided the genre of the memes I would be scrolling through. Just as I entered the room a fragrance wafted up to me ,my nostrils twitched. It was unusual as the study circle always stank. I proceeded to take my seat , but I was surprised to see a girl sitting right on my place. I did not dare to confront her .I took a seat beside her as I did not wanted to lose the luxury of the veranda. I figured out the fount of the fragrance. Never had I ever come up against such a strong perfume in my life. The fragrance was intoxicating .The introvert that I was I didn’t even dare to take a look at the girl’s face. I took my seat and keeping my neck as low as possible I took out my unused and immaculate Concepts of Physics by HC Verma book. I stared blindly at the text. From the side of my eye I could see her hair sway to the light breeze coming in from the veranda .I could hear her byhearting her answers in a low voice but unlike the other nerds in the room her voice didn’t rattle me .My stomach began rumbling ,I was famished but I didn’t eat my lunch .Weird thoughts had started creeping up in my mind, ‘What if she sees my face and faints ? Will she stop coming to the study circle once she sees my face ?’ but then I thought ,’Why would my face frighten her ? My face is quite normal and even if it does , why should I care ? But strangely enough I didn’t try lifting up face. I tried to stop my train of thoughts by trying my hand at doing some numericals but after some tries I gave up ,it just wasn’t my cup of tea ! She left at 9 pm and by that time my neck had started aching a lot .During those 5 hours I could see her level of dedication towards studies .She hadn’t gotten up even once from her seat and nor did she check her cell phone .So even I did the same .I usually left the study circle by 7pm but that day I left at 9:30 pm ,with my neck dropping towards the left side.

She was there even on the next day ,sitting right on my place and from there on it became a routine , with my neck lowered and my face buried into the book ,I would leave only after she had left the place. In fact this helped me as I had actually started studying .My grades had started to improve and I used to be in a jolly mood all day long .Now I had started looking up to those 5 hours in the study circle ,beside her .A fortnight had passed by but I still hadn’t seen her face, no words were passed between us and nor did I know her name .I had seen her leave behind her books on the study table .So one day after she had left the study circle I waited for half an hour extra. Just to make sure that she doesn’t return .I hurriedly took one book of hers and flipped it to the first page. There it was, her name. Z Fernandes. Her handwriting was magnificent .I was a bit dejected that even after taking so much efforts, even after waiting for half an hour extra what I came to know was just the initial letter of her name but this didn’t deter me. I went through all her books, every single page but it was all in vain. She hadn’t written her full name in any of her books but what shocked me the most was that her last page was absolutely blank, unlike most of the people. No doodles, no sketches and not even a random phone number . It was as if the blank page resembled my frame of mind at that point of time ,completely blank . I was clueless. It was as if I had lost my sense of purpose in life. I was the last person to leave the study circle that day .

Even though she was the reason that I had started studying in the first place, her daily jibber-jabber with her friends on the cell phone made me lose my concentration. If she had to attend a call she would always walk up to the veranda . She used to have long and heated up conversations over there. Her talks mainly revolved around studies. It is because of this that I came to know that she was a commerce student. I was delighted. I felt as if this tidbit of information made me know her a little better. I was trying to fill up the last blank page.

A month had passed by and as you may have already guessed ,I hadn’t seen her face but those 30 days were pure bliss for me .Though my MHT-CET and JEE MAINS exam were still afar, my board exams were fast approaching. I was preparing well for it unaware of the doom which was to be followed. Just as suddenly she had appeared, one day, out of the blue, she disappeared. That day as usual I walked up to my place only to find her chair unoccupied. I went numb, my legs gave out and I collapsed on my seat .Gathering up strength I went to talk with that one nerd who used to always dawdle up to her place and pester her with silly doubts regarding a subject called Financial Reporting. His words made my heart jump into my mouth . She had given her final C.A exam paper and was awaiting results. The world around me collapsed but still there was hope, I knew her name. So I quickly installed the Instagram app which I had uninstalled at the beginning of the last month,when she had started showing up in the study circle. I typed Z Fernandes and it showed only five suggestions , Zenobia ; Zui ; Zara ; Zeba and Zerxes. She can be any one of these five people. I had finally found her ! In this roller coaster of emotions I had completely lost sense.The ultimate truth struck me,hard . What a fool I was ! I hadn’t seen her face !

This incident had a lasting impact on me. I grew more and more despondent. I couldn’t study and I resumed to my earlier routine of scrolling through memes only this time it was more worse and more vigorous. I was addicted to my cell phone, glued to it the whole day . The consequence was that I fared badly at my MHT-CET and JEE MAINS exam. I could score only 47 % in my H.S.C board exams but if not for that one month of study, I would have failed my board exams to. My friends got into fancy engineering colleges and I had to take up commerce.

I continued going to the study circle .Trying hard to study ,trying my best not to disappoint my parents once again. I was in a dark place until I saw her books once again lying on the study table. ‘Did she fail her C.A exams ?’ I quickly brushed aside such a negative thought. I was on cloud nine and I was determined that no matter what I would see her face the next day.

The day I saw her books again on the study table was March 14th after which our beloved Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji ordered the closing of all the educational institutions due to the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus .Schools , colleges , coaching classes were shut down and so was my study circle .This lockdown now seems endless and so does my suffering .The only thing which I clearly remember about her now is her perfume, the fragrance because even smells ring bells. They play an important role in our memories. This one-sided relationship which I had developed was a strange one. It wasn’t love ,it wasn’t lust it was something I couldn’t figure out and nor can you.

-Chaitanya Shirodkar