The final examination for class 12 was a few weeks away. It was lunch time. I was sitting alone in the prayer hall where the students assembled daily in the morning. I saw Durai coming towards me. He is a school bully, tall, muscular, unruly hair and a copper bracelet on the wrist. Except for his cronies, the boys and girls gave a wide berth to him. Short in temper he was given to picking quarrels for flimsy reasons and turning violent. A back bencher he fared poorly in studies. The teachers too, given the fact that his dad was a local politician, did not trouble him. But he was good in Karate and had some belt.
I knew why he was coming towards me. I had warned him two days back to stay away from Sumitra our class mate. Whenever she walked past him, he made some indirect or indecent comments or sang film songs with double meaning much to the amusement of his buddies and embarrassment to her. Sometime he will try to indulge in inane talks with her. When she could tolerate it no more, she confided in me.
I have been studying with Sumitra for the last four years and there was nothing special between us except as class mates till we came to class 12.It was the beginning of the academic year and as I am wont to I sought refuge during lunch time in this corner of the prayer hall. There were none in the large hall except for some students passing through the hall at the other end. I was sort of dozing with my eyes half closed when a whiff of jasmine fragrance wafted across me. I opened my eyes to see Sumitra standing before me with some books in her hand. I smiled at her and arched my brows as if to ask what brought her to me.
“I have some doubt in geometry and unable to solve a few riders. I was initially hesitant but decided to come to you as you are a topper in the class” she said softly
“Sit down and show me the questions” I replied.
She sat on the bench a little away and spread the notebook on her lap. She opened the page in the geometry book and showed me the problems.
They were simple and I took the note book from her and drew the diagrams. She came closer to me craning her neck to see what I wrote. Her hair with jasmine concealed in it almost brushed my face. The intoxicating smell, the close proximity of a feminine figure was something new to me triggering unexplained feelings in me. As I was explaining the diagram and the construction needed to solve the problem, her hand brushed against me. I stopped explaining momentarily and she looked at me quizzically.
“I hope you do not mind my troubling you now and then like this, Raju. Things are clearer to me” she said with a shy smile
“Not at all. It is a pleasure to be of help to you. You can always approach me”
“Did you say a pleasure?” she said as she flashed a smile and scurried away.
There was a song in my heart as I got up looking at the receding beautiful girl.
The next day she came and thrust a note book saying “I have to rush. I have the unsolved problems in calculus. I will collect it tomorrow. I hope you won’t mind”
I opened the note book after she was gone and a peacock feather fell down. I smiled to myself. I inwardly knew that her getting her doubts cleared was only a pretext to be with me.
The exchange of note books with rose petals, flowers and small notes with names written graphically became a routine though we had not mentioned that we were in love with each other. The day before she mentioned about Durai, she said she would be joining SSM engineering college and wished that I also did the same.”We can be together for four more years. Choose ECE.”
I asked her mischievously “What about after four years? Won’t you like to be together?”
She said “Chee, chee “and ran away.
I was woken up from my reverie when I found Durai lifting me by my collar and dragging me outside the prayer hall to the gate. There were his buddies and many students standing in a circle’
“You skinny cheapster, who the hell are you to warn me to stay away? What is she to you?” he shook my body violently.
When I did not reply partly shaken by fear, he flexed his muscles and punched me in my face. There were laughter from his buddies and horror in the looks of other students.
“Are you dumb? Open your mouth if you wish to save your life” thundered Durai in rage.
I smelt blood and looked around. Another blow landed on me like a sledge hammer. I fell down. Someone came running towards me.
”Don’t anyone dare to come near us. It is a private quarrel or shall I say duel? I have decided to end the issue once and for all” he roared
Turning towards me he asked “Is she your lover? How close are you to her, you rascal? Keep away from her. Do you understand?”
I knew I cannot fight with him and he only wanted me to resist him so he can hit me more. My silence infuriated him so much that he kept raining blows on me even as I lay on the ground cowered in fear. Things turned black and I felt going unconscious.
It was then I heard faintly Sumitra’s shrieking voice “Stop it, Durai.I had only asked him to tell you. I have nothing for him. Leave him alone”
“Why are you so concerned about him? Are you in love with him?”Durai shouted
“I told you I have no love for him. I feel bad because he gets beating for what I asked him to do. In fact I do not like him at all. He is a puny book worm and nothing more. I beg you to leave him alone”
Durai gave one final kick and went away laughing with his buddies in the knowledge that Sumitra did not love me. I lay there shattered not by the blows of Durai but by the hurt and disbelief caused by Sumitra’s words. Are all the exchanges and interactions since the beginning of the year a deception, I wondered?
Both avoided each other studiously and I could see a spring in Durai’s walk after that violent incident.
The day after the final examinations were over, Anusha a common friend came home and gave me an envelope.”Please read this and I will come in the evening to collect your reply.Sumi is such a nice girl. You will understand” said Anusha before leaving.
“My dear Raju,
You must be having a very low opinion of me and I understand that. I could not bear that brute hitting you like a murderer overcome by jealousy that I love you. He has seen us together many times and always talked derogatingly of you. The only way I thought I could save you from being killed was by proclaiming that I hated you and satisfy his ego.
Please understand and forgive me. These days of silence between us have been a torture. I am looking forward to spending four years at the college with you and who knows thereafter? Send me a line through Anusha that you have forgiven me and that I could always come to you with problems in mathematics, lol
As I jumped in joy and made a jig, my mom entered the room and asked me “Why are you dancing, Raju? Any good news?”
I hugged my mom and said nothing with a smile.