RADHIKA’S APPROVAL (part-3)

Sunday came too soon. Meeting Alisha was the best thing that ever happened to me. I had temporarily forgotten about the reality while being with her. It was only in the evening that I remembered school and all those people who feasted at my despair. I was depressed again.

“They like it when you react,” Alisha concluded when I had completed telling her the situation. “I can’t help it. No one can. And it is not funny,” I complained. She was silent.

“I will come with you,” she said after a few moments. “Where to?” I was puzzled. “Your school,” she answered.

I wasn’t very sure about that, and I think she read my mind, because she asked, “Why?” Her question was very plain, with no hint of desperation or insistence. Nevertheless, it was pressing. I didn’t have an answer. Reluctant though I was, I agreed. There seemed to be no other option, and none would object because she was invisible.

I was troubled that night and I never knew the reason. As usual, Alisha couldn’t accompany me home, so I was dealing with my conflicts alone. Mother and father still didn’t know about Alisha, no one did. Hence, there was no one with whom I could discuss my problem.

Alisha was invisible, no doubt. I wondered if people could feel her the way I did. If Alisha were to accompany me, I was sure I had to be visually alone all day because I couldn’t communicate with her with actual people around me; that was definitely not possible. Radhika, what would I tell her?

Radhika was one of those few whom I could actually call friend. She had joined school the previous year, and it was not until six months passed that she started interacting with people. She wasn’t timid, no. Neither was she proud. She didn’t have a repulsive personality either. She just used to keep to herself. With the people being as they always are, they started ignoring her. Very few talked to her, and I assumed that those who did liked her a lot. She wasn’t mysterious, she was just composed and stable. It was when I started talking to her that I realized how truly capable she is of being a good friend. I would speak to her hours together at school, and she would never judge me. She sympathized with me when I was in pain, and congratulated me on my achievements. But she never acted to be with me. If she didn’t approve of some action that I did, she would tell me outright, and that is what held us together.

If I had to take Alisha with me to school, Radhika had to know about it. I just didn’t know how to explain it to her, so I gave up worrying and left everything to God.

“Are you sure you are doing the right thing?” Radhika asked. I was standing in the school canteen. There was a lot of hustle around but I could distinctly hear her. “She is good, you will like her”, I insisted. “How am I going to ‘like’ her when I can’t ‘see’ her?” Radhika looked troubled. “Trust me, she is nice,” I pressed upon her. “Alia, I trust you. But I am worried dear. People won’t approve of you speaking to yourself. It is madness,” she wasn’t ready to agree with me. “Do I look like I really care about what ‘people’ approve of? They hardly care about my existence. I am not going to discard a friend just because they don’t like to see me happy,” I was feeling irritated. Radhika’s troubled face hung in there for a moment. Then the scene changed.

I was walking into the apartment where I had first met Alisha. There was a distant sound that I couldn’t identify; it was too inaudible to recognise. The house didn’t look the same as I had first seen it. The old walls seemed to be oozing out tar very slowly. Nevertheless, it didn’t seem odd. I walked into the room where the mirror had been. There was a pile of burnt bricks and some red cloth strewn across beside the mirror. I didn’t know why, but I was suddenly feeling scared. I approached the covered mirror. I was just about to remove the cloth over the mirror when I heard a faint whisper, “Go”. I stopped. At that very moment, the faint noise in the surrounding suddenly amplified into screams, terrified screams of children. I turned around to find the doorway blocked by a hazy black hooded figure. “Go…” it said, “Go… go… go…” the frequency of the words increased, and now the figure kept saying rapidly as I stood there dumbfounded, “go… go… go… go, go, go ,go, go, go,” and suddenly it screamed as its mouth opened, “GO!”

My eyes flew open and I sat up sweating. I was terrified and shivering until my eyes adjusted to the surrounding. My alarm started beeping loudly. It had all been a dream.

Alisha joined me as soon as I jumped into the bus. I didn’t know where she was, but I could feel her presence. I wanted to tell her about the dream but I just didn’t feel like recalling it, so I dropped the topic.

My classmate, Rahul, would always wait for me to enter the classroom. No, we are not friends. His day begins with teasing me, and ends with the same. This morning, I was in no mood to hear him. That doesn’t change anything though.

“Hey,” Radhika greeted me. I gave her a faint smile. “Bad start?” she asked. She could tell. “Bad dream,” I replied as I sat down.

“Hello Ali Baba, got gold for me?” a voice sang from the back. I didn’t need to turn around to guess who it was- Rahul.  “Just ignore him,” Radhika whispered to me. I did as told.

“Hey Ali Baba, when are you going to the cave? I am desperate to accompany you,” he addressed me again. “Ali Baba, did you realize you got noodles as a wig?” This was getting progressively difficult. “Ali Baba, how many donkeys do you have?” That was it. Alisha almost screamed into my head- “Why don’t you just ask him to stop doing that?”

I turned to look at him. But, instead of that usual mocking smile, he was looking confused. He was looking at me, and was looking confused, and I had no idea why. “I told you to ignore him,” Radhika whispered angrily. “Why does he keep doing that?” with my head in my palms, I thought aloud. “Beats me,” Radhika said, and simultaneously I heard Alisha in my head, “Told you to ask him.”

“I am not going to ask him,” I answered aloud.

“I never told you to,” Radhika said. I looked at her, puzzled, and she had an equally puzzled look on her face. I had answered Alisha. But with her being visually non-existent, Radhika naturally received it as answer to her words.

I hesitated, “Not you”, and then I realized, there was no one else to whom I might have answered, so I tried to correct, “Her,” my mouth had not received the signal from my brain, and when it did, I said, “Alisha”, (oh no!), “No, you,” (what was I saying?), “No one. Just slip of the tongue,” (done!) and I looked at her. “Why are you panicking?” Radhika asked. “I’m not,” I lied, obviously to failure.

“Alia…” Radhika was still confused, “Are you alright?” “Yeah… yeah I am. I… just got confused because of that irritation, nothing else,” I answered. Radhika was convinced; I was not. I didn’t want to lie to her, and just didn’t want to take her disapproval.

“Don’t tell her,” Alisha said simply. I was ready to accept that, but I couldn’t resist. Minutes later, despite Alisha’s constant “Don’t”, I was preparing how to tell Radhika.

“I…,” I started, and Radhika looked at me, “you remember? We shifted to a new house…” “Of course I do, I was there during the ‘gruhapravesh’ (a ceremony done before entering the new house)”, she answered casually. “Yeah… umm… well, the new colony is great, you know,” I tried to advance more into the revelation, “and it is big too, I like the place a lot.” “Oh nice,” she smiled. I continued, “So, you know I like exploring…” She interrupted, “Just come to the point, I don’t know why you are so tense.”

She wanted it straight; I tried to put it straight to her, “I made friends with a girl, Alisha.” “That is good,” she looked pleased. “She is not human,” I continued, and waited to see her expression. Alisha had stopped trying to stop me. “She is my imaginary friend,” I proceeded, still waiting for her reaction, “and she is really nice. I like her a lot. She keeps me happy. We met in a discarded section of the colony this Friday.” “’Met’?” Radhika asked. “When I am in this particular section of the colony, I hear voices in my head that are not mine. Alisha is the name of one of those voices. I mean, she is like an ideal friend to me, just like you,” I spoke confidently. “Uncle and aunty know about her?” she asked. I shook my head. Then she smiled, “If you are happy, that is all I want.” I smiled back at her.

“She wanted to come to school with me. She is here. It was her, she was telling me to ask him,” I said. She smiled again.

Radhika’s approval had been the biggest challenge for me, and I had succeeded. I was satisfied.

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