The class was giggling. The chemistry teacher was just unable to complete the word ‘arranged’ and he had dropped the chalk ten times already. He hesitated with his back towards the children, and no one (except me) was able to understand why he was facing difficulty in transferring a simple question from the book to the board.
“Leave the chalk… leave the chalk… leave the chalk…” I constantly repeated in my head as I concentrated on him. After fifteen minutes of struggle over the word, he finally managed to complete it. He then gave a nervous look around and then declared the class dismissed for the day. I smiled to myself.
It was the last class for the day. I had been practising for the past few days and it was becoming progressively easier to connect to my target. Sometimes it would be a particular classmate, sometimes it would be a teacher, and a few times it was the Principal himself. The whole assembly was at the verge of falling down with laughter when on one event, the Principal struggled to complete the word ‘tests’ and was constantly repeating ‘tes… tes… tes…’
On more than one occasion, I had noticed Rahul studying my every action. He had stopped teasing me since our last encounter, and I now wished he resumed. The teasing was better than this silent watching.
“Alia,” Radhika suddenly addressed me after the class, “what are you doing?” “Huh?” I asked. “You are hiding something from me, and by now I am damn sure that it has everything related to the latest discussion in the class”. I was caught. I hesitated. “You have been doing something and I can just feel it. Every time a student or a teacher starts getting confused about everything around, I find you staring at them and doing something with your hands. I bet half the people sitting behind us must have noticed this and I suggest you stop whatever it is you are doing before anyone accuses of doing black magic,” she was scolding and was firm. “No! It is not black magic. It doesn’t harm them, does it? And it is not like I am telling them to murder someone…” I tried explaining but she interrupted- “So you have been tampering with their brains!” “NOOOO… It’s not like that! I was just playing…” “Playing with people’s brains, Alia, that doesn’t sound playing to me,” Radhika was furious, and she walked away before I could say any further. “Leave her,” Alisha said. I obeyed, but I just couldn’t help feeling bad.
That evening when I came home for dinner, mother said that Radhika had called. I ignored my mother’s instructions to wash my hands and dashed straight to the phone to call her back.
“I want to hear about it from you,” Radhika said. So then, I started explaining everything- right from the truth about Alisha to the part where we had fought that afternoon.
“You do realize that that is not as amusing as it seems to you?” she asked. “I really don’t see what is wrong with that. It is so hilarious,” I had still not succeeded in convincing her. “Alia, I don’t have a very good feeling about Alisha,” Radhika said. I had been expecting to hear that for some time, so I answered, “Look, stuff that we, I mean you and me talk about, is meant to be funny. If Alisha wants to take part in the conversation by adding some comments, I don’t really understand why it upsets you.” Radhika kept silent for a few moments, then spoke, “I don’t know, maybe I am just jealous. I’ve to dine now so… talk to you tomorrow. Good night.” “Good night”, I greeted back and hung up. She still wasn’t convinced, but at least she didn’t rebel. This talk had reduced the load on my head and I felt at ease.
Radhika spoke to me normally the next day. It seemed she had forgiven me, and I felt glad.
I had grown curious about how my target felt. But to get that information, it had to be someone familiar this time, who wouldn’t hesitate in telling me anything. It wasn’t that hard to chose my next target.
“Lift your right hand… lift your right hand… lift your right hand…”
Radhika was looking lost. She had almost lifted it twice, but had dropped it too soon. It was very difficult to control her. It looked as if she was just going to fall asleep, but I still wonder how she managed to keep steady. After many attempts, I gave up.
“What had happened to you back then?” I asked her casually after the class ended. “Don’t act innocent. I know it was you,” she replied as casually. I asked enthusiastically, least bothered about her reaction, “How were you feeling?” She probably realised that I wasn’t going to stop, so she replied, “It felt as if someone was constantly instructing me to lift my right hand. My mind had gone blank, as if I were in sleep. I had no control over myself. My mind had just stopped responding”. “You were very difficult though,” I said. “I was trying to repel it. I knew it was you,” she paused, looked at me directly in the eye, and continued, “I was scared. It just felt evil”. I didn’t know what to say.
A fortnight later:
Sahil and Rishabh had been quarrelling almost every day. The quarrel wasn’t of the type that enemies have. Those two are the best of friends, but something had gone wrong recently. Rishabh wanted Sahil to complain about the bullying he had been suffering of recent, and if he didn’t, he, Rishabh, would complain to the teachers about it. Sahil wasn’t ready to do so, and threatened that if Rishabh did, he would attempt suicide. The issue was a very stupid one. Nevertheless, none attempted to end it. It had been six months since the fight started, and it showed no signs of ending.
Rishabh was a family friend, and recently, he had been trying to take assistance from Radhika and me for tackling this problem. It had been in vain, of course, because he never accepted any of our suggestions. Of late, both of us accepted that he just wanted an ear to share his problems. We reduced to sympathizing with him and nothing else.
That day, they started fighting again in the bus. It was worse than ever, and I started feeling bad for Sahil. Just as I was thinking about it, Alisha said something like- “just threatening… not for real…too stupid thing to do” Thoughts framed in my mind on their own, visions passed like a movie in my mind’s eye, and I had something worthy of suggesting.
Rishabh sat beside me, exhausted. He moaned that he just couldn’t bear Sahil’s pain. So, I started my speech, “Sahil won’t attempt anything silly. He is just not bold enough to take that step. The next time he threatens you, just don’t take him seriously. He might finally give up. Then you can attempt to reason with him.” My words seemed to have taken effect on him, because he tried to understand more of what I was suggesting. By the time we reached school, he looked convinced that finally everything was going to be fine.
“Just don’t do anything silly,” I suggested as we got down the bus.
Radhika was away with her family to attend her grandfather’s funeral. I sat alone at my desk.
During the break, the fight between the two friends resumed. As usual, almost everyone left the class. The remaining people tried to engage themselves with something or the other to avoid having to hear anything.
I was curious about how it would go today, so I patiently watched them from where I sat.
Fifteen minutes passed, and I was losing it. Hence, I concentrated on completing my breakfast and kept my head lowered.
Suddenly, someone screamed. I looked up. Rishabh was looking at Sahil with his face showing anger. Sahil was in shock. For a moment, I couldn’t understand what had happened. I ran to them to investigate.
Rishabh’s wrist was bleeding, and he was holding a penknife in the other, and was looking savagely at Sahil. “This is how it is done…COWARD!” Rishabh shouted, caring least for the blood that was now colouring the floor. People grabbed him, attempting to take him to the sick room before he lost any more blood.
He collapsed, looking at his hand. Tears started trailing down his cheeks. I was furious at him, furious because of what he did. As the other students struggled to control the blood flow before someone arrived, he looked up at me.
I looked at him. He said- “Alia, I did it. I did what you told me not to”. He chuckled, and I don’t know why, I smiled back. People looked at both of us as if we were mad. I don’t know about him, but I definitely was.
While we departed for home, the only thought that constantly rang through my mind was- “it was I who put that idea in his head. I told him that he was faking. I should have stopped him. I knew this was coming. This is entirely my fault”.
Alisha hadn’t spoken a word since that incident, and I desperately needed Radhika by my side. Tears never left my eyes.