SURPRISE (part- 6)

“Why are you so sad?” Alisha asked me. She was asking as if she didn’t know anything, and I wasn’t feeling well enough to repeat what I had been telling her for the past two days. Irritated, I replied, “I don’t know.” “Is it about that incident again?” she asked innocently. There really wasn’t any need to mention that. “If you can’t help me out of this, stop pestering me and just go away!” I couldn’t hold my anger any longer. I didn’t know who I was more angry with: her or myself.

Rishabh had been well and my parents had insisted on visiting him. When I had refused at every plea they made, they decided to leave without me. Rishabh had made no attempt to contact me either. From what my parents said, he was very lucky. The doctors said that he had narrowly missed the nerves.

Radhika would be back the next day. She would be reaching here at midnight, so there was no chance that I could contact her before school. I felt blank. I needed her badly.

“You didn’t tell him to do that. So why are you taking the whole blame on yourself?” Alisha started again. Why wouldn’t she stop? “It is not like he is in danger or anything. He is safe and will be back on his feet and running about soon. I don’t know what you are grieving about,” she continued, despite my rising impatience. “Look, really, I am not grieving about anything. I really don’t care what he does to himself after this. I have completely given up on him,” I said that with great difficulty. My lips were not ready to say anything. However convincing she had been, my heart couldn’t accept that I had nothing to do with it. “You wouldn’t believe me anymore,” she said. She was right. She wasn’t the right person to say that. She just wasn’t good enough. “This pain will end tomorrow when I hear it from Radhika,” I thought to myself. Alisha was desperate to pull me out of this hole that I had pushed myself into, but she had to be more than what she was, to be able to do it.

Radhika was back the next day. “You chose a very bad time to leave me alone,” I complained. “I wouldn’t have known this would happen. I mean, who could have thought that Rishabh, of all the people, would take that step! I was more than shocked when I heard about it,” she said. I couldn’t blame her for her absence.

I then told her what had actually happened, and she listened patiently. “It wasn’t your fault. It was an accident. And if anyone is to be held faulty for that, it is him. People are responsible for their own decisions and actions,” she said calmly. Even she believed that I didn’t have any hand in this. But that didn’t help. She probably realised this, because she added- “and you have decided in your head that you don’t want to hear that. You want to be blamed.” I considered her words for a moment. She was right. I wanted everyone to believe what I believed. That was why Alisha’s words had been bouncing off my head.

“I don’t know Alia. I can only suggest you to be open to what people are saying. Only then can you feel better,” she concluded. I smiled back to her. Both of us knew that that smile held no meaning. But she had made a valid point, and I could feel it in my heart that it held the key to break out of this distress. It was only a matter of knowing how to go about it.

“At least you opened the lid of that box,” Alisha said as we were on our way back home. I chuckled at that deduction. My head was feeling lighter, but the load wasn’t off completely. I was still struggling to prove myself wrong, and it turned out I was too stubborn to convince. I wanted reasons that could defeat me, and I was too unintelligent to be able to do so.

That evening, I decided to talk about everything other than that topic. Alisha was more than glad to agree with me. We talked about the Principal, the teachers and the students whom I had targeted. Then I talked about Rahul, about how unexpected it had been that he had stopped teasing. When I was describing the conversation we had had, Alisha interrupted saying, “He knows”. I was puzzled. “He knows about me,” she completed her sentence. “How come?” I asked. “Just does,” she said. I took her word for it. I then realised- probably he had recognised my voice when I had tried to play with his brain. That explained the look he gave. But that still didn’t explain how he could have known about Alisha. Confused, I changed the topic and spoke about other stuff.

Alisha accompanied me to the point where our school bus used to stop. After that, I was on my own.

As I opened the door, I almost bumped into the large suitcase blocking the way. It took me a few seconds before I realised. I ran at top speed into the living room, and my doubts confirmed. A slim teenager occupied the armchair. I squealed with joy, “Didi (elder sister)!”

Ramya, my 16-year-old sister, was back from boarding school. I had no prior notice that she was going to arrive today. Her boarding school was very strict in the matter of communication. The only few hours when she was allowed to talk on phone, I either was at school, or was sleeping. We hardly ever talked while she stayed there. Now, she was home.

“Oh mom, you have been starving my sister!” Ramya hugged me while she called out to mother. “Mum never said you were coming,” I complained as I released her. “She never told us,” mother said from the kitchen, “your uncle and she had planned for the surprise.” “Uncle is here too!” I exclaimed. “Nah, uncle got some work in the last moment. So I had to board the train alone,” sis said. That was bad. Uncle always got me sweets when he visited us.

“How is life, sis-o?” Ramya asked me while we dined. I was about to tell her when mum suggested we talked after dinner. I was glad she stopped, because I would almost have disclosed about everything in front of my parents.

“By the way, she made new friends,” my mother’s excitement was suddenly at its peak, and I dreaded it. “Oh that is so awesome! When am I going to meet them?” sis asked enthusiastically. Things had to be set right, so I said, “You have met Radhika.” “No… not Radhika. Your friends from here,” mum had just worsened the situation. Ramya looked at me; waiting for an answer that I wasn’t sure was going to come. “Alisha…” I said, thinking fast. I wasn’t supposed to open the truth- “she lives on the other side of the colony. She is a very good friend.” That did it. But the worst came too soon when mother said, “We could invite them for dinner this Sunday. It would be wonderful.” I hesitated. “Ah… mum… about that part. You know, it is difficult. Because…” I paused and looked around at my family, then went on, “because her parents live abroad and she lives here with her nanny.” That had to be convincing because it was the real case with one of my classmates. But- “Oh then we could invite just her. I will talk to her nanny about it,” I could almost imagine mother jumping with excitement. Why was she so determined? “NO mum, her nanny won’t agree. She never goes to anyone’s house. And she is very shy too,” I was desperate to convince mum out of this, but she was being so difficult.

My sister, my angel, suddenly spoke her golden words, “Leave it maa. I know these timid types. They are just impossible to deal with. I am rather surprised that she made friends with you, sis.” “Yeah,” I played the game ahead, “yeah she didn’t want to meet me the first time. It was, I don’t know, God maybe, that she decided to talk.”

I was safe.

“I want to see this place,” Ramya requested me the next evening. I didn’t mind, though I made a mental note not to take her to the abandoned section. We walked and talked. The deserted playgrounds amazed her. She loved the look of the colony. I spent more time with her that day and wondered if Alisha understood why I couldn’t come to play. If she had been around, I could have thought to her. She had probably decided to keep distance and wait until I was alone. But that never happened.

“I heard about Rishabh today,” Ramya told me at night. I looked at her, wondering. “Mum was worried that you didn’t want to visit him at the hospital,” she said. “There was nothing to be worried about. I was angry with him for doing that. It was very stupid of him,” I said in one breath. “I know sis, but just think about how he would be feeling,” Ramya said. “It will be good for him to stay away from me,” I said without thinking. “Why are you saying that?” Ramya, who had been lying on her back, sat up to look at me. I felt like telling her everything, but I couldn’t. So, I waited, not knowing what I was waiting for.

“Is there something that you have been hiding from everyone?” she asked. It felt like she already knew the answer to that question. If I didn’t speak up now, she would find out everything there was to be found. I couldn’t let that happen.

“That day, when Rishabh cut his wrist, that morning I had had a thought, something like a vision that this was going to happen. I mean I just felt that one of those two was going to attempt, and I assumed it would be Sahil. I also had a feeling that Sahil wasn’t bold enough to do what he claims he would. I thought that if Rishabh knew that Sahil was really faking that threat, it would be easier for him to handle the situation. So I had warned Rishabh not to attempt anything stupid and believe that Sahil was nothing but scared, too scared to take any such step. What went wrong was that when Rishabh lost his temper, my words to him did opposite to what it should have done. I just can’t help feeling that if it hadn’t been for me, this incident would never have occurred.”

“Why didn’t you discuss it with mum and dad?” the inevitable question. “I thought they would get me wronged,” I said. “They wouldn’t, why would they? And I assume your friends have already tried to talk you out of this stupid regret that you are holding, with no success whatsoever. Because if they had been successful, we wouldn’t be having this discussion right now,” she was almost scolding. She knew she was right. I kept quiet. She sighed, “Sis-o, did you know beforehand that he was going to do this if you told him?” “Of course not! Why would I intentionally push him into doing that?” I was shocked when she asked that. Was she really thinking that I wanted him dead?

“If you hadn’t known the situation and you suggested him as an act of goodwill, how are you guilty?” This question twisted something in my head and I was suddenly looking with a different perspective. “On the other hand, you need to realize that there is something called fate. If it had not been you, it would have been someone else through whom that idea had to get into his head. You really had nothing to do with anything here. After this incident, Sahil will be reluctant in the matter of threatening Rishabh. From what I learnt from Rishabh, he has given up hope on Sahil and has decided to keep distance from him until he complains to the Principal about all the bullying. And if he still doesn’t, then he would complain regardless of what Sahil thinks about it. Do you see what is happening?” she asked. I looked at her, and I didn’t know what expression my face was holding that very moment. She wasn’t even impatient, and continued- “What happened that day was Rishabh bursting at the peak of his frustration. With this, he got time to think, decide and use some brains. This act of stupidity is the reason why everything is finally going to be right. So if there is anyone who should feel guilt here, that should be Sahil… and that too, for the greater good.” I looked at her blankly. She smiled. She knew she had done what was meant to be done even when I kept silent. “Go off to sleep now. Goodnight,” saying so, she lay back and covered herself with the blanket. I silently obeyed her.

 I might probably need time to digest what she said, but I knew now that she had just removed the biggest hindrance to my calm. She was the person I had needed all along. She is the best, and she is my sister.

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