The boy focused his eyes at the empty arch staring back at him. With every twist and turn of its ornate stone, it spoke to him of the days gone by. Barely twenty-one, he felt like his scrawny arms had shouldered the weight of the world.
It came to him as if it were yesterday. He was just another fresher dotting the ground floor of his college, some four years ago. His lifelong dream of getting an engineering degree was just getting started. He looked around to find a lot of fresh faces, some of which he’d get to know shortly.
He remembered his first day at class; trying to keep his eyes open while concentrating on the teacher droning away the laws of Thermodynamics. Sixty others around him might have been feeling the same way, but none made it plain. The ceiling fan seemed more interesting that what might have been going on in front. He looked around the class to spot his colleague, a young girl, sitting one bench away to his right, and drifting away in the background. Her head oscillated in her stupor, conscious enough to keep away from the edge of the table, and dazed enough to be swaying away to the boring lullaby recited in front. He saw the seat next to her empty and jumped ship while the teacher had his head turn. He put a chubby book under her chin while her head troughed and it settled cleanly as it made contact. That was it, lights out. In that instant he’d made a friend, a friend he’d assisted sleeping in class.
He’d never had a friend who was a girl before. Blame it on the convent schools, which had separate branches for boys and girls while he grew up. The experience was new, fresh. He’d never known what it meant to hold a girls hand, to look at her in a different light, or to begin and end his day with her, but within a year, he’d done it all. He’d met someone who’d smell extraordinary, who’d dress differently, like diverse things, and one who’d enjoyed his company. All he knew was that she made him smile and he liked taking care of her.
As the folded paper cups of coffee piled on an already cluttered desk full of five-pound books, one would make out that exams were near. The gloom and doom that surrounded hours of poring through dreary textbooks and meaningless reference guides was starting to sink in. The elevator rides spent in reading and revising anecdotes captured in a previous class. The facial expressions conveying words of wisdom right before a spot quiz. The manner they’d complete each other’s sentences. The way they’d point to the same thing and giggle. The way she’d suck on a lollipop and force him to do so in front of everyone, and he would risk it all doing so willingly. In every moment spent in each other’s company. In every examination conquered with excellence. In every second that passed, he grew warmer to the girl that made him feel different.
Every second passed, right across these now vacant halls.
He couldn’t help but shed a tear. He recalled that day, their last day together. He’d held her hand as she’d checked out her result. She had passed, and he had too. Yet somehow, the music faded in the mist. For her the journey ended there. She had agreed for marriage, an arranged marriage, a week after her graduation. He held her hand as she broke this news to him, shaking with excitement. He felt his heart sink deep into his stomach, wrenching his gut, as a tornado would leave its victims. He decided to do nothing but smile, because he couldn’t explain what he was feeling, or why he was feeling that way. He could only watch as she placed her hand on his head, smiling and asking him to keep in touch, but he knew it would never happen.
The boy focused his eyes at the arch right in front of him. He sees a boy and a girl laughing, looking much younger than he remembers. With a blink of an eye, the duo looks back at him, their eyes imploring him to look beyond the emptiness left behind. He’d known now the hard way what it meant like to lose a friend. What it meant like to have a crush.
What it felt like to fall in love.
Inspired by this week’s writing challenge.
Image courtesy of Cheri Lucas Rowlands.