lunchbox

 

Sophie lurked around in the shadows, where she cannot be seen. She is the only one left in the orphanage yet to be adopted. While she was growing up there were many. Many kids of her age with whom she could play. She even had a best friend Lucy who she used to share secrets with. She was just eight years old and didn’t know the world saw her in the dark. She was dark skinned, diagnosed with Vitiligo at the age of four had patches of white skin. Lucy used to protect her, when the other kids teased her. Lucy stood by her side and was always ready to get into a fight if necessary. Lucy had long black hair, fair and had hazel brown eyes. She would have been the first choice of the parents, but as soon as she spotted the car in the parking lot, she would pull Sophie and hide in the hole under the sink. There was room for the two of them. First time a patch of white skin was seen on Sophie’s skin, four year old Lucy might have been frightened, but she didn’t show it, she expressed her worry. When the other kids ran, she encouraged Sophie to go to Sister Jessie’s room without further delay. She led her to the room without touching her. Sister assured Lucy that it won’t spread by touch. From then till a few months back, shy and timid Sophie would crouch behind her back while Lucy would beat the bullies either by words or using her fist. Until that dreadful day when there was none other than these two left in the Orphanage. The parents were delighted to find the hazelnut eyed Lucy. She refused to leave her behind but had no choice but to pack her bag, get into the back of a Maruthi 800 and wave goodbye. Sophie was left behind, all alone she wandered through the corridors with nothing but half of a coin held tightly between her wrists. Lucy had the other half and before parting whispered in Sophie’s ears “Keep it safe, we will meet again this life time or another”.

Sophie as she grew older learned more and more about herself. She became more shy and conscious. At the age of ten girls are more mature then boys but she was more mature than any girl of her age. After so many rejections and outbursts from the families that visited her, she started exploring her body and realized that she was an outcast. She had given up hope on getting adopted, but still had a wish deep inside. She was used to their looks, some had pity while some looked down on her with disgust but it didn’t matter to Sophie anymore. She had accepted her fate. She truly believed in the powers of the Lord and had decided to dedicate her life for the Church. She helped the nuns, by sweeping and moping the corridors, cooking and washing the utensils. She was never late for her prayers and was a voracious reader. If she cannot be found in the convent, you will find her on the step by the side of a gate reading a novel. Sophie had no great expectations, she had her mind set on to serve the Lord, but the Lord had other plans for her.

***

I was the youngest in my family, but was way smarter than the other dim-witted siblings of mine. I was the class leader of 4th standard and maintained silence if the teacher has not arrived. I would inform the respective authorities on the delay and made sure our class had a substitute in case of absence. When I go to my hometown, I often told on my siblings and would watch them getting screwed while I enjoyed sucking a candy as a prize. My cousins also come to stay in my house and by the time I was ten my eldest cousins had already fallen into the habit of smoking and drinking. The more their passion grew more candies for me. But my sister did find a way to pay me back in school and to add to it my classmates did not cooperate with my leadership. They would punch me at every possible opportunity. But my classmates punched not only me; they loved to fight, play and were quite childish to tell you the truth. My best friend Tina, was not a reader, but was an amazing listener and hence bearable compared to the rest. My cousins tried to win me with better chocolates and when I didn’t fall for that, they started blackmailing me. But I never gave in to their empty threats, I continued my honest work. I was the teacher’s pet, my mother’s favourite and regretfully a nerd if I looked down on myself eight years later.

But unfortunately I had a flaw, I hated my lunch. I like most of my mother’s cooking, but when it is all (rice, vegetables and probably an egg or fish) packed into a box, it is not eatable. The stench that comes as soon as the lid opens, gives an end to my appetite. The bus drops me by the ring road and on my way I pass a convent and there is a side street which has a drain. I would quickly dump it into the drain and run home. My mom was happy, I was happy. One day when I was dumping the food, I looked up and saw a girl about my age sitting there and reading a book. Guilty at being caught, I didn’t wait for her reaction and ran home. I had to lie to her that day that I had sports practise and couldn’t eat my lunch. The next day I sneaked a look to the gate, she was not there. So I quickly took out the lunchbox. But suddenly she appeared at the gate and asked “Can I have it, if you don’t want to eat it”.

***

I wanted to run but my feet were frozen. I was dumbstruck. Then I slowly moved towards the gate and offered her my lunchbox. She put down her book, opened my lunch box and started eating. The book she had placed on the steps was titled ‘The old man and the sea’.

“I love this book, I have read it a dozen times” I said

“Me too, do you like to read?” she asked

“Of course I do, finish it quickly please, I have to get back home” I replied

“I can strike a deal with you, I will sneak a few book from the convent for you and you bring me your lunch in turn” she said.

“Deal, but I go to school in the morning at 8’o clock, I will give you my lunch box then and in the evening you can return the empty box along with a book.

“Are you not scared of me” she suddenly asked, probably because of the absence of pity or disgust on my face. My uncle has this condition and I knew it was not fatal.

“Yes, I am petrified” I replied with a sarcastic smile.

We laughed. Hence Sophie and I became friends. Every morning I would give her my lunchbox and in the evening she would give it back. We would exchange books we had and give each other a week to read it. Then on Saturdays when I had half a day, instead of getting a drop from Tina’s father, I came in the school bus and I could spend the other half with her. We would sit there on the step outside the side gate and talk for hours on the book. We never went beyond the side step, inside into the convent. She was also my secret, for the first time I was keeping a secret. Maybe I could have told my mom about her, but once it so happened that she refused to send me to a camp for aids patients. I have read it does not spread by touch, but I was unable to convince her, so I kept this my secret. As a year passed, slowly we started talking about our life and I learned about Lucy. We started creating our own stories. We dug deep into these books and found our life revolving around these characters. We enacted them and tried things that are forbidden. Sophie has never seen a Cigarette, so I stole one from my dad’s pack to show it to her, but we ended up smoking it. To leave no evidence behind we smoked the whole between fits of cough. Then came alcohol, I poured out half the water in my bottle, filled it up with alcohol and brought it to show it to her. But we ended up drinking that too. She took the bottle to the kitchen and washed it well enough to hide the smell. My brother was blamed in the evening for the missing amount of alcohol, I kept quite. For the first time I skipped a Saturday class and she escaped from the convent. I lied to my mom that we don’t have a class, took my bicycle and we rode. We rode up the hill behind the convent and pushed the cycle up the hill. We took a bath in the small pond and dipped into the pond naked. We lay beside the pond to dry ourselves. We cut out a piece of rope lying on the ground and holding it on one end we dipped the other end into the pond. We sat there long to catch a fish and then came into the conclusion that we were in the same state as that of the Santiago (the old man and the sea). We rode back by 4’o clock and I tried to teach her how to ride. She took it down the hill and we fell, bruised our knees and our palms and bled from our heads. We rolled down the hill on top of each other and reached the ground with a lot of cuts. We sat up, looked at each other and laughed and then cried and then laughed again. My mother scolded me for bruising myself and grounded me from using the bicycle, which was of no use because the cycle was not in a state to be used.

Everything was a first to me. She had given it a chance to ask me for the lunchbox on that fateful day. If I had run away, she would have always been timid and I would have turned out to be a snobbish person. Two years into our friendship, on a Saturday as I returned from school, I didn’t find her upon the step outside the side gate. The gate was open; I stepped into the forbidden boundaries as we called them. There was a car in the drive way, the trunk was open and a man was trying to fit the suitcase into the trunk. Two girls came out of the convent, one was Sophie. From the descriptions I could guess the other was Lucy. Sophie turned in the direction of the side gate, when she saw me; she ran in my direction and hugged me. Lucy came trotting behind her and stood there unsure whether she should hug me or not. Sophie told me that Lucy had come to visit the convent and on learning that I was still there in the convent, she convinced her parents to take me with them. I looked at the two of them, and then I took a step forward and hugged Lucy. Inside I felt broken; I stood there and saw as the car pulled away to the front gate.

There was a sudden brake, Sophie jumped out came running and gave me the half of a coin and said “We will meet again in this lifetime or”

I stopped her and completed it “or another”.

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About Menagerie

basically reads a bit, likes to write, eat menageries: more diverse in thoughts rather than in people or things and the first meaning of captivating animals for exhibition has nothing to do with me
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