he school year was coming to a close. Balu had just finished his Eleventh Standard and the summer holidays were going to start in two days. He was walking in the corridor adjoining the principal’s room when he saw a girl waiting with her parents. She looked very familiar.
Balu stopped to take a second look at her. He couldn’t recognize her, but his instinct said that he had seen her before.
Three months later when the school reopened, he found that she had joined in the Eleventh Standard. It hit him like a ton of bricks. It was Suji! How could he not remember her?
* * *
It was the last day of their Fifth Standard. Balu and Suji had been sharing the bench from class two onwards. Suji’s father got a transfer to Bangalore and they were moving after this school year. It was the last day that they both were going to see each other.
Suji got better grades than Balu consistently and he hated that! But he could not do nothing about it all these years. Other than this sense of competition, they both were good friends.
As they walked out of the school, Balu felt an unexplainable feeling in his gut. They reached a fork in the road and it was time to say good bye.
“All the best… and good bye!”
Balu and Suji parted ways.
* * *
‘Ha! It is Suji, after all… But wait! What is she doing in the Eleventh Standard? She must have lost a whole year. Or maybe they couldn’t get admitted in Twelfth and chose to lose a year… That doesn’t make any sense… She must’ve failed a year! Yes, that it. The Great Suji has got her comeuppance.’
Balu was smug with satisfaction. He even felt that he was flying in the air.
That last year that he spent in school, he never spoke a word to Suji. She was beneath his status... she had flunked a year! When they would cross paths in the school corridors, Balu would avoid eye contact with her. He was busy with his studies with the single aim of getting into Engineering and never spared a second to think about Suji.
* * *
Two years later the classmates had gathered to meet over a weekend. Balu was doing his Engineering as he always wanted. They all talked about the various escapades during their school days—getting caught for plucking mangoes from the only mango tree left in the school that was built in the location that was a grove at one time; dissecting a garden lizard near the badminton court; leaving a dead rat on the shelves; stirring a mutiny of sorts when the cricket team was announced (and later getting ‘the treatment’ from the very strict vice principal). It was all fun and frolic as they shared past experiences.
The evening was getting to be a very memorable one for all. That’s when one of them interjected, “Did you guys hear about Suji? You know, the girl who used to sit next to Balu until Fifth grade. She also rejoined a few years ago one year junior to us…”
“Yeah, what about her?” Balu asked nonchalantly.
“She died! Cancer, they say...”
“What?” Balu couldn’t believe what he just heard.
“She lost an entire school year in treatment. All of that in vain… May she rest in peace!”
That night, Balu cried. But, he never forgave himself.