Updated: Oct 16, 2020
Chapter 2: This is to certify that...
25th August, 2014 - Monday
In the split second that Kam's eyes caught mine, I could notice nothing but absolute disgust. I turned around and looked at Shaon. I'm not certain what expression my face inadvertently made, but he just patted my shoulder and almost physically urged me to take a step through the door.
I stepped inside. I watched as Bhaskar Anand spotted and walked towards us, almost hurriedly. I felt adrenaline pump through my veins for a second. But he simply walked past me, held Shaon by his arm and pulled him outside. Phew! It was kind of a relief that he wasn't coming to hit me. He bonded closely with Shaon, and probably had something to share.
Wait! Is it something about me? Maybe it is. Shaon will tell me, I know, if it's really about this strange behavior thrown at me. Calm down, Ani. Calm down! Anirudh, just breathe...
I walked to my seat. I set my bag down on the table. I looked outside the door once again to check if Shaon was done or not. Normally, I searched the class for a glimpse of Shreya. But today, I searched for a glimpse of Mistoo, as well. I wanted to check whether the two of them despised me too. They weren't around. I turned towards my bag again to get the bottle. I was going through sufficiently enough for my throat to dry up. Suddenly, Dhruv caught me off-guard as he gave me a shoulder push while walking right past me.
Dhruv Sehgal was one of the popular kids of the class. He definitely wasn't the eye-candy type, but he was popular with his jokes, sarcasms and sports. It took strikers like Shaon and Partha to score against him. The only goal-keeper as good as him in the entire school was Deep Ganguly. Dhruv was an excellent spinner and fielder too.
My immediate reaction was to ignore, unlike any other time, 'cause I instinctively was afraid of getting beaten up by him and his circle of friends. So much for not being scared! But in a split second, I decided, I couldn't let fear dictate me. I did nothing inappropriate! I don't deserve this!
"Watch your step, bro," I called out behind him. I also took off my spectacles in a show of confidence. He turned.
"Watch your step," I repeated. "There is plenty of space to walk by, without having to deliberately lean and push into me."
"Yeah? How about you take your own advice and give people their space too, without leaning into them?" he gave a crooked, single-cheeked smile, and turned to walk away.
"What the fuck is this about?" I tried to keep my calm. He didn't stop. "I really wanna know what's wrong. What did I do?" I almost screamed that last bit.
I looked around in self-awareness. Kaushik Ojha was standing at the back entrance. Shaon and Bhaskar were entering through the front door. And there were another four to five people in the class, including Partha, Mistoo's hotshot boyfriend. Everyone was looking at me. Everyone had judgement in their eyes. I watched as Dhruv walked up to Ojha, put his arms around his shoulder and walked out with him, giggling.
I hurriedly walked out of the room via the front entrance. I could feel Shaon's gaze on me as I walked past him, but I didn't look at him. I looked at no one, and stopped nowhere, until I reached the washroom. My eyes had already blurred with tears, by now. I wanted to scream. I wanted to punch. I wanted to let it all out... But I just turned the tap and splashed my face with cold water. I didn't know why, but I was shit scared and it was the first time I felt so overwhelmingly lonely.
I don't know how long I stayed in there. People came in, people went out. I stood there, occupying a basin and staring straight at my dripping face. I heard the bell ring for the assembly. Shaon came in and pulled me out.
"Why is everyone treating me like this? What are they talking about? What did I do?" I asked him quite lowly, trying hard enough to not spill tears again. He refused to share anything he knew.
"It's a lot to process, even for me. It's better if I told you when you calm down a bit. I can see you are shaken; you don't need that unnecessary stress. Not like knowing about it will help fix this," he said. "Plus, there is a lot I don't know yet. I can't tell you the complete story right now."
Yeah, Shaon had always been this straightforward, unemotional douche, so much so that it didn't even feel uncaring to my ears.
The rest of the entire day at school was spent in solitude. After half the classes, my migraine kicked in, probably because of the stress and extensive effort not to breakdown. So, I mostly just buried my face in my arms, on the table. For all the time that I held my head high, Shreya didn't make eye-contact with me. Mistoo did, but her eyes only conveyed a confused pity. She even came and took a seat, two seats away from me, when the entire class went almost empty for once. I just kept my head low, pretending I didn't notice. All the rest of the girls gave either the pitiful Mistoo-look or the disgusted Kam-look. Most of the guys totally judged me, except the few who weren't even bothered that I existed. Only guy except Shaon and Anup, who spoke to me in the entire day was David Xavier.
Even Dhillon Sir, our class teacher, came in once for the sole purpose of giving a general sermon on 'mannerisms'. I'm sure he didn't pointedly take action on me, cause he wanted to clarify whatever he heard, from Riya herself, and she was absent that day.
On our way back home, Shaon told me bits and pieces of what he had heard. I quietly listened. I didn't even try to clarify or counter, or even question. I don't know what had taken over me, but I couldn't get over the hatred and disgust I saw in the eyes of all those people. Even when I had seen juniors, talking in the corridor, I suspected they were talking about me. And why wouldn't they? Most of us were very open and friendly with our juniors. In fact, Shreya even dated one. Yeah, Siddhant Somani was a year junior.
Back at home, the first thing I did was call Kam. She declined. Once. Twice. Thrice. After the third, I texted her... She finally did pick it up when I called after that. I asked her why she, being one of my closest people, wouldn't talk to me. I even apologized for whatever I might have done to hurt her, almost at the brink of tears. But her reply fell on me like a thunderbolt, and I distinctly remember it, word by word...
"You harassed Riya... I wouldn't have believed it if anyone else would have said it, but Riya said it to me, herself..."
Based on real events.
Original series idea: Aninda Kumar Nanda
Written by: Aninda Kumar Nanda
Proof-reading and suggestions:
Rituparna Ghosh, Sayan Mandal, Shaona Kundu, and Tales, Fables and Fantasies Team
Promotional Art and Illustration: