Written by Suchita Senthil Kumar
Art by Karl Magnuson
“You’re a sadist,” she told me.
“You’re always sad. So, you’re a sadist.”
I laughed, relief replacing the dread I first felt when I heard those words. I explained her context was wrong. I would’ve never been able to comprehend the various things Anjani declared if not for the explanations she gave. Dhana, her best friend, laughed along and both of us prodded her over this slip-up for many days to come.
The moment I entered the classroom that day, my stomach plummeted. In the dim-lit corner of the classroom sat the group of boys howling as always, their voices echoing in the silence of the 3rd floor. Most of my classmates mentioned they wouldn’t be coming to school since the exams were over, but I didn’t expect all of them to back out. I hurried out into another classroom, this time an empty one, and watched the nearby trees and train track from the window.
I didn’t enjoy the loneliness the way so many other people claimed to. I hated it and hated not having a best friend I could always count on. I couldn’t think of one person I could turn to if I needed a shoulder to cry on. The echoes of the laughter of those boys filled my head, rendering me feeling unpleasant all over, as though it were music from a ukulele and I was deaf. It sounded of happiness and togetherness—a sound only they could hear.
My watch beeped when it struck 9 o’clock and the solitude transitioned into an apprehension penetrating me. I walked across the familiar corridors, staring at the grey tiles and memorizing the narrow cracks upon them. I placed my feet at the center of each tile, a shiver running through my nerves every time I slipped and touched the lines in between two tiles. I did everything I could to delay entering the classroom again.
I took a deep breath, stepped inside the classroom and lifted my eyes from the floor. This time my stomach didn’t plummet and, instead, I felt elated. I don’t think I was ever so delighted to see anyone in all my life. Anjani and Dhana sat in their seats, a few spaces away from mine looking over at me with generous smiles playing on their faces.
“You came to school!” shouted Dhana, standing and pushing away her chair. Although I had been friends with Dhana only a few years earlier, Anjani and I spoke less. “We thought we’d be all alone. Thank God we have company!”
The happiness and relief when I first realized I wasn’t the sole girl in class was soon replaced with trepidation. It grew with each passing second as they both spoke in their native languages, Bengali, a language I didn’t comprehend a word of. I felt out of place when they made references from American shows I’d heard of before but never watched. They both attempted to have me participate, asking me what shows I watched, what songs I listened to. I answered their questions, giving replies if prompted, my voice sounding increasingly tepid with each passing second. I wasn’t supposed to be there.
They both either discerned my discomfort or grew bored with the conversation they were engrossed in and switched into a game of Antakshari. They allowed me to begin with a song and Anjani followed with another, beginning with the sound I ended with. Dhana continued until it came back to me. For the first time, in a long time, I felt like I belonged. We played the game until lunch, during which we shared our food, jokes, and tittle-tattles alike.
That day, I became friends with them both but specifically Anjani. She dubbed me a sadist, inquired about what I did to keep my hair long, and asserted that I owned a cottage cheese factory for how often I bought it for lunch. In the beginning, I felt out of place but with the passing hours, I felt at home. I laughed and laughed for a long time. I laughed until I fell off the chair when she called me violent for a frivolous reason I don’t remember. I laughed until I couldn’t breathe when Dhana and Anjani fought over who would eat the last piece of my cottage cheese, spewing silly insults at each other throughout. All the loneliness I had been experiencing over the last few months and years turned into resilience after that day.
It was what one would call a miracle, to see either one of them without the other; such was their friendship. I’ve known them for the last fourteen years and can count on one hand the instances I’ve seen them apart. All those quotes with fancy fonts atop waterfalls about friendship remind me of them. I wonder sometimes, not to pry, merely wonder, at how two people remain friends for so long. Seeing them banter, recollect stories from Kindergarten and accept me as a part of their day changed me. That day showed me that I didn’t need a Dhana to my Anjani to be happy. That day taught me to appreciate laughter, even if I couldn’t reciprocate it. That day taught me to appreciate the fingers stringing the ukulele, even if I couldn’t hear it.