He came closer. Our breaths almost intermingling. I was desperate for the next step. He hugged me in an embrace.All of a sudden, a queer feeling took over me. I jostled and pushed him aside.

‘Rohan! Don’t!’

‘Did I do anything wrong? Are you hurt, Vedika?’

‘I am sorry, Rohan. Please leave me alone for sometime.’

I loved him. He knew it. He was silent and went away. I stared at his receding figure. I knew he would understand. Would he….

The heat of the blissful passion had suddenly turned into sweats of disgust. And I was on my knees, shivering violently.

As I sat restoring my being on the park’s bench, two girls came by. One prettily dressed and the other in uniform. The school buildings were the same steely gray all around.

The shrill cackle and laughter of the two echoed in the silent pits inside me.

She carried a tray filled with sweets. It was her 13th birthday and they were out distributing goodies.

‘Neelima ma’am gave me two chocolates, Swasti. I should not have put that lizard on her table.’

‘You got paid well for that already. See Anil bhaiya, Vedika. You should treat him as well. He loves you so much. Keeps pulling your cheeks.’

She made a face at her friend.

‘Yeah! I have to. Look at the two rose buds, ma’am gave me. What a pretty sight and how tender!’

Vedika smiled innocently. Two of her teeths were still half grown.

‘Bhaiya, wish me happy birthday.’

The man with his half crooked smile eyed the sweets hungrily and looked pleased with the girls.

‘Happy Birthday, Bitiya.’

He held out one of his hands for the sweets but grabbed her bosom instead.

‘What are these buttons for?’ he said as he squeezed one and shifted his focus to the other.

The partner as well as the victim stood stunned. Realizing something was amiss but what? they couldn’t amass. This was not good. But why did he do it?

I stood there; as the devil so easily kept on manipulating two buds as their petals oozed the reds and got crushed.

‘Run, my angels, Run.’

I tried shouting soundlessly. My feet had lost their feel. He went away not before he had stuffed their mouths with sweets choking them to silence. I could still hear that piercing laughter. I needed to help the girls. To tell them all was fine. I could not let another childhood losing its sheen into ombre hues.

I ran. It was a relief that I could. I reached the spot trying to find myself among the steely gray walls in the green shadows of the neighbourhood park.

‘ Will the ghosts let me live ever? Let me love ever?’

I heard footsteps and saw two buds lying nearby almost crushed.’

No, you will bloom my friends. However, torn your petals may be. You will heal. You may not be whole but you will be.’

‘ I love you.’

Rohan broke my reverie as he hugged me once again and I hugged back.

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