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The wide school halls, covered from bottom to top in psychedelic drawings and posters, echoed with the laughter of carefree kids who poured out of their classes at the dismissal bell. Enthusiastic voices called over greetings and eager plans for the evenings were finalized. The door of the girls’ bathroom opened and Sheetal walked down the hall to her locker, her head bowed. She had planned to hide in one of the stalls until the crowd thinned, but the girls had hogged the bathroom and the mirrors, readying for the Friday afternoon meetup. Sheetal didn’t require any mirror to know how she looked. Afterall, she hadn’t been entirely successful in holding back her tears. Someone called, “Hey Sheetal! Coming to hang out with us?” She didn’t bother replying.

The last period had been Physics and the teacher had been brutal once again. Sheetal loved History and Literature. The architecture, the dresses, the food, the social mores of the times gone by held her fascinated. Whereas in literature, the stories and plays could make her thrill with anticipation, fill with joy, or cry with grief. It had never been her intention to choose the Science stream. She had only done it to please her parents, a doomed venture from the start.

 

Sheetal’s father had wanted a son. Consequently her existence was a constant disappointment to him, and it manifested as a studied neglect of his only daughter. Their interaction was limited to mumbled greetings from her side in the morning and a noncommittal grunt from him, mostly from behind the veil of the newspaper. 

 

The blame for birthing a daughter had embittered her mother, who found Sheetal an easy target for all her anger. There were times Sheetal wished she could die. She had sometimes tried too, but found she lacked courage. Her parents were right. She was useless. 

 

She had picked up the Science stream but she hated Physics and Chemistry. The balancing of equations made her lose her mental balance. The periodic table turned the table on her confidence. The laws of Physics seemed to exist only for confusing her. In spite of all her hard work, she was scolded and insulted. She was human, not a robot. And like all human beings, she craved love, a connection with someone. However, the teachers cared only about the laws, not about those impacted by them.

 

“You don’t have an iota of brain inside that thick skull,” she’d sneered. Sheetal didn’t know about a thick skull, but a thick skin was required badly. One which wouldn’t let the words pierce straight to her heart. The teacher’s words were too much like a repeat of her parent’s daily dose and had brought on the tears she was careful never to shed at home. The sniggers from her classmates, none of whom she could call a friend, were seared on her mind.

 

She was tired of the failures, the insults, and the hate. Why couldn’t someone care for her for once? Love her instead of treating her as a pariah? As she trudged to her locker, she fingered the blade she had pilfered from her father’s cabinet that morning. Maybe it was time to become a memory. At least, people would recall her with fondness.

 

Sheetal laid her head against the cool locker door for a moment. The blade was like a siren song between her fingers. It would be so easy. She just needed to wait till she was alone.

 

With a shake of her head, she banished the dark thoughts and opened her locker. Something fell at her feet. Sheetal looked down and saw an envelope lying there. She bent and picked it up. Her name was written on the top of the ivory coloured smooth paper in neat writing. 

 

Must be some kind of a joke.

 

She opened the flap and extracted the single sheet of paper. It was thick and white, with a faint whiff of perfume that tickled her nostrils with their familiarity. The same neat writing adorned the sheet.

****

Dear Sheetal,

 

Forgive me for giving this letter to you like a thief, unknown and unrecognized. But there is much that I want to say, and I am not sure how you would react. So it is better to keep my identity a secret. 

 

I say I have much to tell you, but in truth there isn’t much to be put on paper. Words fall short for how you make me feel. So I will keep this brief. 

 

I am glad to wake up each day, because it is one more day that I will get to gaze upon your lovely face. Just like your name, your presence is like a cooling shade in my life. Your smile lights up not only your face, but my world too. I wish you would smile more often. I wish I could be the reason behind your smile. Let me, please.

 

Please don’t get angry at me. I have no hope of my feelings being reciprocated, but if you can think of it, please be at the foodcourt in a red dress. There you’ll know who I am. 

 

I love you, Sheetal. 

I only ask that you remember you are loved.

****

Sheetal read the unsigned letter twice more, with trembling fingers. The blade had fallen on the floor without any sound. A strange sense of elation slowly seeped through her body, and she found she felt light as a feather, ready to float away. A love letter! She was loved by someone. She mattered. 

 

She knew she had to find out who her knight was. The person who had saved her from herself! 

 

The last of her classmates were ambling through the door. She put her bag inside the locker and ran behind them. 

 

“Hey! Can I join you people today?”

 

As they looked at her in wonder, she exited the school with a spring in her steps. She had to go find that red dress.

 

***

 

Pic credit: Ron Lach from Pexels.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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