A Lesson In Friendship

A Lesson In Friendship

A Story by sal
"

It's a story focusing on two friends. Their friendship, their bond. I've written on a deeper level of understanding, and ego conflicts, and it's not just superficial misunderstandings.

"

I had my nose touching the mirror when Anny barged in my room.

 "What happened?" She said loudly, clearly terrified. I saw her reflection in the mirror and noticed her eyes bulging out. I instantly realized my message had been taken a little too seriously. 
I straightened my expression and turned to face her. "This!" I pointed to my left cheek. For a brief moment she thought I had been diagnosed with the pox. "I got a zit!" I averred clearing her doubts and putting myself into trouble. 
"What?!" She paused to understand as I saw anger flush in her eyes. I took a step back fearing a chair coming my way.

 "JESSICA!" She shouted my name as if to deafen me. In an outburst of her irritation she threw her hands forward. "Jessy, I think we need to have a signed contract specifically describing events that require the use of RED ALERT CODE. It’s been 10 years! I should have known." I felt a pang of guilt as I realized she was out of breath. "Oh s**t!" She said suddenly. "I'm going to postpone killing you Jessy. I left Trish in the backyard. When I come back after 5 minutes, you better be prepared to die." She said hurrying to leave. I tried giving her a smile as she threw an angry glance and left. 

I adored the sense of responsibility in her. It showed how much she cared for me. I never knew what made her so mature, as she was hardly a person of words. But I knew she was different than most of the people our age. The RED ALERT CODE was her idea. I still remembered that day when we were kids, and someone in our neighborhood had been kidnapped. We were petrified and scared to death. The next day, she had come home with an idea. She had said, we must make a secret unique way of communicating with each other in case of an emergency. That way we would help each other out and keep ourselves safe. I had named it the RED ALERT CODE.

Being neighbors, her bedroom window which was on the first floor was directly facing mine. She had bought two unique rocks with her and asked me to select one of them. Then she unraveled her plan. 'Whenever there is an emergency, throw this very rock through my bedroom window. If the window is closed, it will break the glass and by the rock, I will know it was you and you're in trouble.' I was delighted and alleviated. My best friends' simple yet genius idea had drowned my fears. I had my safe keeper.

Anny and I were inseparable buddies. We both grew up and studied together. I knew her parents like my own. Most of our time, we would just talk. I would talk and she would listen. I'd fill her in on the latest happenings in the school while she would be eating, drawing or sketching away. Our company mattered the most to both of us. So much that we went on to make elaborate plans to convince our parents to let us chose the same careers. She wanted the same things that I wanted from my life. I couldn't wait to go to college with her. We would make new friends, meet new boys, fall in love may be! We had agreed upon going to Law School. I always thought lawyers had the highest paying jobs. All we wanted was to earn lots of money, go shopping, sight-seeing beautiful places, it seemed perfect. 

She barged in again, exactly after 5 minutes. Although this time, she looked quite happy with herself. "Your face tells me you have found the perfect knife to kill me. Well you might as well. I have to meet Jash in 15 minutes for our date. Thanks to Mr. Zit here, my love story has come to an end before beginning."
"Jessica, shut up". I looked up at her to find her smiling. 
"Well I was searching for a knife and stumbled upon this instead. Looks like God wants me to save you instead of killing you. I think he has messed it up." She understood my confused look and continued. "It’s my mom's concealer. Just dab it over your cheeks and Mr. Zit will disappear like magic" So typically Anny. Always with a plan. I snatched it from her and wasted no time in doing the magic. "Anny you're an angel" She rolled her eyes. "Tell your mom she just saved my love life" Annaha was hardly like her mother. Except for their deep blue eyes, they had nothing in common. Infact her mom had a lot more in common with me, than her own daughter. "Well, she'll be more than happy. Have fun and I want all the details when you're back!" 
"Of-course! Just pray that I don't do anything stupid. Am I looking fine?" I was facing the mirror, just making sure I looked well-dressed when I asked her. I looked at her through the mirror and wondered if Anny ever felt jealous of me. She never showed it. Over the years I had come to terms with the fact that understanding Anny was difficult. She was always careful in displaying her feelings. I would often try and put myself in her place to understand her, but it would all be in vain. She and I were in no-way similar. She rarely went for dates, always kept her hair short and never worried about her heavy weight. 
"You look wonderful! See you tomorrow!" She smiled.
"Hey Anny! I just remembered. We need to fill out our college application forms tomorrow"
"Oh! Yeah sure! G'nite" 
We left together. Somehow I felt that the enthusiasm in her voice didn't reflect in her eyes. Looks like she was jealous after-all.


*******


"So..?" Anny inquired teasingly next morning. 
"A needle pulling thread Annaha."
"Very clever Jessy. I've got a surprise for you. But I give it only after I've got all the details about your date last night."
"Nothing happened Anny!" I blushed reflexively. Well, it was true that I liked Jash, but it was just a crush. I wanted to tell her that we kissed, but her reactions would be exaggerated as compared to my feelings and so I chose to hide that fact altogether.
"That's disappointing." She made a sad face and overdid that a bit. It was ironic how she could display an act of fake disappointment so well while easily managing to hide her real emotions. 
"I thought we were trying something different today. You know, you surprise me, I disappoint you."
"You're going to love it Jessy" She said kindly. 
"Okay Annaha. I'm worried now, what is it?" Looked like she really had a surprise. It was the first time she had managed a surprise for me, without giving me a slightest clue. Most of the times I had easily managed to decipher all her surprises. 
"Sit down" She said in an excited tone. I waited for her to speak.
"Jessica Hannabot, I filled an application for you in the 2014 Miss Keneva Beauty Contest- and you're selected. It starts Monday" She finished in a single breath. 
"Annaha, did you say 2014 Miss Keneva Beauty Contest?" I wanted to make perfectly clear what I thought I heard. 
"That's exactly what I said and you're selected" She said emphasizing the last word. 
It took me a few loud heart beats to comprehend what I had just heard. 
"There are 50 contestants in all. On Monday they will shortlist 10 out of them. Next Sunday is the final competition and the winner gets 75000 bucks!" She continued in the same excited tone, unaware of the loud drums my heart was playing and the sweat forming on my forehead. It came bursting out next moment. 
"Anny, what have you done! I don't want to participate! Why didn't you tell me?!" I realized I was being loud. I took a deep breath to control my nerves. 
"That's exactly why. Jessica, you've been selected! Look. I know you're scared to death and a nervous wreck, but there's one more thing I know- you're beautiful Jessy. Just give yourself this chance. I promise you, you won't regret this. You have nothing to lose!"
There was a brief silence where I evaluated all the options to undo what she had done. Finally, it felt like I was trapped.
"I can't believe you did this" I couldn't help expressing my disappointment. I knew she was excited, but I never saw this coming. 
"Jessica, I have known you since forever. You have the looks and figure that some girls would actually die for. In a few months, we will go to college, and get a job, and get married and make babies! Who knows, you might never get this chance again! I'm sorry if I hurt you Jessy but I really didn't mean to. It would mean a lot to me if you did this. Trust me. I don't know about you, but I surely can't live knowing that there's something out there just for you, and you chose to ignore it. I'm sorry..'

Her words filled with fervor, I noticed a spark in her deep blue eyes. Something that had been missing last night. She wanted me to do this more than anything. But why? Does she want to see me lose? Is she so jealous? I bit my lip as I scrutinized her expression. She wore a pleasing guileless smile with her brows narrowing down in concern. Whatever her reasons may be, she was right. I had to give this a try. I might never get this chance again. I wanted to believe her. She had fomented in me, a desire to become something. A dream to work on and feeling of pride. 
"C'mon girl, we have work to do. I just have 7 days!" For that evening, I was convinced. 


******


"Cheers to one of the top 10 contestants of 2014 Keneva Beauty Contest! My best friend! My beautiful best friend-Jessy!" Anny shouted aloud when we were back home from the shortlisting competition which was due on Monday. We were on cloud nine. I had never expected I could cross that bridge. I had never in my dreams imagined, I would be one of the top 10 beauty contestants of my state. 


"Jessica, if you win this I will be the happiest friend on the face of this earth! I'm so sure you're gonna win. Did you see Diara? God, what was she even thinking!" She said flouting a girl who had been rejected. "And did you see Saina almost trip on the stage" 
"Yeah. That was embarrassing. I feel so bad for her" I wanted to enjoy every second of this. I was a lot more confident today than I was on the day Anny broke this news to me. I wanted to win this anyhow. I wanted to be fully prepared for the finale. No mistakes, no screw-ups. 
"Anny, the finale is just in 5 days now!" I reminded her there was still a long way to go. "I have to be at my best! We need to stop celebrating and start preparing!" I told her nervously. The thoughts of the finale had replaced all feelings of happiness with nervousness and anxiety. 
"Relax Jessy" She spoke understanding my concerns and preparing to leave. "Tension isn't good for you. Let’s call this a day and get some good sleep. I promise you we'll leave no stone un-turned" She smiled while walking to the door. 
"Thanks Anny" I said hugging her to bid good-bye
"I'll see you tomorrow okay? Gnite!"
I waved in response as she left. I saw her plum figure in the dark. I still hadn't figured out exactly why she had decided to enter my name in that competition. Something felt strange about this whole plan. I couldn't exactly tell if it was jealousy. Whatever it was she never let it slip.

********

 

“Hey! Are you ready?” I had called Anny to inform her to leave. We had planned to hit a few shops and complete the shopping for the finale.

“Okay, let’s meet at my door” It’s always convenient to have your best friend live next door.

“Hey! We need to fill out our college applications Anny! Let’s get it done tomorrow. It won’t be difficult to forget it with so much going on. So let’s finish it. We don’t want to miss the deadline” I reminded her as we entered the parking lot of the shopping mall.

“Yup. We surely don’t”

We reached the mall just in-time for it to open.

“Great. Looks like we’re the first ones in today” I was feeling like I was on a school picnic. The preparation for the finale was the most fun part of this competition. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the best of everything.

“Okay. So what do we have first? Shoes or hair?” Anny spoke in a cheerful tone. I knew she was completely in sync with my feelings. We dogged each shop on every floor until we found exactly what we were looking for. It took us four hours to tick off five out of six things of our to-buy list, which Anny and I had prepared together last night. It was harder than I had imagined. Though not as hard as selecting and customizing a dress.

“Anny, I’m hungry. My body needs food before I plunge myself into any more shopping now”

“Jessy, the most important thing is yet to be bought! We need The dress. None of this makes sense without The dress” She said sounding exhausted herself.

“Sit down Anny. You need food more than I do”

“We need to make perfectly sure that the dress matches our design. I hope it does. I need it to be unique otherwise it will be a sure shot loss. I hope they have made it exactly as per our design we sent them yesterday” I told Anny munching on my leafy green salad. Anny nodded in response gulping down a huge bit of double cheese pizza. We finished our lunch and reached the shop.

“What? WHAT did you say?” I heard myself shouting.

“What the hell do you mean you don’t have another piece?” Anny was shouting simultaneously at the store manager.

“I’m sorry madam. It was the only piece sent to us ordered by you. We get the items as they are ordered. They do not send us an extra piece. The defected piece will be returned today and it shall be investigated into. The fresh piece will take a week. There is nothing more I can do”

I hated the calm and gentle tone of the store manager. It aggravated me further.

“Do you know how much I need that dress? Everything else depends on that very dress!”

“You will get your money back tomorrow, Madam”

I took a few steps running towards him but Anny grabbed my hand and pulled me to a stop.

“JESSICA! Calm down. It’s not going to get your dress back. C’mon. We might get another one, a better one! This isn’t the only shop in this mall!”

“Anny! You know that was a customized designer dress! Every other dress in this mall is NOT a customized designer dress! We stayed up the other night for this very thing. I cannot accept anything less than this! I need to be looking unique and best!” I turned to look at her exasperatedly and realized she wasn’t by my side. She had stopped just a few steps behind me. I glared at her wondering if she had heard a single word.

“Jessica..” She said and stopped. Her expressions were weird as if she was suddenly having a deep meaningful insight. And that meant no good. What has she come up with now? 

“What is it?” I asked her without hiding my irritation.

“You know I’m really glad your dress turned out to be defective” She said earnestly.

I looked at her as if she had lost her mind. “Have you gone crazy?”

“I have something a lot more beautiful and precious for you” She said as if she had just witnessed something magical in front of her eyes. Before I could react to that, she pulled me by my wrist and we were driving back to her place.

The next thing that happened totally set me off guard. She pulled out a beautiful rich peacock blue satin dress with an intricate heavenly golden design all over. It was so beautiful I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I touched the soft satin and realized this couldn’t be a new dress. The material was pure and rich, something that was rarely found in dresses these days. I was in love at first sight.

“It’s my mom’s. She had it designed when she was our age. And she made me keep it” Her words bought me back to my current reality.

“It’s out of this world Annaha. Why haven’t you worn it till yet?”

“Well, I haven’t. But you will. For your finale”

“Anny.. I can’t”

“Yes Jessy, you can. Look it’s just perfect! It’s exactly your size, it matches all your accessories, and it’s so unique and beautiful!”

I was overcome with guilt and emotions. I couldn’t deny that it matched perfectly with all my accessories. It was as good as a customized dress but with a better design and comfort. I was still contemplating my decision when Anny spoke “Jessy, you know I’m never going to be fitting into that size. At-least not until I’m reborn as the daughter of the President. It’s hardly me wearing a dress like that”

That did help me in swallowing the lump that was forming in my throat. I thought hard for words that would express how I was feeling but nothing came.  I guess she understood my loss-for-words expression and smiled in return. We spent the rest of the day discussing every minute detail about the finale, watching videos and practicing ramp walking.

“Okay, I’m done for today. You saved my day Anny. What would I be doing without you?”

“I think you would be in jail facing charges against an attempt-to-murder of a store manager at the Star Mall” She said facetiously.

“Anny I’m so glad we’re going to college together. This is so much fun! It’s going to be even more fun, then! Isn’t it?”

“Yeah”

“So, I’ll see you tomorrow at my place? We will fill out our forms”

“Yeah”

I bid her good-bye and crept into my bed as soon as I reached my place. It had been a long day. As tired as I was, I couldn’t get sleep. I thought about that beautiful dress. It made me wonder how Anny felt giving her mom’s dress to me. I wondered if she still felt jealous of me. Something about her that I couldn’t understand was the reason behind her tough outer cover. Why would she hide her real emotions, when she was so kind and wonderful? One can easily hide hatred, but one cannot hide love. I knew she loved me and considered me as her best friend. But that doesn’t mean she can’t be jealous. I noticed a strange plummet in her excitement as I was leaving. I gave up and let my sleep take me over. 

*******

I looked at the watch in my laptop screen and wondered why Annaha hadn’t showed up yet. I recalled our talk on the phone this morning. She had clearly said she would be here after lunch. She suddenly had to visit her aunt in the morning. Though I never saw her leave her place. I hoped that everything was fine.

After a while I got up to give her call and find out what was keeping her. We had to fill our application forms and nothing could be more important. I had set aside all the finale preparations of today.

“Hey..” She finally appeared on my door.

“Hey! Where have you been! I was just about to call you. Is everything alright?”

“Yes, everything’s fine..” She said somberly. I couldn’t understand what was going on. It felt like she was going to say something but then decided against it. Her face was calm but her eyes voiced fear.

“O.K Good. Look I already got the forms printed out. Have you bought all your mark-sheets along?” I asked looking at her empty hands.

“Jessica..” She said and stopped as if choosing the correct words in her mind.

Before I could ask her what was bothering her she spoke, against her will.

“I don’t want to go to a Law School” She said softly.

I still couldn’t understand.

“Jessy, I don’t want to become a Lawyer. I want to pursue Arts and continue with painting”

“But, we had decided about going to Law school! You agreed! What made you change your mind?”

“Jessy, I never really wanted to go to Law School. And some weeks ago I gave it a serious thought and realized that I want to pursue Arts!”

When her words finally made sense in my head,I looked at her with utmost betrayal. She understood and continued with her well prepared explanations. “Jessy! Please! Calm down! Try and understand! I do not want to break our friendship!”

“How could you do this Annaha?! How could you! You knew we were planning this since such a long time! So many dreams! All our plans to go sight-seeing! All the schemes and promises of making new friends! Going to classes together! None of this matters to you?”

“No Jessy! It does.. I’m sorry!”

“How convenient! How easily did you just decide to give this a serious thought without consulting me when you know we both were in this together! You have betrayed me Annaha! You stabbed me in my back!”

I couldn’t control my thoughts and words any longer. I spat every sentence at her with foul words of betrayal and hatred.

“Now I get this. Now EVERYTHING makes sense to me. I can’t believe I never saw this coming! I was so BLIND! So stupid! This is exactly why you put my name in that Beauty Contest! This is why you kept helping me around. All through my life! You did it so that you can show me how much I need you and today you can come here and leave me. You did this because you’re jealous of me! You did this because you can’t digest the fact that somebody looks better than you. And when I was making smarter choices, you come here and throw this at me to show me what I can’t do without you!” I snarled with no intentions of stopping.

Her face was pale as though somebody had splashed ice-cold water all over her. Words had forsaken her, but I had plenty left to spill.

“If you think I’m going to beg you to stay and be with me then you’re wrong! You’re wrong! I am not a foolish blonde! I have seen your expressions when I went out for dates. I have seen how your face changed colors when I got short listed for the beauty contest. I can’t believe a person, a so-called Best Friend could stoop so low to prove their greatness”

“Jessy.. Please! Stop!” She started sobbing. I had never seen her cry before. My heart felt heavy as I saw tears falling down her eyes. I had never imagined myself to be the reason to make her cry. But today, I did not care. Her betrayal was beyond my level of tolerance. She had shattered my dreams, my expectations and all my confidence.

“I’m not jealous Jessy! Why else would I give you my mother’s dress!”

“Because you can’t stand that your mother thinks I’m better than you! You’re jealous because as much as you try you cannot be like me. So why not attempt to pull me down all together? So first you behave like a saint and pull me up when I fall, and then one sharp blow and throw me down the ladder. Well done Annaha. Seriously. Well done”

“That’s outrageous Jessica! How can you allege me of such awful things?” She forced the voice out of her as tears continued streaming down her cheeks. She seemed to finally collect herself together. She looked at me through her tear filled eyes, as I was breathing myself through some sense.

“Jessy, please. Give me a chance!”

“I think it’s best that we should find our own separate paths. I never had a best friend I thought I had. She was a disguise, a pretentious selfish girl!” I threw the thorn in her direction.

“Enough Jessica” She straightened herself and wiped the tears off her cheeks. She was heart-broken. But so was I. She looked at me one last time with a strong sense of defiance and righteousness in her eyes and left without another word.

 

***********

 

 

Thursday passed in an easy blur. I spent most of the day lying down on my bed and remembering every detail of the last few days. Everything felt dull and uninteresting.  The more I thought about our talks, the more her betrayal kept making my heart ache. I was so excited.. I had everything planned. The most important thing that had kept me going through the beauty contest was the fact that we were together. And we were always going to be together. But here I was today, without my best friend and a shattered dream of becoming a Lawyer. The finale was in two days and I longed to quit. But college was a different question all together. I couldn’t even think of attending college without Anny. She had been by my side all through school and otherwise. The thought of being alone scared me. For the first time, I felt what it was like, to be alone. I got goose-bumps as I imagined the first day of a new college, a new place and lots of new people- without Anny.

The night brought with itself a completely different set of emotions. One’s I never knew existed within me. I wanted to hurt her and make her realize the pain she had put me through. The first thought that came to my mind was to return her mother’s dress. I decided to go to her place and throw that dress at her feet to let her know I didn’t need her helps and pity any more. I spent the night contemplating various smart and insensitive things to tell her, when I would go to return that dress. I wanted to tell her exactly what she deserved. That she would pay for this and never be happy again.

I got up and picked up the dress from the cupboard where it was safely folded and kept. I reached her front door and was about to the ring the doorbell when I realized that the door was ajar. What’s going on? I opened the door quietly and peeped inside the living room. It was deserted. I walked in and was about to knock on the kitchen door when I heard a shrill laughter from the first floor of the house. It was Annaha- she was home! I was hurt. I had spent the day sulking over our fight while here she was enjoying her time and laughing over god-knows-what. I had to confront her and shout everything I had in my mind. How could she be so happy after fighting with me and ruining everything? I climbed the steps as I heard another loud laughter. “I don’t think she will win that competition! My money’s on Diara!”

I reached the top of the stairs and noticed she was inside her bedroom but the door was half open. “You think she can carry that beautiful dress? I bet a 1000 bucks she will trip before she takes the first step!” Her shrill voice was coated with a smirk. “She’s never going to get past it! Don’t worry! Handicaps stand no chance in a beauty contest. She will face the failure and realize where she belongs!” She paused and then spoke again, this time with a slight hint of revenge in her voice “She thinks of herself to be the queen of this world! She’s nothing more than a bimbo with a half-wooden arm. Beauty with no brains! And she wants to go to Law School!”

Annaha! I wanted to shout at her but it felt like I had no voice left within me. I was paralyzed by her mean-ness and couldn’t even blink my eyes. I was crouching outside her bedroom door and suddenly heard heavy footsteps from within the room. My heart was beating itself out of my ribs and my hands were shivering. I had never imagined a side like this of the girl I knew to be my best friend. Before I could act, the footsteps stopped and I heard her smirk again. “She has kept her curtains closed all day, so I can’t see what she’s up-to, but I guess she must be on her bed weeping her lungs out” My breathing had become heavy and I decided to get out of her house at that instant. I had had enough.

“Oh Jash, you’re so sweet!” I stopped dead in my tracks. Jash? I was so involved in hearing everything she had to say, it didn’t occur to me she was on phone, with somebody who also knew me! I couldn’t believe what was happening. “Aw. Stop it! You’re making me blush!” As I heard those words, my hands dropped the dress I was holding in my hands. I hurried to jump over it and walk out silently �" but it was too late. Annaha heard the drop and pulled the half-open door and stared right into my face, which was dripping in sweat.

 She looked different. She wasn’t the cute plump girl I knew so well. I looked into her eyes and buckled up to let go everything I was holding within- SLAM!! She lifted a large wooden plank which suddenly appeared from no-where and slashed it across my left hand, hitting perfectly at the right spot.  I hit flat on the ground as agonizing pain took over me.

 

*******

 

“No! Stop! Annaha I’m sorry!” I opened my eyes to the white ceiling as I realized I was still on the floor. I anxiously awaited to find Annaha’s different yet daunting face looking down at me, but instead, found the place to be unlike Anny’s. It was a lot more familiar. I straightened up to realize I was in my own bedroom, lying oddly right next to my bed. My blanket laid convoluted around my legs, half of it, still covering the bed. My left hand was hurting. What happened? Where’s Annaha? I looked outside the window to the breath-taking view of the early morning sunrise.  The sky was in various shades of red and blue. I took a moment and breathed. The beautiful scene outside as if pulling me towards it, I walked to the window and let my hair fall loose. Anny’s mother’s dress was comfortably folded upon a chair near my bed.

I let the cool breeze wash my face and calm my nerves, as I realized my face was still covered in sweat. “Such a horrible dream” I glanced at Annaha’s bedroom window, but she had curtains blocking the view of her room. She must sleeping. It didn’t matter to me anymore. It was over. The worst was over. I stood at the window feeling the breeze on my face long enough to realize what I had to do.

I walked back inside, to the mirror and saw my own reflection. Dark black hair, slightly wet near the forehead were flowing freely up-to my waist and heavily lidded eyes were still sleepy. The golden rays of the inchoate sun bounced off the dusky skin on my cheeks and the rest of my uncovered body. It felt as though I was being charged. I felt light and warm. A smile slipped involuntarily through my lips and my fingers reached the tiny hole of dimple that was forming on my right cheek.

‘A lot of girls would actually die to have your looks and figure’- Anny’s words reached my ears.

I put the beautiful dress on and decided to conduct my own trial.

“I’m going to do this-with or without Annaha”.

 I found more determination with each passing second. I had lost my dream of applying to Law school or becoming a Lawyer after Anny had decided to turn her back against me. It felt like the last thing I wanted to do anymore. But I had adopted a new dream at the same time-without realizing it. I had adopted a dream, which was still waiting to manifest. The beauty contest. It wasn’t by choice, but it was a challenge which I had decided to accept. I didn’t care about winning or losing. All I cared about was completing it… without her. I wanted to show her what I could do.

I noticed the zit on my cheek had completely disappeared, like it was never there. I counted 2 days left to the finale, including today. I spent each waking second, preparing for everything the finale could bring on-to me. I missed Annaha and her inputs, her words of strength and her support. To avoid thinking about our fight I started focusing upon the things that I wanted �" to be my best. It helped my nerves and kept me from losing my direction. To flush the anger out of me, I decided to navigate my emotions into exercising. I exercised for two full days, and meditated my-self to calmness.

Friday and Saturday saw my preparations in full swing. Annaha had made no efforts to contact me, and neither had I. I kept my curtains closed most of the day and avoided looking out of the window at the night. I couldn’t bear to look at her face again. Not right now.

Sunday morning came with an unexpected strangeness, with the way things had recently turned out to be. I woke up before the sun-rise and quieted myself into a positive mental state. The competition was to start at 9.am and I had my preparations in place. The only thing left to be done now was to calm the nerves. Annaha’s absence meant I would have to work harder.

It was hard to push those thoughts out of mind and concentrate on the day’s challenge. She was supposed to be here. But she betrayed me. I will be just fine. It’s okay if I don’t win. I took a few deep breaths and started to pack my things as the sun appeared in the sky with a royal wave of magnificent colors. The sky looked as pretty and clear as ever. It was somehow soothing to look up in the sky early morning.

I reached the place where the finale was going to be staged and as I entered, various smells of strong expensive perfumes hit me. I walked as confidently as I could, ignoring all thoughts of being alone and the fact that my companion had abandoned me. The stage, the audience and the judges’ tables were being assembled. The dressing room, brighter than the morning sun, was full with the participants and the make-up artists which had been allotted to each participant by the sponsors. The air so thick with nervousness and arrogance that the soft piano being played in the background could hardly reach the ears. Each one wanted to be the most beautiful amongst all-including my-self.

“Jessica Hanabott?” Said a lean blond lady with a tone of professionalism.

“That’s me” I said reaching the space allotted to me and my make-up artist.

“I’m Frieda �" and I will be taking your make-up and hair styling” She said extending her hand. I shook it and took my seat as she wasted no time in discussing the make-up styles. She seemed thorough and professional with at-least 2 years of experience. It added a little comfort to know that my make-up was going to be done by her. I breathed with relief as she made no attempt at small talk and started with the initial process of cleaning and toning.

I made it a point to not glance at the other participants who were constantly nagging their own respective make-up artists, which seemed to be quite in contrast with us. I took no interest in either inquiring about the hair spray or the mascara brush, in-fact I hardly glanced at my own reflection in the mirror. After 2 silent hours of concentrated effort on my skin and hair, I was told to ‘have a look’.

I gasped as I saw the person staring back in the mirror-reflection. Frieda had carefully blow-dried my hair into vicious locks of dark black curls which were way smoother and shinier than my original hair-type. They flowed down easily from the scalp to my waist. My eye-lids were a deep shade of darkest blue which gave the impression of ocean water at night with a dark clear sky. The liner on my bottom eye-lid was a bright shade of heavenly golden, which was the color of the design work on my dress. I had never in my life worn a color of that shade, but was impressed by her perfectionist strokes. My cheeks wore a pink shade of blush which was neither too loud nor too soft. It looked natural yet enhanced enough to be noticed and mingled perfectly with my dusky colored skin.  

“You look surprised” I noticed Frieda analyzing my reactions.

“Thanks Frieda” I quickly corrected my expressions and gave her a warm smile.

“Thank-you, for co-operating” She smiled back, eyeing the participant who was now shouting at the top of her voice at her make-up artist for missing a strand of curl from her now poker straight hair.

I decided to familiarize my-self with the environment and stepped out of the room. The view in front of my eyes was dramatically & drastically different than I expected. The messy room I had first seen had been turned around into a grand hall with the stage all-set, chairs neatly covered in white with blue ribbons and the judges’ table directly at the end of the stage with bottles of water, mikes and writing pads.

The atmosphere was chilled and parents with young girls had started filling in to occupy the front seats near the stage. My throat turned dry to the thought that I would find no familiar face cheering me when I would walk the ramp and face the audience. It was a hard fact, but I was almost near the finish line, I reminded myself. When a few faces started turning in my direction, I walked back to the crowded and now heated dressing room.

I silently took my seat considering as I was the first one to be ready, and blocked all the commotion that was happening around me. I shut my eyes tightly and drew a picture in my mind of me on stage looking confident, and receiving a huge loud applause. That picture made my stomach summersault. I kept it and held on to it as long as I could. In that moment a strong desire overtook my heart and a wave of confidence swept through me. I don’t know if it was magic, but somehow, I had invented the courage to face this, and now I desperately wanted that picture in front of my eyes to turn into a reality. In that rare moment in my imagination, where I was facing the audience who were applauding me I felt love and passion for who I was, and what I could be.

“Jessica? It’s time” Frieda touched my shoulders and shook me back to reality.

I breathed the nervous-ness out of me and walked out on the stage with the rest of the participants. We were made to stand in a perfect arc where each one of us was visible to the audience as well as each other. I had no choice but to face my competitors now. As I took the liberty and looked at each one of them I swallowed hard after realizing they were all fair skinned. My heart beat started racing with that knowledge and I wanted to run away. No! I scolded my-self and took to staring at an empty seat in the audience.

The 3 Judges got up and explained the rules of the competition. At first, each participant would walk the ramp and cover the stage for 40 seconds each. Once all the participants have taken their chances, the judges would call each participant individually up to the front of the stage and ask them questions, and the participant would have to answer to the best of their knowledge. The words filled me with anxiety, but I reminded myself that I was prepared to face this.

One by one each of the contestants walked gracefully on the stage and performed their respective acts. Each of them bringing out the elegance in them. My turn came soon enough and I covered my fearful expression with confidence and determination. As I started walking the ramp, one by one, all thoughts of fear, nervous-ness and anxiety seemed to drop with every step to the front of the stage, replaced with a strange new feeling that I had never felt before. It gripped my heart, and I was pretty sure it reflected on my face too.  The stage was as scary as it felt, the spot-light was as bright as it was, and the dress as beautiful and ravishing as it looked, though none of it compared to the feeling that was filling my heart. It was the longest walk of my life. Each second was longer than a day. I walked, feeling all eyes in the audience upon me, scrutinizing every inch of my body… including my hands. Yet somehow, in that moment, I did not care. The feeling of being noticed. The feeling of being the best that I possibly can and opening myself up to my worst fears. The feeling of flaunting my strengths and no more having to hide my weakness. Today, I wanted them to see me the way I was.

I took the stage for my given time, every second of it, fully confident and over-come with love and passion. I noticed a few people in the audience and the judges watching me intently. Before I could take a better look around, I had to return back to my spot and wait for the question-answer round to begin.

The judges held a brief discussion amongst themselves, taking down a few notes on their writing pads, once all the participants had covered the ramp to walk. All of us stood in silence, forming an arc, watching them, internally wishing to hear what they had to discuss.

One of the judges stood up and spoke for a few seconds, about the first round being over and they were beginning with the question-answer round, which would give them the final winner. A few contestants shifted nervously on their spots.

“Jessica Hanabot” Said the tallest of the judges. My turn was 7th and this time, I was prepared. I walked confidently to the front stage, all set to answer the questions which would once upon a time make me uncomfortable and shy.

“How old are you Jessica?” Said the lady who was sitting between the two other judges, the tallest of them to her right.

“I’m eighteen” I stated.

“How long have you been a resident of Keneva?” Said the third one, with a tiny beard on his chin.

“I was born and brought-up here”

“Who else is in your family?” The tall judge inquired

“I live with my grand-mother who has been raising me since the age of five”

“And what about your parents?” The lady asked kindly

I took a deep breath. I knew that question was coming, and no-matter how well prepared I thought I was, at that moment, it felt like I had lost my voice..

“When I was five years old, my neighbor, Annaha, who was my friend, her parents, my parents and myself, we went on a field-trip in my car. While returning, our car met with an accident and my parents lost their lives. And I lost my lower right arm…” I finally said and fell silent, my head automatically bowed down. I instantly felt the eyes of every living person in that room upon the lower part of my right arm. I stood there, waiting for them to see and accept it.

“We are truly sorry for your loss dear child” Said the lady after a moment of silence.

“I’m sure they must be so proud of you right now” She continued. I finally mustered the courage to look up again. I felt my heart sink deep into my stomach. I did not know how to react. I had no memory of the accident or my parents, what-so-ever. I had to be strong…I reminded myself and straightened up as they realized I was ready to face the next question.

“What’s your goal or your dream in life Jessica? What makes you happy?” The tall judge questioned slightly tilting his head.

“Until a few days ago, I wanted to be a Lawyer. And honestly, I never knew what happiness meant. After I lost my parents, and half of my arm, I never considered my-self truly capable of achieving anything that I really wanted. So in order to fulfill my emotions, I chased material things, attention, love and enjoyment. I kept chasing them, never looking back, never realizing what I was leaving behind, missing out on. As we all know, God has his own ways of teaching lessons to his favorite children. He taught me a lesson too. Which brings me here today. My dream is to achieve my full potential, and help others realize their true potential. Beauty is not about the color of your hair, the smoothness of your skin or the richness of your dress. Beauty is about loving yourself. And today I love who I am. And I cannot live the rest of my life anymore, knowing that there is something out there, just for me, and I chose to ignore it”

I blurted the last sentence without realizing it. The judges nodded in appreciation and the crowd cheered and clapped as I bowed down to a final greet and walked back to my spot.

I reached home that night, took my RED ALERT CODE rock and wrapped a paper around it carefully. I threw it across, out of my window as it landed straight on Anny’s bed. Before she could turn around to find me, I darted to the door of my bedroom and ran down to the hall and out of the house. I waited patiently outside Anny’s front door. Within a minute her door opened and I was facing the plump cute girl I always knew to be my best friend. I internally felt a sigh of relief as I remembered how she looked in my bad dream. She clutched my letter in her hand and looked at me with teary eyes.

I had told her how sorry I was. I had meant it more than anything I had ever said. I had failed to recognize the reason behind her putting my name in that competition. I had failed her trust and her love for me. I couldn’t see that she wanted me to do this because she truly believed that I was meant for it. She believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. And instead of thanking her, I had rewarded her with tantrums and rude insensitive words of hatred. I told her, I had been so scared to face my dreams that I was running away from them and I was tugging Anny along with me. And it’s because of her stand to believe in herself that made me believe in myself. That’s the kind of person Anny was. And I was foolish enough to miss-understand her silence and her love.

She threw her arms around me and we hugged for the longest time. In that moment, I felt what true happiness was.

“Oh Jessica!” She sobbed quietly. “I thought I had lost you”

“Well, if anything, you made me win” I told her.

She looked up suddenly, surprised and quiet. “You won?”

“Well, I didn’t win the money, I came second. But the judges were quite impressed and amongst the audience, was the principal of Wellinstar Academy. He met me after the show and offered me a full scholarship to take up modelling as a career”

“Oh-my-god Jessy! That’s so cool!” She shrieked smiling so wide that the tears dripping from her eyes slipped into her mouth.

“Yeah. I know but there’s more” I pulled her soft cheeks.

“What?” She said, her eyes wide and smile wider.

“The top three contestants get to feature in an add of a beauty-product of the company which was sponsoring this contest”

“Wow! So my best friend is a celebrity!”

“Annaha…” I started in a completely serious manner, after she fell silent.

“What?” She said noticing the sudden serious-ness in my voice. Her expressions instantly became fearful.

“There’s something I need to tell you” I continued in the same serious tone.

“What happened Jessy?” Her expressions changed from fear to worry and then finally to anxiety. She must have already imagined at-least a hundred awful things I was about to say.

“Umm..” I waited for some time, giving her the liberty to assume the worst of her hundred imaginations.

“Jessy, speak-up!” She said impatiently.

“Well… I don’t know how to tell you” I said quietly, making sure to avoid her eyes.

“Oh-god! Just spit it out!” she said now alarmed and terrified with anxiety for what I was about to unfold. Just the kind of reaction I was looking for. I couldn’t deny that I was enjoying every bit of this.  

“I kissed Jash on our date that night”

We spent the rest of the night discussing every bit of that competition.

*******

 

It’s been almost ten years since that beautiful day, I realized, as my hands tightly gripped around an old rock, whose surface was so smooth, the touch so familiar, it was almost like holding on to a comforting hand. The bright spot-light that was shining over me and the maddening sound of the crowd applauding in the huge auditorium had nothing to do with the sinking feeling at the pit of my stomach and the strange rhythm to which my heart was beating.

I adjusted the mike with my right arm, the wooden fingers doing the job, while my left hand held a bright golden object that made a figure of a man on a black stand, eyes scanned the view that was in front of my eyes. For that very brief moment, I was in a bright shining dressing room, ten years ago, sitting on a chair with my eyes tightly shut, and holding on to a particular imaginary scene in my mind.

My stomach gave me a tight lurch as I blinked and my eyes scanned the first row, the only row, where faces of the people sitting, were in my visibility range. I found a young fair man, with blond hair, smiling at me with loving eyes, and next to him were two young plump looking identical girls, with deep blue eyes. As they noticed me looking at them and they jumped with excitement “We love you aunt Jessy” I deciphered their lips, as their scream couldn’t reach my ears amongst the loud noise. Some held posters and banners with pictures and sentences that weren’t legible.  I put the shining object up on the dais and bought my hands down to my side, slightly rubbing the back of my hips and feeling the soft rich satin of a peacock-blue dress with an intricate heavenly design.  A beautiful woman dressed in white, who a few moments ago had handed me that shining object was trying to lock my eyes, I guessed she wanted me to speak.

With tremendous effort, I locked my gaze with the man I loved, Jash, for once and gripped the RED ALERT CODE rock tighter, then closed my eyes and turned my neck to face the sky- “I know you’re watching me Anny- This one’s for you”

 

 

THE END.

© 2014 sal


Author's Note

sal
It's a bit long, but I promise you, when you reach the end, you will know why I wrote this.

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Added on April 17, 2014
Last Updated on April 17, 2014
Tags: #friendship, #2bestfriends #Friendsforever

Author

sal
sal

Mumbai, India



About
I love being expressive. I value honesty, true friendship and my family. I work hard. I read. I like to socialize although I lack the skills- so I socialize at my convenience. I get bored with the rou.. more..




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