“Choose Carefully!” “But, So Many Fish In The Sea.”

Back when I was in school, I had a friend, who by all means was only similar to me in one way. We shared the same birthday. For anonymity’s sake, let’s call her C. C and I knew each other since kindergarten and we never really could live with or without each other. We knew everything there was to know about a person right from the beginning when we started being social little creatures.

C’s mom and my mom never saw eye-to-eye. What I’ve been told is that it started right from Nursery school apparently. Her mom forcibly made me get down from the swing so that C could swing a bit. My mom witnessed this and in her fierce mother’s heart felt like her daughter was wronged. Since then, the seed of hatred was planted.

Anyway, our mothers are not part of this story.

It must be noted that C and I were never best friends. We were only bound by the certain knowledge that we were born on the same day of the very same year and were always impressed by that little trick of nature at producing two starkly opposite people on one day. While C was on the darker side and really thin and bony, I had a fair and slightly wheatish complexion and in comparison I wasn’t so puny. For everyone else, we both appeared anorexic. We knew where the difference lay.

C was one of the most annoying people I actually loved being around. Her inappropriate behaviour at all times was the most fascinating thing I had ever seen. We also had the strange luck of being together in most classes for all ten years of schooling. While teachers chose me to recite poetry and answer intellectual questions and host Annual Day programmes, C would be chosen to be the Log Book Monitor or the Cupboard Key Caretaker. It was hilarious how contrasting we were; when birthday morning came around and we both arrived pompously in colourful frocks and shiny shoes while everyone was dressed smartly in beige uniforms, the reactions were epic. I use the word epic in the best way possible.

When we reached a certain age, C and I both started developing other interests. Particularly, in boys and pop culture and things that would make us fit in. While C brew a whole circle of friends outside school, I didn’t have much to work with because I mostly thought if I wasn’t reading huge books till I fell asleep I was wasting my life. I was precocious. C was precarious.

When we both started seeing boys and trying to get them to like us, I realized that C was better at it than me. I saw that it took her no time to talk to someone and make them ask her out. I stuck to being polite and hoping someone would tell the boy I was interested in about my existence. Soon enough, C was changing boyfriends by the week. I watched from the sidelines and wondered what it was she was gaining by any of this. We used to walk home together and at least five boys would walk up to her on the road everyday and say hi. When social media came into our lives, all these guys recognized me as “the girl who walks home with C” and they decided to befriend me. It wasn’t amusing but at least I was getting attention.

C and I also ended up being cast as Romeo and Juliet for the English dramatics. I got the part of Juliet and C was my short and puny Romeo. I remember C wore her boyfriend’s pants and wouldn’t stop gushing about it. I remember that it drove me absolutely insane when she wouldn’t shut up about that. I remember how even though she annoyed me, I always laughed it off and stuck around unlike the impatient, quick-to-get-rid-of-dimwits person I’ve become now. She was never behaving like someone she was not. She never did it for attention. She was so naturally queer and she couldn’t care less what anyone else thought of her.

When we reached our last school year, C was a total wreck. I, on the other hand, had faced some humiliations and learnt my lesson. C went on dating every guy she met. I had wrapped up my affections and put them away because they seemed to be spilling out on all the worthless ones. We were seniors at school now and I had gained added responsibilities. C was perpetually heartbroken and soothing it in very stupid ways, thereby creating room for more regret.

Our heritage school had many inspirational, vintage posters strategically stuck on the staircases so that they hit you right in the face when you were passing by. There was no avoiding them. When we reached the tenth grade and were allotted the topmost floor, we were being subjected to several of those posters several times a day.

One of them, right opposite our floor staircase went like this:

 Life is full of CHOICES.

Choose

CAREFULLY!!!

When you came down the next flight of steps, another one read:

Don’t worry.

There are many other fish in the sea!

Whether these were put up to mock each other or it was just a sheer coincidence, I’ll never know. But every time I climbed the stairs with C I would read the first one out to her loudly and she’d laugh and wait till we reached the next floor then read out that one in her response.

It’s been years and I haven’t met C but I see her life occasionally on social media. She seems to have figured things out. She has grown her hair just like me. Looking back, I’ll never know a friend the way I just knew her. Knew who she was beneath everything. Whether I approved of her ways or not, C was a friend to me for more than a decade and it still means more than what I feel for my present friends. Somehow, friendships like that don’t happen with me anymore. I wish that I could reach out to C now without any implications of what she might think of me for coming out of nowhere. I don’t even think it would make any sense if I did but if we lived in simpler times, I would go ahead and tell her a thank you because I realized that she was one of the best friends I never knew I had.

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