The War of Wants
by Priyaa Trippayar Sahasranaman
As Meera rushed into school with a thick text book in one hand and a tiny bag across her shoulder, Dominique screamed out, “ Oye lungi-leela, don’t you want me to wish you good luck for your exam? I’m your senior!”
The boys around him giggled and passed weird comments as the poor girl who hung her head down and rushed passed them without uttering a word.
She could hear them talk amongst themselves,” What is lungi-leela yaar?”, and someone’s reply, "Her skirt is so long, like a lungi," and then some loud laughs. She frowned for a few seconds, then took a deep breath and walked towards the exam hall.
A few minutes later, Meera’s eyes were glued to the papers on her desk and her pen was moving as fast as it could over the white sheet of paper. Within the next hour she had lifted her head a couple of times to ask for an extra sheet , while most of her classmates kept looking at each other and tried to peep into their neighbors’ paper. As the invigilator strutted past her desk, she felt someone nudging her on her left.
"Hey nerd, give me your paper”, said Madhuri signaling various gestures with her eyes and hands. Meera raised her eyebrows and then turned her face away. For a few seconds her pen hardly touched the paper as she weighed the pros and cons of her next action. She then dropped a sheet of her near Madhuri’s shoes with her head facing down.
Madhuri had never spoken to Meera in the past. It had been one year since she had joined senior high school yet she had made no friends though she had gone that extra mile by sharing her notes with them. They would hang out with her for a day and the next day things would just go back to square one. She could not help it. They were just not of her type. Plus, they had not much in common to discuss. Her classmates would go for movies and parties together and nobody had ever bothered to invite her a single time. Movies and parties were neither her cup of tea nor did she know how to manage in that atmosphere. She felt like a frog in a cloistered well. Within a month of her joining, she had been branded ‘lungi-leela’ for her skirt that was an inch below her knee, ‘nerd’ for her behavior and ‘behenji’ for her long braids. She had tried to make friends by smiling, building up conversations and participating in competitions, yet friendship is a game of quid pro quo and for how long could she try to clap with one hand? At times she sat back and wondered if her classmates even knew her name.
Madhuri had been Meera’s subject of interest at times. The way she brought out couture in the tacky uniform fascinated Meera. The finesse with which she carried off the short grey skirt and the elegance with which she shook her high pony as she talked had made Madhuri an apple of everyone’s eye. For Meera she was a celebrity.
The exam was over and as Meera came out she was presented with a smile that she had been longing for, for really long. “Thanks so much nerd”, said Madhuri as she held Meera’s elbow.
Meera smiled back and before she could say anything Shyam and Abhinav rushed towards them saying, “So babe,exams are all over, let’s go for Troy tonight, heard the movie has steamy scenes.” Meera waited to say a ‘hi’ with bells on, but they seemed to look through her. “Could I join”, she pitched in. “Kids like you won’t understand all that. Go home and watch cartoon network,” said Shyam with a smirk. “Don’t be so rude to her,” said Madhuri,”Nerd, give me your number, I’ll call you after the movie”, she said as she handed over her phone to punch in the number. *****
Meera walked up and down her terrace with her phone in her hand .As looked at the time her pupils shrunk as if she was in despair. As she slowed down as her feet ached, the phone rang and her face lit up. “Hello, Madhuri, I was waiting for your call,” she said with a smile on her face. “Hey nerdy, I wanted to say thanks; that was so nice of you. Now I owe you something for sure. Ask me for anything,” said Madhuri. “Really?” gasped Meera,” I want to be a cool girl like you. After these summer holidays no one should call me a loser. Can you help me?” “Sure”, said Madhuri. “I’ll meet you tomorrow morning near school. Holidays have started so you can take it easy. Please wear something chick!", Maduri paused ,"Never mind, I’ll carry some clothes for you. Okie, good night!Muahhh!”
The next morning Meera was there ahead of time. She waited and waited for the clock to strike eleven. It was half an hour past eleven, when Madhuri came racing by with a bag of clothes in her hand.
“Okay, your first session is to dress up real smart, say good – bye to your long skirts. If you dress up like this and if facebook was a male, he wouldn’t find you even if you were
Mark Zuckerberg!,” said Madhuri with a winsome smile.
“Sure, but my mom won’t allow me to leave home like that,” said Meera.
“Never mind, you can pull your skirt up after you reach school and make sure you wear ankle socks.”
The session went on for an hour after which the girls rushed into a shop. As Meera came out with open hair and a short pretty dress on, she seemed to have metamorphosed like a caterpillar into a butterfly. As she noticed two guys on the road staring at her, she walked with her chin up and smiled to herself.
“Thanks Madhuri,” she said as she hugged her. “You’re welcome! Next you need an attitude makeover. Can you hang out with me every day for a week or so?” said Madhuri. Meera nodded her head. Her face was brimming with life.
That evening Meera could not stop herself from staring at the mirror. She had never felt so confident in her life. At night she tossed herself from side to side on the bed, eagerly waiting for sun rays to hit the ground.
For the next few days Meera learnt how to style her hair, carry off her clothes and do her makeup. She had changed and it enthralled her to think that she was bidding farewell to her life as a loser. She had already made one good friend. The mere thought of having a friend circle made blood rush through her arteries. Madhuri would talk to her about various things, and now unlike before, she wouldn’t just listen.
“So what do you know about sex? You haven’t had any boyfriends I guess”, said Madhuri.
“No, but I would love to have one,” said Meera.
“Ya, you should have one, only then you will be called cool. You know a kiss is such a good feeling,” said Madhuri blushing.
“Oh my god! You kissed? My mom switches the channel if someone kisses on TV”, said Meera frowning.
“Hahaha, you know I’ve found a guy for you. Dominique- he thinks you are seriously pretty these days. He was telling me yesterday”, said Madhuri.
“Oh I am so scared of him, he comments a lot. I don’t want to be his girlfriend”, said Meera.
“Never mind. You don’t have to like a guy to be his girlfriend. Just get to know each other and hang out. That’s all! It’s fun. You don’t have to cross the lines”, said Madhuri.
Meera frowned. *****
Meera’s head felt heavy and uneasy. A week had passed since Dominique and Meera had started hanging out with each other. They had become more than just acquaintances. He would accompany her to her tuitions and they had joined the same dance class. Her previous year and “lungi –leela”, was in some remote inaccessible part of her memory, yet at times Meera’s hands shivered when he drew himself closer to her. As he danced grabbing her soft fragile hands with his big rough ones, her body would automatically pull her hands back in a reflex. He used to chuckle. At times she would look at his eyes fixed to some parts of her slender body, and she would visualize something lecherous in his eyes. She could feel her mind shackled in something she did not know of whenever he was around.
“Let’s go for a long drive, my dad has given me his car today,” said Dominique as the duo walked out of the dance class.
Meera nodded in affirmation. She got in. Her heart was thumping really fast. She had never been quarantined with a guy before. As they took off awkward silence transpired between the two of them.
When they had travelled a few kilometers into a desolate highway, Dominique pulled over to one of the sides of the road. Within seconds his fingers were running over Meera’s back. She swayed a little and felt something ticklish near her stomach. Her heart was beating even faster now. As he moved his fingers up and down along her spine, she felt a jolt in her head. Her hands were trembling. She had no time to think or react. He had drawn himself closer to her and she could feel the warmth of his breath behind her ear and smell the stench of a cigarette from his mouth.
”Stop. I’m not ready for this”, she said in a shaky voice, pushing herself away from him.
“That’s why you are a loser; I will tell everyone that you still have that L- board on your head. Anyway, I won’t clear my boards this year. I’ll be your classmate next year! Face it!” he said as he grit his teeth and pulled her by the collar towards himself.
“I bet! Next year you will be my classmate and the following year you will be my junior”, said Meera. Her voice was clear and loud this time. “Nobody can make me do what I don’t want to do! And if I have to be called a loser for being this way, I don’t mind being called a loser!”
Meera slammed the door as she got out of the car. Her heart felt light. She had extricated herself from those shackles which had chained her down in her pursuit of being a “cool girl.” It just took one magical word to change everything-“No”. *****