By Raza Hasnain Naqvi
We were very close to each other. At least I thought we were. But Maham was right. What she did was right. Perhaps it was meant to be so. But it was a loss for all of us.
We were close friends. Right from Class 10, we had enjoyed each other’s company. Yes, we were quite different from each other. First time I saw Maham was the day she entered the class in school uniform wearing a rose in her hair. We had looked at her with disbelief. How had she gotten this far in school campus with a flower in her hair? Even teachers don’t do such a thing. This had remained our topic for vehement discussion for the next three days.
She wouldn’t mix easily with us. She did reply when someone asked her something, otherwise she kept to herself. I kept my eye on her. She seemed to be very particular about her hair as her hand kept running through it, straightening some stray strand. She was pretty all right and she wore a nose ring.
Shanaya did say ‘Hi’ to her once or twice and had got the ‘Hi’ back from Maham with a smile. She told me that Maham doodles a lot on her books – mostly drawings of flowers with a stem that sprouted ‘stones’ instead of leaves! I was amused. Stones? Not leaves? Shanaya had nodded her head and said that’s what Maham said it was – stones, not leaves. The word ‘Stone flower’ came to my mind and I smiled to myself.
“Is she coming?” asked Mint. He was wall practicing his table tennis, hitting the orange ball on the wall, taking it on the rebound on the table and hitting it back. I kept quiet.
“Aahil, tell me. I want to know.” He stopped and turned to look at me.
“I don’t know. I left a message on her WhatsApp. She may or she may not.” I gave him a stern look. Mint looked away and started playing with the wall again.
Officially, he was Mithun, but he liked to be called ‘Mint’. Except for teachers, everyone now called him Mint only. He had never expressed his liking for Shanaya in so many words, but Shanaya knew that Mint liked her. The way he would change his tone of talking with her was a clear indication that he cared for her.
“Tell Shanaya that she needs to come and I want her to come,” said Mint, with a sharp hit on the wall. Something was going on between the two, I thought.
“Go tell her yourself. I left her a message that’s enough,” I retorted. Why should I get involved if they were having some tiff? After all, I had told him that Shanaya’s not your type and he was very different from what she was, nature-wise, but he had gone ahead for that first date.
“What are you two doing here? When are you going to get ready?” asked Maham as she entered the verandah. She was wearing her favourite jeans and blue top that had a big smiley printed on it. I smiled when I saw her white sandals. She saw it and smiled back. I had told her last week that white sandals would match well with her favourite jeans and she should buy a pair.
“Aahil. Have you told Shanaya about the meeting?” she asked. I nodded. “And have you told this person too?” She pointed her head towards Mint. I nodded again.
“Shanaya will be there by 4.30 sharp, she says. All of us have to be there. Both of you can bunk your evening college classes and be there on time,” she said.
Mint stopped playing. I gave Maham a curious look.
“So she is coming,” said Mint seriously.
“Then why did you ask me about her?” I asked. She ignored both of us and started checking her phone.
“What do you think of yourself? Just because I let you around me, you think you possess me?” Shanaya looked at Mint. Maham was surprised and raised an eyebrow. She looked up from the screen of her mobile phone. Mint stared at Shanaya open-mouthed. Words wrestled to come out of his mouth.
We were sitting in a restaurant. Shanaya wasn’t in a good mood and now she was getting ready to explode, so to say. All of us knew that we had better make her cool down fast. If we failed, then everyone around us in the restaurant was going to have a free ticket to a shouting match. I wasn’t in the mood for this, yet again.
“How dare you think that I was going out with him Mr Mithun?” Shanaya stabbed her forefinger in Mint’s direction.
“I just asked whether he too would be there, that’s all,” replied Mint, giving her a quick look and then shifting his gaze towards Maham.
“If you can’t handle my friends, that’s your problem, not mine. I had told you earlier that this is who I am and you cannot claim me. Do you understand?” Her voice had gone up a few decibels and most of the waiters were looking at us.
“Ms Shanaya, I know you quite well and you don’t have to talk to me like that. I have had enough of your tantrums. I don’t need it. I am not going to apologise or something. If you haven’t understood me by now, I don’t think you will be able to understand me anytime soon.” Mint was now looking fixedly at her, without blinking.
Maham now packed her phone in her purse. She knew that she had to get into the discussion, before it turned into something else.
Suddenly Mint got up from the table, looked at everyone with a pointed gaze and walked out of the restaurant. Now, it was Shanaya’s turn to look at the back of her departing friend with an open-mouthed expression. This was a first.
Usually, by this time Maham would be the one who would have taken charge of the situation. She would be whispering something in Shanaya’s ears and calming her down. I would be smiling a little at Mint, who would have a quizzical expression and shrugging his shoulders with his ‘I don’t care’ attitude.
This was something unexpected. Mint was the coolest guy we had known. Nothing much ruffled him. I would often discuss with Maham and question her how Mint manages Shanaya. Maham would always say: ‘Only Mint can handle Shanaya. Nobody else has that kind of patience’. But somebody’s patience had snapped today and all three of us were a witness to it.
“How many days now…?” I asked Maham, without completing the sentence.
“10 days. I think Shanaya has also changed his name in her mobile from ‘Mint’ to ‘Idiot’ and she has even stopped taking Mint toffees,” said Maham. She didn’t smile. She kept on doodling in her notebook. They were sitting on the steps of a Mall.
“What do you call it?” I asked her with a smile.
“How many times have I told you the same thing – it’s just a flower. It doesn’t have a name. And I know Aahil that you have given it some name and you will not tell me what it is. So let’s just stop this discussion.” She said it without looking at me.
I smiled again. She now had three notebooks full of ‘stone flowers’. Her stones were like pebbles. They seemed to shine as they found their place where leaves would have been.
“I won’t tell you why I draw stones, instead of leaves. So let’s just both keep our secrets close to each other.” She closed her notebook finally and smiled at me. I took her hands in mine. They felt warm and soft and I closed my eyes. I don’t know why I always closed my eyes. She laughed and took away her hands and gave my shoulder a push. And just like always, I would wake up from some kind of a dream, open my eyes and see her smiling playfully at me.
“Mint yaar, we have to do it. It has been a long time now. How can we simply forget Shanaya,” I said.
“No. We won’t do it. I won’t do it. I have heard I am the ‘Idiot’ now. Fine. This Idiot no longer wants to get back with her. Is that such a difficult thing for you guys to understand?” Mint had his face in his palm now.
“Ok. You don’t do it. But it is going to be very awkward for all of us….for me and Aahil if we don’t meet Shanaya on her birthday tomorrow.” Maham said this quietly without looking up. She was checking her phone messages.
“Two months, Mint. What happened man? I thought you were the more intelligent one. You know her even better than us probably. Not one call, not one message to her?” I looked at him with a surprised look.
Maham looked up now and said to me, “I met Shanaya and she seems to have changed a bit. She is not her usual self. She asked about Mint. I told her he’s fine. She didn’t talk much.” I looked at her and sighed loudly.
“For the past three days, she has sent me one message only. Same question: How is he?” Maham said this while looking pointedly in Mint’s direction. Mint looked at her and shook his head and took another sip of the cold drink.
“How long will this last yaar? Seven years back we met and today, two close friends have become so distant that they can’t even communicate with each other,” I thought loudly.
“Get up, both of you,” said Maham suddenly. “Shanaya is in her car outside. I just got her message. Let’s go.” I paid the bill quickly. Mint had a confused look on his face.
“Why is she here? What…where…why are we going?” He asked with a stammer.
Maham had a determined look on her face. I was not going to ask her anything. We followed her out to the parking lot. She kept walking. Mint was lagging behind. Soon she stopped and turned towards me.
It was early evening. The sun was soft and I saw the sunlight lighting up Maham’s pretty face. But this time, the smile was not there. Instead, I could sense anger touching her face. Her posture also became rigid.
“I draw stones because they are strong. Leaves are soft. They can be crushed easily. You cannot crush a stone easily.” Maham looked at me and took out her notebook. She started tearing away the papers in her notebook angrily.
Mint and I rushed towards her, but she stopped us with a signal of her hand.
“60 days – both of you didn’t talk to Shanaya. Even you Aahil didn’t talk to her. That’s how strong our bond is?”
I protested. “I did call her, but she never took my call. She didn’t even answer my messages.”
“So what? Why didn’t you go and meet her? Three days back, Shanaya left this city. She talked to me before leaving and she kept crying.”
Mint and I were shocked.
“I am leaving tomorrow for Pune. I have got admission in MBA,” Maham said. She came to me and handed the blank cardboard cover of her doodle notebook out of which all paper had been torn off. Then she walked out of the parking lot.
I looked at the paper bits of ‘stone flowers’ lying around on the ground.
‘My stone flower… My stone flower’, I kept repeating to myself and began picking them up with shaking hands.