I met her when I had just gotten into the fifth grade. At that time, our school was getting a new floor built and we had to cramp ourselves up in the room available.Our class was allotted the basement. It was the biggest classroom anyone could ask for and we could spread out and play during breaks.
One such playtime, I saw a head peeping out from the basement’s entrance every now and then. It seemed like the person wanted to watch but was afraid of being noticed. Being the extrovert that I am, I went up to start a conversation. At the entrance, I found a girl of about my age. She was wearing clothes that clearly hadn’t been washed for weeks and had a hopeful look on her face- hopeful that I’d invite her to play with us. So I did. She squealed with joy and entered the basement. Of all of us, she looked the happiest. It was as if it was her first time playing.
From that day on, she magically appeared at the basement’s entrance, when the bell that indicated the start of a break rang. She told us she was the daughter of one of the workers building our school’s next floor. I was so jealous of her that she didn’t have to go to school. What a fun life that must be, going to different schools to play and not to study. No exams, no homework, no books. Little did I know how much she was missing out on.
We soon became so close that I waited for her to come to start playing. One day, I waited and waited the whole break, but she never came. I was mad at her for not coming that day. But when she failed to come the next day as well, I was worried. I went up and searched for her. When I finally found her, she looked nothing like herself. She was slouching and had the gloomiest look on her face. On seeing me, she first had a look of joy on her face, and then tense. ” Go from here, I’ll explain later” she whispered to me hurriedly. “Okay”, I said , after she had skipped a few metres away. Explain what? When? Where? I was confused.
The next day, when I went upstairs to fill my water bottle, she was there, waiting for me. She knew I’d fill my bottle during breaks. Her mother didn’t want her mixing with us. Apparently, she was furious when she heard that her daughter was playing with us. Why would anyone be furious about that? I did not understand it one bit.
We then agreed to meet near the water can, at a fixed time everyday. I would gulp down all the water in the bottle to make an excuse to go to the meeting place. We became closer and closer as time passed. Seeing the rising excitement in me day by day, she asked me what was up. I exclaimed, “My birthday is nearing!” , expecting to see her excited after hearing it as well. All I got was a “What’s a birthday?”
I was even more surprised than all the other times she had said or done something no one usually would do. To a 10 year old, the most important day of the year is the birthday. I gave her the “Come on, you’re joking” face. She looked as plain as she did before and demanded an explanation of the word. I still couldn’t believe her, but explained it anyways. “It’s the day when everyone behaves nicely to you-even if it’s just for the chocolates, the day you get so,so many presents, the day you get surprised, the day all your relatives call you, the day you host a party with fun games and so much more”. She looked confused. ” But why’s that day so special?Isn’t it just like any other day? Does everyone have one of their own?”. “Of course they do, everyone has to be born to exist on this planet. So everyone has to have a birthday.” , I explained logically. “But I don’t” , she frowned.
I came home that day and told my mom about this girl not having a birthday. It was all I could think about. This girl was deprived of one of the things I had considered most important. Suddenly, all my jealousy faded away. I’d rather go to school and have a birthday than not go to school and not have one.
A few days later, she stopped coming to the meeting place. Thinking her mom had found out again, I went up to search for her. She was nowhere to be found. While coming back down, I heard a few teachers talking “Ah. The new floor has finally been built” I stopped where I was. My body froze. Was that it? Had she left without a goodbye as soon as the floor had been built? I couldn’t believe it. “She could’ve atleast told me she was leaving”, I thought to myself. I was really sad the first few days after she left and hoped she would remember me.
I just hope that wherever she is, things changed for her and that this blog put a smile on her already ever-smiling face.
Illustration by Gianna Sarah Theodore