I grew up in an extended family, with one biological brother and 9 male cousins. So naturally I grew up a tomboy, but as puberty hit me and I sprouted breasts, my cousins dumped me. No one would play with me, since I had boobs. I hated my brothers and hated the boobs. That lasted about two days. I cant stay mad forever …
But they did not relent and so I retaliated by not speaking to them ever! That lasted a while. Quite a long while because they would spot me doing something which to their testosterone charged brain looked unladylike and would bossily order me to behave like a lady. And play with girls. Yuch! I thought girls were catty and rude. And rightly so. They gave me the cold shoulder, and boys … well I ask you which Asian girl with 10 brothers, (cousin and real) in the same school has boys as friends?
So I became a shy bookworm, a loner, friendless. That in high school is very rough. We are all geared for “fitting in” and being a part of the hip and happening group of friends. Parents did not get it. They thought I went to school for education and not for company.
And then Soumya entered my life. And made it living hell. He was tall, witty and had more friends than people should. Talk about excess! Even the gate keeper and the peon and the cleaning crew were his “good” friends for crying out loud! I was decidedly nowhere near his social status. I was a swot, Hermione without Harry and Ron to humanize her. And I loved hurting male egos with my over-achieving scholastic ways. The girls hated me, a feeling I heartily reciprocated. I had too many brothers in the same damn school for any boy to even consider being friendly with me.
Soumya was a kid everyone loved. I like to think he had ADD. He couldn’t sit still and drove all the teachers nuts with his constant wise-cracking and fidgeting. So they did what any good teacher would do. They sat him beside me, the class swot, in hopes my goody two shoes behavior would rub off on him.
He took every opportunity to make fun of me. I was skinny, other girls were far more busty. So he declared I was as flat as a board and started calling me “Four-by-Four”. The damn nickname stuck.There were a couple of girls in my class who were completely smitten by Soumya and would gang up with him.
I just re-read what I have written. It makes me appear wishy washy. That isn’t true. I was no saint or a silent suffering martyr. I would snitch on him. I would bad mouth the Soumya gang. And I was the teacher’s pet and that helped in my revenge schemes. If he had not done his homework, I would tell on him. If the others in his gang got something wrong, I would laugh openly. I single handedly got the entire gang branded as trouble makers.
But some part of me longed to be a part of it. They seemed to have the most fun!
How I hated him. I would see him and cringe and pray every day he would fall ill to some mysterious disease, drop dead even. I wanted to tell my older brothers to bash him up so that he stopped tormenting me. But that meant swallowing my pride and asking for help. That was a tough pill to swallow, so I endured the teasing.
I also endured it because sometimes, when no one else was around, he was completely different. He was sweet to me and thoughtful and almost apologetic for his incessant public torture. It made him almost likeable. Almost.
For two years in high school, I was stuck with this boy, the boy who made me the laughing stock of our class on more times than I could ever keep count. Then thankfully, his father got transferred to another town. On his last day in school he walked up to me and said “Hi”. I just nodded, holding my breath wondering what verbal parting shot he would fire. I cringed and reminded myself that this was the last class in which I would have to see him or hear his nasty voice. Man, was I glad to be rid of Soumya, who would tell the class in a loud voice “Ritu does not wear a bra, she is so skinny” or “Ritu’s tiffin spilt on her skirt hahahha. See there are turmeric and grease stains on her uniform,” and tell other girls in my class “No one wants Ritu as his girl friend. She has no boobs”, within my earshot. I waited knowing that this was the end of the Soumya chapter.
It was the last class that day. Soumya was leaving. There were girls giving him gifts and sobbing. It set my teeth on edge. Then he came and sat down next to me. I cringed, wondering what diabolic prank he was going to pull as a parting shot. But he blushed and said, “Ritu, I just want to apologize to you for all the teasing I did to you in school,” His voice started in a deep masculine voice that cracked slightly, in the middle.
I just grunted and shrugged, and buried my nose in my copy.
“I want you to know, I really like you. I’ve enjoyed sitting next to you for the last two years. I wish we were better friends.” I looked at him like he had just grown horns on his head and sat there tongue-tied. “I only teased you because I had a crush on you.”
Then he got up and whispered to me, with a smile, “I teased you to get your attention.You are too clever and would not have noticed me.” Then he turned around, headed towards the school compound and out of my life.
At the time I was seriously annoyed. I could have thought of a dozen different ways he could have shown his affection for me, none of them which included drawing a plywood piece on the blackboard and naming it Ritu, snooping into my school satchel, grabbing my shirt collar and peering down my back to check whether I was wearing a bra or not.
But I’ve grown older and wiser and I look back on the memory of that smiley curly haired boy who loved his Batman and Archie comics and I see what I was blinded to in the midst of my youth.
Soumya loved me. He was just a jackass about it.
As for me, life started improving after he left. I had the desk to myself without having to be careful about it slamming down on my fingers. Even tiffin would not spill so often which makes me suspect foul play. I started filling out. One thing remained the same – I never got along with the girls in my class. Actually two things – I never got included in my family team of all boys. These two changes happened in college where I met lovely chilled-out women who I am still friends with, and my cousins started behaving less like chowkidars and more like pals ……. possibly because they wanted to date my female friends.