We were seventeen. Faiza and I were still the best of buddies. Early April days. I had a few more days before I left for India. It was evident that Faiza and I would not be meeting anymore. She had secured admission in a university in Cyprus. She was to fly out later that summer. We sat on my bed with our slam books. She looked at the boy band posters on the walls and smiled. I knew what she was thinking about.
A couple of years ago, when we were giddy with boy band craze, we took out a camera and got ourselves clicked next to the television while one of the songs were being aired. She posed with her ‘crush’ while I did the same with my celebrity crush. Those snaps were somehow misplaced and lost to time…
That day, while she sat on my bed scribbling something in my book, I tossed in a few things into my suitcase. “I think this is the last time I will be seeing you…” Her voice trailed off while I had to agree. Indo-Pak relations are so tumultuous. There are bleak chances of me ever meeting her without going through Himalayan hurdles of paperwork and verification. And to think Kuwait had made it all so easy for us. All she had to do was walk into my class.
Seconds after she hugged me and said goodbye, I ran to my kitchen window. From there, I watched her go until she took the turn down the road. Her brown hair glistened in the sun. Her bangles peeped out of the full-sleeved attire she wore. Her eyes were hidden behind shades and I couldn’t make out what expression her face wore. I tried to remember everything I knew about her, at that moment. How she loved the Kolhapuris and bangles. Glassware and watercolours. Marble Cake and aaloo-ki-tikki. Class parties, ghoulish make-up evenings and an unmentionable dance performance…
Not all our school years were spent together. We were in different classes almost all through school. But there was a bond that didn’t seem to be affected by all this. We met in the mornings, near the parking lot. We would walk to school together, with our brothers sometimes tagging along. Over the years, “Preethi-Faiza” was a favoured way of mentioning the two us, among our friends. Of course, there were rifts and painful moments of estrangement. But then again, there were non-stop phone chats that stretched from three to five hours. There were evenings when suddenly she would turn up at my doorstep with the latest recipe she tried out. And boy, could she cook! I always felt that one day she would become the head chef of a restaurant or something like that.
We used to have these ‘one-dish’ parties that I initially dreaded. It was all Faiza’s idea. “We will meet up this weekend, guys! Let’s make one dish each!” I almost always pounced upon being the coke-in-charge, that is, if another desolate girl didn’t already snatch it off! And when that post was taken, I would make coffee. Faiza, on the other hand, would come up with new concoctions of chicken and vegetables and rice and pasta and what not. Birthdays meant that I would definitely get a marble cake from her. She would turn up with some pink icing (that she carried separately for some unknown reason) and with a flourish, decorate her cake in front of me.
The earliest idea of spending time with Fiz involved her writing down my Arabic class notes at breakneck speed, while I helped her with Math. She was well versed with the Urdu script and since Arabic and Urdu were pretty similar in script, it was quite a breeze for her. As for me, it was a series of intricate squiggles and dots and dashes. When things got difficult, she suggested that I take up tuitions.
More tuition sessions followed a couple of years later. French proved to be too tough to be tackled alone. Fiz and I would get together every evening to practice verb conjugations. Well, at least that was what we had initially planned. The chats would drift from boy bands to totally secret crushes to movies. Even though, these tuition sessions didn’t last for long, she and I had to agree that it did wonders to our friendship.
Her home was fun to be in. There was a huge poster of Shoaib Akhtar adorning her—CEILING. “So that I can see him the first thing in the morning.” She explained. There were lovebirds twittering in the house. The sound of the washing machine was a constant. Her brothers were the variables. Immaculate carpets (I always wondered about that especially with the boys walking in and out in their spiky rugby shoes!) and delicate glassware… This was the venue for most of our parties. There was this one time when we jumped on her bed so bad that we broke it. That particular party was called off in a very short notice. Within a week, there was yet another party to plan for…
Post-April 1999, we kept track of each other with letters, emails and phone calls. Every call had an update about her. One such update was that of her marriage. And the latest one was about her baby boy.