Love Letters

The thing about being in a boarding school is that everyone knows everything about everyone, even if it is something as small as being given black points for breaking rules. I had initially thought that I would be too invisible to the students around me. But with time, I have come to the realisation that no one is unimportant here.

“Are you from Dubai?” she asks me while I am busy teaching my juniors how to make friendship day cards.

“No, not at all,” I respond without thinking. “I am from Delhi.”

“Ohhhhhhhhh….” she says. “But, if you’re Indian, how’s your hair sooo straight?”

I wonder why she thinks Indian girls can’t have straight hair. I have grown up envying so many of them who didn’t need straighteners or chemicals for their hair to look good.

“Well, they’re permanently straightened,” I reply.

“Okay,” she laughs. “When I saw you for the first time, I thought you were from Dubai like the other international students here.”

“And when was that?” I ask. “When was the first time you saw me?”

“Last week, di,” she replies. “When you and your junior friend almost got black points for sneaking out of your dormitories past lights out.”

The thing about being in a boarding school is that everyone knows everything about everyone, even if it is something as small as being given black points for breaking rules. I had initially thought that I would be too invisible to the students around me. But with time, I have come to the realisation that no one is unimportant here.

“Do you have a junior best friend?” she continues asking questions.

“No, I am not a fan of boarding school traditions,” I say. “I don’t think I want to pick a junior…”

“Can I be yours, then?” she cuts me off.

“Sure,” I respond hoping she would forget about this soon, just like most boarding school friendships are forgotten once people get bored of each other and have no reason left to talk.

I stay with my juniors for a few more minutes and then head back to my dorm. Sunday is the only day I get to oil my hair and improve my math and spending more time than necessary with them wouldn’t help with that.

However, when I hear all the noise coming from my dorm, I realise that friendship day would make it impossible for me to study today. So, I spend the entire day writing letters to my friends and completely lose myself in all the emotions I feel while doing so. I manage to gather myself back only when I hear the bell for the night assembly. And then, I suddenly feel guilty at the thought of how bad I am at calculus.

I absentmindedly shout ‘present’ when my name is taken during attendance and walk back to my dormitory thinking of all the work I have left. Just then, I hear someone call my name. I look all around cluelessly, trying to figure out who it is. As I follow the sound of the voice after hearing my name for the second time, my eyes fall on her.

There she is, leaning over the second-floor balcony’s railing, beckoning me with her hand to come where she is standing.

Once I am standing below the balcony, she drops something for me to catch. It is a blue handmade card with ‘Happy Friendship Day, Di’ written on it.

‘Thank you,’ I mouth with a smile before leaving.

 I can feel my anxiety disappear.

The next morning, I find myself almost dozing off in English class. If literature is going to be this boring at university as well, I’d rather study psychology.

“Carry a blanket and pillow for her from tomorrow!” jitters run all over my body when I hear the English teacher shout in my direction.

To my great relief, she isn’t talking about me but the person sitting next to me. A laugh escapes my mouth when I look at my partner who is leaning on her elbow and sleeping. I cover my mouth and try to wake her up only to hear the bell for the next period.

“Yes, who are you here for?” my English teacher asks someone standing at the door before leaving our class. I turn towards the door of my classroom and find her – the junior who gave me a card last night – standing there. She points towards me as my English teacher grins at her nervousness.

“Is it fine if I come here to meet you…once in a while?” she asks me after my teacher leaves.

“Of course,” I say.

She switches from making colourful cards to writing letters after she figures out that I would appreciate them more. In some of them, she describes how her days have been and in others, she expresses her grief about this being my last year in school.

 “She asked me not to let you study,” a close friend of mine says to me one day while talking about her.

 “And why is that?” I ask.

 “She wants you to fail so that you wouldn’t leave school,” she replies.

This is something I have read multiple times in her letters, so I decide to brush it off as one of her immature jokes.

I feel addicted to her letters – they calm me down and keep me going at a place where survival seems so difficult. It scares me to think that she might stop writing to me altogether if I stop responding to her. But, in my heart, I know that that won’t happen. I can see that she is adamant to make our friendship last. She is, after all, one of those who don’t give up on people easily.

A month passes by with the two of us making each other happy in the smallest of ways.

It is raining heavily today and we have been asked to return to our hostels. I breathe a sigh of relief at the thought of not having to go for evening games. Had games not been cancelled, I would have had to look for another excuse to bunk and another secluded spot to hide.

Upon entering the hostel, I hear her shout my name from the balcony, the way she usually does. She waves at me with cup noodles in her hands and asks me to come upstairs. I hurry to the second floor, knowing that if the two of us get caught, we’ll receive black points for being in possession of outside food which is ‘illegal tuck’ according to our school authorities. But I can’t care less about getting penalised for food during my last school year.

By the time I reach her floor, she has already added hot water to the cup noodles and partially cooked them. She hands me the noodles, but I refuse to take the first bite – they are hers. She shakes her head in response. So, I open the lid of the container, twirl the noodles with a plastic fork, wrap them around it and bring the fork near her mouth. She takes the bite I prepared for her.

We spend the next fifteen minutes feeding each other noodles and I return to my dorm with a happy heart and a full stomach.

I must have done something right to deserve a friend like her who simply gives without expecting anything in return. I really want to thank her for everything that she constantly does for me. To repay her in some way. And then, I remember that it is her birthday in three weeks. Perhaps, the best thing for me to do would be to make her a card – one that is prettier than the ones she has made for me so far.

Having decided that, I spend the next few weeks working on her birthday card whenever I get time between afternoon and evening prep. On some nights, I stay back in the prep hall after everyone is done studying to colour the cartoons I somehow managed to draw on its cover. I then add some quotes from my favourite books inside it with pop ups in the middle and a few ‘Dear Junior Bestie’ letters in the end.

The night before her birthday, I praise myself for having created such a masterpiece with whatever limited stationary I could gather. The only regret I have is not having been able to find a peacock feather for her, which she has been looking for desperately. I know for a fact that she is in love with the peacocks who stay with us on campus. 

On her birthday, I see her wearing a pink frock – something only birthday girls from junior classes are allowed to wear – and cheerfully distributing chocolates to her classmates. She stops midway to wave at my friend and I when she sees us. The moment our eyes meet, I rush to my classroom, grab her card and hand it to her. She immediately hides it in her school bag without opening it or even looking at its cover. I don’t mind that – it was my job to make it for her and now, she can do whatever she wants with it.

It is only next evening that I find out from one of her friends that she spent hours the previous night taking in the smallest of details of the card.

“She said she’ll make a more elaborate one for you on your birthday,” I hear her friend say.

But my birthday is two months away and the thought of receiving a card that day doesn’t excite me all that much. What excites me, instead, is knowing that I’ll be home in a few days because I must take the SAT exam.

“I wrote something for you,” she says to me as she hands me a letter.

It is an innocent collection of phrases like ‘you are my first love, first crush’, ‘do you ever wish you had a boyfriend like me’ and ‘we are like sisters, loving each other’.

She extends her pinkie and I intertwine it with mine before we part.

At home, I tell my parents everything about her and they are happy to know that I have finally met someone who makes my days better. But, as soon as I busy myself with things I cannot do in school – such as checking my phone, watching a few episodes of my favourite TV series and enjoying my personal space away from the twenty-three students I share a dorm with – I forget her altogether. 

Once I am back, she greets me with her warm energy – something I am too homesick to return. I find it difficult to explain my frustrations to her, so I simply hope for her to understand that my indifference is a result of how much I miss home.

Before lying on my bed in an overcrowded dormitory at night, I count the number of nights I’ll have to spend away from home and fall asleep with an empty heart.

The next morning, I can’t get out of bed when the house matron comes to wake us up for morning games. My head feels heavy.

“I am not feeling well,” I tell the matron.

“Another excuse to bunk games?” she asks.

“No,” I say with irritation. “I am feeling nauseous.”

She places her palm on my forehead and says it is warm.

To my great relief, I have a fever and am given permission to sleep in the infirmary for the entire day. This means that I will be able to miss both games and school. I now know for certain that the person who said poison kills poison was absolutely right – my physical sickness seems to have cured my homesickness.

I fall asleep on the infirmary bed and wake up only when the nurse asks me to take my meals or medicines. When I wake up for evening snacks, I am certain that I have viral fever because I can’t taste anything that I eat or drink. The saddest part is that I can’t use this as an excuse to go home or to call my parents here because I just returned to school – it won’t be wise to spend more money on train tickets. As this realisation hits me, I decide to go back to sleep without complaining.

For the next three days, I spend all my time in the infirmary as my fever shows no sign of going away. All my classmates seem busy practising for the founder’s and sports day – the most important days in our boarding school calendar – and no one really pays me a visit here, not even her. The nurse somehow cannot digest that and keeps asking me why I am so lonely all the time. I don’t make any efforts to explain to her that I am the very definition of a social loner – a person who might receive a lot of cards on friendship day but would still never get prioritised over sports day practice.

I am a little comforted after a batchmate decides to pay me a visit on my third night here.

“Why aren’t you doing anything on sports day?” she asks.

“Because I had to take the SAT last week and have been unwell all of this week,” I respond with annoyance.

“People think you’re just lazy and are faking it to get away with not doing anything on sports day,” she continues.

“And I think you’re stupid for saying that to someone who has been stuck here since the past three days,” I snap.

On my fifth day at the infirmary, I drag myself back there from the hostel after taking a shower. I am exhausted and overwhelmed at the thought of having to spend another night sleeping on the infirmary bed. It sickens me to acknowledge how out of place I feel right now. Perhaps, I haven’t adjusted here the way I thought I had.

As I enter the infirmary, I find the doctor sitting at her usual place and smiling broadly at me.

“A girl came here and left some stuff for you,” she says to me once I am near enough to hear her. “Fangirl?”

“Just a junior friend,” I smile back at her.

I step into the room I occupy here and find an envelope on the bedside table with #loveletter written on it. As I open it and take the letter out, a peacock feather falls on my bed. Boarding isn’t all that bad, after all.

This story was about: Gender Identities Lesbianism Sexuality

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A wannabe novelist based in New Delhi and now in Central London.
Upasana Dandona

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