Today I met Aparna on the train. 11 years ago when she left our school to join another, we had parted as best friends. I still retain the calendars that she used to give me in January every year and the lyrics of the songs that she made transcripts of. I wonder if she remembers the songs we sang together when we performed or the sums that I solved for her homework.
11 years later Aparna is married and cannot recognize me anymore. She stood in the train without a seat complaining about the crowd and the daily drudgery in a dull monotonous voice, about the French lessons she was taking (I wonder why) and as she spoke to another co-passenger she glanced at me. I stared at her, smiling and without blinking, hoping that she would recognize me and she did not respond.
Faces....there is something about faces that torments me. I forget names; but I never forget faces. And then those familiar faces come back to haunt me like a tiny little monster eating into my mind, gnashing its tail and growing bigger by the moment, till the pain is overwhelming and I cannot take it anymore. It’s a curse that I must bear. Faces that I must forget but cannot. Names that I must remember but I cannot. Everyday in the train I meet familiar faces. Faces that shouted out to me in the field during lunchtime in school or stood in a line during the morning assembly or waited with bated breadth before the report card would be given out or stole a moment to grab the forbidden 'jhaalmuri' when the prefects were not looking. I remember all of them....but they never remember me.
I think I gave up the staring game when she got a seat facing her back to me. I wasn't going to let her disappear again. Not my ex-best-friend if ever there was something like that. Besides, the guilt was overwhelming; the guilt of recognition. Went up to her and introduced myself. A tiny flicker of recognition and I knew that she remembered. It was too late. I was about to get off the train and we could not speak anymore. But we parted this time promising to recognize each other again, if the train would permit. I know I shall honour my promise and I live in the hope that she will too.....