Preschool! That’s when it all began. It was my first day of school. I had fought with my mother about what I was going to wear, as usual. Being stubborn as a mule, I had got my way. I gladly abandoned my strawberry pink frock for the comfortable denim dungarees and sleeveless t-shirt. Always the tomboy!
As I entered school, I was introduced to my fellow classmates. A bunch of girls stood to my left, all clad in pretty new frocks with hairclips, handbags and shoes in matching colours and prints. To my right stood the boys, dressed like me, and already covered from head to toe in sand. In the middle of these boys stood a quiet little girl with questioning black eyes. She waved at me, and so I walked over to chat with her. By lunch break, I had learnt all about Aarti. A tomboy like me, she lived with her mother and two elder brothers. Her birthday was on the 27th of November. She liked blue, and, like me, detested pink. Before we knew it, we were thick as thieves.
Aarti and I were together for four years, after which her mother decided to move to Bombay. I still remember the day she was leaving; I had brought her a handful of sand from the sandpit at school, one of the trinkets we had made using old bottle caps, and a little farewell card. I wondered if it would ever be so hard for anyone to say goodbye. Little did I know what life had in store for me.
Aarti and I kept in touch. Ten years later, we were still best friends. We had long outgrown our dungarees and our boyishness. Surprisingly, we were both seen sporting the most vibrant shades of pink! Still thick as thieves, there wasn’t a day when we didn’t call each other, or a vacation we didn’t spend together.
On the day we finished our 10th standard board exams, I took off on the first flight to Bombay. Aarti was to meet me at the airport, but her brother Ashish had come to get me instead. Something wasn’t quite right. After a long, quiet journey in the car, you can imagine my surprise when we stopped outside the hospital! Ashish broke the news to me then. We were here to see Aarti. She had been diagnosed with cancer; she had a malignant tumor in her brain.
I rushed to her room to meet her. She was lying on her bed in a state of semi-consciousness. She had undergone her first session of radiation. I tried hard not to cry. She pointed at the table on her bedside, and on it were a packet of sand, a trinket made from bottle caps and the farewell card I had given her. That was when I broke down.
I spent the entire summer at the hospital with Aarti. We spoke for hours on end about everything, right from the coolest new cars and clothes, to prospective boyfriends. I was there for her when her beautiful, brown hair fell slowly and steadily because of the chemotherapy she was undergoing. We spent everyday wishing, praying, hoping that there would be a tomorrow. Sadly, Aarti’s condition only deteriorated over the next few days. She knew she wasn’t going to make it, but I simply wouldn’t give up, stubborn as ever.
It was that summer evening, when Bombay had its first shower for the year. We were sitting on the hospital bed looking out at the fading sun. Aarti said that this was the end; There would be no tomorrow. We sat holding each other like we would never let go, weeping , while slowly and steadily, the life slipped out of her. I never thought it would be so hard to say goodbye...