Previously on “You’re my Buddy”
Episode 1: Take the First Step
Episode 2: You’re the One on Trial
Episode 3: Can I carry that for you?
Episode 4: You know everything, na?
Episode 5: Question everything — even the story itself
Episode 6: Ice cream toast to nuts and nutmegs
“I don’t know how to play this game, na. I have never played it before.”
I was trying to convince Naren to join the group of boys playing football. Naren and I had come to the ground a few minutes earlier and we had not found Trunks Singh or his cronies anywhere. Naren had pointed out a group of boys and said that these were the people Trunks usually played with. I wanted Naren to go join that group and play along.
“I know you can run, kiddo” I tried again. “And I am pretty sure you can kick too. Just go with the flow.”
“I also don’t know these kids, na.”
“You said they were part of your class.”
“Only those seven, na. The others I don’t know. They won’t let me play.”
“You play cricket, right?”
“And you are telling me that there has never been a day when a new kid walked in and your group let him play?”
“That is different, na. Someone usually brings the new kid in. Or we know him somehow.”
“There are seven kids there who know you, Naren. Just go.”
“But you don’t understand, na. He will come anytime.”
“That is the point, right? We want him to see you playing with his group, gelling with the people he gels with.”
“But why? We came here to know him, na? To spot more of his stars? We can just sit and watch, na?”
“Kiddo, this stargazing is a two-way street. To look for his stars, you have to show him more of yours too.”
“I don’t know…I don’t want to. This is a bad idea. Let’s go back, na.”
“I am here, kiddo. Nothing will happen while I am around.”
“No, let’s go back, na.”
“Look here, kiddo. We discussed this. Trunks Singh picks on you because he only sees you as a lonely, powerless kid who has no friends to stand up for him. We need to change that. We need to show him that you are so much more. And by doing this, we will hope that he will show a better side of him too. Did we not agree on this at the cafe just now?”
“Yes, but this is not the same, na.”
“What is different?”
“I don’t like playing with people I don’t know.”
“You also don’t like being beaten up at school, right?”
Naren looked around again, probably checking if Trunks had come. I checked too: there was no sign of him. Naren knelt down on one knee to tighten his laces. I thought they were already tight, but I guessed it was his way of prepping up. Next, he pulled up his socks as high as they could come and started doing jumping jacks.
I couldn’t help smiling.
“You don’t play sports, na,” he said when he spotted my smile. “You don’t know. Warm up is important.”
“Of course, kiddo. Take your time.”
When he finally started jogging towards the corner of the field where the other kids were playing, I said a silent prayer. I was fairly sure the other kids would take him in and let him play. But I wasn’t sure how the dynamics would change when Trunks arrived on the scene. Would he harm Naren? Would he play along?
Naren spoke to a couple of kids from the group, who started pointing to the other boys. I guessed they were talking about who was in which team. That looked like a good start.
When they resumed playing, I saw Naren running around cautiously. Maybe he was trying to hide from the others or maybe the others weren’t used to him yet, but he was hardly getting any passes. And I knew he wasn’t the kind who will rush in to steal the ball from an opponent.
When finally someone chose to pass him the ball, Naren fumbled with the first touch. The ball went out of the playing area and he ran after it. With some energy that too. Was I seeing the slimmer of a smile on his face?
When he got to the ball, he turned around and kicked it to another kid. The kick was pretty good for a first-timer. The other kid waited for Naren to run back inside the playing field before throwing the ball in.
After that, each time Naren got a touch on the ball, I saw him enjoying the game a bit more. He was passing the ball, and he was even taking strikes at the goal.
Maybe this was going to work out fine.
When I was certain that he was okay, I started walking further away from the field. I didn’t want Trunks Singh or anyone else noticing me there.
I found a shaded spot under a tree to settle down. The Kindle in my hip pocket was tugging at me — this was such a nice place to just dive into a book. I gave into the temptation and switched it on.
About an hour later, I heard Naren running towards me. I looked up to find someone who was nowhere close to the shy little boy I had walked in with.
He was beaming. And he was almost jumping with each step.
“Oye, Minu, you saw my goal, na? You saw, na, how I kicked it right between his legs?”
“What? You missed it? How can you miss it? It was the best goal ever. Like Messi.”
“That’s good, kiddo. You seemed to have had a lot of fun.”
“Yeah, Trunks didn’t show up, na. So, I was okay. These guys were cool.”
“Nice, then. You think you will come again tomorrow to play here?”
“Uhmmm…I want to. If it is like this only, I will be okay, na.”
“‘Like this’ meaning no Trunks, right?”
“And what will you do if he shows up tomorrow?”
“I don’t know, na. I will see tomorrow.”
“Makes sense. Let’s head off. You want something to eat or drink?”
“Chocolate Ice cream!”
“Your Mumma is going to kill me, kiddo.”
“Haha. But you missed my goal, na. You have to pay.”
“Okay, kiddo. I will raise an ice cream toast to nuts and nutmegs today.”
“That will be nice, na?”
The next day when Naren and I were walking to the football ground, he told me that Trunks hadn’t come to school either. This wasn’t very surprising to him as Trunks was known for missing school a lot.
What was surprising to me, however, was that Naren had apparently shared recess time with two kids from the group. And he seemed happy about it.
Naren was happier still, when Trunks didn’t show up for football that day.
“He must be sick or something. Good for me, na.”
When Trunks didn’t show up at school or football for three days in a row, I started getting uncomfortable. I asked Naren if anyone in the football group knew about what was happening. He shrugged.
“Vicky and Sora are going to his house today, na. They will tell me in school tomorrow.”
Next day, Vicky and Sora didn’t have much news, though.
“They heard Trunks’ parents fighting, na. So they just came back without going in.”
“Wait. They didn’t even check on their friend?”
“Trunks isn’t exactly a friend, na. Vicky says the group let him play because he usually buys the football. The one we are playing with is his old one, na. He just gave it away to Sora when he got a new one.”
“Let’s go get some ice cream, na, Minu?”
“Hunh…what? Ice cream…okay. But you have to take me afterwards to where Trunks lives.”
“Why? No one misses him, Minu. No one wants him to come.”
I stopped walking to look at Naren closely.
“What? I don’t want him to come for football, Minu. And I don’t want him to come to school. I am happy, Minu. I am happy at school. You can see that, na?”
“I can see that, yes. And it is bothering me.”
“It is bothering you that I am happy?”
I shook my head. “It’s nothing, kiddo. Let’s get you your ice cream.”
It wasn’t very difficult to get an address out of the Headmistress of the school. She had been the one who invited me to speak at the school in the first place. And she liked my poems. So, she didn’t ask too much about what I was upto.
That day, when Naren went off to play with his new friends, I headed off to meet a couple of parents.
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