She was sweating. Profusely. Her palms were wet and she dreaded dropping the book tightly held in her hands. She was already preparing for this day since weeks but still she was scared. She knew that her fear was unfounded, fallacious. But it still never stopped her from getting nervous. And Simmi guessed that she never would. She had started accepting this fear as a part of herself. A big part. Taking a deep breath, she entered her new college – Vidyanagar Arts and Commerce College. Today was her first day of the college. She knew most of the girls of her age were quite excited to enter college because it marked an end to long hours of slogging over study books and a start to freedom. A freedom to roam around with friends; a freedom to bunk lectures; a freedom to experiment new things. Simmi, however, wasn’t excited. And if the people who knew her got to know about it, they wouldn’t be surprised. Being the younger one of two daughters of Somnath Patel, Simmi was little bit introvert and sheltered. Her elder sister, Shalini, though was quite a fire cracker. Whenever any issues came up, Shalini handled it, and so Simmi never had to deal with anything more strenuous than studies.
Keeping her head down, Simmi went to the registration office of her college to ask about her class. Once she found her class, she chose to sit in the middle of the class. She didn’t want to sit on the first bench and be asked questions. At the same time, last benches are always reserved for troublemakers and she was no troublemaker. She gingerly folded her legs under the bench so that her T-shirt didn’t rise above from the back and she waited for the class to fill. She was seeing too many of new faces; she couldn’t find a single familiar face from her former school. But then, she shouldn’t be surprised. She had studied in all girls’ convent school and whosoever passed from there always preferred to go to all girls’ college too. In fact, most of her former classmates and friends had decided to do so. She was the only one who opted for the co-head education. And she had opted for that for a reason. She was already so shy and introvert that she herself couldn’t stand her nerves whenever she came into contact with new people. When she was in high school, she had decided that she was going to try to get over her affliction of shyness, and the first step toward that goal was to take admission in this co-ed college. When she had told her family about her choice of college, they were quite surprised. In fact, they had also tried to warn her that she might find the whole thing intimidating. But Simmi didn’t budge. She was determined to overcome her shortcoming, and she had felt really happy when she had secured admission in this college. She always believed in taking one short step at a time and this step was quite important for her.
Simmi snapped back into the reality when somebody plopped down beside her. A girl wearing a denim mini skirt and a yellow tank top sat beside her. She had such bored expression on her face while chewing a bubble gum that Simmi didn’t feel like introducing herself and take an another step toward her goal. So she just looked down at her notepad and started doodling until the professor arrived. The first lecture was supposed to be for accounts, her favorite subject. The professor arrived and the class began. Initially introductions were made and she came to know that the girl sitting beside her was Kajal. Apparently, she got admission on the sports quota. She was a state-level basketball player. Simmi was so deeply impressed by Kajal’s confidence and attitude that she felt intimidated. When Kajal tried to speak with her after couple of lectures, Simmi just stammered and looked at her with wide eyes. Seeing this reaction, Kajal gave a disgusted sigh and turned away, and so the rest of her day went away with her neighbor’s back to her.
Horrified by her own behavior, Simmi exited her classroom at the end of the day looking dejectedly down on the floor. Suddenly she smacked into another body at the front and started falling. A pair of hands grabbed her from behind to keep her from falling. Even though the body was behind her, she instantly knew that the body was tall, strong and sinewy. Those pair of hands lifted her and placed her on the other side of the lobby as if she was a doll. She turned around to see to whom those hands belonged to and met with a pair of hazel brown eyes. However, those eyes were way, way up. To her 5 feet 2-inch-frame, that 6 feet body seemed as tall as a mountain and she nearly got a crick in her neck just by looking up at him. Before she could thank that person for saving her from falling down, he abruptly moved away without even looking at her. Simmi found the whole incident unreal: who would just move a 50-kg person without breaking sweat and then move away without looking at her? Shrugging away the incident, Simmi went on her way to home. Even though she didn’t make any friends, she felt that she had quite an eventful day. Seeing too many new faces and trying to remember all the names was quite exhausting for her.
As soon as she reached home she saw everyone lined up on the veranda of her tenement. Her family lived in a middle-class housing colony in a respectable area. Although they weren’t rich, they always managed to get by comfortably as her father worked as a manager in the State Bank of India. The minute she set a foot inside the tenement compound, questions started coming from all the directions. “How was your day?” “Did you make friends?” “Were you ragged?” Simmi didn’t know which question to answer first; so she simply went inside, kept her purse and books aside, grabbed a cool bottle of water from the fridge and walked back into the veranda where her family was sitting. She could clearly see anxiety written on her parents’ face and mild worry on her sister’s. Looking at this scene, she melted. She knew she was lucky to have such a loving family who always supported her in her endeavors, and only this support was her driving force to be independent some body. To do something that would make her parents stop worrying about her. She knew that her family considered her a baby, a wide-eyed girl who needed to be sheltered and protected at every twist and turn. She grudgingly accepted that they were somewhat right, and that’s why she was trying to come out of her shell.
“It was fine, and no, I haven’t made any friends but I will before the month is out.”
“A month? You need a whole month to make a single friend? Now don’t you think that’s too much?” Shalini couldn’t help but comment.
Glaring daggers at her elder daughter, Kamini, Simmi’s mother, tried to comfort her younger one. “It’s okay beta. I am sure you will be able to make friends. Just come inside. I have made your favorite puri-bhaji for snacks.”
Simmi knew that puri-bhaji was her mother’s way of comforting her. Although she didn’t want to admit it aloud, the first day of her college was painful. She definitely needed that puri-bhaji.
Simmi was quite proud of herself the next day. Today morning she had entered the college minus sweaty palms. Even though it wasn’t much, Simmi was definitely happy. And she has also said “hi” to Kajal, who again had sat beside her. During recess, Kajal even asked her to accompany her to the canteen. Feeling ecstatic about her success, Simmi happily went with her. It seemed that Kajal was quite an extrovert. Before Simmi could ask her any questions, Kajal started telling her about her life. Kajal had an elder brother – Ketan – who had also studied in here, and it seemed that Ketan had told her everything that she was supposed to know about this college. Ketan had also warned Kajal to stay away from a guy named Arpit, who was supposed to pass the college with Ketan but he had flunked the exams. Even though Simmi wanted to ask Kajal whether she was supposed to stay away from Arpit just because he failed or was there any other reason, she didn’t. She figured that it was highly unlikely of her to meet him and so there was no point in asking.
Just when they were sipping cold coffee and gorging on hot, sizzling pakoras, Simmi suddenly saw a familiar face at one corner of the canteen. It was the guy from yesterday, who had saved her from falling down. Staring at him without realizing it, Simmi started debating internally whether to ask Kajal about him; but before she could decide, he suddenly looked up in her direction. The intensity of his gaze was so powerful that suddenly Simmi felt as if he could see through her. Disturbed by that thought, she averted her eyes and looked at Kajal, who was busy eating pakoras. She nudged her to get her attention but Kajal was too hungry to pay any mind to Simmi. She again took a peek at that guy and was flummoxed to see that the guy still staring holes at her. Feeling bit unnerved, she hit Kajal in the shins. Giving a yelp, Kajal glared at her. “What was that for?”
“Shh…don’t look right now but who is that guy sitting at that corner of the café?”
“Who? Which guy? Are you already having a crush on someone?”
“Shh…lower your voice. I am talking about that guy sitting on the right-hand side corner.”
When Kajal looked in that direction, that guy was still staring at our table. Suddenly Kajal became serious. “Listen Simmi, stay away from him. You definitely don’t want to mess with him.”
“Hey, I am not messing with him. I just want to know who he is. Yesterday he saved me from falling down and before I could thank him, he moved away. I was just wondering whether I should go over and say thanks. But then he seems somewhat scary to me.” Simmi was feeling quite excited about having this conversation with Kajal.
“You should be scared by him. He’s the guy about whom Ketan was warning me. He’s Arpit.” And that fast Simmi’s excitement fizzled out.