Riding On Ahead
Riding On Ahead
Saritha woke up to the sounds of her parents arguing. Thud!! Thud!! things started falling. Her father Prabhakaran was throwing out one thing after the other from the cupboard. He was searching for something and was showing all his frustration of not able to find it on his wife Kalpana. Saritha was accustomed to this sort of argy-bargy in the household. So she took no notice of it and went on to get ready for school. Prabhakaran had left for work in a rage without having his breakfast and Kalpana was sitting on the dining table crying and lamenting to herself. Saritha went and sat in the chair next to her and tried to console her mother."Don't you know daddy's character, forget it mummy. Come now let us eat something. What is for breakfast?"
"I will eat later. You have your dosa and milk soon if you don't want to be late", said Kalpana, wiping tears with the edge of her sari.
Kalpana walked away to the kitchen to carry on with her other chores. Saritha gobbled her breakfast and gulped down the milk. She ran outside and as she was wearing her shoes, she stared at her pink Ladybird bicycle in the front yard. Until three months ago, Saritha used to go on her bicycle to school every day. Now, even the thought of touching it brought up an uneasiness in her. She felt her chest welling up and quickly looked away from it."Mummy, bye", she called out. Picking up her school bag and lunch bag, she started walking to school.
School was not fun anymore. Saritha attended all her classes, talked and played with her classmates as if she was programmed to do so by someone. It lacked the old fervor and spirit. Sometimes it appeared as if she was in a trance, staring into the distance, completely oblivious to her surroundings. It was break time and most of the students were in the playground. Saritha and her classmates Varun and Supraja were walking back to the school building from the canteen across the playground. Varun and Supraja were making fun of their physics teacher. Saritha was looking at the row of cycles parked on the side of the ground. She looked away and kept walking, but suddenly she looked back again in the same direction when she thought she saw someone she knew. She was not wrong. Wearing a white top and a sky blue skirt, arms folded across her chest, a girl was sitting on one of the bicycles smiling. The bell rang and all the students hurried back to their classes. Supraja pulled Saritha along with them for their next class. Saritha kept thinking about what she had seen, it was all she could do for the rest of the day.
The last bell for the day rang. Everybody rushed out of their classes, packing their bags. Some left for their homes, some stayed back to play and the very unfortunate ones headed towards attending special classes. Saritha, very hesitantly got up and walked slowly towards the playground. With a mixed feeling of fear and hope, Saritha looked ahead at the cycle stand. She was sitting on the same cycle looking at Saritha. Disturbed and scared, Saritha hurried back home. She went into her room, locked the door, sat on her bed, and cried.
"When did you come? What are you doing locked inside?", her mother knocked on the door."Come and have your tea", she said.
Saritha washed her face, changed into a simple top and pajama and went to have her tea.
"What is wrong? Why do you look washed out? Is everything fine dear?, Kalpana asked worried.
"I am a little tired Mummy, nothing else", assured Saritha sipping her tea.
"OK, take some rest and then start your homework", Kalpana said. She went in to get a comb and started plaiting Saritha's hair.
"Did you eat at all today?", Saritha asked her mom.
"Yes dear, I did", Kalpana said smiling at her daughter.
Saritha is in the ninth grade and used to be an enthusiastic and fun-loving girl. She did well in her studies and was a favorite among her teachers. But one terrible experience is enough to change the way a person starts looking at life and everything about it. She and her friend Sheela always used to go to school and come back together on their bicycle. They were neighbors and best of friends.
Lying down on her bed, Saritha thought about the cursed evening. On their way back home, Sheela and Saritha decided to ride to an ice cream shop located a couple of miles from school. They were only halfway when it struck Sheela that she has forgotten her lunch bag in school. "You can take it tomorrow", Saritha said.
"No, I will be back in five minutes, you wait here. If it gets lost my father will kill me", said Sheela and she turned her cycle.
Saritha parked her cycle and waited by the side of the road and Sheela was waiting for the signal to change. Sheela had just begun to cross the road after the signal changed red. What happened after that was not clear to Saritha even till date. A car speeding at about 70 mph, completely ignoring the stop sign hit Saritha's cycle. She was knocked off and run over by a truck from behind her. Saritha ran to the spot and knelt beside her friend. Sheela lay there motionless in a horrible state. There was blood everywhere. Saritha called out her name, shook her vigorously, but she did not move. Saritha heard someone calling the ambulance. The crowd gathered by then and a police officer bent down to talk to Saritha. He asked a series of questions and Saritha tried to answer them. The ambulance sped away with Sheela's motionless body in it. That was the last time Saritha had seen her. The police officer had made arrangements to take Saritha home and inform Sheela's parents Thangavel and Malini. Prabhakaran had hurried to the hospital along with Sheela's parents while Kalpana stayed back to console her daughter. Saritha did not speak a word that day. She lied down on Kalpana's lap. She was stunned beyond words.
The image of her dearest friend covered in blood kept coming back to her. It might have been the exhaustion due to all the emotional struggle, she dozed off on her mother's lap after a while. When she woke up the next day, she was lying on her bed. It took a few minutes for everything to sink in. She hurried out into the living room. Kalpana was sitting on the couch."Is Sheela back from the hospital?", asked Saritha.
"No dear, come here and sit down next to me", Kalpana said.
From the expression on her mother's face, Saritha understood that something terrible had happened."What happened Mummy? is she fine?", Saritha began to sob.
Kalpana held Saritha close to her, looked her in the eye, and said, "She is no more dear. She died in the morning."
"She is not coming back?", hoped Saritha. Kalpana shook her head.
"We were just going to have ice cream Mummy", she said crying uncontrollably.
"I know, some things in life cannot be controlled by us. It just happens."
"How can this happen?", Saritha was upset, angry, and confused.
"Can I go see her? Saritha wanted to see her one more time.
"No dear, her parents have taken her to their native for the funeral. Your father has gone with them".
"Why didn't they take me? Why are we not going?", Saritha was furious.
"We will be going tomorrow".They didn't want Saritha to see Sheela in this state. Kalpana knew how hard it must be for her daughter. They knew each other from the time of their birth. They
played, ate, studied, slept, and grew up together. They were more like sisters, a part of each other's family. Sheela's parents had moved to their native and Thangavel was planning to start a business there.
It had taken a considerable amount of time for Saritha to come out of it but she has not completely recovered from the shock and moved with her life on yet. She had lost her best friend, forever and she was unable to find a way to live with the loss.
So when Saritha saw the spitting image of her friend in the morning, though it was scary, she wanted to believe that Sheela had come back. She was having very disturbed sleep in the night and suddenly woke up sweating profusely. She looked around in the dark and saw her friend sitting beside her. She jumped off the bed and felt a rush of panic overcome her."It is OK, I am here", said Sheela.
"What are you doing here? Is this for real?", cried out Saritha.
"You are looking at me aren't you ?", Sheela asked smiling at her.
"Are you a ghost?", Saritha was getting worried.
"No. You wanted to see me and I am here", said Sheela
"Am I imagining things?", asked Saritha.
"Yes, you are. But do you feel good?", Sheela asked back.
"Yes, I feel good that you are here with me. I feel so happy that I can talk to you again", Saritha was beginning to feel relaxed now."My life is not the same without you. School is not the same without you. I have missed you badly. Can I see you whenever I want to?"
"Yes, you can. Now go to sleep. We will talk tomorrow", said Sheela.
Saritha came to the bed, hugged Sheela with excitement, and in no time she dozed off.
When Saritha woke up in the morning, she was happy to see Sheela sleeping next to her. Saritha woke her up."Good morning", wished Saritha.
"Good morning", Sheela wished back.
"Will you come to school with me today?", Saritha asked her eagerly.
"Yes, I miss school", Saritha said.
Both of them got ready for school. In the living room, when Saritha was around her mother, she didn't talk to Sheela. She knew it was not normal for a person to converse with an imaginary being. She had her breakfast and got ready to leave. When she started walking out, Sheela asked, "Why are you not riding your cycle?"
Saritha looked around to see if anyone was watching her and said, "I don't feel comfortable riding it now. Reminds me of", she stopped abruptly.
"Take your cycle, let us go together", insisted Sheela.
Saritha walked towards the cycle and got on it."You come sit in the back seat", she said to Sheela. Both of them set off to school like the good old days. Saritha missed riding her cycle so much and was immensely happy that she found the courage to go on it again with the help of her friend.
Kalpana looked at her daughter go on the bicycle and smiled. She was relieved and happy that Saritha is slowly moving on, totally unaware of an imaginary soul accompanying her daughter.
Saritha has found solace in the imaginary presence of her dear friend. Whenever she was alone and there was nobody around, she talked to her, shared all her problems, studied with her, watched television together, believing that Sheela was with her all the time. She was her old self again, happy, pleasant, and lively. Saritha is very much aware that Sheela is not real, but it is the only thing that is helping her now to get on with her life. This remains her own profound secret to date.