Read The Girl Who Sat Beside Me Online
Authors: Abhilash Gaur
Tags: #romance, #school, #teen love
A Short Story
By Abhilash Gaur
Copyright 2015 Ritika Sharma
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It was the day
school reopened after two months of summer break. There was so much
catching up to do with friends and I had planned to sit with one of
them, but our teacher put me in the last row with her. The last row
away from the windows.
She was a smart
girl and one of the few I liked in class, but there was one awkward
knot between us. Have you ever tried threading a needle and found
out that the knot you made at the end of the thread wasn’t big
enough to catch in the cloth? It was that kind of knot—apparent but
A year ago she
had wanted to date me, but I was seeing another girl and politely
declined. It was the honorable thing to do but didn’t score me any
points with her. Two-time but never turn down a girl’s proposal, I
have learnt since then. Anyway, she bore my refusal
pleasantly—outwardly, at least—and talked easily whenever our paths
crossed. It must have been difficult because she hadn’t made a
secret of her liking for me and the other girls mocked her.
Then I heard
she was seeing another boy, and felt easier myself. But just before
summer, we both fell out of our first affairs, and the class
grapevine caught the news and didn’t stop spreading it till the
When I walked
up to her bench with my bag, she slid inside towards the wall but I
protested and gallantly offered the aisle seat to her. The first
class passed in silence as we both made a great show of being
engrossed by the teacher. But I couldn’t help noticing that she sat
with the fingers of her right hand clenched in a fist and the thumb
pressed between middle and forefinger. She had a thin olive skin on
which the veins showed very green. It was a very pretty and small
hand but the nails were sharp and shapely without being too long.
They were clean pink nails without any of the white discoloration
that is so common among teenagers.
Bitter from my
first breakup, I felt a pang of regret for turning her down. She
wasn’t so pretty but would have proved loyal, and we would have
gone steady. Who knows, maybe to the end of our days!
She was very
stiff when the class ended and looked straight at the head in front
of her. “Where did you go in the summer,” I asked to break the ice.
She lowered her elbows but keeping her fingers locked, faced me. I
don’t remember her answer because I was watching her teeth. Two
uniform rows of sparkling white set between wide but thin lips.
Those lips showed her teeth to full advantage and she looked
beautiful smiling. But she had a habit of pursing them tightly
which made them spread wider and gave her a duckish look, which was
tolerable in a living, fluid face but marred her appeal in
being a duck talking to me. She unmeshed her fingers only to cross
her arms tightly before her waist. They pressed down on her white
shirt and I could make out the outline of her slip and the small
curves underneath it. I looked away sharply in the direction of the
teacher’s table but continued talking. She was being very pleasant,
smiling and talking with her best manners. Very prim and proper,
and I noticed that, too, because that wasn’t how we classmates used
to talk to each other.
and then another, and another. We talked every time the teachers
changed. We talked in the lunch break too because it was the rainy
season and it was raining heavily outside. And we talked about
things neither of us cared for. We were talking because ...
because—and this is just my view on it—when a boy and a girl feel
physically attracted to each other, words are like touch. We were
feeling up each other with words and I had no doubt she felt as
aroused about me as I did about her.
came but my mind was wandering far from books and lessons. I was
thinking, considering in fact, my chances of succeeding in a
proposal to her. As things stood, I wanted a girlfriend very much,
and she was better than most girls I knew. She wasn’t a trophy
catch like my ex but it might be easier keeping an affair with her
When that class
ended, I murmured to her, with the right amount of hesitation
thrown in: “Heard about you and him”. She nodded fixing her gaze in
her lap where the fingers of her cupped hands were intertwined.
“Terribly sorry, I didn’t mean to poke.” I was watching the girls
on the bench before us to make sure they overheard nothing. I was
venturing on very thin ice.
She didn’t look
up and I said, “You probably heard about me too?” She nodded again,
but more easily. She was rubbing her thumbnails together. This time
I murmured so softly I didn’t hear myself above my beating heart:
“We could be a pair now, what do you say?” The same nod and a
beautiful, wide grin.
I felt very
bold after that. My heart was still thudding but like a hunter’s
after a chase, not his prey’s. “Put your hand inside the shelf,” I
said. Then I reached inside and held it. It was the seal on our
compact. Nobody saw us because we were in the last row by the wall,
and anyway, what’s wrong with two students reaching inside their
desk shelf to pull out notebooks or stationery?
Her skin was
moist, her arm limp. I knew I had the upper hand in this affair,
but the joy I had expected was missing. How do I describe that
feeling? Say, you are out in the market with time to kill and you
buy a shirt because it has a 65 percent discount on it ... It’s not
a shirt you want particularly but you take it because it’s
available cheap, and the movies are worse and cost more. What do
you do after the shirt’s been packed and the bill paid?
After the first
rush, I wanted to call off my offer. Hey, I had hoped to sit and
swap notes with my friends, not commit myself to a girl. But the
gloom passed like a sugar crash and when the last bell rang, I
asked her whether she would come to train in the evening. Her thin
skin and visible veins were the fruit of diligent middle-distance
running while I was a promising cyclist.
The rain had
stopped but the sky was overcast. “I will try,” she said
doubtfully. “One more thing,” I said, “let’s keep this
I was so
excited I went back to school earlier than usual in the evening.
The ground was wet, there was no sign of the coach and my scooter
was the only vehicle in the park. Another spell of rain seemed
unlikely and I was hopeful of her coming. But I couldn’t just hang
around in the park, so I changed into my shorts and started warming
up as usual. There was water everywhere so I jogged around the
basketball court. Every time I faced the vehicle park, my eyes
darted there in hopes of seeing a blue moped, and when I faced away
from it my ears strained to catch the tut-tut-tut of the small
I was doing my
stretches when the coach arrived. She was going to see a friend and
had just looked in, not expecting anyone to be around in that
weather. She looked surprised and pleased to see me. “Do you intend
to stay on? I don’t see anyone coming to practise today,” she said,
“besides, the ground is too wet to cycle on”. I said I was feeling
very rusty after two months away from the track and wanted to work
out in the gym. “All right,” she said, “I will leave the keys with
you, and you can hand them over to the guard on your way out”.
I didn’t want
any keys, and was thinking of pushing off myself, but had to lie to
explain my presence in school.
She drove off
in her little white Suzuki and I was again all alone on the court.
How long could I go on stretching? How long could I pretend to be
drawing in deep breaths. I could have brought a ball from the store
and practised shots, but my mind was fixed on her and, truth is I
couldn’t and wouldn’t have done anything else.
many ‘last minutes’, I was walking in the direction of the park to
hand over the keys when a moped rounded the corner at speed. I
looked up and there was no mistaking the face even at that
distance, although she looked a thousand times prettier than she
did in uniform. If her white cotton frock printed all over with
maple leaves in all the colours of fall didn’t raise eyebrows, her
long, open hair with just a white elastic band to keep it in place
would. But for her pink Nike running shoes, she had come dressed
like Barbie and I had second thoughts about acknowledging her in
front of the guard.
around today,” I said aloud and hurriedly to let the guard know our
being there together was just a coincidence. She caught on and
played along nicely. “What a shame! It’s perfect weather to go
running in,” she said. But I was thinking about her frock. It
didn’t look divided to me and I wondered whether she wore her
running shorts underneath it.
“I am going to
the gym,” I said, “if you need a ball or something, just come along
and take it”.
I tried to play
cool and walked swinging my arms loosely, but her shoulders were
again hunched and her thumbs were pressed between middle and
forefingers, I noticed. I was a regular at the gym so I knew the
door key among the half a dozen in the bunch, but I struggled to
open the lock with it. Being alone with her in that long, dark
corridor where even the guard wouldn’t come looking for another
hour at least gave me goosebumps. It was a vague sort of high, half
dread and half longing.
We entered the
hall slowly, properly as though watched by a thousand eyes, and
then I shut the door behind me slowly, noiselessly, and leaned back
on it. She stood to one side with her shoulders hunched and head
bowed, staring fixedly at her shoes while I searched for the right
opening. Whatever lines I had rehearsed in my mind all afternoon
had fallen through some trapdoor the moment I shut the door. I had
to say something because I knew she couldn’t, and if I didn’t
within the minute or two, it would be all over between us as guilt
would overpower whatever new, youthful yearning had arisen inside
I extended my
right hand and said the lamest thing I could think of: “So, after a
year”. She took it diffidently but happily with a “Yeah”. My heart
was beating so hard, I could feel my temples throb. I had to break
her reserve quickly. “So, shall we kiss?” I said, smiling to make
it sound like a joke, but unsure whether she had heard me at all.
She didn’t say or do anything at all, so I took it she meant
hand on the door I moved towards her lips but suddenly changed
course and went for the right cheek instead. It was a babyish kiss
but I knew a lip-lock would have been a disaster. Neither of us
knew how to do it. At least now I had started without embarrassing
We were both
grinning and stood holding hands. I almost loved her then. There
were things I wanted to do to her, but knew not how. It didn’t
occur to me to ask her whether she had something in mind as
into a pocket and pulled out two chocolate toffees in dark,
unfamiliar wrappers. “For you,” she said. They were big and almost
perfect spheres. And they were still cold to the touch. She had
taken them out of the refrigerator just before starting. I opened
one and it was a dollop of luscious, dark chocolate that melted in
the mouth and flowed like a viscous coat of paint over my tongue
and down the throat. Her father had brought a packet of them from a
business trip to Kenya.
about the ball then, and hurriedly sent her off to the basketball
court to keep the guard from getting suspicious about us. “See you
in half an hour,” I said shutting the door softly behind her.
I used to shut
and latch the door while working out to keep the irregulars away,
but that evening I didn’t raise the latch. The gym had not been
cleaned all through summer and there was a thick coat of dust on
all the covers. My heart wasn’t in the workout so I swung a pair of
light dumbbells halfheartedly for a while. Then, I pulled the cover
off the treadmill, raising a puff of dust that set me sneezing. I
plugged it in and started walking on it listlessly.
Time hung heavy
and I kept checking my watch. I pictured her playing all alone.
That frock filling up with air and rising. The ball getting between
her legs. I had just seen those legs down to the ankles because she
wasn’t wearing socks. She was one of the few girls in class who
already waxed their legs and her skin was of the glistening type
that I associate—for no reason—with a fish diet. I was getting so
hard I had to stop the treadmill and sit down. And then the
doorknob turned and she slipped in after opening the door just a