"I will be yours," they say to you, and they say it so you believe it too. I never found a better place to hide his letter than my breast pocket. I wished to keep him close. I met him when most of the students were looking across the row at someone they had a crush on. For me, it was the same boys row where Ashish sat on the first bench and looked straight at the blackboard while at least three heads in the classroom where looking straight at him. If glittering sky on a full moon night could pour down all its stars at once, I knew they won't make my eyes glitter as much as looking at Ashish does.
One of them heads was mine and the other two were of Rashmi and Sarah. Everyone giggled looking at how Rashmi had her eyes transfixed on Ashish and how Sarah was playing with her hair as she didn't miss watching a single moment of Ashish just silently sitting in the classroom. A glimpse of him and I was dreaming us together. I never got how Sarah's playing with her hair meant anything different than, well, just playing with her hair. It reminded me of how I had grown my hair in summer vacations and how Dad made me cut it short right before school reopened. He said, "Boys with long hair are just wannabe girls. You don't wanna cast that impression in school, do ya?" And as was my habit, I said, "No, dad." But the inner me screamed out loud, "Why you wanna put us all into boxes of 'Girls' and 'Boys' my dearest fool of a Dad!?" But obviously, I didn't want to be homeless as a teenager.
The bell rang to tell us the session was over. I always sat on the last bench. Until I got up from my seat and took a few steps towards Ashish, he was already surrounded by four girls - two of them I already told you about and the other two you can ignore just like I did - all of them talking to him about how wonderfully he had performed for the school Cricket team in the final match. I shouldn't feel jealous of girls always taking up most of his time, because, afterall, Ashish had got the looks of a movie star. He could easily remind you of Brad Pitt or the likes. I wanted to talk to him but with all those girls around, I thought better of it. I stayed back and watched a smile cover his face and him turning his gaze away when any of those girls let out a good laugh.
While talking of the match which our school won a few weeks ago, Rashmi went as far as to say, "If it weren't for you na, Ashu, then I can't even imagine of how our school team could've qualified, let alone win. I was in awe to see you defend just four runs in the last over." And all Ashish could say was, "I guess our coach guided us well. Most credit goes to him." They chattered until Ashish broke the flow of it by saying, "Well, I have to reach somewhere by five. Will it be fine if we talk later?" Rashmi got a little confused on how to answer it - God knows why, don't ask me - but Sarah handled it well by saying, "Yeah, sure. I've got to go someplace too. Bye, see ya!"
Ashish got up from his chair and looked back. It was when our eyes met and I smiled. But it was just for a second, or a millisecond, precisely, before he looked away. He said, "Bye y'all, have a good time." I knew he won't be going anywhere but to the library. When all those girls left for home - and apparently Ashish was alone - I had followed him out of the school a few days ago to see where he used to go. I know it's not fair to follow someone but I was just curious. Besides, I had no other intentions. I just liked him a lot. A stupid justification? Okay. I ain't smart either.
But now I knew where Ashish was headed to. He used to go to Lokmanya Library and read a book or two over there from five to seven. While I was following him, he looked back from time to time as I just prayed that he mustn't have saw me following him. Even after being in the same class, I found it super hard to have a word with him. He was...what they call it? Intimi-dating. Yeah, he was intimidating. I could talk to him but I'd lose my chain of thoughts mid-way through a sentence and then the awkwardness which might follow will surely kill me. It might just be a thought but I took my thoughts seriously and feelings even more. Ain't you ever unsure of how you gonna behave in front of someone? Unsure of yourself? I donno about you but I'm always like that. I'm unsure of everything. I don't trust myself because I have no proof to call myself trustworthy even to myself. So, following him again to the library and waiting for him to notice me was it. Do I again look stupid? C'mon, don't think like my Dad.
The gates of Lokmanya Library were too big for the small Library it was. Most books were in regional languages like Hindi and Marathi. But for some children's literature in English I had taken up the membership of this clumsy place. I once heard that every book has a special scent to its pages. I'm sure the one who said that had never visited Lokmanya Library. All books here reeked of the same dirt and dust which was widespread all over the place. The librarian was an old man, probably in his sixties, always sitting upright on his chair and writing something in a diary or just looking out the window while occasionally turning back to his newspaper. He smoked a cigarette when there was nobody in the reading room - it wasn't allowed but nobody wanted an arguement with the old man so we all just let him do things the way he wished, afterall, library was his to handle.
The smell of burnt tobacco loomed over the desks where readers sat down with their books. I heard there were a few books of Nobel Laureates in the last shelf of the library. Those books were huge. Like the writer noted down every thought he had since he was born and made it into a book. Those damned writers, haven't they got anything better to do than putting out more crap for us students to bear with? But the worst thing was, Ashish always went straight to that last shelf and picked up a heavy book to read. I stood at the main entrance of the library and saw Ashish take his seat in one corner of the reading room.
I followed suit and picked up Ruskin Bond's Blue Umbrella which I had read half the last time I visited the library. I walked with it a few steps towards the reading room but something in me was telling me to stop. At the door of the reading room I let out a sigh and decided upon listening to my gut. The last time I came here, I saw Ashish read a book called "One hundred years of solitude" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It must've took a voracious reader like him a few days to finish that novel but I wasn't sure how long it was gonna take me to do the same.
But anyway, I followed my gut and for the first time it landed me to the last shelf of the library where I could see names like, "Tagore", "Ishiguro" and so on. The library had a book or two of each writer. Under the nametag of Marquez, there were just two books. One I already told you about and the other was now picked up by Ashish. It was titled, "Living to tell the tale." I picked up One hundred years of solitude and the title was daunting enough to shake my willpower even before I had begun reading it.
But anyway, as I had picked it up, I took it to my seat in the reading room. I once had heard that if you wanna love someone, you first have to understand them. I'm not a man (or a boy) of values and principles but I like to do every task the best way I can. So, I began reading about Jose Arcadio Buendia. Dang, the name of the main character confused me. I thought if I should be laughing or pitying that someone had such a funny name. Well, I didn't know there were more people in the world with different cultures having different kinda names. Alright, that would be a lie. I did know that but I was so unfamiliar with many of the cultures that coming across something new from the other side was always a laughing matter to me.
But Marquez made sure that I won't be laughing no more because his magical world had begun to suck me in. Then there came the gypsies and their sciences and then the travel and epidemics with so much beauty in all of them that it was getting more and more difficult to separate the real from the magical. Then as I was turning pages, I noticed a piece of paper on the 60th page of the novel.
It was when Melquiades had come back from death and cured the epidemic of insomnia in Macondo. But now I wasn't into the story anymore. I was just staring at the folded piece of paper which had blue stains on one of its corners. I took out the paper and looked around. There was nobody else in the room except for me and Ashish; who was sitting a few rows across from me, looking into his book without any visible second thoughts.