Fiction. Friend, a short story by Adreyo Sen.
When we were children, we were the best of friends.
Amongst the rough, laughing children, we were silent and our silences brought us together.
When you first came to me, smiling shyly, I didn’t return your smile, fearing that you had come to mock me, as the others did, for my dreaminess and my tendency to get my tunic splattered with ink and mud.
But you sat down next to me under the weeping tree and began to speak, I think, of the Enid Blyton boarding school stories that made up most of our library.
We were inseparable after that, sitting together under the weeping tree or going for long walks in the moors that surrounded our school.
You flinched the first time I took your hand. But then, later, you let me slip my hands over your cool, slender ones, looking away shyly.
Teacher didn’t let us sit together in class. When I tried to sit down next to you, he slapped me. You didn’t protest.
When we were fifteen, the other boys began to notice your intangible slenderness and you gave them the same shy smile that you used to give me. But you still came to me when I called to you and you still sat with me under the weeping tree.
When I first took your slender body in my arms and began to caress your quiet flesh, you were entirely passive. But then you leaned against me and my heart soared.
Soon after, our Teacher went away. Those were magical days. I would wake up early in the morning and throw a stone at the window above your bed and you would come down and make sandwiches. And then we would go into the moors and snuggle together under one of the rocks. You often fell asleep and I would carry you home.
But one morning, you gave me your rigid back. When I touched your shoulder, you flinched crossly.
“Teacher’s coming tomorrow,” you said.
The next morning, Teacher was furious at the shortness of your skirt, which no longer fell to your ankles. You had grown.
It was not his slapping you that made you run away. It was the look of satisfaction on my face when you turned to me for support.
I stayed on at the Home. It was all I had and I was happy when the teasing of the other children turned to cold apathy.
When I was eighteen, I became a teacher at the school and kept a careful eye on the sort of children who would have bullied me and you. I acquired a ruler and often brought it down on their slender fingers.
Teacher was happy with me and would send me into town for supplies.
That was how I came to see you, the day after my thirtieth birthday.
You were sitting outside a coffee shop in worn out clothes, lines on your tired, exhausted face. And I felt a curiously mingled sorrow and satisfaction at the consequence of the life of dissipation you must have led after leaving the Home.
But then you smiled at the man next to you and I realized that the lines on your face and the dark hollows under your eyes were the caresses of years of happiness.
It was sorrow that had kept me young.