This story is by Ram Rohan & Ram Roshan and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Radha’s my classmate. The day before was her ninth birthday party. She had ordered nine cupcakes with nine candles on each one. She had also arranged for nine flavours of ice cream and even nine types of Barbie dolls as return gifts. Everybody had been there. It had been the best birthday party ever!
I hadn’t gone. It was partly because I don’t like birthday parties and partly because I wasn’t invited. Actually, that’s why I don’t like birthday parties; because I never get invited.
Today’s my ninth birthday party. Rather, just my ninth birthday. I had invited the only two people I sometimes talk with at school—the girls I usually help with homework. One had said “no”. One had said “maybe”. At least if she had come, perhaps I could’ve still called it a party. I looked at my invitation card again. It clearly said ‘11 am’. I then looked at the wall-clock. Both needles were pointing upwards. I knew that meant 12 O’ Clock, and yet another birthday in isolation.
“Tara, do you want me to call Anjana’s mom and remind her?” Mummy asked. I suddenly remembered that she was also there in the hall with me, observing my actions.
I slowly shook my head.
“Shall I call Daddy and ask him to come a little earlier from work today?”
I didn’t respond.
Mummy seemed to understand. Daddy’s always too busy with work to spend enough time with me.
“Alright, why don’t the two of us cut the cake and celebrate now?”
“No, mummy. It’s okay,” I managed to say, so softly I could barely hear my own voice.
“Okay, darling,” I heard her say. A few silent moments passed. “Let me know if you change your mind. Mummy has a very important conference call now. Will be back in an hour.”
Mummy started to make her way to the bedroom.
“Mummy,” I called out without much thought.
“Uh…” I started, and then said, “have a nice meeting.”
“Aw, thank you, dear!” she smiled, before resuming her walk to the bedroom.
That was close! I had actually meant to ask Mummy if I could call Paul over. But I had suddenly felt goose bumps around my knuckles, as if to remind me of that terrible dark night two years ago when Daddy had beat me for the first time. My parents would never approve of me playing or talking with Paul–Meenamma’s (our maid) son and the only friend I had ever made. It still seems a bit strange, as it was Mummy who had led me towards Paul in the first place.
For two years I had avoided meeting Paul. It had been so depressing that time had seemed to pass slower than Grandma without her walking stick. But today, the loneliness ceased to be bearable. Today, I knew I had to meet Paul again.
But I knew that if I wanted his company today, I had to first treat him as a real friend. I had to personally go over and invite him to my birthday party.
I marched to the front door. It was latched from above. Oh no! I had never been able to reach it. However, the last time I tried (yesterday), I was one year younger. I tried my luck and failed. I suddenly remembered the squeaky old stool in the storeroom that father uses to change light bulbs when they stop working and used it to make my escape.
Minutes later, I found myself outside the tiny shed attached to Meenamma’s house on the adjacent street. I knew Paul would be there. The door was ajar. I peeked in. Voila, there he was! He was just as I had imagined him to be, although it had been two years since I last saw him.
We had met on a similar day around three years ago, when I was lonelier and more desperate than ever before. I had neither a friend nor hope of getting any. I was crying to Mummy as I had done many times before, but luckily that day, Meenamma had overheard and suggested I go with her to her house. “Madam, there are lot of kids her age on my street, madam,” she had said.
I still remember the words Mummy had said to me as I was leaving our house: “Good luck, Tara! I know you’ll make a friend today.”
It was initially bad. Since I spend most of my time indoors with books, I was either unaware or bad at the games the children were playing at Meenamma’s street. While skipping, I had even tripped and fallen, causing the other kids to laugh. Before Meenamma took me back home, she had left me at her house for a few minutes as she had had some work. My legs were aching by then and the red wound on my knee stung. I had been disappointed, both generally and because I had disappointed Mummy. Her words kept ringing in my head as I strolled around exploring Meenamma’s tiny house.
You’ll make a friend today.
I had found a little shed attached to the house. The door having been ajar, I had decided to walk in, the words still ringing in my head.
You’ll make a friend today.
Inside, I had found treasure–a dirty purple carpet that could’ve well been Aladdin’s, a few torn bed sheets that would help make an invincible fort, crushed plastic bottles that could be used in wind chimes, and Paul. The words “You’ll make a friend today” took a whole new meaning! We became best friends immediately.
Today, he was sitting there again. The strong smell of bleach in the shed hit me once again. It was an aroma I loved, and one I associate with Paul. My heart started to beat faster. I could still go back home and continue being the obedient little good girl I had been for two years. Everything would be normal.
I walked in. He lifted his head up to see me. His eyes lit up. “Happy birthday, Tara!” he greeted. This was all I had wanted! A friend to wish me on my birthday. And because I didn’t even tell him it was my birthday, it was even more special.
But of course, Paul couldn’t forget me nor my birthday. Him forgetting it is as improbable as me forgetting my own birthday.
“Paul, I’m sorry for not meeting you for the past two years,” I apologized.
“It’s alright, Tara. I’m really glad you’re here now.”
I knew how hard it was for Paul. I was his only friend, as he was mine. I knew it would kill him if I were to stop thinking about him.
But I knew Paul would forgive me, and he had; just as I had imagined.
“Would you come home for my birthday party?” I asked.
His eyes slightly widened with fear. I knew what he was afraid of.
“Is it my parents?” I asked.
Paul knew my parents didn’t like him. He sometimes thought it was because of his lower status or because he was Christian, although I had told him many times before that it was neither. However, I couldn’t tell him the real reason my parents didn’t like him—that he wasn’t normal.
“Mummy is in a call inside her room,” I said. “We could finish the party before she comes out.”
He nodded his head again, just as I had imagined he would. I knew his mother wouldn’t oppose as he wouldn’t be asking her in the first place. She cared little where he went. And his father had died years ago.
When we entered my house, it was around 12:45. Paul immediately went and sat down where he usually does—on the floor next to the dining chairs. As I went to the fridge to get the cake, I recollected I had told Paul it would be a birthday party. I wondered if this qualified. It had neither nine cakes nor nine candles nor nine varieties of anything. It just had one cake, one candle, and one friend; but as I sat down, placing the cake between us, I realized that this was all a birthday party needed.
While blowing out the candle, I wished my parents would somehow approve of our friendship. After all, he was tailor-made for me. Like me, he couldn’t play games, and even had similar interests. I cut two triangular pieces of cake for the two of us. However, since Paul doesn’t eat cake, I had to eat both pieces.
After he left, I was pleased that the birthday party had gone just as I had imagined it would. Even Paul had been the perfect friend today. Despite all that had happened, he had both forgiven me and agreed to come to my little party, just as I had imagined he would.
But of course he had behaved just as I had imagined. He is my imaginary friend.