I remember that day vividly. It was the middle of summer and it was hot, so hot that the tank top I wore clung to me like a second skin. I remember idly musing that I might have to scrape it off me at the end of the day. Even the tendrils of my ever defiant dark hair, that refused to be otherwise tamed by an army of bobby pins, looked dehydrated and were limply stuck all over my face and neck. There was no better way to beat the heat that day than to eternally suck on popsicles. Of course, I had one in my hand. It was my fourth and it was bravely trying to retain its shape under the scorching sun, but the dual attack of the violent heat and my fervid licks were fast doing a number on the poor thing.
You wheeled in just as a whole chunk of my popsicle slid off its bamboo stick and thunked on my skirt. Great! Mom will throw a fit! I thought. The spokes on the wheels of your still-new-bicycle were glinting wickedly, but they were a bother to the eyes in this heat. The sun was enough to blind the blind.
“Can you park your machine somewhere else?”
“No!” You were always categorical about what you wanted. “This is my spot. Why don’t you move?”
I was so hot and so bogged down, arguing or glaring at you would have been a waste of energy. So I just shifted a bit under the shade of the tree that shadowed the pool, till the glint didn’t hurt my eyes, and there went another chunk of the popsicle…. on the ground this time. Thank God!
‘Clumsy as always,’ you smirked as you planted yourself next to me. Again, I felt like giving you an earful because you had a habit of poking fun at people, but then you only did that to close friends, and I liked that I was close enough to you for you to care enough to poke fun at me, and then, like I said before, I was hot and the heat had made me inert.
“Popsicle?” I asked, jealously hoping you would say no.
And you did. Your thick fringe swished from side to side as your head indicated ‘no’, followed by another barb, “I’m pretty sure when they put you in the grave you’ll have a popsicle in your hand. How have your teeth not fallen off with all that sugar and ice?!”
I just stuck out my tongue at you. You made a face. “Ew! It’s all red.” And your eyes had rested on my reddened mouth for a nano-second longer than they should have but I didn’t know what all that meant back then.
“Who told you I’m here?” I asked you between licks of my emaciated popsicle.
“No one. I just know you like to come here when it’s hot. Though I don’t get why. The pool is abandoned and it isn’t particularly cool out here. But then you’ve always been weird.” You suddenly grabbed hold of my popsicle and threw it away. I watched the remains of it plop onto the dried weeds even as the stick skittered away into another direction. Oooh! Now I was angry.
“What did you do that for?”
“Stop it! It’s distracting.”
“And what exactly are you being distracted from here? You aren’t exactly writing an exam, are you?!” I thrust out my lower lip at you, like I used to when I would be mad. You looked at it, giggled like a pre-schooler and then looked away. And that was that. We didn’t argue over it anymore. I couldn’t because I was already unwrapping my fifth popsicle but I noticed how it had nearly melted already. I abandoned the exercise.
We sat there for some time, over the edge of the swimming pool, feet dangling and swaying to the rhythms of our own heartbeats… and then it happened.
Our hands were resting on the edge of the pool, and at that moment they had touched ever so slightly, and then you linked your pinky finger with mine. Your hand wanted to linger, but mine…. Oh crap! Mine flew right back into my lap. Is it possible to be inert as well as hyperaware of every single molecule in your body? Because that was exactly how I felt at that moment. Like I could tell exactly when the hair on my neck stood up but at the same time, I was benumbed to every sensation like someone had frozen me in that moment with Mister Freeze’s Freeze gun.
Why on earth do moments like these not come with some forewarning? They just sneak up on you like a watchful aunt. In my opinion, life-changing opportunities must always be preceded by the sound of trumpets and a choir and a neon sign blinking over our heads that reads, “This is it! Grab this opportunity or be branded a loser”.
There was also the matter of not knowing any better at the time. What did I know about these things? I was only eleven. Could you not have waited till we were, like, thirteen?
You fled the scene pretty soon, making some excuse about cleaning your bike, while I stayed glued to the spot in the same stupefied stance. I did see though that you were scowling. That made it worse because I didn’t want you to be mad at me.
You mumbled a sorry just before you wheeled out like it was a mistake. Oh God, I should have told you then that it was anything but a mistake. I should have told you that that moment had stayed with me, even though we ceased being friends after that. That I have since played that moment in my head, over and over and over again, like how you play a frayed cassette recording of your favourite 80’s song because its the only recording of it that you have. That I wish some neon sign had dinged over my head or the hand of fate had smacked me across the face, warning me that I would regret it if I let it go… if I let you go. That I should have later found you and told you that I didn’t mind linking pinkies with you.
But I didn’t do anything like that. I stayed emotionally inert. And now I have to watch you link pinkies with your bride.
Damn, I need a popsicle!
Copyright ©2018 Pradita Kapahi.
All rights reserved.
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